Badly Behaved Barrister

NB Update here 

Initially I read the article in Today’s Observer about Bruce Hyman with little more than a prurient interest in trying to work out if I knew him (the bar is a small world, but in fact I don’t know him). But in fact, it’s a lot more serious and concerning than the headline suggested.

Bruce Hyman was apparently called to the Bar a few years ago, no more, having previously been involved in radio and TV. He has just pleaded guilty to attempting to falsely incriminate the father of a child who was subject to family court proceedings, when he was representing the mother of that child.

So what did Bruce Hyman do? He was defending an application for contact. Apparently taking the view that his actions were a legitimate part of his role in ‘fearlessly defending’ his client, he sent an email to the Father (which he thought wrongly was untraceable) attaching a bogus court judgment which appeared to support the Father’s case, attaching the Families Need Father’s logo. When the Father attempted to rely on this judgment in court Mr Hyman attacked him for submitting a faked judgment to the court. The Father was charged with perverting the course of justice. The charges were only dropped when the Father (off his own back and shamefully with little assistance from the police) traced the email and obtained CCTV footage showing Mr Hyman sending it from a shop on Tottenham Court Road.

Now, I will go a long way for my clients, but there is a line. And that is way way beyond the pale. What was he thinking? Why did Mark Hyman think his duty to the client extended this far? What led him to lose his sense of perspective on this? Inevitably some cases inspire you to battle hard for a client than others do but two of the key features of the job are that: no matter how much you want to succeed (either for yourself or the client) you have to work with the material you have and the facts as they exist, and that at the end of the day the responsibility for deciding what the ‘right’ outcome is the Judge’s not yours. In family law in particular it is that independence and that distance from the ultimate responsibility that enables you to keep your sanity, and often to see the woods for the trees and do the best for your client in an objective way. Mark Hyman evidently lost sight of what his role really was. The Observer article suggests he collected the client’s child from school at least once. Perhaps he was involved in something more than a professional relationship with the mother, who knows? Whatever the answer his behaviour is shocking.

Thankfully, Bruce Hyman is not a family specialist. But he is still a barrister and it brings the bar in general into disrepute to think our colleagues are prepared to behave in this way. I’ve seen litigants in person or parties faking evidence, I’ve heard of some fairly dubious practice on the part of one or two solicitors or paralegals, and I’ve seen some sharp practice from barristers – but nothing on the scale of dastardliness that this behaviour amounts to.

And (predictably – rightly? perhaps) it seems the behaviour of one rogue barrister will now be used against the bar and the family courts system in general. The father is reported to be disillusioned with the family courts system. No surpise there. That may be partially because he has still not achieved the results he wants from his court case (which may or may not be for good reason). But he is reported to have said that ‘parties and their lawyers too often seem to have the smearing of their opponents at the top of their agendas’. I don’t accept that. I agree that often parties are too focused on smearing or scoring points off the other party, but part of the job that family lawyers do pretty well on the whole is trying to defuse those grudge matches, and to get the parties to focus on the real issues, the children’s needs.

Families Need Fathers are quoted as saying that ‘there are low-level acts of bullying by the lawyers in the corridors that go on all the time but none of it gets reported’. Again, I don’t practice like that and, thankfully, I rarely see other barristers behaving in that way. It does happen, but more often than not aggression at court is the result of a barrister who is not sure of him/herself trying to overcompensate and/ or inexperience in family proceedings where a non-family lawyer thinks mistakenly that he will gain his client an advantage by behaving the same way he would do in a commercial case. If all my client’s had their way I’d be stomping off down the corridors of the court to threaten and bully my opponents every day, but the trick is to make your client understand this is not the most effective way of handling matters. Firmness is called for but not bullying. Bullying almost always backfires and most good lawyers know it is a sign of weakness.

