To blog or not to blog: that is the question?

d16a8544-311f-4f75-8d10-317cec369882-937-0000013120eb959f

Blog entry 3 March 2012

“This blog started life on 1 January 2012 as ‘Dere Street Barristers blog’  – to metamorphosize on 3 March 2012 into its current form as the mouthpiece of Dere Street Barristers’ sole blogger”.

‘Dere Street Barristers sole blogger’ – you have got to be joking? Isn’t Dere Street Barristers a set of chambers of about 100 members, many of whom are of a digital generation? Don’t they have thoughts and ideas about the processes of justice; legal aid; how their profession presently meets (or fails to meet) the needs of clients, and can do better; about the future of their profession?

Well, it seems not; or none that they wish to speak about publicly in a blog. Their secrets are shared only with their bank managers; and maybe on a good day, their clerks.

They are, of course, out of step with their Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, who recently spoke of the public need to better understand the process of family justice, and the judges’ role.

“All professions develop their own languages which can become impenetrable to outsiders. Lawyers are no different”. “We cannot complain that the public does not understand what we do, and its importance, if we do not take steps to lift the veil a little and explain what we do.”

“We should seek to reinvigorate public accessibility, subject to any necessary restrictions where openness would itself undermine the administration of justice”.

The Transparency Project headed by chair, Lucy Reed, Julie Doughty & Paul Magrath was set up to provide public insight into family law, to facilitate discussion about its administration, and to highlight access to justice.

With the help of Sir James Munby, the former President of the Family Division, the project secured a pilot starting on 1 October 2018, giving permission for legal bloggers to attend family court hearings, recognising the lawyer’s role as a communicator.

The Transparency Project signals an important understanding: that the role of lawyers does not start with legally protected instructions and finish with an endorsement on a brief. As lawyers we are not part of a immutable legal process to be preserved for posterity, but one which is alive, changing and evolving in a digital age. We are not here to acquiesce; we are here to challenge and discuss options for a better future.

Legal blogging provides the opportunity both to inform and to challenge. As with other media, it creates and services communities of insiders and outsiders. For six years, Dere Street Barristers has forfeited such opportunities – the publication of CPD rewarded presentations, pivital case commentaries, news of developments, information of opportunities. Solicitors and others, who would have been delighted to guest blog, have been sent off to find other outlets.

Back in 2012 I wrote of this blog,  “A number of visionaries supported this project. I trust that, in time, those sceptics within our profession will come to see its merits and possibilities”.

Perhaps, with the digital alliance of our new President Sir Andrew McFarlane and Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, we have reached that moment – a time to think, opine, share and write?

 

With thanks for the image to https://litreactor.com/columns/blogging-and-the-law-five-issues-you-need-to-know 

Advertisements

Legislation concerning repeat fire weapons

5B81A9C5-E3E7-4F10-A24D-888F416F392A.jpeg

This blog is about repeat-fire weapons: whether they have any reasonable use or function in civilian hands in a civilised society. It is, of course, prompted by the Florida shooting alleged to be perpetrated by Nikolas Cruz, but not defined by or dependant on this event.

The 2nd Amendment to the United States of America Bill of Rights is well known, yet little understood. Each commentator (and many individual citizens) have their own understanding of the words contained in it. I sense that few have taken time to read the interpretive decision of the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v Heller (June 26 2008), in particular Justice Scalia’s reasoning on behalf of five Justices, and of course the dissenting judgments of four Justices delivered by Justice Stevens and Justice Breyer.

One reason that the decision may be rarely read is that it is interpretive of the ‘apparent historical intention’ of the lawmakers when the Amendment was passed on December 15 1791, making it a challenging read. Justice Scalia was at pains to address its moment of conception, quoting from Robertson v. Baldwin, 165 U. S. 275, 281 (1897):

“…the Second Amendment was not intended to lay down a “novel principle” but rather codified a right “inherited from our English ancestors,” Robertson v. Baldwin, 165 U. S. 275, 281 (1897) – referring to the English Bill of Rights 1689.

