Is the family law system still fit for purpose? Leading lawyer speaks at Leeds Grammar School
Leading family lawyer Marilyn Stowe appeared at the Grammar School at Leeds last night (Thursday 21 April) to deliver the annual Mark Bailey Lecture. Her topic was: Family law practice and procedure in the 21st Century: fit for purpose?
Despite seismic social change in the traditional family over the last few decades, family law has been slow to evolve and keep pace. Divorce is now commonplace, gay marriage, civil partnerships and single parents increasingly routine. Many families lead a multinational lifestyle. We have become a much more tolerant society – and yet there has been no major change in divorce law since 1973 and in the law concerning children since 1989. There is still no law at all for cohabiting couples. We insist that couples attribute blame when they apply for a quick divorce, foregoing the ‘no fault’ systems used in some other countries.
Meanwhile, the abolition of legal aid for most family law cases three years ago has meant a huge surge in those attempting to litigate without the aid of lawyer, slowing down and complicating a court system that once ran smoothly. In response the government has made much of mediation, pushing it as a cheaper alternative to the courts and misrepresenting it as a panacea for all problems. It has announced the closure of 86 courts across the country and sharply increased court fees.
The entire structure of the legal system, Marilyn suggested. She asked:
“We have the confidence of the entire world in our family justice system. That is why desperate wives of wealthy plutocrats flock here to our courts for their divorce. It is not for nothing that London is named the divorce capital of the world. We are indeed the envy of the world with our statutes and case law for every conceivable situation, with our incorruptible judiciary, with our insistence on doing and being seen to do, fairness and fair play.
Are we really going to see an end to all that magnificent Judge made law? An end to all those innovative interpretations that have survived to this day?”
A two tier justice system may not be too far away she claimed – one that runs smoothly for the rich and another – patchy, inadequate and full of holes – for the rest of us.
Previous speakers at the prestigious Mark Bailey Lecture include Radio 4 presenter Sue Nelson; and Robin Choudhury, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Oxford University.
Leeds native Marilyn Stowe is Senior Partner at Stowe Family Law, the UK’s largest specialist family law firm. Based in Harrogate, it operates eight other offices across the country: in Leeds, Wetherby, London, Cheshire, Hertfordshire and Hampshire.
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