Saturday, 28 July 2018

Divorce law and the need for change

It does appear that the recent furore over a wife who has been unable to obtain a divorce from her husband because his alleged “unreasonable behaviour” was insufficient to justify an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, is going to persuade the Government to try once again to tackle the challenge of changing our divorce law.

As a solicitor undertaking family work for over 36 years I support the view that reform is long overdue although whether our law makers are capable of arriving at a compromise acceptable both to those who demand modernisation and those seeking to protect the sanctity of marriage is more debateable.

Under the current law dating back to 1968 to obtain a divorce you must satisfy the court that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, and you can only do that by proving 1 of 5 grounds namely the other party’s adultery, the other party’s unreasonable behaviour, 2 years separation with the consent of the other party, 5 years separation, or 2 years desertion.
So assuming that the marriage has died but the parties are still living in the same property and no third part is involved the only option is an allegation of unreasonable behaviour (whether by agreement or not).

Unreasonable behaviour allegations must by definition give a very black and white view of a relationship when in reality the situation is rarely so one sided and more a varying shade of grey.

The reformers argue that if one spouse has finally concluded that the marriage is at an end then it has irretrievably broken down and this is certainly the case where both parties are agreed. They say if 2 adults can enter in to a marriage why should the state prevent them from exiting in a quick and non-confrontational manner if they wish. Others will argue that to make divorce too easy will undermine the institution taking away the incentive to work through difficulties and others will say that marriage is intended as a lifelong commitment.

I have seen it suggested that the easiest solution would be to reduce the separation periods mentioned above from 2 and 5 years to perhaps 6 months and a year. This may work in some cases but in the majority of cases I have handled over the years the parties could not afford to live separately until the entire financial package had been agreed and potentially the family home sold. The financial order is not made until an advanced stage of the divorce and so if the divorce can only be started post separation there is an obvious chicken and egg quandary.

The options are numerous but my preference would be to have 3 potential grounds:

1. Mutual consent – this would involve reliance being placed on a certificate of consent by the other spouse signed in the presence of a family lawyer to avoid the risk of duress;
2. The other party’s adultery;
3. Where the parties were not agreed and provable adultery had not taken place then a spouse should be entitled to lodge a certificate of intent with the court and say 6 months later could commence divorce proceedings. This would allow a spouse who is convinced that an irretrievable breakdown has taken place to commence action without the need for a lengthy separation or allegations against the spouse, but also building in a cooling off/reflection period.

I will be watching developments with interest!

Lib Dems - Why bother!

The recent conduct of Lib Dem Leader Vince Cable is quite bizarre. For the leader of a party whose only message to the public appears to be that they want to stay in the EU notwithstanding the referendum result, it now transpires that he missed an important Brexit vote because he was attending a meeting to discuss the possible formation of a new anti-Brexit party sitting in the middle of the political spectrum.

Well I must be missing something but I thought the Lib Dems regarded themselves as an anti-Brexit party sitting in the middle of the political spectrum so why would their leader contemplate participating in such a meeting even if more conveniently scheduled?

Perhaps he believes that the image of the Lib Dems is so damaged in the eyes of the electorate that the only solution is to morph it into a new party.

It seems that it is not only Mr Cable who is suffering this identity crisis. As someone who has been involved in local politics for years I am fully aware of the Lib Dems stock electioneering campaign tactic of moving from a left wing party to a right wing party and back depending on the character of the seat they are chasing.

Indeed local Lib Deb leader Carole Mulroney is happy to herald her party political credentials when fighting her Leigh seat in Southend Borough elections, taking advantage of the long links parts of Leigh have had with the historic Liberal party, but when seeking election to Leigh Town Council she implies to voters that she is an independent as that is in keeping with the public perception of a Town Council.

So perhaps Carole and her party leader have quite a bit in common - both apparently prepared to consider avoiding their connections to this damaged party if they think it can work to their advantage.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Sally Carr is alive and kicking!

How very unfortunate. In a small item the Leigh Times intended to mark the unfortunate death of ex mayor and Thorpe Bay councillor Daphne White but for some bizarre reason suggested that it was that other ex mayor and Southend Councillor Sally Carr who had passed away.

Fortunately Sally remains alive and well. I suppose that it does give her the opportunity to use that famous Mark Twain quote "The report of my death was an exaggeration"!

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Leigh Town Council - The farce continues

I was not a supporter of the formation of Leigh Town Council and nothing that has happened in subsequent years has changed my view. It was formed at a time when our long campaign to escape the clutches of Essex County Council and to return Southend to the status of a unitary authority was reaching fruition.

So at a time when we were cutting the levels of local government reducing operating costs and increasing accountability Leigh Town Council was formed to undermine that progress. I accept that since Southend Council agreed that LTC should take over the running of Leigh Community Centre they appear to have done so effectively however they represent a very expensive basis for a community centre operating committee.

One of their supposed strengths was the absence of party political affiliations. The result of this is that the process has not had the support of the party machines which, like or not, does help improve communication with the public, and has meant that most voters have absolutely no idea what their potential candidates stand for or wish to prioritise. This has resulted in poor voter turnout (even by local government standards) and often a chronic lack of candidates. In addition we have the farce of Lib Dem SBC councillor Carole Mulroney purporting to serve on LTC as an "independent".

My scepticism was fuelled by a recent edition of the Leigh Times which reported that following 2 recent councillor vacancies and a complete absence of any call for by elections 2 new councillors had been co-opted albeit by a meeting where only 5 of the 14 remaining councillors attended! So much for democracy.

