Madeleine Bridgett is a barrister at 6 St James Hall Chambers. She was initially called to the Bar of England and Wales in 2011. After her admission in the UK she spent a year in the Niger Delta of Nigeria working for the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales where she fearlessly advocated for the rights of children whilst actively promoting the rule of law. Madeleine was awarded the Peter Duffy Human Rights Scholarship by the Honourable Society of Lincolns Inn and as part of this scholarship she spent 3 months working for the European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, where she was responsible for drafting reports regarding the admissibility of cases brought before the Court. Prior to coming to the bar, Madeleine worked as a social worker and couple and family therapist both in Australia and the UK, and has over 20 years experience working in the areas of mental health, drug and alcohol, family therapy and child protection. She is a qualified family mediator and worked for Relationships Australia undertaking counselling and mediation for the Family Court of Australia. Her legal practice specialises in human rights, public law, international law, family law, succession law and commercial law. She recently appeared in a Hague Convention International Child Abduction appeal, and is representing a person on Manus Island in the Federal Court of Australia. Madeleine is a strong advocate for human rights, equality and justice. She undertakes regular pro bono work for various organisations in Australia and is the current Co-Chair of the Business and Human Rights Subcommittee for the Australian Lawyers of Human Rights. Madeleine has published work in both national and international journals and has presented at conferences globally. She is known for her fearless advocacy in the areas of children's rights, human rights and international law.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with Madeleine recently to discuss key challenges and opportunities facing the industry today.
You can find the full Q&A below.
What does your practice look like and what matters are you currently working on/ most interesting case in the past 12 months?
As a barrister, my practice tends to focus on matters which involve human relationships and include areas of law such as family provision, family law, children’s law, international child abduction cases, employment law and immigration law. I do practice in commercial law as I finds this balances my public law interests, however what drives me most is the human story. I have a special interest in coronial inquests and recently represented a person of interest who was the suspect in the death of Anthony Cawsey. My other notable cases of the last twelve months include a Hague Convention International Child Abduction case involving a mother and child who had been subjected to domestic violence for over a six years by the father of the child. Unfortunately for the mother and child they were ordered to return to New Zealand, despite our appeal to the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia, and later to the High Court of Australia. I am representing a person on Manus Island who has a disability. This case involves a law suit against the Minister of Immigration and Border Protection. My most notable family provision case in 2017 involved a man who was living in a storage space and was destitute who was successful at first instance but the case was appealed the decision was reversed. I am currently in a part heard matter involving a difficult case regarding parental responsibility and parenting orders involving a two year old child.
What’s one tip you can offer younger practitioners starting their family law career?
Family law is an emotionally challenging area of law and for young practitioners starting their family law career my tip would be to make sure you look after your own wellbeing. This means taking some time out for yourself and engaging in activities such as exercise, healthy food, yoga and meditation. Unless you look after yourself then you may be of no use to your client, as your energy will be depleted and you will lose the much needed focus required to manage a family law matter. Be kind to yourself and make sure you have a work life balance. Going to court can be like going to war. You must therefore arm yourself with goodness. This will help you become the reliable and diligent legal professional you need to be.
What’s a mistake you see family lawyers make when handling a family matter, either in the office or in the courtroom?
I can only speak about the mistakes I have made and what I have learnt from those mistakes. The key to successful litigation is preparation. Prepare, prepare and prepare more. I know this can be difficult, especially when you get the brief the day before, but it is essential. Know all the facts of the case, the history of the matter and be sure to obtain the evidence you require in court. I remember in my first week of bar school in London, my law professor said: “Law is about proof not truth”. I was somewhat troubled by this statement as I became a barrister because I believe in justice and equality. Importantly I believe in truth. However my law professor was right. You need proof of any claims your client makes, and family law is no different. In fact, in family law many allegations are often made about people, especially parents and evidence is therefore crucial.
The topics in the session you are chairing will cover: Case Updates and Latest Developments in Family Law, Claims by Adult Children: NSW Family Provision Case Law Year in Review and Liability Issues in Wills & Estates Practice. What are you most looking forward to hearing about in relation to each these topics?
I am looking forward to hearing all the topics in the session I am chairing. I feel honoured to be chairing these sessions with such an experienced panel of speakers. Knowing the case law is vital to the advice lawyers provide to their clients and these sessions have an excellent focus on case updates. It is all too common that we tend to get very busy in our legal practice and keeping up with the case law is a real challenge. This workshop solves that problem.
Are there any landmark family law related cases/legislation/development on the horizon that you think practitioners should keep on their radar?
In family provision law there was a recent Court of Appeal case Smoje v Forrester  NSWCA 308 where the term “living together” was in question. The Court seems to have taken a narrow approach to “living together”. A special leave application to the High Court of Australia was made on 2 January 2018 regarding this case. It is worth following how the law develops regarding the term “living together". It may be the case that there are concerns about a broader approach to “living together” for fear of opening the floodgates to litigation in family provision. The current family law review by the Australian Law Reform Commission is definitely worth following as this will no doubt generate some major changes to the family law system. Watch this space!
You can hear more from Madeleine at the 10 Points in One Day seminar, being held on Wednesday 28 March at the Novotel Sydney Central, Haymarket.