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'Once in a lifetime' reform of the family justice system comes into effect

22 APR 2014

Family justice reforms, which Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, has termed, 'the largest reform of the family justice system any of us have seen or will see in our professional lifetimes' come into effect today, 22 April.    

According to Justice Minister Simon Hughes these 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"'.

The changes come as the new Family Court becomes a reality and most of the family justice provisions from the Children and Families Act 2014 are implemented.

In 2011 the independent Family Justice Review, chaired by David Norgrove, made a significant number of recommendations for reforming the family justice system, aimed at cutting delay and improving the way the system functions as a whole.

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.

As a result of these recommendations, the family justice system is currently undergoing a period of significant and wide-ranging reform.

Simon Hughes said:

'For too long children have suffered from excessive delays and confrontational court battles. Our reforms will keep families away from negative effects of battles or delays in court and make sure that when cases do go to court they happen in the least damaging way.

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.'

Edward Timpson, Children and Families Minister, said:

'Every child deserves a safe and stable home - no matter what their background or starting point in life.

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.'

The reforms being implemented on 22 April will see:

  • The introduction of the new Family Court in England and Wales with a simpler single system and a network of single application points making it easier for the public to navigate. (The Family Court make sure 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.
  • The introduction a 26 week time limit for care proceedings to further reduce the excessive delays in these cases and give greater certainty to the children involved.
  • New child arrangements orders that will encourage parents to focus on the child's needs rather than what they see as their own ‘rights'.
  • 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.

These reforms form part of the Government's social justice strategy, which is aimed at making society function better by transforming people's lives. 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.

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For more information on the family justice reforms, visit our dedicated Family Law Reforms page.

Our essential updates series is designed to help family lawyers get up to speed with the reforms and other legislation by summarising the changes to the law and how they will affect day-to-day practice. The individual articles are listed below.

The single Family Court - essential update

The Children and Familes Act 2014 - essential update

Public Law Outline (PD 12A) - essential update

Child Arrangements Programme (PD 12B) - essential update

Same Sex Marriage - essential update

Court Bundles (PD 27A) - essential update

MIAMs - essential update

We have also compiled the Public Law Outline and public law proceedings materials and Child Arrangements Programme and private law proceedings materials for ease of reference.

A consolidatd version of the FPR 2010 is available here.

The new version of the Red Book will be published soon with the amended version of the Children Act 1989 and FPR 2010, and insightful expert commentary.  The Practice Notes in Practice Plus are currently also being updated to be up to date with all the 22 April 2014 changes.     

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