April follies 2017

April Fool’s day fell on a Saturday this year, so there were perhaps fewer official legal spoofs than there might have been. But the private legal bloggers, with their multi-tasking work-life imbalances, did not let us down.

In the official capacity, we might put Legal Futures, with their story of drones beating the postal service to deliver briefs and papers to barristers’ chambers across the nation in much the same way as, we understand, prisoners’ get their drugs and mobile phones.

Clerksroom is looking to deliver briefs and papers directly to barristers based within a 30-minute flight of the drones’ bases around the country, bringing a whole new meaning to having documents in the cloud.

Meanwhile the academic world reeled from the announcement, reported in Times Higher Education supplement that,

Under a late amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill, universities will be required to end “partisan prejudice” against Brexit and to encourage “national unity” by ensuring all classroom discussions on the subject reflect the “exciting and unrivalled opportunities” on offer from the UK’s departure from the EU.

Amendments to the recently launched Prisons and Courts Bill were responsible not only for the introduction of gavels into English courts, as reported on this blog, but also for the ‘Judicial Sentencing Incentivisation Schemes’ described on the Pink Tape blog, under which judges could find themselves serving the additional portion of the sentences they should have given offenders instead of the overly lenient ones they actually did, with the cost of their detention being deducted from their final pension.

“the rollout of digital justice will mean that judges will be able to continue carrying out their judicial functions whilst detained, their cells operating as pop up courts.

To offset the risk to judicial independence, an MOJ spokesperson pointed out that judges would have the assistance of a McKenzie friend to help them prepare their defences and ‘with getting the videolink to work’.

McKenzie friends featured in another announcement, this time from the Transparency Project, about Legal Support Animals. Also known as McKenzie Pets, these cats and dogs, or possibly other non-legally qualified fauna, would be permitted to attend court to provide moral support and practical help to unrepresented litigants. They ‘may even be given a right of audience’, the report says. Under a pilot scheme:

Unrepresented litigants wishing to take their animals into court will need to register in advance with the court listing office, stating why they think their animal will help them win their case. A subcommittee of Family Proceedings Rule Committee has been specially convened to draw up a Code of Practice. This will provide that in certain circumstances, subject to the discretion of the judge, a legal support animal (LSA) may be given a right of audience.

However the most alarming announcement of a new arrival on the legal services scene was Barristerblogger Matthew Scott’s report of how, owing to a data protection glitch on the pupillage gateway online applications system, it had emerged that controversial Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins was ‘set to become a barrister’.

Unfortunately none of her first choice of specialist immigration chambers made her an offer. However, her potential was immediately spotted by Goldsmith’s Building and Hopkins will spend her first 6 months of pupillage as the pupil of feminist icon Charlotte Proudman.

The report noted that Hopkins had become a member of Gray’s Inn. One trembles to think how any challenge by a meek fellow student over dinner in hall might be settled. Gray’s is fond of its traditions, which include the imposition of penalties, if successfully challenged for infringing strict rules of conduct. However, none has ever been quite as draconian as the one Hopkins set for herself, and then failed to perform, if and when Sadiq Khan won the London mayoral election, namely, to ‘run naked down Regent Street with a sausage up my bum in protest’.

Also ‘draconian’, but in quite a difference sense (the word is not uncommon in legal discourse, of course), is this lovely image tweeted by The Bangor Aye, to whom we send the best wishes of the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England AND WALES.

That’s it for the moment. If we find any more we’ll add them later. There were, of course, various non-law follies and spoofs, including reports of yet more new jobs for George Osborne (The Stage had him take over as artistic director of The Globe theatre; The Guardian had him becoming a fashion designer to launch a new range of “high-quality, hi-visibility industrial garments aimed at the multitasking CEO”.) And when Ian Duncan Smith was interviewed on the wireless they thought that, too, was meant to be a joke; then they remembered he was once leader of the Conservative Party.

UPDATE: Breaking news form the Family Law Hub announced that the UK government is considering turning the UK into a ‘big money divorce haven’ if the Brexit talks falter.

The plans are set out in a draft White Paper circulating in Whitehall at the moment that would see the divorce haven idea introduced alongside any moves for the UK to become a low tax offshore competitor to Europe. According to the paper, such a move would leverage the UK’s perceived reputation as the ‘divorce capital of the world’ to encourage wealthy people to divorce under a UK ‘petition of convenience’ if BIIA no longer applies.

Presumably BIIA means the Brussels II bis regulation No 2201/2003 on the cross-border enforcement of matrimonial proceedings.

UPDATE 2: The Family Law service from Jordans/LexisNexis reported on a new FPR Practice Direction 36V: Pilot Scheme for the Use of Virtual Judges for Contested Divorce.

As part of the drive towards digitalisation of the Family Court, a new Family Procedure Rules Practice Direction has been published that sets out the pilot scheme for the use of virtual judges for contested divorce cases. The scheme is being piloted in Bristol and will run for 1 year.

There’s even a short video demonstrating the virtual judge in action. Disappointingly, she does not wield a virtual gavel, but no doubt that is an oversight.

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The ICLR publishes The Law Reports, The Weekly Law Reports and other specialist titles. Set up by members of the judiciary and legal profession in 1865.

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