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Family Justice Review - an update

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A short update on the government's responses to the Family Justice Review's recommendations for change.

The government responded to the Family Justice Review on 6 February 2012 to accept the majority of the Review’s recommendations. The government stated that there are key messages that they seek to put forward and these are: putting children at the heart of the process, so their needs are of paramount concern; speeding up care cases - to limit the length of care cases to 6 months, down from the current average of 55 weeks; and providing greater help to those parents who do separate, to encourage far more couples to resolve their disputes outside of Court.

Controversially one of the governments key messages was ‘to make legislative statements emphasising the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both parents after family separation (where it is safe and in the child’s best interests).’

Whether or not there should be legislative statements emphasising the importance of children having a relationship with both parents following separation was, in my view, the issue that grabbed the attention of the media and the public last year.

When the interim Family Justice Review report was published it contained an indication that legislation may be introduced to create the presumption that there is to be an assumed parental right to substantial shared or equal time for both parents with their children following separation. In the final Family Justice Review report it very clearly stated that the panel did not recommend that there should be a statement in legislation to reinforce the importance of a child continuing to have a meaningful relationship with both parents, along with the need to protect the child from harm. The panel made this decision after hearing from a variety of children’s groups and evidence from Sweden and Australia where there is such a presumption. It was found that a significant amount of damage was done to children were legislation creates expectations as to the amount of time each parent is going to have with their children following separation or divorce.

Despite this, it is clear from the government’s response to the Family Justice Review’s recommendations that it wants such a legislative statement or presumption, made law.

Mr Justice Ryder who is the Judge in charge of the moderation of the Family Justice System has now published 3 updates. He intends to implement as soon as possible the elements of modernisation within the Family Justice System where there is general agreement. One such area is Experts in the court procedure. Mr Justice Ryder is working closely with the Family Procedure Rule Committee to identify the Practice Direction changes to give more guidance and clarity as to when it is appropriate to appoint an expert to ensure that the work commissioned from experts is necessary and relevant to the issues to be decided by the Court. He is also recommending gatekeeping teams within the family courts to undertake the allocation of work under the direction of a designated family Judge. If the right decisions are made by the right Court staff, in terms of managing of the case, then this should lead to saving of time and money within the Court system.

As far as I can seede the Chair of the Family Justice Board role has still not being confirmed although I note that the job application period closed on 31 May 2012. The role of Chair and was advertised as a 2 year appointment.

Mr Justice Ryder speaking at the Public Child Care Law conference in London on 26 June 2012, explained the significance of task he has at hand. He said:

“On 10th May 2012 the Crime and Courts Bill was laid before Parliament. The Bill contains two clauses which are intended to create new statutory courts. One is a national County Court for civil proceedings to replace the existing 109 local county courts in England and Wales and the other is the culmination of an aspiration of specialist family practitioners since before the publication of the Finer Report in 1974: a unified Family Court. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create and fashion a court in the image that you and I want.”

As at today’s date – this is the sixth day of the Lords’ reading of the Bill. Every clause has to be agreed, after suggested amendments have been voted on.

I will endeavour to keep you all update.
 

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