Establishment of a Family Court

The Family Justice Review of course recommended the establishment of a single family court, with a single point of entry. That recommendation was accepted by the Government and, as ObiterJ of Law and Lawyers has explained, the recommendation is to be given effect by the Crime and Courts Bill.

You can find the draft Bill here, and explanatory notes here. I don't propose to go through the relevant provisions of the Bill in depth as many of them are quite tedious, but here are the main points:

Clause 17 inserts a new Part 4A into the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984, section 31A of which establishes the family court.

Schedule 10 sets out the detail. Part 1 adds further sections to Part 4A of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. These include:

  • Section 31C, which essentially makes everyone who presently deals with family cases, from the Lord Chief Justice down to magistrates, into a judge of the family court.
  • Section 31D, which provides for the making of rules as to the composition of the family court and the distribution of business among judges of the court (certain 'lower' judges may be prohibited from conducting specified business).
  • Section 31E, which enables the family court to make any order that could be made by the High Court if the proceedings were in the High Court, or any order that could be made by the county court if the proceedings were there.
  • Section 31F, which bestows on the family court certain powers relating to hearings and orders that mirror existing powers contained in the County Courts Act 1984 and the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980.
  • Section 31I, which provides that the High Court may transfer proceedings pending in the family court to the High Court, where it considers it desirable to do so.
  • Section 31K, which deals with appeals.
  • Section 31L, which deals with the court's enforcement powers.

Part 2 of Schedule 10 makes amendments to other enactments arising out of the creation of the family court, principally to enable existing family legislation to apply to proceedings in the new family court.

Part 3 of Schedule 10 lists repeals and revocations to legislation in consequence of Parts 1 and 2 of the Schedule.

Finally, Schedule 11 makes amendments to legislation providing for the transfer of jurisdiction to the family court. As the notes state, principally these amendments reflect the fact that the county court and magistrates’ courts will no longer deal with family proceedings and to transfer their family jurisdiction to the new family court.


  1. will it help, harm or neither?

    (speaking entirely from ignorance - what's new? - i reckon neither;)

    and until the sorry day when i have to suffer the family court myself, i suppose my interest is limited, though i have every sympathy with all those having to grapple with what looks a pretty horrible system.

    1. I'm not convinced that it will make much difference. The single point of entry should be an improvement, although I'm not sure exactly how that will work. Otherwise, until we have family courts in totally separate buildings, with all specialist judges (there doesn't seem to be anything saying that family court judges must specialise), I can't see it changing much. It all seems too much like the usual cheap re-branding exercise, rather than anything of substance.

    2. Northern Lights18 May 2012 at 16:33

      Agreed, John. This sounds like one big euphemism, along the lines of “downsizing.” The principle of a specialist family court, with specifically trained and supported judges who do not have to carry the baggage of sitting in other areas of law is one I and most I know would support but that is not what is being proposed, is it?
      These re-branding exercises cost money which is rather sad when the very principles of access to justice are being undermined elsewhere in the interests of saving costs.
      Another emperor with no clothes.

    3. Thanks, NL. I hope we're wrong...

  2. they can't screw these courts up quite as much as they have screwed the mags', can they? can they???? oh...


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