This regional event saw a fascinating talk on the possible future impact of genetics in family law.
Oxfordshire Resolution held their third Family Law Seminar on 13 March 2017 and are delighted to have raised around £3,000, which will be shared equally between the Cowley Contact Centre and Donnington Doorstep charities. The seminar was arranged jointly by the local judiciary and the Oxfordshire Resolution Committee. Mr Justice MacDonald QC was keynote speaker alongside Professor Nils Hoppe, Elizabeth McGrath QC, Susan Jacklin QC and Hamish Dunlop. The event was held at the Oxford Combined Court Centre, St Aldates, Oxford, with informal networking over drinks and nibbles afterward, and was well attended with over 46 delegates.
MacDonald J, High Court judge of the Family Division, gave a fascinating talk on the rights of the child. He identified significant case law and discussed when the rights of a child should be prioritised. He highlighted the importance of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the impact it has on domestic courts, which are obliged to have regard to the conventions.
Elizabeth McGrath QC of 3PB delivered an insightful talk on periodical payment orders and achieving fairness, mentioning the private members bill – Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill [HL] 2016 – 17 supported by Baroness Deech – which is working its way through Parliament. The bill aims to put a three-year time limit on spousal maintenance orders. Whilst the chances of the bill becoming law are slim, it brings the issue forward for debate. At the crux of this issue is the value of the judicial discretion versus plain rules.
Professor Nils Hoppe, associate member of Coram Chambers and leading academic on the legal and ethical issues surrounding genetics, provided a highly interesting lecture on family law in that area. He discussed the evolution of genetics and the impact it has had on the law, and more specifically, family law. Historically, family law has been constructed around core assumptions based on behaviour and responsibility. However, it was highlighted that we may be “moving into a culture of family law based on genetic evidence”. Professor Hoppe concluded this topic by looking at the potential challenges the law may face when we start to see more genetics in the Courts.
To close the seminar, Susan Jacklin QC of 1 Garden Court and Hamish Dunlop of 3PB led an open discussion and debate on the rights of cohabitees, with Susan Jacklin debating for reform and Hamish Dunlop voicing the opposition.
Ms Jacklin identified the double standards that appear in other areas of the law. For example, the cohabiting partner of a deceased tenant under a secure council tenancy, an assured housing association tenancy, or an assured private tenancy has succession rights. The Family Law Act 1996 also provides rights for unmarried couples. Ms Jacklin questioned why we consider protecting those from physical and psychological harm, but not from economic harm. She concluded that there needs to a balance between public policy and achieving fairness for those whose financial position has been compromised, by reason of sacrifices made during the relationship and particularly for the benefit of their joint children.
Speaking for the opposition, Hamish Dunlop addressed the disadvantages of such a change to the law, asking whether society would benefit from imposing a code to redistribute wealth between cohabitants. He argued that whilst such powers are justified in the context of marriage, the same cannot be said in circumstances where no conscious step was taken apart from the decision to cohabit.
A vote was put to the floor at the end of the debate and although the vote for reform was more popular, it was quite finely balanced. All profit from the event will be paid to Cowley Contact Centre and Donnington Doorstep, to support their good work. Beth Knighton, Director of Donnington Doorstep Family Centre said “We value the contribution that local supporters make, the funding will go to families in Oxford in need. It’s wonderful to get this kind of human contact and genuine interest from our funders.”
Ross Sadler and Elizabeth Rapa from Cowley Contact Centre said “The Centre is very grateful for the organisation and donation of this event. The proceeds will allow us to continue our work to positively impact on children affected by relationship breakdown”.
Written by Kate Jones