Earlier today (7 October), Resolution National Chair Juliet Harvey delivered her speech to National Conference and spoke movingly about her own personal journey in family law.
Address by Juliet Harvey, Resolution National Chair
Family Practice Conference
Nottingham, 7 October 2022
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Thank you, Dave, for that warm welcome, and for holding the reins on this, our first Family Practice Conference in three years.
I think unless you’re involved with the organisation of a conference like this, it’s impossible to truly appreciate just how much hard work goes on behind the scenes, pulling everything together and from such a large number of people – staff and members alike.
So I’d like to start by thanking everyone who has given up their time to put together a workshop, whether in person, or online or is presenting at conference. And while we on the thanks, I’d just like to take a moment to pass on my thanks to our headIine sponsors – 1 KBW and 29 Bedford Row. We really appreciate your continued support. I hope you’ve all noticed the chocolates on your chairs as you walked in this morning, they have been kindly provided by Evelyn Partners.
I’d also like to pay tribute to the whole DR committee, together with our amazing staff team, in getting the show back on the road after a challenging few years, to say the least. They, and Dave, deserve a massive amount of praise and our heartfelt thanks for the work they do.
Please join me in showing your appreciation.
Speaking of getting back on the road, I’d also like to pay tribute to you all for battling your way through rail strikes, traffic, work commitments, and anything else the world decided to throw at you, in order to be here for this conference.
You truly put the ‘Resolute’ into ‘Resolution’.
And your determination to be here today is matched only by your continued determination to support families through difficult times. I’m delighted that there are so many sessions and workshops today designed to help you do just that.
It has been a genuine pleasure for us to once again be able to host in-person events after years of pandemic related restrictions. We are still committed to hosting online training events, of course, that are flexible and allow more people to engage with us and our work. But there is always something special about seeing members meet in person again after a long time apart. As a member said to me – you can’t hug a screen!
We couldn’t do any of the work we do to support family professionals, campaign for reforms to family law and to embed our values without the work that you do, day in, day out, to live and breathe the Code of Practice.
Next year, Resolution celebrates our 40th anniversary. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to join in the celebrations, but for now, it’s just worth noting how far we’ve come in those 4 decades; from an idea that a couple of dozen matrimonial solicitors had in the early 80s, to where we are now, as an organisation of over 6,500 professionals (no longer just solicitors), all committed to supporting families, to resolving disputes, and minimising conflict.
On behalf of the entire National Committee, thank you for your support for Resolution as well as your continued commitment to supporting clients and promoting our Code over another testing year.
I know it’s not always easy.
Those of you who deal with the family courts will know what a desperate state they’re in. Underfunded and understaffed, it’s no wonder our clients are facing increasing delays and backlogs and all the frustration that brings. The latest statistics show that the average period from date of petition (under the old law, of course, but including the online platforms) to decree absolute is now 56 weeks, up seven weeks from the same time last year. That’s more than 12 months.
The MoJ said ‘These increases have been impacted by resourcing issues which have led to backlogs.’
The government is keen, understandably, to look at what steps it can take to reduce the demand on the family court. It is telling, though perhaps unsurprising, that mediation numbers are lower now than they ever were pre-LASPO, – I know, and you know, that the information and advice you provide to clients helps them make better, more informed decisions, and ultimately helps more of them reach agreement without resorting to the family court.
Our goal is to ensure more members of the public get that information, and the message we will keep hammering home to Ministers and officials, is that access to early legal advice is the best way to help people find alternatives to court. It has been reported that the introduction of the Mediation Voucher Scheme resulted in 65% of cases reaching whole or partial agreement in those children cases that accessed the scheme. Yet, we all know that our Courts are still chock a block with children cases. We need to find a better way.
Yesterday we heard some of the brilliant ideas from our panel of what they would highlight as part of an agenda for change for the new Family Justice Minister. What came out of that was a need for early education and information – starting in schools, education for separating parents, access to information hubs for resources and support for those going through family breakdown and demystifying processes for clients. What was clear was clients want to be helped and are not overly concerned about the label that we put on that help. They want problem-solving, not silos! We know that the MOJ were watching and making notes.
I don’t underestimate how hard it is to be a government minister – particularly at the moment. But with the expertise and experience we have within our membership, Ministers could do far worse than listen to you, and we will continue to make your voice heard in Westminster and Whitehall.