If there is any bullying in court I would suggest it more often takes place between a barrister and her client rather than between opponents, when a barrister is trying desperately to convince her client to agree to a sensible proposal from the other side. Its part of our job to put appropriate pressure on a client to achieve a proper settlement and to advise a client in strong terms, but we have always to be conscious not to take this too far so that it becomes oppressive. Lord Justice Wall was concerned about this in his Report on Child Homicides where he was given anecdotal evidence of the victims of domestic violence or abuse (mostly women) being pressured by their lawyers into agreements about contact that they did not believe were safe. Again, I don’t think this happens very often but it does demonstrate that barristers will strenuously try to achieve a good result for both parties and the child, and that they do not simply act on their clients instructions without counselling a constructive approach to litigation.

So I say to anyone who suggests otherwise that this case is not an example of any wider practice and it does not prove anything about the ‘secret family justice system’. It is an aberration. Bruce Hyman was wrong and an idiot, and I can’t imagine any lawyer with half a brain who would suggest otherwise. Please DON’T use him as a stick to beat us with.

34 thoughts on “Badly Behaved Barrister

  1. “I will go a long way for my clients, but there is a line.”

    So just how far will you go, and where do you draw the line? Give us some examples, please.

    “I’ve seen some sharp practice from barristers”

    Intriguing. Might you be more specific?

    “Please DON’T use him as a stick to beat us with.”

    I don’t need to – while I can’t disguise my glee over the unmasking of Bruce Hyman, I can give enough examples from my own experience in the family courts. But more of that later, perhaps.

  2. you’re not drawing me…suffice to say all of the above are a long long LONG way from Bruce Hyman…

  3. Why so coy, Lucy? It’s not as if I’m asking you to name names.

  4. I’m not being coy, but I wrote a post about serious misconduct and I have neither been responsible for nor personally witness to serious misconduct on the part of another barrister.

    When I talk about sharp practice I mean minor breaches of a code of etiquette between lawyers. I don’t recognise Bruce Hyman’s conduct as representative of a pattern of misconduct that takes place either between representatives or against litigants in person. As you no doubt know barristers have a particular duty of fairness towards litigants in person which all those I have encountered take pretty seriously.

    I don’t have any experience or material that would go any distance towards demonstrating a pattern of unfair or inappropriate conduct by barristers practising in family law. So I think you’re barking up the wrong tree.

  5. I think Blog asks a legitimate question. For many of us, family lawyers have by definition already crossed a line we ourselves would rather remain behind. There are exceptions, such as Philip Walling and Celia Conrad, who are prepared to admit that the system stinks, and more importantly are prepared to stand up and say so.
    What distinguishes Hyman, surely, is that he was caught. Probably because he was new to the game. I find it hard to believe he is the first barrister to behave like this, and I know of a CAFCASS FCA who did almost exactly the same thing. I only know about it because, like Hyman, he got caught.

  6. I will go as far as is appropriate for a client bearing in my professional code of conduct. If the question is whether I would transgress the code of professional conduct for the sake of advantaging myself or a client, the answer is no.

    Again, if I’m being asked to divulge information of misconduct or illegality I can’t help, because I’ve never been privy / witness to it when dealing with qualified legal reps.

    I don’t see what else I can say. Misconduct obviously happens in every profession, but I think its pretty rare. I haven’t experienced the kind of behaviour that you and blog4justice have apparently had or have been told about and I therefore can’t report them to you. I’m not holding back, I’m afraid I don’t have the answers you want.

  7. familoo, You’re being picked on, because Hyman maliciously attempted to frame an opponent, and your response: “Now, I will go a long way for my clients, but there is a line.” is one of the weakest condemnations imaginable. Not only does Hyman’s act violate a ‘professional code of conduct’, it’s also highly illegal.

    You would have been better saying ‘I will go a long way for my clients, but I would never consider perverting the course of justice, or breaking the law for them,’. Your weak statement leaves you open to questions of how far you will go. Will you do distasteful, but morally acceptable and legal things? How about morally repugnant, but legal? How about morally repugnant, but illegal?

    Frankly, the average person’s opinion of lawyers is now so low that it is generally believed that many lawyers will do morally repugnant and illegal things, because they know how to work the system, lack morals, and generally profit from misery.

    So please, stand up for your profession by using words that mean something, instead of weak sounding waffle about ‘codes of conduct’.

  8. you take that out of context. I followed that remark with the comment that Mr Hyman’s conduct was way beyond the pale. Which it was. And I would have thought that it did not need repeating that it was also highly illegal (since I started the post with a reference to the guilty plea).