Interestingly, with the strictly interpretive approach it is quite irrelevant that the ‘inherited right’ from English law no longer stands to be interpreted in the same way by those from whom the right was inherited. Normalised by former Master of the Rolls, Judge Tom Denning, in contrast to the US Supreme Court, English courts would consider the arguments wisely within an unlimited time-frame, with regard to what Justice Breyer raised as interest-based considerations.

So it seems that the 2nd Amendment is to guarantee an individual ‘right’ to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation, with some qualification, according to Justice Scalia:

“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose…. Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms”.

The type of weapon is only to be questioned if it falls outside the concept of those available to the founding fathers, so as to be hugely and historically disproportionate to the right – the “dangerous and unusual weapon”. Thus, complex military weapons involving advanced technology would not be permissible. However, repeating and quick-fire weapons are preserved, in that they are deemed to protect ‘an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home’.

Currently, a plethora of commentators around the world are opining on the topic of gun controls and USA politics and policy. And so do I.

It is said that the state of US gun legislation has little to do with the 2nd Amendment, nor DC v Heller. In part it is the consequence of seeking, in one time frame, to define rights for all time. But it is mainly to do with the will of a legislature, the successors in title to those that passed the 2nd Amendment.

And it is to do with money and culture.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by RMV/Shutterstock (9387190an)
The FBI and police agencies from surrounding counties responded to a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida. Police set up a family staging area for parents to meet their children at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Coral Springs Hotel to pick up their children
Shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, USA – 14 Feb 2018

Reading social media comments from young Americans who knew the Florida killings perpetrator or victims, or who simply identify with the victims’ plight, I have been amazed at the frequency of comment from those that consider the answer to gun violence – is guns. In particular, automatic repeat-fire weapons.

‘Slippery slope’ arguments jostle with ‘arm the teachers’. Both in my view are fundamentally flawed. What is a ‘slippery slope’ for one commentator is heuristic progress of common sense to another. What is an ‘armed teacher’ for one, is to another, a shot-dead teacher.

Change never happens overnight, but I sense that the tragic events of 14 February 2018 could instigate change of some kind.

What is needed is a ‘sweet spot’ of compromise – presumably where neither proponent gets what they seek, but with which both can live, without the fear of being gunned down by one of their own community. To achieve this, someone has to resolve that automatic and quick fire weapons have no place in normal times, in public places, in civilised countries in the hands of civilians.

Barrister in Buenos Aires

 

B8FDF2CA-9C3C-46DF-BA78-63D9E2F4CE3E

Regular readers will know of my grand escapes. Most years in the past ten, I leave the Bar behind to travel, and those who have made Google searches will know of my travel blogs here and here. You may also have found my Ageing Effortlessly blog in which I have written about ‘preparing for life after work’, which includes the value of foreign travel.

For many, travel is simply taking holidays of three, or at most four weeks. Yes – it is travel after a fashion, but its nature and duration do not allow for significant change in life and outlook. This actually constitutes a failure of living, in which we end up with unfulfilled aspirations that become impossibilities.

I am here in Buenos Aires, ostensibly to meet fellow lawyers, talk mediation and dance Argentine tango. It involves a sideways step from everyday realities of English legal practice into the shadows of another world. My break is of four months, giving time to review life, assess change and experiment with new experience and ideas.

Some readers have a problem with this – the “That may be alright for you, but it wouldn’t work for me” mentality. Their impediments to travel of this kind are usually stated as being:

  • I have school fees to pay, pension to fund and a mortgage to support. I cannot afford to take such a break.
  • My spouse/partner is a governor – I cannot take my children out of school out of term time, and anyway, what about their sats?
  • I have elderly relatives. Who will look after them when I am away.
  • The solicitors that instruct me will find someone else for their work.
  • I cannot imagine what I would do with that all  time.
  • What if I like it too much, then what?

