May I begin, not only by thanking you for inviting me to give this keynote address, but also by emphasising the importance of an organisation such as Resolution both to family Law in general and to the judiciary in particular. I fully appreciate, of course and as your name suggests, that you are committed to the non-adversarial resolution of family disputes and it is an unfortunate fact, I think, that the Family Justice System has been grafted on to the adversarial common law structure, Thus, however inquisitorial we try to be, there are some issues of fact, particularly in public law, which have to be decided adversarially. The threshold criteria under section 31 of the Children Act 1989 is an obvious example, as is the fact of non-accidental injury to a child, which the parents deny. We have not found a different way of dealing with such issues, and the law relating to disclosure of documents to the police militates against frank admissions of responsibility for actions which may, in some cases, be both untypical and momentary
Nonetheless. I am acutely aware of the damage which ongoing adversarial litigation can do – particularly to children – and it is therefore very useful for me, as a judge, who has spent much of his working life in the adversarial system, to come to a conference such as this, which advocates a different approach. I am only sorry that I could not be with you yesterday in order to attend your workshops.
I acknowledge at the outset that you have an extremely valuable specialism and expertise. But I salute you not just because you embody the highest standards of your profession – which, of course, you do – not just for the innovations you have brought to the practice of family law – though they are numerous – it is also for the fact that you are on the front line – indeed you are the front line where the public is concerned – and it is also for the fact that you provide sound, sensible and above all realistic advice to and (where necessary) advocacy for your clients, as well as steering them skilfully though the emotional maelstrom on which they have embarked, or into which they have been thrown. This is a point to which I shall return.