13:53, October 19 72 0 theguardian.com

2020-10-19 13:53:03
Anne-Marie Hutchinson obituary

Anne-Marie Hutchinson, who has died aged 63 of cancer, was a trailblazing family lawyer, renowned for her groundbreaking work on forced marriage and international child abduction. A partner at the London law firm Dawson Cornwell, she also acted for victims of “honour”-based violence and female genital mutilation, abandoned spouses, and potential parents in surrogacy arrangements. Innovative and involved in the most reported cases of any solicitor in her field, she often sought to extend principles of English law and the court’s jurisdiction, to afford rights and protection to those she represented.

In 1999, in the first reported English case on forced marriage, she secured the safe return to England of a young Sikh girl who was made a ward of court after her parents abducted her to India to marry. A case in which she represented an English-born Pakistani woman set a legal precedent in 2006 when the high court ruled for the first time that a forced marriage could be annulled, due to the lack of consent, and declared void.

Her work was instrumental in the introduction the following year of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, which enabled courts to make orders to prevent women and girls being taken overseas to marry against their will.

The year after the act was introduced, Anne-Marie acted for Humayra Abedin, a trainee GP, who was the first woman to be made the subject of such an order. She had been taken to Bangladesh, where she was held captive and forced to marry. Even though the injunction made by the English court against Abedin’s family was not enforceable in Bangladesh, the judge in Dhaka acknowledged its existence when he ordered her to be released.

In another landmark case in 2012, the high court ordered the return to the UK of Amina Al-Jeffrey, a British woman with dual Saudi Arabian nationality. Born in Wales, she alleged that she had been taken to Jeddah against her will and held in what she described as a cage for four years by her father, who disapproved of her life in the UK.

While some viewed much of her work in the context of a clash of cultures, for Anne-Marie it was about respect for human rights, which were afforded to everyone equally – whether she was acting for a woman forced to marry or potential parents looking to create a family through surrogacy.

A proud member of England’s Irish Catholic diaspora, Anne-Marie was born in Donegal, the third of six children. Her mother, Kitty (nee Fitzgerald), was a nurse and her father, Gerry Hutchinson, ran a barber’s shop. When she was a child, the family moved to the UK where her father got a job on a US airbase near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

Osteomyelitis – bone infection – forced her to miss the last two years of primary school and she spent a year in Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge, after which she had to wear a calliper and learn to walk again. Having failed the 11-plus, she left St Peter’s school, Huntingdon, at 16 with only basic qualifications. For two years she worked as a bank teller before enrolling in Huntingdon technical college – leaving a year later with three A-levels at grade A.

A degree in international history and politics at Leeds University was followed by a law degree at Nottingham University, before she qualified as a solicitor at the north London law firm Beckman & Beckman in 1985. There her mentor, Jack Bleiman, convinced her to change her focus from commercial and civil litigation, and she quickly developed a reputation acting in child abduction cases in the early days of the Hague convention, a treaty that provided a mechanism for the return of internationally abducted children.

The high-octane work involved her dragging judges out of the bath in the early hours to secure a return order, going air side at Heathrow to lift a snatched child off a plane, and heading to Col Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya armed only with an high court order, and its Arabic translation, to rescue a snatched baby. Her daughter Catherine, who also works at Dawson Cornwell, recalled: “It would not be unusual to have clients and children stay at our house after they had just been rescued at Heathrow.”

Anne-Marie travelled the world, speaking at conferences and seminars, sharing her knowledge and helping to cultivate and inspire the next generation of international family lawyers.

She was a commissioner on the Forced Marriage Commission set up in 2013. Its chair, the former court of appeal judge Lady (Elizabeth) Butler-Sloss, described Anne-Marie as an “exceptional person” whose premature death will “leave a great gap in a very important and not always well-understood branch of law”.

Anne-Marie was made an OBE in 2002 and an honorary QC in 2016, and received an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of Leeds.

Passionate and fuelled by adrenaline and a diet of caffeine, nicotine and cava, Anne-Marie was known for her sense of fun, glamorous style and large collection of footwear and handbags, but she could also be “seriously terrifying”, said her colleague Carolina Pedreño, adding: “You don’t achieve as she did without a touch of steel.” Away from work, Anne-Marie enjoyed reading, particularly spy novels, and was a great cook, whose roast dinners were accompanied by the biggest Yorkshire puddings.

Anne-Marie is survived by her daughter, Catherine, son, Sam, and granddaughter, Emmeline, as well as her siblings, Geraldine, Paul and Catherine.

Anne-Marie Hutchinson, lawyer, born 1 August 1957; died 2 October 2020

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