Jacqui Gilliatt, family law barrister, specialising in child law
What do you like about your job as a family law barrister?
What’s not to like? Long and anti-social hours. Travelling to lovely places like Dartford. A succession of pay cuts. Dealing with difficult people (and that’s just the Judge!). Welcome to the wonderful world of child law.
You might expect me to say righting wrongs or fighting injustice. But in a nutshell it is making a difference. My clients are facing highly sensitive and challenging situations in which their whole lives are under scrutiny. They are trying to negotiate a complex set of alien rules and expectations. My job is to work alongside them to get the best out of the situation. This does not always mean ‘winning’ in the sense of getting everything they want. But it does mean giving them the confidence to put their best case forward, helping them to find effective arguments and strategies and to understand the context in which their case is being dealt with. I love the process of getting into their world and enabling the dialogue between them and the other participants in the case.
Do you always win your cases?
The short answer is no and I would be suspicious of anyone who says they do. In family law cases we are encouraged not to think of things in terms of winners and losers: the objective is ‘win, win’ and my aim is to get the best possible outcome. Children are at the heart of the family justice system and what they want and need is not always the same as what the social workers and parents want or think they need. I go in looking at plan A, plan B and plan C. If I don’t think you are going to get what you are asking for I will tell you and explain why. I will work with you to find the arguments and practical ways to get the best you can. You might not agree with me. You’re the boss. I will argue for whatever you tell me to. All I ask is that you listen to my advice and think it over before you set me on a path. Once you have decided how you want me to approach it in court I will do everything I can to follow your instructions.
What sorts of cases do you do?
Family law cases, especially those relating to children.
- Children private law cases – where mum, dad or other family members can’t agree about where a child should live, who they should spend time with or how they should be brought up. This includes cases where one parent wants to take a child to live abroad or move the children within the UK (relocation cases), cases where grandparents and other relatives want contact, cases where there has been some social services involvement because of concerns about how a child is brought up, where there are allegations of physical violence or sexual abuse, cases involving children with disabilities, learning difficulties, mental health problems and so on.
- Children public law cases – where social services brings a care case because it is worried about the child. I have a lot of experience dealing with cases involving alleged injuries to children, sexual abuse allegations, addiction issues, mental health problems, domestic violence allegations, children with disabilities, learning difficulties, long-term medical conditions or mental health problems, neglect cases and parents with learning difficulties.
- Other cases include forced marriage, special guardianship applications and child abduction.
The issues I deal with include: child maintenance; child protection; domestic violence; financial remedies; divorce settlements; ancillary relief; care proceedings; parental contact; adoption procedure; child protection; CAFCASS.
What else do you do apart from going to court?
- Train lawyers and social workers in child law
- The Transparency Project
- Write articles and blog posts about child law
- Write a book about child law
- Organise screenings of films of interest to family lawyers
- Edit the Family Law Week blog
- Tweet as @gjacqui
- Blog – now all on this website in the blogs section
- Scoop.it – magazines I curate by collecting up news and stories about family law in 3 categories: Children, Divorce and Legal in General (click through from the home page).
- Paper.li – again, these are curated stories about divorce and general family law – click through from the home page.
How did you get into blogging and web publishing and why do you do it?
Lots of legal bloggers and writers inspired me such as Charon QC. It was John Bolch over on Family Lore who was the pioneer with his family law writing, but he doesn’t cover care cases so much… I was using the internet for research and it just made sense to put online links to what I found helpful and then post things I was writing for court or for training purposes. Other people have helped me by posting and writing handy guides to family law topics – a godsend with a late arriving brief after a hard day at court – so it’s a bit of payback and I hope a contribution for those who can’t easily access material on subscription sites. I also found that most of my clients needed to get up to speed on the family justice system, who’s who and what’s what so I added posts to explain the role of the key players and the language that gets used. Family courts sit in private and I think it is important to let people know how they work, which I hope takes some of the mystery and fear out of going to court.
Now, of course, there are lots of writers and websites about UK family law but many of them are written by people with busy timetables so we do what we can between us.
My current aim is to deal with some of the knotty questions that keep coming up and never quite get answered definitively such as ‘can I use a tape recording of a conversation in evidence?’ and ‘can I decide who will look after my child if I die?”. If you’ve got one of those questions drop me an email.
What’s on the website and how do I find stuff?
There are articles on the articles page grouped by topics. Some of them are going to be of more interest to other lawyers – summaries of the law which the court must
You can use the tag cloud to find materials on particular topics.
There are 4 blogs:
Bloody Relations: aimed at parents and family members – basic help and general advice with explanations about what the law says in plain English.
Family Law Webworld: each post contains links to other useful websites by topic
Paramount Considerations: updating snippets about the law relating to children
The Law Is a Funny Business: law related comedy – at least stuff I find funny! But that does not include the one that says, “What do you call 25 family lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start”…