President's Blog

Posted: 9 Sep 2016 by William Longrigg

My last blog took us up to a day after the UK referendum vote, 24 June. Utter gloom and despondency. But on Saturday 25th June our house in London hosted the joint birthday party of our daughters Olivia and Antonia (23 and 21 respectively) with 130 people carousing until 4am.  It was a great antidote to the Brexit vote.  

On Monday 4 July, I flew to The Hague to have lunch with Philippe Lortie and Christophe Bernasconi, respectively First Secretary and Director General of The Hague Conference (HCCH).   This had been organised by European Chapter Vice President Sandra Verburgt (from The Hague) who also attended the lunch.  I met Sandra at her office and rode to the lunch rendezvous on a wooden bicycle which is made available in her office reception for visitors!   The purpose of this lunch was three-fold:

  • to discuss HCCH’s forthcoming contribution to the New Delhi meeting, to include the pre-meeting Symposium.  
  • to continue the discussions which we had begun at the Amsterdam meeting concerning IAFL’s help with funding and fundraising for HCCH and;
  • to discuss future co-operation and collaboration between IAFL and HCCH.  

This meeting was extremely fruitful. 

  • New Delhi.  The New Delhi meeting comes at an important time for HCCH because there is some significant progress towards India signing up the 1980 Hague Convention.   The Civil Aspects of International of International Aspects of International Child Abduction Bill 2016 has just been introduced in India.    Philippe Lortie will be coming to the New Delhi meeting and using it as an opportunity to meet with the relevant people and bodies in connection with this Bill.   Professor Anselmo Reyes, the HCCH representative for Asia Pacific, will also be in New Delhi and will be involved in those discussions with Philippe.    
  • Fund raising for HCCH.  Funding is a real issue for HCCH.   Suzanne Harris from Los Angeles and Pierre-Hugues Fortin from Montreal had both had discussions with Philippe Lortie about what IAFL can do to help.  HCCH is an exceptionally efficient international organisation which does not waste its scare resources and we are interested in helping them, although we cannot fund them directly as IAFL has insufficient funds.   Chicago fellow Joy Feinberg is assisting Suzanne Harris in making enquiries about HCCH obtaining IRS501(C)(3) status which will take a few months and Suzanne had found a tax attorney prepared to do it on a pro bono  basis.   Suzanne Harris will be taking this matter forward.   In 2018 HCCH will be 125 years old which will be marked by various fund raising efforts. There are people and bodies we have in mind who would be prepared to provide funding for HCCH and we would like to help them in this way. 
  • Future co-operation between IAFL and HCCH.   HCCH has for some time been a great supporter of IAML and IAFL.   We are well represented on its working groups.  We would like to join forces further with training events and other initiatives.   This will extend our influence and help them too.  We will set up a small working group to move this forward.   

Christophe and Philippe have, since that lunch, moved matters forward directly with Suzanne Harris and have done a considerable amount of work in advance of the New Delhi meeting.  Many thanks to them and to Sandra Verburgt for setting up the meeting.

After a useful conference call with I hope about-to-be President Elect Mia Reich-Sjögren on Tuesday 5 July, I spent much of my birthday on 6 July preparing an article for Jordans Family Law Journal on What Brexit Means for Family Law and for Family Lawyers from an IAFL standpoint.

On the morning of 7th July I was able to host a breakfast meeting for specifically invited delegates in London at the conference organised by associate fellow Professor Marilyn Freeman and the International Centre for Family Law, Policy and Practice in association with King’s College London. The conference was ‘Culture, Dispute Resolution, and the Modernised Family’. There were a number of IAFL fellows speaking at it and a lot of distinguished delegates. It was a great opportunity for IAFL and there have already been applications for an invitation to join IAFL as a result. It is an excellent way for us to interact more with academics which has been one of our missions, although the delegates were by no means exclusively academics. 

On the evening of Thursday 7 July, Dorothea and I had dinner with Richard and Margaret Sax.  Richard Sax will be remembered fondly by many of you as a leading light in IAML for many years and was European Chapter president taking us to Venice and Copenhagen.  

Monday 11 July saw me boarding another flight to take the surprisingly short and direct trip to St Johns, Newfoundland for the Canadian Family Law Conference.   I arrived in good time to settle into my hotel room, make my way in the horizontal rain (it was only 7 degrees C (44.6 degrees for some of you)) and attend some of the first day of the conference. I was able to speak from the platform and say a few words to the audience of family lawyers about IAFL.

This was a conference of about 400 Canadian family lawyers which is held every two years.   I was really impressed by the people that I met and by the quality of the education programme too.

