Sofia Lagergren

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Sofia Lagergren is a solicitor at McKinnells in Lincoln, specialising in all aspects of family law. She has a special interest in obtaining protection for victims of domestic violence and regularly deals with issues concerning contact with and residence of children, divorce, civil partnership and financial issues following the breakdown of relationships.


— Sofia Lagergren is a solicitor at McKinnells in Lincoln, specialising in family law. She deals with issues concerning contact with and residence of children, divorce, civil partnership and financial issues following the breakdown of relationships.


To see Tony Nicklinson’s bitter tears of frustration on television when he was told that the Court of Appeal had refused his request to be assisted to die was to be reminded of the old legal adage that ‘hard cases make bad law’.

Tony’s case certainly is a hard one. In 2005, then aged 51, he was a successful businessman on a trip to Athens when he suffered a massive stroke. As a result he now has locked-in syndrome. This means he is paralysed from the neck down. Although his body is affected, his brain is not. He still has the same mental functions as he did before the stroke, so he is fully aware of his physical condition. He is able to communicate by blinking and can share his feelings with a supportive wife and daughters and with his legal team.

Put simply, Tony wants to die. He finds his life an absolute misery. But he does not have a terminal illness. Still only 58, he could live naturally for many years, each day being a torment to him. Were he physically able to do so, he would kill himself, although the irony is that were he physically able to do so he would not want to kill himself. To commit suicide, which is what he wants, he would need assistance. But to assist him would leave the person who helped him exposed to a charge of murder.

Tony took his case to the Court of Appeal. He asked for a declaration that any doctor who helped him to die would be immune from prosecution. His lawyers argued on two grounds, one that Tony’s continuing to live against his wishes breached his Human Rights, the other on the basis of necessity.

All three judges who heard the case rejected these arguments. Lord Justice Toulson said that the case was deeply moving, but the law on the matter is clear. Assisting a suicide is a criminal offence. The courts could not change the law. For that, Parliament would have to pass a new law.

Looking at the support for the court’s decision from representatives of the medical profession and pro-life groups, it is clear that this change is not going to happen. Had Tony’s request been granted it would, in their view, be creating ‘bad law’.

On the face of it, the decision is at odds with a 2002 case where Mrs. B, a tetraplegic, obtained a court order requiring doctors to turn off her life support machine. The crucial difference, though, is that Mrs. B was being kept artificially alive, whereas Tony Nicklinson wanted to be artificially assisted to die.

Tony Nicklinson intends to appeal the decision. It is difficult to see how the Supreme Court will be able to disagree with the Court of Appeal. To allow any form of assisted suicide would clearly be opposed by the majority. This case holds many moral and ethical dilemmas, notwithstanding sympathy in this particular case.

In the meantime, though, Tony Nicklinson weeps tears of frustration that he cannot himself commit suicide, which would not be a criminal offence, but no one can help him to do so because that would mean they committed a criminal offence. No one can doubt that this is truly a hard case. But is it bad law?

Sofia Lagergren is a solicitor at McKinnells in Lincoln, specialising in all aspects of family law. She has a special interest in obtaining protection for victims of domestic violence and regularly deals with issues concerning contact with and residence of children, divorce, civil partnership and financial issues following the breakdown of relationships.

— Sofia Lagergren is a solicitor at McKinnells in Lincoln, specialising in family law. She deals with issues concerning contact with and residence of children, divorce, civil partnership and financial issues following the breakdown of relationships.


The current proposal by the government to permit same sex marriage is causing controversy in some quarters. Having said that, if the proposals were to go ahead then it would have been an ideal opportunity to have a root and branch reform of marriage and divorce laws in general. This opportunity looks like slipping by.

We currently have a mish mash of different ways to legally enter into a relationship and a corresponding variety of ways to deal with when it ends. To understand this, it is helpful to look at the historical context to understand where we were, and where we are now.

Until quite recently, the law did not recognise any relationship other than marriage. Co-habitation was frowned upon socially and the children of a couple who were not married were stigmatised as illegitimate. Such children had no legal rights to property, for example, on the death of their father. This injustice no longer applies, but the law still falls short of giving the same rights to property on the breakdown of a relationship to those that apply to a married couple.