One of the ways in which we’ll keep Westminster and Westminster informed is by launching our blueprint for a future family justice system, that is fit for purpose, as part of our 40th anniversary celebrations next year.
There’ll be a chance for you to get involved with this – we want to hear your ideas and what you think would make the biggest difference to your everyday practice. So often, we are asked to respond to consultations or asked what we think to x y or z – this is our chance to set out our stall and tell policymakers the changes we know will help more families resolve matters more constructively.
Because calling for change is something we’ve become very good at.
It’s what we did successfully, over a sustained period of time, in order to persuade government to introduce no fault divorce, which came into effect In April this year. It’s what we’re continuing to do on cohabitation reform, in no small part thanks to the efforts of our cohabitation committee, expertly chaired by Graeme Fraser, whose compelling evidence in Parliament last year led to a Select Committee backing our calls for change.
So we will continue to stand up for you and to tell people about the amazing work you’re doing – and help you to do the same.
One of the ways in which we’ll be doing that in the coming weeks is in our annual awareness week, taking place at the end of November (from Monday 28 November). This year, we’ll be demonstrating the value – to government, to the family courts, to clients and the public – of early legal and other advice and particularly the approach taken by Resolution members. We will raise awareness of the diverse range of options that you’re talking to families about every day.
It will be a great opportunity for members and firms to showcase the myriad of ways you help resolve family disputes, whether that’s through lawyer representation, mediation, arbitration, or collaborative practice or by members offering financial or other expert advice or therapeutic support. We want families to know that divorce and separation doesn’t automatically involve courts. It’s our chance to show how a Resolution member can make the difference.
We know, from our work with the media over the years, that what really draws public attention are real life case studies – we all have them, the father who could not see his child for 8 months, whilst waiting for a hearing date, the family seeking an urgent order in relation to orphaned children, who had to wait 3 weeks for a directions hearing – meaning that no arrangements could be made for schooling or medical attention in the interim, couples who have had hearings bumped due to ‘lack of judicial availability’ waiting months for a new listing and the uncertainty of whether that hearing will proceed, couples who have agreed financial matters in the run up to a hearing, then have to wait for approval of an order, potentially losing a property purchase or mortgage deal as a result of lengthy times taken to approve and process paper consent orders in the ‘old’ paper based system.
I know from my email inbox that many of you have frustrated clients who feel very let down by the current delays in the Court Service. Please ask them to consider whether they would be happy for their details to be included in a case study that we can use. Please get in touch with our Comms Team if you have clients that would be willing to share their story or you want to talk about your experiences as a result of Court delayed, or feel free to get in touch once you are back in the office.
It is only by highlighting these issues and showing the reality of the difficulties that exist within the Court system that together, we can help to deliver the message that Court, in many cases, should be the last resort, not the first choice. It goes without saying that case studies from clients who have resolved family cases away from the Court arena are also most welcome, these can really help to inform clients as to doing it the Resolution way, a better way!
There’ll be more information in your email inboxes soon, detailing how you can get involved in the week of activity, and if you have any events planned for Awareness Week whether in your firm, your practice group or region please let Resolution HQ know – we’ll try and feature as many as we can on Twitter and in our round-ups at the end of the week.
In highlighting the ways in which you help couples resolve matters, it gives us an opportunity to talk about something we’ll be hearing more about later today, Resolution Together. This is a new way for lawyers to work with and advise couples jointly, including providing appropriate legal advice, for those members and clients who wish to do so.
It won’t be right for everyone. Some clients won’t want to take this route. Some of you won’t want to work in this way – and we will continue to support all our members, however they choose to work. But this is yet another approach that will help minimise conflict between separating families.
It’s just one of the many ways in which we’ll continue to work with you and for you.
I won’t steal Angela and Tristan’s thunder by saying too much about it now – they are far better equipped than I am, for one thing – but I am very proud that Resolution is continuing in the pioneering spirit on which it was formed, nearly 40 years ago.
And so, as we head towards our 40th anniversary, let’s be proud of what we’ve achieved, together, so far.
And let us continue to work together as we shape the next 40 years for our members, your clients and their families.
Let’s all be proud of our past, and be part of our future.
Thank you, and enjoy the rest of the conference.