Taking extended breaks does require a degree of preparation, especially financial planning; but not so much as you might think. These days it is possible to take pension and mortgage breaks. Some travellers choose to arrange a home exchange; others pack up their valuables and offer their home on a short let. With the right anticipation and notice, school fees can be avoided – after all, you will be educating your child/ren elsewhere.

Elderly relatives is a trickier emotional problem. Talk with them and ask them what they think about your proposed trip. Most older relatives report their main anxiety as not having someone to call on in the case of emergency. With careful management, this can efficiently be addressed. Sorting out your own trepidation and duty conscience is quite another – you will just have to sit down and give yourself a stern talking-to.

The fear of falling behind professionally is a psychological symptom of anxiousness, rather than a measure of any actual reality. If you are under-performing at work, you are likely to face this fate anyway; if you are competent in what you do, there is always an open professional door for those with experience.

“I get bored after a couple of weeks” is the worst comment a potential traveller can make. It says that you should give up the idea of travelling ever, and stay back to polish the car. Travelling creates interest, excitement, new horizons, offers new friendships and relationships. If you are bored by travel, you are simply doing it wrong.

‘What if I like it too much?…”. The honest answer is that you probably will. It may change your ideas about what you want from life – where you wish to live, how you wish to live, and even with whom you wish to live. Given just eighty or so years of life expecation, with a chunk already expended, what is the problem with a shake-up of lifestyle?

After all, travel creates choices, rather than restricts them. And yes, it creates challenges too, which is one of the very best reasons why we choose to do it.

Silver Barrister

 

Its Monday, and I am returning from two and a half months away from practice as a barrister. The case I am assigned to cover  is listed ‘not-before-11.30’ at Newcastle Family Court before a district judge. A colleague in chambers is for the applicant local authority, so I know it is in good hands.

It feels disconcerting to arrive in chambers after a long break. Annie looks up from reception to buzz me in, and greets me with a smile. “Hello Mr Twist, how was the trip?” “Fine, Annie, but it does seem strange to be back”.

Yes, it does feel very strange. It reminds me of the first day at school after a summer break. The smell of the building – a combination of coffee and hot paper on the scanner; the sounds of articulate voices drifting in corridors; light slanting through the dust.

The problem is that my colleagues have been beavering away during my recess – finding places to park or taking trains to court; bumping their wheeled cases along pavements; emptying their pockets at security; meeting solicitors and clients; and advocating before judges and juries. Whilst that film has been running, I have not been watching, or even present. The world has moved on a little, and I have remained still.

This mood lasts but an hour before momentum drives it to the back of my mind, and I question if I have ever been away. The meeting of advocates sees tight-scripted positions coalesce into agreement; the judge smiles and approves our efforts, signing the order with a few kind words. And the day becomes just another day in the life of a busy barrister.

But, as you would expect with this blog, there is an unresolved issue – not with the case – but with me. Advancing to the end of professional life, I ask myself about me; my longevity at the Bar, and what lies ahead. My colleagues become younger as I age. My conversation is on the differences of the past rather than the opportunities of the future.

Today I rise early to complete my attendance note for yesterday’s hearing. BBC Radio 4 burbles in the background. ‘The Life Scientific’s Adrian Thomas explains to Jim Khalili about ‘silver engineers’. And with those words suddenly all becomes clear.

When it comes to retirement, as a species we waste considerable resources, experience and skills. In another blog I addressed the question of preparing for retirement. Here I propose to extend those ideas into the new concept of the ‘silver barrister’.

Like the ‘silver engineer’, the ‘silver barrister’ is one who for whatever reason has decided to retire from active practice, but who still possesses the energy and capacity to contribute professionally. This contribution may be in relation to mentoring, supportive training, assisting or managing complaints and grievance processes, preparing legal digests, library management, or helping the chambers’ head and executive with a plethora of tasks. The ‘silver barrister’ provides a safe, available and sufficiently independent pair of hands – backed up with a professional lifetime of experience.

