Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘problem-solving courts

The functions of the family court: the need for joined-up policies?

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Shortly before his retirement from the post of President of the Family Court, Sir James Munby gave an extremely interesting lecture at the University of Liverpool about what he regarded as the failings of the current family court system.

He developed two principal arguments. The first focussed on what might be called the core functions of the family court; the other offered a more ‘holistic’ vision for the family justice system.

In relation to the first, Sir James noted that the core functions of the family court involved three key issues

  • determining questions of status – were a couple married or in a civil partnership or not;
  • determining what should happen to the children of marriage; and
  • determining the financial consequences of family breakdown.

He argued that the procedural rules and practices in relation to each of these questions were complex and resulted in potentially people having to go to court on more than one occasion to resolve their issues. Despite the unification of the family court under a single name, it did not and could not in practice operate as a ‘one-stop shop’.

It could be argued that these days questions of status were increasingly being determined on a ‘self-help’ basis (which would increase if the basic law on divorce were to be reformed and simplified) ; and that financial matters were being decided in special financial proceedings meetings taking place outside the formal court structure. Thus the courts were increasingly used for determining questions relating to children. But these trends should not mean that the issue of whether the family court could become more of a one stop shop should not be investigated more closely.

It was the second set of arguments – for a more holistic approach to family justice – that I found interesting. Sir James is a keen advocate of ‘problem-solving’ courts – courts that have the resources and expertise to try to deal with all the problems families may face (including, for example, criminal matters or public law issues such as immigration status) – so that families can obtain a secure basis on which they can build their future lives.

This is an interesting argument and reflects (although Sir James may not have been aware of this) research and policy development a number of years back which argued that people don’t have discrete problems (e.g. housing, or employment, or family – which are categories created by lawyers which don’t reflect how life is actually lived) but ‘clusters’ of problems. This led to interesting experiments, now regrettably abandoned for the creation of Community Legal Advice Centres or Community Legal Advice Networks, that could deal with clients in a ‘holistic’ faction.

These views are controversial, at least for lawyers, since they would mean cutting across long established categorisation of the justice system – into criminal, civil, administrative and family justice system – each with their own practices, procedures and traditions. For this reason, my hunch is that Sir James’ views may not be taken forward, at least in the short-term.

But I thought his arguments were rather refreshing, and worth thinking about.

You can read his lecture at https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/speech-by-pfd-what-is-family-law.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by lwtmp

September 6, 2018 at 11:50 am

The future of Family Drug and Alcohol Courts

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For a number of years, Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDAC) have existed in a small number of court locations in England. Inspired by a model developed in the USA, Judge Nicholas Crichton thought that such courts could offer a ‘problem-solving’ approach for families caught up in the justice system, because of the negative interactions between the use of drugs or alcohol and the treatment of children. If parents could be helped to kick their habits, it was argued, this might enable families to be kept together, rather than divided with children being taken into care.

Although judges and ministers like the concept, the roll out of the concept has been left very much to local initiatives. In 2015, a FDAC National Unit was created to support existing schemes (there are currently 10 teams, working in 15 courts, service families in 23 local authorities) and to encourage the development of new schemes.

In June 2018, the National Unit announced that it would have to close, as central government funding was being withdrawn from the Unit. Since then, a firm of solicitors has stumped up £12,500 for 3 years, and is leading a fundraising campaign to obtain the £250,000 needed to keep the Unit open.

The schemes themselves are also funded on a cash limited ad hoc basis. For example, in October 2017, £6m was awarded to the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust to enable the work of FDAC teams to be extended to more boroughs in London. The grant was made from the Government’s Life Chances Fund.

There is evidence that, where they exist, schemes deliver savings to the taxpayer (by reducing the costs of keeping children in care, for example.) But it seems that there is still someway to go before use of the approach will be rolled out on a national basis, and funded on a secure recurrent basis.

Further information on the FDAC National Unit is at http://fdac.org.uk/.

News about the private funding initiative is at https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/law-firm-steps-in-to-help-save-family-drug-and-alcohol-court-mtk6jrtxd.

News about the grant from the Life Chances fund is at https://tavistockandportman.nhs.uk/about-us/news/stories/problem-solving-family-drug-and-alcohol-courts-fdacs-support-more-families-6m-life-chances-grant/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

July 16, 2018 at 11:06 am

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

Problem solving courts – next steps

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One of the really interesting ideas under consideration in government and the judicary is that of ‘problem solving’ courts. The concept has been floating around for some time but has recently been given new impetus.

The idea is that offender behaviour change might be enhanced through a model of judicially supervised rehabilitative programmes. These would be designed to encourage
innovation in the use of judicial disposals and improve compliance with the orders of the court; and to deliver a swifter and more certain response to crime and to reduce
reoffending.
In February 2016, the government  announced the terms of reference for a working group – reporting to the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice.
The working group will advise on:
  • existing models of problem-solving courts nationally and internationally, and their applicability to England and Wales;
  • the feasibility of options for pilot models including practical, legislative and constitutional issues, and judicial leadership;
  • the support needed from within and without the criminal justice system, including the development, or improvement, of pathways in to rehabilitative and behaviour change interventions
  • the key criteria for a future suite of pilots of problem-solving courts, including the lessons from previous pilots and the required statutory provisions for taking forward any new pilots.
The working group will need to take account of domestic and international evidence of what works well in engendering behaviour change through a problem-solving court approach. This includes the scope, quality and effectiveness of past and current models, in particular theUSA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.The group should also consider the reasons why previous attempts at setting up Problem Solving Courts have been unsuccessful and take account of lessons learnt.
No date is given for the completion of the group’s work but I guess it won’t appear before the end of 2016.
It obviously is designed to fit with recent announcements about changes to the ways in which prisons are run – and the need to ensure that few people are actually sent to prison so that – om their different ways – both courts and the prison service will be working on offender education and rehabilitation.
The text of the announcement is at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/499465/tor-problem-solving-courts.pdf

Written by lwtmp

February 19, 2016 at 5:41 pm