Apparently 150 lawyer members of Resolution visited Parliament yesterday to lobby MPs for divorce reform. They were additionally fuelled by a full blown media campaign on radio and TV with a Twitter hashtag #abetterway. They want to remove fault and introduce a new divorce law that makes it easier for couples to separate and their aim is laudable.
We were even treated to photos on Twitter of Richard Burgon MP addressing the family law champions, but who in real life happens to be one of the most extreme left wing MPs ever to sit in Parliament. However there he was, having been appointed by Jeremy Corbyn as Shadow Justice Minister when his less extreme MPs resigned, fulsomely greeting those solicitors. Given half a chance of course he would tax them all to the hilt and beyond, as he and his close chums merrily spend us into the splendid bankruptcy of which those unstable extreme left wing dreams are sadly made of. As long as he sits at the helm, he renders the Labour Party unelectable.
But never mind! If Burgon supports them and gives them a photo op that’s brilliant, so the subliminal message went.
Putting that aside, I’m all for a legal system that makes life easier for people going through divorce so I agree, at the right time and with the right, measured approach with plenty of time for calm reflection, that’s fine. I’m sure many diverse opinions, from those who hold profound views about the institution of marriage, will surface no matter the good intentions of Resolution. A Royal Commission, as suggested by Sir Paul Coleridge, could potentially consider the entire subject in the same way it did prior to the enactment of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which still governs the entire process across the board. It would consider all the arguments, all the possibilities and make recommendations that could become strong law, having been drafted by experts on the subject.
But action by Parliament now? Right now? At this desperate time politically and socially? It’s surely a non-starter. Instead why not take every opportunity to highlight what is happening on the ground? Instead of suggestions for no fault divorce, Resolution could and should look at what its members and the public really need.
Yesterday, as Resolution members were happily tweeting about their day in Parliament, I retweeted and commented instead on this desperately sad tweet from a former Judge:
This is what lawyers should be protesting. This is what matters most. https://t.co/ON1j5Upaew
— Marilyn Stowe (@marilynstowe) November 30, 2016
I was pleased to see it has been re-tweeted by several other lawyers including Lord Lester QC. They all get what I get and are prepared to say so.
Yesterday was a shocking day for the law and the public at large, with the closure of a substantial court building in Tunbridge Wells and the removal, as the man says, of a court from all those people. And then my retweet was followed by a lawyer in Halifax, West Yorkshire, making the same point of her local court. The closure programme of so many courts across the country, the delays in remaining courts, the lack of legal aid, and so forth should be the top of the agenda. I hope you get the picture because heaven knows I write about it as much as I can.
Family lawyers who claim to lead the family law profession could, and should, have been protesting from the rooftops long and loud for a few years now, taking every opportunity to bring this into the public domain and kept doing so, putting all the pressure they could, to do their best to do something, anything and keep it in the forefront of people’s minds. We hear enough about prisons and something is now being done. We need the same in family law too.
A campaign to save what is being done to the legal system in this country is and was needed. If Resolution are to mean anything at all they first need to understand they are now being considered irrelevant. My colleague John Bolch has already voiced this thought. Times have changed. The Law Society has been virtually emasculated. Solicitors are treated with contempt by those in power – Michael Gove has publicly led the way. High Street solicitors have suffered badly from the recession, the abolition of legal aid, the hikes in insurances and changes to other areas of the law. Resolution needs to grasp the nettle, it needs to start flexing muscle. It needs to become relevant.
Divorce reform is an unnecessary sideshow right now but who knows, it may be a tempting diversion for those orchestrating what is being done to render families in crisis seeking legal advice and decisions by Judges across the entire country, helpless. Should it look tempting to our Prime Minister and inexperienced Lord Chancellor, I would offer a word of warning. It is twenty years since John Major, under pressure from the Lord Chancellor of the time, took up the challenge of divorce reform, thinking it would be relatively straight forward and a potential vote winner. It resulted in the enactment of the ultimately unworkable Family Law Act 1996. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It did for him and the Conservative government and it proved unworkable. It was repealed before ever being put into practice.
But are we going to see history repeat itself? Personally, I’d be surprised.