Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘family justice

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

Divorce on-line: recent developments

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On January 30 2018 the Government announced that a fully online divorce application process is being tested across England and Wales for the first time. (It had been trialled in a small number of areas from 2017.)

The initial pilot allowed people seeking a divorce to use an online system which offered prompts and guidance to assist them in completing their application. But they still had to  print off the form and send it to the court.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has now extended the service so that the application is now fully digital – submitting the form, sending the relevant documents, and payment. In the first week HMCTS received 130 online applications.

According to HMCTS the online system has drastically cut the number of applications being returned because of errors – showing a 90% improvement from paper forms. This is particularly important given the increasing numbers seeking a divorce without using a lawyer to help them.

Users of the new service seem to like it. It has already gained positive feedback with people welcoming the simplified, streamlined and easy to understand system which delivers their application instantly – without the worry of it being lost in the post.

The next stages will include making the system available for use by legal representatives. A date has not yet been publicly announced for this further development.

For further detail, see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hm-courts-and-tribunals-service-tests-fully-digital-divorce-application

Experience in other contexts suggests that once up and running, use of on-line application procedures will increase very rapidly. Indeed, people will wonder why this development had not occurred years ago. This sort of development is at the heart of the Transformation of our Justice System reform programme.

Written by lwtmp

February 2, 2018 at 4:05 pm

Financial Remedies Courts: developments in Family Justice

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2018 will witness the start of a new approach to dealing with the financial matters that can arise when married couples are divorced. The current President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby has set out his ambition that disputes about financial matters should be treated quite separately from the process of getting the divorce itself.

To this end, a series of pilots is being launched in February 2018 in which, in three trial areas of the country, financial matters will be dealt with by specially trained judges in a reduced number of family court hearing centres. The courts undertaking this work will be known generally as Financial Remedies Courts.

The new system will initially be operated on a trial basis in three areas of the country: London, the Black Country and South East Wales.

The President clearly hopes that expansion of the scheme to other parts of the country will take place rapidly.

In a recent Circular, Sir James wrote:

My core ambition for financial remedy work is to improve significantly both the application of procedural justice and the delivery of substantive justice.
Procedural justice will be bettered by the appointment of a cadre of specialist judges to the Financial Remedies Court (FRC) and by a process of early allocation of a case to the right judge at the right level  at the right place, so as to ensure maximum efficiency. It will be bettered by the application and enforcement of standard directions and interim orders and by ensuring that FDRs (where the majority of cases settle already) are conducted with consistency, with sufficient time being allowed not only for the hearing but also for judicial preparation.
The delivery of substantive justice will be improved by an improved programme of judicial training; by the reporting of judgments in small and medium cases by the judges of the FRC to promote transparency and consistency; and by ensuring that sufficient time is allowed for the preparation and conduct of final hearings.
An increase in transparency will result in increased predictability of outcome, which in turn should lead to a higher rate of settlement or, for those cases that do not settle, a reduced rate of appeals.
Although initially hearings will be paper-based, it is intended that – in common with other changes being made in the justice system – there should be rapid moves to making the process an entirely digitised one.
These changes are being accompanied by another reform which has seen the introduction of many more standarised orders, which will be used by judges and avoid the need for parties or their legal advisers to draw up orders that then have to be approved by the judges. Sir James hopes this will particularly assist litigants in person.
A full statement of Sir James’ vision can be seen in Circular 18 available at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/view-from-the-president-of-family-division-20180123.pdf

Written by lwtmp

January 24, 2018 at 11:35 am

Transforming the English Legal System: Family Justice

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The Consultation Paper, Transforming our Justice System, has little to say on further reforms to the Family Justice system.

It has been undergoing radical change over the last few years, following publication of the report by David Norgrove and the creation of the single family court. The Government clearly wants work in progress to continue.

Progress with these reforms is kept under active review by the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, who now issues regular newsletters on developments – the latest is the subject of a separate blog item.

Written by lwtmp

October 5, 2016 at 5:13 pm

Divorce on-line: a cautionary tale

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There is much talk, excitement even, at the prospect of the court system at last taking steps to embrace on-line technologies to increase efficiency in the process of resolving disputes.

There are already a number of proceedings that can be started on-line, such as possession proceedings and money actions.

The family courts are also engaged in these developments. But just before Christmas 2015 a problem was identified with one of the on-line forms that can be used – Form E.