This can create real hardship for women who, after a long relationship breaks down, can be left literally penniless and homeless. Judges have, over the years, been quite inventive in applying trust law to help someone in this situation, but this is no substitute for the clearly defined property rights that a woman would have had if she had been married.

Similarly, same sex relationships have only recently become legally recognised. Until the second half of the 20th century they were illegal, with criminal penalties for those caught. Now the law recognises civil partnerships, although they still fall short of the recognition given to marriage.

While this debate rolls along, the divorce process itself is in need of change. The Divorce Reform Act 1970 was a radical change from the previous state of the law. Until 1970 divorce was a messy process. Hearings were in open court, with the public able to listen in on sad tales of marital disharmony and betrayal. The reform act, which is still the basis of divorce law today, brought in the concept of divorce without fault, but fault still remained, with adultery and unreasonable behaviour still options.

We still have antiquated legal terms such as decree nisi and decree absolute, with a six-week gap between the two. This is a hangover from the time when someone called the Queen’s Proctor had to investigate each case individually to see if the divorce could be allowed or refused.

All this is completely unnecessary now and we would be better to look at systems in other countries, where the divorce process has been simplified, yet requires thoughtful and dignified input from both parties.

Instead we have a system verging on not being fit for purpose, which can sometimes lead to more stress and upset in what is already a difficult process. Rather than having another layer of bureaucracy for same sex marriages, wouldn’t it just be easier to have a single set of laws for all?

Sofia Lagergren is a solicitor at McKinnells in Lincoln, specialising in all aspects of family law. She has a special interest in obtaining protection for victims of domestic violence and regularly deals with issues concerning contact with and residence of children, divorce, civil partnership and financial issues following the breakdown of relationships.

Sofia Lagergren is a solicitor at McKinnells in Lincoln, specialising in family law. She deals with issues concerning contact with and residence of children, divorce, civil partnership and financial issues following the breakdown of relationships.


All family lawyers know that the period immediately after Christmas and the New Year break brings a major increase in divorce work.

Couples who recognise their relationship has broken down will often postpone any separation, especially where there are children involved, until after the holiday. Others, used not to spending much time together, come to realise they have little in common any more when a prolonged break forces them into each other’s company.

Add the stress of the cost of Christmas, the company of those dreaded in-laws, short days with no sunshine and the general gloomy financial outlook and there is little wonder that a shaky marriage will often totter.

With the New Year, then, people so affected will usually make straight to their solicitor to get a divorce underway as soon as possible. They will then often be surprised, at least to start with, when the solicitor does not immediately go along with the assumption that divorce is inevitable.

Most responsible solicitors will often try to get the client to focus on what has gone wrong and whether the marriage can be saved. Divorce can be stressful, expensive and will almost inevitably lead to pain for all involved. If a marriage has any spark left in it at all then it should be nurtured and only if there is no alternative should a marriage be ended.

That said, there are some marriages that cannot be saved.

Spike Milligan said: “As the bar emptied, it showed a couple in the corner, both holding drinks and staring at each other with loathing. He knew her as Mrs. Jones: she knew him as Mr. Jones. Married 30 years and with no divorce allowed in Ireland they were bound together in mutual detestation.”

In such circumstances, divorce does allow a dead relationship to have a decent burial. Even then, though, the good family lawyer will try to get those involved to focus on the positives. Two people who once thought enough of each other to want to spend their lives together should not spend that time in recrimination instead.

Whatever the surface reason for the breakdown of the marriage, it is rare that it is all one-sided. When deciding on whether or not grounds for divorce exist, the court does not look at blame. The reality is that usually both parties are responsible for things going wrong. One may have had an affair. They may not have done if the other had shown more interest and kindness. Both are usually to blame. If they can accept this, then the divorce will be less expensive, there will be less pain and there can be hope of a new start without the bile of bitterness and recrimination.

If they can be persuaded to accept that, then they can focus on what is important (looking after the children, sorting out a mutually satisfactory and fair financial outcome) rather than tearing strips off each other.

Sofia Lagergren is a solicitor at McKinnells in Lincoln, specialising in all aspects of family law. She has a special interest in obtaining protection for victims of domestic violence and regularly deals with issues concerning contact with and residence of children, divorce, civil partnership and financial issues following the breakdown of relationships.

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