Even if you are ‘happily married’ and do a good job of caring for your children, the chances are that somebody you care about will be affected by problems needing legal solutions. People do their best to handle legal problems themselves in a system that can never be stripped of complexity, no matter how big the typeface forms are printed in. Big fonts or small print, legal documents are complicated and change lives.
Add Online Divorce as complexity dressed up as simplicity.
Getting involved in court proceedings after a few clicks of the mouse might sound like ‘progress’ in a 24/7/365 digital culture, but so far algorithms cannot factor-in your emotional wellbeing. All courts are moving over to online divorce after centralisation of family law work into regional hubs and the government clearly hopes that there will be further costs savings through technology and court closures. Once they changed the local family courts to being one national mega-court merely ‘sitting at’ locations, I predicted that the agenda of court closures and property sell-offs was gaining momentum.
Newcastle has been selected as one of a handful of areas where ideas to ‘modernise’ the court system are being piloted at short notice. There was no complaint that the people of the North East were unhappy with Courts only opening during the day, but it has struck the bean-counters that not using real estate for part of the day is inefficient. With judges retiring at a rapid rate, court staff hiding from the public rather than face their understandable annoyance with how the system treats them and administrative backlogs that often stretch into weeks’ of communications, one might think that opening courts into the evening might not be the solution.
In the original pilot scheme for extending court opening hours into the evening, there were considerable negatives which those controlling the project seem unwilling to recognise. Now they are imposing those negatives on the people served by the Newcastle courts. Judges working split-shifts or over-long hours may come to echo the problem with hospital doctors – too few being asked to do too much. We have seen how well successive governments have managed that problem.
In the programme of court closures, it was proposed that in future cases be heard in any venue they could hire ‘on the cheap’ for the day. So much for taking justice seriously: the public and lawyers alike were not convinced that the seriousness of decision-making would be enhanced by hearings being held in an infant school hall or the function room of a Byker pub.
Around the country, closing court buildings was about as popular with as expecting Newcastle United and Sunderland to both go and ground-share with Middlesbrough or if there was a match already on, switching the venue to Gateshead Stadium or Wallsend Boys club. When you are worried about your future being decided by a judge, introducing ‘flexibility’ of venues increases anxiety.
At Major Family Law, we look ahead to anticipate developments, as well as deal expertly with the law as it is and Newcastle being a pilot area for a scheme that was generally regarded as unpopular and ineffective elsewhere does not fill us with optimism.
When online divorce is rolled out, we expect to hear of people who went online ‘under the influence’ and started divorce proceedings, rather than simply bought 237 pairs of flip-flops on eBay.
As taking time is considered ‘delay’ rather than an opportunity for reflection, safeguards so that people do what is best will probably remain lacking. Having the experience and skills to help you decide what is right rather instead of what is easiest/quickest will remain something that good family lawyers will endeavour to maintain.
If you have a family matter you wish to discuss with Lewis you can email him direct firstname.lastname@example.org