I would imagine that many who work at the sharper end of criminal and family law would not have been as surprised as others over the outbreak of civil disorder across the country last week.
I am from Ealing and now live in Manchester, two of the worst affected areas, and sat glued to my TV as I watched scenes of the young (and not so young) rioting and looting familiar streets whilst the helicopter overhead provided a surround-sound reminder of how close the trouble was to my own doorstep.
The questions of Why? How? Who? and Why now? will keep politicians and the media occupied for a long time to come, but just dealing with the cold hard facts, what can be said without controversy is that the country as a whole has now woken up to the fact that there is a section of our society who believe they can behave in whatever way they want without implications and who wish to contribute nothing to the fabric of what keeps our society and economy going. This attitude can only prevail where there is no work or success ethic and where there is no stigma attached to being long-term unemployed and on benefits.
From my previous life working in criminal law, a significant part of any guilty defendant's mitigation would always be their plans for work or employment. A demonstration to the court that they had actively sought to obtain or retain work would always be a persuasive factor that they understood the need to make a positive contribution to society. Perhaps because of that, it has often struck me as strange that within my experience of family law proceedings, particularly where both parents are unemployed, very little, if anything, is made of the employment status of the parties. As one (working) client said to me about the court's approach to the father of her child "It's almost as though they accept that, aged 40, he will never work again". I wonder if this is just the case in Liverpool, where levels of unemployment are high, or if it is reflected in other parts of the country too?
I'm sure that in general the family courts feel sufficiently burdened without having to deal with employment issues as well, but I believe that where the circumstances of the parent allow, an understanding of the importance of work and an intention to provide materially as well as emotionally is vitally important to the welfare of every child. A work ethic ties in with it a respect for authority, an appreciation for the value of things and a vested interest in the broader issues in society. Wherever possible, I believe, parents should be encouraged to believe that it is in the interests of their children and their children's future that they should go out to work. It would only be a positive thing, now more than ever, if the family courts could assist in conveying that message clearly and firmly to the parents who appear before them.
Kate Gomery has recently qualified as a family law solicitor. She works at Heaney Watson in Liverpool where she is exposed to all types of family law work but particularly publicly funded family law cases. Prior to qualification Kate spent several years doing general crime and then serious fraud work. She trained at Pannone in Manchester.
The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.