An interim report published by the Family Justice Review Panel last month revealed that children sometimes wait “well over a year” for their future to be determined. It concluded that too many private law disputes are ending up in court, that caseloads are rising and that there is little joint planning between the different organisations.
The Panel’s chairman, David Norgrove said, in his introduction: “There is distrust, with now a vicious circle of layers of checking and scrutiny that lead to work being done less well in the first place.
“There are few means of mutual learning and feedback. The lack of IT and management information is astonishing.”
The Panel recommended that a Family Justice Service be set up, headed by a National Family Justice Board that would draw the function of agencies together, while local Family Justice Boards replaced the existing “plethora of arrangements”. It called for specialist judges to hear cases from start to finish, and for court social work services to form part of the Family Justice Service, subsuming the role of Cafcass.
It recommended less reliance on unnecessary expert reports when these are not in the best interests of the child, that a bespoke timetable be established for each child’s situation to minimise the damage caused by uncertainty, and that separating couples with children be assessed for mediation and given information on the impact of conflict on the children.
Stephen Cobb QC, Chairman of the Family Law Bar Association, said: “A unified family court system is a welcome recommendation; further and importantly we believe, as we made clear to the panel through their evidence-gathering, that judicial continuity in family cases is an important key to reducing delay and promoting better outcomes for families.
“We were pleased to see that the panel specifically picked up and approved some of the submissions made by the Family Law Bar Association, and endorsed our proposal for a twin-track system for private law cases.”
The Family Law Bar has welcomed proposals to develop an integrated Family Justice Service and to cut back on delays.