Thursday, October 13, 2011

Government's response to the Report of the Justice Select Committee on the Operation of the Family Courts

The Government's response to the Report of the Justice Select Committee on the Operation of the Family Courts has been published today.

This is the Overview of the Response:
"1.The Government welcomes the Justice Select Committee’s Report on the Operation of the Family Courts. We fully recognise the need for reform and the Family Justice Review is undertaking a comprehensive examination of the current operation of family justice in England and Wales. It is due to report before the end of the year.

2.Much of the analysis in the Select Committee’s report chimes with the emerging findings from the Review, and is similar in its diagnosis of underlying issues and areas for improvement in the current system. However, it would be wrong at this stage to pre-empt the findings of the Family Justice Review. The Government awaits the final report of the Review, to which we will respond in due course.

3.There are, however, areas in which the Government has already started work to address some of the main themes identified in the Committee’s Report, in particular promoting greater use of mediation, and work to improve the quality of data on the performance of the family justice system. This Response provides further information on the work currently underway, the progress we have already made and the further work planned."
Some of the responses in more detail:
"We accept the Committee’s observations about implementing changes to legal aid alongside those to the family justice system. We will look carefully at the interactions and the combined effects of both sets of reforms when developing implementation plans for the Family Justice Review’s recommendations. It should be noted that some of the Government’s legal aid changes will be introduced in advance of the implementation of the recommendations of the Family Justice Review." (Paragraph 12)

"The question of shared parenting is one which is being considered by the Family Justice Review. The terms of reference for the review include consideration of how the positive involvement of both parents following separation should be promoted, and we await the Review’s final recommendations." (Paragraph 14)

"We acknowledge that delays in public law cases are at unacceptable levels, and that such delay is not in the interests of the children involved. We await publication of the Family Justice Review, and are keen to see the Panel’s recommendations for reducing delay." (Paragraph 15)

"We accept that mediation may not be suitable in every case. Legal aid will remain available for cases where there is evidence of domestic violence and cases where a child is at risk of abuse to safeguard vulnerable groups. Currently 71% of clients who attempt publicly funded mediation reach a full or partial agreement." (Paragraph 22)

"We welcome the committee’s endorsement of the Pre-application protocol. We envisage that there may be a need to revise the pre-application protocol to take account of the recommendations of the Family Justice Review. We are also receiving feedback from mediators and operational staff on how the pre-application protocol could be further improved." (Paragraph 32)

"We accept the Committee’s recommendation on the importance of ensuring that the voice of the child is heard during mediation and we will continue to work with the FMC to make sure that all mediators are made aware of the benefits of listening to the child." (Paragraph 35)

"Whilst unrepresented litigants have always been a feature of the justice system, the Government agrees that both the civil and family justice systems will need to become simpler to navigate and more responsive to the needs of unrepresented users of the system. This will come about in part through the results of the Family Justice Review. The Government also accepts that procedures and guidance will need to be reviewed and improved in advance of the legal aid reforms taking effect. We are starting this work now." (Paragraph 62)

(Re: Increasing public confidence in the family court system) "...we will not be bringing forward further legislative change in the near future. We will instead look at measures that can increase the amount of publicly available information about the work of the family courts, including encouraging judges to publish more family court judgments." (Paragraph 75)
The Response concludes: "The Government is grateful to the Committee for its helpful contribution to the reform of family justice services. The Family Justice Review is expected to publish its final report later this year, setting out its recommendations for the reform of family justice. The Government will consider the Review’s recommendations carefully, and we will publish our response, setting out our programme of reform, in due course."

To be honest, I'm not really sure whether the Select Committee Report and this Response is anything more than a sideshow to the main event, i.e. the Family Justice Review. Obviously, in many (most?) instances, the Response could do nothing more than say "wait for the Review". Quite why the Select Committee couldn't have simply made its views known to the Review, I don't know.

2 comments:

  1. excellent - i'm glad to read this considered and intelligent response.

    so they are still cutting legal aid, then?

    ReplyDelete

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