Friday, December 26, 2014
Cohabiting couples should not be given 'married' rights as it sends out the wrong message, says top British family court judge
Cohabiting couples should never be allowed legal rights over each other’s money and property, one of Britain’s most senior family law experts said yesterday. Giving them the same rights as married couples would be naive and send out the wrong message, said retired High Court judge Sir Paul Coleridge.
His intervention comes amid fresh attempts – backed by many judges and lawyers – to push a law through Parliament setting out legal entitlements for those in live-in relationships.
He said any law designed to give special rights to just one section of the population would be a mistake. And he criticised politicians – including Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg – who support a new law for ‘giving the impression that marriage doesn’t matter’.
Sir Paul, who heads the Marriage Foundation think-tank, is the first senior judge to come out strongly against any cohabitation law. He had once supported such a move, he said, as it would protect women left penniless after the breakdown of a long live-in relationship.
But yesterday he told the Daily Mail: ‘I have had a Damascene conversion. I used to be quite in favour of some form of legal protection. ‘But I have drawn away from a cohabitation law. It is a naive, lawyer-driven idea, and some leadership is needed.’
Sir Paul, who retired in April but still presides in the occasional family case, said that giving legal rights to cohabitees would be a signal of official approval of such relationships. ‘You have to look at the bigger picture,’ he said.
‘There are nearly two million children of these relationships and they are at a disadvantage because of that. I think that is fully established now. The Government should be unequivocal in its support for marriage. Half of all family litigation is a matter of family breakdown among the unmarried. ‘That means 20 per cent of the population but 50 per cent of family court workload. Can you imagine the effect on the courts if there is legislation to give rights to cohabitees?’
Sir Paul said the debate on changing the law had overshadowed arguments about the need to strengthen marriage and called for more attention to be paid to ‘the terrible problem of family breakdown and the divisions it is creating in society’.
‘People think marriage is for the likes of them, it’s not for us. This is not helped by people like Nick Clegg and others who give the impression that marriage doesn’t matter and all relationships are the same.’
Sir Paul’s intervention comes as much of the legal profession and many politicians have been trying to build support for a cohabitation law. The most senior family law judge, President of the Family Division Sir James Munby, said in October that the lack of legal protection for cohabitees ‘is an injustice which has been recognised as long as I have been in the law’. He said: ‘Reform is desperately needed. Reform is inevitable. How many more women are to be condemned to injustice in the meantime?’
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Marks has tabled a Bill in the Lords that would give cohabiting partners rights after they had lived together for two years or after they have had children. That would see a cohabitee entitled to a share of the money, property and pension of their former partner in the event of a break-up.
Lawyers have been calling for such a law for of years. However, critics point out that it would provide a new source of lucrative earnings for the legal profession.
David Cameron rejected the idea of a cohabitation law shortly after the Coalition took power in 2010.
There are nearly three million cohabiting couples in the country, with numbers rising. However, such relationships typically last only a third as long as the average marriage.
And evidence also shows that children of cohabitees are less wealthy, less healthy and less likely to do well at school.
Critics blame the rise of cohabitation for the increasing number of children in one-parent families.
France prepares to quietly say 'au revoir' to its 75% super-tax on the rich after struggling to attract top international staff
When President Francois Hollande unveiled a 'super-tax' on the rich in 2012, some feared an exodus of business, sporting and artistic talent. One adviser warned it was a Socialist step too far that would turn France into 'Cuba without sun'.
Two years on, with the tax due to expire at the end of this month, the mass emigration has not happened. But the damage to France's appeal as a home for top earners has been great, and the pickings from the levy paltry.
'The reform clearly damaged France's reputation and competitiveness,' said Jorg Stegemann, head of Kennedy Executive, an executive search firm based in France and Germany.
He added: 'It clearly has become harder to attract international senior managers to come to France than it was.'
Hollande first floated the 75-per cent super-tax on earnings over £784,000 a year in his 2012 campaign to oust his conservative rival Nicolas Sarkozy. It fired up left-wing voters and helped him unseat the incumbent.
