A family affair

Times Online, February 23, 2007

I'm under pressure to finish a book I have been writing but my beloved sons, Harry, 11, and Elliot, 9, have not been making things easy. It is, for anyone who works from home, that dread time of year: half-term. My wife is at work, leaving me to try to produce coherent prose against a background of fighting, shouting and general criminal endeavour. My boys are good at this. Normally I don't mind, but this week I have been at my wits' end.

Until, that is, I read the story about the Edinburgh teenager set to make a fortune thanks to his creation of a range of "super jams" whose recipes he acquired from his grandmother. Fraser Doherty, 18, has since added his own secret ingredients, and now his Super Jam is set to inspire a new generation of jam fans around the world.

As I was applauding Doherty's blend of intelligence and entrepreneurialism it struck me that so much can come from the depths of one's own family reserves. The Doherty family might have the edge when it comes to jam, but here at Wade Towers the law is our thing. My father was and still is a solicitor who has run his own high street practice for over 40 years. My brother is a partner in a large law firm (and much richer than me, but that is irrelevant). I am still a solicitor, despite all.

Just as I was mulling this over there was a scream from the neighbour's garden. The boys had nearly killed next door's 12-year-old girl with an arrow, complete with deadly flint head, loosed with force in the opposite direction from its target.

"Right, you two!" I said, "inside!" They protested that it was an accident and then, like so many criminals, started to blame each other. I told them that I wasn't interested in who did what. "This was a joint enterprise," I declared, "you are both responsible!"

"Dad," Elliot asked, "what's a joint enterprise?"

"Well son," I explained, "it's a legal term used to refer to situations when two or more people embark upon a course of conduct that results in the commission of a crime."

"Cool," Harry said, but then he started thinking. "Dad, does the crime have to happen?"

"Yes son, I believe it does," I replied. "The leading case is R v Swindall v Osborne (1846)."

"In that case, Dad, what we did wasn't a joint enterprise because nothing happened. It's not as if the arrow hit her, is it?"

Precocity in children can be irksome, but the way was clear. If I exposed the boys to the law - rather as Doherty had kept company with his grandmother's jam - a process of osmosis might occur so that, by the time they were just 18, they too would have formulated a way to make a fortune. Who knows, thanks to a new Law Society directive to deregulate the wearisome hurdles of having to qualify before one can practise, by then they might be living in a new legal landscape in which they could sell, direct to the public, special jars of "Super Law."

"Imagine that, boys," I said, "when all the tourists turn up here in the summer you could set up a stall in the car park offering them Super Law jars. One could be about hearsay evidence, another about the evidentiary burden in criminal as opposed to civil law, still others about negligence, slander, the tort of conversion and meaning of actus reus, ex cathedra and in delicto. You'd make a killing. Think, too, if you had a Super Law jar on my favourite subject - the circumstances in which it would be unconscionable not to effectuate a dispositive intention in a constructive trust."

The boys were unusually silent before saying, as one: "Dad, we promise we'll be good. Can we go now?" The rest of the week has been very quiet. They're either working on their Super Law jars, or desperately trying to avoid ever hearing about the law again.