Form E is the form on which parties in divorce, dissolution, nullity or judicial separation proceedings disclose information about their assets and liabilities. One feature of the Form is that is has a calculator built in which calculates a figure which judges can then use to judge any financial settlement.

This fault that was discovered meant that the automatic calculator in the form calculated the wrong total for an individual’s net assets by failing to deduct certain liabilities.

The fault had not always been there but it  was present in versions of Form E which were online between April 2014 and mid December 2015 and also between April 2011 and January 2012.

HMCTS staff found that a total of 36,527 cases had used different versions of the Form, of which 3,638 files – 10% – contained the faulty calculator version of Form E. Of these, 1,403 cases were still live, allowing HMCTS to intervene immediately to clearly flag these cases to the courts in order to avoid the error affecting the final orders in these cases.

But 2,235 files – 6.1% – were closed cases, so that the fault could have affected the outcome.

On 21 January 2016 the Minister Shailash Vara announced that parties in these cases would be contacted to see whether they wanted their case to be reviewed.

Although the increased use of IT in court dispute-resolution procedures is inevitable, this instance is a reminder of the importance of ensuring that relevant software is throughly tested before it is made publicly available.

It should be noted that the error was not discovered by a solicitor (they tend to use different software) but by a company called the Family Law Clinic who provide low cost assistance to parties seeking to do the divorce themselves.

It may also be noted that DIY divorce is not just for those of moderate means. The high profile divorce announcement, also in January 2016, by Gary Lineker contained the information that he and his wife had obtained their divorce for just £400.

For the ministerial statement on Form E see https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/family-justice.

For the family law clinic see http://www.familylawclinic.co.uk/contact-us.html

For news of the Lineker divorce see http://money.aol.co.uk/2016/01/18/how-the-linekers-did-it-keeping-divorce-costs-down/

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

January 22, 2016 at 11:42 am

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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Family Justice Research

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Big changes are in progress in the family justice system. Researchers, both within government and outside, are engaged in a number of research projects designed to examine how the family justice system is working. Indeed, a number of recommendations in the Family Justice Review related to the need to better share relevant research and good practice throughout the family justice system. The government accepted these recommendations and agreed to work with the Family Justice Board to help provide social research evidence to family justice professionals and wider stakeholders.

The Family Justice Research and Analysis team in Ministry of Justice Analytical Services are supporting this through their Family Justice Research Bulletin. The 5th volume of the Bulletin was published in January 2015. The 4th is also available on-line but numbers 1-3 are not. It is planned that further bulletins will be published roughly every six months.

Given the controversies that surround the operation of the family justice system, the undertaking and publication of high quality empirical research is obviously necessary to ensure that the system is working as intented.

One of the principal findings in the present edition is that public knowledge of what is happening to the family justice system is very sketchy; and that government hopes for more use of mediation are still thwarted by a lack of willingness of parties to participate in mediation. There also seems to be a lack of understanding that while legal aid for family matters has been cut back, it is still available for mediation.

Those interested in the research discussed in the bulletin can find full details at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/family-justice-research-bulletin-5-january-2015

Bulletin 4 is at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/family-justice-research-bulletin-4-mar-2014

Written by lwtmp

February 3, 2015 at 12:44 pm

Experts in family law cases: new practice direction

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In May 2013, the Government launched a consultation on the standards that experts in family cases should have. The standards had been drawn up by the Family Justice Council. The judiciary have recently announced that these standards are now operational.

The standards include making sure that the expert:

  • has knowledge appropriate to the court case,
  • has been active in the area of work or practice and has sufficient experience of the issues relevant to the case,
  • is either regulated or accredited to a registered body where this is appropriate,
  • has relevant qualifications and has received appropriate training, and
  • complies with safeguarding requirements.

The standards were developed in partnership with the Family Justice Council.

For further details, see http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/publications/new-national-standards-for-family-court-experts/

Written by lwtmp

October 30, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Family Justice: ensuring the voice of the child is heard

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Family law places great emphasis on the child. Ensuring that the interests of the child are addressed is central. But how can these issues be addressed if, in the course of proceedings – whether in court or mediation – those taking decisions do not hear directly from the children who are going to be affected by those decisions?

In theory the child’s interests are represented by CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service). But it has been recognised that however well staff in CAFCASS work, they may not always fully understand the child’s perspective. In 2006, CAFCASS established the Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB) – a group of around 40 children and young people who have been through the family justice system or who have an interest in children’s rights and the family courts.

