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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.

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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.

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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!!

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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…

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For anyone who reads this blog and still desires that family law pupillage, January and February are a crucial time to get things in place for this year’s applications.

The Family Law Bar Association is having its annual dinner on Friday 26 Feb. If you are not yet a member, it’s really important that you join. Just by being a member, you will be showing a commitment to a career at the Family Bar. However, you will also receive the quarterly Family Affairs magazine, which contains a huge amount of useful info- concise summaries of the big family cases, essays and articles. As well as this, events such as the annual dinner will give you a chance to mix with the youngest to the most established members of the Family Bar. As with many things in life, unfortunately it can be a case of WHO you know, rather than WHAT you know.

This time of year is also crucial for applying for mini-pupillages during Easter and early summer. Work back from the pupillage interview season- first interviews will tend to be from June onwards, and the applications deadline will be in May. So by the time you submit your application, you will obviously want to have at least a few mini-pupillages to speak of.

Best of luck!

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Firstly, apologies for such a long break from blogging- mid December to mid Jan was incredibly hectic! However, I simply couldn’t resist returning to the blawgosphere with a little something about David Cameron’s recent discussion of marriage. I should say at the outset that I am really excited to see marriage being treated as an election issue. At a time when there are so many things happening at an international level (aid in Haiti, Afghanistan, Iraq to name a few…), an issue such as marriage will almost certainly get Joe Voter motivated to actually go and make his voice heard at the polling station come election day. Because, as important as things like climate change and the war in Afghanistan are to us British folke, when it comes down to it, what we really want to know is how the various parties will deal with issues that affect us on a daily basis- things like tax, families and education. Such issues feel much closer to home than high brow discussions about G8 summits etc etc.

So today in The Times, it is reported that David Cameron has slightly back-tracked over his pledge to reward married couples with a tax break. The pledge seems to have been watered down into a tax break for married couples with children. This appears to be a nod in the direction of the Labour party, who have always said that tax breaks should be for parents not married couples. A source close to Ian Duncan Smith has suggested that this would be a ‘downpayment’ for a full tax break for all married couples, which would be introduced at a later stage when it can be afforded. 

I get a bit worried when politicians promise something in the future but leave room for a speedy exit. I just hope the Conservatives stick to this policy when/if they form the next government. As much as I am excited about marriage being debated in the broadsheets, I just hope this isn’t a load of hot air.

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Has the world suddenly gone mad without me realising?? It certainly felt that way when I read in The Times today that a straight couple are launching a legal challenge against Islington County Council for refusing them a civil partnership. Islington Council refused their request because they can only sanction civil partnerships between gay couples. The couple have said that they don’t agree with marriage.

I’m sorry but this sort of story infuriates me. How dare these two people claim to be discriminated against for being straight! Straight couples have always had the right to get married if they want to legalise their relationship and prove their commitment to each other. Gay couples still do not have full marriage rights as straight couples do.

If these two people are really that committed to each other, they would have no issues in marrying each other.


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