President Christina Blacklaws speech at the swearing in ceremony of the president of the Family Division

Christina Blacklaws welcomes the new President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane.

Introduction

My lords, Chief Justice, ladies and gentlemen.

As President of the Law Society of England and Wales, I welcome my Lord as President of the Family Division. The solicitors’ profession looks forward to working with you.

And, indeed, it is great personal pleasure to speak today as I am proud to say I have known my Lord for over 20 years:

  • first as a colleague- when he was a barrister and I was a family solicitor when I (and every other sensible child care lawyer) used to instruct him;
  • then as an advocate – when I appeared in court before him;
  • later when I chaired the Family Law Committee and we were both involved in the Norgrove review amongst many others;
  • And, now as a humble speaker, as he is sworn in as one of the most senior leaders of the judiciary.

But always, as a much-respected colleague and a dear friend.

Intrinsic values

My Lord recently received an outstanding achievement honour, awarded by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group.

At the awards ceremony it was acknowledged that family judges face very difficult decisions which have a profound impact on the lives of some of our most vulnerable children and their families.

However, despite the challenging circumstances and often heart-breaking outcomes for some of those involved, we can all take comfort in having judges like my Lord deciding their cases, judges who bring humanity, compassion, and common sense to the bench.

Indeed, these intrinsic values of the legal profession are embodied in my Lord, along with his determination to dispense justice fairly and efficiently.

Campaigner at heart

When my Lord was a young barrister handling one of his first cases in Nottingham he had a defining moment when he saw, first hand, the full impact of the state’s ability at that time to remove children from their families without notice or court process.

From that point onwards, my Lord understood his true calling: to become a family practitioner, specialising in public law children’s cases and with a profound drive and determination to improve the justice system by effecting positive change.

He has done so in three ways:

Firstly – as an author. As the Lord Chief mentioned he is the co-author of the children law practitioners’ bible. As a young lawyer when the book was first published, I can attest to its influence and importance in providing us with wisdom and guidance. We were all better practitioners as a result and that will have made a major difference to those we were helping.

Secondly – as a thought leader. In his speeches throughout his career, my Lord has relentlessly and persuasively made the case for a well-funded justice system and has often asked complex and important legal question which signal legislative answers or culture shifts. Always a defender of the vulnerable and disempowered, my Lord recently highlighted the importance of legal aid lawyers in helping people to assert their rights.

He stated ‘It’s all very well that we live in a country that has developed a sophisticated idea of human rights. But those rights are no good to anybody unless the person has access to them.’ He added that lawyers are the key and without lawyers ‘access to rights is really an empty phrase’.

And thirdly – as a mentor and a role model. My Lord has always been a great champion of all that is right, just and fair. A man of tremendous humility, my Lord has consistently been supportive, kind and generous with his time to all those within the family justice system.

Indeed, when I asked colleagues how they would describe my Lord, I was overwhelmed by the genuine warmth and affection and enormous respect that all those who have had contact with my Lord feel towards him.

Here are just a few of the comments:

‘An intellectual titan and a thoroughly decent man’.

‘He’s far more interesting than any other lawyer I know’; and this practitioner also went on to say that she has to keep reminding herself that he is the President ‘because he is such a diehard normal person!’

I will stop and spare my Lord’s blushes but one final anecdote, if I may. It is a well-known fact that my Lord is an avid theatre enthusiast. He was spotted in the summer at the Almeida seeing their amazing production of the Oresteia, but he left at the interval. Not because he wasn’t enjoying the play, quite to the contrary but because he had a judgment to finalise – duty called, and my Lord has always answered.

Indeed, this is the measure of my Lord. Fair and generous, consistent and dutiful, humble and humane.

My Lord – you are a true inspiration to us all.

President of the Family Division, once again may I welcome you to your new role.

The solicitors’ profession is simply delighted with your appointment.