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Writing a family law column is inevitably complicated by the confidentiality issues involved. Every solicitor owes a duty of confidentiality to their client but in most family cases that confidentiality is extended by virtue of the restrictions on reporting. The complexities of media reporting in family cases is addressed in detail in the Guide recently published by the President of the Family Division.
For my own part, when writing about my work, the aim is to keep the essence of the point I wish to make, whilst ensuring that any example could not be traced back to any individual client or case. I am certainly not in favour of unrestricted reporting in the family courts, but I am also not the first to wonder whether this lack of a "human face" in respect of what happens in the family courts is part of the problem in addressing the widespread lack of understanding of the importance of public funding within the family justice system.
Our firm, like many others, has recently been approached by The Law Society to put them in touch with publicly-funded clients with the intention of putting together a number of case-studies to be used in support of their Sound Off For Justice campaign.
The campaign (and indeed all those campaigning for legal aid to be maintained in family law where cuts are proposed) needs individuals who have received legal aid to speak out about their experiences in the family courts in order to demonstrate why the proposed cuts will be so catastrophic to others in similar situations in the future.
As the well-known saying goes, "the law only troubles those who are themselves in trouble" and, unfortunately, the same can be said for legal aid. Until a person has need of it, they are more than likely to believe the unjustified media reporting that it is just a frivolous use of tax payers money. And, of course, when a person finds themselves in a position when public funding is their only access to legal advice and representation and the matter involves their children, the very last thing they will want to do is to lay bare the details of their own family circumstances in order to ensure that others will continue to benefit in the future in the same way as they have done (and I do not criticise them for that).
So, if those who have previously or do currently benefit from public funding but won't do in the future simply don't have the impetus to speak out, and the detail of their cases cannot be reported, the only people who can give testament to the reality of the situation are the lawyers, judges and local authority agencies who work day in and day out in the family courts. From what I can see, everyone is doing their best. It's just a shame that no-one appears to be listening.
Kate Gomery has recently qualified as a family law solicitor. She works at Heaney Watson in Liverpool where she is exposed to all types of family law work but particularly publicly funded family law cases. Prior to qualification Kate spent several years doing general crime and then serious fraud work. She trained at Pannone in Manchester.
The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.