The court system, which Harper says is ‘on the point of collapse’ with ‘demoralised’ staff, is further strained by self-representing litigants. ‘They don’t know what to do and have to ask the judge what to do — it leads to terrible delays,’ he adds.
Harper, an experienced hand in same-sex and cross-jurisdictional cases, is a family law heavyweight popular with peers. One once said he does not care ‘whose toes he treads on in pursuing his clients’ objectives’.
There is general consensus among those peers on his technical flair. It was a skill, he says, that ‘didn’t matter as much’ fifteen years ago. But as president of the IAFL he sees binding EU regulations dictating divorce parameters — an area which has become ‘much more technical’. The increasing application of trust law in big international divorces has introduced rules which are ‘alien to family lawyers’, he says, adding that the landscape needs a more forensic view: ‘Being an able lawyer technically can make all the difference.’
The jocular Harper is regarded as an industry intellect. He says: ‘One major client rang me and said, “What is your brilliant idea for today?” I find it humbling that a client thinks I come up with brilliance.’