Thursday, 31 March 2011
iii Family Justice Review – List of recommendations
We strongly endorse the continuing value of the framework and core principles of the Children Act 1989. (Paragraph 2.21)
A Family Justice Service
There should be a Family Justice Service. (Paragraph 3.2) The Family Justice Service should ensure that the interests of children and young
people are at the heart of its operation. (Paragraph 3.4)
Children and young people should be given age appropriate information which explains what is happening when they are included in disputes being dealt with by the Family Justice Service. (Paragraph 3.7)
Children and young people should as early as possible in a case be supported to be able to make their views known and older children should be offered a menu of options, to lay out the ways in which they could – if they wish – do this. (Paragraph 3.12)
The Ministry of Justice should sponsor the Family Justice Service. There will need to be close links at both Ministerial and official level with the Department for Education and Welsh Assembly Government. (Paragraph 3.27)
Safeguards should be built in to ensure the interests of the child are given priority in guiding the work of the Family Justice Service. (Paragraph 3.28)
The Service should be led through a Family Justice Board and a Chief Executive. (Paragraph 3.36)
The current range of groups and meeting arrangements should be streamlined through the creation of the Family Justice Service to subsume the work currently performed by the Family Justice Council, Local Family Justice Councils, Family Court Business Committees, the National Performance Partnership, Local Performance Improvement Groups and the President’s Combined Development Board. (Paragraph 3.43)
Local Family Justice Boards should be established, with consistent terms of reference and membership. They should work closely with Local Safeguarding Children Boards. (Paragraph 3.43)
A dedicated post – a Senior Family Presiding Judge – should report to the President of the Family Division and the Senior Presiding Judge on the effectiveness of family work amongst the judiciary. (Paragraph 3.53)
Family Division Liaison Judges should be renamed Family Presiding Judges, reporting to the Senior Family Presiding Judge on performance issues in their circuit. (Paragraph 3.53)
Judges with leadership responsibilities should have clearer management responsibilities. There should be stronger job descriptions, detailing clear expectations of management responsibilities and inter-agency working. (Paragraph 3.54)
26 | Family Justice Review Information on key indicators such as case numbers per judge, court and area, case lengths, numbers of adjournments and number of experts should support this approach to judicial case management. (Paragraph 3.55)
There should be judicial continuity in all family cases. The High Court will be an exception but this should be limited as far as possible. This recommendation applies also to legal advisers and benches of magistrates. (Paragraph 3.60)
Robust case management by the judiciary should be supported with consistent case progression resource. (Paragraph 3.63)
Legislation should be considered to provide for stronger case management provision in respect of the conduct of both public and private law proceedings. (Paragraph 3.65)
Criteria should be established for the allocation of resource to the family judiciary and budgets should be set in terms of money, not in sitting days. (Paragraph 3.75)
Budgets, including family legal aid, should, over time, be consolidated into the Family Justice Service. Decisions on spending should also be taken at the most local level possible. (Paragraph 3.76)
Charges to local authorities for public law applications and to Cafcass for police checks should be removed. (Paragraph 3.86)
Court social work services should form part of the Family Justice Service, subsuming the role currently performed by Cafcass. These functions will continue to be a devolved responsibility of the Welsh Assembly Government, performed by Cafcass Cymru. But there should be a close working relationship between Cafcass Cymru and the Family Justice Service, underpinned by service level agreements. (Paragraphs 3.104, 3.105)
The Family Justice Service should be responsible for procuring publicly funded mediation and support for contact. (Paragraphs 3.106, 3.107)
Judges and magistrates should be enabled and encouraged to specialise in family matters. (Paragraph 3.113)
The requirement to hear other types of work before being allowed to sit on family matters should be abolished. A requirement for appointment to the family judiciary should, in future, include a willingness to specialise. (Paragraph 3.113)
There should be inter-disciplinary induction for all those working in the system and a clear framework for inter-disciplinary working for all those engaged in it. The Family Justice Service should co-ordinate the professional relationships and workforce development needs between key stakeholders. (Paragraph 3.118)
There should be quality standards for system-wide processes that build on local knowledge, are evidence-based and replicable. Compliance with practice guidelines should be reviewed regularly and this should include the role and performance of local authorities and wider users. There also needs to be a more co-ordinated and system-wide approach to research and evaluation. (Paragraphs 3.127, 3.128)
An integrated IT system, with the ability to support management of cases, should be developed. In the short term, current IT systems should be adapted in a cost effective manner. (Paragraph 3.142)
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Robust performance information should be fed into the national and local boards, and the judiciary. (Paragraph 3.142)
A single family court should be created, with a single point of entry, in place of the current three tiers of court. All levels of family judiciary (including magistrates) should sit in the family court and work would be allocated depending upon case complexity. (Paragraph 3.151)
