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Feedback for judges in the Family Court

Date:7 OCT 2015
Research by Judith Masson at Bristol University has examined how feedback could be useful to judges when dealing with public law children cases.

The research team conducted focus groups and interviews with judges and socio-legal and child care researchers, and found that currently judges receive little feedback on their work. As one judge said:

‘[It is] very strange to be doing something every day as part of your time work and not knowing whether it’s doing any good or even, dare I say, is it making things worse? So there is a need for feedback.... I don’t think anyone could logically argue that it’s right to be doing something and not having any idea what the effect is ... you can hope but without feedback you don’t actually know what you’re achieving.’
The research team also assessed practice in other jurisdictions, noting that other countries used a variety of mechanisms to provide different types of feedback to judges.

The study concluded that five potential means of providing feedback for judges are worthy of further consideration:
  1. Feedback through observation and discussion. Judges should observe other judges conducting cases, be observed, discuss their observations and reflect on their own practice
  2. Feedback through Interdisciplinary case discussions. Judges should meet with other professionals for multidisciplinary/multi-agency discussions of closed cases;
  3. Court user surveys. Court user surveys should include court-users’ perspectives on their experience in the court room; judges should discuss and reflect on these findings;
  4. Making better use of existing data and research studies in judicial training; and
  5. Developing new data on the operation court system, for example to include the outcomes by reference to applications and orders, not just timeliness.
A research-based guide on the care system should be provided to all judges to increase their understanding of care services and outcomes, and, children’s care experiences of them.

At the recent Bristol Family Law Session, the question was raised if judges should or do receive feedback. HHJ Stephen Wildblood QC, echoing the findings of this report said, ‘One of things you don’t get as a Judge is feedback. That’s why I am keen to do conferences like this. Open forum encourages Judges to hear what other people think and force us to think more deeply. External feedback is so valuable.’

The full study, The role of Feedback for Judges in the Family Court, can be found here. It includes a useful executive summary with a list of the key findings.

Judith Masson has also written about the research in October’s edition of Family Law, 'Developing judgment: feedback and learning in family justice' is available to online subscribers here.
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