Old News.

The Daily Mail today reports that cohabiting couples are twice as likely to split up as married couples, according to a ‘new’ survey based on figures collected between 1991 and 2001.

Am I the only one who’s getting really bored of these sorts of articles in the news? Correct me if i’m wrong, but NEWSpapers are supposed to have NEWS, not old stories. For as long as I can remember, there have been arguments bashed around about the virtues and benefits of marrying over cohabiting. No doubt, such debates will form part of the coming election campaign, with marriage hopefully being a key battle ground for the main parties.

The trouble with statistics is that they can be manipulated to support any argument. So for every survey the Tories come up with about the benefits of married parents for children, Labour will come up just as many numbers to support unmarried couples and single parents. I actually don’t have a problem with the politicians manipulating statistics- if they didn’t have any basis for their policies, I would be more worried. But please, please, please can the newspapers stop printing old news??

The Last Straw

Articles like this one make my blood boil.

Once again, Jack Straw paints a picture of legal aid barristers as fat cats who take great pleasure in earning a fortune from taxpayer’s money. Here’s a classic example of his twisted sense of logic:

“There is an interesting comparison to make between the top-earning criminal law firm, which has received just over £9 million in legal aid payments over the year and employs 186 staff, with the highest earning barrister, who made close to £1 million for just a single individual.”

No wander legal aid barristers have such a bad name when the Justice Minister chooses to go around flagging up facts like this. I think The Times must also be slightly to blame for this, because it is only at the end of the article that it is acknowledged that: “The large majority of legal aid lawyers work long hours and provide a valuable and vital public service”.

Jack Straw’s miracle solution is to introduce best value tendering. But this will inevitably mean a decrease in quality, with firms offering discount rates for discount lawyers. The only people who will really suffer from such a stupid idea are the vulnerable members of society who use legal aid barristers.

This week, the highly anticipated case of Radmacher v Granatino comes to the Supreme Court for a final showdown. The Times has an excellent summary of the case so far, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it.

We have a very strange situation at the moment where post-nuptial agreements are fully enforceable, but pre-nup’s are not. The only difference is that one is made before the marriage and the other is made during it. The House of Lords (now the Supreme Court) has already said that pre-marital cohabitation can be taken into account when considering the length of a marriage. This already blurred the line between a couple who are dating/engaged and a couple who have actually tied the knot. So it no longer makes any sense to treat an agreement differently just because of the date it was drafted and signed.

We would be joining the USA and most of Europe if the Supreme Court does decide to enforce the pre-nup in this case. It really does beg the question “why should we be any different?”. The answer, I believe, lies in the vast amount of discretion given to judges in dividing marital property under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. It would therefore be a big step for the Supreme Court to enforce this pre-nup because it will finally curtail the discretion given to judges in these cases.

N.B. For those of you still on the lookout for that family law pupillage, you really must make it your mission to read the judgment in its entirety when it is published, as no doubt it will be a hot topic at interviews this summer.

The Times reports today about the case of Catholic Care- a Roman Catholic adoption society which serves Leeds and S Yorkshire, among other places. Needless to say, gay rights campaigners such as the charity Stonewall, have opposed the High Court decision on the basis that no body performing any public function should be able to discriminate against people on grounds of their sexuality.

I have to say I agree with the High Court decision. There is a very fine line between law and religion. For me, this case is about how far Parliament can go in limiting our religious values. Can someone be a devout Roman Catholic AND gay? I guess there are some people who think you can be, but given some of the Pope’s most recent sermons, somehow I dont think the wider Catholic world has accepted homosexuality. So,  for the time being,  Catholic Care should be allowed to overlook gay applicants.  They are entitled to do that because they are a Catholic society and adhere to Catholic values. In the (unlikely) event of the Pope changing his attitudes to homosexuality, then would be the time to pressurise Catholic adoption societies to accept applications from gay couples. But while gay people are still not the accepted in Catholicism,  they should not be forced to consider applications from people who dont fit in to the beliefs of the Society.

And, for the record, I would think exactly the same whatever religion we were discussing, be it Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism or Islam.

The bottom line is if gay people want to adopt, there are non-Catholic/secular places they can go. But for people who are  devout Roman Catholics AND gay, there will be longer to wait for an answer. It’s all about comprimise. At the end of the day, gay Catholics can still adopt- they just might find difficulties going to a specifically Catholic adoption agency.

