Not an awful lot of news specifically about the family justice system this week, but our new Lord Chancellor Michael Gove had plenty to say about the justice system generally, in his first speech since his appointment.
First, though, more worrying statistics about vulnerable children. The number of vulnerable children being taken into care or placed on child protection plans has increased for the fifth year in succession. According to data from official statistics and fresh figures obtained under a Freedom of Information request, the number of at-risk children being looked after by the state rose by eight per cent, or 5,000, under the coalition government. At the same time, the number of vulnerable children placed on child protection plans – i.e. children who are closely monitored by social workers to ensure their safety – rose by 33 per cent to 52,000 over that period, while the number of “section 47 inquiries” – used to determine whether individual children are being abused or neglected – increased by 42 per cent to 159,000.
An update on changes to the divorce process has been given by members of the judiciary and senior civil servants. In particular, further information has been given regarding the new London and South East Divorce Centre at Bury St Edmunds, which will eventually deal with just over 40 per cent of work in England & Wales. The Centre will issue all divorce petitions with the exception of urgent matters, which can still be issued from local courts. Most undefended divorce work will be retained at the Centre, although any defended proceedings or undefended cases requiring a hearing will be transferred to the parties’ preferred court and cases where parties wish to attend pronouncement to dispute costs or to attend for any other reason will be transferred to their preferred court for pronouncement. Stowe Family Law’s Managing Partner in Yorkshire Julian Hawkhead gives his views on the pros and cons of Divorce centres in this post.
New funding for regional adoption agencies has been announced by the Department for Education (DfE), to “help place children in stable, loving homes faster than ever before”. A typically glowing DfE press release states: “Trailblazing councils leading the way in matching children awaiting adoption with their ‘forever family’ are to benefit from new government funding worth £4.5 million. The injection of cash will mean the first regional adoption agencies – groups of councils coming together to match children quickly with adoptive parents – will be up and running months earlier than planned. This is an excellent start to the government’s plans to revolutionise the adoption system by placing all councils in regional adoption agencies by the end of this Parliament, as announced in the Queen’s Speech.” As always from the DfE, it all sounds so wonderful.
And then there was the Lord Chancellor’s speech. In it, he said that there is a “dangerous inequality” at the heart of our justice system with, on the one hand, the wealthy, international class who can, for example, choose to settle cases in London with the ‘gold standard’ of British justice, and on the other hand, everyone else, “who has to put up with a creaking, outdated system”. I shall say no more about the speech now, as I have already written about it here this week, and have also set out some of the reaction from lawyers to Mr Gove’s suggestion that they should be doing more work for nothing.
And finally, the father in the Minnock case has dropped committal proceedings against the child’s mother. Let us hope that this magnanimous gesture signals the start of a new chapter in which the child’s parents can work together for his benefit, without the need for further recourse to the courts.
On that positive note, I wish you a good weekend.