Transforming our justice system: the obvious, the banal and the old

Family Law|September 20th 2016

Last week the Ministry of Justice launched a consultation on the reform of the justice system, by publishing two documents: a consultation paper and a joint statement from The Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice, and the Senior President of Tribunals on their “shared vision” for the future of Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunal Service. I have been looking at both documents.

Introducing the consultation the Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice Sir Oliver Heald QC MP tells us:

“The world is moving on and our justice system must keep up to meet the changing needs and expectations of everyone who uses our courts and tribunals.”

The joint statement sets out how this will be achieved, by providing the public with a justice system that is just (that would be novel), proportionate (not entirely certain what that means) and accessible (so that’s why they cut legal aid and increased court fees).

Sir Oliver excitedly tells us:

“In practice, these principles will deliver swift and certain justice.”


The consultation continues with an avalanche of banalities and platitudes. We are told, for example, that “A fair and functional justice system underpins every civilised society”, and that “Family proceedings deal with some of the most sensitive issues in the justice system”. I never knew that. There are some general ideas, all of which we have heard before, such as more decisions being made ‘on the papers’ rather than at a hearing, and having more cases being resolved out of court (where have I heard that before? – oh yes, from every justice minister since 2010). As to family proceedings in particular, the consultation paper is a bit short of ideas, only mentioning online divorce proceedings, which we know about already.

Otherwise, we are only told that:

“We are working to consider what further changes are needed and will bring forward proposals in due course.”

How disappointing.

The joint statement does at least have a little more substance when it comes to family courts. After telling us the completely obvious…

“The priority for the family courts is to find solutions to the most personal of disputes, often involving vulnerable children, and to set families on the best possible course for the future. These courts above all should be places of clarity and hope – not of complexity and process.”

…the statement continues with the equally obvious: “In the family law system, reforms will be guided first of all by the welfare of children.” Well, thank goodness the authors have read section one of the Children Act. The statement repeats the words of the consultation paper by telling us about the reforms following the Family Justice Review, and then exhorting that “there is more to be done.”

So what is going to be done? Well, in relation to private law cases, the statement sets out two things. Firstly, that they are considering how best they can help separating couples resolve disputes between themselves by “digitising and simplifying our processes and providing more information to enable people to make the right arrangements themselves.”

Secondly, in relation to divorce:

“We will simplify the process and put as much as possible of it online.”

So, nothing new there either. As to public law cases, we are told of existing ideas, such as Family Drug and Alcohol Courts, but there are no new ideas at all.

The statement concludes as it began with the usual banalities about our justice system being “revered around the world”. We also have the inevitable reference to Magna Carta, and even to the 1701 Act of Settlement, before we are told that:

“The rule of law is fundamental to every civilised society. Above all, these reforms will help to protect it.”

Will they really?

It could all be so exciting. A brave new world, full of new ideas. Unfortunately, if you strip away the platitudes, the banalities and the things we already know about, there really isn’t anything of substance here. Our justice system may be transformed over the coming years, but I’m not sure that this consultation will be able to claim much of the credit.

The consultation paper can be found here and the joint statement is here.

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  1. Reddit Seenit Dunit says:

    To me, if they have not come up with any recommendations regarding true justice for the victims of marriage “scammers” — those women (most usually) who set up and go into a marriage for the SOLE PURPOSE of enabling an eventual divorce, purely for the MONEY — they haven’t done anything useful.

    I am certain there are many, many areas of family law that need modification — just reading these blog postings for the past few months has convinced me of that — but it is time that SOMETHING was ALSO done to prevent marriage scammers being able to take advantage of their hapless “husbands” due to their utter greed and lack of moral principal.

    As long as the divorce laws take no notice of this most intimate of crimes (infidelity almost certainly being an integral part of it, because the scammer certainly didn’t marry “for love”) justice can never be done — and the courts and justice system will remain witless accessories to the crime.

    WHEN will someone with any power to change things, ever DO anything about this?

  2. Devil's Advocate says:

    I have written before on fundamental reforms to child arrangement programme realities. As long as we have only the Strasbourg Accord for the presumption of responsible engaged parental equality, nothing will change to bring balance to children who are alienated from their family cohorts.

    John this concept is so easy to understand in “private law” that civilised nations as Brazil, Italy and Mexico are laughing so much if it weren’t pathetic this state of affairs is nonsense in England and Wales. Affecting 17 million children and family members making this debacle of psychological abuse only second to that of chattel slavery abuse of the 18th Century.

    In the main fathers as parents are NOT required in families. Children’s best interest are not provided and we are a society are one which, to all intents and purpose, is pathetic for allowing this sycophancy to continue.

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