Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Reform of Family Justice: radical proposals

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Major proposals for the reform of the family justice system are recommended in a detailed report of the panel chaired by David Norgrove. It was particularly shocked by the current delays in the system. It argues that everyone involved in the family justice system should consider how their own functioning might be improved.

In summary, the review recommends:

Changes to the system

  • The creation of a new Family Justice Service to make sure agencies and professionals work together to make positive improvements in the system for children and families.
  • More judges who are specialists in family law to hear cases from start to finish to ensure consistency and confidence in the system
  • A simplified court structure making it easier for people using the courts to know where to go
  • More child focus and better training for professionals to make sure children’s views are heard.

Changes to public law ( which deals with the protection of children and taking them into care) to deliver more quickly for children:

  • A six month time limit for all cases, save in exceptional circumstances
  • Less reliance on unnecessary expert witnesses and reports
  • Refocusing the courts on the core issue of determining whether the child should go into care.

Changes to private law (arrangements about children and money following separation and divorce), to create a simpler service for families who are separating, aimed at helping them and their children focus on reaching a safe, joint agreement, if possible, without going to court:

  • A single online and phone help service to make it simpler for people to decide the most appropriate way forward and increase clarity of understanding
  • Use of Parenting Agreements and a new ‘child arrangements order’ to bring together arrangements for children’s care after separation, focusing on the child rather than ‘contact’ and ‘residence’
  • Increased provision of mediation to prevent cases going to court unnecessarily.

The report also recommended significant investment in IT to improve the efficiency of court processes.

One controversial issue which the review does not pursue was the idea that there should be a legal presumption in favour of ‘shared parenting’. Evidence from countries where this had been introduced suggested that such a legal presumption did not ensure that the best interests of the child – the fundamental legal test in all children’s cases – were always taken into account as fully as they should be.

The Government’s detailed response to the report will be available in due course. There are significant tensions between what is recommended here and the changes proposed to the legal aid scheme which may affect the extent to which the Government will actually adopt the recommendations.

For further information: see http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/press-releases/moj/moj-newsrelease031111a.htm

The full report is available at http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/policy/moj/family-justice-review-final-report.pdf

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Written by lwtmp

November 3, 2011 at 11:43 am

Posted in chapter 7

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