His Honour Stephen Wildblood QC, the most senior family judge for Bristol and its surrounding counties is tackling the legal aid cuts head on by holding a family law DIY legal masterclass. Members of the public (and the press) were able to attend for a Q&A session chaired by the judge and two senior family law practitioners. Questions included: “What is the lawful basis for one parent to prevent a child from contact, without an order?” and “If assessments presented to the court contain misrepresentations, what recourse does the injured party have?” This is an innovative and refreshing approach which should provide some valuable legal assistance to those in need in the local area. It would be excellent to see our London family judges attempt something similar one day.
It’s far from common to have a judge – and three senior family lawyers – run a Q&A session in an open-access, explicitly reportable forum. It’s a delicate, courageous thing to attempt, when you know your audience may well have their own anguished experiences of the family courts, such as children being adopted without consent, or acrimonious litigation with an ex. But the sheaves of handwritten questions handed in to the panel following the presentation showed an urgent desire for answers in a baffling world where people’s family lives can be turned upside down in an instant – and in which there is now, since legal aid cuts, no easy way to grapple with the task of making your case, or understand the decisions made.