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The Only Way is Ethics

As questions go, and lawyers have to deal with many of them, these seem innocuous enough. Personally I reply (most often) ‘fine’. Or ‘hanging in there’ if feeling fraught. Or ‘top form’ if, you know, I’m on top form. The question is just interesting enough to require a response, and bland enough not to require any form of deep soul-searching for an apt reply.

Now, how about: ‘How is your mental health?’ Not a question that gets asked much (if at all). Much trickier. Could lead to minutes ticking by while you consider it and come up with an appropriate response. And what does this Socratic-type enquiry mean for your life anyway?

Many of us don’t ask that question, don’t have time for it, can’t face what the answer might be, would prefer the whole question of health – mental, physical and emotional – went away so we could focus on the important things in life. Like the next client, and their problems. The trouble is, as much as many lawyers like to act as if we are brains on a stick, it turns out we are living, breathing, feeling creatures, exactly the same as everyone else. But potentially wearing darker clothing.

Which is why I think Mental Health Awareness Week (11-17 May) is a good thing. It creates a space for questions, awareness and possibly answers which don’t get a look in most of the time. The theme this year is mindfulness, which is an interest of mine. I was first taught to meditate in about 1996, and have gradually (very, very gradually) increased the frequency of my meditation from once every five years (roughly) to, now, most days.

I feel better for it, and it definitely helps increase my resilience and reduces incidence of depression (which I have had bouts of for about 20 years). So I am part of an unofficial group of professionals organising an event at 6.15pm on Monday 11 May during this year’s awareness week, kindly hosted by Irwin Mitchell solicitors, which will explore how meditation and ethics from a Buddhist perspective can fit with the world of work. Or, indeed, if they fit at all.

The title, perhaps inevitably, is The Only Way is Ethics (I’m sorry about that). Those new to meditation/Buddhism are very welcome, as well as those who have an interest or involvement already. Lawyers and non-lawyers alike are invited.

Our thinking is this: being a lawyer is highly pressured, there is little let up, at work or even at home (or on holiday) for many. Lawyers are pretty bad at looking after themselves, or seeking support and this all takes its toll. The organisation set up to encourage lawyers to look after their health is LawCare. As things currently stand, LawCare’s website contains lots of useful information about how to deal with an alcohol or substance abuse issue, or how to manage a return to work after stress-related absence.

This is absolutely vital information.

The point of a mindfulness practice is, as well as providing a way of improving health once there is a problem, it can also help to try and prevent these problems arising in the first place. The Bar Council last year launched its Wellbeing Committee, which has undertaken a survey of the profession, the results of which have not yet been published. The Law Society and CILEx don’t have much to say about practical techniques towards stress reduction and improved mental health. At least, not yet.

Lawyers are pretty bad at looking after themselves, or seeking support and this all takes its toll

Mindfulness has been practised for at least 2,500 years, since before the time of the Buddha, so has a reasonable track record. It can be practised entirely devoid of any spiritual content or meaning, although personally that doesn’t work so well for me. Our event is deliberately headed from a Buddhist perspective, and the speakers (two authors, a retired judge and a psychiatrist) are all practising Buddhists. The event will include a led-through mindfulness meditation and a discussion about how Buddhist ethics and work can co-exist or support each other.

When we started putting our event together, I was absolutely stunned that no one had run an event on mindfulness specifically for lawyers before. Mindfulness is the new buzzword in mental health. It can help with stress reduction, overall calm, focus, ability to deal with difficult situations, enjoyment of life and an increase in willpower. All things that seem to fit well with lawyering.

I appreciate the concept of sitting and paying attention to one’s breath for five minutes or half an hour could seem somewhat anomalous when you have just received another facetious letter from the other side and have 48 things on a to-do list at 6.40pm when it started out with 44 things on it at 9am. You may well recognise feelings of wanting to stamp all over your opponent’s pleadings, or even your opponent. Those feelings aren’t necessarily conducive to you giving your best to win your case, or to be pleasant to be around when you go home to those who love you.

Mindfulness can help with all this.

Our work as lawyers is important. The rule of law is important. Creating the best possible conditions for the work we do for our clients and for society more generally is worth doing. If we practitioners are burnt out husks, it doesn’t serve us, our clients, our firms, the legal system or, more seriously still, our families and friends.

So, if you would like to find out more please do sign up at the Eventbrite page.

We look forward to seeing you on 11 May.

Finally, must mention & credit Law Society Gazette as this post first appeared on the Law Society Gazette website.

Jo Shaw  barrister at 1 Essex Court

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New Employment Tribunal Rules applicable where R receives ET1 on or after 29 July 2013

The new Rules are implemented by The Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2013, which can be found here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2013/1237/made.

They effect numerous sensible, substantive changes which anyone conducting cases in the Tribunals should be aware of.

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1 Essex Court will be participating in the London Legal Walk on the 20th June 2013

 

Our page: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/1EC

Chambers will be participating in this years legal walk. We are raising funds for the London Legal Support Trust, the Free Representation Unit and the Bar Pro Bono Unit.

We know that these agencies do a fantastic job in preventing homelessness, resolving debt problems, gaining care for the elderly and disabled and fighting exploitation.