Karon Bales from Toronto, Trudi Brown from British Colombia, Sarah Boulby from Toronto and Esther Lenkinski from Toronto were great at introducing me to people.  Best of all, they had set up a reception where I was able to meet a lot of potential IAFL fellows.   It was a big success.  It was on the day I arrived and more than 30 people attended.  I was really impressed by them.   I gave a 10 minute talk to everybody about what a wonderful organisation IAFL is and it was interesting that a lot of them knew very little about it so I felt that my trip had been truly worthwhile.  Many thanks to all the Canadian IAFL fellows who supported me and IAFL and indeed joined with me in singing the Academy’s praises.   After the reception we had a marvellous dinner where I was able to sample the local delicacies including fried pig’s ear and fried cod tongue at Chinched Bistro.  Wonderful!

Over the next couple of days I was able to meet even more people, I took a great trip with Sarah Boulby and her husband to the most easterly point of North America and thoroughly enjoyed the main dinner on the evening of Wednesday 13 July just before I boarded my midnight flight back to London.    The only other Brit there was Anne-Marie Hutchinson’s colleague Shabina Saleem who was speaking on forced marriage.   St John’s is a really interesting place and, when I could actually see it after the fog lifted and the weather improved, very attractive and in a fabulous geographical position.  The whole thing was quite an experience and I am immensely grateful to Karon Bales, Trudi Brown and Sarah Boulby in particular for arranging for IAFL to have such a presence there and for looking after me so well.   Thank you.

Straight back into the office on the morning of Thursday 14 and home that evening to welcome the US IAFL student prize winner Michelle Reyes who was spending 10 days with us at home in London before going up north to stay with David Salter.  As I already had an intern in the office during that week, Simon Bruce had kindly agreed that Michelle should intern his office during that period.  

Michelle had arrived the previous day and had been looked after by Dorothea, Olivia and Antonia but it was great to get to know her over the following week and a half and she was a joy to have staying with us.   She had come thoroughly recommended as one of the students at her law school showing a particular aptitude for international family law.   She was the first US Chapter intern to be placed and Dorothea and I were delighted to host her.  She studies at the Maurice Deane School of Law in New York State and is slightly older than some law students at 32 and in fact she has an 11 year old son who was with his father in Florida while she was over.   We had a lot of fun with her and we spent of the most the weekend with her taking her out to see the Georgia O’Keefe Exhibition at Tate Modern on Friday evening, followed by dinner in Gabriel’s Wharf and a lot of walking!  I gave her my special tour of London on the Sunday and we spent a lot of time doing ‘London’ things like going out in Covent Garden and the West End on Saturday evening which is really lively.   She was clearly really enjoying her time working with Simon Bruce in his office although Simon and I were locking horns over a difficult case with each other at the time which must have made it odd for her. 

Michelle came to my office to have lunch with a number of associates in my own department and was able to spend time with the associates in Simon’s firm too.  On Wednesday 20 July we took her to see The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre en famille and had a picnic on the banks of the Thames beforehand. It was a lovely evening and the production was excellent.   On Michelle’s last night we took her to our favourite Thai restaurant (she confessed that Thai was her favourite food) with the whole family and Olivia and Antonia’s boyfriends too.   It was sad to drive her to King’s Cross Station on the morning of Saturday 23 (we were about to go on holiday) but I knew that she would have a great time with David Salter and then enjoy her last night in the UK with Simon Bruce and his family in a week’s time.

I do recommend to fellows from around the world to volunteer to look after students chosen for these international internships.   It is a great experience.  Michelle was very engaging, very appreciative and really interested in everything that we had to show her. Individuals in the US have been so willing to open their homes and offices to students from overseas.  Outside the US it has been more difficult to find hosts, with a few notable exceptions.   Joy Feinberg is in charge of the international studentship schemes.   We are in the process of setting up a new scheme with a university in New Delhi so that there will be deserving Indian students looking for host families and internships with IAFL fellows from other countries which IAFL will be funding.   I feel passionately that this is a great thing for us to do and I am proud that this new scheme is being launched in New Delhi. 

While Michelle was still with us, on 18 July I attended the launch of the new arbitration scheme for dealing with children matters in England and Wales.   Suzanne Kingston who has done so much for IAFL recently, is heavily involved with the training for this.   I also saw Maggie Rae at the event and a number of other IAFL fellows.

The following day, Tuesday 19 July was the meeting of the International Committee of the High Court of England and Wales.   Despite it being a very hot day, it was extremely well attended.   As can be expected, the main discussion concentrated around the result of the Brexit referendum and what we were going to be recommending to the Government in the context of European instruments, some of which needed to be addressed urgently.  For example, Brussels II is currently being recast.  Should we be part of these discussions even though we have committed to leaving the EU which means that we will no longer be subject to these instruments?  It is clear to me that we have to continue to be as involved as possible until we actually leave as we may otherwise find ourselves in limbo.   As a result of this meeting, a Brexit action group has been set up together with a group specifically dealing with the urgent question of representations in respect of the Brussels II recasting.   Many thanks to Rachael Kelsey, Suzanne Kingston, Daniel Eames, Tim Scott QC, Tim Amos QC and others and in particular to Sandra Verburgt for spearheading this as overall Hague chair.  

