Book Review : Family Justice : The work of Family Judges in Uncertain Times

Family Justice – The Work of Family Judges in Uncertain Times, John Eekelaar and Mavis Maclean, Hart Publishing 2013.


I anticipated that this book would be a dry old read but in fact it was (to me at least) really rather interesting, and gave me some helpful ways of understanding and articulating the judicial process and the nature of the family justice system in this jurisdiction – both its strengths and it’s weaknesses.

It is easy to say “but that’s madness” in response to the latest cut or hairbrained reform proposal. It is harder to say why, to articulate the delicate balance and the hows and whys of our arrival at the present imperfect but nonetheless sophisticated system. I will find it a little easier now I have this book under my belt.

I’ve been in the field for a decade or so which makes me a child of the Children Act generation – I know of but did not experience the dark days before its inception. For those who want a longer view than their own first hand experience provides this book is useful. And for me it reinforced some of the instinctive rebuttals I often issue to critics of the system – it gives an evidential underpinning to the arguments based on logic and experience. It is easy (and right) to criticise the weaknesses of a system that does not effectively enforce its orders – but I’ve yet to find a critic that has a better solution that does not create its own problems. The “enforcement paradox” for example is no doubt a concept not new to this publication, but it was for me a new way of articulating a well understood phenomenon for which I am grateful.

So. This book conducts something of a comparison between our approach in this jurisdiction and in others, for example Australia. It looks at the Family Justice Review and subsequent reforms, proposed and enacted. It worries openly about the direction of travel and the future, frets about the characterisation as all time spent as “delay”, busts a few myths about the efficacy of mediation and PIPs as a panacea, and reminds us of the multi-layered role that family judges actually perform – in private law at least far more dispute resolution, solution finding than decision making.

It really is an excellent and thought provoking read, essential for anyone who wants to discuss current reforms in their proper context.