I've said nothing so far about the Government response to the FJR, partly due to lack of time and partly due to lack of motivation. But it matters little because so much has been said by others whilst I've been pfaffing. So I thought what would be most useful is to review some of the comment that has caught my eye since the Government Response to the FJR was published, and perhaps to add a few thoughts of my own at the end.
So, in no particular order:
Liz Trinder in the Guardian: The Children Act is an act of kindness (There's no systematic bias against fathers in family courts, so no need for ministers to tinker). This drew fierce criticism in the horrendously lengthy comments thread, much of it criticising Trinder for a lack of evidential foundation, apparently oblivious to the fact that she has carried out much of the research in this field (which understandably perhaps was not set out in a comment article in a newspaper).
The Guardian's general summary was contained in a piece entitled Government backs "shared parenting" legislation after separation. Note the complete failure to distinguish between private law and public law. *Sigh* Expect better of the Guardian.
The Families Need Fathers press release says "Government proposals on family law have the potential to dramatically improve outcomes for children in the UK. Statement of importance of both parents in law will complement the welfare needs of children; improvement of enforcement will increase public confidence in system." No surprises there, but the pedant in me cringes at the use of complimentary for complementary (sorry).
Meanwhile, others are still engaged in complaining about the responses to the initial FJR consultation, which seem like distant memories now. Odd to think that the FJR was the brainchild of the old labour government.
NAPO comments on the Government's response here. It's a short press release and it's worth setting out the bulk of it here I think:
Family Court professionals have operated on the principle of promoting a child's ongoing relationship with both parents after family separation (where this is safe and in the child's best interests) since the 1989 Children Act. Napo is relieved that the Government intends only to make a legislative statement along these lines and is not intending to legislate for automatic shared parenting after parental separation, which, given the prevalence of domestic abuse in family breakdown, could put children at risk of harm.
Napo is however disappointed that the Government only seems to appreciate Cafcass in terms of quantitative production and has ignored all the submissions to the Family Justice Review that exposed the unsustainably heavy and increasing workloads that Cafcass practitioners are carrying and the bureaucratic, oppressive and counter-productive performance management regime that Cafcass has imposed on its staff. If the Government genuinely wishes to reduce the length of care cases from 55 weeks to six months, then it must ensure that Cafcass practitioners are properly resourced and are managed in accordance with the principles set out by Eileen Munro in her review of Child Protection, May 2011.
A marker then that all is not well and that legislative reform will not produce the desired results without resource. Change is not complimentary.
Nagalro and the Law Society Children's committee flesh out this concern - not specifically a response to the Government's FJR proposals, but addressing the elephant in the room scarcely even whispered by the Government in it's response document: the legal aid cuts: Legal cuts threaten family court cases warn Guardians (Community Care).
F4J went into overdrive and practically into orbit when the Government response came out, with Nadine O'Connor hotfooting it from one local radio station to another like a whirling dervish, leaving behind her a trail of tweets, status updates, videos, open letters and other assorted purple PR accoutrement. The frenzied excitement of F4J was dampened only by the suspension of both their Facebook and Twitter accounts simultaneously. In fact this only made them more self righteous and indignant, because The Man was out to get them (or possibly The Woman). F4J used the Government's response as a springboard for the launch of a promotional video,
apparently [unintentional drafting / syntax error - not quibbling over whether they are real children or real family breakdowns!] of real children involved in real family breakdowns and who express on film their grievance at having been prevented from having a relationship with their dad against their wishes. These children, say F4J are seeking compensation from CAFCASS for failing to heed their wishes. For my part putting children who have survived family breakdown and protracted high conflict cases under studio lights and encouraging them to air their grievances for worldwide consumption in this way (one imagines without the consent of the allegedly hostile parent) may be a great way of making a point, but is strikingly oblivious to the likely repercussions for the children filmed, who may well now find themselves in the midst of even more heightened conflict (and possibly with their parents back in court as a result?). The irony of children so litigated over now proposing to somehow seek redress through the initiation of their own law suits (against CAFCASS) makes me feel a little bit queasy. I wondered if the account suspensions may be related to legal action taken by aggrieved parents who found their children featured in the videos, but that is speculation. The video seems still to be out there on the interweb, but oddly not on the F4J website (as far as I can tell).
Family Law Week did their own roundup, setting out the reactions of a number of key organisations.
So. There you have it. A lot of people have said some stuff about what the Government has said about the Family Justice Review. For my part I was rather surprised, having read what's been said about what's been said about what's been said to find just how little the Government's response actually says and in how many words it manages to say it. If you get me. Let me round it up for the lazy reader:
- The courts must do stuff quicker. With the same number of judges, more cases, more litigants in person and less resource. And they should stop griping about minor things like robust evidence and thorough assessment. We'll set a ridiculously unattainable target so everyone knows we are dead serious. And we'll make sure courts stop tinkering with detail that is the province of the social workers (Oh! You mean we're going to get rid of the starred care plan? No....Hang on....). And there must be judicial continuity. With the same number of judges, more cases and less resources...We'll get those children into "permanence" before you can say "adoptiontsar".
- Both parents should be involved in a child's life, but no presumption of equality of time. No change there then. But we'll consult about saying something to persuade everyone that we really mean what the courts have been saying for years. And telling parents that they are entitled to a presumption of shared parenting will reduce litgation. (Er...Or alternatively will increase it. Particularly if no-one has a lawyer to explain the new "legislative statement" to them.)
- We'll ditch residence and contact orders in favour of child arrangement orders - this is for me substantive reform which may have legs, although it has a number of knock on effects which require - er, consultation.
- We'll enforce orders a bit better (not quite sure how but that's a mere detail - we'll consult).
- There is a lot of "accept subject to further work" and in respect of proposed legislative reform much use of the phrase "we will consult on", many statements of general intent which are notably sketchy on detail.
- Oh and there will be some online hub type things so that nobody really needs a lawyer any more.
- And anyway nobody will be going to court the completely unregulated mediation sector will fix all where everyone else has failed. Hurrah!
Super. I've missed a few tiny bits out, but I think you can see that the Government have got it pretty much all sorted as far as Family Justice goes. It'll be ship shape and Bristol Fashion in no time at all. Just as long as it doesn't get holed below the water line by a LASPO torpedo.