Minister Indranee: Family justice system must transform

Second Law Minister says Government may look at how to enhance continuing education on family law

Family lawyers need to be mindful of the potential impact of decisions taken in the course of a divorce because of the painful emotions involved.

Noting the child "too often" becomes a prize to be won between divorcing parents, Second Law Minister Indranee Rajah cited a case of a father who killed his five-year-old son amid a bitter custody feud.

At a Law Society Family Conference earlier this month, Ms Indranee said the Government would, in time to come, look at how it can enhance continuing education on family law so that lawyers can equip themselves better going forward.

Phillipe Graffart, 42, was jailed for five years by the High Court in 2016 for culpable homicide while suffering from severe depression during the child custody battle with his estranged wife. He had received an unexpected affidavit from her lawyers on the day before he was due to appear in the Family Courts. The affidavit referred to what he felt were private discussions with his wife.

"Feeling betrayed and exhausted by the legal battle, the father decided to kill their son and himself. He survived. Their son did not," said Ms Indranee. She said she cited the case not to pin blame on the wife's lawyers, "who no doubt would have seen this as part and parcel of the normal course of litigation where you put in what your client instructs or what you think is relevant".

"The point I am making is that the things that are said and done in family litigation have an impact on people. And it is an impact that can cut very deep. In certain cases, it can lead to consequences far beyond what the other side anticipated."

Ms Indranee cited another case in which the parents had different views about the school their daughter should be enrolled in and it took the High Court to break the deadlock.

Cases such as these flag why family law is different from other areas like commercial law, she said, noting that family justice is about helping parties navigate a path of healing and positive transformation.

"But in order to do this, the family justice system itself must transform. And lawyers must also embark on that journey of transformation."

She urged lawyers to become specialist practitioners "in their own right", serving as peacemakers, problem-solvers and even at times, counsellors.