The profession has united to pay tribute to Bristol family solicitor and district judge Julie Exton, who has died at the age of 59. The Gazette understands she had been suffering from motor neurone disease for some months.
Julie Anita Exton was admitted as a solicitor in 1983. Exton was articled at UK firm Burges Salmon, moved to Veale Benson (now Veale Wasbrough Vizards) upon qualification and was made partner there in 1988.
She was appointed as a deputy district judge in July 1993 and a district judge in September 1999. She sat at Bristol Civil and Family Justice Centre and presided over one of the very few family drug and alcohol courts outside London, in Gloucester. In 2014 she was appointed as the second woman president of the Association of Her Majesty’s District Judges.
Family specialist Beverley Watkins, managing partner at Bristol firm Watkins Solicitors, said of Exton: ‘She was wonderful in every way. She was always very hard-working, but also had a sense of humour, and was very encouraging to women lawyers. She made a huge contribution to the Bristol judicial scene.’
Commenting for Gazette, solicitor Terence Hodge recalled appearing before Exton for the first time: ‘After I had delivered a closing argument she told me, almost sympathetically, that I had saved my best argument to last and by the time I had got there I was pretty much sunk. I never forgot the lesson I learned that day. She was without doubt a stellar example of how we lawyers should conduct ourselves. She was a great asset to the judiciary and is now a great loss to the legal profession.’
Journalist and open justice campaigner Louise Tickle recalled attending a session of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court. ‘She was immediately welcoming, telling me where and when to turn up, and chatting to me in between each case. She was passionate about the cost-benefit of councils funding FDAC’s wraparound support compared to the soaring costs of contested care cases and long-term fostering. It was obvious how much it mattered to her that the parents who came before her had the best chance possible of keeping their children.
‘She was no pushover though, being at one point extremely firm with one young woman who was clearly pushing her luck. She had a very beady stare!’
Writing in the Gazette in 2015, Exton was outspoken about the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act on family law cases. ‘In Bristol, far fewer cases are now listed because the majority of the parties are without legal representation and, unsurprisingly, they tend not to get together with their former partner to try and narrow the issues,’ she wrote. ‘Much of the longer hearing is spent not only explaining the process to the parties, but also calming them down.’