Wednesday, 30 November 2011

How conciliatory are Catholic sounds of well meaning?

In this blog appearing in the Catholic Herald, written by a former editor of the paper, and entitled "There’s no excuse for clerical child abuse: but it needs to be recognised that the sexual abuse of minors is more common in secular society", mention is made of how, when the Pope visited the USA,  "One of his purposes in making the visit, the Pope said, was that he wished to recognise the reality of clerical child abuse". Similar noises were made when the Pope visited the UK last year.
Following the visit, the Catholic Church in England engaged in discussion with various child abuse survivor groups namely NAPAC, MACSAS, One in Four, and the Lantern Project. The approach of the church, inevitably because of its modus operandi, was somewhat theological, and based upon principles rather than practicalities.

The approach of the survivor groups was, thankfully, that any conciliatory process used to help survivors should not just cherry pick different parts of the process, but be all encompassing, and complete, to included, amongst other things, provision for financial compensation. Not surprisingly the process stumbled, and became tense at this point.

It is all well and good to talk about feelings of peace, spiritual tranquility, and so on, but when money appears on the horizon, then nerves, and compromising the position of insurers can come into the  picture.

One only has to read "Abuse victims accuse Catholic church of using talks as a smokescreen"to see how difficult the talks became.

The angle being taken currently is a "Truth and Reconciliation" type of model used in South Africa. If I remember rightly, this did not have any provision for awarding compensation, which is vital to redress the lifelong harm caused by abuse in childhood, which often causes lifelong inability to work, amongst other devastating features.

The fundamental point of the conciliatory attitude to compensation with a no fault system similar to the Irish Redress Board scheme, was that the peaceful and conciliatory attitude of the church, with its background of Nolan Committee recommendations, contrasted sharply to the aggressive, conflicting attitude of the lawyers employed by the Catholic Church to contest litigation.

One only has to read the judgement in the recent case of JGE, where the Catholic Church challenged the principle that the Church is liable for the acts and defaults of any of its priests, in an effort to escape liability on a legal technicality, to see the lengths to which the church litigation machine will go in order to try and get out of paying anything. One wonders whether the Church's Lawyers are very much out of step with the principles being encouraged by Catholic hierarchy. The two definitely seem to be pointing in different directions. There are many other cases that one can refer to which are in a similar vein.

Whether or not abuse in childhood is just as common amongst the general population as priests ignores the fact that because priests are in a position of ultimate power, and trust, then any transgression within that type of relationship makes the offence much much worse, and a betrayal to children.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Does the Government spend our money wisely?

The Nick Robinson programme, "Your money and how they spend it", was a fascinating insight into how government spends our taxes. The gap between the public's perception and reality was huge. I thought I understood what the deficit meant. I clearly didn't. It was explained so simply.

When Nick went round the Trafford centre, and asked people how much cash representing the government spend per family per year, was in his briefcase, the result was a shock. The guesses varied between a joke £5 to £5000, whereas the correct answer was £22,000. The comment made was "we don't see much of that".

There is a tax calculator on the BBC Website, which will tell you whether you put more money into the system than you take out or vica versa. I tried it, and found out, not surprisingly, that I am very much a contributor to public spending, rather than taking out more than I pay in tax.

The following statistics are quite enlightening "Some 60% of households are net recipients from the Treasury... The top 10% of households contribute, on average, five times more than they get back....The top 1% of earners - just 300,000 people - pay 27% of all income tax...In 2010-11, we spent more paying interest on our national debt than we did defending the realm." The table on the website illustrates that income earners under £23,000 receive more in benefit than they contribute, whereas over that figure the reverse is true.

More surprising, however, was the fact that government generosity varies, depending upon the political anticipation of a spending or budgetting cutback decision. For instance, politicians fear pensioners and health most, an illustration being the huge rise in the cost of the pensioner's winter fuel payment, with people like Peter Stringfellow, who clearly does not need the money, paying it back and saying he doesn't want it. The public thought that millionaires like Paul McCartney didn't deserve the payment, which is not means tested.

It also became clear that one of the largest expenses, is now interest on government borrowing.

Education and Health, understandably, are no go areas  for political cutback.

The government most fear our elderly voters, who are becoming a larger and larger proportion of our population - a sector which is going to continually increase.

So what is the point? The power of lobbying, and political vote winning sometimes trumps objective common sense.

When one considers that:-
  • Justice was one of the three pillars of the welfare system back in 1947, when Clement Attlee introduced it during an age of austerity, rations, and post war malnourishment.
  • Civil Legal Aid (as opposed to criminal) - or giving to the poor the rights of access to the Legal System including child care cases, divorce, child abuse compensation cases, housing problems, immigration etc. costs a minute £350 million out of a total justice budget of £8.9 billion
  • The government wants to slash the legal aid budget, so as to radically reduce the availability of this fundamental legal right from the poor
  • They are only taking such a fundamental step because they think they can get away with it politically.
  • Conservative policy of saving is being cleverly disguised in an age of global cutbacks and austerity, when any cutbacks the government decides to impose must  be agreed to without protest. If there was sufficient political fear at the unpopularity of such an outrageous decision, another area of cutting back would be chosen instead.
  • Recently it was announced that £250 million had been found to enable us to have a bin collection every week because of public outrage
The whole thing does not make sense in proportionate terms. To justify their position, the government repeatedly says that we spend more on Legal Aid than any country in the world, as though it is something to be ashamed of, when it clearly isn't. It is something to be proud of - surely? It is like saying - "we spend more on the health of our public than America does, and this position is obviously unsustainable, so we must stop doing so many hip operations, and make people suffer in pain." How mad would that be?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Is money everything or the root of all evil?