We also know how short they are of the funds to continue that work

Our walkers are: Duncan Macpherson, Graeme Kirk, Jamie Williams, Genevieve Parke, Pramod Joshi, Andrew Wilson, Christopher Kelleher, Duncan Richards, Ian Hogg, Bradley Morley, Lloyd Parker, Varun Zaiwalla

Please donate as generously as you are able

Many thanks for your support

Through Virgin Money Giving, you can sponsor us and donations will be quickly processed and passed to charities. Virgin Money Giving is a not for profit organisation and will claim gift aid on a charity’s behalf where the donor is eligible for this. We really appreciate all your support and thank you for any donations.

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LASPO in Practice

The 1st April 2013 saw the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) come into force. Family law practitioners will no doubt by now be very familiar with Schedule 1, and Parts 1 and 2 of the Act, which define the scope of the work for public funding is still available. What will be interesting to observe, is how LASPO will impact upon ongoing and future cases.

One effect that has occurred, as it may have been expected, is the increase in private law applications that were made ahead of 1st April 2013. According to CAFCASS figures released yesterday, there was a 10% increase of cases between April 2012 to March 2013, in comparison to figures between 2011 to 2012. *

Another possible effect may be seen in the way pre April 2013 cases are handled during proceedings. Where a contact case for example, is going well and there appears to be ongoing agreement between the parties, practitioners may nevertheless feel the need to keep a case within the court arena for review. Judges may be keen to make final orders, but keeping the matter open for review would mean the client is still entitled to public funding should a dispute later arise and the matter needed to return to court. Taking this approach could see the average length of private law proceedings increase.

It will be interesting to monitor the trends post April 2013. The Cafcass Chief Executive Anthony Douglas, has said:

 

Cafcass expects to see a drop in applications over the first few months of the 2013/14 financial year, following the changes. Based on patterns observed from previous policy changes within the family justice system, it is anticipated that levels will normalise after that.”**

Whether that prediction proves correct is yet to be seen. In any event whether it is as a result of an increase in litigants in person, or more review hearings, proceedings may start to take longer to conclude and if so, it will be important that the courts are in a position to bear the impact of such changes.

*

**

(http://www.cafcass.gov.uk/news/2013/end_of_year_private_law_case_levels_2012-13.aspx)

To sign a petition requesting the restoration of legal aid for private family law matters, click on the following link:

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/48354

 

Gloria Ikwuakolam

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Barristers allowed to cut out the middle man – Article in the Times today

The following is a summary from an Article written by James DeanPublished at 12:01AM, January 10 2013 in the Times.
The Article follows the recent approval of BarCo, a new fund which enables Barristers to hold and handle client’s money. The was formerly strictly prohibited. This prohibition made it difficult for the Bar to work with corporate clients, as traditionally larger firms of solicitors would be instructed. 39 Essex Street, Erskine Chambers and Atkin Chambers will test BarCo before it is introduced later in April this year.
James Dean writes that Barristers could then become ‘the first-stop legal advice shop for big corporate clients after winning approval for a funding system designed to leave City solicitors out in the cold.’

 

 

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Disclosure of documents from AR proceedings – HMRC v Charman and Charman

An interesting case in recent weeks has been that of HMRC v Charman and Charman.

In the original Ancillary Relief proceedings, a question regarding the Husband’s tax liability was raised. Following the conclusion of the AR proceedings, HMRC made an application for disclosure of various documents and statements which had been produced during the course of the AR proceedings. Whilst the Wife consented to the disclosure of those documents, the Wife objected.

HMRC’s application for disclosure went before Mr Justice Coleridge, who had also heard the original AR proceedings. In his judgement in this application, he stated that:

“As a general rule documents and other evidence produced in ancillary relief proceedings (now called financial remedy proceedings) are not disclosable to third parties outside the proceedings save that exceptionally and rarely and for very good reason they can be disclosed with the leave of the court. The fact that the evidence may be relevant or useful is not by itself a good enough reason to undermine the rule. ”

As there was no suggestion of tax evasion being put forward by HMRC, and the disclosure was sought as part of a routine tax assessment by HMRC, there was “no discernable compelling reason” for such disclosure.

It is worth bearing this mind in circumstances where a third party is seeking such disclosure.

At the very end of the judgement (which can be found at http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2012/1448.html), Mr Justice Coleridge added the following caveat:

“If, of course the husband himself wishes to rely upon documents/evidence he produced during the hearing in front of me he may have leave to do so but in that event all relevant material must be produced to the Tribunal not just highlights he selects which support his case.”

So if you are tempted to pick and choose excerpts of a Court transcript or a witness statement to disclose to a third party, my advice would be not to do so unless you are content to provide the entire document and all other relevant material.

Jasvir Degun

1 Essex Court

20th June 2012

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CLERKS LONDON TO BRIGHTON NIGHT BIKERIDE

Ian, Lloyd and Billy will be taking part in the London to Brighton night bike ride to raise money for the British Heart Foundation.

Any contributions will be gratefully received.

Please see our link below for our fundraising page;

http://www.justgiving.com/Real-One-Essex-Court

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