Welcome to another week.
A seminar being held in April 2018 by a Policy Forum owned by the head of a Conservative PR agency in London, is set to look at issues surrounding private and public family law. Guests include President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby and Deputy Director of the Family Justice Policy Division, Dr Elizabeth Gibby.
We rang up the company to try to find out more about who was organising this seminar, and whether it was open to the public. The forum, which is a registered company, has a website, however it does not offer any information about members of the company or its political affiliation. There is a telephone number with an area code for Bracknell, in Berkshire, on the site, so we decided to call.
We rang the company twice, and spoke to two receptionists. Both receptionists responded defensively to our queries, and once we started to ask about the individuals involved in putting together the seminar, one receptionist then demanded the name and details of our organisation, which we gave her. Both receptionists refused to tell us the names of the CEO, founder or staff members responsible for these seminar events, telling us instead that they had no idea who was running the Forum.
So we decided to do a little digging.
The event, entitled, “The future for family justice in England and Wales – court reform, divorce law and care proceedings,” has been put together by Whitehouse Consultancy Chairman, Chris Whitehouse, who has a PR agency in Southwark, London called The Whitehouse Consultancy. Whitehouse is also the Conservative Councillor for Newport West Ward on the Isle of Wight.
The event has been produced under another company Mr Whitehead owns, called Westminster Forum Projects (WFP). Companies House records confirm that WFP is a private limited company, also part owned by Peter Samuel Van Gelder. Given that there are only two people running this company, it seems odd that the receptionists had no knowledge of them.
We asked about whether interested members of the public could attend the event free of charge – it costs £230 plus VAT to attend. One receptionist told us free admission was at the Forum’s discretion.
The venue has yet to be confirmed, but we were told that the seminars were usually held in Westminster, though never inside the House of Commons.
Chairs for this event include Tory MP Suella Fernandes, who has been using the Fathers’ Rights movement to try to bolster aspects of the Conservative Manifesto.
This is what the description on the WPF website says about their seminar:
“Following Government’s manifesto commitments to explore ways of improving the family justice system – and in the context of rising numbers of both public and private family law cases being brought – this seminar will consider key challenges and opportunities for the development of family justice policy in England and Wales.
Delegates will consider emerging issues in divorce law, looking at the effectiveness of initial trials to introduce on-line divorce and the de-linking of divorce and ‘money’ claims, as well as latest thinking on recent calls for the introduction of ‘no-fault’ divorce. Discussion is also expected on the protection of children and vulnerable witnesses in the Family Court, including the future for Government’s previous proposals to legislate to prevent perpetrators of domestic abuse from directly cross-examining their victims.
Further sessions will consider latest trends in care proceedings, looking in particular at challenges for managing the demands being placed on court services by increasing case-loads, maintaining standards following the introduction of the 26 week time limit, and ensuring that the system remains centred around the interests of the child. Following Government’s recent announcement of further funding for problem-solving court services, delegates will also consider the future of family drug and alcohol courts projects, and the implications for both court-users and local authorities.”
This conference is expected to bring together policymakers and the judicial representatives with a range of interested stakeholders, including lawyers, expert witnesses, local authorities and service-user groups, as well as campaign groups, commentators and reporting press.”
If you’d like to get in touch with the Forum, you can do so here.
There is also an agenda for the April seminar.
Very many thanks to Nick for alerting us to this event.