Top judge calls for re-balancing of family courts to help children

Sir James Munby called for new ‘problem-solving’ courts to deal with children caught up in family and criminal courts.

Speaking at the Howard League for Penal Reform, the President of the Family Division said that the Family Court should be expanded to include the Youth Court, with an emphasis on problem-solving rather on the criminal law.

He urged the Crown Prosecution Service to reconsider its prosecuting policy for children, but said: ‘I do not go so far as to suggest that age alone should immunise children from the appropriate application of the criminal law where there has been really serious offending.’

However, in less serious cases, he said it is legitimate to ask what advantage there is in invoking a criminal process in preference to a family court process, especially where the family court is already engaged in careful analysis of and planning for the child’s future.

He said there was an ‘urgent need’ to simplify what had become an ‘immensely complicated landscape’.

Sir James also said there needed to be ‘a fundamental re-balancing of the family court towards what ought to be its true role as a problem-solving court, engaging the therapeutic and other support systems that so many children and parents need’.

He said that in these ‘uniquely complex cases’, courts must grapple with the underlying problems and difficulties of the whole family. ‘So what we need is a problem-solving court for the whole family. Can a criminal court, can the Youth Court, satisfactorily fulfil that role? Is it not, in truth, a role better suited to a re-vamped family court with an enhanced jurisdiction?’

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