Yesterday, I read the judgment in R (Children)  EWCA Civ 198.
It is a case with many aspects to it and it deserves to be read for a number of reasons.
The reason I am writing about it here concerns the courageousness of an advocate involved. The solicitor advocate, June Venters QC, effectively admitted that she had failed to pick up various points because she had not been allowed enough time to prepare. Furthermore, for much of the preparation time, that involved wading through a huge volume of evidence, she was disadvantaged by not having anything like the assistance or resources available to the other parties in the proceedings. There had been an extension of time but this was inadequate and in no way compensated for the inequality of arms she had been presented with. It is easy to see how she would have felt brow beaten, isolated, disadvantaged and even bullied, but, nonetheless she was able to successfully appeal an earlier fact finding hearing conducted by Mrs Justice Theis.
In a recent lecture, Prof Jo Delahunty QC, in providing examples of judicial bullying, listed the following (at the end of quite a long list) :
‘– Refusing to give them time to formulate an argument or response in circumstances where it is unfair to them and their client to do so.’
Clearly, the judge’s behaviour, which we know from our members reports is by no means an isolated example, falls into the category of judicial bullying. Fortunately, for her and her client June Venters was able to stand up to it but it took an appeal and a huge amount of additional work involving complex legal issues for her to do so.
Most people cannot get legal aid or afford representation of the high calibre provided my June Venters. Furthermore, they find themselves in an intimidating and alien environment, having little time to prepare, having little time to learn new facts and skills and having to do all this whilst grieving for children they miss terribly, at the same time as fighting off symptoms of failing mental health and in most cases at the same time as doing a job to keep a roof over their heads. Where does such poor judicial, indeed bullying and inhumane, behaviour leave them?
As usual, the reported case represents the tip of an iceberg. What about the lower courts which are hidden beneath the surface and are seldom, if ever reported or scrutinised. We know these appalling behaviours are anything but unusual and it is high time they were illuminated. We also know that such behaviours are infectious and they do not only infect judges but that they appear to have cross infected other disciplines too.
What are your experiences?
Professor Jo Delahunty QC’s lecture can be seen here. It is well worth watching.