A family lawyer's challenge to Basildon Council
As a family lawyer, I like to think there is no dispute for which a solution cannot be found. No matter how polarised the clients are, and no matter how contrasting their arguments may be, at some point their disputes can and will be resolved.
This week at Stowe Family Law, for example, our children lawyers have been especially busy. We have been instructed in a number of contact and residence disputes. Trying to conciliate the parents’ disputes, bringing them together peaceably for the sake of their children, can be challenging work – and these are challenges that our children lawyers face day in, day out. As you can imagine, they often encounter hostility and intransigence – but they never give up. Our children’s department seems to have endless patience and sufficient stamina to keep plugging away. They seek to obtain resolutions to disputes, which may include where the children will live, sometimes the country in which the children will live, the time that each parent will spend with the children and so on. In children cases, the children’s welfare – not the parents’ – is paramount.
Every month, I review every client’s file. I am checking the legal content, but files can also begin to resemble serialised novels, with new instalments monthly. I am often anxious to know whether one case or another has been resolved – and if so, on what terms. Some cases settle and I am able to read the terms of the deal. Others continue, destined perhaps for court, but more likely edging towards settlements. Those cases reaching a full-blown hearing are likely to involve very difficult issues, such as mental illness or allegations of abuse. A judge may have to decide where a child should live and whether a child should see a parent at all. Fortunately such cases are rare. The majority of cases feature polarised parents who begin at different ends of the spectrum and end up somewhere in the middle.
This week, however, the most unpleasant case of polarisation that I encountered had nothing to do with a child dispute. In fact, it involved a group of people with whom I have had few dealings before now. They are travellers, living on a site in Essex. By chance, I met some of them this week.
There are hundreds of men, women and children, all illegally camped out at Dale Farm near Basildon. They have been living there for years in their caravans, but they don’t have planning permission to live on the land. Because they are there illegally, they are a thorn in the side of Basildon Council, which has been trying to evict them for the past five years. There is also animosity between the travellers and local residents. Last year the Court of Appeal gave the Council permission to remove the travellers by force, but the Council has not yet done so and some residents are threatening to march in protest if the delays continue.
Both sides are now as polarised as the implacably hostile cases described above. At the time of writing it appears that an incredibly expensive mass eviction is in store for the travellers, at the hands of bailiffs employed by Basildon Council, but no-one knows when.
Both sides have reached meltdown in this dispute and at this stage, it seems that no-one is willing to do anything constructive to resolve the situation. For example, I was told that there is disused land that will be available for the travellers, if the Ministry of Defence will do a deal to permit them to live on it. Apparently the travellers would be willing to move, if they knew where they were going to go. But negotiations have stalled.
Meanwhile, Basildon Council has estimated that forced evictions will cost up to £2.5 million. Perhaps this is one reason why they too are stalling? Apparently, moving the travellers would cost less than evicting them. Either way, action is desperately and urgently required. What if all the parties – the Government, local government, local residents and travellers – met together in one room until a deal could be reached?
Travellers have safeguarded the right to live their family life, as indeed we all have, under the European Convention of Human Rights. However their age-old way of life has been eroded. There are no longer convenient green commons and open land to stay on as they travel through the country, and so it is harder for them to travel. If the forcible eviction from Dale Farm goes ahead, where will the travellers go then? What are they supposed to do? What will happen to the elderly, the sick and the young?
Please don’t get me wrong: I’m not a “bleeding heart” liberal. I do not live on or near Dale Farm, and I cannot know everything that has happened and is happening there. However everything that I have read and heard about this situation, from both sides, further convinces me that this dispute has gone on for so long now that it is no longer just one side’s “fault”. The Government and local government failed to deal with Dale Farm in good time. Instead they allowed the travellers to become entrenched there, and the situation was allowed to escalate.
I mentioned earlier that case files can resemble serialised novels. The case file for Dale Farm, I think, would resemble War and Peace! But as a family lawyer who believes that all disputes are capable of settlement, I believe that the Dale Farm situation can still be resolved to the satisfaction of all the parties involved. Surely the parties are beyond rights and wrongs, blame and counter-blame? Instead, they need to be locked into that room I have described above – and a deal needs to be done. After all, what is the worst that could happen?
I am certain that the travellers would attend such a meeting, as they have told me so. To Basildon Council and the interested parties in Government, I pose the question: would you?
Share this post
Get free family law updates
Marilyn Stowe’s new book: expert advice on all aspects of divorce, for just 99p!
Divorce & Splitting Up by Marilyn Stowe is the essential how-to book for anyone who is getting divorced or splitting up from a partner. Read more >>
"A must buy that really opens your eyes to what is involved if you are considering or going through a divorce." - Amanda Brown
"This will answer your questions in a way that non-lawyers can understand." - Miss P.
"This really has helped me to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel and I will come out of it a stronger person." - J
Marilyn Stowe on ITV Daybreak & ITV This Morning
Marilyn’s Thought For The Day
Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.
- Marilyn Stowe on Child maintenance rises loom for non-resident parents
- Kev Hunt on Child maintenance rises loom for non-resident parents
- Dave Smith on Department for Work and Pensions ‘misleading’ on child support
- troy on Post-divorce parenting arrangements increasingly diverse
- troy on Australian Prime Minister declines to support gay marriage
Subscribe & Follow
Marilyn Stowe is the senior partner in Stowe Family Law, which has offices in Yorkshire, Cheshire and London. With more than 30 years’ experience handling divorce cases and family law proceedings she is regarded as one of the most formidable and sought after divorce lawyers in the UK. In 2012, Marilyn became one of the first solicitors to qualify as a family law arbitrator.
All persons mentioned in the scenarios are fictitious: details have been deliberately changed in order to protect identities and other confidential circumstances of my clients. All advice and information on this blog including posts written by guest authors, is given only as a general guide to the operation of the law on the date of publication. Readers must place no reliance whatsoever on the content of this blog and must always obtain their own legal advice. Marilyn Stowe, Stowe Family Law LLP and guest authors accept no liability whatsoever arising as a result of reliance upon its content.
Contact Stowe Family Law
These downloads accompany Marilyn Stowe's latest book: Divorce & Splitting Up: Advice From a Top Divorce Lawyer. After opening, right click to save to your computer.
For more free downloads, visit the Downloads section.