What is your position and what you do on a day-to-day basis?
I am a jurist and solicitor advocate. My working life revolves around work for a small number of clients as consultant with Heaney Watson, writing and research (mostly for Jordans and Family Law, but also for, eg, New Law Journal) and teaching. I’d like to adopt the French word ‘jurist’ for what I do, but I don’t think it has quite caught on here yet...
How long have you been in this role and what brought you here?
I have been a solicitor since 1973, always in private practice. I am where I am now largely because legal aid ran out on me, and my then specialist family and child law firm ceased to be viable. If truth be told, I am probably not a very good business-man, either.
What are the people you work for/with like? Any memorable stories?
My work is mostly fairly solitary now.
A memorable story? I acted for a husband in 1998-2002 whose wife claimed her friend ‘Ghisella’ had given her £150,000 to buy a house for her in the wife’s name (it was the only ‘asset’ of both H and W in the case). ‘Ghisella’, she said, kept the cash under her bed. When she told me this in cross-examination I – a little incredulous - asked her to confirm she had said ‘cash’. Singer J looked at me fixedly: ‘Yes, Mr Burrows, she said “cash”’, (this was in the days when ‘money-laundering’ was being invented: I contacted the local police, which lead eventually to that part of the wife’s case unravelling). In fact ‘Ghisella’ had completely taken in the court and the wife’s advisers (I never discovered if she was an actress, provided by a local agency.) The cash belonged to the wife’s mother (so a resulting trust case ensued); and Singer J fairly soon took himself off the case. (We did not have a decision on the resulting trust aspect: Bennett J heard a day and a half of evidence and told us to settle it over lunch, which we did; but on terms which the husband had not dared to hope for when it all started.)
Of work: thinking outside and around the law box (is there a composite adjective for that?)
Of life: reflective, observant of life (I hope!).
What keeps you motivated?
I want to reform family law and to make it clearer for everyone to understand: I recall always Tom Bingham’s first rule of law: law ‘must be accessible and so far as possible intelligible, clear and predictable’.
Tea or coffee?
What would you say to anyone thinking of a career in your field?
Go for it; but don’t expect to make money from the type of work where people need you – such as in family law (save, I imagine, for the very rich).
What song do you listen to the most?
Something by Richard Strauss, Bob Dylan or Radiohead (according to mood), but I’m more of an orchestral person, really.
How do you enjoy your time outside of work?
Walking, reading – just the usual; and writing poetry and fiction.
If you could change one thing about the family justice system what would it be and why?
I would make all laws clearer so ordinary readers could come close to understanding the law which affects them (see Bingham above), starting with Family Procedure Rules 2010. For a start, I would make FPR 2010 comply with Courts Act 2003 s 75(3)(b) (that the rule-makers should ensure that ‘the rules are both simple and simply expressed’) and with the common law. Neither is by any means the case with the present set of rules). David Burrows has been nominated for the Family Law Commentator of the Year Award. Find out why he was nominated and place your vote here.
David runs his own blog dedicated to discussing family law issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @dbfamilylaw.
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As part of this feature we are asking a wide range of people who have links to the court system and family law to respond to the above questions and give us some information about what their role entails. We hope to get a wide cross section of people - to this end, if you would like to contribute please email firstname.lastname@example.org.