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family justice reform

Family justice reforms, which the Ministry of Justice has termed, 'the largest for a generation' have come into effect as of the 22nd April 2014.

The 22nd April 2014 saw the establishment of Family Court and the introduction of landmark primary and secondary legislation. The new single Family Court has come into force and most of the family justice provisions from the Children and Families Act are implemented.

Justice Minister Simon Hughes has said that the reforms "put children clearly at the heart of the family justice system and focus on children's needs rather than what parents see as their own 'rights'." Simon Hughes said it was "a hugely important change" to what had been a "very dysfunctional system".

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, said the changes were “the biggest in a lifetime.”

Simon Hughes went onto say: "In 2011 the independent Family Justice Review, chaired by David Norgrove, found the family justice system was no system at all. The review found that vulnerable and damaged children who were meant to be protected were having their 'futures undermined' by excessive delays, with care and supervision cases taking an average of 56 weeks. This seriously harmed children's chances of finding a permanent home and potentially damaged their development, as well as causing them distress.

"These reforms mark a significant moment for the family justice system, when the proposals made by the Family Justice Review are delivered. But this is not the end of the process I want to continue to work with David Norgrove, so we have a family justice system which has the welfare of children at its heart."

There are approximately 270,000 new family cases each year dealing with issues such as local authority intervention, divorce, domestic violence and adoption.

Edward Timpson, Children and Families Minister, said: "The new 26 week time limit will reduce unnecessary delays by ensuring that judges focus on the facts without getting caught up in unnecessary evidence or bureaucracy. These reforms will mean a swifter system where children's best interests are placed – where they rightly should be - at the heart of decision making." Of course, the 26 week time limit was already in practice in many Courts.

The reforms implemented on the 22nd April will see:

  • The introduction of the new Family Court in England and Wales with a single system and a network of single application points which is intended to make it easier for the public to navigate.
  • The Family Court is designed to ensure the right level of Judge is appointed for a particular case, in the most suitable location. All levels of judge being able to sit in the same building, which will help reduce the unnecessary delays caused by cases transferring between different courts.
  • Justices' clerks and their assistants will be authorised to assist all judges across the Family Court (including on undefended divorce cases), allowing judges to focus their time on more difficult cases.
  • New child arrangements orders that will encourage parents to focus on the child's needs even more so. With the abolition of labels such as "residence" and "contact", which were thought to focus on the rights of parents rather than the needs of the child(ren).
  • Expert evidence in family proceedings concerning children only permitted when necessary to resolve the case justly, taking account of factors including the impact on the welfare of the child.
  • Compulsory family mediation information meetings so separating couples must consider alternatives to the harmful and stressful court battles when resolving financial matters and arrangements for child contact.

The Government say the new reforms are aimed at making society function better by transforming people's lives. They say the reforms to the family justice system are designed to allow children in difficult family situations, through no fault of their own, to get the support they need to allow them to move forward with their lives and build a positive future.

Do you have concerns about family or child matters? Contact Howells specialist family law team for advice on child care and children matters. Email or enquire online today.

  by Karis Jones

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