Policy

Making the family justice system more effective

Issue

Cases heard in the family courts are taking too long. Too many cases between separating couples are ending up in court. It is often quicker and cheaper for couples to agree arrangements for their children away from court.

The system should work better for families and put children’s needs first at all times.

Actions

Putting children and young people first

We are:

  • making sure children and young people understand what is happening when they are involved in cases by providing child-friendly information leaflets
  • giving children and young people a chance to be more involved with the decision-making process, including talking to judges if they want to

Improving and simplifying the system

We are:

  • making improvements to the performance of the family justice system through the Family Justice Board
  • creating a single family court for England and Wales in 2014
  • making sure that, where possible, the same judge or magistrate hears a case from start to finish
  • setting up an integrated IT system for family justice services to make the system more efficient
  • reducing the excessive use of expert reports
  • removing the need for parties in divorce proceedings to file at court a statement of what arrangements they have already made for their children, when they file for divorce

Resolving disputes outside of court

We are:

  • encouraging the use other resolution services, such as family mediation, at a much earlier stage when a dispute arises
  • improving the availability of information about mediation and its benefits, and improve access to local mediation services
  • providing all the information separating couples need online, for example through the Sorting Out Separation web app

Reducing delays

We are:

  • making sure the courts and adoption panels do not duplicate each other’s work
  • reducing unnecessary administrative work such as the need to renew temporary care orders while court proceedings are taking place

Background

We commissioned an independent panel to review the family justice system in England and Wales in 2010. Their final report, published in November 2011, made a number of recommendations.

In February 2012, we responded to the review and accepted the majority of the panel’s recommendations.

In March 2012 we created the Family Justice Board to oversee improvements to the family justice system.

Who we’ve consulted

On 16 May 2013 we published a consultation Standards for Expert Witnesses in the Family Courts in England and Wales inviting views on minimum standards for expert witnesses providing evidence in family courts.

Bills and legislation

The Children and Families Bill proposes changes to the legislation covering the family justice system in areas such as family mediation; care, supervision and family proceedings; and expert evidence.

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