Nigel Shepherd speech to National Conference

22 Apr 2016

Speech by Nigel Shepherd, Resolution Chair



Thank you Helen for that typically warm welcome. In fact, we all owe you a bigger thank you.

As you know, we try to move our National Conference around the country, to ensure as many members as possible get a chance to attend. This is the first time we’ve held our conference in this part of the world – I hope we'll be back again.

Our host region, led by Helen, have been exceedingly generous in using their funds to subsidise a number of places for local members, without which many of whom might not have been able to attend. So thank you so much Helen for your hospitality and for helping make sure local members are well-represented here.

I understand we have a number of guests from just across the border, as well. With Judge Boshier travelling from New Zealand to give our keynote address, I think this makes it an international conference.

We also have 35 members here who are attending their first conference. And, whether this is your first or your twenty-first conference, you are all very, very welcome.

As your new Chair, I’m delighted that you’ve all joined us here in Gateshead.

It’s a great honour to have the opportunity once again to lead our wonderful organisation. As you saw in the montage just now, there have been one or two changes since the mid-nineties when I last held this role.

Back then, we had a Government split over Europe.

A Clinton was seeking a return to the White House.

We were campaigning for no fault divorce.

How times have changed…

Loss of Legal Aid

In all seriousness, though, the environment we find ourselves in now is very different to the one we worked in then.

And perhaps the most significant change – and for our society, the most devastating one – is the loss of legal aid.

Dave Emmerson, when standing down a couple of weeks ago having been Chair of the legal aid committee since 2003, reminded us that back then one of his tasks was to negotiate the annual pay rise for legal aid lawyers with the Legal Services Commission, as it then was.

When I first qualified, the year before Resolution was formed, I was a general litigation practitioner in a High St office. I was able to help everybody that came through my door.

Whatever the issue, wherever they came from - regardless of their ability to pay, – if they needed help, they got help.

THAT was a legal aid system to be proud of

Who would have thought then that we would be where we are now. Not to put too fine a point on it it's a bloody disgrace.

And yet, as a result of our lobbying we secured a number of concessions to LASPO in 2012, particularly around domestic violence.

And as anyone who’s had to contend with the joy of CCMS over the last few months will know, or saw the recent news about the end of the 2-year limit on DV evidence - we continue to fight on behalf of our members and their clients to make changes to the way these savage cuts are being implemented.

Dave has been at the heart of this for 13 years and I want to thank him for his tremendous contribution on behalf of our members and our clients.

Resolution’s achievements

Our achievements are not limited to reducing the impact of bad government legislation, however.

We have achieved so much together since John Cornwell and others first formed our organisation more than thirty years ago.

We’ve introduced collaborative law.

We’ve promoted and developed mediation.

We launched family arbitration for financial disputes – and this year it will be extended to children cases.

We ran the highly regarded Family Matters project.

We made our precedents free online for all members.

We’ve developed groundbreaking training.

We’ve launched an annual DR conference.

We regularly talk about your work in the media.

We launched YRes.

And we launched our Family Law Manifesto, to promote our campaigning work on crucial issues like domestic abuse, cohabitation and, as noted, legal aid.

And, of course, no fault divorce, to which I’ll return shortly.

We do this with our members, for our members, and because of our members. It is your commitment that makes us who we are, and makes it possible to do everything that we do.

Jo Edwards – our immediate past chair

And there are few members who have been more committed over the last two years than our outgoing Chair, Jo Edwards. I’ll say more at dinner tonight, but I can’t let the start of conference pass without paying tribute to someone who’s taken Resolution from strength to strength.

Whether it’s getting up at an unearthly hour to get to Broadcasting House for an interview on court closures; representing Resolution at senior judges’ valedictories or welcomes; or appearing before a Parliamentary committee to fight against divorce fee rises – let me tell you, there is nothing that Jo wouldn’t do (and indeed hasn’t in the last few years done) for our members.

We all owe her a huge debt of gratitude.

Jo, my pledge to you is I will continue your good work, to stand up for our members, and to stand up for those people our members help everyday.

Our staff team

Resolution has a history of great people working for us, but I can tell you that behind the scenes, supporting Jo, and who I hope - no, I know – will be supporting me too we now have the best staff team we’ve ever had.

In Colin Jones, whose 5th anniversary with us was last week, we have an outstanding chief executive. Under his leadership:

Ida Forster has delivered Family Matters

Patrick Daniels has delivered our training programme

Rachel Rogers has driven our manifesto work

And, of course, Sue Gunn and her team have coordinated all the membership work and have organised what I know will be another great conference.

