The President of the Family Division has said that we are on the ‘cusp of history’, with the 22nd of April marking “the largest reform of the family justice system any of us have seen or will see in our professional lifetimes”. On that day the new single family court will come into existence, along with a raft of other major changes.
As the President says:
“Taken as a whole, these reforms amount to a revolution. Central to this revolution has been – has had to be – a fundamental change in the cultures of the family courts. This is truly a cultural revolution.”
Apart from the new family court (it seems that many are capitalising the first letters – ‘Family Court’ – although I am using the non-capitalised version in section 17 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which established the family court), other changes include:
- A new and revised ‘Public Law Outline’ (‘PLO’), which deals with how public law children cases, such as care proceedings, should be managed.
- The implementation of the new ‘Child Arrangements Programme’ (‘CAP’), which sets out ‘best practice’ in relation to how the courts should deal with disputes between parents over the arrangements for their children, and will replace the old ‘Private Law Programme’.
- The imposition of a 26 week deadline for the completion of care and supervision (public law) proceedings.
- The introduction of the new ‘presumption of parental involvement’, whereby the court is to presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of both parents in the life of the child will further the child’s welfare.
- The replacement of residence and contact orders with ‘child arrangements orders’.
- The requirement that anyone wishing to make an application to a family court must first attend a family mediation information and assessment meeting (‘MIAM’).
- The introduction of new court fees.
I’m not going to go into the details of all of the changes here. I’ve already mentioned many of them in previous posts, and others have been covered elsewhere. Instead, the purpose of this short post is to say a few words about the future.
Despite the doubts that I have expressed here previously, I do hope that the new system will be better than the old. I wish the best for all who work within it, whether they be judges, court staff, lawyers, Cafcass officers, social workers or whoever. Above all, I hope that the new system will provide a better experience and better outcomes for all those who find themselves in the position of having to use it, or are affected by the decisions that it makes.
Photo by Calotype46 under a Creative Commons licence