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Book reviews

1 March 02

Reviews of Science of Family Law; Practical Guide to Human Rights Law

The Science of Family Law

This is the book I was always going to write – and, of course, never have.  An entirely practical guide to being a Family Law solicitor.  The bible that any aspiring family law solicitor setting out to face the real world after the academic needs to have constantly by, and indeed that does no harm for the experienced to dip into as well.

The title may be off-putting as it perhaps gives the impression of something academic, but that is not at all the case.  It is an entirely practical guide to being an efficient and effective solicitor for the client, and an efficient and effective agent in court.  It manages to do so without being dry and uninteresting – even bringing a sense of humour into the unending struggle with the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

The authors start with general practical advice, including the need for efficient office procedures, well trained secretaries, good filing and ease of reference to information, and the difficulty of making even a small profit out of Legal Aid cases.  They emphasise the need for good, handy small reference libraries and sources of information – but they do not just advise this, they provide the outline and where to find it.  The need for the right forms and styles – and the information necessary to set this up is all there.  “You will tend to be judged by how helpful and prompt a service you have provided.”

Having set the scene they go on to deal with the law and how to set about it, warning not only of the traps along the way but giving styles both in the text as examples, and in a lengthy appendix.  The pitfalls and difficulties of Pensions and Brussels II are explored and dealt with in an understandable and easy to follow way, with examples and styles to assist.  How to face a court well prepared and knowing what you are about, and when and how to run a debate or proof and an appeal, even advice on getting to know the sheriff and his or her likely reactions, without relying on it always being the same sheriff.  What to avoid and what to do, including plain language and the need for thought and care – “it is far better that there is a silence than that there should be a ‘witter’ “.  There is great emphasis on the need for simple language that both the client and the court can understand, and explanations of what a solicitor is trying to achieve by way of Minutes of Agreement and pleadings, and how to achieve the desired result without becoming bogged down in a mire of difficult and arcane language.  Not only are styles provided, but how to make use of such styles efficiently.

Dealing with clients, both difficult, contrite and pigheaded is discussed, and the difficulties of explaining to clients the different ways that sheriffs may deal with situations, particularly when faced with parents warring over children.  “Separating out the hurt and confusion clients feel arising from the failed adult relationship from their responsibilities as parents is painfully difficult”. Good, hard practical advice is again the theme, not least the need to have some knowledge of the research into how children react to broken relationships. If I criticise the book at all, however, it is that more of how to deal with a warring, hurt and vengeful parent would have been useful – but perhaps the authors are reserving this very large subject for a future book!

It is not, however, a book that has a lengthy and detailed index of case law – where it is necessary to illustrate the point, and it may be helpful to read the source, case references are given and are right up to date at the time of publication. But that is not the point of the book – what it is setting out to do is to try to ensure that the basic rules and law are known, and if not how to set about solving that, by having the right tools and information available when needed.

Not content with that there is a chapter on dealing with the Scottish Legal Aid Board; not only dealing with the practicalities, but pointing out the importance of remembering that this is not only a question of access to justice for the client, but also the use of taxpayers’ money.  This is the sort of hard advice that permeates the book.  There is good guidance to how to avoid quarrels with the Board, and to maximise your client’s chances of being granted legal aid for what is needed. Many a solicitor will have sympathy with their comment that “AA and Civil Legal Aid is the ultimate challenge to office systems.  If you can derive any profit from either and do the work justice, you deserve a gold star!”.  And the whole book is devoted to just how to achieve that.

Finally, as the book is nothing if not up to date, it deals with the Human Rights Act and its impact on Family Law.  If the experienced solicitor thinks that he knows all the rest, it is worth reading this chapter alone.

In conclusion, this is a book that no Family Law practitioner can be without, and indeed few agents can feel themselves too experienced to have on their own desks.  And furthermore – as law books go – it is a bargain at £35.  I thoroughly recommend it.

Karen Bruce Lockhart

A Practical Guide to Human Rights Law in Scotland

The decision to “bring rights home” through the enactment of the Human Rights Act 1998 has spawned a multitude of presentations and publications designed to cash in on interest in, or ignorance of, the subject. The book under review is one of the earlier ones to be written from a Scottish perspective.

Amidst the flurry of activity, it is useful to know what a book is meant to do. There are already some excellent books on ECHR law, which examine the Convention articles and Strasbourg jurisprudence. Then there are works centred on the Human Rights Act itself, necessary because the Act involves a mediation of the Convention, rather than a pure and simple incorporation. A third genre consists (or will consist) of texts on particular fields of law, say medical law or the law of evidence, which integrate human rights law, so far as it is relevant, with the domestic law derived from traditional sources.

This book does not fall neatly into any of these three types, but is designed to bridge the gap between the earlier and the new domestic law across a range of selected areas. An opening chapter by Aidan O’Neill on the “the new constitutional matrix” explains how human rights law has become more directly relevant under the two nearly contemporaneous reforms of the Scotland Act and the Human Rights Act, and elucidates the somewhat untidy interrelationship between their respective provisions and procedures in this area.

Otherwise, the contributors’ task has been to focus on particular areas of substantive law. Typically they assume that readers are familiar with the domestic rules and seek to assess how human rights law has affected and will impact on their field. The fields dealt with are criminal law, sentencing and prisoners’ rights, criminal evidence and procedure, family law, negligence, property law, employment law, and public law. The authors are respectively Christopher Gane (doing double duty with the first two), Alastair Brown, Morag Wise, Douglas Brodie, Kay Springham, Brian Napier and Scott Blair. For the most part the chapter titles give a fair indication of content, but understandably Scott Blair has to narrow his coverage and concentrates on judicial control of administrative action. Conversely, in an adept and concise treatment, Morag Wise manages to deal with aspects of education, sexuality and medico-legal issues as well as covering family law.

Here and there, some more reference to law and practice in other member states might have been useful in context. However, all the contributors are well informed and explore their subjects in some depth. They have a fair shot at anticipating where Convention issues may arise. Naturally, some matters have already moved on but, as Lord Reed observes in his preface, the book had to go to print at some point.

There are areas of law which are not (or are scarcely) covered by this book, including some areas such as freedom of expression and privacy which have been prominent in discussion. Across those fields which are covered, the book should go far to serve its purpose of enabling practitioners (and sometimes students) to bridge that gap.

Colin Munro