Where’s your sense of humour?

Take my wife .... From the National Library of Scotland archives on Flickr.

You’ve got to love this story from the Daily Telegraph about the intellectual property rights to laugh about the divorce. A stand-up comedian, Stephen Grant, was asked by his ex-wife’s lawyers to give an undertaking that the divorce would not form part of his act. It’s not quite clear from the story what happened, because the request was made in April 2009 and seems to have been immediately rejected (rightly, in my view), but Mr Grant seems to say that he has only now felt free to use the material in his act, which tends to suggest that the dispute went on for a bit. Practitioners will certainly recognise the sentiment, “She seemed to love my sense of humour back then but she very quickly lost it in the divorce”. A sense of humour, along with a sense of proportion, is one of those assets that lawyers can’t get back for you once they’re gone, but it should be treated as valuable all the same.

This story is a sad little sign of the times. I’ve come across quite a few attempts myself recently to gag departing partners from talking about the break-up. The long shadow of Facebook and other types of social networking is getting cast over more and more partings these days, and more people now have the capability of airing their grievances to the world at large, even if they’re not stand-up comedians. And, as we know, the danger is that once the information is out there, it will be out there forever. (I’m not totally convinced about this, actually, there are storage limits on blogs and social networking and eventually items will be deleted just out of sheer apathy, but I agree that your past will certainly hang around for longer than it once did.) Even the man or woman on the Clapham omnibus has a “public profile” these days, and wants to protect it.

Anyway, I strongly suspect that Mr Grant had better be very, very funny if he wants to avoid further wrath from his ex.

Edlington trial: Judge refused access to Serious Case Review

A busy day today. Those who keep up with this blog will know that I take a very keen interest in openness in the family courts and the comparisons, sometimes invidious, with what happens in criminal cases. In that regard I bring your attention to this story from the Times that Mr Justice Keith has been refused access to the full Serious Case Review in the case of the Edlington children, despite the fact that Peter Kelson QC (for the older brother) wanted the Judge to be able to read in full prior to sentencing how he believed social services and other authorities had failed the children. The decision was taken by the Doncaster Safeguarding Children Board, although I have to question whether this particular child is being “safeguarded” by having access to important pre-sentencing information about him withheld from the trial Judge. It may well be that this is not a case where the professionals involved are putting their interests in front of the childrens’, but the problem, as I think I have said before, is one of perception. What conclusion will the public draw from this turn of events?

Rolling out openness in the family courts

3234776149_e140c0231d_oThe Ministry of Justice has announced an information pilot by which anonymised judgments from some family courts will be made available on Bailii (press release here). Leeds FPC and Cardiff County Court and FPC are already in the pilot and will be joined by Wolverhampton County Court and FPC at the beginning of next year. I’ve had a look at the Bailii website, but I can’t see any judgments posted yet as part of the pilot; in fact I can’t see any mention of the pilot, or the courts involved, in any obvious place on the site. Maybe there’s a gaming element to it, and it helps to think like SuperMario; or maybe they just haven’t joined up the actions with the words yet.

The press release sets out the type of judgment which will be covered in the pilot. The focus is very tightly on children and Children Act cases: the wording isn’t entirely clear, but it appears that energy will be directed at reporting cases in which an interim or a final care or supervision order has been made. My guess is that somebody at the MoJ is bearing very much in mind the campaign run by the Times earlier this year, which concentrated on care cases, and of course the storm of criticism over Baby P. But, disappointingly, it does not anticipate covering ancillary relief/child support at all, although contested residence or disputed contact cases will be reported “where the outcome is unusual”.

From the money and financial point of view, it would be enormously helpful (and would help to standardise practice across the country) if we were able to get some decent reporting of applications for lump sum payments and property adjustments under Schedule 1 of the 1989 Act, rather than the very selective reports we get at the moment, but it appears that we’re going to have to wait a bit longer for that.