We are experienced legal practitioners who work in the Belfast based firm of Francis Hanna & Co Solicitors. We aim to provide both information and a forum for discussion on all legal matters surrounding family life, from the cradle to the grave. In our blog, we try wherever possible to avoid legal jargon to help you understand the law which affects all our lives.
The United Nations designated 15th June 2018 as ‘World Elder Abuse Awareness Day’.
This is an occasion to recognise and highlight the issue of elder abuse in the world and for each country to vocalise its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted upon some members of our older generations
Here in Northern Ireland, elder abuse is widely considered as being ‘a single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person’.
On their website, the charity aims to prevent the abuse of older people by working on 4 main goals:
By raising awareness of the various strands of elder abuse and harm older people experience including physical, sexual, emotional/psychological, financial abuse and neglect
By providing advice, guidance and support to both older people at risk of abuse or in need of protection and those concerned about them
By engaging with older people, practitioners and policy makers to improve prevention and protection through delivery of conferences, seminars, information materials and policy briefings
By campaigning for the best possible support and prevention frameworks.
Action on Elder Abuse NI operate a specialist and confidential helpline (080 8808 8141) for older persons who are suffering with or affected by abuse or for those who may have concerned about an older person in their lives being treated badly. This is a free helpline and is available Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
If you require legal advice with regards to an issue involving elder person abuse or any other issue regarding elder person care and needs, you will be able to access specialist solicitors via the Solicitors for the Elderly (SLE).
This is an independent, national organisation of lawyers who provide specialist legal advice for older clients, their families and carers. Members of SLE cover advice in many areas of law tailored to elder client needs, including Wills, Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, Trusts, Probate, care funding, along with matters involving the Office of Care & Protection and elder abuse.
If you require any further informaiotn, please do not hesitate to conatct us here or leave your comments below
Five Supreme Court judges will today begin deciding whether to grant Tini Owens a divorce from her husband, after the lower courts decided she was not entitled to one. Tini Owens is the wife of Hugh Owens, a multimillionaire farmer whom she married in January 1978 and separated from in August 2013.
In her divorce petition, Mrs Owens stated that her husband had behaved unreasonably in his “continued beratement” of her. She outlined his conduct in her divorce petition, which included criticising her in front of their housekeeper, arguing with her in an airport shop, not speaking to her during a meal and making her pick up bits of cardboard in the garden. She submitted in her divorce petition that this behaviour amounted to unreasonable behaviour.
Mr Owens claimed that he had forgiven his wife for her “misguided” fling in 2012, and told the Court that he wanted to remain married to his wife as they “still have a few years of old age together”.
The Judge hearing the divorce in the first instance, concluded that Mr Owens’ behaviour towards his wife had not been unreasonable and refused her divorce petition last year.
The Judge described the farmer’s attitude as “old school” and stated that Mrs Owens’ allegations against her husband were “exaggerated” and “at best flimsy”. The Judge further claimed that the conduct described by Mrs Owens were “minor altercations of a kind to be expected in a marriage” and “an exercise in scraping the barrel”.
The Judge also found that Mrs Owens was “more sensitive than most wives” and that she had “exaggerated the context and seriousness of the allegations to a significant degree”.
Mrs Owens has claimed that as a result of the Court’s refusal to grant her a divorce, she was effectively “locked in” to her marriage with Mr Owens. She claimed that it was unfair that under current law she would have to wait five years before being allowed a divorce without her husband’s consent.
Mrs Owen’s legal representatives have submitted that it is unreasonable to expect her to stay in the marriage, with her barrister adding: “There doesn’t have to be violence, or threats of violence, or gambling or drinking or shouting. There is cumulative effect of what may be regarded as inconsequential conduct, which may justify a finding that it is unreasonable to expect her to stay with him.”
Mr Owens legal representative told the Court that the initial divorce Judge had been “entitled to reject the wife’s case”. The Court of Appeal rejected Ms Owen’s appeal and the matter is now before the highest Court in the land and it is expected that the Supreme Court will deliver judgment on the matter later this year.
Saving to buy your first home can be a challenge for anyone, particularly as house prices continue to rise.
Luckily, there are some schemes to help you get together the monies you need to purchase your property.
Help to Buy ISA
The most common is the Help To Buy ISA. This operates in much the same way as a regular savings ISA, with the bonus that the Government will provide you with a payment of 25% of the amount saved (subject to a maximum bonus of £3,000), as long as you meet the criteria of the scheme.
For example, if you have saved £6,000, your bonus will be £1,500. The solicitor acting for you in the purchase of your property can make the application for the bonus on your behalf.
The Help to Buy ISA is available for all types of properties, and isn’t restricted to newly built properties. You are also not restricted in the mortgage lender that you choose.