In addition the LTC clerk was quoted as suggesting that an attendance of 77 residents at the Council's Annual Meeting was credible and reflected the interest in the affairs of the Town Council. Far be it for me to add a touch of realism but this pathetic attendance linked with the reluctance of electors to call for by elections to select the councillors to represent them or to vote unless in the polling station already for another more significant vote, in fact demonstrates that the majority of the community are either opposed to the cost and insignificance of LTC or are simply apathetic - not particularly caring one way or the other.

The time has come for the electorate to be given the opportunity to vote on the future of LTC but this time there should be a threshold of at least 50% of those voting and 40% of the total electorate before this costs group is allowed to continue.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Wexham's Airport Amnesia

Understandably for the significant number of residents living under or near to the flight path the news of Ryanair’s imminent arrival at Southend Airport linked with the greater awareness of flights in the summer when windows are open and gardens more used, has caused concern.

Such a situation obviously gives the perfect opportunity for some politicians to try to take advantage of the situation, linked with a convenient mistelling of history, to try to curry electoral support.

Accordingly it was no great surprise to read Lib Dem Councillor Peter Wexham’s latest comments in the Leigh Times.
Peter comments: “There is not much than can be done about it now because Southend’s Tory controlled council, at the time, made the lease very easy and flexible for Stobarts…I for one voted against the extension…and then during the negotiations we put forward a motion that there should be no night flights unless it was an emergency..but that was rejected by the Tory council. The airport company are free to do as they like because they are allowed so many night flights a month”.

What Peter does not mention is:
1. The existing airport lease contained almost no effective restrictions, particularly on flight numbers, night flights, noise levels or flight direction;
2. The current operators acquired the lease of the airport without discussion or agreement with the Council as landlord. If we had not negotiated a new lease with more effective restrictions they would have worked the airport within the current restrictions, no doubt to include more freight and significantly higher numbers of night flights;
3. This was not a new airport. It has existed for years and the runway was in place when most if not all of the affected homes were bought by their current owners. When I was young in the 70s the noise levels were far greater than now and permissible under the previous lease;
4. Whilst some of us representing wards to the west of the Town were concerned the reality was that the majority of councillors across ALL parties were strongly supportive of airport expansion because of the economic benefits. The grant of a new lease was inevitable and the option was either to stick our head in the sand and vote against any realistic compromise as it salved our personal conscience (like Peter Wexham) or to work with the situation as it was and concentrate on negotiating the best restrictions we could get which was the approach of me and my colleagues.

The Lib Dems therefore proposed no night flights cynically knowing that the airport would never accept this because of the obligations to the successful repair companies on site.

On the other hand we negotiated a stringent set of controls relating to noise levels, flight numbers, limited night flights, passenger numbers and uniquely directing that at least 50% of all flights took off and arrived from the north. This was enshrined in both the terms of the lease but also the planning conditions on the runway extension.

We also created a Monitoring Committee to check the airport played by the rules. Rather than bleating perhaps Cllr Wexham should be ensuring that Committee meets as soon as possible and that the restrictions are enforced. In the meantime he might care to point out to residents that the situation would have been far worse if left to him rather than the efforts of the then Conservative Administration!

Friday, 8 June 2018

More parking issues!

I have already moaned about Southend Council's current car parking policy but here we go again!

Mrs H made one of her regular trips to the hairdresser yesterday which meant using the Shorefield Road car park.

She needed 3 hours which of course meant paying for 4 at a cost of £4.50 So not a good start.

She is an intelligent woman but did not appreciate from the instructions, which are far from clear, that she needed to enter the required parking period before paying her money.

She inserted £4.50 In cash but then had to go back to the beginning to enter her car reg and period required. There was no apparent option to return her cash or to reject the coins. The machine having apparently swallowed her money then required further payment before the ticket was issued.

So £9 for a 3 hour stay.

Her complaint email went to SBC yesterday and she has received an acknowledgement so we now wait for what happens next.

Whilst not wanting to labour the point again, car parking charges are an important element of the Council's budget and to maximise their potential they need to be reasonably and fairly priced and payment machines easy and logical to use so as to encourage rather than discourage potential users.

On the experience of me and my wife to date this challenge is not currently being met.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Proper priorities

The Leigh Times recently dropped through my letter box including an article by new Council Deputy Leader James Courtenay. I have a lot of time for James and indeed appointed him to his first cabinet post. However I am concerned about the work apparently now being put in to formulating a vision of the Town for 2050 which he was championing.

This followed an earlier meeting which I attended addressed by the Town's Chief Executive which was talking about work focussing on how the Town will look in 50 years.

In circumstances where we are constantly being told that the Council's budget and staff have been cut to the bone and we are facing massive and urgent issues which need immediate action to include the challenges of social care, the decline of the High Street, the pressures on the Town's infrastructure etc, I would question the urgency of this work.

If I was adopting my fall back "Yes Minister" synacism I would say that this is a local government officer policy made in heaven. No pressure and more importantly no accountability on the basis that by the time the target date is reached most of those involved will be dead or elsewhere and certainly the officer group will be long gone.

Never mind about engaging the public with hypothetical speculation about the future, when in any event changes to life which we can't currently even contemplate will have take place to change the way local government is provided. I would suggest time would be better spent developing a deliverable plan for the next 2-5 years which engages with the public and delivers on some of the challenging areas I have indicated.

Or would it be better simply spending month's and precious council resources going in ever decreasing circles and ending up looking up our own backsides!