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Isolated Judges would benefit from feedback, research concludes

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March 28, 2024

Family judges would benefit from feedback on their work, a research project has concluded.

Professor Judith Masson of Bristol University, reviewed legal literature, conducted group discussions with 28 family court judges across England and Wales, and interviewed nine legal researchers in the UK as well as in Australia and New Zealand

The aim of the project was to “examine the current availability and use of feedback by judges handling public law children cases (care cases) in England and Wales”.

Her report, entitled Developing judgement: the role of Feedback for Judges in the Family Court, highlights how little feedback judges receive, when compared to other professionals who make decisions regarding the care of children, such as the police and social workers. While the overall performance of Judges is monitored, they receive almost no personal feedback, even if the case subsequently goes to appeal.

One judge told Masson

“By the end of a year or two sitting at [location], I said, ‘Nobody is telling me how I’m doing.’ I went to my FDLJ [Family Division Liaison Judge], he said, ‘Yes – no one is complaining, so you’re not doing too badly!’ [Laughing] And it’s about as negative as that.”

Another recalled wondering about the subsequent progress of cases they had heard.

“I often think subsequently ‘Oh it’s six months – I wonder if that child has been placed’ – because I have no way of knowing except [if] I happen to run into a Guardian and I can say, ‘What happened?’”

The Professor lists a number of feedback mechanisms which could be beneficial to practising family judges. These include the presence of other judges in the courtroom to observe the performance of the presiding judge – something which already occurs in other jurisdictions. In addition, the report suggests regular surveys amongst court-users such lawyers and litigants, another system which is already used in other countries.

Many of the participating judges said they would appreciate constructive feedback on their work but some also worried that it might affect their confidence in the role.

The project was funded by Ministry of Justice subsidiary organisation the Family Justice Council.

The full report can be read here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Dr Grumpy says:

    Umm! As a LiP I would have like some feedback too from the judge. However since I won an appeal against his final financial settlement I don’t think he would have liked what I would have had to say about his performance!

  2. JamesB says:

    I tried to give some feedback and complained about Judges language and approach. The evidence and tapes of the hearings got lost by the court staff.

  3. Helen Dudden says:

    I wrote to a Judge on the failings of an international law case. There was nothing he could do.
    In 2005 Freshfields pro bono completed by the EU, suggested working together, court to court and social to social workers. I believe this would prevent on going battles and court actions.
    Unless less cost is involved, the situation of not affording will continue a very unfair situation to continue.

    • Dr Grumpy says:

      I remain convinced that my financial settlement in my divorce was biased in my (ex)wife’s favour due to the fact that I was litigant in person up against an experienced divorce barrister with an incompetent DDJ presiding. This was highlighted when I won my appeal against the original order when we both ended up as LiP’s
      She still got the house as she remained hidden behind the kids 2 of which were later placed in LA care because she claimed she could no longer look after them!
      My Barder appeal failed and I remain convinced that if I had been granted legal aid the outcome would’ve have been different

      • JamesB says:

        I believe you. You get stuffed as a male NRP (non resident primary parent) if you self represent, you get slightly less stuffed as a male NRP if you are represented, but it costs you more than the extra you do not loose. Either way you are stuffed. That’s why we need family law reform, rather than throwing money at the children which is over simplistic and bringing the establishment into disrepute.

        • JamesB says:

          Especially to include mandatory and affordable pre and post nups. Anything other than the MCA 1973 which is a lawyers charter to make a bad drama out of a crises.

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