Fam­ily MAT­TERS

AS A BAR­RIS­TER IN THE FAM­ILY TEAM OF ST PHILIPS CHAM­BERS, STEPHEN AB­BER­LEY IS PAR­TIC­U­LARLY IN­TER­ESTED IN HELP­ING THE LGBT COM­MU­NITY

Pride Life Magazine - - SPONSORED FEATURE -

As an out gay man from an or­di­nary back­ground train­ing for a sec­ond ca­reer at the Bar I was more than a bit con­cerned about how I’d fit in with what I imag­ined to be a con­ser­va­tive, old­fash­ioned pro­fes­sion. At Univer­sity in 1998 I came across th­ese words from a judg­ment in a case about a man whose male part­ner had died and who wanted to take over his part­ner’s ten­ancy. The ques­tion was - had they lived to­gether “as hus­band and wife”? This case was de­cided five years be­fore Par­lia­ment had in­tro­duced the Civil Part­ner­ship Act 2004. One judge, Lord Jus­tice Ward said:

“To ex­clude same sex cou­ples from the pro­tec­tion the Rent Act 1977 pro­claims the in­evitable mes­sage that so­ci­ety judges their re­la­tion­ship to be less wor­thy of re­spect, con­cern and con­sid­er­a­tion than the re­la­tion­ship be­tween mem­bers of the op­po­site sex. The fun­da­men­tal hu­man dig­nity of the ho­mo­sex­ual couple is se­verely and pal­pa­bly af­fected by the im­pugned dis­tinc­tion. The dis­tinc­tion is drawn on grounds re­lat­ing to their per­sonal char­ac­ter­is­tics, their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. If the law is that, then it dis­crim­i­nates against a not in­signif­i­cant pro­por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion, who will justly com­plain that they have been de­nied their con­sti­tu­tional right to equal treat­ment un­der the law.”

The bad news was that this judge was over­ruled by the other two judges sit­ting with him in the Court of Ap­peal. The good news is that the case went on to the House of Lords, the then Supreme Court, who agreed with Lord Jus­tice Ward. The truth is, as I dis­cov­ered, lawyers and judges have very of­ten been ahead of the game, ready to take ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to do jus­tice for peo­ple, what­ever their back­ground.

The dis­tinc­tions in law be­tween types of hu­man re­la­tion­ships are thank­fully di­min­ish­ing. When I think back to the world as it was when I was grow­ing up in the 1980s, so­cial at­ti­tudes, for many peo­ple, have changed be­yond recog­ni­tion. Mem­bers of the LGBT com­mu­nity are in­creas­ingly legally en­ti­tled to enjoy a per­sonal, pri­vate and full fam­ily life with the pro­tec­tion of the law. That is not to say there are not still chal­lenges ahead, though, and that is why Pride re­mains as rel­e­vant as it ever was.

Sadly peo­ple from all walks un­dergo pe­ri­ods in life where things don’t go as planned. Re­la­tion­ships break down, and of­ten chil­dren suf­fer in con­se­quence. Peo­ple can go from man­ag­ing fi­nan­cially to hav­ing no money be­cause a re­la­tion­ship has fallen apart. Some­times peo­ple find it a strug­gle to have the fam­ily they yearn for, and the law seems dif­fi­cult to understand and prob­lem­atic.

My mo­ti­va­tion for my work is to help peo­ple, and chil­dren, who find them­selves with prob­lems that have a le­gal as­pect to them, and very of­ten a le­gal so­lu­tion, at first by col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts to re­solve prob­lems, but if that fails by tak­ing mat­ters be­fore the Courts. Two years ago I joined the Fam­ily Team at St Philips be­cause I recog­nised it to be made up of bar­ris­ters with the same de­sire to help and the same drive to achieve jus­tice for their clients.

I am one of a fifty strong team of bar­ris­ters con­cerned with fam­ily and chil­dren cases. We have a track record for help­ing peo­ple through the le­gal sys­tem with em­pa­thy, com­pas­sion and un­der­stand­ing. Many solic­i­tors, from all over the coun­try, come to us to help their LGBT clients. Th­ese days, in some cases, it is pos­si­ble to ac­cess a bar­ris­ter direct and many of our team take direct ac­cess in­struc­tions. We have of­fices in Birm­ing­ham, Leeds and Lon­don, and will travel to see you if you can­not come to us. Con­tact Mark, Ian, Ar­ron, or Ed on + 44( 0) 121 246 1600 Go to: st- philips. com

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