March is upon us. Tempus does indeed fugit. Spring must surely be around the corner?
This is my third FLBMail as chairman of the FLBA.
February has been a busy and enjoyable month.
I write this FLBMail on Saturday morning. Last night I enjoyed a most excellent evening in Middle Temple Hall hosting the FLBA’s Annual Dinner. More of that below. This morning it was up with the lark and off to the Meeting of the Bar Council. Such is the life of your chairman. A twelve item agenda, with just the eight annexes to read, certainly clears the head after possibly just a little too much port last night.
One item on the agenda was a general discussion on fixed costs and the new online court being proposed by Lord Justices Jackson and Briggs respectively. We would be careless to suppose that either of these two proposals does not, or will not, impact on the family bar. True it is that presently the focus is on (other) civil proceedings. In summary, on 28 January 2016, Lord Justice Jackson called for recoverable costs to be fixed in all (civil) claims valued at up to £250,000. The Briggs Review published its interim report in December 2015. In summary, its remit was to carry out a review of the structure by which the civil courts (i.e. the County Court, the High Court and the Court of Appeal) resolve civil disputes, and how judicial and delegated judicial officer resources might be more effectively deployed. It was also charged to carry out a review of the boundaries between the Civil Courts and the Family Court.
At the moment, the proposals made by Lord Justice Jackson in relation to capped recoverable costs (which attracted almost immediate approval from the MoJ) would not apply in family cases. However, where the CPR leads, it might only be a matter of time before the FPR follows. I express no personal views at all about the merits (or otherwise) of what Lord Justice Jackson proposes. But we do know that some family judges already have strong views on the question of fixed, or even capped, costs. I have in mind, for example, the case of J v J  EWHC 3654 (Fam).
And so it is important that all family barristers participate in the current debate. As I have said before, if you don’t, by your silence you will be assumed to concur.
The proposal for an online court (which Briggs LJ proposes should be mandatory for all civil money claims up to £25,000) is very likely indeed to impact on family courts.
And we should assume that it will happen. The President first mooted the idea of an online family court at the regional conference in Cardiff in November (i.e. before the Briggs Review published its interim report). He spoke again last night at the Dinner of his vision for an online family court. I had previously assured the President in general terms (although not, I should add, specifically in relation to an online family court) that the FLBA will respond positively and engage constructively with the changes which he proposes to bring about to ensure that the family justice system functions in a more efficient and effective way up and down the country. I also suggested that, as an Association, we must respond positively and imaginatively to all such proposals if the current family justice system is not to be condemned externally as unfit for purpose.
And so we look forward to engaging with the President as this project is taken forward. Any proposals will be properly scrutinised to ensure that an online family court properly protects and promotes the interests of all court users. This must be our sole concern.
And so back to the Dinner.
The FLBA Annual Dinner 2016
I’m delighted to report that more than 260 members and guests of the FLBA assembled last night in Middle Temple Hall for the FLBA Annual Dinner. The Hall is at its best when laid out for a large, formal dinner. And the FLBA’s dinner is one of the biggest. I confess that a small part of me was ever so slightly disappointed that we hadn’t quite reached maximum capacity of 296, as I had hoped; but I was buoyed by the fact that in comparison to many of the other SBAs, and even the Circuits, I’m told the FLBA is streets ahead in terms of numbers. The guest list read like a Who’s Who of the family justice system. I value tremendously the support which our family judges (past and present) give to the FLBA. And as many as eight former chairmen of the FLBA attended (plus me, which makes nine). Next year I hope we can persuade all of the extant former chairmen to attend.
In my first FLBMail I said that I embarked upon my two years as chairman with a mixture of mild trepidation and a good deal of excitement. That pretty much sums up my stress level as the prospect of making the chairman’s speech drew ever closer. How odd that is, given I do that sort of thing for a living. But after several glasses of champagne the whole thing seemed altogether much easier. And those in attendance were even polite enough to laugh at what passed for my attempt at humour. How much funnier these things seem when one is practising in the mirror.
Anyway the evening wasn’t all about me (….at least not entirely). The President gave a most instructive speech about the future of the family justice system and of his vision for an online court. All who listened can have been left in no doubt that further changes are afoot. You can find the text of his speech here: The President’s Address at the Annual Dinner of the Family Law Bar Association.
Our principal guest speaker, Dominic Grieve QC MP, was excellent. Human rights, politics (but with a small ‘p’), coupled with some affectionate memories of his days doing matrimonial cases, including more than his fair share of outings to the Brentford County Court and appearances before (HHJ) ‘Jumbo’ Rice at Southend (very familiar to many of us) made for a very entertaining speech. So take heart: it really can be Brentford County Court one day, and Attorney General the next!
All the more extraordinary then, having spent a most enjoyable and stimulating evening in his company, that Dominic Grieve QC MP was re-shuffled out of the office of Attorney General in July 2014. Inexplicable; and in my opinion a real mistake. But that’s politics with a big ‘P’ and there is no place for politics in an FLBMail. Certainly not.
