On the 11 and 12 October 2018 travelled to Nottingham to attend Resolution’s annual Dispute Resolution Conference. The aim of the conference is to bring to together family law experts in dispute resolution to share their experiences and to discuss and learn about the latest ideas for innovation and promoting best practice.
The Resolution Dispute Resolution Conference is organised by Resolution’s Dispute Resolution Committee, of which I am a member. (Although I hasten to add that I was not on the conference organising subcommittee).
There were around 160 – 180 delegates from all around the country. It is always enjoyable to catch up with friends and colleagues and to meet other like-minded professionals. The majority of the delegates are either mediators, collaborative family lawyers or family arbitrators or like myself all 3 (as well as being practising specialist family law solicitors and barristers).
Promoting collaborative family law
Amongst the topics discussed were promoting collaborative family law as the normal way of family law practice.
Sadly we are not quite there yet, with collaborative family law being the normal way of family law practice with some lawyers practising within family law still taking a litigious approach which can exacerbate family difficulties – and which is avoidant of the use of family mediation, collaborative family law and arbitration
Other topics included; Innovation in family law/mediation/collaborative law/arbitration; better preparing clients for stressful meetings including by encouraging clients to make use of techniques such as mindfulness and by accessing counselling; working together with complimentary professionals (such as financial advisers and children experts) and integrating working together in different aspects of practice; better assisting families to implement children court orders achieved through court proceedings (often with high conflict) or mediation and assisting couples to better work together in order to avoid returning to court.
Amita Sehgal – dealing with stress and anger
The Henry Brown Lecture (named after Henry Brown – Henry is a pioneer of the use of family mediation in the UK and who incidentally trained me as both a family mediator in 1996 and a civil/commercial mediator – Henry is now enjoying his retirement) was given by Amita Sehgal who is a couple psychoanalytic psychotherapist accredited by the British Psychoanalytic Council through the Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology. This considered the impacts of dealing with stress and anger and steps that could be taken to minimise the negative impacts of these.
Jo Berry and Patrick Magee – Building Bridges for Peace
The highlight of the conference was undoubtably the keynote address given by Jo Berry and Patrick Magee of Building Bridges for Peace.
Jo Berry is the daughter of Sir Anthony Berry MP who was amongst those killed in the bombing of the Grand Hotel, Brighton by the IRA (Irish Republican Army) on October 12, 1984. Patrick Magee is the man who planted the bomb and who was convicted and sent to prison for that act.
Jo described how within 2 days of her father being killed she resolved to find something positive out of what had happened and to bring meaning to and even understand those who had killed her father.
Jo and Patrick met 16 years later after Patrick was released from prison as part of the Northern Ireland peace process. The charity Building Bridges for Peace was launched in Brighton in October 2009 on the 25th anniversary of the bombing.
Building Bridges for Peace works to enable divided communities and the general public to explore and better understand the roots of war, terrorism and violence. Jo and Patrick promote dialogue and mediation as the means to peace.
Jo Berry and Pat Magee have given talks in Palestine, Lebanon, Rwanda and throughout the UK.
There is a quote on the Building Bridges for Peace website http://www.buildingbridgesforpeace.org/ from Terry Waite CBE which is worth repeating;
To be a subject of a grievous wrong is always wounding and painful and can frequently provoke anger.
However, anger, if allowed to fester is like a cancer of the soul. It does more harm to those who hold it than against those whom it is held.
Jo Berry knows from personal experience what it is to have to face deep suffering as her father was blown up in a IRA bomb. She has let go of personal need for revenge and empathised with Patrick Magee, the man responsible for planting the bomb.
To hear her speak alongside the one who killed her father is a living demonstration of the transforming power of reconciliation when two people who have been on different sides truly listen and can see each other’s humanity, an example this sad world so desperately need. Terry Waite CBE – humanitarian and former hostage
It was particularly inspiring to hear Jo and Patrick speak on a day that was in fact the 34th anniversary of the bombing.
Terry Waite’s words encapsulate the importance of the work of Jo and Patrick not only in the theatre of political conflict but also in the theatre of personal conflict.
Anger in personal conflict
As family law practitioners we are very often assisting clients who have been wronged and who are angry with their former partner who they feel has caused them that wrong.
The anger and pain is very often a two-way thing. Unresolved anger can play out in making it much harder to reach objectively reasonable outcomes and can be compounded by further anger generated through the process of divorce/separation and having orders/outcomes imposed. A couple’s children can be caught within this conflict and this can be very damaging indeed. This can play out in children being psychologically harmed, losing contact with one parent or family members (sometimes with parental alienation) or not receiving good role modelling to equip them to deal with resolving disputes in their own lives in the best way.
