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.