Monday 25 July was my last day in the office before my holiday and a great deal had to be done in respect of India not to mention a settlement meeting in a case with IAFL fellow Julian Lipson which took up the rest of the day!

Away then to the Black Forest for a few days and for a wedding and then a drive down to a wonderful villa in Tuscany where 14 of us enjoyed alfresco dinners, a lot of swimming and visits to Siena, Florence and Arezzo.   Back via Lake Como and the Black Forest again and into the office on 10 August.   On 11 August I had a pre-arranged lunch with Nigel Shepherd.  He is the Chair of the English Family Law Solicitors’ Group, Resolution, which has over 6,000 members.   He and I wanted to discuss where we could work together in future.   We spoke in particular about Brexit and the Brexit action group and putting on a joint event in a few months’ time in London to deal with what we had learned and what our recommendations would be.   We agreed that this should be done in conjunction with the Family Law Bar Association and with the Scottish equivalents.   This could be principally organised by Resolution as they have far more resources than IAFL as a very large and well run organisation.  

The preparations for New Delhi have been taking an enormous amount of Donna’s time.   Sarah Lenoir is going from strength to strength after her stroke and sent a lovely card to me thanking IAFL for all our support.   She has even been doing some work and sending some emails.  My long-suffering PA Joanna has also been working  all hours for Delhi, as has her husband John. I will not miss this part of the job and I feel I am now almost qualified to moonlight as a travel agent and conference organiser….

I am very pleased with the registrations for New Delhi and we have nearly 170 people coming which is a very high number for a far-flung destination.

I am delighted that the New Delhi education programme is coming together so well under the guidance of Maggie Rae, Suzanne Kingston and Maggie’s law partner Paul Newton. So many people wish to speak in Delhi that we have a positive embarras de richesses!

Many thanks to the help on the ground from our Indian fellows Pinky Anand, Ranjit Malhotra and Anil Malhotra who have provided amazing support throughout the planning process for the New Delhi meeting.

Pinky Anand has introduced me to a lawyer involved in a number of gay rights issues in India who has agreed to give the Audrey Ducroux lecture open to all on the Saturday morning of the meeting. I particularly wanted to address this issue in India and I am delighted that he is willing to do this for us. The title of his talk will be ‘Gay Rights – are Societal Values Really Divergent from Constitutional Morality?’

I have had a number of calls and meetings with Nancy Berg, Mia Reich-Sjögren, Rachael Kelsey and others trying to bring together as many threads as possible before handing over my presidency to Nancy Zalusky Berg in New Delhi.  Donna has been struggling with the workload without Sarah Lenoir to help her but somehow she has actually managed to get it all done and has been a superb support throughout. I really do not know how she does it. One thing is for sure: we are very lucky to have her but she is seriously going to need more help in the future. The IAFL has changed not quite beyond all recognition but very considerably over the past few years and  we are dumping more and more on Donna as a result.

I have prepared an extensive report to cover the activities over the last year and to set out in more general terms what has happened over the past 2 years. This will be found with the papers for the AGM in New Delhi which is available hereon the website. I am surprised at how much has actually happened….

I will have mixed feelings about my presidency coming to an end.  On the one hand, I will have much more time to deal with my client work; my associates, according to my partners, are finding it quite tough apparently although they seem to me to have coped admirably.   But that is about the only advantage because actually I will miss it tremendously.  I say I will miss it, but Nancy wants me to be the “small meetings tsar” and there is still a lot to do with the committees and indeed with social media and the new website and I am hoping that I will be carrying on much of the work that I have been doing. I will be at the Madrid European Family Law meeting in November (following hard on the heels of one of my favourite events, the annual AAML meeting in Chicago). We will be running the Introduction to International Family Law for Young Lawyers in April 2017 in New York and hope to hold another in San Francisco later next year. I will be heavily involved with these and look forward to them. It has been a huge privilege (I realise this is a cliché but sometimes only a cliché will do) and I look forward to being closely involved with IAFL for very many years to come.

In my report I thank at least some of the people who really stand out as having been of huge support to me. The whole of the IAFL executive committee has been amazing. In particular I have worked very closely with Rachael Kelsey who has accompanied me (or I have accompanied her) to many far-flung places and she has worked with me on a lot of strategic thinking; we have met up most weeks for 2 years. Cheryl Hepfer, Tom Sasser and Nancy Zalusky Berg and of course Mia Reich-Sjogren have been massively supportive too. My partners – and associates - at Charles Russell Speechlys have been brilliant about my absences and all the IAFL work done from the office, not to mention quite a bit of funding. Joanna and Donna – what can I say? Nothing would have been possible without them. Many of you I will thank in person in New Delhi.

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