I would strongly recommend that if you ever have the opportunity to listen to Jo and Patrick speak then you should take this up. What they have achieved together, both on a personal level as well as through their wider work is truly inspiring.
The delegates to whom I spoke, all left thinking about how they could better assist their clients through their own personal conflicts.
I left the conference re-energised that as a practice we are clearly on the right track in terms of how we are trying to assist our clients and over the next few months we will be reflecting further upon how we can make improvements to our service and to supporting our team to do this.
I am already looking forward to the 2019 Resolution Dispute Resolution Conference.
Collaborative family law is a fantastic but underused family dispute resolution process.
With mediation, couples are assisted to reach solutions through confidential negotiation assisted by the neutral mediator.
With the normal model of mediation, each of the couple will seek their own independent legal advice between meetings. The neutral mediator cannot give advice – but can give information in a neutral way.
One of the problems with mediation is that couples in mediation may decline to take legal advice or they may not ask the right questions of their solicitor, or they may not fully hear the advice that is given. This can mean that in some mediations, one or both of the parties will struggle to say yes or even maybe to what might otherwise be reasonable proposals.
Feedback from mediation information and assessment meetings and mediation is occasionally that one party declined to enter mediation, struggled with the mediation process because they felt under supported, or were concerned that the other party would be too overbearing for mediation to be able to work.
If mediation is not suitable, or is not quite the right process, then there are alternatives.
A genuine alternative to mediation
This is where collaborative law fits in. With collaborative family law, both of the couple commits to finding negotiated solution, whilst also avoiding court proceedings. Like mediation the negotiations are confidential. The collaborative law contract, which is called the participation agreement, includes a commitment from both of the couple not to go to court. It is agreed that if the collaborative law process breaks down that the couple will each need to instruct different solicitors. This is a further incentive to settle.
The key to collaborative family law is that there is no neutral mediator (although in some circumstances a mediator could be drafted in, if negotiations got particularly complicated). Instead the couple are reach represented/advised/assisted by their own solicitors. The mediation works through a series of 4 way meetings. The solicitors will work together in a collaborative way.
Advice will be shared and by collaborative working complex issues can be unravelled as a practical and fair solution is worked out. The couple are reach better supported and each will be better able to say yes to a reasonable agreement when the time is right. The solicitors working with their clients are better able to keep the process moving along than with mediation. Letter writing is avoided.
When appropriate other professionals can be brought in to the collaborative law process, such as financial advisers or family consultants (who can assist with coaching around children issues).
Key to the success of collaborative law is that each of the clients have a good relationship and trust in their solicitors and then that there is a good working relationship and trust between both solicitors. To qualify as a collaborative family lawyer specific training is required and this needs to be backed up by regular meetings with other collaborative lawyers and ongoing training.
The alternative to mediation and collaborative law is either negotiation through solicitors letters or roundtable meetings which do not have the protection of the collaborative law agreement or a court process. These negotiations will often be more tetchy and divisive (even if that is not intended).
Collaborative family law offers a way to achieving a better divorce/separation/negotiation in the way that mediation also does.
Working with other Collaborative Family Law Solicitors
You don’t build and sustain good working relationships with other collaborative family law solicitors without meeting and talking.
This year Devon Resolution organised a Collaborative Law Training Day for Devon Collaborative Family Lawyers with the leading collaborative law trainers in the UK – namely Helen Garlic and Suzy Power. (Incidentally, Helen had been one of the helpers on the mediation training that Ian Walker undertook with the renowned Henry Brown and Felicity White, back in 1996). Suzy was one of the trainers when Ian arranged with Resolution the foundation collaborative law training which brought collaborative law to Devon in 2005.
It was good to catch up with Helen and Suzy and also with other collaborative law solicitor colleagues from around Devon. You can never have too much skills training.
By us meeting and training together and building and maintaining good relationships, we can as a group assist our clients better.
Collaborative Family Law is a good option. Give us a call to find out more.
I am pleased to confirm that we are now certified as compliant with the requirements of the Cyber Essentials Scheme.
Cyber Essentials Scheme: overview
The Government worked with the Information Assurance for Small and Medium Enterprises (IASME) consortium and the Information Security Forum (ISF) to develop Cyber Essentials.
Cyber Essentials is a set of basic technical controls to help organisations protect themselves against common online security threats.
The full scheme, launched on 5 June 2014. It is backed by industry including the Federation of Small Businesses, the CBI and a number of insurance organisations which are offering incentives for businesses.