As a trained facilitator, I ask myself about the ‘balance of reward’ from such an arrangement? So here I list what I consider to be the essential characteristics of the role:

  • The status and role of ‘silver barrister’ is to be confirmed and defined by the Bar Council.
  • Silver barristers will be invited/elected by their chambers for continued membership for a renewable twelve month term.
  • They will not have rights of audience or independent advisory status as barristers, and so be exempt from professional indemnity insurance requirement, and professional competence regulation. Their chambers will pay a nominal annual Bar registration fee.
  • Their status as non-practicing consultants must be declared clearly on all professional communications.
  • They will not be entitled to remuneration for their role as silver barrister, but may be remunerated by a practicing barrister for advisory/preparatory work undertaken for that barrister.
  • Individual chambers may decide with regard to internal arrangements, such as voting and chambers fees and charges.

As pressures on chambers administration – and the potential contribution from retiring seniors increase, why not look at that symbiosis to match needs and resources? This may be the ideal solution for our profession – for both young and old alike.

Control your car legally – the advent of the digital vehicle

 

Others will write about Barcelona and Cambrils – recalling Paris and London. They may address urban terrorism that has reached Turku, and even comment on Herat mosque, Lahore, Lake Chad, Abyan, Kirkuk, Bajaur, Quetta, Burkina Faso, Kunduz, and Konduga. August 2017 saw 113 global terrorist events, involving 494 innocent deaths.

Academic analysis would reveal the number of terrorist incidents involving motor vehicles used for travel to – and escape from, as well as perpetrate terrorism. Today’s radio conversation is about ‘hiring vans to terrorists’. And tomorrow?

Road traffic deaths in the UK for the year ending March 2016 were 1,780, with 24,610 people killed or seriously injured, and 187,050 casualties of all severity. Cyclist’s deaths comprise 100 in the same year, whilst serious injuries amount to 3,239 and lesser injuries 15,505. Motor traffic levels rose in that year by 1.8%.

I think you see where I am going. Now don’t get me wrong: I like vehicles. I have owned and driven many kinds over four decades, from large motorcycles to HGVs, and still own three – a motor home, car and roadster. But, like me, do you see the writing on the wall – that says ‘top gear motor days are over’?

With the advent of driverless, electric-powered cars, we entered a digital motoring age. Top of the range vehicles – including BMW and Mercedes with conventional engines – inform you remotely where they are, how they are, what they need, what they are doing, having the capacity to park themselves. They ‘live and breathe information’, with which our smart phones light up at any distance.

It seems that the days of the incognito car are numbered. We have electronic number plate recognition, so it is a small step to the digitally identified vehicle; one that can be tracked remotely, and importantly, controlled remotely.

When travelling on UK roads and motorways, I am constantly amazed by the speed of some passing cars. More alarming is their closing and stopping speed. The combination of driver error and irresponsibility is fatal. Now what if those vehicles could be remotely managed?

It has always seemed to me to be an absurdity that vehicles for UK roads are still sold on the basis of speed. Assuming use on public roads with a 70 mph limit, how is this appropriate? Why do we tacitly promote the acquisition of high performance cars? On 13 March 1996, seventeen innocent deaths in Dunblane resulted in the abolition of handguns. So why in 2017 do we tolerate a massive car-death toll?

How would it be if all UK road vehicles (with the exception of emergency services) were fitted with speed regulators linked to road-side sensors that controlled maximum speed depending on road classification, and even road conditions? Why simply detect and fine, when you can regulate?

How many lives might be saved? How many vehicles involved in crime may be traced? And, when actively used for criminal or terrorist prevention purposes, how many vehicles could be identified, targeted and electronically slowed and brought to a stop – upon leaving a carriageway, or by police in pursuit?