I can’t namecheck everyone, but take it from me, each and every one of them is just as committed to the Resolution cause as anyone else in this room. I know they don't do it for the praise, but please join with me in thanking your staff team.

And I'd just like to take a moment to thank my family. When I was last Chair my girls Jo and Karen were only young. They and my wife Sandra made sacrifices to support me then. I'm delighted and proud that they're here supporting me today. Thank you!

No Fault Divorce

I’ve mentioned our manifesto a couple of times, and it’s one of the many things Jo should be proud of overseeing in her time as Chair. And one of those policy priorities is no fault divorce.

For me, it is a source of real regret and frustration, but also a source of motivation, that I come before you, as I did over 20 years ago, talking about the need for no fault divorce. As you know, we actually got the legislation passed in 1996. And then it got scrapped.

Getting it back on the statute books and actually implemented continues to be a key objective for us, as it should be for any policymaker dealing with family separation.

It is just wrong – and actually bordering on cruel - to say to couples, if you want to move on with your lives without having to wait two, or perhaps five, years one of you has to blame the other.

How many meetings have we all had where we and our clients are frustrated at having to come up with something, anything, to put on the petition?

How many positive negotiations have stalled or even broken down because our clients suddenly have to have a conversation about blame?

And how many times have these conversations escalated into arguments about the rifts in the relationship that led to it breaking down in the first place?

Our poll, last year, showed that more than a quarter of divorcing couples have made up what they put on the petition, simply to get around this requirement.

We know the damage this does. We see the pain it causes. We know that divorce is rarely easy, but a civilised society needs and deserves a civilised divorce process that doesn’t make an already difficult situation worse.

We will continue to make the case to government, supported by charities, the judiciary, and the many others who know what we know:

That couples and their children need to be protected from unnecessary conflict that can do real long-term damage to families.

The blame game needs to end, and it needs to end now.

Our members

I want to conclude by talking about you - our members.

I appreciate I'm preaching to the converted. Each of you in this room this morning is here either because you're a Resolution member or in the case of our guests because you also believe in what we stand for.

You’re signed up to our code.

You’re committed to our values.

And it is through your work that you are helping families across the country, by applying these values to the advice, guidance, representation and support you provide to get people through some of the most painful times of their lives.

That work takes many forms. Resolution is an organisation that speaks to and values the contribution of all family justice professionals, no matter what their particular discipline and expertise.

We know that family separation is about more than the law. Resolution led the way in promoting alternatives to court long before it became government policy. Although I’m not a mediator myself, I believe passionately that mediation and collaborative should be helping far more couples than they do currently.

There's still a long way to go, but we can be proud of our collective achievements in ensuring DR is part of the mainstream and no longer the ‘Alternative’ it once was.

So we don’t need any lectures from politicians about how to keep people out of court.

The Government message that it's mediation good, lawyers bad, is just nonsense.

These options are not mutually exclusive. We know more people will choose mediation or another form of family dispute resolution, including constructive negotiation, if they see a Resolution lawyer first.

Just look at what happened to mediation referrals as a result of LASPO.

They should work in partnership. People want and benefit from independent legal advice, before, during and after mediation, as well as when it breaks down or is inappropriate. I believe that just as strongly now as I did when I said it during the Family Law Act debate 20 years ago.

And I know that most mediators agree.

For some, of course, Court is the only place for them to get protection from harm or a fair outcome.

This means that we can – and should - be proud of the work our members do in offices and courtrooms, across the country - negotiating, arbitrating, and representing those for whom mediation or collaborative is not the answer.

Protecting the vulnerable and abused.

Dealing with complex legal, and, with the help of our IFA and accountant members, financial issues in this jurisdiction and internationally.

Ensuring that parents’ and children's rights and interests are protected in public law proceedings.

Reducing family conflict and finding agreement, whether in or out of court.

And crucially, helping parents put their children first.

My commitment

So, whether you’re a mediator, collaborative lawyer, financial or family consultant, arbitrator, or spend most of your negotiating or in court - my commitment to you as Chair is that under my watch, no member will be left behind.

I will do everything I can to make sure you are all properly supported and valued so we can continue to fulfil the vision our founders had more than 30 years ago.

There is much we have already achieved so far.

With your support, there is no limit to what we can achieve together in the future.

Thank you