Beecham Fisher

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Beecham Fisher's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Beecham Fisher is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Highlighting best practice
Peter Fisher, Consultant
Beecham Fisher Solicitors, based in Southend-on-Sea, are
a small high-street firm established by Mervyn Beecham
in 1963. They undertake a variety of work, which
broadly falls under the headings of family law, civil litigation,
commercial and residential conveyancing alongside wills,
probate and tax advice. Peter Fisher, who qualified in 1969
and became a partner in 1971, retired as a partner in 2015 but
remains a consultant. In this article, he gives an overview of his
years in practice, and considers how a small high-street firm can
survive in today’s marketplace.
The other solicitors in the firm are Frances White, senior partner, Debbie Stanton,
partner, and Gareth Brazier, associate. Our ethos focuses around providing clients
with a first-rate service, acting with honesty and integrity and adhering to the
highest possible standards of professional conduct.
A changed legal landscape
I can look back to a legal landscape which a solicitor qualifying today would not
recognise. In the 1960s, it was very much a male-dominated profession. The only
form of advertisement allowed to a solicitor was a discreet brass plate outside
his business premises, and the relationship between client and solicitor was very
formal, as was his relationship with counsel.
The 1960s and 1970s were decades in which the law responded to the needs of
a rapidly changing society. Subject to certain safeguards, abortion was legalised,
homosexual relationships between consenting adults over 21 years of age were
decriminalised, the rights of employees were strengthened, discrimination in
various guises was made illegal and the law relating to divorce was reformed.
A 50-year journey
In the area of family law, my speciality, the changes of the last 50 years have
been massive. Divorce law and practice in the 1960s was unbelievably archaic,
with its roots in the ecclesiastical courts. Petitions were issued in the High Court,
the grounds were entirely “fault based”, and even the most straightforward of
undefended cases were heard in open court before a High Court judge.
The Divorce Reform Bill had a rough passage through parliament. The three old
grounds for divorce were retained, but in a somewhat watered-down form as facts
to justify the granting of a divorce. But two new “no fault” facts were introduced:
separation for at least two years with the respondent’s consent to a divorce, and
separation for at least five years. It was this last “fact” which provoked the most
outrage. An “innocent” party could be divorced without consent. The bill was
labelled a “Casanova’s charter”.
»Senior Partner: Frances White
»Partner: Debbie Stanton
»Associate: Gareth Brazier
»Consultant: Peter Fisher
»Established in 1963
»Based in Southend, Essex
»Services: High-street law firm
»No. of employees: 9
Beecham Fisher
The Divorce Reform Act 1969 came
into force on January 1, 1971. This
precipitated a surge in the number of
divorce petitions issued. I recall being
instructed by an elderly lady whose
husband had chosen not to return
home after fighting in France in World
War One. After more than 50 years’
separation, he was able to secure a
In 1974, I acted in Livingstone-
Stallard v Livingstone-Stallard, and the
judgment in that case established the
criteria to be met when unreasonable
behaviour is pleaded as a fact to justify
a divorce. A challenge to this criteria
in the Supreme Court in the Owens
v Owens case of 2018 failed. Society
demanded reform to make divorce
easier, and it is certain that parliament
will legislate to achieve this.
Further legislation in the 1970s gave
the courts wider powers to make
financial provision orders in divorce
proceedings, which were aimed to
create fairness between the parties,
giving first consideration to the
interests of minor children of the
family. That has, however, afforded
the parties the opportunity, at
enormous expense, to argue what is
fair. The parties are often poles apart
in their perception of fairness. Sadly,
mediation has not been the success
that we lawyers had expected. Where
the means of the parties are modest,
the cost of court proceedings can be
totally disproportionate.
In a typical divorce case, an interest
in a pension arrangement is a very
valuable asset. The courts were given
the power to make pension attachment
orders in 1996 and, in the year 2000,
the power to make pension sharing
orders. The pension sharing order is an
effective means of achieving fairness.
It is regrettable that the legislation to
facilitate such orders came so late.
The Children Act 1989 was another
example of the law responding to the
needs of society. At last, the courts
were given the power to make a
range of orders suited to the particular
circumstances of the case. The rules
made under the Act removed the
management of the cases from the
parties and their lawyers and handed it
to the judges.
The Civil Partnership Act 2004 gave
same-sex couples the right to enter
into civil partnership agreements.
These conferred rights similar to those
enjoyed by married couples. Fairness
and equality were achieved. More
recently, same-sex couples have been
given the right to marry. Additionally,
the prime minister announced in
October last year that civil partnerships
would now be legal for heterosexual
Public concerns
As a lawyer, I lament the cutbacks in
public funding. As a consequence,
a large portion of society is denied
access to appropriate defence or
representation. It is the same issue
with other services, healthcare and
education, for instance – how are the
needs of society to be met?
I often find myself wondering if the
small high-street firm can prosper
in today’s marketplace. It’s possible,
but only if it delivers a service which
marks it out from its competitors.
Today’s clients are better informed
and more questioning than the clients
of 50 years ago, but they are also
more demanding. They know what
they want, and they require it to be
delivered efficiently, economically and
often expeditiously. The potential client
can compare one firm with another
by accessing online feedback, such
as Google reviews. I can happily say,
however, that the Google reviews of
Beecham Fisher Solicitors show that we
are delivering exactly the service that
today’s client demands.
Beecham Fisher
Parties are often
poles apart in
their perception
of fairness