Some cases, particularly those with an international element or where, under the High Court's inherent jurisdiction, life and death decisions are made, should be described as being determined in the High Court, Family Division rather than in the single Family Court. (Paragraph 3.152)
Court hearings should be organised in the most appropriate location. Routine hearings should use telephone or video technology wherever possible, and hearings that do not need to take place in a court room should be held in rooms that are family friendly as far as possible and appropriate. (Paragraph 3.159)
The estate for family courts should be reviewed to reduce the number of buildings in which cases are heard, to promote efficiency, judicial continuity and specialisation. Exceptions should be made for rural areas where transport is poor. (Paragraph 3.161)
Courts must continue to play a central role in public law in England and Wales. But this role should be refocused, with changes in the ways of working that will affect the family justice system more widely. (Paragraph 4.144)
Courts should refocus on the core issues of whether the child is to live with parents, other family or friends, or be removed to the care of the local authority. Other aspects and the detail of the care plan should be the responsibility of the local authority. (Paragraph 4.160)
A time limit for the completion of care and supervision proceedings within six months should be put into legislation. (Paragraph 4.176)
Cases must be managed and timetabled strictly in accordance with the ‘Timetable for the Child’. This concept needs to be redefined and given greater legal force. (Paragraph 4.185)
The Family Justice Service should manage the task of developing and maintaining the detailed criteria that will support judges in drawing up the Timetable. (Paragraph 4.192)
We propose a package of measures intended to enable effective and robust case control by the judiciary in public law cases:
- courts should strengthen the use of the case progression function; (Paragraph 4.206)
- courts must continue to work to apply the PLO. We intend at the next stage to consider the implications of our proposals for the PLO; (Paragraph 4.208)
- the requirement to renew Interim Care Orders after eight weeks and then every four weeks should be removed. Judges should be allowed discretion to grant
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interim orders for the time they see fit subject to a maximum of six months. The courts’ power to renew should be tied to their power to extend proceedings beyond six months; (Paragraph 4.210) and
- we need to develop the skills and knowledge of judges so they will be better case managers. We shall consider this in public law, in the context of wider workforce skills, in the coming months. (Paragraph 4.214)
The requirement that local authority adoption panels should consider the suitability for adoption of a child whose case is before the court should be removed. (Paragraph 4.212)
We support Professor Eileen Munro’s recommendations in ‘The Child’s Journey’ about how local authorities can contribute to reducing delays in care proceedings. (Paragraph 4.220)
We encourage use of the ‘letter before proceedings’. We recommend research be undertaken about its impact. (Paragraph 4.226)
We recommend that judges should be given clearer powers to enable them to refuse expert assessments and the relevant legislative provisions revised accordingly. (Paragraph 4.227)
Independent Social Workers should only be employed to provide new information to the court, not as a way of replacing the assessments that should have been submitted by the social worker or the guardian. The relevant rules should reflect this. (Paragraph 4.228)
Research should be commissioned to examine the value of residential assessments of parents. (Paragraph 4.230)
The development of multi-disciplinary teams to provide expert reports to the courts has merit. (Paragraph 4.233)
The judge should be responsible for instructing experts as a fundamental part of case management. (Paragraph 4.239)
The Family Justice Service should be responsible for identifying and commissioning experts, working closely with local judges to ensure a focus on quality, timeliness and value for money. Multi-disciplinary teams may well have value. (Paragraph 4.240)
The tandem model should be retained but it needs to be used in a more proportionate way. (Paragraph 4.247)
The merit of using guardians pre-proceedings needs to be considered further. (Paragraph 4.260)
The merit of developing an ‘in-house’ tandem model needs to be considered further. (Paragraph 4.261)
There need to be effective links between the courts and IROs and the working relationship between the guardian and the IRO needs to be stronger. (Paragraph 4.269)
There should also be more formal arrangements within local authorities to ensure that the most senior levels, including the Director for Children’s Services and the
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Lead Member, keep fully in touch with how care plans are being implemented. The IRO has a potential role to play here. (Paragraph 4.270)
Alternatives to some current court processes should be developed and extended: - Family Group Conferences can be useful although their effectiveness needs
more research; (Paragraph 4.279)
- formal mediation approaches in public law proceedings may have potential; (Paragraph 4.285) and
- the Family Drug and Alcohol Court in the Inner London Family Proceedings Court shows considerable promise. (Paragraph 4.290)
No legislation should be introduced that creates or risks creating the perception that there is a parental right to substantially shared or equal time for both parents. (Paragraph 5.76)
A statement should be inserted into legislation to reinforce the importance of the child continuing to have a meaningful relationship with both parents, alongside the need to protect the child from harm. (Paragraph 5.77)
