Brighton Law Students @ Resolution Conference – the Working Life of Family Lawyers in 2015
More than 480 family lawyers headed to Brighton last week for the National Conference of Resolution to hear about the impact of the 2014 Family Law reforms and debate current family law issues. Six University of Brighton law students went along to help out, learn about the current status of family law and make contacts, contacts, contacts!
Issues high on the agenda included Legal Aid reforms, the impact of the Children and Families Act 2014, ‘no fault’ divorces, pre-nuptial agreements and rights for cohabitants. But members’ overriding concerns, according to Resolution’s soon-to-be published survey, were the reforms to Practice Directions and new digital systems.
As a reminder, the Family Justice Reforms were implemented from April 22 2014. Their objectives were to speed up public law procedures, resolve more private law matters outside of the courtroom and improve couples’ compliance with decisions. The Reforms included:
- the opening of the Single Family Court (set up by The Crime and Courts Act 2013)
- new measures introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014.:
- move from Residency and Contact orders to Child Arrangement Orders
- statutory MIAMS
- the 26 weeks rule
- the pilot Client Cost and Management System (CCMS), a digital means of submitting civil legal aid applications for legal aid providers.
Resolution members had articulated their difficulties with the £35 million system which despite not working effectively is due for compulsory rollout from October 2015. Jo Edwards, Chair of Resolution and Family Law Partner with Penningtons Manches, described the rollout of CCMS as “nothing less than a national scandal”. Jo said: “Resolution welcomes online working, but this is not the way to do it.”
In addition members report that the single Family Court, its counter services and forms are causing delays to children and financial family cases because the financial cutbacks together with the introduction of reforms have left the court underfunded and inefficient.
Resolution’s role, therefore, in 2014/15 has been to create a dialogue with the Legal Aid Agency to make the CCMS system fit for purpose and through the media to put pressure on the government to resolve the issues with the single Family Court.
Despite problems with bedding-in the new reforms, the conference was positive about the continuing development of family law in relation to contemporary mores and placing children at the centre of decision-making.
Mr Justice Hayden gave the keynote address on the progress of family law during his career at the bar and the bench. He began with 1979 when women identified as ‘adulteresses’ would be refused custody of their children, through to 1987 when the identification of ‘grooming’ was identified by the family courts and which has since become a criminal offence. In terms of future progress, he called for guardians and social workers to spend more time with impacted children so courts can take into account better their wishes and feelings.
The session ended with just such a project. Speakers from the Family Justice Young People’s Board read out real accounts from children who had experienced both family breakdown and the courts. The accounts reminded conference just why courts need to put children at the heart of decision-making and why well-functioning systems and speedy resolutions are needed to improve the experience for all family members.