DOWN: Private Law Programme. UP: Child Arrangements Programme? By John Bolch.

Family Law|November 13th 2013

In 2004 a new scheme was introduced in relation to private law children cases (i.e. cases not involving a local authority). Called the Private Law Programme, the scheme was intended to set out ‘best practice’ in relation to how the courts should deal with disputes between parents over the arrangements for their children. The Programme was revised in 2010, to take account of developments in law and practice.

In August this year, the President of the Family Division set up the Private Law Working Group. This comprises judges and others involved in private family law work. Its remit: to make recommendations to the President in relation to the resolution of Private Family Law Disputes (concerning children) in the most optimal and efficient way, building upon the President’s Revised Private Law Programme”. The Group has now published its report.

The report addresses the changes in practice and procedure that are necessary in the light of four recent or imminent developments:

1. The launch of the Family Court in April 2014 (see my previous post here).

2. The likely requirement for applicants in private law children cases to attend Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMs), and the increased emphasis upon out of court dispute resolution.

3. The reduction in the availability of legal aid following the government cuts earlier this year.

4. The likely change in terminology for private law orders to be brought in by the Children & Families Bill (contact order and residence order to be replaced by a new child arrangements order).

The Group recommends that the Private Law Programme be replaced by a new Child Arrangements Programme (CAP). The name is a nod to the new terminology, and intended to emphasise that the child is the focus of the scheme.

The CAP has a number of aims, including placing a greater emphasis on mediation for resolving disputes, adapting to the changes resulting from the new Family Court and meeting the needs of a system in which there will be a higher number of litigants in person. It is designed to be more comprehensive (covering all aspects of the private law process, including the pre-proceedings phase) and more accessible, for both litigants in person and judges.

To support the new arrangements, the Group has prepared a number of draft supporting documents, all of which can be found here. I would draw particular attention to the draft flowchart for the CAP, which sets out graphically how the CAP is intended to operate.

Other points of note in the report:

1. The Group has decided against recommending a strict time limit for the resolution of cases, as there is with the 26 week time limit in care cases.

2. The government online information hub, Sorting Out Separation, should be ‘beefed up’ with more information, and more widely promoted.

3. The First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (‘FHDRA’ – the initial hearing, at which the court identifies the issues and whether it is possible for the matter to be settled by agreement) should be retained largely in its present form.

4. There should be a ‘plain English’ guide for litigants in person (one is now being prepared).

5. Concerned that litigants in person have to take responsibility for the service of court orders, the Group invites the Courts Service and the Ministry of Justice to consider the feasibility of courts serving orders and applications (I can’t see this happening under current economic restraints).

6. Lastly, the Group recommends the publication of clearer guidance in relation to the enforcement of orders.

The President welcomes comments upon the proposals contained in the report from anyone with an involvement or interest in the family justice system. Details of where to send comments can be found on this page.


John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

Share This Post...


  1. Paul says:

    Thank you, John, I will. I wrote to Norgrove about the Children Act and at least I received a reply. I also submitted a paper to Professor Munro’s review, concerned as I was with the nasty ways of social workers who are effectively misusing public law child protection procedures to push parents into private law disputes as a form of backdoor child protection instead of properly identifying false allegations for what they really were and dealing with that issue as a form of abuse in itself. Needless to say she couldn’t have been impressed much as I didn’t hear back, not even to say “What are you pratting on about?”

  2. Andrew says:

    Paul, what do you expect if you go that far off-message?

  3. Paul says:

    Not sure I understand your question, Andrew, but I think you rather miss the point anyway.

  4. Anonymous says:

    When you don’t hear back from people like this, it is usually because they were caught off guard, and don’t have one of their predictable responses already typed out for you.

    They cannot dismiss your complaint with the typical accusation that you are a conspiracy theorist, because that would not be tactful on their part. When they know you have a good point, it is easier for them to just ignore you, and hope you go away.

  5. Stitchedup says:

    “They cannot dismiss your complaint with the typical accusation that you are a conspiracy theorist, because that would not be tactful on their part.”

    There is overwhelming evidence of feminist influence and bias in the family courts, criminal courts and the justice system in general. For some reason this is considered justified.

    Changing the name and some procedure so that it appears there is more focus on the needs of the child is not going to do anything to solve the massive problem of false allegations and feminist bias.

  6. Paul says:

    Stitched, we have a Children’s Commissioner for England & Wales who produced a report not so long ago which in essence stated that the law should be arranged so that children of separated parents wouldn’t have to see their father if they themselves decide they didn’t want to see him. This came about through their airy fairy fiddling around with so-called children’s wishes ‘n feelings. They think that kind of child-empowered, child-generated thinking should lie at the heart of UK family policy to determinative and ruinous effect. Everyone seemingly went along with it. Not a single minister or senior judge muttered a word.

    What I say is this. When that report was published, why was the Children’s Commissioner not summoned to the Home Office and summarily sacked? And if those in power think that kind of child-empowered, decision-making is so great, why don’t these denialists apply those same precepts to intact families or other important areas of public policy – like the detonation of an atomic bomb?

    This fashionable obsession with child-empowerment ultimately leads to ruin yet everyone seems to think it’s great and we should have more of it. Look at the ridiculous Cafcass website. They are turning family law into a cartoon joke just like the Children’s Commissioner.

    There is just so much wrong with family law and family policy, I wouldn’t know where to start. I happened to write to Professor Munro (who was doing a government review) regarding a particular nuance of child protection whereby social workers were abusing public law as a means of backdoor safeguarding by encouraging parents to engage in private disputes, a situation that characterised my own case. This is both cowardly and unlawful. The comment made above merely demonstrates a lack of understanding on someone else’s part, not mine. I doubt Andrew has anything relevant at all to say on the subject.

Leave a Reply


Newsletter Sign Up

For all the latest news from Stowe Family law
please sign up for instant access today.

Privacy Policy