The Cyber Essentials scheme addresses the most common Internet-based threats to cyber security — particularly, attacks that use widely available tools and demand little skill. The scheme considers these threats to be:
hacking — exploiting known vulnerabilities in Internet-connected devices, using widely available tools and techniques
phishing — and other ways of tricking users into installing or executing a malicious application
password guessing — manual or automated attempts to log on from the Internet, by guessing passwords
The Cyber Essentials scheme helps organisations to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of data stored on devices which connect to the Internet.
Advantages of certification
Certification and compliance provides reassurance to customers that we are working to secure our IT and their data against cyber attack
It shows that we take cyber security seriously.
Trusted IT supplier
We don’t claim to be IT experts ourselves. Our IT is very important to how we deliver our service. For this reason we have a trusted IT supplier in the form of Alchemy Systems.
Alchemy Systems have been assisting us over the last 4 years. Because Legal Services IT support is one of their specialisms, they have been able to give us outstanding and pro-active support. Thanks to all at Alchemy.
I founded Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors from scratch in 2013. Initially it was just me and a computer.
From 2015 we started to build a team. This now consists of 6 Solicitors and a Legal Executive plus 5 support. By the time we get to 2019 we are expecting to add at least one more Solicitor.
We have an experienced and respected team. Three of the Solicitors in my team have been partners and heads of the family law departments at previous practices. In fact are now one of the most experienced family law teams in Devon and Somerset.
Grown through recommendation and good business planning and by being well connected and respected in our local family law networks.
I am the longstanding chair of the Devon Region of the family solicitors organisation Resolution. I am also a past member of the Law Society Family Law Committee.
Following a mid year review of our organisation, we have identified the need for a new member in our support team…
The Role; Administration assistant/legal assistant/paralegal/Legal PA
We are recruiting an administration assistant/legal assistant/paralegal/Legal PA who will be responsible for;
Document management (paper and digital)
Preparing Trial Bundles
Telephone contact with clients and professionals and new enquiries.
Assisting with move to digital working and compliance with professional standards.
We don’t have traditional secretaries, so there is no audio typing.
Most importantly we are looking for someone who will fit into the team, who is hardworking and self-motivated with a good sense of humour.
The successful candidate will have/be most of the following:
Previous experience in a similar role
Outstanding IT skills
Tidy and organised
Familiarity with SOS connect case management software
Experience of time recording
A sunny personality/good sense of humour
More about the role
You will be based in Honiton. We could have based ourselves in Exeter but don’t like sitting in commuter traffic! (We see clients in Exeter/Taunton/Yeovil offices by appointment)
There is a carpark at the East Devon Business centre where we are based.
All team members have 5 weeks holiday a year. We have also given additional discretionary days when closing the office between Xmas and New Year.
We are a little over midway through the year and are feeling very inundated with good quality work.
This means we are at a stage where we could really benefit from adding to our legal team.
We have a versatile team led by Ian Walker (Chair Devon Resolution). Kim Stradling, Sandy Powell and David Howell-Richardson have been partners and heads of family law at previous practices. We have built a strong team of experienced practitioners.
Our main base is in Honiton in the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but we also have offices in Exeter, Taunton and Yeovil.
We are particularly looking for someone to help us grow our Exeter office (within the Senate, Southernhay Gardens)
We have verified our Legal Aid Contract Tender for Family Law and Family Mediation
We make good use of IT using SOS Connect and Lexis PSL and are currently moving toward a paperless office.
We benefit from being niche. Our website traffic has tripled since 2015. As a practice we are agile and open to new opportunities.
For the right candidate there are equity prospects.
Possibility of fee share or employment or mix
We are open to applications from finance or child law specialists or perhaps family generalists who now wish to specialise. We can adjust the role to right person.
We have an experienced and respected team. We have grown through recommendation and good business planning.
We enjoy the work we do. It is important to us that we do our work in the right way; also, that we all get on with each other and that we are a genuine team. No office politics please. We have a commitment to Legal Aid and fair charging.
We will be pleased to hear from candidates with all levels of experience. What is important is that they either are already or want to become an outstanding family lawyer who wants be part of our growth.
I am a Solicitor who has specialised in Child Law since qualification in 1992. I was admitted to the Law Society Children Panel in 1996. My practice has one of the most experienced teams of child law specialist solicitors in the South West.
Over the years I have represented many parents and grandparents in Court Proceedings brought by Social Services. The Court now expects most cases to be finished in 26 weeks or less. This means that the window of time for parents and grandparents to make the right choices so that they will succeed is very small. Good decisions need to be made at the very start of a case.
