But will it make any difference?
For the benefit of those who don’t know, I suppose I should begin this post by explaining exactly what Resolution is. It is an association of family lawyers (originally, and I think rather more helpfully, called the ‘Solicitors Family Law Association’, or ‘SFLA’ for short), which was formed in 1982. Resolution members “are committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes”, and follow a Code of Practice that “promotes a non-confrontational approach to family problems.” The organisation now has some 6,500 members, comprising family lawyers (no longer just solicitors) and other professionals in England and Wales.
I may occasionally make the odd criticism of Resolution, but in reality I am a strong supporter, having been a member of the organisation for the best part of twenty years, until I gave up practising in 2009. During that time I tried to follow the ethos of the organisation, which I always felt was a better way to try to resolve family cases than the aggressive litigation-centric approach that had been prevalent when I began practising family law (coincidentally at about the same time Resolution was formed). Of course, even with the best intentions, it is not always possible to resolve a family dispute in a non-confrontational way, so it is still sometimes necessary to resort to litigation.
Anyway, to the subject of this post.
As I mentioned here yesterday, Resolution held its annual conference over the weekend. In the course of the conference the organisation appointed a new Chair, Margaret Heathcote. She gave her inaugural address to the conference, in which she referred to the campaigning that Resolution has been involved in, seeking to improve the family justice system. She mentioned in particular three campaigns: rights on separation for cohabiting couples, wider availability of legal aid and the introduction of no-fault divorce. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned here previously (sometimes on many occasions!), I am in favour of all three.
As to rights for separating couples, Ms Heathcote referred to the ‘Cohabitation Awareness Week’ that Resolution held last November, explaining that the goal of the initiative was (obviously) to raise awareness, and that Resolution “certainly did that, exceeding many of [their] expectations.” Well, perhaps that is true, but reform in this area must surely come from government, and I see no sign whatsoever of rights for cohabitees appearing on the agenda of the present government.
With regard to legal aid, there may be some minor tinkering that may enable a handful more needy people to get access to justice, but the thing that would really make a difference would be the restoration of legal aid to all or most of those areas that were taken out of scope by the legal aid cuts brought in by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). In that regard Ms Heathcote refers to the government’s long-awaited review of the effects of LASPO. She says: “I don’t want to pre-empt the result, but I’m not exactly holding my breath for a massive injection of funding.” I’m pretty sure I’ve said exactly the same thing myself.
Lastly, with regard to Resolution’s campaign to introduce no-fault divorce, Ms Heathcote refers to the forthcoming Supreme Court appeal in the Owens case, in which Resolution has been granted permission to intervene. She says (her emphasis):
“It is ridiculous that, in the twenty-first century, Mrs Owens has had to go to the highest court in the land in order to try and get her divorce, and to prove how unhappy being in a loveless marriage makes her.”
I agree, and I hope Mrs Owens is successful, but again I think this an area where proper reform must come from government, and again I can’t see the present government taking any real interest. Notwithstanding this, Ms Heathcote promises to keep on campaigning “to end the blame game.”
Resolution now has one of the loudest voices in the debate for reform of family law. It is good that it is using that voice, and I believe that it should continue to do so. However, whether it is actually going to make difference is another matter.
You can read the full speech here.