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Lawyers and family law campaign groups have widely welcomed the family justice review aimed at tackling the “shocking delays” in the family justice system.
Former mandarin David Norgrove, who chaired the report released today, said that family justice is under “huge strain” with cases taking far too long and children waiting well over a year for their futures to be settled.
The review aims to “improve the system so that it is quicker, simpler, more cost-effective and fairer whilst continuing to protect children and vulnerable adults from risk of harm.”
Among the proposals welcomed by lawyers is the streamlining of services for separating families, aimed at making it easier to reach agreement without court intervention, the employment of specialist judges, and having a bespoke timetable for resolving each child’s case.
However in a move which angered fathers’ rights campaigners Norgrove ruled out giving equal parental access to a child. He said the main focus should be the welfare of the children and the not the rights of the parents.
Head of family law at Manches Jane Craig welcomed the advancements.
“The emphasis on providing parents with information on how to manage their separation and minimise conflict in the best interests of their children is greatly to be welcomed,” she said.
David Allison, chair of family lawyers’ association Resolution, was equally delighted by the progress, but warned that reforms are at risk from legal aid cuts.
“The Family Law Review is a watershed moment for family law, something that has long been in need of reform. But at the same time, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill will remove legal aid provision for the vast majority of family law cases, meaning that some of the most vulnerable families, and their children, will struggle to access the professional legal advice and support they need – even if the processes are simplified,” he said.
Kingsley Napley family law partner William Healing added: “Norgrove is right. Our approach to family justice is currently too adversarial, too complex and too focused on parents, often at the expense of what is right for children. No doubt many will criticise him for following a cost-cutting agenda and threatening lawyers’ age old roles, but actually many of his proposals have merit.”
The 225-page Family Justice Review, commissioned jointly by the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Education, and the Welsh Assembly Government, can be accessed here.