Congratulations on your two appointed Silks this year, in fact the only two in leading family sets to be made up, why do you think that is?
We are very fortunate to have two such outstanding individuals in chambers. We hope it is not too long before others increase the number from six.
29 Bedford Row is Band 1 in Chambers & Partners 2010 for family law. How is chambers seeking to retain that reputation?
This is a great boost for chambers, and perhaps a little overdue! It is nice to be there and having two new Silks is the first step to keeping us there. The most important focus for us as a chambers is the service that we offer to both our lay and our professional clients. Both our Silks and juniors continue to appear in a large number of reported cases, including one of the first family law cases to be heard in the Supreme Court. Among the Silks Paul Storey QC specialises in public law children cases, and the other five QCs specialise in ancillary relief. Within that we have areas of particular interest. Nicholas Francis QC and Tim Scott QC have appeared in leading cases about pre-nuptial agreements, and have advised on and drafted a lot of agreements. Philip Cayford QC has been in leading cases both in relation to Schedule 1 of the Children Act and also child relocation. Tim Scott QC has a particular interest in international family law, including the interface between EU law and English family law. Our juniors are regularly led by Silks both in and out of chambers and appear regularly in some of the most difficult cases in the High Court and Principal Registry.
What are the key trends within family law that will emerge in the coming years?
One big issue is pre-nuptials. We are waiting for judgment in the Radmacher/Granatino case recently heard in the Supreme Court and the Law Commission is examining the question. Many family lawyers feel that reform is needed to give greater rights to cohabitees, although the Law Commission recommendations were effectively shelved by the government in March 2008. In addition there is discussion about the reform of the law surrounding financial provision on divorce especially following the general view that London is the “divorce capital” of the world. It remains to be seen whether a new government (regardless of its colour) will be willing to take on these issues. We would hope so because family breakdown is one of the most difficult things to be faced in the modern world and our legal system needs to move at a pace with society – in terms of cohabitees’ rights some would say that it is rather out of step at present.
What is your chambers doing to try and be at the forefront of the modern Family Bar?
We are at the forefront. We were the first set at the Family Bar to establish a service company. Our structure was modernised more than 20 years ago. Some chambers are traditionally run by Silks but we aim to have our management structure more broadly based. Directors of our company include Laura Heaton who at 12 years’ Call is our Finance Director and has been doing the job for about 8 years. It’s part of our tradition to have a collegiate atmosphere in which the most junior members of chambers can have a word with any of the Silks at any time and can contribute at any level to the running of chambers. We try to keep abreast of equality and diversity issues, and we have a complaints system which is compliant with the BSB requirements. We are always looking at new skill sets to offer to our clients including mediation and private FDRs. 16 of us have trained as Collaborative Counsel. We were the first chambers to train en masse through the Resolution training programme.
How has family law as a practice area been affected by the economic downturn?
At the privately funded level we’ve noticed very little difference in terms of the level of work. Relationships break down regardless of the state of the economy – and sometimes perhaps because of it. Public funding for family law work has been squeezed for many years and the current economic climate seems to be accelerating that. Senior practitioners are turning away from publicly funded work because the remuneration for representing some of the most vulnerable people in society does not match the task required. This is putting those clients and most importantly, vulnerable children, at risk. As a result of these changes, there is a real risk in family law that there is going to be a gulf between those sets doing predominately privately funded work versus those doing predominately publicly funded work. This is very undesirable.
Debate about the changing legal landscape has been gathering momentum…how is your chambers reacting?
The Bar is a service industry and we recognise that we must continue to move with the times in order to provide the best service to our clients. We have a group within chambers looking at new ideas, however, a number of us will need convincing that major changes are going to benefit us or our clients. We were early modernisers and have a business structure that works well. While we will keep a close eye on how things develop, we don’t feel we are in danger of being left behind.
Timothy Scott QC and Laura Heaton, 29 Bedford Row, were interviewed by Guy Hewetson, LPA Legal