Of course the ‘motoring rights lobby’ will screech in anguish, neglecting the fact that irresponsible exercise of their rights frequently deprives innocents of lives and families of loved ones. We would have to ‘get over’ the fact that, unlike people, vehicles fall into the category of accountable property, and that our movements with and within them would be traceable.

What is the current price of vehicular freedom? Is it worth it? If ‘freedom’ is really what you want, why not buy a bike and take the risk with the rest of us?

 

Barrister’s Survival Guide

 

3B968FDF-B7AB-4A8D-AE78-D182282943EE-837-000000F94B25FDF7.jpeg

Congratulate me. I have just turned 40. No, not my age regrettably, but my years in private practice as an English barrister.

40 years doing the ‘same job’ got me thinking about what it is to be a barrister, how it has changed over the years, and importantly, what tips I can share concerning survival.

As one of the bar’s ‘senior juniors’ – an oxymoronic term used to describe ‘old barristers who have never ‘taken silk’  – I remember the days of drafty court rooms that existed in almost every town, where the judge would arrive at 10.30, to leave for home as soon as a trial finished or collapsed. As barristers, we were a small band of 6,000 – mostly in London, and generally knew everyone who worked on the circuit. We travelled the circuit, appearing at a variety of courts, often in very different cases. It was commonplace to see the same opponent in civil, criminal, regulatory, family and even chancery cases. We did what came up.

Clearly, those days have passed, just as old courts have closed. Today, we are specialists, new entrants to the bar sometimes only experiencing one area of practice.

D692793A-2649-4532-98D6-ED7CC6A7C106-837-000000F9109624A3

So that leads me to my first tip.

Experience life outside your specialist field. I accept that the days of general practice have passed and gone, that we are pressed into ever increasing specialisation, but with this comes two fatal flaws to excellence as an advocate. The first is the reduction of transferrable skills. Just as advocates in criminal cases do not gain regular exposure to the need for rigorous intellectual crafting of argument based on complex law, the civil practitioners finds themselves weak when it comes to the art of persuasion. Those practicing in family law (unless they have High Court and appeal practices) are frequently denied both, to wobble around with sentences like “mum says…”…and “wouldn’t you agree that contact went well?”.

Moving between disciplines over 40 years, I have been impressed and amazed at the relevance of transferrable skills between one specialist field and another, enhancing practice in each area and enriching the experience of being a barrister.

My second tip is ‘think condom’. Engaged in numerous high-level police corruption trials and hearings, my advice to the most senior police officers has been ‘protect yourself – prepare and record in anticipation of a public inquiry in 4 years’. Some listened, and survived. Others failed to heed, and were eventually dismissed or discredited. The same goes for barristers. Just round the corner is the surprise challenge, in which someone fails, complains or dies.

To address this it is wise to record the client’s decisions and the reasons for them; and our advice, the known facts on which it was based, and our justification for it. Several times I have been rescued by a comprehensive endorsement of my brief (a document that I contend falls outside client privilege), or a detailed attendance note made and shared immediately after a conference or hearing.

The third tip is ‘always have a plan B’. Just thinking about alternatives prepares our minds to address other possibilities as to approach and outcome. So we are rarely surprised, or worse, floored. More important with clients, the need for a ‘plan B’ focusses on the fact that the law is an inexact art, and advocating an outcome does not mean that the judge will agree. The plan B sometimes involves a simple matter of changing expectations, or alerting clients to the dangers of their case.

My fourth tip is ‘leave your work behind’. If, like me, you work extensively from home, find and preserve a place where you work, and from which you leave for family life. Here, I am thinking more of leaving problems behind, rather than the sharing of some of the more fun aspects of practice at the bar. In my case, my study is solely for work and legal discussion. It has a lock on the door, so I sense the moment when I depart, and return to real life.

My fifth and final tip is to take time out from practice. I have been a master at this skill, away for the summer whilst my family was young, and later taking longer trips involving months away, including sabattical breaks away from work.