The need for grandparents to apply for leave of the court before making an application for contact should remain. (Paragraph 5.82)
Parents should be given a short leaflet when they register the birth of their child, providing an introduction to the meaning and practical implications of parental responsibility (PR). (Paragraph 5.86)
Parents should be encouraged to develop a Parenting Agreement to set out arrangements for the care of their children post-separation. (Paragraph 5.90)
Residence and contact orders should no longer be available to parents who hold PR, but disputes over the division of a child’s time between parents should instead be resolved by a specific issue order. (Paragraph 5.95)
The terms, forms and evidence required by the court should also be reviewed to reduce their contribution to conflict. (Paragraph 5.95)
A father without PR who wishes the court to consider the child living with him (currently a residence order) should first apply for PR, and then negotiate for this to be included in the Parenting Agreement or apply for a specific issue order. If a father does not wish to seek PR he is still able to make a contact application. (Paragraph 5.97)
The full range of the four orders under Children Act 1989, section 8 should remain available to non-parental relatives. (Paragraph 5.99)
An online information hub and helpline should be established to give information and support for couples to resolve issues following divorce or separation outside court. (Paragraph 5.114)
Provision should be made to ensure that a signed Parenting Agreement has weight as evidence in any subsequent parental dispute. (Paragraph 5.118)
‘Alternative dispute resolution’ should be rebranded as ‘Dispute Resolution Services’, in order to minimise a deterrent to their use. (Paragraph 5.123)
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Where intervention is necessary it should be compulsory for the parties to attend a session with a mediator, trained and accredited to a high professional standard, who should:
- assess the most appropriate intervention, including mediation and collaborative law, or whether the risks of domestic violence, imbalance between the parties or child protection issues require immediate referral to the family court; and
- provide information on local Dispute Resolution Services and how they could support parties to resolve disputes. (Paragraph 5.125)
Judges will retain the power to order parties to attend a mediation information session and may make cost orders where it is felt that one party has behaved unreasonably. (Paragraph 5.125)
The mediator tasked with the initial assessment will need to be the case manager until an application to court is made. (Paragraph 5.127)
The assessment will allow for emergency applications to court but the exemptions should be narrow. (Paragraph 5.129)
Those parents who are still unable to agree should next attend a Separating Parent Information Programme and thereafter if necessary mediation or other dispute resolution service. (Paragraph 5.131)
Mediators should at least meet the current requirements set by the Legal Services Commission. These standards should themselves be reviewed in the light of the new responsibilities being laid on mediators. Mediators who do not currently meet those standards should be given a specified period in which to achieve them. (Paragraph 5.135)
Where agreement cannot be reached, having been given a certificate by the mediator, one or both of the parties will be able to apply to court for determination on a specific issue. (Paragraph 5.139)
Safeguarding checks should be completed at the point of entry into the court system for cases involving children. (Paragraph 5.142)
The First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) should be retained. Where further court involvement is required after this, the case will be allocated to a track system according to complexity. (Paragraph 5.146)
Where cases are on a complex track, the judge who is allocated to hear the case after a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment must remain the judge for that case. (Paragraph 5.148)
Where an order is breached, a party should have access to immediate support to resolve the matter swiftly and the current enforcement powers should be available. The case should be heard within a fixed number of days, with the dispute resolved at a single hearing. If an order is breached after 12 months, the parties should be expected to return to Dispute Resolution Services before returning to court to seek enforcement. (Paragraphs 5.159, 5.160)
There should be no automatic link between contact and maintenance. When contact is continually frustrated and it is in the child’s best interests, the courts should have an additional enforcement mechanism available to enable them to alter or suspend the payment of maintenance. (Paragraph 5.166)
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People in dispute about money or property should be expected to access the information hub and should be required to be assessed for mediation. (Paragraph 5.169)
Ancillary relief should be separately reviewed. (Paragraph 5.172)
The process for initiating divorce should begin with the online hub and should be dealt with administratively in the Family Justice Service, unless the divorce is disputed. (Paragraph 5.175)
The current two-stage process of decree nisi/decree absolute should be replaced by a single notice of divorce. (Paragraph 5.176)
Fees in private law should in principle reflect the full cost of services. However, this will depend on achieving a better understanding of costs, affordability and an appropriate remissions policy. (Paragraph 5.178)
Wednesday, 30 March 2011
On Tuesday 29th March 2011 Charlie Elphicke, MP for Dover and Deal, presented a 10 Minute Rule Bill in Parliament proposing that courts and local authorities be required to take account of the rights of children to have a relationship with both parents following divorce and separation.