Yet ever since, it has been a thorn in his side, helping little in France's effort to bring its public deficit within European Union limits and mixing the message just as Hollande sought to promote a more pro-business image. The adviser who made the 'Cuba' gag was Emmanuel Macron, the ex-banker who is now his economy minister.
The Finance Ministry estimates the proceeds from the tax amounted to £200 million in its first year and £125 million in the second. That's broadly in line with expectations, but tiny compared with a budget deficit which had reached £65 billion by the end of October.
A first version of the tax payable by the earners themselves was thrown out by the Constitutional Court as punitive. A final version obliged companies to pay the levy instead.
French soccer clubs briefly threatened to go on strike, and actor Gerard Depardieu took up Russian residency in a one-man protest against the French tax burden, among the highest in the world. Others were making more discreet arrangements.
'A few went abroad -- to Luxembourg, the UK,' said tax lawyer Jean-Philippe Delsol, author on a book on tax exiles called 'Why I Am Going To Leave France'. 'But in most cases, it was discussed with their company and agreed to limit salaries during the two years and come to an arrangement afterwards,' he told Reuters by telephone.
Hollande and his government have since sought to relieve business of around £31 billion of taxes and other charges, as unemployment at over 10 per cent drives home the urgent need to attract investment to the sickly French economy.
It was no accident that Prime Minister Manuel Valls - alongside Macron the main reformer in Hollande's cabinet - chose a visit to London in October to confirm that the super tax would not be renewed: his British counterpart David Cameron famously offered to 'roll out the red carpet' to French tax exiles.
But Delsol said the saga had made his clients more nervous about investing their time and money in France and had only added to mistrust of a complex tax system which successive governments have failed to reform.
Another evil British social worker
A social worker who falsely accused an innocent father of abusing his six-year-old daughter was allowed to continue working with vulnerable children, it has emerged.
Suzi Smith alleged during a custody battle that she had seen Jonathan Coupland, 53, attack his child.
The accusation – made while she was ‘really, really angry’ – led to him being handcuffed in front of neighbours, thrown into a cell and banned from seeing his daughter. The Daily Mail revealed the case in April, and since then a disciplinary hearing has found Mrs Smith guilty of misconduct and ruled that her fitness to practise is impaired.
But she was not struck off or suspended. Instead, she was given a three-year caution order, which means she can continue to work with the most vulnerable children.
It has also emerged that she was allowed to continue working as a social worker after making the false accusation.
Last night, Mr Coupland told of his anger that Mrs Smith was permitted to carry on working with children. ‘I am shaking with rage,’ he said. ‘I feel disgusted. It is unbelievable. I was arrested for sexually assaulting the most precious thing in my life. Once you are tarred with that brush, that is it. People where I live think I am a paedophile.
‘But she was working with children again – the one place I would never want her to work again. She even got a promotion. What has she got now? Just a slap on the wrist. No parent or child should go through what my family has gone through. No sanction will ever be strong enough for her.’
Mrs Smith, 53, admitted making the ‘horrific mistake’ and was sacked early last year from her job with Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, which represents children in the family courts.
She was jobless between February and June 2013, but from July 2013 until January 2014, was employed by an agency to work with children for Southampton City Council, where she dealt with issues of child protection and adoption.
The disciplinary hearing at the Health and Care Professions Council, in Kennington, South London, was told she was even given a promotion and did three other stints of agency work as a social worker for local councils until January, when she had to stop working in the run-up to her disciplinary case.
Mr Coupland, from Spalding, Lincolnshire, raised his daughter alone after splitting from her mother. The former painter and decorator has fought a lengthy custody battle.
In January 2012, Mrs Smith made a home visit and apparently clashed with Mr Coupland. Subsequently, she wrote the damning case note while she was ‘really, really angry’. She claimed she had witnessed Mr Coupland stroking his daughter inappropriately – which he has always denied and she now admits did not happen.
Later, Mr Coupland was arrested at home on suspicion of sexual assault and questioned for about ten hours. He claims officers threatened to put his daughter in temporary care before he begged them to place her with his mother.
