Sunday, 14 August 2016

Launch of Dangerous Liaisons

On Thursday night, I had the privilege of speaking at the launch of Marina Bakker's new book Dangerous Liaisons. The launch was at Mary Ryan's bookshop in Brisbane. The book is a great how to guide about how to avoid falling into relationships with sociopaths and psychopaths, who are often very difficult to pick. And once in a relationship with one, it can be very hard to get out.

Before I spoke, Marina was interviewed by fellow family lawyer, and founder of Our Children Australia Lorrie Brook (l).

When I spoke, I praised the book, including its key message: prevention is better than cure. I spoke about how I had fought domestic violence for over 30 years, and I gave a story of hope. Many years ago I acted for a client who had to be rescued from her farmhouse by police. If they had not acted, it is likely that she would have been killed by her husband.

Some months after she had escaped, in the midst of a bitter Family Court fight, I happened to call my client to see how she was doing. I had expected her to tell me that life was awful. After she split up, she fell on financial hard times- living in outer suburbs, with few qualifications, no car, little public transport, shunned by her church for leaving her husband and in an ugly, ugly court case.

Instead my client told me that life was grand. "I'm free!" She was not looking at death every day. My client had managed to get a job, was able to go to sleep at night, had joined a new church, had new friends. Her mystery kidney disease, attributed by doctors to stress, had gone away. And she had a new interest. My client, who was about 60, had taken up of all things waterskiing! I would never have guessed, and would have never have known, except I asked.

The point is that life goes on after a relationship ends. Life happens only once. Every day is precious. No longer held back by the fear of violence, my client was able to thrive and captured the beauty of life every day. Her story reflected one of the key messages of Dangerous Liaisons- we have to be careful who we form relationships with - as these emotional vampires can suck our life force out of us.

The three basic rules of advocacy- taught to me by a man on Monday

Last week I was thankful for a man who did not know when to shut up. This may sound ironic coming from a lawyer, especially a lawyer who blogs, presents and writes articles as I do, but one of the essential features of being a good advocate is knowing when to shut up.

After all when you are in court usually you are seeking to persuade one person- the judge. Advocates have to tread a fine line between forceful advocacy for their clients, and not going too far.

Those who act for themselves usually have not been advocates, and simply are not objective, and often focus on the wrong things. Sometimes they are even worse, bordering on the abusive of the judge. As the old adage goes- a person who acts for themselves has a fool for a client.

Be that as it may, often when people do not have any money, they act for themselves. If they are going to do so, then they should listen as to what not to do.

The three lessons that can be learnt from the man who did not know when to shut up are:

Number three lesson

Turn up at court. 

His first sin was not to turn up at court. This was not the first time it had happened. The previous occasion after he had not turned up, the man had been ordered by the judge to set out in an affidavit why he had not appeared. His excuse was akin to the dog ate his homework: he forgot, oh and his lawyer did not send the letter through confirming the date. And he was the applicant, asking the court to be able to spend time with his children.

Number two lesson

When the judge speaks- stop talking.

His second sin was to keep talking when the judge was talking. Several times her Honour had to politely intervene, and point out to him that she had telephoned him to get an explanation about why he was not at court, and tried to give him an explanation that I was seeking orders in default of his participation. And his reaction to that courtesy? To keep talking over the top of the judge- to then be told repeatedly by her Honour to the effect that it was her turn to speak.

Number one lesson

Don't abuse the judge

So after x occasions of the judge telling the man not to talk over the top of her, he raved, and raved and raved on, finishing with words I had never heard in a courtroom directed at a judge before: "You can go and @#*& yourself". (At which point almost everyone in the courtroom gasped.)

Her Honour's reaction was not to order a warrant issue for his arrest for contempt, but merely these statements: "Terminate the call. [Pause] Now, Mr Page, what orders are you seeking?"

Shortly after that, with assistance from the independent children's lawyer, my client obtained the orders she was seeking from the court in the absence of the father. And in the process saved a lot of money and heartache by avoiding a three day trial.

Thank you! His actions had ended the third of three cases involving that man and my client. Hooray, what a relief!