Sir David Norgrove identified positive points that have been observed since the Family Justice Review. Communication between the judiciary, practitioners and the public has improved without threat to judicial independence. The average public law case is now taking 28 weeks where previously it was 55. There is, he said, a gain in efficiency, and less expenditure and time wasted.
Sir David accepted, however, that success has not been mirrored in the private law arena, which has seen disappointing mediation levels and soaring LIP numbers with not enough being done to help self-represented parties cope.
There is a need to bring the justice system closer to its clients and to make it more relevant to them by formulating ways of catering to their specific needs. For example, women who go through repeat removals of their children
through care proceedings or people that make repeated child arrangements applications as opposed to people who only come to court once. The question was posed how best to deal with these sorts of issues.
Support was referred from sources such as the Pause
project which encourages women to build their self-esteem and helps them to move on and break the cycle of having repeated instances of children being removed. Family Group Conferencing, family therapy and the Family Drug and Alcohol Court
are also ways in which the Family Justice system reaches out to the community and encourages therapeutic measures.
Regarding private law, Sir David said there must be pathways that lead people away from making court applications in ways that are appropriate for them and their circumstances and make more readily available web-based support, telephone support and signposting to therapy.
Anthony Douglas confirmed the system is under pressure and cases take a huge amount of emotion. He discussed instances where feedback has been given by children who said the orders made in respect of their lives simply did not work for them. Family justice concerns people in difficult transitions and practitioners are constantly working with the grain of movement. Core resources he mentioned included buddying systems to provide support; selecting the right quality of help; collaborative processes; and education about vital topics.
He spoke in greater detail about Cafcass Plus
, the pilot which sees the organisation working with social workers and families at an earlier stage to help relations and communication. The emphasis was strongly focused towards provision of services early in pre-proceedings stages as a method of intervening and, in the best case scenario, avoiding the need for the matter to get to court.
Further discussions involved models used in other jurisdictions which see settlement conferences taking place and pre- or in-proceedings negotiations used as an alternative to hearings. Further debate centred around the (perhaps controversial) idea that legal representatives should be paid in accordance with the results they achieve rather than the hearing they attend as a way of recognising who the 'champions of safe settlement' are.
The emphasis was firmly placed on looking to the future, working together and getting behind reform with a view towards a more Litigant in Person-friendly, supportive and therapeutic environment. In the words of Judge Wildblood: there is more we can do.