Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘children

Domestic Abuse Bill 2020 goes to the Lords: Integrated Domestic Abuse Courts pilot announced

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Reforms in the ways in which cases involving domestic abuse are to be handled is another area of the current Government’s policy programme that is still being taken forward despite all the media attention on dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. (There is of course a link in that reports of incidents of domestic abuse have risen substantially as a side effect of people being placed in lockdown as the first response to attempting to limit the impact of the pandemic.)

The Domestic Abuse Bill 2020 (noted in this blog (21 May 2020) has completed its journey through the House of Commons  on 6 July 2020. It has now been sent to the House of Lords where is received its formal first reading in the Lords the following day.

In my earlier blog I set out the primary objectives of the new bill, so will not repeat them here. There are, however, still concerns about the scope of the bill. In particular, it is argued that people with unsettled immigration status (who are not permitted to have access to services provided through public funding) will remain at particular risk, despite the overall improvements to the system which will be introduced when the Bill becomes law. There are also concerns that levels of funding needed to ensure that services can be provided to the victisms of domestic violence and abuse will not be as generous as they should be.

Another development, which builds on the prospective changes in the Bill, was announced on 25 June 2020 when the Government published Assessing Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Children Cases. This was the report of an independent study, led by three leading family law academics, supported by 10 panel members drawn from the Ministry of Justice, the judiciary, social work, womens’ aid and Respect. Commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, the report examined the experience of participants in private law children’s cases. (These are cases in which the parents of children take proceedings in order to determine arrangements relating to the custody of children.)

It consists of two significant documents:

  • the analysis of responses to a widespread consulation on the issue;
  • a detailed review of the existing published research on the issue.

The key issues that emerged from the consultation responses were:

  • a feeling that abuse is systematically minimised,
  • children’s voices not being heard,
  • allegations being ignored, dismissed or disbelieved,
  • inadequate assessment of risk,
  • traumatic court processes,
  • perceived unsafe child arrangements, and
  • abusers exercising continued control through repeat litigation and the threat of repeat litigation.

These issues were underpinned by the following key themes in the evidence that was reviewed:

Resource constraints; resources available have been inadequate to keep up with increasing demand in private law children proceedings, and more parties are coming to court unrepresented.
The pro-contact culture; respondents felt that courts placed undue priority on ensuring contact with the non-resident parent, which resulted in systemic minimisation of allegations of domestic abuse.
Working in silos; submissions highlighted differences in approaches and culture between criminal justice, child protection (public law) and private law children proceedings, and lack of communication and coordination between family courts and other courts and agencies working with families, which led to contradictory decisions and confusion.
An adversarial system; with parents placed in opposition on what is often not a level playing field in cases involving domestic abuse, child sexual abuse and self-representation, with little or no involvement of the child.

A substantial list of recommendations was made to address these issues. The first of these related to the basic design principles for private law children’s proceedings. The panel stated that these principles should be:

  • A culture of safety and protection from harm
  • An approach which is investigative and problem solving
  • Resources which are sufficient and used more productively
  • With a more coordinated approach between the different parts of the system

Responding to the recommendations, the Government has announced an Implementation Plan. From a legal system perspective, the key decision is to start a pilot project of the ‘Integrated Domestic Abuse Court’.

Two different models will be tested and evaluated:

1. A ‘one family one judge’ approach in which certain concurrent family and criminal proceedings involving domestic abuse are heard by the same cross-ticketed judge, with the aim of reducing the need for victims to re-tell their stories and promoting a more joined up approach to the handling of such cases between the jurisdictions.

2. An ‘investigative’ approach to the family courts. This will explore ways to move away from the current ‘adversarial’ system to adopt … a more investigative approach [which] will focus on ways to improve gathering and assessing appropriate evidence. Specific emphasis will be placed on ensuring the voice of the child is heard effectively. [The Government] will seek to tackle problems more effectively through the better provision and signposting of support services, while a review stage during the pilot will aim to increase long term sustainability and reduce returns to court.

The Government intends to adopt a phased approach to both pilots. The first phase will involve a period of designing and small-scale trialling of potential solutions to aspects of the detailed pilot. This would be followed by the second phase, the full pilot of both approaches, the design of which will take account of the trial findings from the first phase.

The Covid-19 pandemic presents particular challenges to the immediate launch of this pilot. Both the family and criminal courts have had to alter drastically the way in which cases are processed at this time, and the results of any pilot undertaken in such circumstances are likely to be less representative and informative than they would usually be. In addition, courts and practitioners are under considerable pressure to ensure that as many cases as possible are heard at this time.

The Government therefore needs to keep the start date of the pilot under review dependent on the duration and impact of Covid-19, but will commence it as soon as it is practical and safe to do so. The Government will work with a range of stakeholders to develop the pilot plans further, and then publish additional information and a start date for Phase 1 as soon as the current situation permits.

