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Hugh Logue, Legal News Editor
Last month David Allison took over as the Chair of Resolution, the family lawyers' association.
David has been a member of Resolution for 19 years during which time he chaired Resolution's Cohabitation Committee and led Resolution's campaign for a new law to provide financial rights for cohabiting couples. He also worked closely with Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC on his Cohabitation Bill 2009.
Prior to the news about his appointment, I came across David as one of the few British family lawyers who use Twitter. David believes that family lawyers need to be innovative if they are to survive the number of difficult issues they face over the next couple of years.
"Family lawyers will have to do more to prove their worth to clients - with an increasing number of people acting in person; others using cheap online services and with an increasing amount of good legal information available on the internet, family lawyers cannot simply allow their role to be that of legal advisors. We are all going to have to become much better at helping clients deal with the myriad of issues they face at the time of separation and divorce. That is a lot to do with involving other professionals and helping clients to find the right process for them to get them and their families through their divorce and separation in better shape than they might otherwise do.
"All of the main political parties have indicted that they intend to carry out a review of family law and the family justice system. There are areas of family law that are in desperate need of reform. However, these reviews are bound, I think, to be influenced by a desire to save money. We must make sure that this does not impact detrimentally upon access to justice and the needs of families and in particular, children."
With the family justice system currently going through huge changes, David won't have very long to settle in before he has to get stuck into his new role. What will be his first action as Chair?
"We had already planned to take a really good look at the organisation this year, to plan our priorities and shape the future of Resolution. We have grown enormously over the last few years and this has enabled us to get much more involved in policy and campaigning work and to develop projects such as the parenting after parting initiative. This year we will be developing an operational plan for the future of Resolution. This is going to have to be the focus of my early period in office as well as continuing the current campaign for law reform."
"Family law reform has been neglected for far too long. Our 'Changing family law for changing families' campaign is looking for government to make family law reform a parliamentary priority. In particular we would like to see an end to the blame game, so that couples can divorce without blame after six months of separation; legal protection for cohabiting couples; and we believe that couples should be able to make enforceable agreements about what will happen if they separate."
What reforms would he like the Legal Services Commission to make?
"Legal aid has become too bureaucratic and burdensome for legal aid practitioners to administer. We want to see real benefits from the move to fixed fees with less form filling and bureaucracy for practitioners. That was supposed to be the deal and we will work to make it happen."
Mediation is increasingly becoming an essential step in family justice as the government tries to alleviate the burden on the courts. Should more family solicitors train as mediators?
"There are certainly moves afoot by the government to encourage greater use of mediation by separating couples. Whilst this is to be welcomed, we'd also like to see greater weight and support given by government to other forms of dispute resolution such as collaborative law and arbitration.
"Separating couples need to be able to choose from a range of different processes so that they can choose the one best suited to their family's needs."
The extended Interim Guidance, intended to assist Cafcass in addressing the backlog in preparing reports to do with care applications and in the allocation of Children's Guardians, transfers much of the workload previously carried out by Cafcass onto the solicitors. Will Resolution put pressure on Cafcass to improve its performance?
"This is certainly an area of concern and we shall shortly be conducting a survey of our members up and down the country in order to get a clear picture of the delays they and their clients are experiencing. We shall of course feed the results of this survey into the family justice system review."
The Children, Schools and Families Act received Royal Assent last week, I asked David if he agrees with increasing media access in the family courts?
"The framework for reporting by the media needs to protect the safety, privacy and confidentiality of children and adults in an appropriate way. It is not clear that the legislative changes proposed to date will do this, or that they will achieve the desired transparency and confidence in the family courts. More work needs to be done and it would be a great pity if the laudable desire to restore confidence in the system by open family justice was undermined by the haste with which it is introduced."
With his new appointment David has risen to the top of his profession, but what was it about family law that originally attracted him to the area of law?
"To be completely honest I fell into it. I worked as a legal executive in family law before qualification and it seemed like the obvious choice afterwards. However, I feel incredibly privileged to do this job. I meet the most wonderful people, many of who keep in touch years after we have worked together. It is fantastic to feel that you have helped someone through a really difficult period in their lives and then to be able to see them move on from it."
David Allison will head Resolution, which represents over 5500 family lawyers, for a term of two years. To follow David on Twitter click here.
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