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Zahra Pabani
Zahra Pabani
Partner - Family Law
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Commons Family Justice Inquiry
Date:11 MAY 2006

The House of Commons Constitutional Affairs Committee held a one-off evidence session into Family Justice: the operation of the family courts on 2 May 2006. The witnesses were Sir Mark Potter, President of the Family Division, Mr Justice Munby, District Judge (Magistrates Courts) Nicholas Crichton and Justices Clerk Audrey Damazer.

Sir Mark Potter made an opening statement putting the session into the context of the ever-present problem of delay in the dispatch of care cases and the limited resources in terms of the judges and courts available to deal with the increasing workload. He emphasised that the work of CAFCASS was critical to the successful operation of the family justice system, but just as vital were the number and expertise of the legal officers available to advise magistrates in the family proceedings courts (FPCs). Sir Mark was very concerned that wherever cuts might fall in Her Majesty's Court Service, in the light of the recent announcement of the necessity for savings, it should not be by reduction in the number of those legal advisers.

Sir Mark told the committee that he was confident that the delay situation was improving very slowly but that he was extremely concerned by what appeared to be at least a 5% increase in public law care proceedings.

Sir Mark said that the real problem, as far as delays in fixing hearings was concerned, was one of capacity. The Principal Registry of the Family Division had 20 courts, constantly manned; it was by far the largest care centre in England: it was working flat out and the courtrooms were full. Resources had been secured for the opening of five new courts at Gee Street to become operative in October 2006, which would ease considerably the burden at the High Court and in the Principal Registry. Two outsourcing courts had beenopened at Barnet and Kingston. There was no doubt that more family judges were needed but a policy of cascading-down" to the lower courts had been developed on the assumption that no major resources would be forthcoming. There was spare capacity in the FPCs where magistrates were trained and eager but where the work was not reaching. Sir Mark concluded that there was no question but that the latest proposals for cuts in the court service would make it even more difficult for targets to be met.

See June [2006] Fam Law for the full news article.