Sunday, 30 January 2011

BE A SPORT


Last night I went to a wedding reception, except it was actually a fund-raising event and there was neither a real bride nor groom. It didn’t stop the cake being cut or speeches being made and the invitations themselves referred to the union of Ms Charity A. Peel and Mr B. A. Sport. I couldn’t help thinking that the names were apt for a real marriage too. If a couple keep the appeal going, be sports and compromise now and again as needed, there should be no requirement for either my services or those of any other divorce lawyer.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN


Attending court can be traumatic, especially if it is your first visit. Even if you are composed, the nervousness and, in some instances, bizarre behaviour of other people in the waiting area can affect you. At my local County Court there are occasions where a family list runs alongside a list of possession cases and whilst my clients might be there to secure directions from a Judge for valuations of property or for time limits to be given for production of documents, they can also be acutely aware that there are people in the waiting room losing their homes for non-payment of rent or mortgages.

I remember representing a client once upon a time when I found him in the waiting room looking decidedly pale and concerned. Indeed the whole waiting area seemed to have a deathly hush and pall about it, as some gathered around the list of cases pinned to the wall and others sat in chairs staring speechlessly in front of them.

“Is everything okay?” I asked my client.

“No,” he replied. “You didn’t tell me we had a hanging Judge. I’ve just seen the court list and it says that someone called Smith could be executed. I didn’t know that kind of thing happened any more and I don’t understand why I have to come to court on the same day. Will we have to sit near to it happening?”

All eyes turned in wonderment towards the window and the courtyard beyond. An entry on the court list had clearly had a deleterious effect on everyone gathered there that day. Fortunately no gallows had been hastily constructed since my last visit and I rose to check the list for myself.

The reason for my client’s concern became apparent and I returned to reassure him that suspension of execution referred, not as it had suggested itself to the public present, but rather to an application to defer a warrant issued to the court bailiff to seize a debtor’s goods!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

NO AVAILABILITY


Oh dear, dear sticking to their religious beliefs put a pair of hotel proprietors on the wrong side of the law yesterday when judgment was given in the Bristol County Court. For those who may have overlooked not so recent changes in our law, we do have civil partnerships (aka gay marriage) for gay couples and it is also unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. If therefore as Mr and Mrs Bull found out you hold deeply set religious beliefs to the effect that “monogamous heterosexual marriage is the form of partnership uniquely intended for full sexual relations between persons and that homosexual sexual relations (as opposed to homosexual orientation), and heterosexual sexual relations outside marriage, are sinful” it’s best not to practice what you preach and when letting double hotel rooms make sure that they are available for both married couples and those in Civil Partnerships alike.

His Honour Judge Rutherford gave a wonderful explanation, which I am repeating verbatim as to why, despite our Christian heritage, our laws may not always enshrine what might be regarded as traditional Christian beliefs:

“In 1882 Her Majesty Queen Victoria opened a new court building,” he said. “It is in the Strand just at the entrance to the City of London. It was built to house the superior courts of this land with the exception of the House of Lords. No one who enters can fail to be struck by the similarity of the Great Hall with the interior of those gothic cathedrals with which this kingdom is so richly endowed. But if, before entering, you gaze upon the façade of the building you will notice 4 statues.

There you will find King Alfred who made such a notable contribution to Saxon England by codifying the laws of his day. You will find Moses to whom was given the ten commandments and to whom, by tradition, is ascribed authorship of the first 5 books of the Bible in which you will find in great detail the laws governing the children of Israel. Also there on the façade is King Solomon whose wisdom has become a legend and who displayed outstanding qualities as a judge when sitting in the Family Division in the only reported case of which we have details. And the 4th statue is that of Jesus Christ who, I imagine, needs no introduction to those involved in this case.

Why are those statues there? Perhaps there were many reasons for them but I venture to suggest that one was to emphasise the Judaeo-Christian roots from which the common law of England was derived.

A great deal has however happened since King Alfred and his Saxon laws, and even more has changed since Moses, King Solomon and Jesus Christ walked upon this earth. Those Judaeo-Christian principles, standards and beliefs which were accepted as normal in times past are no longer so accepted.

…..We live today in a parliamentary democracy. Our laws are made by the Queen in Parliament (leaving aside any European dimension). It is inevitable that such laws will from time to time cut across deeply held beliefs of individuals and sections of society for they reflect the social attitudes and morals prevailing at the time that they are made. In the last 50 years there have been many such instances – the abolition of capital punishment; the abolition of corporal punishment in schools; the de-criminalisation of homosexuality and of suicide; and on a more mundane level the ban on hunting and on smoking in public places. All of these (and they are only examples) have offended sections of the population and in some cases cut across traditional religious beliefs. These laws have come into being because of changes in social attitudes. The standards and principles governing our behaviour which were unquestioningly accepted in one generation may not be so accepted in the next.

In our parliamentary democracy it is for Parliament to frame laws which reflect these changes in attitude or which give a lead to such changes. Whatever may have been the position in past centuries it is no longer the case that our laws must, or should, automatically reflect the Judaeo- Christian position.”

Of course one might wonder whether or not the learned Judge heard the case in a court room displaying the Royal Coat of Arms and the words “Dieu et mon Droit” but if he did, it didn’t feature in his judgment. Nor did the Judge find favour with the attempt to defend the case on the basis that because the same double rooms were not made available to unmarried couples either, there was no discrimination based on sexual orientation. Leave to appeal has been given, but it is inevitable that laws made for a multi-cultural society in the 21st Century are going to be very different to those from 150 years ago. After all would any Victorians have actually known what a Civil Partnership is?
*This blog entry contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME


The Pope’s plea this week for a return to old fashioned christian names had a certain resonance for divorce practitioners. That is not, I’m quick to add, because I believe everyone should be called Mary or Joseph or that the spirit of inventiveness and innovation should be reined in but rather to make my own life easier.

Listening to local radio there were tales of children being called Vauxhall Nova and Pocahontas O’Reilly, although as any divorce lawyer will tell you they would inevitably be spelled Vorkshall and Pokahontass. You see one of the things that they never teach you at Law School, but you learn on your very first few days in an office, is that you have to ask your client to spell out the name for every member of their family.

It is inevitable that there will be variations in the spelling of Rachael, Sean and let’s not even start with Vivienne. I have however been caught out by Shardonnay and Chevaun in the past and please tell me how on earth I am meant to know that a wife’s middle name is Rows and not Rose?

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

FORGET THE RECEPTION WHEN THE CONNECTION GOES


Can I wish all my readers, albeit somewhat belatedly, a very Happy New Year. Unfortunately like so many people I succumbed to a bad cold in the days leading up to Christmas. It wasn’t flu when I had it but it understandably developed into such when Outdoor Man caught it and then, come 2011, I go down with another bout of sneezing, coughing and generally feeling attacked by an onslaught of germs.

Well as you can imagine I have been struggling on regardless. The word martyr springs to mind. Still in all seriousness I did find the energy to pull a Christmas cracker on the big day. It was just as well because the joke inside was obviously intended to be read by those dealing with marital problems. So whilst the rest of the family had to giggle at puns about flying pigs or Irish patio doors, I got something that went like this:

An aerial and a lead met on top of a television set. They connected and decided to get married. The ceremony was okay whilst the reception was brilliant!

Obviously as a divorce lawyer I could write the sequel:

After a while, however, the connection wore and sparks began to fly. Eventually there was a blow up and they both went to see solicitors in January!