For the version of the Domestic Abuse Bill which has gone to the House of Lords, see https://services.parliament.uk/Bills/2019-21/domesticabuse.html

For the reports of the study Assessing Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Children Cases, see https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/assessing-risk-of-harm-to-children-and-parents-in-private-law-children-cases#history

The Implementation is also available at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/assessing-risk-of-harm-to-children-and-parents-in-private-law-children-cases#history

 

 

 

Family justice: reforming public law case procedures

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Hot on the heels of the announcement of on-line divorce applications (see this blog Feb 2 2018), information has just been published as a blog from HMCTS on developments relating to the digitalisation of procedures relating to public law childrens’ cases.

Emma Petty, Service Manager for the Public Law project, writes:

We want to make the public law process more efficient, ensuring the court, parties and their representatives have access to the right information at the right time to help decide the best outcomes for children involved in public law cases. Based on our early thinking, the aims of the project could be to:

  • provide an online application process which speeds up the gatekeeping process and shares information with partner agencies at the point of submission
  • improve the process for dealing with urgent applications
  • enable users to see the progress of their case and to take action to progress their case online
  • provide clear signposting to support available outside HMCTS, to assist parties acting in person and without a lawyer
  • enable users to upload and access documents and evidence digitally both outside and inside the courtroom
  • ensure suitable facilities and support are provided at hearing centres
  • enable hearings, where appropriate, to be conducted online
  • provide fast digital access to outcomes of hearings
  • ensure those who need it get the support they need to access our digital services.

Over coming months, the Public Law Project team will be working with practitioners and others involved in these types of case in developing practices and procedures to deliver these goals. This is an important development within the scope of the Transformation of the Justice System policy.

Further detail is at https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/2018/02/07/designing-a-public-law-service-to-meet-user-needs/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=

Written by lwtmp

February 10, 2018 at 12:10 pm

Children Across the Justice Systems

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This was the title of an extremely important and interesting lecture, given by Sir James Munby, President of the Family Court, to the Howard League for Penal Reform at the end of October 2017

What, it might be asked, was our leading family judge doing talking to those whose interest is in the criminal justice system?

Sir James used his lecture as an opportunity to argue for a new approach to the treatment of young people who come into contact with the criminal justice and penal systems. He sets out with admirable clarity what he sees as the main problems with  current arrangements, including:  the very complex set of institutions with which the young offender may come into contact; the huge variety of government departments – both central and local – charged with developing and delivering policy in relation to young offender; and the inconsistency of approach of different agencies towards how young offenders and their families should be dealt with.

Sir James argues that, in this context, family justice and criminal justice should be brought together. Specifically, he argues that the role of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court should be expanded to enable it to take on cases which are currently dealt with in the Youth Court.

He recognizes that such a development would represent a big policy change and could not come into being in the short-term. He therefore also proposes interim measures that might go someway towards meeting the objective he has outlined.

So far as I am aware,the Government is not currently contemplating such a major change, but I think Sir James offers ideas that should be carefully considered.

The lecture is available at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/speech-pfd-children-across-the-justice-systems.pdf

Written by lwtmp

November 8, 2017 at 12:47 pm

Keeping the reform of Family Justice under review – the work of the President of the Family Division

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A notable development in the programme of change currently happening in the Family Justice system is the very personal attention being given to the programme by Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Court. He publishes a regular series of newsletters, which he now calls ‘The View’, setting out progress both on matters of the reform of family law, and the processes of the courts.

He clearly supports the aims and objectives of the Norgrove recommendations for change and is anxious that practice and procedures are made more efficient. He is clearly concerned about the resources available to the Family Justice system, but does not think that more resources is the answer to all the problems of the system. He wants new approaches to be developed as well.

One particular development of which he has become a strong supporter is the notion of ‘problem-solving courts’. The theory is that many families that get caught up in the care system do so because there are aspects of life style – especially alcohol and substance abuse – which result in children coming to the attention of social service departments. The argument is that if you offer a programme of support for the parent(s) who are not coping well, to change their lives, this could result in few children being brought within the case system – with all the cost that this entails.

Some years ago, Judge Nicholas Crichton established a new type of court – the Family Drug and Addiction Court (FDAC) – which sought to put these ideas into practice.

In 2015, a FDAC National Unit was created, which seeks to promote the development of these courts in different parts of the country. In its first year it had helped more than 15 such courts to come into existence.

Sir James Munby is extremely impressed with their work and a powerful advocate for their further development.

To read Sir James Munby’s newsletters/Views go to https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/publications/view-from-presidents-chambers/

To read more about the FDAC Unit go to http://fdac.org.uk/

 

Written by lwtmp

November 9, 2016 at 3:08 pm

Research into Family Justice

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I have noted in these blogs before the existence of the excellent Family Justice Research Bulletin. This summarises research into the operation of the Family justice system in papers published in academic journals as well as by the Ministry of Justice itself.

The impact of legal proceedings on the lives of children, in particular, is so potentially great that it must be right for research to try to understand what those impacts are, especially given all the changes to the family justice system that have occurred in recent years.

The lastest edition of the Bulletin has just been published (December 2015). It contains summaries of research into different types of family justice proceedings.

Essential reading for everyone interested in the family justice system.

For further information go to https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/485073/family-justice-bulletin-6.pdf

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

December 18, 2015 at 4:30 pm

Posted in chapter 7

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