Butterworths Family Law Service: then and now

Butterworths Family Law Service: then and now

As Butterworths Family Law Service publishes its 200th issue, founding editor Martin Parry reflects on the development of the service, changes to family law since its first publication in 1983, and the work of those involved in the publication of this encyclopedic work during its thirty-three-year history.

At 6-8pm on Tuesday 12 July 1983, Butterworths Family Law Service (BFLS), ‘a major looseleaf textbook’, was born/launched at Manchester University, with PM ‘Peter’ Bromley, barrister and professor of law, as the founding general editor. Peter, the father of the work, in conjunction with Butterworths, had chosen a predominantly ‘Northern’ editorship team of seven founding editors, from both practice and academia. Two from Hull University, professor of law, HK ‘Hugh’ Bevan, JP, barrister and ML ‘Martin’ Parry, solicitor and lecturer in law, together with WF ‘Frank’ Fish, a solicitor in private practice in Manchester, CG ‘Caroline’ Harmer, barrister and principal lecturer at the (then) College of Law, His Honour Judge R ‘Reg’ Lockett (senior circuit judge in Preston, one of the first full-time solicitor judges), CM ‘Tina’ Lyon, solicitor and lecturer in law, Manchester University  and Mr Registrar WK ‘Ken’ Wills, of the North Eastern Circuit. This ‘founding seven’ have, with one exception, now been succeeded by the current nineteen editors, all specialists and leaders in their family law fields, including seven QCs (one on the circuit bench), two of whom took silk earlier this year.

Many of the current nineteen, and others before them, have been long serving editors, who have, from the start of BFLS, always included in their number at least one circuit judge. Appropriately, the venue for the BFLS 25th Anniversary lecture, The Family Courts of the Future, given in June 2008 by the Honourable Mr Justice Ryder (as he then was), and attended by guest of honour, Emeritus Professor Peter Bromley, was Manchester University.

From small beginnings…

The original 1983 BFLS filled just two binders (see also the BFLS original promotional materials). Binder 1 contained all of the narrative content in six divisions entitled:

A Pre-action matters and emergency steps

B Domestic Violence

C Institution of proceedings

D Property and financial provision

E Children, and

F Costs

Binder 2 contained four divisions devoted to statutes, statutory instruments, practice directions and circulars and precedents. As Professor Bromley said in the original preface dated May 1983, the service aimed:

‘…to provide an up-to-date exposition of the more important practical aspects of family law. In selecting the areas to which we have paid most attention we have in mind especially the “High Street” solicitor. We should welcome the views of subscribers on the areas which they would like to see included.’

Behind the scenes

Subscribers to BFLS soon expanded beyond the category originally envisaged, to include, particularly, the specialist family practitioner, whether solicitor, at the Bar, or judiciary, as reflected by the appointment of the Honourable Mrs Justice Bracewell, as the first consulting editor with specific initial responsibility to oversee the expansion of the children division, following implementation of the Children Act 1989. She was succeeded as consulting editor by the Honourable Mr Justice Sumner, and most recently the third holder, the Honourable Mr Justice Moor.

Similar long service has been given by the general editors, with the appointment, on Peter Bromley’s retirement in 1996, of the first two joint general editors, Professor Jonathan Montgomery, then of Southampton University (who was the BFLS monthly bulletin editor), and Richard Sax of Manches. On Richard’s retirement in 2009, he was succeeded by Grant Howell of Charles Russell Speechlys, as current joint general editor with Jonathan. Grant is also an author editor in current Binders 1 and 5.

The expansion of BFLS merited the appointment of Geraldine Morris, solicitor, as technical and monthly bulletin editor in 2006, uniquely based in-house, whose role developed over the following ten years. Until very recently, she supported the editorial department, publishing editors and managing editors. Geraldine continues on the current Binder 1 author editor team and so maintains her link with BFLS.

Changing times

The changes in, and expansion of, family law during this thirty-three-year period have been immense, reflecting the social changes and the constant reform of the legal regulation of family relationships, their creation and consequences, with the notable exception of the long awaited reform of divorce law. These changes, and growth in law and practice, have been mirrored throughout  BFLS, which in the intervening period has grown to ten volumes (including two on property, money and tax and three on children) and has now become an established electronic reference work, as much as the original looseleaf textbook.

