President sets out plan to save the family justice system. Again.
|Image: Public Domain, via Piqsels|
I’ve been writing this blog since 2006. Over that period I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard that the family justice system is in a state of crisis and that someone, usually the President, has a plan to save the system.
Sure enough, our present President has told us that the Family Court “is not currently in a good place”, and has set out a number of measures aimed at addressing the situation.
Will these measures finally be the ones that save the system? Let us take a quick look…
Digital Reform Programme
The panacea for everything these days: digitise it!
The idea of the family justice system being reduced to a series of zeros and ones does have a certain allure, but the problem of course is that digitising applications really is little more than using your computer to fill in forms. Whilst there is a considerable amount of form-filling involved in family justice, ultimately it is usually about dispute resolution, which cannot be done via some online app.
It is true that, thanks to the boot-up-the-backside provided by the pandemic, we now at last have the widespread use of remote and hybrid hearings, but they aren't always practical or appropriate, and they bring with them problems of their own, such as connection issues and lack of hardware/internet connections. In any event it could be argued that they are just pushing many of the problems from the courtroom to the home.
Transparency - to follow!
The President has imparted the exciting news that he will be publishing the conclusions that he has reached following the 'Transparency Review', later this month (28th October, apparently).
Will his conclusions finally satisfy the secret family courts brigade? I won't be holding my breath.
A new approach to parental dispute resolution
We are told that the approach will include, amongst other things, promoting out-of-court dispute resolution, a less adversarial approach at court hearings, and the introduction of the 'Family Hub' "which will operate separately from the court and to which families will be directed as the first port of call, rather than issuing a court application."
As to the Family Hub idea, we are told that: "Following an initial assessment by a core multi-agency team, the family may be referred to one or more of the available local support services, or to mediation, or to a parenting programme or, where it is appropriate to CAFCASS or, finally, in a clear case, to the court."
I saw someone on Twitter (I can't remember who) stating that all of this boils down to little more than trying to keep cases out of court by promoting mediation - again. I wouldn't be so impertinent as to suggest such a thing...
Lastly, the President advises that experts should only be instructed when absolutely necessary, and only then if they do actually possess the required expertise. Hmm…
Family Justice System 3 Naysayers 0
All of the above, the President tells us, is aimed at addressing various goals, including ensuring that "families experience a smoother more efficient process which delivers them more quickly to focused help, and, where appropriate, does not bring them to the door of the court", increasing the court’s "ability to engage with and conclude a case", and reducing the backlog of cases.
An ambitious set of goals which, despite my pedantry above, I do hope he achieves in the three years he has left in office. I'm not sure I could take another false dawn...
[The above was gleaned from the President's address to the Jersey International Family Law Conference 2021 (why did I never get to go to a conference somewhere like Jersey? The most exotic place I ever went to was the Premier Inn just off the M20...), and his Experts in the Family Court memorandum.]