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Kara Swift
Kara Swift
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Book review – Children Act Private Law Proceedings: A Handbook by Judge John Mitchell

Date:10 FEB 2015
Children Act Private Law Proceedings: A Handbook was written by Judge John Mitchell, and published in 2012. The Handbook is designed to assist both experienced practitioners and litigants in person, the former with a view to offering a quick reference tool and the latter to inform and equip in the crafting of their cases. As the title suggests, the book focuses on private family matters encompassed in the Children Act 1989; those issues which arise between partners and spouses and any children who make up part of these family units.

Family Law has, in the last 5 years, become a fast-moving, ever shifting landscape, with reforms and policy changes so numerous that it is sometimes dizzying to keep track. Whilst the Preface in this book is now a little dated as a result (a considerable amount has changed over the course of 3 years since this book was published), the Handbook remains a hugely helpful resource, well-balanced in tone and written in simple, accessible language.

The book has been beautifully organised into background materials, giving the reader a flavour of how Private Law works today; the legal principles that may be applied; those issues which fall under Private Law’s domain; Orders which are currently in use, and the mechanics of the court process.

As you might expect from a good resource, the Handbook also offers tables featuring cases, statutes and other useful materials, all easy to find and nicely laid out. Though a little heavy, for a book that holds so much information it is compact and designed for reference on the go. The Handbook is also meticulous in its explanation of terms often used but not always applied properly, misconceptions which can lead to wrong thinking generally and offers plenty of research to bolster current thinking on family law matters.
Unlike so many legal materials, this is not a dry read. The writing style is pleasant and informative, demonstrating great effort to bring the information to life and lend it a value that extends beyond the theoretical. The writing has, also rather uncharacteristically for legal content, a warmth to it, which whilst not being emotive, is engaging and unique. It is a very enjoyable read, as a result.

There is an excellent level of detail in the Handbook, and whilst it runs to nearly 1,000 pages, every page is exceptionally well laid out, organised and manages too, to avoid being overwhelming.

The Handbook begins by offering an overview of Private Family Law, from the history of marriage and its evolution to the court’s role and its processes. There are occasional segments in need of updating (for example the end of the first chapter stops short when discussing The Family Justice Review), but this could easily be rectified by publishing a further edition filling in the gaps. This though, does not affect the core principles mentioned as they are still applied nor the case-law mentioned, which is still in use today.

From helpful quotations found in famous cases, which Judge Mitchell uses to illustrate legal principles quickly and deftly, to extracts from socio-legal research allowing the reader to understand more fully why a principle has evolved, the Handbook takes you neatly through every aspect of Private Family Law.

Whilst the Foreword in the Handbook, written by Sir Nicholas Wall who was at the time the President of the Family Division, suggests that the book is for practitioners as well as members of the public, and it is certainly a useful resource for both, this book would make an excellent reference tool for anyone needing or wishing to learn more about Private Family Law. The book is currently £54, and whilst many guides and handbooks on offer sell for less, Children Act Private Law Proceedings is a valuable investment and one which offers a great deal more useful information than most. What it will not help with are the practical aspects of court filing, but information on which forms are needed for various Orders and hearings, are readily accessible today through the internet and other voluntary services.

This Handbook makes an excellent companion to other materials on Private Family Law and its robust content, considered perspective and simple language are a welcome addition to the new generation of materials demystifying family law and making it truly accessible.
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