Mr Justice Ryder has provided us with a sixth update in respect of the progress of the Family Justice Modernisation Programme. In the published update, he explained that he has sketched out a two year timetable for the Family Justice Modernisation Programme and that his next task is to publish at the end of July, the Judiciary’s proposals to the problems identified in the Family Justice review, and the Government’s responses to the final Family Justice report. He explained that the key to the proposals is the new unified Family Court which will arise out of the Crime and Courts Bill which was laid before Parliament on 10 May 2012.
Mr Justice Ryder has explained that the Modernisation Programme will be in two phases with each phase taking approximately a year. It is hoped that both phases will be completed by Summer 2014.
Phase one will focus on putting in place principles to enable the unified Family Court to be created some time after Summer 2013. It is hoped that by this deadline Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service will have designed both the structure and the administrative structure for a unified Family Court, separate from the current County Court process. To make this work there will need to be secondary legislation dealing with the distribution of business within the Court, the destination of Appeals and the use of experts. There will also need to be new guidance drafted to be made available to Judges, Magistrates and Legal Advisors working within the new unified Family Court. It is hoped that all the Judges and Magistrates and Legal Advisors involved in the new unified Family Court will have been trained before August 2013, and that their training will ensure that they are focused on leadership and management.
Therefore in approximately twelve months time we will have a new unified Family Court with a new structure, led by the President of the Family Division. The Law Society has sponsored the creation of a national Family Court business committee known as the Faster Family Justice Group which will allow a wide range of professional associations and other groups to contribute to this Modernisation Programme.
Phase two will be the year in which the Government’s second bill, the Children and Families Bill and secondary legislation will be implemented, with the hope that this is completed by April 2014. Mr Justice Ryder in his update acknowledged that there is cross party consensus for the Family Justice review / reform. It is clear from Mr Justice Ryder’s update that he is keen to implement as quickly as possible secondary legislation to which there is very little resistance. For example, Mr Justice Ryder seeks to put in place a rule and practice direction for the use of experts in the court process and a timetable to track cases to ensure that non-exceptional cases can be completed in twenty six weeks.
Mr Justice Ryder highlighted that during 2012 to 2013 the Family Justice Modernisation Panel will seek to agree with agencies documents to set out what Judges should expect from CAFCASS, Contact services, safeguarding services, testing services and the Legal Services Commission. Also, an aim is to draft practice notes and explanatory guidance for self representing litigants. The number of self representing litigants is only likely to increase as the drastic public funding cuts filter through the Justice system.
Clearly, we now await the Judiciary’s proposals to be published at the end of the month.
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