Armed Forces Help to Buy Scheme
Some employers now also assist their staff in the purchase of their first home, such as with the Armed Forces Help to Buy Scheme, which assists with loans to help you with your deposit. This scheme is also approved by many lenders, however you should alert your financial advisor that you intend to use this scheme so they may make your mortgage company aware of this when making your mortgage application.
If you would like any further information on Help to Buy Schemes, please do not hesitate to contact us here or leave your comments below.
So, you’ve spent the past few months with your nose deeply buried in property brochures. Your Google search list consists solely of property websites and viewing houses has almost become a hobby. You’re even sick of the sight of Kirsty and Phil on ‘Location Location Location’But, at long last, it has happened –you’ve finally found your ideal home!
That’s the hard part right? Once the mortgage is through, surely all you need to do is arrange a date to pick up the keys and then you can get down to the important stuff, like where to put the sofa and what colour to paint the living room??
It’s not a matter of just signing on the dotted line either – the entire legal process normally takes between 6-8 weeks before you can get moving.
What exactly does my solicitor do?
You may wonder what it is exactly that a solicitor does when dealing with buying a house for you.
Your solicitor’s main job is to protect your interests and make sure that all of the title deeds under which you will own the property are in order.
To do this, they have to check the following:-
They check all of the title deeds (which may consist of hundreds of pages!) to make sure there is nothing contained in them that may restrict your use of the property.
They check the maps of the property and make sure the boundary to the property is correct – after all, there’s no point in buying a house and realising when you go to sell it that you didn’t actually own part of your back garden!
They review any survey reports you or your mortgage company have to get to check if work has been done to the property which may to be queried with the seller.
They ensure that you are connected to a mains sewer, or that the necessary consents are in place for a septic tank, and that you have access to a public road.
They check through paperwork (such as searches and certificates) to make sure that any necessary planning permissions and building control documents are in place.
They liaise with you and your mortgage company throughout this process and highlight to you any issues which you should be aware of before you actually buy the house.
If there are any service charges or if ground rent is payable, they ensure that these are all paid up to date by the seller so that no unwanted bills arrive at your door once you’ve moved.
All checks and searches have been done – what now??
Once your solicitor is satisfied that everything is in order and any problems have been resolved, they will report to you on the property, and ask you to meet them so that you can sign the contract.
Your solicitor will also contact your mortgage company and ask them to forward mortgage monies through to them directly before you buy.
When can I move in?
Once the contracts are signed, a date is arranged between you and the seller for when money (and more importantly, keys!) will change hands.
On this date, once the financial transaction has gone through via your solicitor, you will officially be able to move into your new home!
Whilst you’re busy picking out wallpaper and getting the TV installed, your solicitor’s job is not finished yet! After completion, they will deal with the registration of the property into your name.
To be done thoroughly and correctly this entire process will take time. A little time invested now should ensure that when it is your time to sell the property, everything proceeds smoothly.
When you are told the matter is ‘with your solicitor’, rest assured that your purchase is being well looked after and your solicitor will be in touch to allow you to get your keys as soon as possible.
If you would like any further information on the legal process of buying or selling your house, or any other aspect of Property Law in NI, feel free to contact us here
Death is something that most of us naturally prefer to avoid thinking about. However, as Benjamin Franklin famously said, “nothing in life is certain except death and taxes”. “Keeping quiet” or “putting off” talking about our wishes for end of life and death can be problematic both for us and those who care for us. Many of us have misconceptions about what might happen during end of life and death and the fact that we don’t talk about it, only exacerbates this.
A recent report by Northern Ireland investigative publication, The Detail considers the issues around death. These include the barriers to accessing advice and information and how the repercussions of death can have surprising, significant and detrimental implications in the long-term if we don’t take steps to rectify them. It looks at a wide range of issues including the following:-
The funeral industry and how the cost of burial can vary dramatically across Northern Ireland – a “postcode lottery”. Due to the sudden and distressing nature of many deaths and the fact that we don’t often want to plan ahead, we often find ourselves paying much more than we expect for a funeral. Sadly, this can result in to debt or poverty for those who are bereaved. The report looks in detail at the cost of death across council areas in Northern Ireland and calls for a uniform price.
More assistance with Funeral Payments
Funeral payments are available to those on receipt of certain benefits and cover the cost of a simple, respectful, low cost funeral. Sarah McCully Russell from Citizens Advice NI calls for an increase to these payments and more transparency and accessible information surrounding them.
Bereavement benefits were reduced substantially in April 2017, with bereaved children being the hardest hit. Many people aren’t aware that cohabiting partners and their children are excluded from these benefits, despite societal changes and marriage being irrelevant to other benefits. A landmark case on this issue is due to be heard by the Supreme Court sitting in Belfast in April 2018.
