The President of the Family Division has called for ‘fine-tuning’ to the family justice system.
In his twelfth ‘View from the President’s Chambers’, Sir James Munby said the reforms of the 1990s were “outstandingly successful”, but there were still improvements to be made.
“[E]ven the finest machinery may benefit from overhaul and fine-tuning once in a while.”
“Overall, our aim, as with every aspect of the family justice system, must be to simplify and streamline the process so as to make it more user friendly for litigants, litigants in person in particular, and quicker and cheaper for all.”
One of the changes he proposed included the complete separation of the process of divorce itself from the process of a financial dispute.
He argued that as the “majority of divorce petitions proceed without any financial claims”, it would streamline the system to have the financial side dealt with separately.
“I should like to see if there is any scope for more closely aligning practice and procedure in the three major types of financial remedy cases … Linked to this the Working Group may wish to consider whether there is scope for introducing a shorter or more streamlined process in cases where the court is satisfied that this is appropriate.”
He also proposed to create a working group to explore ways to improve access to the family court system for people who cannot afford legal representation, and ways to improve the way financial remedy cases are handled.
The group will pursue the need for explanatory material, written in plain English in order to help people who “not through choice, have to act as litigants in person”.
It will also consider a review of the financial process in divorce cases. Sir James said that more out of court settlements needed to be encouraged, be it through mediation, arbitration or other methods.
Another proposal was the formation of a ‘Children and Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group’ to be chaired by Mr Justice Hayden and Ms Justice Russell.
This group will address the issue of vulnerable people giving evidence in family court proceedings, which Sir James described as an area where family law “lags woefully behind the criminal justice system”.
He went on to say he was “anxious to have [the group’s] preliminary views” so that any changes proposed could be taken into consideration by the Family Procedure Rules Committee “as soon as possible”.
Sir James also announced that he will shortly be issuing a consultation paper dealing with transparency in the family justice system.
This consultation paper will seek comments regarding the impact of his previous ‘Practice Guidance on Transparency in the Family Courts’ from earlier this year.
He also hopes to gather opinions regarding the possible expansion of media access to case information (without naming parties) and the possibility of hearing some types of family cases in public.
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