The following day, Mr Coupland was told there would be no further action. Mrs Smith had been interviewed by officers and retracted what she had previously claimed.
Cafcass, which is funded by the Department of Justice, sacked Mrs Smith and paid Mr Coupland £86,000 in damages.
Mrs Smith’s husband Tim, who represented her at the hearing, said she was overworked when she made her initial record about Mr Coupland touching his daughter. ‘She immediately retracted that with the police,’ he said. ‘At the time of making that record Mrs Smith was in a mood. She was working 14 hours a day and had something like 40 cases on the go. There is no other explanation apart from it was just a horrific mistake.’
Mrs Smith said she had learned from what happened. ‘I have tried to establish a better work-life balance to make sure I am not overworked and that each of my cases get the attention they deserve,’ she told the hearing. She said she was ‘taking time to do less work but more accurate work’.
Mrs Smith has previously apologised to Mr Coupland and said she was put under pressure by police to stick to what she initially wrote that he had done. Panel chairman Stephen Fash said Mrs Smith had ‘overstated’ what she thought she had observed. The panel found she made the false allegation, but did not do so dishonestly.
Lincolnshire Police said officers were ‘duty bound to investigate’ Mrs Smith’s allegation, adding: ‘It transpired that the allegation was not as originally reported to us. The male was released without charge.’
The sleepy old Church of England still has magic for some
Daughters have secrets from their mothers — the unsuitable man, the vodka habit, the misspent night, the bedside copy of Fifty Shades. At a push, I could have made such confessions to my mother.
But what I really did not want her to find out, what I could never bring myself to tell her, was that I go to church — and not just at Christmas.
My mother, Marion, was an atheist — a genuine one with no hedging of bets at the last minute when she died, no keeping her options open just in case. For her, it was ashes to ashes. And that was that.
To admit to her that, as an adult, I had been baptised and confirmed would have seemed a betrayal. Not because it was a rejection of what she thought — she would have accepted my right to my own beliefs. But because she spent far too much of her life in a wheelchair.
She had multiple sclerosis, the cruellest of diseases, and I would look at her wasting away, her power and beauty destroyed, and ask myself how can I possibly put my faith in a God so callously careless with those He is supposed to love?
It’s all right for me, I would think. I can go along with some smug message of life after death because in the meantime I can saunter out of the room and enjoy all the world has to offer — something she could not do for decades.
So I never told her about my church-going. Though she knew about the man who introduced me to it.
When we met, he seemed the wittiest and most attractive man on earth. And the deepest. He was on his own frantic search, his home packed with spiritual guide books of all varieties, be it texts on Sufism, the way of the Tao, Judaism, or bestsellers by modern mystics. And I began reading.
I did not stay with the man, but I did with the books, and a few years later I threw in my lot with the Church of England, thanks to an Anglican priest. He believed that different faiths were just different ways of reaching the same end.
Background, education and culture meant certain routes worked better than others. For him, like me, growing up in England, saying the Lord’s Prayer at school, Anglicanism felt the closest to home.
Faith can then feel like something you turn to out of weakness: a fairytale concocted to make the sickness of the world bearable.
Worrying whether you are taking up religion because you can’t face reality is, at least, a private conflict you can keep to yourself.
But religion sits unhappily with us in the 21st century and this year its consequences seem particularly dreadful when, all in the name of God, heads are severed and wars fought with merciless brutality.
Yet, last Sunday, at eight o’clock in the morning, I found myself in church again.
Like every adult I know, I complain of being tired all the time. But on the one day of the week I can have a lie-in — no school run, no football matches to support — I go to early Communion. Why I hope to find some sort of comfort in a quiet country church I’m not sure.
I certainly don’t have any childhood nostalgia about the familiar cadences of the prayers, as I sit under the eye of marble statues, an embroidered kneeler at my feet.
Undoubtedly, the building is lovely, with a sense of communities meeting and singing here for almost 1,000 years to defy the darkness outside and within. But I’m more likely to find a split-second of spiritual clarity when traipsing out on my own in the dawn light across the muddy sugar beet fields around my home. Not in a consecrated building.
