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Looking back at the Ancillary Relief Scheme with James Pirrie

15th July 2021

For the final article in this series, we hear from James Pirrie, Director at Family Law in Partnership.


Then: camping out at University College Hospital during the euros for my first-born and a bit later slipping out the backdoor of Russell Jones and Walker (now Slater Gordon) after 12 years and peddling down the road to join the amazing world of TFLC (The Family Law Consortium) (now FliP) in Covent Garden.

now: still at Family Law in Partnership. and in between all of those dispute resolution doors have started to open: unbundled services, myriad forms of mediation, parenting after parting, collaborative, therapeutic alliances, the rise of the financial neutral, the private FDR, joint conferences and arbitration and that is before we get started on the hybrids. So much work from so many trying to make family law a better place.

For the professionals it was more a case of stumbling in circles, like the plot of Citizen Kane until either a settlement dropped at our feet or some pushy-bright barrister told us to get on and pull the strands together and encouraged the making of an application for a hearing date.

The system that is now second nature, was at its landing point strange, subversive and reviled.

  • It seemed a curtailment of our professional role that we would be prevented from discursive pages of affidavit, giving those disclosures that seemed helpful and insinuating as much complaint and prejudice as we could ram into each paragraph…
  • “What?” we said, “once you issue, the court has control and always sets the next date? It will be like being pushed forward and out of the process?” (For some reason a bad thing.)
  • “The court taking charge and managing disclosure at a first appointment? Like to see it try. Why are they trying to take away our primary tool: settlement achieved by the rack of pages and pages of questionnaire?” (Often taking so long to answer that it was time to raise another one.)
  • “And what was this about the FDR? When we would have a judge share their view of the answer… it was like peeking at the central cards half-way through a game of Cluedo.”

Any of the elements of the pilot procedure would be a career’s crowning achievement… that they were pulled together in one revolution was extraordinary… that they fitted together in mutual support to create a system (of which I suspect most of us on the outside could not have glimpsed the crescent) was… well… a moment.

Of course by the time that we were ready to acknowledge the gasp-inducing brilliance of the architects’ creation, we were familiar with it and it had become humdrum.

I have so enjoyed the series of notes from Class, featuring those on the inside, who worked away in a different era, with different tools and norms, for our benefit and masterminding this change. It still seems an injustice that we have simply mentally banked the institution that was created for us and now scarcely glimpse up at it, as we introduce each case within its portals. By rights, we should be gazing awe-rapt each morning before moving forward to try to deliver our more pedestrian improvements to the here and now. Anything less dishonours the legacy.

So what is next?