The most significant family justice reforms for a generation will come into effect on 22 April, cutting delays and putting children at the heart of the system.
The changes come as a new, simpler family court structure becomes a reality and most of the family justice provisions from the Children and Families Act come into force.
The reforms being implemented on today will see:
· The introduction of the new Family Court in England and Wales which is simpler and easier for the public to understand and navigate.
· A Family Court which will make sure the right level of judge is appointed for a particular case, in the most suitable location. All levels of judge will be able to sit in the same building, which will help reduce the unnecessary delays caused by cases transferring between different courts.
· Justices’ clerks and their assistants will provide more support to judges working in the Family Court (including on undefended divorce cases), allowing judges to focus their time on more difficult cases.
· The introduction of a statutory 26 week time limit for care and supervision proceedings, which are brought when a local authority believes that a child is suffering from abuse or neglect. This time limit is designed to further reduce delays and give greater certainty to the children involved.
· A new child arrangements orders that will encourage parents to focus on their child’s needs rather than what they see as their own ‘rights’.
· 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 so separating couples must consider alternatives to harmful and stressful court battles when resolving children and financial matters, except for in special circumstances such as where domestic violence is involved.
Today’s changes implement most of the legislative recommendations made by the independent Family Justice Review, chaired by David Norgrove, which was published in 2011. The review found that the family justice system was no system at all and vulnerable and damaged children who were meant to be protected were having their ‘futures undermined’ by excessive delays.
Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes said:
“For too long children have suffered from excessive delays and confrontational court battles. Our reforms will keep families away from the negative effects that going to court can have 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.”