New Family Justice System Reforms Introduced
The Government has recently introduced a wave of Family Justice reforms in a bid to tackle the current system’s inefficiency and to ensure better outcomes for vulnerable children.
A study carried out in 2011 found that the futures of many vulnerable children were being undermined as care and supervision cases took, on average, 56 weeks to complete. This was made worse by the court’s inability to deal with the rising number of cases each year. Last year for instance saw 270,000 new family cases for issues surrounding divorce, domestic violence and adoption.
One of the more important changes has been to replace the current three-tier family court system with a single family court instead. This measure should increase the transparency of many cases and, in turn, ensure that the new time limit of 26 weeks for cases where children are taken into care is more easily adhered to.
In addition, as a way to help counteract the growing number of court cases, separating couples are now required to attend mediation awareness sessions before taking their disputes to court.
Throughout these reforms, the main concern of the Government has been to meet the interests of the child more and to amend what Justice Minister Simon Hughes has referred to as a ‘very dysfunctional system’. In an effort to focus on the rights of the children, terms such as ‘residence’ and ‘contact’ have been replaced with labels relating to ‘Child Arrangements’.
Despite their promise however, these reforms have sparked much debate. Family Rights Group chief executive for example, stated that whilst there are some positive measures in place, some provisions could still ‘potentially work against children’. Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes in contrast, argued that the reforms would provide some much needed ‘security and certainty’ to the current system.
Nobody really accurately knows yet how these reforms will affect the Justice System. What is certain however, is their cultural significance. As President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, states: ‘Taken as a whole, these reforms amount to a revolution. There has been, indeed there had to be, a fundamental change in the cultures of the family courts. This is truly a cultural revolution.’