My sincere thanks once again to Khadija Khan (our most excellent administrator) and to Ian Bugg (our super Secretary) for all their hard work in making the FLBA Annual Dinner 2016 such a tremendous success. Having organised six of these dinners myself, I know just how much they had to do. I am most grateful to them both.
Cumberland Lodge 2016
As soon as the Annual Dinner is out of the way, our attention shifts almost immediately to the Cumberland Lodge Conference. As you know, this will take place over the weekend of 6th to 8th May 2016, with the main conference on Saturday 7th May. The theme is The Modern Family. The programme is already complete. It will go out shortly together with the booking forms. We are determined to keep the cost for the little ones (i.e. those under 3 years call) to the absolute minimum. So please do take the opportunity to sign up and enjoy the excellent surroundings that Cumberland Lodge offers for what I am confident will be an excellent programme.
This year the judicial gig (…I mean, lecture) on Friday night will be performed by not one, but two of our favourite ‘new’ judges: (Michael) Keehan J and (Anthony) Hayden J. Two for the price of one! Our very own Ant and Dec (or possibly Hinge and Bracket, you decide). I shall leave them to explain how it is that I have managed to bag two judges instead of the customary one, but can say now that I deny any suggestion of ‘administrative chaos’ or ‘incompetence’ (which was just not kind!)
Other speakers on Saturday will include Judge Michael Baumann from Australia; Associate Professor Lucinda Ferguson from Oriel College, Oxford; a team who argued In the Matter of B (a child) in the Supreme Court; John Wilson QC (on cohabitee rights); two of our new silks (Aidan Vine QC and Andrew Norton QC) who will lead the children law updates; hopefully one of our other new silks and Morgan Sirikanda, who will do the finance update; Martin Downs and Sam King (one of our excellent E&D officers) on same sex marriages and civil partnerships, and (as they say) many, many more! There will also be an opportunity to ask the President questions. So please do come prepared with some proper questions. There is much to debate. Anyone tempted to ask ‘President, how ever do you find the time to write such good judgments?’ will be sent home. Sunday will be more relaxed with a slightly later breakfast and check out time (Hurrah! I hear you cry; if I achieve nothing else as chairman I shall be a happy man…) and with two one hour sessions one before coffee and then before lunch.
My thanks to all who have agreed to participate (including those who I have not yet named). I am exceptionally grateful to you all and urge all FLBA members around the country to sign up for the conference and show your support. And so too the judges (please); we very much value your presence at Cumberland Lodge.
The Hon. Mrs Justice Hogg DBE
As many of you will know, Mrs Justice Hogg is shortly due to retire from the Family Division. I said a few words about her at the dinner on Friday. There will be a formal valedictory in the Lord Chief Justice’s Court (Court 4) at the Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday 23 March 2016 at 9.30am. I shall be speaking on behalf of the Bar, as will Nicholas Cusworth QC (head of her former chambers), her brother (The Viscount Hailsham PC QC) and Dame Mary’s former pupil master (!) Stanley Brodie QC.
I am delighted that Dame Mary has adopted the traditional courtesy of inviting the chairman of the FLBA to speak on behalf of the Bar. I encourage all FLBA members to attend to help celebrate her most distinguished career as a family judge.
Other (FLBA) Events
Another good friend of the FLBA, His Honour Judge (Clive) Million is also about to retire. Judge Million will be familiar to many of you. He sat for many years as a District Judge at First Avenue House before his elevation to the circuit bench first at Willesden County Court and then at the East London Family Court. His contribution to family law at grass root level has been enormous, as has his contribution on policy and procedural matters through the Family Justice Council. A valedictory will held by HHJ Carol Atkinson (Designated Family Judge for East London) on Wednesday 16 March 2016 at 9.45am at the East London Family Court at Westferry Circus, E14 4HD. Contrary to popular myth, this is only 30 minutes by public transportation from the Temple.
I hope as many of you as are able to will attend. Judge Million will retire with our very best wishes.
Another reminder, if I may for the FLBA National Conference 2016 in Birmingham on 22 October 2016. It is shaping up to be an excellent event. Please put the date in your diary.
FLBA Committee Minutes
I want the FLBA to be open and transparent to our members. And so I proposed, and the committee has agreed, that from now on the minutes of FLBA committee meetings will be published on the website after they have been approved by the committee. Accordingly, the first such minutes (those from the February 2016 meeting) will be published after the next committee meeting on 9 March. Enjoy. You will appreciate that on occasion certain matters may have to be redacted.
And finally, I wish you all an enjoyable March. By the time I FLBMail you again, Easter will have been and gone. Have an excellent break.
Please do not hesitate to email me directly in chambers on firstname.lastname@example.org, or call me on 0207 936 1500 if you have something you wish to communicate or simply get off your chest.
Administrative enquiries should be sent to Khadija Khan, on email@example.com or at 1 Garden Court, Temple, London EC4Y 9BJ