Last weekend, over 220 solicitors, advocates, barristers, sheriffs and judges, all specialising in family law, flocked to the city of Edinburgh for the annual 5 Jurisdictions Family Law Conference. It was an opportunity for attendees to meet, re-connect, network and share knowledge between Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The weekend kicked off with a fabulous drinks reception in the Queen Anne building of Edinburgh Castle. We Scots kept up tradition with a piper on the castle drawbridge to welcome guests who enjoyed a sneak peek at the Crown Jewels (frustratingly we missed the Stone of Destiny by a day!) before being handed a glass of fizz. The Right Honourable Lord Carloway, who was appointed as Lord President of the Court of Session and Lord Justice General of Scotland in 2015, gave the welcome speech.

Cohabitation law

During Saturday's academic programme, Shaun George, Head of the Family Team at Brodies LLP, introduced the keynote speaker, The Honourable Lady Wise. Lady Wise served as one of the two Family Court judges in the Court of Session prior to her appointment to the Inner House (appellate court) in January 2022. During the morning session, attendees heard about cohabitation law from speakers from each jurisdiction.

It was impressive to hear about the reform to the law of cohabitation in Scotland proposed by Kate Dowdalls KC and the Scottish Law Commission. Clarity on this area of law is currently lacking throughout the UK and Ireland. High level, legal discussion then followed on whether to take Beyonce's advice of 'putting a ring on it'! The morning coffee break with some tasty treats, was sponsored by Brodies LLP, and gave a further opportunity for networking.

Pension orders

The afternoon saw discussion turn to the treatment of foreign and intra-UK pension issues and the complexity faced by couples divorcing in one jurisdiction where one or both parties have pension provision abroad. Scottish courts, and more often than not English and Welsh courts, do not have jurisdiction to make a pension sharing order in respect of pensions administered out with the UK. If the reverse is the case, and the couple divorce abroad but the pension is here in Scotland, the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 may provide a remedy.

Social media in family law

The academic programme concluded with an entertaining and thought provoking panel discussion about social media in the realm of family law. The stories exchanged by the advocates and barristers on the panel of their experiences of social media were a mix of humorous and shocking, but it was agreed that social media is here to stay and moving forward, we will need to work out the best way to deal with it.

It is understandable that parties sometimes feel the need to record conversations or child contact handovers (some more covertly than others) in a bid to 'prove' their respective positions, but how are these viewed by the judiciary? It was agreed that often such recordings can reflect negatively on the 'recorder', so their use does require careful thought. The general consensus was that whilst social media can have its use in some cases, it's often safest to give it a wide berth.

Sharing time with our peers

The conference was brought to a close with a fantastic black tie dinner in the beautiful Parliament Hall within the Court of Session. A special place for Scots lawyers and advocates, it was wonderful to show it off to legal friends from further afield. After a delicious three course meal, delegates danced and mingled on the dancefloor until the early hours.

The conference was a great opportunity to learn and network against the backdrop of beautiful historic venues, showcasing the best of Scotland. While the legal knowledge and expertise were of a high level, I can't quite say the same for the ceilidh dancing. 100% must be given for effort but come the end of the evening I found myself participating in the most chaotic 'Strip the Willow' ever seen!

For 2024, the baton passes to Cardiff and I can't wait to see what they'll have in store but in the meantime, I'm very much looking forward to the Brodies LLP Family Law Conference which will be held in our Capital Square, Edinburgh office on 28 September 2023. Further information can be found by clicking here.


Kate Bradbury