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A new initiative to tackle delays in the family courts has got under way. The pilot scheme to track all public law cases issued from 2 April 2012 follows the launch of a case management system monitoring the progress of cases, recording all case management decisions, adjournments, the use of experts and the reasons for each decision.
Mr Justice Ryder (pictured), charged with modernising the family justice system, announced the ‘major innovation’ in his fourth update on his programme. ‘For the first time the family courts will have a record of baseline information so as to understand where public law cases are allocated and what is the consequence in terms of delay of the case management decisions that are made,’ he said.
He said the knowledge generated would lead to better management, judicial deployment and listing in the future.
Since the publication of the family justice review, government, judiciary and practitioner groups all shared the same aim for the family justice system ‘to implement a dramatic change programme’, he said.
A key change is the establishment of the single new Family Court to replace the Family Proceedings Court, the family jurisdiction of the County court and the general family heard by the High Court.
Ryder said the court will be ‘judicially managed’ with judges determining case allocation and progression.
He has set ‘pathways’ targets for good practice for the new system. One such pathway is that public law cases should be dealt with in 26 weeks, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Ryder noted other initiatives that have begun in the family justice, including a project to identify the court’s expectations of unrepresented parties and vice versa, to ensure that cases involving unrepresented parties are not unfairly prejudiced. ‘This will involve the provision of significant new materials to assist both represented parties who appear against those who are unrepresented and unrepresented parties to understand the expectations of the court and to abide by its procedures and practices,’ said Ryder.
A separate project to consider private law reforms will also be part of the modernisation programme, said Ryder. It will consider the impact of legal aid reforms which remove much private family law from public funding, the increased use of mediation and the proposed legislative changes on the concept of shared parenting and amendments to section 8 of the Children Act 1989.