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Looking back at the Ancillary Relief Procedural Scheme | Part 2 - Sir Mathew Thorpe

13th May 2021

Last week we published Sir Nicholas Mostyn's recollections of the Ancillary Relief Scheme, which will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in July. This week, we have Sir Mathew Thorpe, who at the time was a High Court judge and member of the ARWP, becoming a chairman in 1994. He was appointed a Lord Justice of Appeal in 1995, a year before the pilot was rolled out. He later became the Head of International Family Justice. He is now retired.

Over the next few weeks, we will also be publishing articles submitted by those involved in the scheme including Jane Simpson, Mr Justice Holman, Roger Bird, Rebecca Bailey-Harris, Sir Paul Coleridge and Maggie Rae.

Then: a high court judge and a member of the ARWP from the start, becoming chairman in 1994. appointed a lord Justice of appeal in 1995, the year before the pilot was rolled out.

later: head of international Family Justice now: retired

The first meeting of the Ancillary Relief Working Party took place on 7 July 1992. It was a judicial initiative. Booth J had identified the failings of the procedure then in force in her much published judgment in Evans v Evans. This was the decade that saw the growth of judicial activism, which was the expression of judicial determination to improve the justice system, remedy its deficiencies. It was no longer good enough to rely on the executive and the legislature to do the job. This movement achieved much in domestic family justice. As well as this initiative we saw the launch of the President’s Interdisciplinary Committee and the President’s International Committee. Less enduring were the negotiation of the Pakistan Protocol and the Cairo Declaration. Undoubtedly the greatest product of judicial activism was the creation and development of the International Hague Judicial Network. In Civil Justice Lord Woolf was contemporaneously introducing sweeping reforms.

The first meeting was the result of discussions I had with my good friend Gerald Angel, the Senior District Judge. We met in his room at his invitation. We were joined by James Holman QC and Nicholas Mostyn for the FLBA and Jane Simpson for the SFLA. The problems besetting the practice were transparent and we readily agreed in outline what had to be done.

A year later, 28 June 1993, significant expansion had resulted. The Association of District Judges was represented by DJ Roger Bird. DJ Andrews was there for the Family Proceedings Rules Committee and Richard Sax for the Law Society Family Law Committee. Michael Sayers, who headed the Family Law Department of the Lord Chancellor’s Department, was a very significant addition. We needed the Department’s support to achieve our ends.

A year on I had assumed the chair and declared that after two years of deliberation we had to lay down a timetable to ensure a solid achievement within a reasonable time span.

Another year on that was achieved. At our meeting on 10 July 1995 we agreed formally the new procedures which we submitted to the Lord Chancellor for his approval. At that meeting the group was much strengthened by distinguished academic specialists, Dr Cretney QC and Professor Bailey Harris. Also with us was Paul Coleridge QC who was to play such leading role in explaining all that was new to practitioners throughout the jurisdiction.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, not only validated our proposal but adopted the working party as his own Ancillary Relief Working Group. As such we were available for him to consult whenever he wanted advice in this important specialist field of practice.

So many gave so generously to these initiatives as we struggled for reform. The quiet dedication of Gerald Angel, the respect in which Jane Simpson was held throughout the SFLA, the originality of Nicholas Mostyn, the erudition and wisdom of Stephen Cretney ensured our success in launching an evolutionary process of change which has its latest fulfilment in the creation of the Financial Remedies Court throughout our jurisdiction.

Throughout the work of the Committee was immeasurably aided by the support of its secretary, Clive Buckley. Clive was part of the Secretariat at the Principal Registry and his minute taking and general oversight of our efforts was of the highest standard.