Whilst I recall my very first senior clerk say to established barristers “…well, it is your practice, Sir”, and then look accusingly knowing that they would lose their nerve, I have never experienced anything other than continued prosperity, success and fulfilment coming from taking regular holidays and time out. More importantly, should you be lucky like me to survive 40 years of private practice, you will appreciate the enriching perspective that this has added to your life.

 

Final Furlong

6F67CE97-104B-48C5-AC16-D22D45CBFFD0-3682-0000039BE79B9858.jpeg

Written in Buenos Aires for ‘Death Cafe‘ this piece is about more about life than death – it concerns the ‘final furlong’.

For some – you might say ‘the lucky ones’ – death comes in old age, suddenly, painlessly and without warning. Others may face a long and challenging ‘final furlong’. Those of us in this group will need to prepare for death if we are to get it right – or as right as preparing for an unknown death can ever be.

Preparing for change is often one of our most difficult tasks as we age. We may be distracted by other concerns, in denial about our mortality, or simply too frail to address it. The one inevitability is that we will not escape it; so there is need to prepare well for a ‘good death’.

I shall be dealing with several aspects of ‘the final furlong’. My list is not exhaustive, nor my opinion definitive. There is more to be said, and I hope readers will add their experience and insight to produce the best-crafted approach to the process of infirmity, dying and death. Of particular interest is the less visible group who face the final furlong prematurely, before age can justify demise.

THE NUTS AND BOLTS
As it is unlikely that you will be given sufficient, if any advance warning of death, this advice is applicable to every adult, irrespective of age.

The first essential – to make a Will.
Recently, as a barrister I was instructed by the Official Solicitor to deal with an application in the Court of Protection on behalf of a dying woman. When younger, she had made a Will, but in the meantime her son – her sole beneficiary under her Will, had died. She was however fortunate in her final years to be cared for by a devoted step-daughter who lived with her. These were happy years until the old lady developed dementia. It was then that her historic (and now useless) Will was discovered, and her incapacity made it too late for her to make a new one.

Under the rules of Intestacy her step-daughter would receive not a penny. Within the list of the distant relatives to benefit, none had maintained contact with the old lady and most knew not of her existence. Using its inherent powers, the court indicated that it would change the Will in favour of the step-daughter, adding that there had rarely been a more deserving case. Yet the night before the hearing, the old lady died, and her step-daughter was forced to leave her home with just her clothes after 15 years as unpaid resident carer.

This tale tells of a bigger story. It speaks of the need to make, and review your Will to take account of your present circumstances. The ‘old Will in a drawer’ may be your last iniquity to a well-spent life.

My advice: after the age 25 make a Will, and update it as your life circumstances change. In later life, address your choices ‘root-and-branch’ to ensure your Will is appropriate and fair. Make a list of everything you possess, from real estate (houses and land), shares, policies and pensions – to other assets such as savings, vehicles, jewellery; then list their location. Set out your wishes in simple terms. A solicitor may prepare this for a charge, but it is possible to make your own Will by following this simple free guidance here.

The second essential – to prepare two powers of attorney.
As we age we lose capacity. At first this may be simply ‘a senior moment’ and a forgotten name. Few people reach the end of life with both memory and reasoning intact. In the future there will be many more elderly people with cognitive deficit. More concerning for a younger generation is the possibility of loss of capacity through trauma, such as car accident, major illness or stroke.

Most incidents of loss of capacity come suddenly and without warning. So it is wise to prepare powers of attorney that enable a relative or friend to make important decisions on your behalf should you lack capacity. There are two powers of attorney – one for health and welfare decisions; one to manage financial affairs. They cannot be exercised against your will, so that should not be a reason for failing to take this step.

My advice: make both at any age beyond 40 years. There is a cost to register your powers of attorney, but the cost is infinitesimal compared with the professional charges that will be involved should this choice be neglected. Ask a family member to assist you, or prepare both using the government’s on-line free service here.