As I listen to the governor of the Bank of England predicting the end of the financial world, John, as we know it, then the impending collapse of not banks, but whole countries such as Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Spain, and then Italy, one wonders if Armagedon is just around the corner. Is Mad Max about to jump out and take anarchistic control of the Western World?

So why are we in this bloody mess? Simple. Greed, pure, and simple. If I rang all my friends, and said the first person to arrive at my house wins £100,000 there would a pile up of cars at the gate. If I said I needed £100,000 to pay off some debts, then all I would hear would be tumbleweed blowing in the breeze.

Basically, credit has been too freely available for too long and we have over stretched ourselves. Everyone blames the banks, but they don't say that when the banks offered lots of credit, we didn't turn it down, but let greed overcome the temptation to buy that huge Flat Screen TV for the lounge. Along with Sloth, Greed is one of the 7 Deadly Sins.

To whom does money mean nothing? Them us had nought in th' first place eg the poor and needy clients of mine who have never been able to work, so disabled are they by the irreperable damage caused by abuse in childhood. If only those paedophiles had any idea what they were doing. So if I offer them compensation it means nothing. Why?

1. There is something deeply wrong about being paid compensation for having sex with an older man.

2. They have such a low self image that they do not think they are worthy of anything.

So, to my clients, money means nothing. End of...

To whom does money mean everything? Well, commission only salesmen, of course. If they don't sell, they don't get paid. If they don't get paid, they don't eat. If they don't eat, they die. Its a cruel world, which breeds the incurably optimistic type of person, who believes that they are going to sell. If they don't sell this time then they will next time. That is what keeps them going. And they have to believe in what they are selling, to keep up the energy levels, which, believe me, are incredibly high. Trust me, I have just spent a day in the delightful company of Talisa, who works for Silverpoint Holidays based at the Hollywood Mirage time share resort in Los Christianos, Tenerife. What she went through with me, she has to repeat at least every day, with a new buyer and make it sound fresh every time. That takes spunk, as they used to say in the last war.

So my conclusion? Money doesn't necessarily make you happy. Too much of it acquired through greed will probably make you unhappy. If you don't have enough of it you can be very unhappy. It can even bring down countries. Improperly managed money can be the most grief causing thing on the planet, leading to jealousy, bittermess, crime, and disharmony. Properly managed it can be the source of happiness. If you have enough rather than too much, however, it can help make you happy, but it is no substitute for love, friendhip and family...think on...

Monday, 7 November 2011

How lucky I am to be a child abuse lawyer

I am roused to write this blog after spending a very tiring day being "shown a concept" (they can't call it selling) by a delightfully charming time-share sales girl. I have been further influenced by seeing the indefatigable energy of hopelessly optimistic promotions boys and girls who decorate, with their vigour, enthusiasm and glee, the streets of Los Christianos, Tenerife. I am completely bowled over by the arguably delusional spirit of these young and middle aged, but not old (at least in spirit) people.

I remember a motivational speaker once saying to me "If you want to succeed, then surround yourself by like minded individuals and you will feel inspired to do likewise". How right he was, even at the age of 75.

Lawyers are, as a profession, traditional, backwards looking, and cautious. Careful, prudent, analytical, and diligent also, but not cut out for the world of commission only selling. I remember a marketing man employed by some well respected local solicitors telling me how disgusted he was, that he had been referred to as "our salesman" The term had been used in a patronising manner by a partner, in the same tone as "tradesman" or "something that the dog brought in on its shoe".

The point is that, as a child abuse lawyer, I am surrounded by pessimistic, poor, ruined individuals, whose life has been taken away by abuse in childhood. Most of them are on the edge of suicide or despair. Sometimes they die before the case is over. Arguably we are partly to blame. If we hadn't opened Pandora's box then our client would not have fallen out of it, and been laid bear spread crudely all over the floor. Far from trying to sell them an eternal holiday, we are giving them some hope for the future, that one day they will reach some sort of emotional hope and peace. The compensation is just a token; a few scraps thrown out as a gesture of pretend sorrow by the insurers of the employers of the abuser to blame. How indirect and distant is that sort of apology.

So why am I so lucky? Well because my job is about pushing back the frontiers of legal and medical science. It is multi layered like the skins of an onion. Never ending layers of intellectual gymnastics. A tour de force of fighting the good fight for the poor and oppressed, in spirit at least. What a job. So is it better than being a time share salesman on a commission only basis? Well Yes and No. Yes because it is morally more satisfying, but no because it takes 14 years, sometimes, to win your case, not 4 hours with instant commission when the grateful buyer signs on the dotted line.

I tell you what. I wish I had half as much energy, enthusiasm, and determination as Gary, Sean, and Talisa have. If all lawyers had the same, we would not be the pilloried victims of government that we are...think on, but don't weep, for we are the chosen ones (as if?)