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Professor, Retired Family Law Teacher and a Vice-President of the Family Mediators Association
In Stoke-on-Trent the average gent
Just cannot sleep at all
In Bloemfontein each peasant's brain
Is to this case in thrall
In October 2010 the Supreme Court made a durable ruling of great importance to many of us whose home is Stoke-on-Trent. Yes, in Gisda Cyf (Appellant) v Barratt (Respondent)  UKSC 41, their Lordships dealt with the effective date of termination of employment. Section 97(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 states that in dismissals without notice it is the ‘date on which the termination takes effect'. Their Lordships decided that this means the date on which the employee is informed of the decision or when s/he has had a reasonable opportunity of discovering the dismissal. Amongst other matters of wider significance was the fact that the appellant was therefore within the 3-month period for the launching of her claim for unfair dismissal. The unanimous decision was delivered, in less than 3 months after the hearing, by a four-member court by way of Lord Kerr's 17 page, 46 paragraph, judgment.
Exactly one week later, and after more than 6 months' deliberation, the Supreme Court delivered on 20 October 2010 its judgment(s) in its next case, Radmacher (Formerly Granatino) v Granatino  UKSC 42,  2 FLR 1900 (70 pages and 195 paragraphs). There, the splash was second only to the spending cuts announced that same day by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The following day, for example, every newspaper devoted several columns, or even pages, to it and the next day saw three letters on the subject published in the newspaper of record. This time a full nine-member Court produced three judgments: Lord Phillips speaking for their Lordships Rodger, Walker, Brown, Collins and Kerr; Lord Mance who joined that majority; and Lady Hale in dissent. Little if any new law was produced and direct relevance was limited, as is the case itself, to a handful of very rich people, probably including a significant number of foreign nationals. Indirect relevance was limited to probably no-one else bar, perhaps, those contemplating second marriages who anticipate a financial surplus on divorce. Furthermore, the Law Commission very soon, or at least Parliament thereafter may well render it, by legal standards, quickly redundant. And all this at a time when urgent matters involving many ordinary people and their children, whose access to justice is via the courts, are queuing up for judge-time.
Is this why the government is so keen to de-lawyer so many of the problems which beset ordinary people - in order to leave the courts free for internecine battles involving old family money from overseas? Perhaps the Treasury hopes that miniscule fractions of it will trickle down into the wider economy via such as the best London hotels, clubs, champagne sales and ‘them there top family lawyers'? Perhaps such gains will be offset by the high price of fancy houses provided they are not too far outside the M25. The former Mrs Radmacher was quoted as saying that in France (her former husband's country) and Germany such deals are common. So are boules and bratwurst but their appeal normally fades by the time they reach Dover. After yet another court conflict in her native Germany, the appellant herself and the two children have now been living in Monaco for the last 18 months (see para  of the judgment).
To read the rest of this article, see January  Family Law journal.
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