Family Courts

Justice written question – answered on 17th March 2011.

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Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice

(1) what steps he has taken to improve the working of family courts;

(2) what steps he has taken to minimise any adverse effect on a child arising from participation in court proceedings.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

A Family Justice Review is currently under way looking at the workings of the family justice system with a view to implementing significant reform. The review panel, comprising experts from across the field of family justice, will make recommendations for reform in two core areas: the promotion of informed settlement and agreement; and management of the family justice system overall. Recommendations will focus on ensuring that the interests of the child are paramount in any decision affecting them, unnecessary delay is avoided and conflict between individuals is minimised as far as possible. An interim report is expected shortly and a final report is due in the autumn.

Pending the outcome of the review, in public law proceedings an interim "system-wide approach" has been adopted with the aim of reducing unnecessary delay. The approach comprises efforts focussed around local solutions and initiatives, and is being taken forward by a network of newly established "local performance improvement groups". A National Performance Partnership has also been established to collate best practice and take a strategic approach to improving performance and reducing delay. Ministry of Justice and Department for Education officials are working closely with system agencies (Her Majesty's Courts Service, CAFCASS, Legal Services Commission and local authorities) as well as with the President of the Family Division to identify and share best practice to reduce delay and improve performance in public law proceedings. To support these efforts, Her Majesty's Court Service allocated an additional 4,000 county court sitting days over the course of 2010-11 to create extra capacity in the system.

In relation to private law disputes, the President of the Family Division issued a revised Practice Direction in April 2010 setting out the principles to be followed. A key feature is the requirement to list a first hearing within four weeks, and no later than six weeks, from the issue of proceedings. At the first hearing, the court will identify the issues and make decisions about the timetabling and next stages in the case. These decisions are informed by a short report from CAFCASS setting out the result of initial safeguarding checks with the local authority and police to ensure that any decisions made at the first hearing are safe for the child and parties.

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