This article was sponsored by Beecham Fisher. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from The Rt Hon Theresa May MP.

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

This foreword from the then Prime Minister appeared in the 2018/19 Parliamentary Review.

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review. For Her Majesty’s Government, our task in the year ahead is clear: to achieve the best Brexit deal for Britain and to carry on our work to build a more prosperous and united country – one that truly works for everyone. 

The right Brexit deal will not be sufficient on its own to secure a more prosperous future for Britain. We also need to ensure that our economy is ready for what tomorrow will bring. Our Modern Industrial Strategy is our plan to do that. It means Government stepping up to secure the foundations of our productivity: providing an education system that delivers the skills our economy needs, improving school standards and transforming technical education; delivering infrastructure for growth; ensuring people have the homes they need in the places they want to live. It is all about taking action for the long-term that will pay dividends in the future.

But it also goes beyond that. Government, the private sector and academia working together as strategic partners achieve far more than we could separately. That is why we have set an ambitious goal of lifting UK public and private research and development investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. It is why we are developing four Grand Challenges, the big drivers of social and economic change in the world today: harnessing artificial intelligence and the data revolution; leading in changes to the future of mobility; meeting the challenges of our ageing society; and driving ahead the revolution in clean growth. By focusing our efforts on making the most of these areas of enormous potential, we can develop new exports, grow new industries and create more good jobs in every part of our country.

Years of hard work and sacrifice from the British people have got our deficit down by over three quarters. We are building on this success by taking a balanced approach to public spending. We are continuing to deal with our debts, so that our economy can remain strong and we can protect people’s jobs, and at the same time we are investing in vital public services, like our NHS. We have set out plans to increase NHS funding annually by an average by 3.4 percent in real terms: that is £394 million a week more. In return, the NHS will produce a ten-year plan, led by doctors and nurses, to eliminate waste and improve patient care.

I believe that Britain can look to the future with confidence. We are leaving the EU and setting a new course for prosperity as a global trading nation. We have a Modern Industrial Strategy that is strengthening the foundations of our economy and helping us to seize the opportunities of the future. We are investing in the public services we all rely on and helping them to grow and improve. Building on our country’s great strengths – our world-class universities and researchers, our excellent services sector, our cutting edge manufacturers, our vibrant creative industries, our dedicated public servants – we can look towards a new decade that is ripe with possibility. The government I lead is doing all it can to make that brighter future a reality for everyone in our country. 

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review 
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Prime Minister