Press release

Family Justice Review proposals to end delays in family courts

The Family Justice Review panel today announce a package of recommendations aimed at tackling delays in the family justice system.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The key recommendations are:

  • A new six month time limit in care cases so delays are significantly reduced
  • Enabling people to make their own arrangements for their children when they separate, and only use courts when necessary
  • Overhauling the family justice system so that agencies and professionals work together with greater coherence to improve the experience and outcomes for children and families.

These recommendations follow the independent review panel findings that the current system of family justice is under huge strain.  Rising caseloads coupled with incoherent organisation and processes are causing damaging delays for children and families.  It takes on average over a year for an outcome in a care case - far too long in the life of a child.  The backlog of cases in the public law system means today, around 20,000 children are waiting for their futures to be decided.

David Norgrove, chair of the Family Justice Review, said:

‘Our package of recommendations to the Government and the judiciary will make the current family justice system more effective.  We need to eliminate the shocking delays in the system. 

‘This is why we are recommending legislation to ensure that child protection cases must not be allowed to take any more than six months, save in exceptional circumstances.

‘We also propose better ways for parents to be helped to keep the focus on their children as they separate, with information, education and mediation, and court action only if all that fails.

‘Every year 500,000 children and adults are involved in the family justice system.  They turn to it at times of great stress and conflict.  It must deliver the best possible outcome for all the children and families who use it, because its decisions directly affect the lives and futures of all those involved, and have repercussions for society as a whole.’

The panel recommend:

A simpler system to deliver an improved service:

  • The creation of a Family Justice Service to make sure agencies and professionals work together to make positive improvements in the system for children and familiesMore judges who are specialists in family law to hear cases from start to finish to ensure consistency and confidence in the system
  • A simplified court structure making it easier for people using the courts to know where to go
  • More child focus and better training for professionals to make sure children’s views are heard. 

Changes to public law (protecting children and taking them into care) to deliver more quickly for children:

  • A six month time limit for all cases, save in exceptional circumstances
  • Less reliance on unnecessary expert witnesses and reports
  • Refocusing the courts on the core issue of determining whether the child should go into care.

Changes to private law (arrangements about children and money following separation), to create a simpler service for families who are separating, aimed at helping them and their children focus on reaching a safe, joint agreement, if possible, without going to court:

  • A single online and phone help service to make it simpler for people to decide the most appropriate way forward and increase clarity of understanding
  • Use of Parenting Agreements and a new ‘child arrangements order’ to bring together arrangements for children’s care after separation, focusing on the child rather than ‘contact’ and ‘residence’
  • Increased provision of mediation to prevent cases going to court unnecessarily.

The independent panel was appointed to review the whole of the family justice system in England and Wales, looking at all aspects of the system from court decisions on taking children into care, to disputes over contact with children when parents divorce.  This is the most comprehensive and far-reaching review of the family justice system since the Children Act in 1989.  The final review has now been formally presented to the Ministry of Justice, Department for Education and the Welsh Government for consideration.

Family Justice Review final report (PDF 1.26mb)

Notes to Editors

  1. The independent review panel was set up in February 2010 by the Ministry of Justice, Department for Education (formerly the Department for Children, Schools and Families) and the Welsh Government to look at all aspects of the family justice system from court decisions on taking children into care to disputes over contact with children when parents divorce.  It gathered evidence from hundreds of people and groups with a personal and professional interest. It conducted two public consultations, and has had 628 responses to the interim report published in March.  It also published a young person’s guide to the Review, and a summary of the final report prepared especially for children will be available on the website shortly. 
    More details on the panel and the terms of reference:
  2. Full details of all the recommendations are available in the report.
  3. For more information or interview requests for David Norgrove please call the Family Justice Review press officer on:  020 3334 3529 or news desk on 3536.
Published 3 November 2011