[Sandra Osborne in the Chair] — Family Courts

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:35 pm on 24th May 2012.

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Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 3:35 pm, 24th May 2012

I hear what my hon. Friend says, and I am not entirely sure that it is incompatible with what I said. I will take a further look at that.

We must improve the quality of the submissions made to courts by local authorities. In many areas, poor-quality or late submissions delay cases and lead to too great a reliance on time-consuming expert reports. We will strip out bureaucracy and duplication. On care planning, we will introduce legislation through the children and families Bill to make it explicit that the court should focus only on issues essential to its deliberations. We will also remove the bureaucratic processes connected with the renewal of interim care orders and interim supervision orders. Where a case is already before the courts, we will remove the need for an adoption panel to consider whether a child should be placed for adoption.

That work is supported by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, which has allocated a further 4,000 sitting days to the county court exclusively for family work, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed pointed out. That is an increase of 8,000 extra county court sitting days compared with 2009-10 and a major increase in family court capacity. That somewhat disproves what the hon. Member for Hammersmith said about Government cuts. We have not been cutting the service, but have been significantly increasing the resources added to it. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service has ring-fenced the family allocation in the magistrates courts, ensuring that days intended for families are not lost on criminal hearings.

All right hon. and hon. Members will agree that simply allocating more court days will not solve the long-term issues identified by the family justice review. All the work will be underpinned by more robust data, an issue highlighted by the Justice Committee last year, as my right hon. Friend pointed out. I agree that it is key. Without figures, we can only reform by way of anecdote based on single issues. That is not an adequate position.

With judicial support, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service is rolling out a new management information tool. For the first time, it will track the care case process from start to finish at court level. Although it applies only to those cases entering the system from 1 April, it will provide important data about where delays are currently occurring in the system and why they have arisen. Importantly, the tool will drive changes in behaviour by allowing local areas access to their own data, so that information can be used to identify performance barriers.