Early in my career, I was able to get involved in the Solicitors Family Law Association (now known as resolution) and was one of the earlier members. I considered (and still consider) a Code of Practice to be fundamental to family law work. If a case is well handled in a conciliatory way, the pain of the separation and break up can be eased and the children helped. I have been able to take part in many of their activities, including chairing their training committee, redrafting the Code into Plain English, producing guidance on Good Practice, actively engaged on parliamentary reform and sitting on their National Committee for 8 years.
I qualified as a mediator in the late 1990s. I spent 3 years as vice chair of the UK College of Family Mediators in the late 1990s. But it was a time of constant and self destructive in-fighting between the mediation organisations, yet at the same time each seeking govt funds. Totally frustrating. At grass roots level, many mediators were doing excellent work and a good number of cases settled though mediation rather than via courts. However it was no surprise to me that orthodox mediation did not sustain early growth and hopes.
I thought a better future for ADR (Alternative/Appropriate Dispute Resolution i.e. not going to court!) lay in two directions, family arbitration, and directive mediation.
Family arbitration occurred to me in Spring 2001 (on a plane to the Bahamas, as these things do) as one constructive way forward in some cases to avoid court, yet overcome some of the shortcomings in traditional mediation. I promoted this to the profession and qualified as an arbitrator. I chaired a working party drafting rules for family arbitration in England whose report is on the ADR area of my Information pages. In February 2012, after a massive amount of very hard work by many people, an English family law arbitration scheme was launched and is having much success already. I was on the initial training course and I sat on the advisory board of the governing body. After working for over a decade on this, I am really pleased at what has been accomplished and excited at what can be accomplished in the future through family law arbitration. I undertake family arbitration work and more information on the information pages
Since my return from Australia and based on what I saw there, I have been promoting a more directive style of mediation. It starts as conventional mediation but if it appears a case is not settling, the mediator is empowered to give more direct encouragements including indications of what might happen if the matter were to be heard at court and other ways to obtain a fair outcome. Lawyers sometimes attend the mediation with their clients. It is appropriate for cases where disclosure has been given and where attempts to settle through conventional negotiation have failed. They are very hard work as a mediator. I have undertaken a number of them and I hope the style will become much used in “hard to settle” cases. More information again on the Information area.
In 1988 I was asked to do a minor talk on tax issues as part of a day conference for family lawyers. Ten days before the event, the Chancellor radically changed the law. The talk became the most important one of the day and delegates rose from 50 to 250. Gulp! Sink or swim. And from that I took to lecturing as one part of my practice, and it has been one of the most enjoyable aspects over many years. I have spoken extensively at conferences in England and frequently abroad including as international keynote speaker at major national conferences abroad. I have also presented training videos, learning the skills of scripting, asking the questions, doing pieces to camera and editing. I have written extensively for many magazines and the news media. In November 2011 I was awarded Jordans Family Law Commentator of the Year Award for my work commenting to the profession on family law developments. It was a real privilege. I have continued to speak extensively at conference around the world
In March 2001, the EU sprung a new law known as Brussels II on the family law profession which made radical changes to divorce law. Somehow I was one of the first practitioners to get to the change, wrote and lectured about it, lobbied for improvements and have been very involved ever since on European developments in family law. There is now a huge EU influence on domestic family law. I have continued to stay abreast (and hopefully ahead) of the developments in international family law, especially from the EU, and have written for the profession, both here in England and international. I have been invited to join EU experts groups on family law. I have been at the forefront in the past couple of years in looking at the effect of Brexit on family law
Although I have always written extensively on family law matters, I was really honoured to be asked by Jordans to write a major textbook on international family law. It is now in its 5th edition, published January 2017, under the title of The International Family Law Practice. It is 1500 pages or so including original statutory material from England and abroad. It has taken a massive amount of time but I have enjoyed it very much indeed.
Over the past 10 years I have been involved in possible reform of the divorce financial provision law in England. I have felt it unfair in various ways. I was also conscious that on divorce the treatment of commitments and sacrifices made during a marriage goes to the public perception of the respect for marriage. Accordingly when the House of Lords gave judgement in White, I followed it and subsequent cases, chairing an SFLA/resolution committee and sitting on a Law Society committee looking at reform. I believe the present law is much fairer but the extent of discretion creates uncertainty which then creates its own unfairness. I am looking at how IT and web based solutions can create more certainty and fairness. I have been a member of the Law Commission Advisory Group looking at the reform of the law on marital agreements and of marital property and needs with its report in early 2014 hopefully leading to new legislation
A key element in my practice over the past 15 years has been the international aspects of the work. I have very much enjoyed dealings with foreign lawyers and learning of family law abroad. It has been a super opportunity to do this work. It is now the foremost area of my work and expertise
In 1995 I was appointed to sit as a Deputy (part time) District Judge at the family courts in London. It is one of the most professionally satisfying parts of my practice.
Finally in this overview, I have been pleased to be part of the Lawyers Christian Fellowship, including helping in several aspects of lobbying and advising on possible changes. I have learned that the easy black and white solution is rarely the answer or the best for families in breakdown. I am immensely saddened by all marriage breakdown and constantly seek solutions in law and practice which meet the family at their time of need, for fairness and to recognise marital commitments, yet reflect the crucial importance of respect for marriage.