The Board has recently been developing proposals to ensure that the practice and procedure of judges and mediators gives children the opportunity to be heard directly.

In a recent speech to the FJYPB, Simon Hughes, Minister in the Ministry of Justice, announced that the Government would seek to implement proposals for all children over the age of 10 to be heard, both in couirt and in mediations. The precise details of how this will happen still need finalising, but this seems to be a step to which the President of the Family Court, CAFCASS and mediators are committed to.

For more details, see https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/simon-hughes-speech-at-the-voice-of-the-child-conference.
See also http://www.cafcass.gov.uk/about-cafcass/how-we-are-organised/family-justice-young-peoples-board.aspx

Written by lwtmp

July 30, 2014 at 10:44 am

Reforming the Justice system: creation of the Family Court

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The long-awaited Family Court opened for business on 22 April 2014.

Following enactment of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, instead of family cases being divided amongst Family Proceedings Courts (as Magistrates’ Courts dealing with family matters are called), county courts and the Family Division of the High Court, there is now a single point of contact for all family matters that need resolution by courts. In practice, the judges that formerly undertook family work will continue to do so, and the buildings used for family cases will be the same. But questions of how matters are to be divided between the different types of judge will be decided by judicial administration on a practical basis. It is specifically provided that certain types of simple cases may be dealt with by magistrates sitting on their own, rather than in panels. Justices’ clerks and their assistants are also given wider powers to assist the judiciary in straightforward cases.

As you will be aware, the Children and Families Act 2014 was given Royal Assent on 13 March and a number of significant family justice reforms will be introduced from 22 April.

The reforms to the family justice system are aimed at improving the way the system functions as a whole. In particular, we want to make sure that the welfare of children is at the centre of decisions, reduce delays in proceedings, and encourage families to use court as a last resort to resolve disputes. We are:

  • Placing a requirement on a person to attend a meeting to find out about mediation before they are allowed to make certain applications to the family court, for example, disputes over finances or children arrangements (unless exemptions apply – such as in cases of domestic violence).
  • Moving to the use of child arrangements orders (CAOs) in place of ‘residence’ and ‘contact’ orders.
  • Streamlining court processes for divorce and dissolution of a civil partnership by removing the requirement for the court to consider the arrangements for children as part of these processes.
  • Introducing a 26-week time limit for completing care and supervision cases, to improve the timeliness of finding a permanent placement for children. The court will have the discretion to extend cases by up to eight weeks at a time, should that be necessary to resolve proceedings justly.
  • Restricting the use of expert evidence in children (both public and private law) proceedings to that which is necessary to resolve the proceedings justly and requires courts to have regard to the impact of delay on the child when deciding whether to permit expert evidence in children proceedings and whether the court can obtain information from parties already involved;
  • Reducing unnecessary administrative work, by removing the need to renew interim care orders and interim supervision orders as frequently, allowing the courts to set interim orders which are in line with the timetable for the case.

– See more at: http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/advice/family-court-resources/family-law-changes-information-from-the-ministry-of-justice/#sthash.RpPOYiu2.dpuf

The Children and Families Act 2014 is also brought into effect on the same day. This implements the recommendations of the Norgrove Committee on Family Justice. It

  • makes attendance at a meeting to find out about mediation a compulsory requirement, before any proceedings before a court can be started (save for exceptional cases, e.g. where there is domestic violence) so separating couples must consider alternatives to court battles when resolving financial matters and arrangements for child contact;
  • replaces residence and contact orders with ‘child arrangements orders’ designed to encourage parents to focus on the child’s needs rather than what they see as their own ‘rights’;
  • introduces a 26 week time limit for care proceedings to further reduce the excessive delays in these cases and give greater certainty to the children involved (this can be extended by up to 8 weeks if necessary to resolve a case justly);
  • streamlines the process of obtaining a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership;
  • restricts the use of expert witnesses in both private and public law children proceedings, requiring the court to consider the impact of delay on the child and whether the information could actually be obtained from parties already before the court.

The impact of cuts to legal aid are that it appears there are many more litigants in person before the courts. It remains to be seen whether, when the changes have bedded down, this remains the case.

For further information see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/family-justice-reforms-to-benefit-children; and https://www.gov.uk/government/news/major-changes-in-family-courts.

See also http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/advice/family-court-resources/family-law-changes-information-from-the-ministry-of-justice/

Written by lwtmp

June 2, 2014 at 3:40 pm