Following a House of Commons Select Committee (the Committee) session in May 2006 when Sir Mark Potter, the Hon Mr Justice Munby, District Judge Nicholas Crichton and Audrey Damazer from the Justices' Clerks Society gave evidence, the Committee published a short report in June 2006 which consider what progress has been made in the family courts. On transparency, the Committee members were pleased that there appeared to be some movement, both from the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) and the judiciary. They awaited the publication of a consultation paper by the DCA on the issue with interest.
In respect of the question of delay, it seemed plain that funding difficulties were holding back the judiciary from improving the service that it could offer. The Committee trusted that the DCA would ensure that any short-term difficulties in finance did not impact upon the provision of vital services that the family courts provided. In particular, it hoped that the DCA would facilitate the cascading down" of cases to the family proceedings courts, as suggested by the judiciary. To do that, it needed to provide sufficient legal advisers, ensure that any vacancies continued to be filled and remedy the lack of additional District Judges (Magistrates' Court) working full-time on family cases. In relation to the issue of diverting parents away from the courts, the Committee believed that the DCA needed to think again about the question of compulsion. In terms of the numbers participating, the Family Resolutions Pilot Project was a failure. It seemed plain that without an element of compulsion, projects like the Family Resolutions Pilot Project would not succeed. In particular, the DCA should introduce a compulsory preliminary meeting with a mediator. There was no reason why that is acceptable for those seeking legal aid, but not for other couples.
A full summary of the evidence is published in the July issue of Family Law.