Lawyers Only Add to the Misery of Divorce Says Judge

Daily Mail (London), November 10, 2004 | Go to article overview

Lawyers Only Add to the Misery of Divorce Says Judge


Byline: STEVE DOUGHTY

A SENIOR judge has blamed lawyers for adding to the misery of families caught up in divorce and disputes over children.

Mr Justice Munby, one of the most respected family judges, said they often made cases more difficult rather than easier to solve.

He told MPs that judges settle the arguments in broken families more quickly and simply when there are no legal representatives involved.

The attack is the latest in a string of criticisms of the behaviour of lawyers representing divorced and separated couples, including those wrangling over child custody and visiting rights.

They have been accused of encouraging couples to fight unnecessarily over money, property and custody of children, and to engage in prolonged legal battles that can last years and generate huge fees.

The price is paid by couples, who can lose many of their possessions, and by taxpayers, who last year handed over nearly half a billion pounds in legal aid to lawyers in family cases.

Judge Munby told the Commons Constitutional Affairs Committee that he found it easier to settle family cases when solicitors were not involved and when the couple appeared in person. 'What you are getting is the facts as they see it without the assistance, and some people might put the word in inverted commas, of lawyers,' he said.

The judge called for more mediation, a process by which a couple work out how to divide their property and look after their children without conflict led by lawyers.

He won support from the senior family judge, President of the Family Division Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, who said there should be greater mediation in divorce cases before lawyers become involved.

Judges have been giving evidence to MPs following a series of high-profile divorce cases which have illustrated the impact of lawyers on families.

One case dubbed The War of the Roses was settled in the High Court in June after six years which saw the couple involved hand over around half of their assets to their lawyers.

The case, named after the 1989 film in which a couple played by Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner lose everything in a bitter divorce, involved the breakup of a professional man from Derby and his wife.

The couple, who have a son, paid [pounds sterling]570,000 in legal bills and their judge, Mrs Justice Baron, described the lawyers' fees as 'shockingly disproportionate'.

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