    We clearly approach the matter from different starting points- you from the starting point that all lawyers are crooks, and me from the starting point that they are not.

    The purpose of the blog post was to highlight how repugnant the behaviour of Mr Hyman was and to express the view that it is very unrepresentative behaviour. I don’t know why people are intent on interpreting the post as if it contains some kind of suggestion that I’m happy acting illegally or immorally. I’m not. And I don’t.

    If you read the professional code of conduct (http://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/standardsandguidance/codeofconduct/)(our code of ethics) you’ll find its pretty strict and if everybody stuck to it there would be no problem – and no illegality.

    Weak guff? I don’t think so.

  9. Most fathers and many mothers and plenty of children, are completely disillusioned with family law. After all its clearly practised by the vast majority within, as simply –
    ‘mother the main carer, father the walking wallet and can be a carer for short periods if mother says its OK. If mother is totally unfit, in fact a clear and present danger to the children then father may if he is lucky after a long battle become the main carer – Whatever the circumstances within the relationship previously even when father was the primary carer and mother the earner.’

    I love the way ‘familoo’ casts some doubt on the father’s character in this case, while not mentioning that the mother although not charged, was probably well aware of what was going on and in cahoots with her barrister close friend of the family. Or is it because she is a mother, she could never sink so low but a father who was the victim in this case might be unworthy.

    Then we get the unbelievable statement that lawyers primary agenda is ‘not’ to smear the other side. Anyone who has any experience of family law and is even a little objective will know this is a nonsense statement generally.

    I have certainly seen barristers bullying opposing LIPs, including even following them outside to harass them and certainly not being at all fair, as required.

    This is the first saint (sorry barrister) ever to be convicted and possibly sent to jail for perverting the course of justice. How on earth is that possible?

    Why did it take a Shared Parenting group to expose this behaviour? Where were the controls within the system to expose this behaviour? How many other users of the system are subjected to similar treatment by bullying and law breaking lawyers?

    We will never know because the secrecy ensures that sharp practise, inept and corrupt practise by lawyers is almost impossible to bring to book, as they police their own and look after their own in secrecy.

    This first saint (sorry barrister) ever to be convicted of this particular crime is an aberration we are told, likely story. The only aberration is that he was eventually exposed and convicted, only because an outside group (FNF) had to do the work of the system and the Police in continually pushing action.

  10. @ crashdive: I’m not sure why you think I’ve cast doubt on the character of the father in this case. I haven’t made any comment about him at all because I know nothing about him or the strengths of his case and it would be wrong of me to make assumptions. He’s probably a very nice chap and a deserving father, but I’m guessing crashdive that neither of us really know.

  11. Matthew Stannard

    Hyman’s arrogance, like that of many criminals who get caught, caused him to break the cardinal rule of not being found out. His ignorance of IT was what caused him to fail. He didn’t realise that ISPs racord all email traffic through their servers. They have to as part of the anti-terrorist regulations. As a barrister at human rights specialist Doughty Chambers, he is also guilty of incompetence in not taking note of how email systems work. His crime, like that of the many family lawyers who practise perennial shittiness, was done simply because Hyman thought he could get away with it. The secrecy of family courts made it highly likely that he would get away with it, n’est ce pas? What is not generally known is that the father in this case was not about to “win” his case. He was and still is desperate to remain a significant other in the life of his own small child. The fraudulent case sent by Hyman, see http://tinyurl.com/36m8x7, shows that the ‘precedent’ had to do with getting the judge in the family case to recuse herself. Why was Hyman so so keen to prevent that, so keen that he’s probably going to prison for it. Was it just a case of ego, or is there something that stinks even worse going on in Taunton family court?

  12. Your belief that Hymen was an aberration, and not typical of lawyers may well be genuinely held, but when Family Lawyers act dishonestly, they are far more likely to do so when the opponent is a Litigant in Person. In other words, they won’t try it on with you, as a barrister, and so you do not see it.

    I have 7 years experience as an LiP and McKenzie Friend in family proceedings. Although I have generally found opposing barristers to act with integrity, cheating and lying by solicitors is commonplace.

