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Edward Kitchen on the Manchester Resolution Family Law Question Time

Last night, I and several members of our team attended an excellent event organised by our local Resolution committee at Manchester Town Hall. Structured around the "Question Time" format, a debate on pressingFamily Law issues was chaired by David Salter and had panel members from across the political divide, as well as senior figures from within the legal profession and CAFCASS.

All spoke well and there were many constructive contributions from the floor too.Topics included the impact that cuts to legal aid will have, Mediation and its place as an alternative to court, as well as the need for reform to the law forDivorce, financial provision and the rights of people who live together outside of marriage. Above all, the need to resolve disputes quickly and painlessly for the good of the Children was very much at the forefront of everyone's mind. The interesting thing to emerge was that there was little dissention from the panel, as well as the audience, which comprised a large number of family law practitioners from the region, about all these issues. We share a very real concern that cuts to legal aid will lead to many people choosing to represent themselves at court, with many more slipping through the net altogether. So many of the people who need it most will be denied an access to justice, while others, often through no fault of their own, will not have the benefit of legal advice, so adding to the delays in a court system already struggling to cope. The world has changed and society with it. Yet still, it is the family, championed by this government and its predecessor as the cornerstone, which is governed by an antiquated system that harks back to the values and mores of days gone by. Not quite "Victorian", as one eloquent speaker put it, but not far off. What is needed is reform of the law and the systems to reflect a society of very diverse requirements. That reform will help support people through difficult times. Rather than putting money into the prevention of problems, it would be good to see public funds used to try and cure those problems at source. Undoubtedly this would then lessen the burden elsewhere, meaning a fairer outcome for all where family disputes arise.

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