No Solicitor who represents parents and grandparents in Social Services cases can claim that they have succeeded in keeping children with their parents/grandparents in every case. Sometimes the problems are simply too great to overcome in the timescale of the court process. Sometimes clients are unable to follow our advice or panic and switch off.
We always try hard to make sure that our clients give themselves the best chance of achieving the best realistic outcome and that their case is clearly heard by the Court. Over the years we have helped clients to achieve some excellent outcomes.
Avoiding Court Proceedings
Being taken to Court always involves the risk of a bad outcome. This is because decisions are made by someone else. The best way to succeed is always to avoid ending up in Court in the first place.
There is no substitute to seeking specific advice from an experienced Solicitor. The following is a good place to start:
Don’t panic. The main job of Social services isn’t to remove children and place them for adoption. The main job of Social Services is to make sure that children are safe and that the standard of care which they receive is good enough (you won’t have to be perfect). Most cases do not end up in Court.
Understand where you have been going wrong. Nobody is perfect. Listen. Ask what changes you need to make to improve your care and what support is available to help you do this. Take up that help.
Work with Social Services. If you tell them to go away, they won’t and
The Supreme Court has announced this morning that in the case of Owens v Owens heard 17 May 2018 the appeal has been dismissed.
This means that Mrs Owens is forced to remain married to Mr Owens against her will.
She is a prisoner in her marriage!
The Supreme Court
Whilst the Supreme Court has, reluctantly, applied the law correctly, the fact that they have done so confirms there is now a divorce crisis in England and Wales, and the government needs to take urgent action to address it.
The Supreme Court was not satisfied that Mrs Owens had sufficiently proved that Mr Owens had behaved sufficiently unreasonably so that the Unreasonable Behaviour test was met.
To get divorced, couples are legally required to assign blame for the relationship breakdown, unless they’ve lived apart for two years. This makes an amicable agreement between the couple more difficult and can have a negative impact on any children involved.
The 1996 Family Law Act did contain provision to end fault based divorce, but the politicians never allowed those provisions to come into force. These provisions have long since been repealed (completely scrapped).
Current divorce law is not fit for today’s modern society
It shocks many couples when they find out that, unless they blame their partner, they must wait 2 years for a divorce.
Blame can bring out feelings of injustice and recrimination, and evidence shows it can affect parents’ ability to put children first.
Resolution proposes a divorce procedure where one or both partners can give notice that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The divorce can then proceed and after six months if one or both parties would still like to proceed the divorce is finalised.
We support this. But change cannot happen until the politicians decide to pass new laws (whilst they are at it, they can do something to fix the increasingly broken legal aid system).
This is important – Divorce without blame will increase the chances of non-court dispute resolution, reducing the burden on family courts.
Many countries around the world – including Australia, the USA and Spain – allow for divorce without blame. Why can’t we have no fault divorce here?
Facts and figures
1.7m people have been compelled to apportion blame in divorce since failed attempt to provide no-fault divorce option in 1996.
In 2015, 60% of English and Welsh divorces were granted on adultery and behaviour (Finding Fault 2017) (60,000 cases!)
95,000 children affected by divorce in 2013 (ONS 2015)
Time for a change please
We are a progressive practice. We encourage the use of Mediation and Collaborative Family Law, but our job is made more difficult by a divorce law which goes back to 1973. Can we have a change please?
The world has moved on since 1973 and the divorce law needs to catch up.
The Legal Aid Agency have very recently published Legal Aid Statistics for the quarter January to March 2018.
There were 9% fewer legal help new matter starts (these are for the initial advice level of legal aid) than in the same period of 2017.
The volume of completed claims also decreased, by 8%, and expenditure fell by 11%. Not surprising if less cases are started.
This is a continuing downward trend.
Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings were 19% lower than in the same quarter of 2017.
Mediation starts (full mediation cases, rather than assessment meetings) between October and December 2017 were down by 18% and currently running at just under half the number of starts since the implementation of the LASPO Act.
6% more certificates were issued compared to the same quarter in 2017, due to demand for public family law representation. In other words more cases are being brought by social services.
This category (social services cases) accounts for three quarters of the Family workload and 80% of Family expenditure.
Changes in the acceptable evidence of domestic abuse from January 2018 have resulted in more certificates being granted on this basis.
746 applications for Exceptional Case Funding were received in the last quarter. 59% of them were granted – the highest number and proportion since the scheme began – up 5% compared to last year.
The number of legal aid provider offices has fallen by a third in the last five years.
On Friday 11 May 2018 I was privileged to Chair the 4th Devon Resolution Conference.
This was attended by 120 family law solicitors and mediators, not only from Devon, but also from Somerset and Cornwall.