Living with a terminal illness
In the report , one gentleman suffering from terminal cancer shares the benefits of being able to express his wishes regarding donating his body to medical science and to make a Will. This has allowed him and his family to have peace of mind knowing his affairs are in order and he believes, allowed him to carry on living. He feels that making these choices now will make it easier for his family later.
The need for care
Marie Curie UK estimates that 3,000 people are missing out on the care and emotional and physical support that they need due to a lack of awareness and a reluctance to accept death.
The full report includes an interview with Siobhan McLaughlin, the woman involved in the landmark case on Bereavement Benefits currently before the Supreme Court, and her solicitor Laura Banks of Francis Hanna & Co . Siobhan told The Detail that she took the case for her children, because they are as deserving as any other child who has lost a parent:-
“You can have two 10-year-olds going through the same thing – both have lost their dad. Yet society has said to one of them because your parents were married you deserve this, and to the other one, you don’t. It makes them feel irrelevant. I felt I had to give it a shot,”
“For us it has made everybody more aware that this is happening and how wrong it is that we have two sets of children and one of them has been stigmatised by this and an action their parents took, which they have no say over.”
Many may view Domestic Violence as something that primarily affects younger women or women with children.
The Belfast & Lisburn Women’s Aid Older Women’s Project highlights that just as many older women are affected by domestic violence, have suffered long-term abuse in the home and often face more barriers in their help- seeking process.
We are very grateful to Olga Attwood from Belfast & Lisburn Women’s Aid who works with the Older Women’s Project for providing us with an article to share with our followers, entitled ‘Domestic Violence is Ageless’
Belfast and Lisburn Women’s Aid will be convening their Annual Conference today, celebrating the organisation’s work over the last year and outlining their future plans as an organisation for the year ahead.The Conference will focus this year on the area of Domestic Violence and Justice. We are very grateful to Sarah Bruce from Belfast & Lisburn Women’s Aid for providing us with an article to share with our followers, entitled ‘Be a Voice, Not an Echo’
Earlier this week, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West welcomed the arrival of a baby girl via surrogate. It is understood that the celebrity couple opted for the surrogacy route for their third child after Kim’s two high risk pregnancies with daughter North aged 4 years old and 1 year old son Saint.
Currently, surrogacy arrangements in Northern Ireland are relatively rare, however with couples increasingly opting to have children later in life, the options of both surrogacy and IVF are likely to become more commonplace within our society.
Here is a brief look at the legal implications of having a child via surrogacy…
What is Surrogacy?
Surrogacy is a method of assisted reproduction which provides the opportunity for a couple to have a child together in circumstances where the woman is unable to carry a child herself. The couple (known as ‘the intended parents’) work with a woman who carries a child for them to term – known as a gestational surrogate.
Where the surrogate mother provides the egg which is fertilised with the intended father’s sperm.
Full surrogacy where the egg and sperm are provided by the intended parents and the surrogate mother gestates the embryo.
Is Surrogacy legal?
Yes, surrogacy arrangements were legalised in the UK by the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985. This sets out the circumstances in which surrogacy is legal. An arrangement for surrogacy can be legally formalised in advance of the pregnancy. A Surrogacy Agreement can be entered into with the surrogate mother agreeing to bear the child for the couple and surrender the child to them following birth.
Who is the legal parent of a child born via surrogacy?
When a child is born via surrogate, the legal parent of the child is the surrogate mother, regardless of whether the intended mother provided her egg for the purposes of surrogacy. If the surrogate is married, her husband will be considered as the father of the child. This position will not change until altered by a Court.
For the intended parents to become the legal parents of the child and for the transfer of Parental Responsibility to them, an application must be made to the Court for a Parental Order. The Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985 makes provision for the intended parents to apply to the Courts for a Parental Order after the birth of child.
When such an Order is made, it terminates the rights of the surrogate mother and transfers Parental Responsibility to the intended parents. A Parental Order does not expire and the birth of the child is re-registered in the names of the parents. A Parental Order can only be made if one or both parents are genetically related to the child. If neither of the intended parents are related to the child, then the intended parents must proceed by way of Adoption.
Are there legal risks to surrogacy?
A Surrogacy Arrangement is not without risks, such as the surrogate mother changing her mind and refusing to hand over the child following birth. No one entering into these arrangements does so lightly and it is important that all steps are taken to try to secure and protect the Surrogacy Agreement made between the adults involved.
What legal steps should I take before proceedings with Surrogacy?
Once a surrogate mother is identified, it is important for the parents to enter into a legal agreement with her recording the intentions of the parties. The agreement itself is not necessarily enforceable by the Court, but is an indication of the parties’ intentions which will be taken into account by the Court should a dispute arise.
