It is hard to believe that almost three months have passed since I became the Chairman of the FLBA and I am sorry that it has taken me so long to write my first FLBMail. When looking at the missives sent by my predecessor, Philip Marshall QC, I see that it has become traditional to start with a reference to the weather outside, which is particularly apposite, as although it is now mid-March the ground outside is covered in snow for the second time in a fortnight. No sign of spring yet!
The last three months have been a busy time, and I have been getting to grips with the various issues that are likely to be facing the Family Bar over the two years of my tenure. Brexit is likely to dominate, as we do our best to ensure that the transfer from one system to another is as smooth as possible. The FLBA has an excellent team which is working closely with other family organisations such as Resolution and the IAFL as well as the Bar Council Brexit Working Group which has called for the EU and UK to agree a separate negotiating track for justice and a stand alone treaty allowing existing arrangements to continue. The team prepared a first class briefing paper which has been sent to the MOJ/DExEU/DFE, and will continue to work hard with all relevant bodies to ensure that the cooperation which has been so carefully built up between EU states as to enforcement and recognition of orders in family cases is not lost.
Amongst other things there is the Care Crisis Review, the Financial Remedies court pilot, the flexible opening hours pilot, a project to look at retention of women at the Bar, and now, hot off the press, the ‘Post Implementation Review of LASPO’. The aim of the latter is to conduct an evidence based review to establish the impact of the changes made in the 2012 Act. One of the major changes was, of course the withdrawal of public funding for most private law cases, which has led to a substantial increase in the number of unrepresented litigants in family proceedings. The FLBA is certainly in a position to provide evidence as to the effect of that upon the individuals concerned and the system in general. We are also very concerned to ensure that the government provides funding to prevent cross examination of possible victims of domestic abuse by their alleged perpetrators in family as well as in criminal cases. Allied to that we are in the process of designing vulnerable witness advocacy training for all our members and hope to be able to roll this out either later this year or early in 2019. Training is well underway for the criminal bar, and although a number of our members have attended these courses we are asked to advise people to hold back on attending for the time being as priority for those courses must be given to criminal practitioners.
One issue which affects family cases as well as criminal ones is that of police disclosure, which frequently arrives in huge quantities and only just in time (if that) for final hearings. I have made this point in meetings of the Bar Council and will ensure that our concerns are included in any review of the system. I am trying to find out if it is really necessary for so much time to be spent blanking out identifying information in police material which is well known to the parties in family cases anyway.
This doesn’t happen in every case, but certainly happens in some, and must take huge amounts of time.
Feedback on the various initiatives and particularly the pilots set out above is always very welcome.
The new Recorder appointments were announced on 22nd March, and I want to congratulate all those who have been appointed.
There have been no High Court or Court of Appeal appointments (yet) this year. Mr. Justice Charles retired in February and will be very much missed, although he has not sat in the Family Division for some time. I hope I can still persuade him to come to the annual dinner next year.
Meanwhile the year has started well, and there are several important FLBA events coming up.
First, we had an excellent annual dinner on 23rd February, with a very full turnout. I was extremely pleased and proud to welcome Lady Black as our guest of honour, and to entertain so many eminent guests and friends of the Association. We very much missed the President, Sir James Munby, but I was extremely grateful that Mr. Justice Baker agreed to accept a late return and to speak to us all instead.
The next item on the FLBA agenda is the Scottish Conference which is taking place at Middle Temple on 13th and 14th April. The programme will start with welcome drinks at 6pm on 13th April, followed by the conference and dinner on 14th. The aim of the conference is to enable UK family law advocates to meet and discuss a number of topics such as financial provision for cohabitants, cross border children issues, alternative dispute resolution, enforcement of financial orders and surrogacy. Leading practitioners and judges from England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will introduce each of the sessions and open each topic for discussion amongst attendees. The speakers will include Tim Amos QC, Tim Scott QC, Janys Scott QC, Kate Dowdalls QC and District Judge Richard Robinson. The aim is that the conference will produce a paper on the key findings of each session.
After that the Cumberland Lodge weekend takes place on 11th – 13th May. We have a line up of excellent speakers, including The President, Mr. Justice Francis, Mr. Justice Mostyn, new silks Sam King QC, Gemma Taylor QC and Nicholas Allen QC, Jo Delahunty QC, His Honour Judge Hess, Jo Miles and Consultant Neurosurgeon Peter Richards on a range of interesting topics but we also intend to leave a little time in the programme for those (ie me) who enjoy sitting in the garden or going for a walk in the park….
John Wilson and his team at Family Affairs have, as always, worked extremely hard to produce yet another excellent edition. They have, however, continued to have difficulties with the printers. The reasons for this became apparent this week when the printers revealed that they have gone into administration. Every effort is being made to find alternative printers this week, but it may be that this edition arrives after, rather than before Easter. It is extremely frustrating for everyone, but we hope that you will bear with us.
We do not have a garden party this year, but hope to hold one in 2019.
Meanwhile, a Happy Easter to all, and I hope that you can all have an enjoyable long weekend.
Frances Judd QC
Chair of the FLBA