News

Family judge praised for ditching legal jargon so child can understand judgment

By on
31

Less legalese for Lynch of Leeds

A family court judge has won plaudits for writing an adoption judgment without legal jargon.

Circuit judge Sarah Lynch, approving the adoption of a baby known only as X, said that her judgment would be written so as to make sense to the parents and the adopted child. Social media users praised the “powerfully compassionate” ruling.

Lynch opened by saying:

“I am going to try to write this judgment in a way that will make sense to them [the parents], given they have some problems with understanding, so it may not sound as legal as some judgments.”

Dispensing with family court jargon, Lynch wrote that “both Y and Z [the parents] had very bad experiences when they were children and those things have really affected them.. they simply were not able to learn how to be the right kind of parents, not because they did not want to but because of their own problems inside”.

Lynch went on to discuss the options for baby X, saying “given he cannot be with his mum and dad, it is more important that he is adopted than that he has a relationship with them… if he can be with his sisters that would be brilliant, a huge plus”.

The 2019 Chambers Most List

As well as making the necessary care and adoption placement orders, Lynch also ordered Wakefield council to hand over a copy of the judgment to X’s adoptive parents so that he can read it in future. The decision was handed down at Leeds Combined Court Centre just before Christmas.

Legal blogger Gordon Exall shared the judgment on Twitter, with lawyers and non-lawyers praising the “powerful” and “sensitively written” prose.

The idea of writing family court judgments in plain English is not new. Peter Jackson, now on the Court of Appeal, wrote one judgment in the form of a letter to the 14-year-old boy involved, beginning it simply “Dear Sam“. A previous Jackson judgment, written for the benefit of the mother and older children in the case, went viral in 2016.

Speaking on the BBC’s Word of Mouth programme earlier this week, family lawyer and blogger Lucy Reed said that decisions are often delivered in “technical language” that prevents the people involved from understanding what’s gone on in their case. Reed has herself written family judgments “using simple words” in her capacity as a deputy district judge.

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Newsletter

31 Comments

Anonymous

As some who is adopted. That matters.

(33)(1)

Mr Charles

That tweet praising the use of plain language as an exemplar for BPTC students is unhelpful. Might be good for the family courts, but do that in yoir written exams and you will fail.

(33)(1)

Anonymous

Or in any area involving difficult law.

(2)(0)

Nick Quine

Perhaps it’s the examination that needs changing? I note the comment below about “difficult law”. What is more difficult than removing a child from their parents?

(2)(2)

Anonymous

Taxation of trusts.

(12)(0)

Anonymous

The parties were represented so get over yourself.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

No they weren’t. Some lawyer may have been on the record, but the proceedings were not meaningfully opposed. This happens all the time. Some poor people had pitched tents outside the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand this weekend gone, trying to draw public attention to the institutionalization of their plight.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

They’ve been there for months.

(1)(0)

EL

The ignorance drips from this comment. The mother’s diagnosis is independent from her capacity to litigate. If there were concerns about her capacity to properly instruct her representatives a capacity assessment would have been undertaken.

And as for the judge not hearing evidence, what would you expect? The family justice system remains adversarial. The case is brought by the applicant (in this example, a local authority). Oral evidence is call if it is challenged, as in the criminal and civil jurisdictions. If evidence is not challenged, submissions can still be made based upon that evidence.

If the mother, for example, had capacity to instruct, and chose not to oppose the substantive applications, what oral evidence would you expect the judge to hear?

You know nothing about the circumstances of this case, the litigants’ capacity or the evidence that the court had before it. Notwithstanding that, you use an example of judicial humanity to make baseless attacks. Shame.

(2)(1)

Mjr. Beef.

that judgment sounds like something that a tenant at 5 Pump Court would write tbf

(12)(0)

Anonymous

Why?

(2)(0)

Scep Tick

I think this has happened in the Family Courts before, when a judge drafted a judgment so that one of the children (who, he said, had shown real interest in the proceedings) could understand it.

The question is why aren’t ALL judgments – indeed statutes – like this? If you can’t explain, say, tax law in a way that a 12 year old can understand it, then there’s something wrong with the law.

(4)(1)

Anonymous

Why would a 12 year old need to know about tax law?

(5)(0)

Scep Tick

You must have done the wrong paper rounds.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

I’m reminded of an old Groucho Marx joke:

‘Why, this document is so simple that a four year old could understand it…get me a four year old, I can’t make heads or tails of it.’

(3)(0)

Mohammed Bello

It is a good thing to encourage simplicity. A preponderance of it though will dull legal judgements and mask the intellectual rigour that lawyers are known for. Simplicity and the language of the law can live in juxtaposition. It is a balancing of the competing interests that is needed in circumstance such as this. The child will understand and so will the parents. That is a more robust outcome.

(3)(6)

Anonymous

Brilliant self parody

(2)(1)

Anonymous

Good.

Now to make the rest of the legal profession speak normal English, rather than trying and failing to make themselves feel clever with funny words.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a limit to it. I had an employment client recently who didn’t understand what subordinate meant. But when we use ridiculous words to describe procedure and court practice, there is something amiss.

(1)(2)

Anonymous

I think wolves in sheeps clothing write judgments like that. I can understand why other wolves would admire it, but the judge is near the top of a pyramid of a terrible state of affairs, really, and perhaps only an experienced eye can see it. A female too !