Elphicke began by citing Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which states that children have the right to maintain a full personal relationship with both parents following separation and divorce, where doing so would not be detrimental to the child’s wellbeing. He was keen to stress that this was not a Bill concerned with the rights of mothers or fathers, but was for those who the Courts are duty bound to consider first and foremost in family law proceedings: the rights of the children.
Following a description of figures detailing the high numbers of those living apart from their children, including the shocking statistic that 1 in 3 children lose all contact with their father two years following separation and divorce, Elphicke lambasted the fact that contact orders are seemingly ignored with impunity by some parents. He described this as “simply unacceptable”, and a situation which has to be remedied. He also put forward the case for mediation as a strong, child-centred alternative to court, where the interests of children are often forgotten amidst bitter legal wrangling.
To conclude, Elphicke listed a series of case studies which illustrated the harm that the current system inflicts on children and parents alike. Particularly poignant was the story of Tommy, a soldier from Coventry denied by his case judge of the opportunity to even say goodbye to his 6 year old daughter before he went to risk his life for his country in Afghanistan. Whilst cries of ‘outrageous’ and ‘shameful’ rang out across a Chamber clearly appalled by what Tommy had endured, Elphicke derided both the judge and the inefficient, inflexible family justice system which allows cases such as this to occur. He finished by stating that this Bill was necessary to send “a clear message” to the public that the law will support families and the rights of children, rather than deny them the opportunity of maintaining loving relationships with their parents.
Opposing the Bill was Elfyn Llwyd, MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd. Llwyd drew upon his 35 years experience as a practicing solicitor and barrister in family law to argue that, despite the best intentions of the Bill, it would “fall foul of the law of unintended consequences”.
He agreed with Elphicke on the importance of both parents in a child’s life, and the position of this in both the Children Act 1989 and UNCRC. However, citing organisations such as the NSPCC, he opposed any changes to law which would alter the paramountcy principle in the Children Act, which ensures that child welfare is placed above all other concerns in law. Llwyd elaborated that the courts already operate with an informal presumption of contact, and that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Court Administration research found that this undermined child welfare by placing undue attention on contact rather than welfare issues.
Llwyd highlighted the fact that fewer than 1 in 10 separating or divorcing couples reach Court to resolve parenting arrangements, and that these were often the cases which involved the greatest threat to child welfare, including domestic violence, mental health issues and alcohol/substance abuse. He said that further research was needed on this issue to facilitate evidence-based policy, and that any potential findings on this topic in the Family Justice Review should not be pre-empted. Llwyd concluded with a cautionary tale in the form of a case study, where a woman with serious mental illness was granted unsupervised access to her two children after she was released from care, whom she subsequently killed. He made the point that children are the most vulnerable participants in these proceedings, and that their welfare should never be compromised in law.
Despite Llwyd’s opposition, the Bill passed with overwhelming support. It was ordered that Charlie Elphicke, Penny Mordaunt, Priti Patel, Charlotte Leslie, Kwasi Kwarteng, Margot James, Caroline Dinenage, Chris Heaton-Harris, Tracey Crouch, Nadhim Zahawi, Karen Lumley and Jane Ellison present the Bill, and Mr. Elphicke presented the Bill accordingly. The Second reading of the Children’s Access to Parents Bill will take place on the 13th May 2011,
Thanks to Becky from Families Need Fathers.
