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Wednesday, 18 November 1959

Mr STEWART (Lang) .- Mr. Chairman,the clauses under discussion have received applause from all sections of the community because they are a further attempt to maintain marriage and the family. But I should like to ask the AttorneyGeneral some questions about certain aspects of these clauses. I raised this matter when speaking to the second reading of the bill. I was dealing with voluntary marriage guidance counsellors and it was apparent that the Attorney-General did not think that a solicitor handling a case in a court would, if the judge decided that conciliation was possible, ever act in a voluntary capacity as a marriage guidance counsellor. I feel that if a judge decides, under clause 14, that a case is one in which reconciliation is possible, the legal man acting in the case should be able to continue to act at the fee that would have been applicable at the time the judge intervened to conciliate. I feel that unless the couple before the court are given to understand that no further legal costs will be involved, they may be unwilling to allow the judge to conciliate. In his second-reading speech the Attorney-General, dealing with this aspect, said -

But I would expect judges not to undertake to conciliate unless there are sound prospects of success, and the parties will no doubt realize before giving their consent to conciliation by the judge himself that they may thereby involve themselves iri tome additional costs.

If we are to endeavour to reconcile married couples I feel that all considerations should be taken into account. It is important to remember that once a case gets to court the persons involved have generally made up their minds that they want a divorce. If they think there will be a long delay and extra costs, they possibly will not be prepared to conciliate. I understand that under clause 14 any case that is adjourned with a view to the parties becoming reconciled may, at the request of the parties, be brought on for hearing almost immediately.

With regard to reconciliation, publicity is an important factor. That aspect was stressed in the report of the United Kingdom Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce, which stated - 352. We have considered how best arrangements can be made to bring the facilities for conciliation to the notice of the public. We are certain that many of those in difficulties are unaware of the facilities available and that many of those who take divorce proceedings have never had in their minds the possibility of seeking the guidance of a skilled counsellor. We have referred to the need for guidance to be offered at the earliest possible stage. We consider that often at present the earliest opportunity of bringing to the notice of parties the facilities available arises when an approach to a solicitor is made, either privately or under the Legal Aid Scheme. 353. We know that solicitors seek to impress on their clients the gravity of the step they are contemplating. We wish to stress, however, the importance of every solicitor having clearly in mind the fact that he has an opportunity for bringing the facilities for marriage guidance to the notice of his clients, many of whom may not have considered the possibility of seeking advice from such sources, or may even not have been aware of their existence. No doubt in all consultations with clients upon matrimonial matters solicitors have fully in mind the desirability of effecting reconciliation, and we do not suggest that anything in the nature of compulsion or pressure should be brought to bear upon the spouses. We do, however, suggest that every solicitor should inform his client at the earliest possible stage of a suitable marriage guidance agency in his area, and the facilities which it provides (assuming that such an agency is operating in that area), unless circumstances exist which in his opinion make it unnecessary or undesirable to do so.

That is a point which could be stressed in this legislation. Solicitors who will be acting for parties in divorce proceedings should, when they are approached by clients seeking a divorce, first point out to them the serious step that they are proposing to take and the effect that it will have on the future life of their children. The solicitors also should suggest a suitable marriage guidance organization to which the client might be prepared to go. If that were done by the solicitors before the initial steps to institute divorce proceedings were taken, there might be a greater opportunity to effect a reconciliation than there is under the existing act, which provides that a judge may intervene. I think that the judge still should have the right to intervene if he considers that there is any possibility of a reconciliation but, as the royal commissioners have said, the 'earlier that you can bring to notice of the parties the services that are available for reconciliation and guidance, the more likelihood there is that the couple will listen to the advice that is given to them and endeavour to salvage their marriage.

I ask the Attorney-General to consider these points: First, no additional cost should be involved in the way of legal fees or in any other way if the judge intervenes; and secondly, in some way, whether by inclusion of a provision in the bill or by making contact with solicitors, the honorable .gentleman should direct that in all cases where solicitors are approached by .a client who desires a divorce, they should inform the client of the activities of marriage guidance organizations and make every endeavour to effect a reconciliation, both at that stage and when the matter comes before the judge.

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