Clarity on immigration advice and tackling domestic abuse: your letters to the editor
Technology divorced from reality
Having suffered for a long time with delays in the divorce process through the Bury St Edmunds Family Centre, I enthusiastically attended a client who had been served with an online petition. I was taken aback that this merely comprised both sides of an A4 sheet. The covering letter demanded that he respond within seven days with details of his solicitor, which he subsequently did. I then received a letter demanding that I email firstname.lastname@example.org within seven days, requesting an online account.
So far so good, you might think. However, I have now done this three times without even an automated response. I therefore tasked my assistant to telephone their office in Harlow as my time was about to expire – the letter to me having taken three days to arrive by post. After holding on for 23 minutes, she was then advised that we would not get a response for two to three weeks but, in the meantime, they graciously agreed to extend our time for registering an online account and thereafter filing an acknowledgment of service through the portal by 30 days. If we have not received a response within the 30 days, we will need to telephone again and request a further extension.
How is this progress? No doubt, with my dubious technical skills, I will encounter difficulties with this portal as I did with the personal injury portal. Why do we have to suffer this inefficiency and increase in costs (we cannot charge the client for the time wasted so far) when schemes are continuously rolled out as mandatory before the support (both technical and human) is in place? All that will happen is an increase in complaints about solicitors delaying matters, as with Bury St Edmunds.
Once more we will be the scapegoats. How many other solicitors are similarly frustrated at such ‘progress’?
Solicitor/partner, Adlams LLP, Cambridgeshire
Clarity needed on immigration advice
Plans to let solicitors offer immigration advice from unregulated entities were sensibly postponed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Had the plans proceeded, a knock-on effect would have been that members of our profession outside registered firms could have supervised anyone regardless of their own or the supervisee’s ability to provide immigration advice. This would have circumvented almost all legal controls on how immigration advice is provided by non-lawyers, which is one of the reasons we fought the proposals.
It is in the public interest that everyone giving legal advice in a high-stakes area of law such as immigration is clearly accountable to a regulator.
If the SRA hopes to change the way legal advice for immigration is provided, it first needs to draft clear guidelines to ensure watertight accountability between supervising immigration solicitors, the people they supervise and their clients.
Law Society Immigration Law Committee
Long way to go in tackling domestic abuse
We read with concern comments made by Joshua Rozenberg (Gazette, 18 November, Family courts need help on domestic abuse). Stating that ‘allegations of abuse against a non-resident parent may be exaggerated or even fabricated’ is most unhelpful, given that research has shown that false allegations of abuse are very rare, and that survivors of domestic abuse often go out of their way to facilitate contact between children and non-resident parents where they feel it is safe.
Joint research by Women’s Aid and Queen Mary University of London, published in 2018, demonstrated the ways that unfounded assertions about the prevalence of false allegations in family courts fuel harmful myths and stereotypes, which bar the effectiveness of policies to protect victims, and can undermine the court’s ability to make decisions about safe child contact in cases where there has been domestic abuse.
The high prevalence of domestic abuse allegations in family court cases does not mean that victims are lying. Rather, it means that as a society we have a long way to go in tackling domestic abuse and its devastating impact on children – both within the family courts and outside.
Adina Claire, acting co-chief executive, Women’s Aid; Professor Shazia Choudhry, School of Law, Queen Mary University of London
Scotland shows the way
The Gazette’s headline of 21 November Ombudsman ditches mediation scheme after just 4% success rate is somewhat misleading.
As one of the mediators for the equivalent Scottish Legal Complaints Commission mediation scheme, I wondered what might have led to such a low success rate. But the headline merges two separate phenomena. The success rate is in fact 50%; the take-up rate is 8%. Your headline combined the two to create a new kind of ‘glass half empty’ view.
The Scottish experience is relevant. When the SLCC was set up in 2008, the legislation required a mediation stage for service complaints (not the most serious, ‘conduct’ complaints, which are dealt with by the Law Society of Scotland). The commission appointed a mediation manager. As in England and Wales, practitioners and complainers were initially sceptical about mediation and take-up was slow. However, given a settlement rate consistently between 60% and 70%, the mediation scheme’s reputation grew and the number of parties and practitioners rejecting the option declined. By 2018/19, the take-up rate for eligible complaints was 39% and the success rate was 71%.
The mediation scheme has been allowed to develop and reach a state where mediation is viewed as standard fare by firms and parties. Many still reject it and no doubt have good reasons for proceeding to investigation. Others take part and find a mutually acceptable resolution to complaints, including the payment of money, apology and, frequently, a clear explanation by the solicitor of the reasons for their actions. Mediation is the only face-to-face moment in the entire investigation process, providing a form of procedural justice often absent from written investigations.
Senior teaching fellow, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow