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David Hodson on International Family Law: Jordans Awards and IT

Date:20 OCT 2011

David HodsonThis week's opinion piece must start with huge personal thanks to all Family Law journal and online readers who voted for me in the Jordans Family Law Commentator of the Year Award category, one of only 2 of the 8 awards elected by family lawyers. I felt incredibly honoured, humbled and grateful. The award was presented by Liz Walsh, the journal's editor.  Thank you

It was made the more precious given the high quality of the other nominees. Nick Brown is a barrister in Birmingham and had written a 3 part informative article on the non-return of a child after contact, looking at the position in law and also on studies about the impact on the child and future parenting. Rebecca Probert was commended in the awards citation for her articles on the history of marriage and cohabitation, dispelling the myth of widespread cohabitation throughout English history but also making clear there has never been a golden age of marriage; each generation has to work very hard!  But she has written extensively on family law topics including an insufficiently well-known book with Jo Miles on post separation shared parenting and finances Sharing Lives, Dividing Assets which should be compulsory reading for all lawyers seeking to understand the financial demographics of lives post relationship breakdown. Lisa Parkinson has been the primary presenter of mediation for so many years, both here and abroad. If, as I have predicted elsewhere, the next 3 - 4 years will see a significant growth in ADR in cross border cases, it is Lisa who, outside the narrow confines of child abduction mediation, who has prepared the ground for all who will follow and created the professional foundations and boundaries.

Without any Gwyneth Paltrow type sentimentality, may I thank Stephen Cretney, Rebecca Bailey-Harris and Gillian Douglas for their commentary in Family Law over several decades, elucidating and explaining for us all the nuances and meanings of decided cases.  They have been a real inspiration to me and many others. Thank you hugely to Liz Walsh of Jordans for her commitment and support along with Greg Woodgate and Hugh Logue. Thank you to my colleagues at The International Family Law Group for their encouragement and most of all to Ann Thomas.

Nicholas Crichton was a deserved winner of the award for the Outstanding Contribution to the field of Family Law for his work in many arenas especially in the Drugs and Alcohol Courts, now again insufficiently funded. Kim Beatson was a popular choice as ADR Professional as well as for her other work in the then SFLA. Teertha Gupta arrived from court in Leeds with minutes to spare to receive his award as barrister of the year and there was much pleasure that Vanessa Priddis, a child care lawyer from Devon, at Michelmores, won the family law solicitor of the year although all four nominees truly deserved the award including Jane Simpson just retired after a wonderful lifetime devoted in so many ways to the best interests of family law.

For me the award which gave greatest professional satisfaction was Innovative Lawyer of the Year to Roger Bamber for his work in IT.  For so long, family law has dragged its heels (or knuckles?) in making most use of IT opportunities. It has been led by a Luddite like tendency from the Bench where there is a constant dicta that formulae and tariffs have no place and the discretionary broad brush can dismantle any well prepared spreadsheet. We have had no electronic filing, we were slow to adopt e-service and in April we were given court forms which are distinctly not computer friendly.

Roger took these and other ideas and developed with Money Advice Service, originally an offshoot of the FSA, an online package, called the Divorce and Separation Calculator, available free for use to help people draw up a budget, work out needs for income and capital and consider possible
settlements. Of course much more can be done but in a world where many clients and an increasing number of family lawyers are keen and committed to the use of IT, this innovation and development is so important. It is happening in many places abroad and we should learn and borrow.

We await soon the final Norgrove Report. Whatever else is recommended, the Ministry of Justice should set up a group to examine how we can better use IT for the benefit of the law and reaching outcomes. There could be no better person to chair it than Roger.  Family law reform, nationally and internationally, without far greater use of IT is incomprehensible. 

Congratulations to Jordans on the awards.

David Hodson is a Partner at The International Family Law Group LLP. He acts in complex family law cases, often with an international element. 

He is an English specialist accredited solicitor, mediator, family arbitrator, Deputy District Judge at the Principal Registry of the Family Division, High Court, London and also an Australian qualified solicitor, barrister and mediator. He is a Fellow of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and author of A Practical Guide to International Family Law (Jordan Publishing, 2008). He is chair of the Family Law Review Group of the Centre for Social Justice. He can be contacted on dh@davidhodson.com.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.


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