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.