The intervening statutory reforms have been numerous, starting from the very first year of the service, with then four annual updating issues, which have since increased to seven. In the early days, Issue 2 analysed the Matrimonial Homes Act 1983, followed in succeeding issues by, in particular, an analysis of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984, Child Abduction and Custody Act 1985, Family Law Act 1986, Family Law Reform Act 1987 and of course the Children Act 1989. The 1989 Act meant that the children division could no longer cover just the private law relating to children. The resulting, and continuing, expansion has seen the original Division E: Children (which contained just five chapters authored by two editors) grow into the current 51 chapters, which are currently authored by five editors, including three of the Service’s editor QCs. Binder 3 was part of the major restructuring of the entire Service, undertaken, following peer review and subscriber feedback, from Issue 85 in June 1998 to Issue 100 in November 2000 and beyond. Published alongside Binder 3: Children were the subject specific binders:

Binder 1: Relationships and their Breakdown

Binder 2: Family Courts: Jurisdiction & Procedure

Binder 4: Property, Money & Tax

Binder 5: International, and

Binder 6: Welfare Benefits.

Statutory Reform continued throughout the 1990s with, for example, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, Child Support Act 1991, Family Law Act 1996, Protection from Harassment Act 1997, Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999 and, especially, the Human Rights Act 1998, evidencing the increasing Europeanisation of Family Law. This has seen the expansion of the renamed Binder 5: Human Rights and International, which is now authored by six specialist editors, including three of the Service’s editor QCs.

Similarly, throughout the new Millennium, legislative reform, both primary and secondary (including associated practice directions and guidance) has continued relentlessly, for example the Adoption and Children Act 2002, Tax Credits Act 2002, Children Act 2004, Civil Partnership Act 2004, Gender Recognition Act 2004, Mental Capacity Act 2005, Income Tax Act 2007, Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, as well as various Pension Acts and annual Finance Acts, to name but some!

Case law has similarly burgeoned immensely, particularly with the rapid availability of online case reports and the move to greater transparency in the family justice system, which has resulted in the reporting of many cases which are fact specific and of limited, if any, precedent value. How different things were in October 1983 with Issue 1, which focused on the House of Lords decision in Richards v Richards. That was in the days before specialist family court/law reports, and the subsequent reporting of thousands of cases at all levels, most often on law and practice relating to children, money, property, jurisdictional and transnational matters, too numerous to more than allude to. New areas have developed and chapters included in BFLS on, for example, the interface between family law and immigration law, the media and family proceedings, litigants in person and, of course, alternative dispute resolution. The latter was reflected by the publication as part of Issue 180 in 2013 of a new Binder 6: Alternative Dispute Resolution, including Islamic and Jewish ADR, which focuses upon the interface between ADR and court-based procedures.

The unsung heroines

Behind every (and all) successful editor/s and Issues has been a succession of very well qualified, highly supportive, helpful and at times rescuing, BFLS ‘Issue Editors’, whose formal recognition is always tucked away in the Service’s preliminary small print. During the current century, this vital role has been primarily performed by two stalwarts, who will remain nameless. In keeping with true unsung fashion, and the 1983 publisher’s emphasis on initials rather than forenames, the first is identified only as ‘M’, who kept the ever growing ‘show on the road’ for 11 years, beginning with the transformation of the Service into the above mentioned subject specific binders, until, consistent with the Europeanisation of family law, she moved to France! ‘M’ was succeeded by the equally supportive and vital ‘C’, whose baptism of fire was the all embracing Family Procedure Rules 2010, which impacted throughout the Service, along with everything that followed, therewith and thereafter, with the move to the long awaited Family Court by the Crime and Courts Act 2013, closely followed by the statutory amendments in the Children and Families Act 2014.

What lies ahead?

BFLS covers the law in England and Wales, so Welsh devolution is having, and will continue to have, an increasing impact, as evidenced by the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 and most recently the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016. On that transnational note, I finish with the question:  what will the next 200 issues bring to, for and from BFLS?

Martin Parry, solicitor, is the remaining serving founding editor of Butterworths Family Law Service, and an emeritus reader in law at the University of Hull, and is pictured below at the BFLS editorial board lunch in 2014 to celebrate the contribution of retiring founding editor Professor Hugh Bevan.

[gallery size="full" ids="6387"]

(l-r) Jane Bevan; founding editor, Professor Hugh Bevan; founding editor, Martin Parry;  general editor, Professor Jonathan Montgomery.


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