The surrogate mother cannot be paid for entering the arrangement but she can receive reasonable expenses from the parents for agreeing to carry the child. Later in the pregnancy, it is good practice for all parties can swear legal statements known as affidavits explaining the circumstances and confirming that they have entered into the arrangements willingly with knowledge of what is involved and agreed.
The affidavits can also set out the parties’ intentions as to when the child will be handed over after birth and that the father and surrogate mother will register the birth together with the father’s name on the birth certificate.
Within 6 months following birth, the parents should make an application to the Court for a Parental Order. Certain circumstances must be satisfied for the Parental Order to be made:
The couple must be married, civil partners, or in an enduring family relationship.
The couple must both be over 18 years old.
The couple must be domiciled in the UK.
The Court must be satisfied that no money or other benefit, other than reasonable expenses, has been received by the surrogate.
The surrogate mother must freely and unconditionally consent to the making of the Order.
What if the Surrogate mother changes her mind?
If the surrogate mother refuses to hand the child over or give her consent to a Parental Order being made, or if there are concerns about her capacity to consent, the Court will examine the reasons in more detail.
Ultimately, the welfare of the child is the Court’s paramount consideration in Parental Order applications and as such, it must be shown that it is in the child’s best interest for the Parental Order to be made.
Should you require any further information on Surrogacy Law in NI, please feel free to contact us here.
Last week’s Golden Globe Awards were dominated by the sexual harassment scandal that has engulfed Hollywood, with many actresses and actors choosing to wear black as a sign of solidarity with victims of sexual abuse and harassment. “Time’s Up” has become the slogan, and hashtag on social media, encapsulating the reaction to recent revelations about extensive sexual abuse and harassment in the entertainment industry.
The website www.timesupnow.com which has been set up in the USA by multiple organisations including the National Women’s Law Center, reports that 1 in 3 women aged 18-34 years old have been sexually harassed in the workplace while over 70% failed to report it.
In light of this, we thought we it would be helpful to look briefly at Sexual Harassment in the Northern Ireland workplace and what employees and employers can do to protect themselves.
The definition is extremely wide, and it is not necessary to prove that the conduct was intentional. For this reason, it is vital that a zero-tolerance culture exists and that it is explained clearly to all employees the sorts of behaviours that are unacceptable. An act which one person may deem to be insignificant could be considered by an Employment Tribunal to be harassment. The following behaviours can amount to sexual harassment but this list is not exhaustive:-
Written or verbal comments of a sexual nature such as remarks/ questions/ jokes about a colleague’s appearance or sex life
Sending or forwarding on emails that contains content of a sexual nature
Displaying pornographic or explicit images
Unwanted physical contact and touching
Employers owe a duty of care to their employees and may ultimately be held liable for harassment. They should not only ensure that adequate policies are in place to prevent such incidents but also to deal with them when they arise, in a manner that is sufficiently serious, confidential and allows the complainant to be treated with dignity and respect.
Employees should seek legal advice as soon as possible and note that the time limit for bringing a case to a Tribunal is usually 3 months from the date the discriminatory act took place.
The University and College Union has won a case against the University of Ulster over its failure to consult on redundancies, securing the maximum award for staff involved. The case was taken by University College Union when 143 members of teaching and other staff lost their jobs in April 2016, after the University suffered a substantial reduction in DEL funding. Some of the University faculties were closed at the time and undergraduate numbers were reduced.
The Tribunal held that large scale redundancies were inevitable by June 2015 and that discussions ought to have begun with the Union much earlier than they did. The University had failed in its obligations, both under statute and its own redundancy policy. They found that the process was a “fait accompli” with no opportunity for input by the Trade Union who were “actively mislead” and “ostracised” by the University management. The Union were provided with insufficient time and information to meaningfully engage with counter proposals. Effectively, the Tribunal said, the University “put a gun” to the heads of the affected employees.
The University’s failures, the Tribunal said, meant that some staff were treated very poorly which was a “deeply unsatisfactory consequence”. The Tribunal found that failures were deliberate and there was an intention to keep the Union out of the process.
The case looked at the law on the duty to consult about redundancies and whether this had been complied with. It considered whether these redundancies amounted to dismissals, which it found they had. Consideration was also given to what protective award should be made to which staff and for what period. The Tribunal made the maximum award of compensation finding that the University failed egregiously in its duties.
“We are delighted with this result which has significant ramifications not only for the Trade Union and staff involved but also for the university and other employers, employees and unions involved in redundancies. The decision provides important guidance for employers on the duty to consult with Trade Unions and the timeliness and sufficiency of that consultation. Further it serves as an important reminder of the effect of an employer failing to adhere to its legal obligations.”