08 August 2012

Reforming the family justice system - a new structure and culture

Claire Blakemore
Partner | UK

Mr Justice Ryder has published Judicial Proposals for the modernisation of the Family Justice System. This followed Sir David Norgrove's Family Justice Review published in November 2011 which found that the family justice system was struggling to cope with its responsibilities, resulting in an increased risk of harm to children. This came as no surprise to many family law practitioners, and clients alike. However, although the judiciary can sometimes be criticised for being out of touch, the proposals contained in Mr Justice Ryder's Report are absolutely at the cutting edge of the problems being faced by the ‘overstretched' court service. They demonstrate a willingness to grapple with the real issues faced by litigants and a desire to secure access to justice for the future. The aim is to provide access to justice for children in families and overcome the delay which paralyses the Family Justice system. The report endorses a modernisation programme in two phases to be implemented prior to statutory changes which are expected at the end of the modernisation programme in summer 2014. One example of this is the reference to how the Courts are going to deal with agreements made through Arbitration. The Institute of Family Law Arbitrators launched the Family Law Arbitration Scheme in February this year and it is set to become a real alternative to the court process. A second strand is the introduction of a new unified Family Court. New systems managed by the judiciary and led by the President of the Family Division will be introduced to deal with listing, case management issues, the use of experts, and ‘pathways' in order to streamline and speed up the process of access to family justice. Financial remedy cases are to be allocated to an existing specialist financial Judge. Although there are no changes identified solely to financial cases, if public and private law children cases are streamlined and financial cases allocated to specialist Judges this will help to ensure that all cases are dealt with more efficiently. Mr Justice Ryder's proposals could result in a more efficient family justice system available to all (and not just those involved in care proceedings) but it will only do so if Judges at all levels receive the necessary training and manage cases properly. They will also require the support of a well resourced infrastructure. The danger is that if the government seeks to introduce changes on a shoestring cases will drift without direction and hobble through an already overstretched administrative system resulting in even more delays. Press coverage and quotes from members of our team:

If you would like further information about the Abritration scheme read our previous blog post: Arbitrate don't Litigate by Suzanne Kingston

Claire Blakemore Partner | London

Category: Blog