Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Reforms to the Family Justice system

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The Government has published its response to the Norgrove report on reforms needed to the Family Justice system.
The response is, broadly, to accept Norgrove’s recommendations. The Press release states that the main focus will be on the following matters:

1. Speeding up care and adoption cases by reforming the public law system and increasing transparency. The Government has already begun to publish data on. It will introduce legislation at the earliest opportunity to enable a six month time limit to be set and wherever possible it expects cases to be completed more quickly, while retaining the flexibility to extend complex cases where this is genuinely in the children’s interest.

2. Simplifying the family justice system to help separating couples reach lasting agreement speedily, if possible without going to court. The Government will make it mandatory for separating parents who propose court action to resolve a dispute about their child to have an initial assessment to see if mediation is something which would be suitable instead, to help them agree on the arrangements for their child. The Government estimates that it will spend an extra £10m a year on legal aid for family mediation taking the total to £25m per year (although it has placed no upper limit on this figure). It will also examine how to give the courts more robust enforcement tools to combat failure to comply with judgments.

3. A  new family justice board will be established to drive culture change and better cross-system.It will be accountable to ministers, made up of senior figures representing the key organisations who play a role within the system and who will have a clear remit to improve performance.

On the most contentious issue, whether there should be a statutory presumption in favour of shared parenting, the Government appears to have accepted that this specific idea, advocated by a number of people, should not be pursued. However, the Government has decided that it should not leave the current law as it is. Its response, again as reported in the press release is:

  • The changes in education and the introduction of parenting agreements which the review recommended will help ensure better recognition of the joint role of parents within wider society.
  • The Government also accepts the need to clarify and restore public confidence that the courts recognise the joint nature of parenting. It will therefore make a legislative statement emphasising the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both their parents after family separation, where that is safe, and in the child’s best interests. The government is mindful of the lessons which must be learnt from the Australian experience of legislating in this area, which were highlighted by the Review and led them to urge caution. The Government will therefore consider very carefully how legislation can be framed to ensure that a meaningful relationship is not about equal division of time, but the quality of parenting received by the child.

Given that the current role of the court is to ensure that the interests of thye child are paramount, it is not entirely clear what the ‘legislative statement’ will be able to achieve. However, no doubt further announcements will be made in due course.

The press release can be found at http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/press-releases/moj/pressrelease060212a.htm.

The full government response can be seen at https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/CM-8273.pdf

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Written by lwtmp

February 12, 2012 at 9:00 am

Posted in chapter 7

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