Tag: justice

#lawforgood could replace what our legal system’s lost

access to justice | Kendal Court

#lawforgood may not be a social media hashtag that’s too familiar to readers just yet – but hopefully that will change.


I first fell in love with the law when I was 13, inspired by a triple whammy of influences.

Leon Uris’ courtroom opus QB VII hit our TV screens around the same time our class read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird with its theme of racial injustice. The novel’s hero, Atticus Finch, is a model of integrity for lawyers.

And there was 12 Angry Men, with Henry Fonda slowly convincing his fellow jurors to confront their own prejudices.

Together these three stories, each concerning a quest for justice, had a profound effect and determined my desire to work in the law 

I qualified as a solicitor in 1989. This was a time when access to justice was part of the fabric of our society never questioned.

Most firms had a legal aid offering and public funding was readily available.

Erosions to legal aid

The erosions to this system since have been gradual but ultimately seismic.

In April 2013 the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) came in to force imposing wholesale changes to the legal aid system for family law.

Now, to obtain advice or representation you must pay on a private basis. This is unless domestic violence is involved or mediation is your preferred method of resolution.

I stopped doing legal aid work in 1999, disillusioned by the ever-increasing bureaucracy. I have instead acted for some clients at a similar rate but on a private basis.

Meanwhile, official figures from 2017 show the proportion of family law cases before the courts in England & Wales where neither party had legal representation was 36%, up by 19% in just four years.

Courts axed

And magistrates and county courts like those in Kendal, Cumbria, were axed last year in a cost-cutting move. This was despite a campaign by the local newspaper – The Westmorland Gazette – arguing against the loss of local justice.

The traditional defender of the law against politics was the Lord Chancellor. Until very recently that role too was political leaving the law with no voice in the Cabinet. It was left to our judges to make a noise the government simply cannot ignore.

Last May the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, was forced to condemn the cruel policy of separating older people who need to go into care homes. ‘“People die of broken hearts,” he said.

In August he warned the nation would have blood on its hands if an NHS hospital bed could not be found for a teenage girl at acute risk of taking her own life.

Whether or not you believe Theresa May when she says she does not have a magic money tree what is clear is that any resources available to the government are unlikely to be directed towards family law reform and enabling access to justice.

Thankfully, family lawyers the length and breadth of England and Wales believe they have a responsibility to provide the answers.

Access to justice

Examples as to the truth of this statement can be found on Twitter – #whatabouthenry and #nofaultdivorce – to name but two.

At Merrick we have launched #AccessUs – a case-managed service intended to increase access to justice. Every member of the team is tasked with dedicating time to it.

We’re now interested in talking to colleagues across the profession to see whether more can be achieved by uniting efforts.

‘After all, the only thing that is going to save mankind is if enough people live their lives for something or someone other than themselves.’ – Leon Uris, QB VII

In my world that is #lawforgood


Amanda J Merrick


*A version of this article appeared in The Westmorland Gazette April 5 2018


access to justice | Merrick Solicitors
A judge had no choice but to jail an 83-year-old after he spent years deliberately frustrating the courts, according to a barrister in the divorce case.
The sentencing of millionaire property developer John Hart created media headlines earlier this month. The pensioner was given 14 months for contempt of court after repeatedly refusing to hand over business documents following his long-running divorce case.
Judge Stephen Wildblood QC took the unusual step of handing down a prison sentence after describing Mr Hart as an “exceptionally poor and untruthful witness”.
The judge said he had made every attempt to stop the contempt reaching crisis point but “orders of the court and the rule of law must be observed”.
In June 2015, four years after divorce proceedings began, Mr Hart was ordered to hand over £3.5m of their £9.4m wealth to his wife of 24 years, Karen Hart. As part of that she was also awarded his shares in Drakestown Properties Limited – a company owning two estates of industrial units in the West Midlands.
The shares were transferred, making her the owner of the company. But Mr Hart had “done his utmost to frustrate her ability to run it efficiently and effectively” as he “bitterly resents” that the company had been transferred to his former wife, said the judge.
After delaying the transfer, Hart and his staff “stripped out” management records, leaving behind only two bank statements and a collection of licences and leases.
Mr Hart was ordered on two occasions, in February and July 2016, to provide information to his ex-wife, but failed to co-operate, leaving Mrs Hart with difficulties in her management of the company.

Frustrate the courts

Judge Wildblood said: “This is a man who has received repeated warnings already that he must comply with court orders and he has chosen, repeatedly, not to do so.”
After being sentenced, Mr Hart is now on bail pending appeal on April 18.
Barrister Peter Mitchell has represented Mrs Hart since 2014 and believes the court was left with no alternative action.
Mr Mitchell told Merrick Solicitors: “A jail sentence following civil contempt is rare as is the jailing of an octogenarian. Therefore this makes for a very unusual case. But Mr Hart has been an exceptionally difficult litigant. He has done everything possible to frustrate the courts over many years.”
The judge praised Mr Hart’s ex-wife for being “exceptionally patient” in the proceedings and Mr Mitchell said she took no pleasure from his plight.
He said: “She was upset, she wasn’t looking for her ex-husband to go to jail. But she has had to fight him every step of the way. Three years after finishing litigation he’s still making it impossible for her to move on with her life.”
Barrister Peter Mitchell

Barrister Peter Mitchell

Mr Mitchell said despite the judge’s strong stance he did not believe courts were getting tougher on those who try to block justice.
He said: “There have always been a corpus of litigants who are as difficult as they can be. It is incredibly frustrating for the courts because it is unnecessary.
Mr Mitchell, of London’s 29 Bedford Row Chambers, said: “It is both professionally challenging and extremely interesting, I’ve never been in a case like this before.”

Loss of relationship

The judge, sitting at the High Court in Bristol, said prison would have a “marked effect” on Mr Hart. He added: “Mr Hart has not only lost some of the money which he holds so dear, but he has also experienced the loss of his relationship with his former wife and children.
“From the upbeat, proud and canny businessman that I first saw three years ago, he is now an isolated and sad man seemingly unable to enjoy for his remaining years the millions of pounds that he still owns.”
Commenting on the case, Amanda Merrick, principal at Merrick Solicitors, said the parties involved had the means to fight on until justice was done. That would not be the case for the majority who found themselves in a similar position.
She said: “In most cases there aren’t the assets to justify a protracted fight.  In these circumstances when faced with attempts by one party to avoid the other’s claims, commerciality often dictates defeat before a fair and proper outcome can be achieved.
“These incidences are only going to increase as the decision-making process becomes more stream-lined to accommodate a system that is failing for want of proper funding.”
The judge said the ”unnecessarily protracted litigation” had placed an immense burden on public funds in terms of court time and this would continue as a result of Mr Hart’s incarceration.
Miss Merrick added: “Perhaps this case should now encourage a more robust approach by the courts at a much earlier stage in financial remedy proceedings, particularly when faced with an obviously recalcitrant litigant like Mr Hart.
“Obligations regarding disclosure and compliance with court orders are fundamental to the Family Court’s decision-making process.
“To those parties who think the rules don’t apply to them the message should surely be loud and clear from the outset, not after nearly seven years of litigation.”