Time is relatives

Government proposals to spend less time with the family wins legal approbation

The creation of a single family court will trigger mass investment in the family judiciary under fresh proposals put forward by senior family division judge Mr Justice Ryder last week.

Family lawyers welcomed the report, Judicial proposals for the modernisation of family justice, which called for family justices to play a larger role in helping resolve disputes involving children while the use of expert witnesses should be reduced.

It comes as the number of cases involving children has soared, causing lengthy delays in resolving the disputes.

The length of time taken to get cases into court has risen from the 12-week target set by the Government 20 years ago to an average of 60 weeks in county courts last year and 80 weeks for some hard cases. The Government set a target of just 26 weeks in its Family Justice Review last November.

Mr Justice Ryder’s report, which is supported by Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, sets out practical ways for the targets to be achieved.

In total 600 judges will be retrained over the next two years if the plans get the go-ahead. The single Family Court will comprise a network of local Family Court centres, to be led and managed by family judges.

Ryder J outlined his vision thus: “There are two key elements to the proposals. The first is strong judicial leadership and management – ie judicial control of the workload of the court by the management of judicial deployment to match resources to need.

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“The second is robust case management of proceedings by the requirement to have a welfare timetable for each child based on evidence and research. The court will use evidence-based good practice to control the material it receives, in particular that of expert witnesses.”

Family lawyers said the proposals demonstrated a willingness to grapple with the real issues faced by litigants.

Withers partner Claire Blakemore summed up the feeling when she said the proposals could result in a more efficient family justice system available to all. Although she warned: “It will only do so if judges at all levels receive the necessary training and manage cases properly.”

It takes money to help reduce costs, which is something everyone is short of right now. However, unless there is significant investment into the family justice system now, the problems of the future could be much more costly.

Katy Dowell