Spotlight on: Family Law Committee

Birmingham Law Society has 14 professional committees, dealing with different areas of legal practice and/or areas of common interest to the profession. They are the engine room of the Society, undertaking work that keeps our members updated with developments in their areas of law; ensuring they are well connected with key stakeholders such the courts, police and other bodies and representing their interests, and those of their clients, to Government, regulators and others. All of our committees are made up of volunteers drawn from the Birmingham legal community.

In this issue we shine a spotlight on the work done by the Family Law Committee chaired by Claire Darley, Higgs & Sons.

A full list of Birmingham Law Society’s committees can be found on our website, along with contact details of the committee chairs. If you are interested in joining a committee, please do get in touch with the chair.

What is the role of your committee?

The Family Law Committee is an inclusive and thriving committee made up of a solicitors, barristers and a Judge, who come together on a bi-monthly basis to discuss issues relevant to family law practitioners and their clients.

Tell us about some of the main events/activities that your committee has worked on in the last year?

The highlight of the last 12 months was the record turn-out at our conference in October last year. The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane attended and spoke to the subject of “well-being”.

The well-being protocol produced by Birmingham Family Court has been the subject of much interest. Whilst this is pertinent to all professions, this is something which, following the cuts to legal aid, has in particular, had an impact on the criminal and family justice system.

Years of lack of funding in the legal aid system has led to lawyers undertaking longer hours at work for less pay. This and also the lack of funding to legal services generally has been thought to add to stress. The awareness of the impact on mental health has been particularly publicised in the press over the last year.

What would you say will be the biggest issue in the area that your committee focusses on in the next 12 months?

There are exciting innovations and themes which present as challenges for the future.

We have seen the development of processes for resolving disputes, to keep disputes out of court where possible to relieve the court’s already overstretched resources. The aim is better outcomes for families. Issues may involve the resolution of arrangements for children or property and finance claims following family breakdown.

When cases do enter the family court, there are now innovations in place which have changed processes for obtaining a divorce. This can now be accessed via an online system.

All law firms practising family law in Birmingham and the regions are encouraged to sign up to the “online pilot” to file court applications, to improve the efficient processing of cases.

We are incredibly fortunate in Birmingham to have a Specialist Financial Remedy Court, led by His Honour Judge Rowland. When issuing a financial claim alongside divorce, we can ensure that the case is heard from a judge who is a family law specialist to ensure the appropriate allocation of resources to a case.

Funding has been granted and plans are well underway for the launch of a PILOT court, for a Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) in Birmingham, to assist families in the court process.