Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Reforming Family Justice

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On 31 March 2011, the Review of Family Justice published its interim report, setting out a large number of recommendations for changing current procedures and practices relating in particular to decisions on children.

The interim reports reasserts the fundamental principle of the Children Act 1989, that decisions must be in the ‘best interests of the child’. But the Review argues that the present system means inordinate delay – ‘shocking’ is the word they use; is very expensive both for the state and the individual families concerned; and often leads to increased conflict within the family.

The headline recommendations, which are now out for public consultation (until the end of June 2011), are set out in the following (extracted from the MoJ Press Release):

A simpler system to deliver an improved service:

  • A new Family Justice Service led by a National Family Justice Board, drawing the key functions of  existing agencies together and seeing children and families all the way through the justice system with greater support and more efficiently.
  • Local Family Justice Boards to replace the existing plethora of arrangements.
  • A unified family court system, streamlining services to replace the current three-tier system, creating more flexibility for family hearings.
  • Specialist judges who hear cases from start to finish to ensure consistency and confidence in the system.
  • Investment in systems to manage cases and to give information about how family justice operates.
  • Court social work services should form part of the Family Justice Service, subsuming the role currently performed by Cafcass (Cafcass Cymru would continue to provide these services in Wales as this is a devolved function).

Public law (protecting children and taking them into care) procedures that deliver more quickly for children:

  • The welfare of the child should remain paramount in law, as at present. Courts should focus on the core issues that are most important to the welfare of the children.
  • A bespoke timetable for resolving each child’s situation should be established within a maximum allowed time limit for all cases to minimise the damage caused by uncertainty.
  • Less reliance on unnecessary expert reports which can cause delay, when these are not in the best interests of the child.
  • Measures to simplify processes and help manage cases better, including support for judges to manage cases more tightly.

In Private law cases, a simpler service for families which are separating, aimed at helping them to focus on their children and to reach agreement, if possible without going to court:

  • A statement inserted into law to reinforce the importance of the child continuing to have a meaningful relationship with both parents, alongside the need to protect the child from harm.
  • use of Parenting Agreements to bring together arrangements for children’s care after separation, focusing on where the child spends time rather than ‘contact’ and ‘residence’ and reinforcing the importance of a relationship with grandparents and other relatives and friends who the child values.
  • a single online and phone help point to make it simple for people to decide the most appropriate way forward.
  • assessment for mediation followed by access to Separated Parents Information Programmes and dispute resolution to help separating parents understand the impact of conflict on the children and to reach agreement.

a court process that supports cases where there are serious welfare concerns and allows for cases to be dealt with according to complexity.

See http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/newsrelease310311a.htm

The full documentation is at http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/family-justice-review.htm

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Written by lwtmp

March 31, 2011 at 10:44 am

Posted in chapter 7

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