    Much of the fault for this lies with the judiciary, who are far more inclined to believe ill of an LiP than of a lawyer. Unscrupulous lawyers will try to blacken their opponent when he is an LiP, as Hyman did, knowing that allegations made by a lawyer against a layman are likely to be believed by a judge.

  13. Matthew Stannard

    A plausible explanation of Hyman’s misdeed is that the motive was money. Suppose his client, an old family friend, was a bit hard up. Hyman came up with a good ruse to have costs awarded against the father. It’s usual in private law family cases for each party to pay their own costs. But if one party is vexatious or wastes the court’s time then the judge can make an order as to costs. It’s highly likely in the case that Hyman was handling that if he had got away with his crime and the father had been done for contempt then the father would have had to pay the mother’s costs, and Hyman and she could have had a great party with all their nice showbiz friends, like Hyman’s fellow director at Above The Title Productions, Clive Anderson, see http://www.abovethetitle.com/about.php#cliveanderson.

    I experienced the greed of the legal trade when, in my own divorce case, they changed the date of a hearing without informing me. When I duly didn’t turn up, my ex-wife’s barrister asked for and got an award of costs against me for the hundreds of pounds of expense incurred by having them all sit around. A cheap trick, or an expensive one, depending on how you look at it.

  14. Matthew Stannard

    It seems that familoo has stopped responding here, having somewhat naively opened a can of worms by starting a thread about the Hyman Affair. It is likely that she is seriously considering dropping family law – it’s not a place where many decent people work. That would be a great pity. So, I’d say, hang on in there, familoo. You seem a decent sort of person. First thing to do, though, is get streetwise. Get a handle on what people are writing here and elsewhere, and when you encounter or hear about shittiness in the family courts done by a fellow legal tradesperson start a campaign to get them struck off, and don’t leave off that campaign until they are. If you don’t beat them then you join them and you will be as bad as Hyman, if not worse. Why worse? Because if you don’t act, you will be seen to be part of a conspiracy. At least Hyman got away with making it appear that he acted alone.

  15. @matthew stannard:
    1 apart from very limited exceptions, barristers get paid and get paid the same amount whether or not a costs order is made. In fact, for various reasons a costs order often results in slower payment. The client may benefit from a costs order, but not the barrister.
    2 I’m pretty certain Mr Hyman could have made far more money from tv than contact cases, especially given his relatively slim experience at the bar.
    3 Most lawyers are naturally risk averse and wouldn’t jeopardise their career / income for one case like this – for self – interested even if not noble reasons.

    So, my view is that Mr Hyman may have done it for any number of reasons, but I doubt money was one of them. Maybe misplaced loyalty to a family friend is part of it, but frankly both of us would be speculating wildly about that one. I think its a mystery we won’t get to the bottom of. It defies explanation.

    And on your 2nd post suggesting I’ve given it all up (to go and make tv programmes?) I’m sorry to disappoint, but I haven’t responded sooner because I’ve been out and about doing my job, which I have no intention of giving up (but thanks for giving me 20 mins in between posts in which to notice your comment and respond!). If barristers gave up at the first hint of criticism or capitulated every time someone disagreed with them they would be extinct either by choice or because they were a complete waste of money. 😉

  16. Matthew Stannard

    The point is that, after perpetrating his perversion of the course of justice, Hyman, like any other barrister in the circumstances would have (and in fact did) ask the judge for an order of costs. Those costs would, under normal circumstances have been paid by the mother. If Hyman had succeeded, they would have been paid by the father. Regardless of any speculation, the mother would have stood to gain. Hyman is reported in the Guardian article as being a family friend of the mother. Nothing speculative about that. Put two and two together and you have a motive. The charge sheet against Hyman mentions financial gain as one of the objects of his crime. Whilst he might not have personally gained, somebody else close to him would have, and that would have been unjust. Nothing speculative about that.

  17. Ah – I hadn’t realised it had been reported that there was any connection between Hyman and client other than the professional. Yes, clearly the Mother would benefit from a costs order, I take that point – whether that was what motivated Hyman, who knows?

