Cultural change in the family courts

Profession

Sir Nicholas Wall, President of the Family Division, has questioned the need to set up a Family Justice Service - a central plank of the Norgrove Review recommendations.

The final report of the Family Justice Review, chaired by David Norgrove, recommended the creation of a Family Justice Service to help agencies and professionals work together.

However, Sir Nicholas said he thought setting up such a service was neither “practical” nor “necessary”.

In a speech to the Bar Council’s Law Reform Committee on child care cases, in November, he said setting up the service as “what would amount to a new independent bureaucracy” would “not be cost-effective nor would it benefit family justice in the long term.
“Whilst I accept that there should be significant structural improvement, I take the view that the fundamental problems are cultural, and will only be solved by cultural change”.

Instead, Sir Nicholas favours implementing the Norgrove recommendations through the family business authority - the decision-making body of HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) for family justice. This would enable the changes to be made “sooner and with less cost”. Cafcass, which provides social work services to the courts, would be required to move from the Department for Education to HMCTS rather than, as the Norgrove review suggests, the Ministry of Justice.

He called on judges to play an active role in case management, and emphasised the importance of judicial continuity as a means to make the court system less bewildering for families and to reduce delay.

He expressed “considerable anxiety” over the Government’s plans to remove public funding from private law family work.
“Whilst I strongly support all forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (including, of course, mediation) I have considerable concern that the public funding of mediation - welcome as that is - will not be sufficient to resolve the problems of the myriad of unrepresented litigants who will come before the family courts,” he said.

“We are already seeing a radical increase in litigants in person, and the stringent criteria for representation in cases of domestic abuse make me concerned that the system will be unable to do swift justice in a large number of cases.”

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