And yet, still, I go. There are so few of us, we sit in a tiny side chapel. Even on a good day numbers rarely exceed 20. The faces are nearly always the same. And though I won’t see 50 again, I am invariably the youngest, sometimes by a decade or two.
Who will sit with me when I am the age of my fellow communicants, I have no idea. None of my contemporaries join me. Nor anyone in my family, who are at home on the sofa, making their devotions to the repeat of Match Of The Day.
When I lived in London, I would often go to the main 11 o’clock service at a rather fashionable Georgian church, connected to a very good Anglican primary school.
The pews were pretty full with screaming babies, fidgeting children and parents trying to keep them under some sort of control, in order to better their chances of a coveted place.
But out here on the East coast of England where I now live, with that small band of elderly believers, it is hard not to think I am at the end of the Christian era and that the church, as pretty as a Christmas card with sheep grazing around the gravestones, may one day end up a museum or a splendid family home rather than a house of God.
Yes, at this time of year, many churches are busy enough. Apparently, about a third of the population will attend some sort of service this Christmas time, be it a carol concert, a nativity play or on Christmas Day itself.
But come January, and for much of the year, attendance slumps below a million — barely two per cent of the population.
The most devout friend of mine is a Muslim and many of my contemporaries who are interested in this sort of thing tend to take up meditation and yoga. They wear crosses, Buddhas and Stars of David round their necks. And I can understand their rejection of traditional Christianity.
On Sunday mornings we say the ancient creed — that we ‘believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth… and look for the Resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come’.
But I look around at my fellow communicants, highly intelligent people, men and women of the world, and I’m wondering, do you truly believe in just the one God and that there really is life after this one?
Do I, for that matter? Do I believe my mother lives on, somewhere, free of the pain that darkened her life? Or is it just mumbo-jumbo with no relevance in the slightest to the 21st century?
Yet, however much I question my faith, if I don’t get to church, I miss it. The format never changes. Every week the text is from the Book of Common Prayer and (a relief to me) there is no singing. The glorious poetry of the language never fails to touch me.
We are out by 8.30am. And I wish I could say that I return home counting my blessings and remembering those less fortunate than me, or prepared to follow a slightly more grateful and graceful path. But such humility eludes me.
More often than not I set one foot in the door and I’m resenting the fact that no one has bothered to empty the dishwasher and that, ‘because it’s Sunday’, I’m being asked to cook a ‘full English’ for breakfast.
And yet, as I’m frying up, part of me is still clinging on to that half an hour of peace. Despite the yells from the sitting room for mushrooms as well as bacon, I feel I have at least had a brief retreat from the mundane, a glimpse of how life might be if I could only really believe.
And if I was told I could not go to church again, I fear something in me would completely wither and that despair would then set in. At Christmas, the most ardent unbelievers can find tears in their eyes as they listen to Silent Night or sing of ‘the hopes and fears of all the years’ amid flickering candles, the smell of fresh-cut evergreens and images of trumpeting angels.
You do not need a Christian faith to take heart from the idea of light in the darkness and reminders that the world will swing again from winter into spring.
But I seek that reminder more than once a year — even though, intellectually, I can demolish my church-going in seconds, having no rational explanation for it.
So this Sunday, like every Sunday, I will get up early and put my head down against the wind blowing in off the North Sea and trudge up the muddy track to church.
I’ll think of my mother, immobile in her chair, and how much she would have loved to be out walking by my side, even though she would not have joined me for the service. And I can’t help wondering which one of us is right.
But for now, for me, it is a choice. It comes down to the fact that I simply cannot bear to think that this life is all there is. I desperately want to believe that there is a peace beyond my understanding, a place of infinite tenderness, that, in the end, I am — that we all are — always loved.
So I will be on the side of the angels — and not just at Christmas — in the hope that they are not just a figment of my imagination and yearning, but genuine tidings of comfort and joy.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.