Family Justice Review – Government Response

Below is the text of the email sent to the “Partner Group” i.e. those who formally contributed to the FJR. Am mid-prep for a conference so cannot read or comment on the Government response, and offer this in lieu. More proper comment later…

The full Government response can be accessed here.

Today the Government has announced that children and families in England and Wales will benefit from major reforms to the family justice system which will tackle delays, streamline processes and rebuild trust.

In response to the recommendations made by the independent Family Justice Review Panel, Ministers have outlined their plans to reform the system to help strengthen parenting, reduce the time it takes cases to progress through the courts, and simplify the family justice system.

The major reforms are outlined below:

Shared parenting for the best interests of the child:

  • The changes in education and the introduction of parenting agreements which the Review recommended will help ensure better recognition of the joint role of parents within wider society.
  • The Government also accepts the need to clarify and restore public confidence that the courts recognise the joint nature of parenting.  We will therefore make a legislative statement emphasising the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both their parents after family separation, where that is safe, and in the child’s best interests.  The Government is mindful of the lessons which must be learnt from the Australian experience of legislating in this area, which were highlighted by the Review and led them to urge caution.  We will therefore consider very carefully how legislation can be framed to ensure that a meaningful relationship is not about equal division of time, but the quality of parenting received by the child.

Speeding up care and adoption cases by reforming the Public Law System and increasing transparency.  The Government has already begun to publish data on the timeliness of court cases so we can see where delays are occurring.  We will introduce legislation at the earliest opportunity to enable a six month time limit to be set and wherever possible we expect cases to be completed more quickly, while retaining the flexibility to extend complex cases where this is genuinely in the child’s interest.

Simplifying the family justice system to help separating couples reach lasting agreement speedily, if possible without going to court. The Government will make it mandatory for separating parents who propose court action to resolve a dispute about their child to have an initial assessment to see if mediation is something which would be suitable instead, to help them agree on the arrangements for their child.  We estimate that we will spend an extra  £10m a year on legal aid for family mediation taking the total to £25m per year (although we have placed no upper limit on this figure).  We will also examine how to give the Courts more robust enforcement tools to combat failure to comply with judgments.

Driving culture change and better cross-system working through the establishment of a new Family Justice Board, accountable to Ministers, made up of senior figures representing the key organisations who play a role within the system and who will have a clear remit to improve performance.

Other key commitments in the Government’s response are:

  • To consider how Parenting Agreements could be used to emphasise the need for parents to consider how the child can maintain a relationship with other close family members, such as grandparents.
  • To reduce expense and delay caused by the excessive use of expert reports, strengthening their quality and ensuring only essential reports are commissioned
  • To reduce the amount of time spent by Judges and Courts scrutinising care plans, focusing instead on the core or essential components when making care orders.
  • To bring court social work closer to other court services by transferring Cafcass sponsorship to the Ministry of Justice;
  • To create a single family court across England and Wales, with a single point of entry, to simplify the system and make it more accessible for families using the system.

 

 

12 thoughts on “Family Justice Review – Government Response

  1. The FJR is a collection of sound bites which in no way goes anyway to resolving the key issues. Anything worthwhile in the findings could have been written on the back of a stamp in large writing. We need to get away from this idea of Family Courts which are distinct from the Civil or Criminal Courts. 99.999% of family matters should be dealt with at source, with serious matters dealt in the criminal court. Family Courts muddy the waters between law and pseudo law creating untold misery for 100s of 1000s.

  2. Provincial Solicitor

    I have not read the response as yet, but understand that the only proposal rejected outright was that to abolish the court fees for care proceedings. I think that probably tells us a great deal…

  3. It is a politically managed piece of fiction, supported by the daily conflicting messages from ministers about its implementation which explains it’s vagueness in many of its areas. I have read it, it has no scientific basis, fails to recognise the Courts are institutional biased (which is laughable) and is intellectually deficient in every area.
    We (Mothers, Fathers, Grandparents) need clear direction, not further misinformation about the proposals, what this represents is a further opportunity for reinterpretation instead of decisive direction. Toothless mediation does not work and is not working because the resident parent does not have to abide by the law since they are never subject to it, they know it, the statistics support it and they will abuse it.
    It is a great proposal for lawyers (opaque law = more money) which is reflected by their unanimous support of it, but I don’t know a single parenting support group who do support it outright. If the FJR panel had cut the pseudoscience waffle and put down half a dozen proposals on a single side of A4, with clear guidelines then they would have in s single stroke improved the economy, stopped the misery of the Family Court system being projected onto thousands of children, parents and grandparents.

  4. If a single lawyer out of 6000 family lawyers does not agree with the proposals of the FJR then yes you would be right. Notwithstanding the nature of lawyers to appear neutral particularly in public the major family law blogs indicate there has been universal acceptance of the FJR. I am not anti Family Law, Family Lawyers could add value to a process which badly needs it but the FJR proposals are certainly not going to make that happen. Fundamentally until

    1. The Chidren’s Act 1989 is properly aligned with the Human Rights Act 1998;
    2. The Department of Justice start auditing Family Proceedings;
    3. The Family Procedure Rules reduce the amount of disgression Judges can use;
    4. The Family Courts are more transparent;
    5. A Pre-Action Protocol for Family Proceedings is developed;

    Family Lawyers and Family Law will continue to operate in a environment of failure.

