Family court changes

Apr 22, 2014 by

More questions arise about the shake up in the family justice system.

Firstly, there’s a good idea emerging that hopefully will reduce both time and tensions when divorcing couples go to court. On the good side, there has been advice to test a European style inquisitorial approach as opposed to our traditional adversarial approach. I’ve often advocated this in children’s court cases as our approach in the UK is geared ‘to win’ whereas the continental model starts from the premise of ‘getting at the truth’.

Any move towards this procedure would be welcome.

However, the other proposals that emerged today will take a bit more time to swallow. It seems that the proposal is that students and trainee lawyers will be allocated to divorcing couples as they go through the court process. In Simon Hughes, the justice minister’s, mind he would expect them to ‘talk through the issues and sort through the clutter in their mind’.

On the basis that, generally, trainee student lawyers are quite young and unlikely to have built in mediation skills required. It seems just a bit too hopeful that they’ll be much more use than bag carriers and lack the degrees of skill, experience, maturity and gravitas to make a real difference.

It’s not that age precludes wisdom, it’s just that generally the people needed to mediate marriage break down and disposition of resources, apart from the most important consideration – the children – would generally need to have life experience and substantial training to be judicial and objective in their advice.

Also you can understand, because it’s a court process, that turning to trainee lawyers and law students might seem logical, but when it comes to the resolution of conflict I would say that social workers are more suitably placed following qualifications and therefore their input would be particularly valuable in that role.

It’s also planned there would be advice centres in family courts for families to consult before they decide to divorce.

The whole change which has been welcomed by Sir James Munby, the most senior family judge in England and Wales, is the biggest family reform in our lifetime. It brings other results as well.

Couples will have a single entrance to the justice system, whether dealing with Looked After children, divorce, adoption or other family matters, before they are allocated the correct course for their case. The delay in care cases will be continued to be targeted, ultimately to a maximum of 26 weeks as opposed to the current average of 56.

 

 

NB David will be presenting a workshop on ’embracing the media we love to hate’ at BASW’s UK conference 10th June 2014 in Bristol where one of the keynote speakers is the Rt Hon Sir James Munby.

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