Sunday, 27 March 2011
Saturday, 26 March 2011
Friday, 25 March 2011
Thursday, 24 March 2011
Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Tuesday, 22 March 2011
My Mum, my friend, everyones mum,
Open arms and open heart,
Time for me, time for everyone.
I was special, I know because she said so,
I miss her yesterday, today and tomorrow,
Her eyes so blue,sparkly and wicked,
We would laugh until our faces ached,
The biggest gift of all your love.
Happy Mothers Day Mum, wherever you are.
Monday, 21 March 2011
Sunday, 20 March 2011
Saturday, 19 March 2011
Friday, 18 March 2011
Thursday, 17 March 2011
Wednesday, 16 March 2011
Tuesday, 15 March 2011
Monday, 14 March 2011
Sunday, 13 March 2011
Saturday, 12 March 2011
Friday, 11 March 2011
Thursday, 10 March 2011
When you read or hear cases of non resident parents do you really think how appalling The Family Justice System is?
I am disgusted at the case I have just heard, and I hope you will be as well.
This week a soldier who is about to go on his tour of duty to Afghanistan went to court to ask the judge for permission to see his daughter before he goes, his request was rejected.
The background is that Mr…. has a six year old daughter and the daughter lives with her mother. Court proceedings were kicked off last year and contact was occurring until January this year. There was a hearing in January 2011.
Mr ... is a serving solider and is being deployed to Afghanistan at the end of March. This was raised at the January hearing. CAFCASS said they could not do anything in the time available and suggested that the case was deferred until October 2011 after Mr ... tour of duty in Afghanistan was completed. The Court agreed, said that no Order would be made and that it should all come back to the Court at the end of the year.
The mother has prevented any contact since January because she doesn't want it to happen. Mr .. feels that it is important that his daughter gets to see him before he goes to the front line in Afghanistan. He acknowledges the very real possibility he may be killed in action and wants to see his daughter before he leaves.
Mr ... applied for a Specific Order Issue at court this week. It was an ex-parte hearing to seek an Order for some contact this coming weekend, his last in the UK before deployment.
The Judge refused the application saying that it was inappropriate to ask for an ex-parte hearing as it had been known since January that Mr ... was going to Afghanistan. The Judge further said that it was unreasonable for Mr ….to ask for his daughter to see him and that he should wait until October 2011 before asking the Court to resume proceedings.
Mr ... was clearly heartbroken on leaving the Court having heard that his daughter was being denied the opportunity to say goodbye to her father, solely because the Court system was unable to deal with matters in a timely fashion.
Mr… said today " I just went to her school for parents eve and I went well early, my baby saw me and ran over with tears in her eyes and wrapped her arms around me kissing me non-stop. She said she thought i was already in afgan as thats what her mother said. She was so so happy to see me and even i was crying. I had taken my camera and one of her christmas presents with me but before I had a chance to give her it or take the photo, my ex pulled her out my arms and forced her to get in the car. She was crying her eyes out bless her. "
We are expecting this young man to go to Afghanistan to fight for his queen and country and yet our Family Justice System has no compassion at all.
Looked After Children talking to Childline.
“I feel really upset. I have a terrible life in care. I just want a family. I just want to be loved.” (Jenny, aged 13)
“I feel angry at having to be in care. I feel isolated and sad...I feel powerless. I have bottled up my emotions. I cannot trust anyone or build relationships as I am moved about so much.” (Sam, age unknown)
“I moved into a care home today. I am scared to leave my room. The home is full of other girls who scare me.” (Abigail, aged 16)
“I have been in care from when I was a baby. Life has always been a problem for me. I went to live with a foster family a year ago. I am unhappy there and depressed. I cut myself.” (Adrian, aged 11)
“I live with a foster family. I don’t like my foster parents. I feel scared because I used to know when my parents were going to hit me, but I don’t know when these people are going to hit me. They have never hit me, but I expect them to because that’s what people do.” (Jackie, aged 13)
“I have just moved in with a foster family. It's really nice. They are nice people; it’s a nice house. I am being looked after.” (Alice, age unknown)
“Sometimes they [children] express that they don’t feel worthy of care. They lack trust because they can’t understand why somebody would want to care about them.” (ChildLine counsellor)
“For looked after children who receive ongoing counselling from ChildLine, ChildLine may be the only constant in their lives. Everyone else can be transient and may come or go, but ChildLine would always be there.” (ChildLine counsellor)