The third essential – to make an Advance Decision and Advance Statement.
The advance decision sets out your instructions concerning your medical care at the end of life. Properly made and recorded, it is binding on medical professionals and relieves distressed relatives of difficult, sometimes divisive decisions. Whilst assisted dying is not currently a legal option in the UK, supported dying is. So this is your chance to specify the extent of care you would seek at various stages when your death is imminent, or should worthwhile existence have ceased.

You will be relieved to know that your advance statement is a more creative document. Here you state your preferences for care should you not be able to articulate them when the time comes. These may include where you would prefer to end your days, how and by whom you wish to be cared, by what name you wish to be addressed, what food, music and interests are important to you, and as important, what you would wish to avoid.

Preparing both the decision and the statement are simple using the free Compassion in Dying on-line support here.

Those facing terminal care should also make an advance care plan. For this you need to consult your treating physician when the time comes. Ensure that your advance decision and advance statement are attached to the care plan.

BEYOND THE BASICS

Prepare your own funeral / other arrangements.
Whilst to some this sounds a morbid topic (which it is), others find it quite empowering. You will not experience what you plan, but by preparing in advance, your family will be spared much work, stress, distress, and probably many arguments as to what is best.

At the most basic level, would you wish to be buried or cremated? Where would you wish to be buried or have your ashes scattered, how and by whom?

My mother chose her own funeral director – someone who she had known and respected. She pre-paid her funeral arrangements, as a sculptor, carved her own memorial stone, and specified the exact position where her ashes should be placed. On her death all that was required was a simple phone call – everything else was sorted.

My advice: prepare a plan. Humorously mark it “It’s My Funeral’, leave a list of who you wish to be invited, and how they may be contacted. Why not choose your favourite music, hymns, readings, and set out your wishes for a funeral breakfast or wake? Make provision for this within your Will so that the cost is clearly covered and not contested.

Where do you want to die?
In ‘The lady and the Reaper’ film we witness the conflict between the medical profession and the Grim Reaper. Hopefully, your advance decision will have taken care of this particular battle.

But there remains the issue of where you would wish to end your days. I have visited splendid care homes that are well staffed with caring people – yet often I sense the tediousness of day-to-day existence that many residents experience in a care or nursing home.

Towards the end of my mother’s life, remaining in her own home with support afforded her access to all that was familiar in a location where friends could drop by.

Others may not be so fortunate. Removal to a care home can be confusing and may be distressing. For those with mental capacity, the move is itself a form of bereavement when they let go of possessions and familiarity.

My advice: Write down your wishes. If you own your home, assess its suitability for old age, advancing infirmity and ‘the final furlong’. What is needed to allow you to remain there? Can it be adapted to afford you ground floor living? What about electronic, key-less entry for family, visitors and carers? What is the value of your home should you need to move? What other accommodation will your equity and savings afford? If you do not own your home, what alternatives are out there by way of retirement or sheltered accommodation?

If you reach the stage where you may need hospital care, do you really want to undertake this last journey and face death in a hospital bed? If not, your family and friends need to know your wishes and feelings, so that they can be respected.

Departing with dignity and saying goodbye
Most of us reach the end of life with unfinished business. It may be an argument with a relative or friend, or an unspoken acknowledgment of love, thanks or support. At the simplest level it could just be who you would wish to be informed when you die.

My advice: make a list of who you wish to be told of your death, and how they can be contacted. Write letters to those that you love, respect and will miss, together with those that you know will feel your loss. Should you have outstanding issues, you can address them in a letter sensitively – understanding that there can be no reply.

In Mitch Albom’s ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’, facing end of life, Morrie was asked what he valued most in life. His answer was unsurprising – ‘family, friends and relationships’.

Perhaps, by way of acknowledgement or repair, a word of thanks or forgiveness to our family, friends and those we have known and valued can be our final parting gift before we die?

Stephen Twist © 2017 for Death Cafe
With thanks to YG2D.com for the photo