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Senior Judge highlights evidence-based reasoning

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February 12, 2024

The Senior President of Tribunals stressed the importance of evidence-based reasoning in a speech earlier this month.

In a talk entitled The Role of the Justice System in Decision-making for Children, Sir Ernest Ryder said

“Since the publication of the Family Justice Review in 2011, the family justice system has been undergoing a systematic programme of reform, the aim of which is to ensure more and better access to justice for children and their families.”

The former barrister and Appeal Court judge added:

“The modernisation of family justice remains work-in-progress. As part of that process, in today’s address, I want to revisit one aspect of that reform programme, the one focused on decision making and judicial decision-making as part of the process in which we are all involved: the young person, parents, carers, professionals and agencies and the judge of the Family Court.”

He highlighted three important principles: reform via “rigorous and informed training”; high quality material for judges to inform their decision making; and the need for “an approach to improving and enhancing judicial decision making” that is “systematic, evidence-based, and tested.”

“We cannot afford to pluck best practice out of thin air. It is neither whatever is the latest fashion of the day, nor is it what any particular judge finds attractive or interesting: even less the sometimes uninformed and historically hidebound views of those who happen to exercise power. It is no use a judge advising other professionals about their skill and expertise without the benefit of access to evidence based materials rather than mere common sense or personal preference.”

Sir Ernest was speaking at the 10th International Congress of the British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (BASPCAN) earlier this month.

The event was held at the University of Warwick.

Read the full speech here.

Photo of the Royal Courts of Justice by Jo.sau via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

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. Mr T says:

    The futures of children need to be based on factual evidence not hearsay in Family Courts.

    I cannot think of anything more important than the future of the human race and the functioning of society and we’re using a ridiculous hearsay and feelings based system completely riddled with female and mothers bias. It’s an absolutely abhorrent disgusting practice that needs reforming right now!

    Stop ignoring and marginalising dads and men because they have different behaviours to women. We need to stop labelling vocal strong men as abusive when they’re just masculine.

    Also needed is the provision of mental health specialists freely available to the courts the prevalence of PA by hostile parents is generationally getting worse.

    Need to take the profit out of family courts then we’ll see some real justice instead of money making conflict and massive unnecessary delays that abuse children’s attachments.

  2. Nick Langford says:

    A DCA Select Committee report in 2003 noted the lack of evidence-based practice in the family courts,
    “‘evidence-based practice,’ which is of growing importance in areas such as health and social care, is lacking, particularly in the area of the management of private law disputes and decisions about contact.”
    The Norgrove report echoed that in 2011 (albeit tucked away in an annex) noting that the system had no data on the outcomes of mediation or of court intervention,
    “Information flows around the system largely on paper, as though computers and the internet had not been invented. We have rarely attended a court hearing when all the relevant information was available.”
    It also noted,
    “Decisions are taken in isolation, with insufficient regard to the impact they might have on others… There is an almost unbelievable lack of management information at a system-wide level, with little data on performance, flows, costs or efficiency available to support the operation of the system.”
    The House of Commons Justice Committee observed,
    “We were extremely disappointed by the serious gaps in data that we and the Family Justice Review found during our inquiries. It is a concern to us that major changes to the system are being contemplated when there are such gaps in the evidence base… without such evidence, reform of the family justice system could be fatally undermined before it has even begun.”
    So the problem is hardly a new one, and yet reform was started, with the changes introduced in 2014 and Cobb’s new PD12J all based on a complete absence of data regarding court impact.
    Why do these dreadful people never learn?

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