    UPDATE 17 Oct – I see from wikipedia that this has been discussed elsewhere, where it becomes clear that Matthew Stannard’s insinuation may have been that there was a conspiracy between the Mother and Bruce Hyman. For the avoidance of doubt, I agree with the thrust of the comments on that page – neither the Mother nor Hyman were charged with conspiracy and both must be presumed innocent on that count.

  18. Matthew Stannard

    Glad to hear that you’re sticking in there, but you make no commitment familoo to operate as a whistleblower when you encounter the very iffy behaviour that makes lawyers, and family court lawyers in particular, so unpopular.

    It’s usual that lawyers only reply to one point that one makes, ignoring the others so that they have to be repeated, resulting, in professional circumstances, in the writing of yet another (chargeable) letter.

    When I complained once to my ex wife’s barrister that what she was proposing wasn’t fair (I didn’t indicate upon whom it wasn’t fair, though she assumed I meant myself) she just said with a glint in her eye that it didn’t have to be fair. Was she right?

  19. Matthew Stannard

    Now, here’s a legal question. Given what you know about the Hyman affair, do you think the judge should hold a fact finding hearing on the basis that maybe there are some things going on that could have a bearing on the family case, or should he dismissively totally exonerate the mother and tell the father that his contact order will be withdrawn if he talks to the press about what happened to him, particularly if he does so in such a way that journalists put two and two together like you did, familoo, in your last posting? What do you think the judge might do?

  20. I wouldn’t like to try and form a view about that in the absence of any information about the case or how these issues bear upon it.

  21. Answering post no.18, yes it does have to be fair and any barrister who proposes anything of a different nature is a disgrace to our profession.
    s1 of the Children Act 1989 requires the court to place the welfare of the child at the top of its list of considerations and we barristers have a DUTY to assist the court to carry out its functions. One can always have a fight over ancillary relief proceedings where there are no children, but anyone in practice who tries to slip an unfair order under the door of the court should consider doing another job.
    The timbre of family proceedings should be that the parties are open and honest and together work towards the best result for the child or children. Where the barristers cannot agree, they should take their dispute to the judge and be fair to each other’s position: only last week I suggested a case reference that I thought my opponent should know, notwithstanding that she then lost.
    It is rarely the courts’ fault that family proceedings are painful: the right barristers will ensure that whatever problems the courts might have in terms of resources or personnel, the clients should leave the building able to live with the result.
    By contrast, those advocates who come to court fighting blindly for whatever madness their client propose are disgraceful. And those who would make things up to achieve their end are disgusting. And I am afraid to say that I often feel I need to apologise for my profession whereas I should be proud of all it can achieve.

  22. clients propose, sorry

  23. What Philip says is absolutely right.

  24. #21 – Philip thank you for the post that we should all be able to agree with.

    familoo – How come it took Philip to eventually post what you should have clearly said in the first place?
    Your post #23 appears almost grudgingly to agree, especially as we have had to squeeze it out of you.

    familoo – Could I ask you once again to please provide your thoughts on the following from my #9:

    “1. This is the first saint (sorry barrister) ever to be convicted and possibly sent to jail for perverting the course of justice. How on earth is that possible?

    2. Why did it take a Shared Parenting group to expose this behaviour?

    3. Where were the controls within the system to expose this behaviour?

    4. How many other users of the system are subjected to similar treatment by bullying and law breaking lawyers?
    We will never know because the secrecy ensures that sharp practise, inept and corrupt practise by lawyers is almost impossible to bring to book, as they police their own and look after their own in secrecy.

    This first saint (sorry barrister) ever to be convicted of this particular crime is an aberration we are told, likely story. The only aberration is that he was eventually exposed and convicted, only because an outside group (FNF) had to do the work of the system and the Police in continually pushing action.”

  25. “”””””””””””””””””””””””””Lord Justice Wall was concerned about this in his Report on Child Homicides where he was given anecdotal evidence of the victims of domestic violence or abuse (mostly women) being pressured by their lawyers into agreements about contact that they did not believe were safe.”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

    This shows how institutionalised the prejudice and bigoted thinking is within the system.

