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John Bolch asks: are we about to enter a brave new world?

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

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.

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  1. Carol Bird says:

    Maybe, Possibly this new system will stop the control of the LA legal department, which is nearly always controlled by an annoymous outside law firm will stop the control over these courts, and the system will be open and candid for family members to have a say in what should have always have been in these courts serve THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD, and not the old cover-up get out clause for children as in our family case, cover up of a condition CEREBRAL ATROPHY that happened due to traumatic birth and allowed the hospital to with-hold this information due to outragous accussations, injuries for which there would be no survival without medical intervention, which there was non, as for best interests of the patient and candidness, the persuing family court case became their self serving reason for cover-up

  2. Paul says:

    You fail to mention what in my view is the single biggest driver of change – the almost complete abolition of legal aid in family cases. Coupled with the reforms listed above, it is now predictable that the number of private law cases – which far outnumber public law cases – will decline as common sense and rational thinking gradually take over from the lies and pedantry of artificially-funded private disputes. It is a complete no-brainer that when free legal aid is made available for parties to litigate then litigate they will, particularly when the flames are fanned by lawyers who stand to earn a living by protraction of the process.

  3. John Bolch on the start of the reform process - Marilyn Stowe Blog says:

    […] As the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has said, today marks the largest reform of the family justice system any of us family lawyers have seen or will see in our professional lifetimes. The new single family court has sprung into existence. Major changes contained in the Children and Families Act 2014 (26 week deadline for care proceedings, the presumption of parental involvement, child arrangements orders and compulsory MIAMs) have come into effect and the new Public Law Outline and Child Arrangements Programme have been implemented (for a brief explanation of these things, see my previous post here). […]

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