The aim of the conference is to provide the highest quality training. Just as important is the need for family law practitioners to be able to meet in a relaxed and sociable environment to foster good communications and relations. We achieve the best for our clients when we work well together in a sensible professional way, fostered by best practice.
I have to own up to the fact that the conference was my idea. As Chair of Devon Resolution, I am also the conference Chair. But the conference would not have been the success that it is without the hard work of the Devon Resolution Committee (drawn from a broad range of Devon family lawyers and mediators) and the generosity of or speakers and also the support of our delegates
The consensus seems to be that 2018 was our best conference yet.
Keynote Speaker – HHJ Stephen Wildblood QC
Stephen Wildblood is the Designated Family Judge for Bristol. He is also an old friend of ours having previously sat as a Family Judge in Devon and before that regularly appearing in our courts as a barrister.
Stephen’s speech reminded us of the importance of ensuring family court users were treated with fairness and dignity.
Stephen brought with him the Behind Closed Doors Theatre from Bristol. The group gave an amazing and highly thought provoking performance. Their work encourages us to think about how court users can find the experience incomprehensible and distressing, and reminds us of the lack of support to the vulnerable, particularly when care proceedings conclude. We hope to have them back another year.
Angela Lake-Carroll (Independent consultant in family law and Resolution’s Head of Standards) gave an update from National Resolution.
Angela also gave a thought provoking presentation – Changing Times – Family law and justice briefing – the message being to encourage family lawyers to improve their soft skills and use of dispute resolution. Angela also ran an excellent workshop for family mediators the previous day.
What colour are you?
On the subject of communication, James Knight -iMA Strategies Alison Bull Mills and Reeve opened the conference and then ran a workshop looking at how improved understanding of our communication styles can help practitioners better meet the needs of their clients and also to work together.
I had previously attended their workshop; Spontaneous, controlling, cautious or precise? – Communication strategies to achieve better outcomes at the national Resolution Dispute Resolution Conference last November.
As a firm we have adopted the iMA communication questionnaire which is now embedded on our website.
A fantastic group of speakers
Our other excellent speakers and workshop providers were; Sue Campbell QC of Magdalen Chambers who spoke on; How to deal with the evidence of children and vulnerable witnesses.
Anthony Kirk QC of 1KBW –Placement Orders – Setting Aside and the Relationship with Care Proceedings./What do you expect from your judge?
Markanza Cudby also of 1KBW – Appeals
Claire Wills-Goldingham QC of Colleton Chambers – The mentally disordered parent in the context of private law proceedings
Lucy Reed of St Johns Chambers –The Transparency Project.
We are very pleased to announce that David Howell-Richardson has joined us as a Consultant Solicitor and Mediator.
David is very well known and respected in our legal community. He brings with him more than 40 years experience in legal practice as a solicitor. The vast majority of this has been as a family law specialist.
David was for many years a partner and the Head of Family Law at Stones Solicitors. Stones were a long-standing Exeter firm of solicitors. Over the years Stones Solicitors assisted very many Exeter and Devon families. More recently Stones Solicitors merged with national firm Trowers and Hamlins Solicitors. He remained as a partner with Trowers and Hamlins and then as a consultant.
David will continue to work in Exeter as well as assisting clients from our offices in Honiton and Taunton.
David assists clients with divorce and separation, children issues and mediation.
We are very lucky to have gained such a respected professional with such a wealth of experience as a member of our team.
A very experienced team
We have one of the most experienced teams of lawyers in Devon and Somerset. In addition to Ian Walker (longstanding Chair of Devon Resolution, former Law Society Family Law Committee member and Family Mediators Association Trustee), 3 of our lawyers have been partner and head of family law at their previous practices; Kim Stradling (Everys Solicitors), David Howell-Richardson (Stones Solicitors) and Sandy Powell (Dunn and Baker Solicitors). We cannot think of another practice in Devon and Somerset which has as great a concentration of former heads of other family law teams as our practice.
We now have a team of 7 family law specialist solicitors and mediators, with additional growth planned in 2018. We are now one of the larger family law teams in Devon and Somerset. We have a shared ethos of assisting clients to achieve good solutions through sensible negotiation where possible.
Accredited Family Mediator
David is accredited by the Law Society as a Family Mediation Practitioner. David has regularly mediated since qualifying as a mediator in 1998. David is a strong advocate for seeking to resolve disputes through discussion and negotiation. Making a court application should be a last resort, (albeit sometimes necessary), rather than the a first step.
Law Society Family Law Accreditation
David is also holds the Law Society Family Law Accreditation for representation of adults on public law and children related issues.
We are very lucky to have gained such a respected professional with such a wealth of experience as a member of our team.