    Fathers are continually under pressure by the system and lawyers into agreeing that their children primarily reside with mother DV perpetrators/abusers etc because if they raise concerns it is nearly always guaranteed to be held against them. This is not even on the horizon for scrutiny.

    Stopping/minimising the time a child see’s a fit parent by another parent is Domestic Violence (emotional abuse). It is also Child Abuse. Parents who stop/minimise/interfere with court orders for contact should be immediately be flagged as a probable risk to their children and as a DV perpetrator.

  26. “””””””””””””””victims of domestic violence or abuse (mostly women)””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

    Women are NOT mostly the victims of Domestic Violence as a huge amount of studies worldwide clearly indicate.

    Child abuse is mostly committed by mothers, not fathers.

    This blinkered thinking that does not recognise that DV and abuse is a HUMAN issue, NOT a woman’s issue riddles the family court system. Leaving plenty of children in a vulnerable position both physically and emotionally.

  27. familoo – You also misrepresent LJ Wall’s Report on Child Homicides which demolished the Women’s Aid myth that the courts were sending children to their deaths in droves. How many children were killed by their mothers (resident parents) during that 10 year period? In the hundreds?

    “”””””””””””””””
    Eighteen (18) of the twenty-nine (29) children who were murdered were not subject to any form of court proceedings.
    “”””””””””””
    Of the eleven (11) children who were the subject of court proceedings, I am satisfied that eight (8) died as a result of parental actions which could not have been reasonably foreseen or prevented by the court
    “””””””””””””””””””””
    THE FACTS:

    Eleven (11) children killed in 10 years who were subject to court
    proceedings.

    Three (3) children killed in 10 years who were subject to court proceedings who may have been saved by a judge refusing a Consent Order.

    NOT twenty-nine (29) as stated by Woman’s Aid.

    ————————————————-

  28. Matthew Stannard

    The NSPCC produced a report in 2000 (which it no longer has on its website, unfortunately) that covers child abuse in the UK. It stated, “most violence occurred at home (78 per cent) with mothers being primarily responsible in 49 per cent of cases and fathers in 40 per cent of cases.”

  29. Okay, to deal with the several comments on here about my remark that ‘Lord Justice Wall was concerned about this in his Report on Child Homicides where he was given anecdotal evidence of the victims of domestic violence or abuse (mostly women) being pressured by their lawyers into agreements about contact that they did not believe were safe’ – I had not intended to assert that most or all domestic violence is perpetrated by women. I have dealt with many cases where the violence is perpetrated by the woman (or more often by both parties). I have no reason to challenge the various stats cited by crashdive and Matthew Stannard.

    What I was actually indicating was that in my experience the majority of parents who are in the courts opposing contact on the grounds of domestic violence are in fact women. There is no assertion that the Wall supports the proposition that men are always responsible for domestic violence, but I would surmise that the majority of those referred to in the report as feeling pressurised by their lawyers into agreeing contact were women. As we all know the majority of primary carers (for better or for worse) are women, regardless of the question of which gender is more predisposed to violence so they are most often on the receiving end of a contact application.

    So, without making any comment about who actually perpetrates the greater proportion of domestic violence or child abuse – the assertion is that in the main the people with care of children and who are saying ‘the violence I have been subjected to puts my child at risk’ are women.

  30. Matthew Stannard

    Hyman sentence due today

  31. lets face it lawyers / solicitors whatever you want to call them are generally speaking as bent as they come. They do what they have to just to make sure they win and sod the consequences. Thats why its all so secret. At last one of them gets done for it but im sure it wont make much difference. I know a lawyer who told his client to commit abduction and he hasnt even been touched for it. The legal profession and system stinks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  32. Fair enough, I’ll not use Hyman as a stick with which to beat the lot of you. He was, after all, not a family lawyer. It does, however, bring into question the matter of secrecy within the Family Courts. It beggars the question, how many times has something else like this happened only to not go discovered and reported? Proceedings in private for the benefit of our children? I am not so sure, neither am I alone.

  33. […] 20th, 2007 by familoo This story has generated a lot of interest, so its only right that I should note that Bruce Hyman was […]

  34. […] now I notice that this post has been referenced from Wikipedia as a source of discussion about Bruce Hyman the penny is […]

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