New rules proposed to help family lawyers manage conflict

The Family Justice Courts at Havelock Square.
The Family Justice Courts at Havelock Square.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

New professional conduct ruleswill help lawyers navigate the difficult ethical issues they face in family law cases because of the inherent conflict.

The proposed rules, aimed at constraining the contentious nature of family proceedings, require lawyers to advise their clients of alternative ways to resolve their disputes before going to court, among other things.

Judicial Commissioner Valerie Thean, presiding judge of the Family Justice Courts, yesterday launched a month-long consultation exercise for the legal profession on the proposed rules, undertaken jointly by the Family Justice Courts and the Law Society.

The rules, if accepted, will be enshrined in amendments to the existing Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules 2015.

The move is timely as the existing regulations provide specific rules for the conduct of criminal proceedings but no guidelines in relation to family proceedings, say lawyers.

Among other things, the rules make clear that lawyers have a duty to advise their clients to consider the potentially adverse impact of the family proceedings on any children who may be involved.

ALTERNATIVES TO COURT

With the proposed rules, he (the lawyer) now has a duty to advise the client on options like private mediation or collaborative family practice.

FAMILY LAWYER RAJAN CHETTIAR

It also sets out the duties of lawyers in relation to conflicts of interests where they are appointed as child representatives or parenting coordinators, and provides that they cannot represent any of the parties involved.

Family lawyer Rajan Chettiar noted that family law has seen significant growth and development over the last three years, since the formation of the Family Justice Courts.

"The current Professional Conduct Rules are general and do not apply to family lawyers specifically. The demand and pressures from clients often make lawyers take steps just to please and to assist their clients, as in the case of a very emotional and aggrieved father who may want to litigate for care and control of the children," he said.

"The lawyer may very well know that he is unlikely to get it, and yet is compelled to file the court application and voluminous affidavits... With the proposed rules, he now has a duty to advise the client on options like private mediation or collaborative family practice."

The judge said lawyers know their case and how best to present it to the court. "If they do this in a problem-solving and constructive way, their clients benefit from the properly informed adjudication of all issues," she added.

"At the same time, they have to advise their clients to look beyond the immediate legal issues - to consider, for instance, the financial, emotional impact on the family which are all too often shrouded in the fog of litigation."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2017, with the headline 'New rules proposed to help family lawyers manage conflict'. Print Edition | Subscribe