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The largest family justice reforms for a generation will come into effect today.
These family justice reforms put children clearly at the heart of the family justice system and focus on children’s needs rather than what parents see as their own ‘rights’, Justice Minister Simon Hughes has announced.
The changes come as the new single Family Court becomes a reality and most of the family justice provisions from the Children and Families Act are implemented.
In 2011 the independent Family Justice Review, chaired by David Norgrove, found the family justice system was no system at all. The review found that vulnerable and damaged children who were meant to be protected were having their ‘futures undermined’ by excessive delays, with care and supervision cases taking an average of 56 weeks. This seriously harmed children’s chances of finding a permanent home and potentially damaged their development, as well as causing them distress.
The government has acted on the 2011 Report. The family justice system has gone through a period of significant and wide-ranging reform, including a major reduction of delays in care cases to an average of 33 weeks.
Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes said:
For too long children have suffered from excessive delays and confrontational court battles. Our reforms will keep families away from negative effects of battles or delays in court and make sure that when cases do go to court they happen in the least damaging way.
These reforms mark a significant moment for the family justice system, when the proposals made by the Family Justice Review are delivered. But this is not the end of the process I want to continue to work with David Norgrove, so we have a family justice system which has the welfare of children at its heart.
Edward Timpson, Children and Families Minister, said:
Every child deserves a safe and stable home – no matter what their background or starting point in life.
The new 26 week time limit will reduce unnecessary delays by ensuring that judges focus on the facts without getting caught up in unnecessary evidence or bureaucracy. These reforms will mean a swifter system where children’s best interests are placed – where they rightly should be - at the heart of decision making.
The reforms being implemented on 22 April will see:
- The introduction of the new Family Court in England and Wales with a simpler single system and a network of single application points making it easier for the public to navigate. *The Family Court make sure the right level of judge is appointed for a particular case, in the most suitable location. All levels of judge being able to sit in the same building, which will help reduce the unnecessary delays caused by cases transferring between different courts.
- Justices’ clerks and their assistants will be authorised to assist all judges across the Family Court (including on undefended divorce cases), allowing judges to focus their time on more difficult cases.
- The introduction a 26 week time limit for care proceedings to further reduce the excessive delays in these cases and give greater certainty to the children involved.
- New child arrangements orders that will encourage parents to focus on the child’s needs rather than what they see as their own ‘rights’.
- Expert evidence in family proceedings concerning children only permitted when necessary to resolve the case justly, taking account of factors including the impact on the welfare of the child.
- Compulsory family mediation information meetings so separating couples must consider alternatives to the harmful and stressful court battles when resolving financial matters and arrangements for child contact.
These reforms form part of the government’s social justice strategy, which is aimed at making society function better by transforming people’s lives. The reforms to the family justice system are designed to allow children in difficult family situations, through no fault of their own, to get the support they need to allow them to move forward with their lives and build a positive future.
Notes to editors
- The Government set up the Family Justice Review in recognition of the increasing pressure on the family justice system.
- The Crime and Courts Act 2013 provides for the setting up of a single Family Court for England and Wales. This will replace the three separate tiers of court that currently deal with family proceedings, and will come into force on 22 April.
- The Children and Families Act 2014 puts into law the legislative changes required to implement the recommendations of the Family Justice Review that were agreed by the Government. The majority of these legislative changes are being implemented on 22 April.
- Family courts deal with around 270,000 new cases each year.
- The latest data, covering October to December 2013, shows the average time for disposal of a care or supervision order is now 33.4 weeks - continuing the downward trend from 54.6 weeks when the Family Justice review reported in November 2011.
- Mediation was used successfully by more than 17,000 people in 2012/13.
- Successful mediations’ - were reached in 73% of cases in April-December 2013.
- For more information contact the MoJ Press Office newsdesk on 020 3334 3536 and follow @MoJPress on Twitter.