The client, the London office and Staffordshire University’s Annual Family Law School Seminar: what a week!

Family Law|April 26th 2010

On Tuesday last week in the Stowe Family Law Cheshire office, I was able to deliver the outcome that a client had wanted for many months. Hard-fought cases are, by their nature, hard-won. Not every longed-for outcome can be handed over on a plate, and quite a lot of unseen skill can be required for the trickier aspects of a case.

I had advised our client to remain calm and patient; although he had done so, I know that it is easier to give such advice than it is to accept it. If it’s your case, then of course you are bound to worry. However if you have a competent lawyer, and you can see that things are going your way, the chances are that they will continue to do so. As I said to my client, if I had thought that we couldn’t deliver, I would have said so. Why put him through something hopeless? It isn’t my style and never will be.

It was a successful day and I left Hale feeling good. Wednesday and Thursday were spent in London, at the new Stowe Family Law London office (due to open later this year), Middle Temple and 1 Hare Court. On Friday, I was back seeing clients at the Stowe Family Law Yorkshire office.

By Saturday morning when I got up at 6 am, I felt quite exhausted. But the week wasn’t over…

I was a speaker at the Annual Family Law School Seminar at Staffordshire University (above).

This year the Seminar was entitled Family Law and Human Rights: Strange Bedfellows or a Perfect Match? I was invited to speak by Law School lecturer Dr Sue Jenkinson; being the “Hey ho! I’m up for anything!” type, I immediately accepted.

I bumped into Prof Chris Barton, who had chaired a Law Society Family Law Conference that I helped to organise a few years ago. That day was almost hijacked by a stunt carried out by two members of Fathers 4 Justice. The former children’s minister Margaret Hodge was standing between us, giving her speech, when she was approached by two members of the group (posing as family lawyers) and slapped in handcuffs. We both watched in horror as it happened. Neither he nor I were asked to give a statement or evidence at the subsequent criminal trial, and the men concerned were acquitted. I haven’t seen Chris since then, so we had some catching up to do on Saturday! An academic, he is also extremely kind, giving plenty of reassurance to this nervous speaker! On this occasion Chris was a member of the audience.

First up was Daniel Monk, Senior Lecturer at Birkbeck College, University of London. His talk: Home Education Debates – do children’s rights help? Last year he co-wrote a book with Lady Hale, Judge Pearl and Professor Cooke, called The Family, Law and Society.

Sonia Harris-Short has a first class degree in Law from Oxford and an LLM from Canada. Currently a law lecturer at the University of Birmingham, she spoke about Shared Residence Orders: what they are and what they should be in law, as well as the child’s welfare and rights being taken into account.

My talk was called Media and the Family Courts – Punishing the Innocent and Protecting the Guilty. I spoke about the media and the family courts within the context of Human Rights legislation. The talk is due to be published on the university’s website – I’ll post a link.

I made two main points. Firstly, my concern that the private lives of those going through divorce should not be public. Secondly, that child care cases should be public – but should also be subject to safeguards to protect the children and the family.

After lunch, Ruth Lamont focused on Brussels II legislation. Currently working on the legal framework dealing with family dissolution within the EU, Dr Lamont is a law lecturer who is shortly to join the Liverpool Law School at the University of Liverpool.

Judith Masson, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Bristol, then delivered a paper called Protecting Children or Protecting Human Rights. I could have listened to her for much longer than her allotted time allowed, as her insights into child care law and practice made for a good deal of thought. Prof Masson is a former member of the Judicial Studies Board. Currently she is the Academic member of the Family Justice Council, which strives to improve the experiences of the families and children who use the family justice system.

I’ve saved the best for last!

The final speaker at the Annual Family Law Seminar was Lord Justice Wilson. In my last post I wrote about how important I believe it is for the “Great and Good” to mix with “the rest of us” beyond the bounds of the M25. I note that John Bolch of Family Lore agrees with me.

Well, I can now assure you that it does happen. Lord Justice Wilson is the judge who gave a most helpful speech to practitioners in the Marco Pierre White divorce case. He recognised the difficulties faced by family lawyers in practice, in relation to the discovery and disclosure of documents. I am looking forward to the outcome of the Imerman divorce case, which follows a similar theme and will be heard by the Court of Appeal shortly. Family lawyers do require clarification of our position, and the position of our clients.

I discovered that Lord Justice Wilson has been attending this seminar for years.  His genuine desire to appreciate and absorb new information and ideas, from academics who had spent so much of their time and effort crafting their talks, was readily apparent. His talk, View from the Bench, explored the concerns that he has as a judge who regularly deals with care work. He was impressive.

It was an exhausting day and an exhausting week, but I loved it.

On Sunday, I went to call for my father for our weekly walk, which we both call our “Weekly Treat”. He is a veteran of more than 40 marathons; following my knee operation last year I now walk, rather than run, three miles through Roundhay Park in Leeds where my parents live. My father always, without fail, treats me like the little schoolgirl I used to be. He always will.

And do you know? After that high flying week, it felt great.

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