    DA

    • 1 It is
      2 The pedant in me can’t help but say it’s the Ministry of Justice. But agree re audit.
      3 Discretion is the strong point of the system in my view. And that comes from the statute not the rules.
      4 Agree re transparency
      5 There is one

      Agree much needs to change and Gov proposals are probably not the solution. Anecdotally, I don’t think the proposals are universally accepted by lawyers.

  5. inflagrantedilecto

    Cafcass is the weakest link in the whole family justice system. Service users, magistrates and judges all need high quality social work interventions and reports in order to make and understand the right decisions for children.They will continue to needs these even more in the current situation.

    The Cafcass executive only deal with numbers…they say not a thing about the quality of their interventions despite the fact that their practitioner’s time spent on individual cases has been severely limited in both private and public law. If quality has not been compromised then how has this miracle been achieved??.

    I suggest, with an insiders knowledge, that this has been achieved by direct limiting and intervention by Cafcass managers, who then follow up on any resistance to this strategy on grounds of ethical and child centred practice by oppressive responses leading to getting rid of the practitioner by fair means or foul.

    There is no openess or transparency when the court of Cafcass sits.

    There has been a recent internal whistleblowing investigation within Cafcass about the misconduct of cafcass managers in one region…an investigation that amounted to a cover up…whilst in another region a group of family court judges have complained about the misconduct of their Cafcass managers which is undermining the independence of children’s guardians in a letter to Sir Nicholas Wall which was leaked to Private Eye in November 2011…and when taken together with Charles Place’s open letter of resignation paints a picture of cafcass that is at odds with their strapline of putting children first in the family courts.

  6. http://karenwoodall.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/in-the-best-interests-of-children-how-gingerbread-get-the-rights-argument-wrong/

    Sorry for the cross posting but this is an excellent piece which provides some background to the matter.

  7. I’ll certainly be an additional lawyer who doesn’t universally support the proposals.

    Whilst I think that some degree of rebalancing is required to put delay back front and centre I don’t see how you can get a six month cap on care proceedings without (a) getting rid of independent experts or (b) arbitrarily imposing the wrong outcomes on cases because they happened to be on an upward or downward bit of the peaks and trough that exist in care proceedings as the six months happen. [To an extent, this happens now, but at least without a hard time limit cap, a blip can be tested for another 2-3 months to see if it is a downward blip on a generally upward path and then overcome, or the beginning of a downward plunge)

    And the problem with getting rid of independent experts, much as I’d love to, is that without a properly resourced and run CAFCASS who could be a genuinely informed and robust check and balance to social services, you end up with a real risk that parents have no real independent assessment of their abilities.

    As for private law – I have no idea how you would solve the problem of court orders not being complied with, and almost all of the power resting in the hands of the person who has physical possession of the child at the time the conflict arises, but I’m pretty sure more mediation and a longer time for a father whose contact has been unilaterally ended to get the case before a court to try to get it reinstated, isn’t it.

    There is quite a bit that I do like, but I would be utterly amazed if the time limit cap is in before 2014, as it seems utterly unworkable without an actual plan to drive down the timescales.

  8. Me
    1. The Chidren’s Act 1989 is properly aligned with the Human Rights Act 1998;
    2. The Department of Justice start auditing Family Proceedings;
    3. The Family Procedure Rules reduce the amount of disgression Judges can use;
    4. The Family Courts are more transparent;
    5. A Pre-Action Protocol for Family Proceedings is developed;

    You
    1 It is
    2 The pedant in me can’t help but say it’s the Ministry of Justice. But agree re audit.
    3 Discretion is the strong point of the system in my view. And that comes from the statute not the rules.
    4 Agree re transparency
    5 There is one

    Me again:0)
    1. This is El Presidente Wall’s idea explanation for how the Childrens Act is aligned with the HRA, “judges believe in the rule of law and in free speech. Every child case involves a balance between the rights enjoyed by everybody to respect for their private and family lives: see Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In each case section 1 of the Children Act 1989, enacted by Parliament, requires the welfare of the child to be paramount; that is more important than anything else”. There is no supporting evidence to explain how the welfare of the child is assessed, it is merely assumed that Judgements are always in the child’s interest. It is simply a license for Human Rights abuse by Family Court Judges.

    2. I am glad we agree on audit, why we are having a FJR without obtaining data, when the last review highlighted the data gaps as being a key issue makes me think, the Ministry of Love don’t want the public to know.

    3. Discretion, “The freedom to decide what should be done in a particular situation”, would not be necessary if the procedures were properly defined. It would create less uncertainty, reduce court appearances and the length of Family Proceedings. It would almost definitely reduce the cost of Proceedings.

    4. Transparency would help all concerned.

    5. A toothless one, which makes it less than useless.

    Thanks for responding to my points familoo, I am very glad we are agreed on transparency. I am prepared to be convinced that the Children’s Act is aligned with the HRA, but I do not see it myself.

    DA

  9. […] Family Justice Review – Governments Response Tue, 7 Feb 2012 | Published in Family, Family Courts Don't forget to Tweet this Blog Post, Like it and share it to LinkedIn. Tweet var addthis_product = 'wpp-262'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true};From: Pink Tape: […]

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