The new Single Family Court was introduced today.
It is hoped that the new Single Family Court will focus more on the needs of children in the system and that lengthy delays will be reduced.
A review carried out in 2011 found that vulnerable children were having their “futures undermined” by excessive delays, with care and supervision cases taking an average of 56 weeks from start to finish.
It is very important that care proceedings are dealt with fairly and thoroughly as it is one of the most draconian steps the state can make to take a child away from its parents. However, it has also become apparent that delays of 56 weeks when deciding a child’s future can mean that children are put through unnecessary upheaval, uncertainty and possible danger.
Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes explained the aims of the new system:
“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.”
What has changed?
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’.
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 will 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 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.
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 mean separating couples must consider alternatives to the harmful and stressful court battles when resolving financial matters and arrangements for child contact. (These are called MIAMS)