(0)(6)

Anonymous

Yes there is. The scenario is similar to the admonishment ” a dirge was played for you, but you did not mourn”

Last weekend there were tents outside the High Court from such mothers, protesting. The High Court was probably the least sensible place to do it, but it shows a spark of life.

The parents are part of a harvest, they are never taken as a litmus reading of a society that is very sick, to which reform should be applied. Not even by a judge.

To act helpful, wholesome and sympathetic when you only ever had one product to peddle is not the sort of conduct that stregthens the fabric of society. It is particularly distasteful when the lawyers involved in such cases can afford, and have been known to buy, Porsche Boxsters. This shows they do not agonise about the suffering that goes on.

It is also a shame that the parent loses complete contact.

There is a rare example of an alternative, private arrangement, which was john lennon and aunty mimi, where the mother came back when she was ready. I suspect knowing that she could stopped her complete demise.

The state wont care about the parents here. Big pharma and jails are big business.

(1)(2)

Anonymous

I’m interested in what you say, and agree we are too quick to write parents off and remove their rights.

But the fact remains that not everyone has an aunt Mimi. Far from it. What do you propose for those who don’t have a kindly aunt with the ability and willingness to take the child in (not to mention the economic capacity in this age of the gig economy and housing concerns)? Endless time spent with foster carers until parents are back on their feet?

I think we agree though that the family division doesn’t have the answer, nor does it ever think too deeply about the broader issues.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I think we need to change absolutely everything. I think we need to devise a messianic creed, and roll it out. We already have a draft that we can tweak.

If you wrote the Ridiculous post above –

Have you ever lived the dream yourself ? Turned up at ithe Magistrates Court with an emergency protection order and a witness statement of a social worker, or two ?

Gone to the family court to see the parents flounder and fail as they watch their lawyers take part in the ritual ? To hear them sob. Watch them smoke ? Watch their lawyer talk to to them and then come back to the fold of professionals ?

It is semi secret.

You can bet that the bloke was too out of it to turn up, and they probably waited till 1005 and cracked on because they are so used to it.

The family law cohort know it all and they do not seem to mind. I am against you on the idea that they do not think too deeply about the issues. The system is in place and many solicitor partners and some barristers are in firms or chambers who cover every aspect of it. Ditto the local authorities. Crime and family is a practice cliche. Mental health. Same clients. Same postcodes. Generation upon generation. They used to smoke heavily for our pension funds, now they take big pharma. A judge happily writes that judgment, a lawyer happily re tweets it and many offer their congratulations, so it all continues.
That is why you have to change absolutely everything.

Do you agree ?

(0)(1)

Anonymous

I agree that family lawyers are by and large smug know it alls who don’t have the best intentions for society at heart. If that’s what you mean.

They are a peculiar bunch. They have their machine that churns it all out on a conveyor belt. They operate the machine. They don’t like it when you criticise the way they think about the people they deal with. They don’t like it when you point out the lack of intellectual depth in the Family Division, or the fact that the outcomes of its cases are probably the most predictable in all areas of law.

They have their racket, and I do think that little thought is given by the practitioners to the deeper implications of their work.

It’s a grim area of law.

Family solicitors are the worst – I put them in the same bracket as PI ambulance chasers, only worse in that it is such a common tactic for them to deliberate cause friction between warring parties. And yet they still parade round with their “Resolution” badges on their websites – what an absolute waste of time.

As a parent, mum and dad invariable are the best placed to know how to properly care for their child, in the long term.

Anonymous

Well done for neatly boiling down the core principles of family law into 5 lines of simple English.

Genuinely, family practitioners do not need to know much more than this, other than how to be snide to the opposite side and stoke up (profitable) resentment between ex spouses.

It’s time… to sign! *waaaah*

(1)(0)

Anonymous

“I am going to try to write this judgment in a way that will make sense to them [the parents], given they have some problems with understanding, so it may not sound as legal as some judgments.”

Given the Judge is based in Yorkshire, imagine this passage read in Sean Bean’s sensual, gravelly tones.

Better than the usual plummy southern Judge voice isn’t it?

(5)(0)

Dave Barrister

No.

(1)(4)

Anonymous

Really?

This judgment is based on the finding that if left with the parents the child is “likely” to suffer “neglect and emotional harm” and “at risk” of suffering “physical harm” from a violent father, in circumstances where there has been “longstanding involvement” from Social Services to try to support the parents, but they have not shown any improvement in the standard of care they offer despite this support.

In what world could it be right for a judge to conclude that the likeliest outcome is harm and neglect but the right thing to do is leave the baby with the parents anyway, because it is what they want? This is a tragic case, but it’s clear from the judgement that every single professional who had had contact with the family believes that the parents are not capable of looking after this baby.

Sorry but the child’s rights trumps the parent’s rights, however sad their story.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

The judgment is actually much better than many I have seen at the things the usual style is supposed to deliver. It clearly explains the reasons, it notes that the proper things have been considered, it is clear what is ordered.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Precision is what we’re really after in a legal judgement. Sometimes that requires complex language, sometimes it’s militated against by complex language

(0)(1)

Anonymous

Brilliant self parody

(2)(0)

Outraged LC viewer fed up with all the sneaky censorship

Why was the hilarious post by HHJ Tumble QC that prompted this response deleted without trace?

(1)(0)

Comments are closed.

Related Stories