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