The Bar Council has produced a report on the impact that Brexit would have on legal services. The conclusion is that it would be disproportionately harmful, particularly for clients. With regards to family law, I whole heartedly agree with the findings of the report that the impending legal confusion caused by a withdrawal from the EU is deeply concerning. The family courts are already at breaking point and with plans in the pipeline to radicalise the family court (as announced by the President of the Family Division earlier this year) will the courts be able to cope with even more demands being placed upon them? Furthermore, whilst focus is maintained in plugging the legislative gaps left by Brexit, will the much needed reforms to basic principles of family law (such as no fault divorce and the rights of cohabitants), be yet again swept to one side?
The report says that EU measures have had a significant beneficial impact on family law, an impact which is still growing. These include having uniform jurisdictional rules for divorce proceedings through Brussels IIa and maintenance proceedings through the Maintenance Regulation. It said that although neither measure is perfect, ‘a major change or even withdrawal from these EU instruments would, in our view, bring disruption and confusion’. The report continued: ‘It would be particularly difficult for the English family courts to cope with, at a time when (a) legal aid has been greatly reduced in this field and many more litigants are not legally represented; and (b) the family courts are undergoing and/or adjusting to major structural changes.’