Family Justice Modernisation Programme Update No. Nine and Three Quarters

This press release just in from Mr Justice Schrodinger, Family Justice Modernisator:

Family Justice Modernisation Programme Update No 9 3/4 

I am pleased to announce that, in furtherance of the prime objective of efficiency and pace, all care cases issued after 1 January 2013 will be cascaded through the new algorithmic family justice hyper-rationalisation drive, which we have designed and constructed notwithstanding our budget of nil resources, reducing staff and technically obsolete IT estate. The system depends upon a simple scoring system, which has been developed with input from magistrates, with their unique insights and experience, and who are best placed to identify the key characteristics of families on the ground.

All public law cases entering into the system will be scored according to the following criteria before being allocated to one of three tracks, each with its own traffic light (to assist the understanding of the self represented litigant) : GREEN – proceed directly to adoption, AMBER – conduct perfunctory assessment and proceed to adoption in no longer than 26 weeks, and RED – cases where, as a result of failures in legal representation and filibustering, more than 27 weeks are required in order to achieve outcomes. Red light cases will be diverted to the newly constituted Muggle Tribunal, and parents will be able to access comprehensive legal guidance through an automated advice guide available at public library or post office internet consoles.

The system is designed to be simple to apply and understand, avoiding the need for complicated regulations, statutory guidance or the exercise of discretion. Any case scoring 20 or more will be allocated to the amber track. Any case scoring 30 or more to green. Cases scoring below 20 (if any) will be allocated to the red track.

Four or more children with names beginning with the same letter of the alphabet OR six or more children where all children of one gender have names beginning with the same letter of the alphabet 5
Case involves more children than lawyers 2
Presence of satellite tv dish or sky box in / on the family home in combination with rent arrears of more than £500 OR warning re noise from premises by Housing Association 5
Multiple tattoos (to satisfy this criterion “multiple” means more than 5 individual tattoos involving more than one part of the body one of which must include the face neck or décolletage OR all the knuckles of one hand) 5
More than 3 fathers as party to proceedings OR more than 2 unknown fathers OR one father with paternity of two non-consecutive children 2
Reasonable cause to believe at least one of the paternal / maternal grandparents to be a “nasty piece of work” or that they have been verbally / physically / sexually abusive to at least one of the parents or parents siblings 5
Case involves viability assessment of a great grandparent or step great grandparent of child where that adult is below pensionable age as at the date of assessment 5
Parents own staffie-cross dog 5
Parents own dog or cat (any breed) which is not reliably house trained 5
Parents own more than 5 animals (to qualify for this criteria this must include one reptile, one mammal and one bird or chinchilla) 2
Shopping trolley in garden (front or back) 2
Parent’s belly button visible through / between layers of clothing at two consecutive court hearings 2
Parents have in combination more than 20 piercings (any body part) 5
Parent has asked for help 5
Parent has not asked for help 5
Parent has agreed to s20 accommodation 5
Parent has requested s20 accommodation 5
More than two children bearing one of the following names (any spelling): Callum, Cayden, Jayden, Chardonnay, Jaya, Jordan (boy or girl), Joshua, Chloe, Tiana, Shayanne, Rochelle OR any hyphenated first name OR any first name including an apostrophe OR comprising an acronym OR any name closely resembling designer clothing brand name available for purchase at TK Maxx 5
Either parent attends court wearing trackie bottoms bearing sexually suggestive moniker across buttocks 5
Parent has at any time declined to sign a document at the request of the local authority without first speaking to their lawyer 5
Any two parties to the proceedings have referred to facebook arguments, threats or alleged harassment in the course of proceedings 5
Has no lawyer or has had more than 2 sets of lawyers during proceedings 5
Brings MP to court 5
Any member of the family has appeared on the Jeremy Kyle show as participant OR two members of the immediate / extended family have been in the audience 5
Number of years between birth of eldest and youngest child is greater than the age of the parent at date of birth of first child 5
Any adult in the case in receipt of any social security benefit 5
Case involves a subject child whose paternity is unknown or where dna tests have been required in order to establish paternity 5

The system will be trialled during a robust pilot spanning a period of 26 weeks, following which the scoring system will replace section 31 Children Act 1989, which can be cumbersome and can add unnecessary complexity to cases with obvious outcomes. Through this streamlining of the judicial process it is anticipated that by 2014 when the single family court is introduced average case times will have been reduced to below 26 weeks in 90% of cases. It must be stressed that such figures are aspirational and will not be achievable until a period of c26 weeks has elapsed (which may be extended only upon provision of evidence to the Minister for Justice up to a maximum of a further 8 weeks).

Presidential guidance for judges and magistrates in relation to case management of private and public law proceedings will then be published in the form of pathways*.

In order to ensure coherence of approach, expectations documents, setting out what the court expects of agencies and other participants in the proceedings are being drafted by those responsible for their content, to ensure they meet any rules or regulations, service level agreements and codes of practice, which govern their own processes as well as meeting the requirements of the family court. Relationships developed during the information-gathering phase of the modernisation programme continue to be vital and discussions are being held with colleagues across the family justice system** to develop these documents. It is important that the growing expectation of increasing amounts of work for decreasing amounts of pay carried out by the legal profession is recognised and formalised, and built upon in order to enable committed legal professionals to extend the pro bono ethos to all areas of practice.

Advocates will be pleased to hear that the Family Advocacy Scheme uplift rates will be amended to reflect the expectations placed upon them. Advocates will be able to claim an uplift back to 2005 rates of pay for all cases successfully cascaded down the green or amber pathway.

This is a time of profound change in the family justice system. It is vital to the success of the modernisation programme that all key stakeholders embrace that change and adapt to it in order to secure the overriding objectives of the family justice system***.

* When we can find someone fool enough to step into the role of President

**Apart from lawyers.

***as understood by Ministers from time to time

POSTSCRIPT : #satire. Please treat as such…Don’t blame me, blame the two very anonymous QCs who suggested it…