Edinburgh Family Law Conference 8-9 February 2002
Law April 2002
In February the Scottish Family
Law Association invited their colleagues from England and Wales,
Eire and Northern Ireland to Edinburgh for the annual Family Law
The meeting followed a tradition
established some years ago by family lawyers from Liverpool and
Dublin, led from the English side by David Harris QC and Maureen
Roddy (now HHJs Harris and Roddy), with family lawyers traversing
the Irish sea in alternate years to participate in each otherís
family law conferences. In November 1999 the moveable feast was
celebrated in Belfast for the first time and three Scottish family
lawyers attended. When the meeting was convened in Dublin in January
2001 the number of Scots attending more than doubled and their
enthusiasm was such that they agreed to host the 2002 event.
Over 250 family lawyers from the
four jurisdictions of the British Isles were treated to a Congress
where the ambience could best be described as Scottish international.
On Friday evening, after a tour of Parliament House, we were piped
into a welcome reception at Edinburgh Castle, hosted by the Minister
for Justice, the Rt Hon Jim Wallace. Delegates were permitted
to roam freely through the museum which houses the Scottish crown
jewels and, a recent acquisition, the Stone of Destiny (tactlessly
identified by one Sassenach, who shall remain nameless, as the
Stone of Scone!).
Saturdayís working sessions comprised
two panel discussions with contributors from all four jurisdictions.
The first session was on Brussels II and comparative financial
provision on divorce, the second covered child protection procedures.
Panels were chaired, respectively, by Lord Bonomy, Senator of
the College of Justice in Scotland, and the Hon Mrs Justice Black
of the Family Division of the High Court of Justice in England
and Wales. In a third working session, chaired by the Hon Justice
Catherine McGuinness of the Supreme Court of Ireland, Ruth Deech,
chair of the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, spoke
on Reproductive Technology, Family and Human Rights.
In the short space available in
this note it is impossible to do justice to all of the speakers
and chairs, every one of whom made an excellent contribution.
For me the most fascinating aspect of a day which was full of
surprises was the way in which lawyers from the four jurisdictions
approached problems with such marked differences of expectation.
Lord Justice Thorpe, who attended as a guest, hit the nail on
the head when he commented that the Scottish law of financial
provision following divorce is very different from that in England
and Wales because, well, things are simply different in Scotland.
His Lordship put this much more elegantly but I did not take a
verbatim note. Dick Podell from Wisconsin, a former chair of the
ABA Family Law Section, pointed out that things were even more
complicated in the 54 different matrimonial jurisdictions within
the USA and its territories.
In discussions afterwards it became
clear that Scottish family lawyers really do think it is sensible
for there to be a presumption of equal division of matrimoinal
property acquired during the marriage and that spousal maintenance
after divorce should not easily be granted. By contrast, every
Irish lawyer I spoke with strongly endorsed their principle that
maintenance for the ex-wife should be for life or until remarriage.
Both camps argued their cases with conviction and eloquence but
there was no meeting of minds. How does one say vive la difference
Five members of the SLFA International
Committee crossed the border to attend the Congress and threw
themselves into the proceedings with enthusiasm. Carolynn Usher
and Andrea Woelke asked passably intelligent questions from the
floor, David Hodson got into a couple of intricate debates on
Brussels II and Tina Dunn must have spoken with just about every
one of the 250 or so delegates.
I took the opportunity to call
a meeting of the chairs of the family lawyer representative groups
from our neighbour jurisdictions. We agreed to establish more
regular and formal links with each other to promote mutual understanding
and, potentially, to cooperate on issues of common interest such
as law reform, legal aid and coping with the Europeanisation of
Next yearís meeting will take place
in Liverpool. Our Merseyside hosts will be hard pressed to match
the combination of education and hospitality to which we were
treated in Edinburgh but I understand the organisers are already
working to ensure a memorable event. All family lawyers with an
interest in what is happening beyond the confines of their own
jurisdictions would be well advised to book early.
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