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Plans To Speed Up Family Courts Must Still Protect Children

Irwin Mitchell Family Team Comments On New Proposals


Leading family lawyers have welcomed proposals to speed up cases in family courts in England and Wales but warned it must not come at the expense of safeguarding the child’s best interests.

The new plans outlined by Mr Justice Ryder include a single family court run by judges and magistrates in the same building to deal with cases more efficiently.

The recent Family Justice Review set out the aim of completing all childcare within six months as some cases are currently taking more than a year to complete. But family lawyers have warned that speeding up cases in an overcrowded court system must not detract from the aim of the courts to protect the children involved.
In 2008 around 20,000 children were involved in child cases but in 2011 the figure is just under 30,000.

John Nicholson, a Family law specialist at Irwin Mitchell said: “These cases often involve very difficult and complex decisions which will affect a child’s life forever. The current delays are unacceptable and it is vital that the process speeds up to ensure that the children involved are given the best possible support.

“However it is also crucial that speed is not at the expense of safeguarding the best interests of a child or children involved in a specific case. The court system is overstretched as it is and we need to ensure that any efficiencies do not detract from the heart of the child justice system which should be to ensure the best outcome for children involved.”

Family courts deal with child cases following divorce or separation as well as deciding whether victims of child abuse or neglect should be taken into local authority care.

Currently family matters are dealt with by the "family division" of the High Court, by district judges in county courts or by specialist magistrate-led "family proceedings" courts.

Mr Justice Ryder also recommends that there is less reliance on expert witnesses claiming that they are overused and often don’t provide any more information than written reports. He said decisions and processes of the court should be better explained to the children at the centre of the family action and more training should be given to help judges make decisions quicker.