I reckon it will be a long time for this to fully be resolved. Catholicism and gay rights will never sit comfortably together as long as we have a Pope who does very little to improve things. This is, by the way, the same Pope who has practically nothing to remedy those countless children who were sexually abused by their preists, AND who deplores the use of condoms in Africa to combat AIDS. Need I say more!!

Alice Thomson today writes in The Times about marriage, in response to Baroness Deech’s latest decree about the crumbling of this institution in modern society. In basic terms, Deech has said that the concept of marriage has become so blurred nowadays that it hardly has any meaning anymore.

Personally, I think that’s a pretty cynical approach. Like any social concept, be it voting or sexuality or racisim, we have moved on a long way since the 1950’s. Social attitudes change- you can either sit around complaining about it or accept it and think of innovative ways to address the new norm.

But there was one interesting passage in Alice Thomson’s article which really got me thinking:

Gordon Brown admits that marriage has worked for him, transforming his appeal to the electorate: “It’s marriage that’s changed me; I don’t think it’s PR techniques.” But at the same time Ed Balls has persuaded him to fight the election on an anti-marriage platform, painting the Tories as discriminating against those who don’t tie the knot.

This idea of discrimating against those who do not want to marry. If the Tories win the next election and carry through a pledge to give tax breaks to married parents, can you imagine the furore? I guarantee it would not be too long before some smart alec tries to take the government all the way to Strasbourg over their ‘anti-unmarried couples’ policies. Watch this space…

(I hope you appreciate the alliteration in the title!).

Since April last year, the media have had their foot in the door of proceedings in the family court. I remember being on a number of mini-pupillages at the time at the Principal Registry. There seemed to be an initial rush of reporters to take up their newly granted rights to sit in on court proceedings. However, from what I gather, this has died down as the novelty has worn off. This is what I thought would happen. After all, media have always had access to family proceedings courts (where the real ‘bread and butter’ proceedings are dealt with) but, despite this, the media have never really taken advantage of this access.

Of course, the main reason why there hasnt been much of a takeup of these new rights is that they are pretty hollow. This is because, whilst the media can now go into the courtroom, they have no right to see any of the papers nor print anything that will indentify the children of the case. I read this morning in The Times that Jack Straw is having problems pressing ahead with further reforms to media access. Good! In essence, he is trying to remove anonymity. Whilst he says that this will still be protected, I think this is rather doubtful. Think about it this way- in care proceedings involving a child from a council estate, even if the actual names are kept confidential, it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together and find out which family is involved. Jack Straw may be able to control what happens within the confines of a courtroom, but he cannot control gossip. Gossip can spread like fire through a forest- it only takes one little spark to set the whole thing ablaze.

So my advice to Jack Straw would be to listen to the people who really know what they’re talking about- the professionals who deal with these cases on a day-to-day basis. Their jobs will be made even more difficult than they already are if they also have to contend with local newspapers spreading malicious gossip.

With the PM being accused this week of bullying members of his staff possibly weeks before a general election, you would think Mr Straw would understand the harm gossip can do!

I am sure I am not the only person who has had quite enough of the endless durge of adverts for comparison websites. Fronted by irritating little meerkats or incredibly annoying lip-syncing opera singers, they litter the breaks between every TV programme and claim to offer us the best deal on anything from car insurance to flights. Well, it seems (much to my regret) that there could be even more such adverts coming up in the near future, this time for will draftsman.

A test case is starting today at the High Court concerning two middle-aged siblings who want to choose their own executor for their late step-father’s estate. The step-father chose a company to draft his will in 1999 and elected them to be the executor of his estate. However, the step-children claim that they should have the right to choose someone else, given the charges that will be incurred. Obviously, this would be a massive case if the High court found in favour of the step-children, because to do so would be to usurp what was written in the deceased’s will.

We are yet to hear the finer details of this case, but from the outset it looks like the step-children will be running a cost argument, i.e. that if they can find a cheaper quote for executing the will, then they should be entitled to go with this, or at least be charged the competitive quote only. My guess would be that, in a world of such annoying ‘go compare’ adverts, the step-children may well have a case here- the compromise might be that they have to keep the executor named in the will, but only be charged the competitive rate.

Of course, if the step-children are successful, we could see even more of those bloody adverts on the TV, so I’m not sure who to root for. Hmm..I wonder what sort of crazy character would be employed to front a will drafting comparision website…a singing Grim Reaper perhaps? They could call him Grim Cheaper! (sorry)