Family Justice Review Published
The final report of the Family Justice Review has been published, at least on Family Law. As I write this, there is no trace of it yet on the Ministry of Justice's website. Funny how these things are released to the media before Joe Public gets to see them. Anyhow, here are some of the main recommendations:
The Family Justice System
The Family Justice System
- A Family Justice Service should be established, sponsored by the Ministry of Justice.
- The Family Justice Service should be responsible for the budgets for court social work services in England, mediation, out of court resolution services and, potentially over time, experts and solicitors for children.
- Charges to local authorities for public law applications and to local authorities and Cafcass for police checks in public and private law cases should be removed.
- An integrated IT system should be developed for use in the Family Justice Service and wider family justice agencies.
- A Vice President of the Family Division should support the President of the Family Division in his leadership role, monitoring performance across the family judiciary.
- The judiciary should aim to ensure judicial continuity in all family cases.
- Judges and magistrates should be enabled and encouraged to specialise in family matters.
- A single family court, with a single point of entry, should replace the current three tiers of court. All levels of family judiciary (including magistrates) should sit in the family court and work should be allocated according to case complexity.
- The Family Division of the High Court should remain, with exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving the inherent jurisdiction and international work that has been prescribed by the President of the Family Division as being reserved to it.
- All other matters should be heard in the single family court, with High Court judges sitting in that court to hear the most complex cases and issues.
- HMCTS and the judiciary should ensure routine hearings use telephone or video technology wherever appropriate.
- The Family Justice Service should develop an agreed set of core skills and knowledge for family justice.
- There should be a system of case reviews of process to help establish reflective practice in the family justice system.
- Courts should refocus on the core issues of whether the child is to live with parents, other family or friends, or be removed to the care of the local authority.
- When determining whether a care order is in a child’s best interests the court will not normally need to scrutinise the full detail of a local authority care plan for a child.
- A time limit for the completion of care and supervision proceedings should be set at six months.
- Primary legislation should reinforce that in commissioning an expert’s report regard must be had to the impact of delay on the welfare of the child. It should also assert that expert testimony should be commissioned only where necessary to resolve the case.
- A pilot on the use of formal mediation approaches in public law proceedings should be established.
- No legislation should be introduced that creates or risks creating the perception that there is a parental right to substantially shared or equal time for both parents.
- The need for grandparents to apply for leave of the court before making an application for contact should remain.
- Parents should be encouraged to develop a Parenting Agreement to set out arrangements for the care of their children post separation.
- Government should develop a child arrangements order, which would set out arrangements for the upbringing of a child when court determination of disputes related to the care of children is required.
- Government should repeal the provision for residence and contact orders in the Children Act 1989.
- The new child arrangements order should be available to fathers without parental responsibility, as well as those who already hold parental responsibility, and to wider family members with the permission of the court.
- Government should establish an online information hub and helpline to give information and support for couples to help them resolve issues following divorce or separation outside court.
- ‘Alternative dispute resolution’ should be rebranded as ‘Dispute Resolution Services’, in order to minimise a deterrent to its use.
- Where intervention is necessary, separating parents should be expected to attend a session with a mediator.
- Those parents who were still unable to agree should next attend a Separated Parents Information Programme and thereafter if necessary mediation or other dispute resolution service.
- Attendance at a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting and Separated Parent Information Programme should be required of anyone wishing to make a court application.
- HMCTS and the judiciary should establish a track system according to the complexity of the case.
- Children and young people should be given the opportunity to have their voices heard in cases that are about them, where they wish it.
- Where an order is breached within the first year, the case should go straight back to court to the same judge to resolve the matter swiftly.
- There should be no link of any kind between contact and maintenance.
- The process for initiating divorce should begin with the online hub and should be dealt with administratively by the courts, unless the divorce is disputed.
- People in dispute about money or property should be expected to access the information hub and should be required to be assessed for mediation.
- Where possible all issues in dispute following separation should be considered together whether in all issues mediation or consolidated court hearings.
- Government should establish a separate review of financial orders to include examination of the law.
- The Ministry of Justice and the Legal Services Commission should carefully monitor the impact of legal aid reforms.