Family law committee posts plans for practice accreditation

THE COUNTRY'S 20,000 solicitors who practise family law could be consulted as to whether they should be governed by an accreditation scheme.

As part of her latest drive to introduce accreditation, Hilary Siddle, chair of the Law Society's family law committee, has suggested that a questionnaire should be sent out to all family lawyers.

Siddle, who has been involved in the accreditation issue for about 18 months, said: “On the general issue of accreditation I gather from my post bag that most family lawyers are in favour of it.

“At what level this accreditation is fixed is still a matter for discussion.”

Siddle, a partner at Lancaster-based Holden & Wilson, told the last Law Society Council meeting that not enough was being done to address the issue of accreditation.

A consultation exercise on the subject has been held until the next meeting so the training committee can consider any concerns about its recommendations.

“The issue needs to get into the public arena as quickly as possible so the profession can air its views,” said Siddle.

The Solicitors Family Law Association regards accreditation as an essential part of family law practice.

David Hodson, of the Family Law Consortium and a member of the SFLA's committee on accreditation, said: “The public needs to know where the best advice comes from. If family law is not practised properly a great deal of distress can be caused.

“Accreditation would fit in with the general philosophy of the Divorce Reform Bill.”

Details of how accreditation would be carried out are yet to be decided. Hodson suggests a panel decision based on results from written tests, interviews, experience and attendance of courses.

But Family Law committee member Peter Watson-Lee, a partner at Dorset firm Williams Thompson, said: “I have great reservations about subjective panel accreditation. I am particularly concerned that the Law Society Training Committee would relate it to practice management standards which have nothing to do with expertise.

“Accreditation would disadvantage firms in rural areas such as Dorset where practices are broad based and do not have the chance to build up high levels of case history.”