[with thanks to John Bolch:
"DIY Divorce: Do away with the lawyers?"]
Fundamental review of the family justice system announced
20 January 2010
An expert panel will examine reform of the current family justice system in England and Wales so that it better supports children and parents under a wide-ranging review announced by the Ministry of Justice today.
The review will look at the best methods for avoiding confrontational court hearings, and encouraging the use of mediation to deliver fairer and less acrimonious settlements that place the needs and interests of children at the heart of the system.
Family Justice Review
Terms of Reference
The Secretaries of State for Justice and Children, Schools and Families and the Welsh Assembly Government Minister for Health and Social Services have commissioned a review of the family justice system in England and Wales.
The following guiding principles have been identified which are intended to provide a framework within which the review’s work should be undertaken:
The interests of the child should be paramount in any decision affecting them (and, linked to this, delays in determining the outcome of court applications should be kept to a minimum)
The court’s role should be focused on protecting the vulnerable from abuse, victimisation and exploitation and should avoid intervening in family life except where there is clear benefit to children or vulnerable adults in doing so
Individuals should have the right information and support to enable them to take responsibility for the consequences of their relationship breakdown
· mediation and similar support should be used as far as possible to support individuals themselves to reach agreement about arrangements, rather than having an arrangement imposed by the courts
The processes for resolving family disputes and agreeing future arrangements should be easy to understand, simple and efficient
Conflict between individuals should be minimised as far as possible
The review should assess how the current system operates against these principles and make recommendations for reform in two core areas: the promotion of informed settlement and agreement; and management of the family justice system.
Specifically, this will include examination of the following issues:
The extent to which the adversarial nature of the court system is able to promote solutions and good quality family relationships in private law family cases and what alternative arrangements would be more effective in fostering lasting and positive solutions
Examination of the options for introducing more inquisitorial elements into the family justice system for both public and private law cases
Whether there are areas of family work which could be dealt with more simply and effectively via an administrative, rather than court-based process, and the exploration of what that administrative process might look like
Examination of the roles fulfilled by all of the different agencies and professionals in the family justice system, including consideration of the extent to which governance arrangements, relationships and accountabilities are clear and promote effective collaboration and operational efficiency
The review will be conducted by a Panel, comprising four independent representatives and senior representatives from MoJ, DCSF and the Welsh Assembly Government (as relevant for devolved matters). The Panel will be assisted in its work by an expert consumer and stakeholder group, made up of experts from across the family justice system, academics and consumer specialists. Membership of the Panel and Advisory Group will be approved by Ministers.
20 January 2010
20 January 2010
In examining these matters the Panel will be required to obtain and consider the views of key stakeholders, including children and families, the judiciary, family lawyers, Cafcass practitioners and social workers. The review will also be expected to engage in wide consultation, to draw on relevant family justice research studies and literature, consider available qualitative and quantitative data and take into account international comparisons.
The review should take account of value for money issues and resource considerations in making any recommendations. Recommendations should be costed and have regard to affordability.
Following examination of available research and evidence, the Review Panel is expected to report the likely timeframes for moving the Review forward within a three-month period following the Review’s announcement. A final report setting out the Review’s findings is expected to be submitted to the Secretary of State for Justice, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and the Welsh Assembly Government Minister for Health and Social Services in 2011.
Bridget Prentice (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice; Lewisham East, Labour)
"Hearing the public's views will be an essential part of the Family Justice Review. The decision on how the public will contribute, whether there will be any public hearings and whether their proceedings will be published, will be taken by the review panel. The review panel will be named shortly. All information relating to the review will be subject to the Freedom of Information Act."
"Teresa Richardson, a spokeswoman for Resolution, the association of 5,500 family lawyers in England and Wales, said: “We are certainly in favour of non-court based procedures being available to families. But it is important that families are able to choose the option that is right for them.” "