Family Court Reforms

Brought into effect today, the current changes to the family court service have been described by Sir James Munby, president of the family division, as “the largest reform of the family justice system any of us have seen or will see in our professional lifetimes”.

The reforms are designed to streamline a process of family justice that was previously seen as dysfunctional and woefully inefficient. Justice minister Simon Hughes MP referred to the new systems as a “hugely important change” to a system where previously cases could take weeks and months, clearly not in the interests of the child.

The main reform will be in reducing the amount of time that a case takes to go through the system by introducing a 26-week limit by which care and supervision cases must normally be resolved. This is in contrast to the current average time of up to 56 weeks.

Judges can extend the time limit if it is necessary in order to resolve the case justly, but it is intended that cases will “normally” be finalised within this time limit.

Clearly anything which brings speedier resolution to childcare cases is a positive reform, but it is not yet clear how this will be enforced. If there is an issue in the case which cannot be resolved in that time, for

If there is an issue in the case which cannot be resolved in that time, for example a parent being subject to a drug or alcohol treatment requirement, then forcing the court to deal with the case in an arbitrary time limit will not be just. As yet it is not known what approach courts will take to this discretion to extend time.

The Family Rights Group, a charity supporting families and children dealing with social services, has voiced concern that this time limit may mean rushed or incomplete social services reports being relied upon in court, and increase the pressure that is already pushing many council’s children services and CAFCASS to breaking point.

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