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Gresham College: Prof. Jo Delahunty, Q.C. – The Family Justice System: #1/6 – Ethics In and Out of the Court Room

28/01/2019

About this series – The Family Justice System

Professor Delahunty will examine broader issues of the strengths and flaws within the family justice system, the challenges it has overcome and those it still faces.

As a barrister, you will be asked ‘how can you act for someone who is guilty?’. This is just one of the ethical questions the Bar must confront. Barristers have a Code of Ethics that governs the working relationship with the client, the court and colleagues but ethical dilemmas in practice are rarely straightforward. Do we make value judgments about our client’s culpability? Does that affect how hard we fight their case? The answer to those questions should emphatically be ‘no’.

2018 saw a seismic change in the willingness of women to speak out about sexual abuse they had suffered at work and the willingness of others to hear and act on it. 2018 saw the creation of a #metoo movement called ‘Behind the Gown’ created by a group of barristers committed to tackling sexual harassment at the Bar. Professor Delahunty frankly confronts the anecdotal evidence and suggests ways in which we can learn from it. 

The Children Act 1989 embodied a change in philosophy by making the child’s welfare the courts ‘paramount’ concern, moving away from the concept of parental rights towards the right of the child. It embraced the idea of shared parental rights and responsibilities and that children are best cared for within their families but not at the expense of suffering avoidable significant harm. Has the Act done right by children since 1989? Has it adapted to the challenges of childhood and society?

Cuts to legal aid, the concept of online justice, diversity within the legal profession and the judiciary, the independence of the judiciary from the state, the impact the press can have on perceptions of fairness of justice. Professor Delahunty explores the controversial issue of how the politics of the day or decade can affect the way in which the justice system functions in private and is perceived by the public. 

What happens when doctors and parents cannot agree on whether a child should be given experimental medical treatment? Why is there any question mark over a parent’s right to decide if medical treatment for their child continues? From the parents of Aysha King who successfully secured proton beam therapy for their son to the despair surrounding baby Charlie Gard and his life-limiting genetic disorder: how does the court make decisions that can potentially prolong life or bring about the death of a child? 

Over the course of her professorship, Jo Delahunty has striven to talk openly about the way in which the Family Court deals with emotive and challenging issues such as sexual abuse, child death in infancy, child neglect and child exploitation. In her final lecture this year, she will discuss at what personal cost that work is undertaken. How can one delete the retinal images of abuse after the case has ended?

 

About this lecture

If you are a barrister you will be asked ‘how can you act for someone who is guilty?’. This is just one of the ethical questions the Bar has to confront. Barristers have a Code of Ethics that governs the working relationship with the client, the court and colleagues but ethical dilemmas in practice are rarely straightforward. 

Do we make value judgements about our client’s culpability? Does that affect how hard we fight their case? Why the answer to those questions should emphatically be ‘no’.

Professor Jo Delahunty, Q.C

Professor Jo Delahunty QC is one of the UK’s leading barristers specialising in cases concerned with families and children. She was appointed Gresham Professor of Law in the summer of 2016.

Professor Jo Delahunty QC is one of the UK’s leading barristers specialising in legal issues affecting families and children. Since being called to the Bar in 1986, Professor Delahunty has come to practice at the High Court level and above, rising to prominence for her work in cases concerning contentious medical evidence and the death of/catastrophic injuries to a child; ‘shaken baby’ allegations where genetic and benign cases can mimic physical abuse; inter-generational and inter-sibling sexual abuse; ritualized abuse; ISIS radicalisation risks and cases involving vulnerable adults and victims where learning disabilities and mental health difficulties prevail. She was appointed a QC in 2006, a Recorder in 2009 and made a Bencher of Middle Temple in 2011. She is identified as a Top Rank Silk by Chambers and Partners and is ranked as a Top Tier Silk by the Legal 500.

Alongside her practice in the Family Division, between 2013-16, Professor Delahunty was instructed on behalf of 77 bereaved families in the Hillsborough Inquest, tasked with exposing the failures of the emergency medical response by the South Yorkshire Ambulance service: on 26.4.16 the Jury found that their errors and omission caused or contributed to the loss of life in the disaster. For her work in this area, Professor Delahunty QC received the Group Recipient of LALY ‘Outstanding Achievement of the Year Award 2016’ and the Group Recipient Modern Law Award 2016 for ‘Outstanding Achievement’.

More recently, Professor Delahunty has become involved in advising organisations on risk review and the adequacy of their child protection procedures in light of The Goddard Inquiry into historic sex abuse.

Alongside her private practice Professor Delahunty sits as a Recorder hearing public and private law children cases and plays an active part in the committees of various legal associations, including the CCFLR (Centre for Child and Family Law Reform), the Women’s Forum (Middle and Inner Temple Inns of Court) alongside being Patron of the charity AMEND (Association of Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Disorders). She is a member of 4Paper Buildings, Temple, London and has door tenancies at Park Lane Plowden in Leeds and St. Ives Chambers in Birmingham

Both through her professional and pro bono work, and in her numerous engagements as a speaker, Professor Delahunty is drawn towards sharing her knowledge by striving to make the law, its practice as well as its principles, accessible to the society it serves.  In her public speaking she is noted for challenging the audience’s preconceptions and pushing them into less comfortable areas of thought and reflection, speaking with passion and insight on what really happens inside and outside court, and the realities of representing confused, damaged clients when they are faced with the formality, language, remoteness and power of the legal process.

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