I suspect that many readers will not have heard of the Association of Lawyers for Children (ALC) and that many of those who are aware of us will think of it as an organisation solely relevant in the public law/care arena. I am hoping to dispel that myth and highlight some of the brilliant work of the organisation. I should probably say now that I am, of course, totally biased, as an out-going co-chair!
Importantly, the ALC is not an organisation representing children’s lawyers or arguing for the interests of lawyers, but an organisation of lawyers representing children. Those children may be involved in any type of family law or related proceedings. It exists to promote access to justice for children and young people within the legal system in England and Wales. Within that framework, its aim is to develop and improve the practice of lawyers in meeting the needs of children who become involved in legal processes by promoting standards of best practice and interdisciplinary training.
The ALC exists to promote access to justice for children and young people within the legal system in England & Wales in the following ways:
- lobbying in favour of establishing properly funded legal mechanisms to enable all children and young people to have access to justice
- providing high-quality legal training, focusing on the needs of lawyers and non-lawyers concerned with cases relating to the welfare, health and development of children
- providing a forum for the exchange of information and views involving the development of the law in relation to children and young people
- creating a reference point for members of the profession, governmental organisations and pressure groups interested in children law and practice
- through interventions
I have been a member of the ALC Executive Committee for many years and for the last three years I was co-chair, first with Deirdre Fottrell KC (1GC) and then with Siobhan Kelly (Coram Chambers), supported throughout by amazing vice chairs and committee members. The more observant among you will note that virtually my entire time as co-chair was impacted by the Covid pandemic, which of course added many unanticipated challenges to the role.
There are many things that I am proud of in terms of ALC achievements over the last few years and I will try to give some edited highlights below.
Collaborative working with other representative organisations
The ALC had always worked closely with Resolution and other representative bodies, for example when responding to government consultations we share knowledge and expertise as appropriate. However, it was during the pandemic that we moved to the next level of collaborative working! As with other representative bodies, we were looking at what support we could offer our members during these unprecedented times. Deirdre and I started attending weekly meetings chaired by the President of the Family Division along with other senior members of the judiciary, Margaret Heathcote (and then Juliet Harvey) for Resolution, along with the FLBA chairs and the representatives from The Law Society. These meetings were invaluable to all who attended; we were able to share information about the experiences and difficulties our members were experiencing “on the ground”, which informed the President directly and informed guidance and recovery planning. It also enabled the attending organisations to quickly disseminate guidance and messages of support from the President. I have not heard of any other area of practice having such direct contact with their leadership judges with such frequency and openness; it was a privilege to be part of them. Such was the positive response from attending they in fact continue, albeit they are now fortnightly.
One way in recent years that we have found to be particularly effective in furthering our organisation’s aims has been through our interventions. To that end, and over the past few years, we have intervened, always on a pro bono basis, in the following significant cases:
In the Supreme Court
Williams v London Borough of Hackney  1 FLR 310
Re T  UKSC 35
In the Court of Appeal
Re P-S  1 FLR 251
Re T  1 FLR 965
Re B  2 FLR 25
Bell v The Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust  EWCA Civ 1363
Re H-N & Ors (Children) (Domestic abuse: Finding of fact hearings)  EWCA Civ 448
Griffiths v Tickle  EWCA Civ 1882
These will be cases well known to most of you and I am so proud that we were given permission to intervene, and that as an organisation we have been able to ensure that child-focused submissions were made in these cases which have developed family law in the last few years. I take this opportunity to thank everyone who gave their time pro bono – as I am sure you can imagine they involve a lot of work and often with very little time.
If anyone has a case that they think the ALC could usefully intervene in, I suggest you review the guidance note on our website.
Like Resolution, we hold an annual residential conference in November of each year Thursday-Saturday, and were delighted to be back in person in 2022.
We also host regular seminars in person and remotely, a small sample of our recent seminars are set out below.
The President spoke with Helen Adam, chair of the Family Solutions Group, on “Language Matters”, looking at how the language for separating families has evolved out of an adversarial legal system, meaning it is often accusatory and divisive, and also potentially harmful, increasing conflict through battle metaphors while parents compete for justice and control of their children. The focus was on the need for appropriate language through every part of a family’s separation, including in any legal process.
We have hosted two seminars to support those looking for a judicial appointment, both chaired by Ms Justice Theis, with speakers from the JAC, HHJ Cove and ALC members who have recently been appointed. We are particularly keen to support solicitors who work on children cases in applying to the judiciary as this is an area which is currently under-represented.
We have been so impressed by the work of YRes we hope to emulate it our own way (we are a much smaller organisation) as we recognise the need to support those early in their careers, particularly those who want to obtain children accreditation (Children Panel). The pandemic has really impeded junior members of the profession in terms of limiting their opportunities to attend court in person and meet children’s guardians and develop the skills and contacts required to accredit. We have set up a sub-committee looking at what support and training we can offer and hope to collaborate with YRes in the near future.
I am proud to say that the ALC is committed to being an anti-racist organisation, which denounces racism in all its forms for its negative psychological, social, educational, and economic effects on child development; is committed to taking positive steps to improve racial diversity within the organisation; and supports initiatives that foster diversity and encourage inclusion.
There is a Diversity subcommittee who prepared an anti-racist policy which we launched in the autumn 2022, recognising the role that organisations can play in challenging racism and promoting anti-racist practice. The struggle against racism requires continuing active resistance against it at all levels in order to promote social justice. ALC is committed to promoting anti-racist practices in the family justice system – specifically we note families from black and minoritised communities will have lived experience of racism, which may impact on how they present.
Resolution has also published its anti-racism statement, and I hope many other organisations will, if they haven’t already, bring out their own similar statements and further commitments to working together to eradicate racism from the family justice system.
We have members on many of the working groups arising out of both the public and private law working groups.
In the last few years we have responded to numerous consultations, including:
- that of the APPG on kinship care
- Human Rights Act Reform: A Modern Bill of Rights. A consultation to reform the Human Rights Act 1998
- PLWG consultation on Supervision Order proposals
- FJC: Covert Recordings
- FPRC consultation on cross examination provisions in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021
Again, we seek to ensure that the voice of the child remains at the forefront when reforms are being considered.
I have been a member of both ALC and Resolution for as long as I can remember and have found them to be both complimentary and essential, and to that end until 15 March Resolution members will be offered a reduced individual membership rate of £75 for first year if they email to join using code ALCRES. Simply email your application form to email@example.com