Fundamental review of the family justice system announced
20 January 2010
An expert panel will examine reform of the current family justice system in England and Wales so that it better supports children and parents under a wide-ranging review announced by the Ministry of Justice today.
The review will look at the best methods for avoiding confrontational court hearings, and encouraging the use of mediation to deliver fairer and less acrimonious settlements that place the needs and interests of children at the heart of the system.
The announcement today is part of the cross-government Families and Relationships Green Paper, published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which looks at how to reduce conflict when relationships break down as part of wider government support for the family. The paper also contains proposals which would make it compulsory for privately-funded clients of the family justice system to consider using mediation before having child access disputes are heard in court – bringing it into line with the current system covering families represented by legal aid.
Justice Secretary Jack Straw said:
‘We know that for many families the current family justice system is proving far too complicated, and its adversarial nature can lead to bitter, lengthy court hearings, prolonging what is already a stressful and emotionally draining experience.
‘While the vast majority of separating parents settle their disputes privately, for those who do need to access to the system we need to find a better, fairer way to forge lasting agreements for the care of children. Research shows that children adjust to family breakdown better when a couple manages to maintain working relations following a separation – the review is about making sure the justice system helps parents to achieve this.’
The government will also continue its work on ensuring people involved in family proceedings know about the availability and benefits of mediation, through providing online information on mediation and exploring ways to reach families with the information they need before their case comes to court. It will also work with the Family Mediation Council to build on existing accreditation schemes for mediators.
Additionally we are asking for peoples’ views on whether making family mediation assessment sessions compulsory for privately-funded court users, bringing them into a similar regime as legally aided court users, will increase awareness and take up of family mediation.
A Review Panel, made up of independent and government representatives, will be appointed in the coming weeks, and will consider wider perspectives from a range of people involved in or experiencing the family justice system and will include possible calls for evidence, focus groups and formal consultation as part of its work.
Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families said:
‘Children are often caught up in the middle when parents decide to separate and this can have a devastating impact on their lives and their future relationships. Whilst family relationships are very private matters, there is a role for government to help families find ways to resolve conflict faster in order to limit the negative impact on children's wellbeing.
‘The majority of parents have their children's best interests at heart and are committed to making the separation process as easy as possible for their family. However, this is a difficult time and that many separating parents struggle to establish contact agreements, to communicate effectively with one another and to continue to parent cooperatively. That is why we are giving parents better information about mediation earlier on in the separation process so that we can help families, especially children, through this difficult time.’
Family Justice Review terms of reference
- Family Justice Review terms of reference (PDF 0.02mb 2 pages)
Notes to editors
- For more information, please contact the Ministry of Justice press office on 020 3334 3536.
- For more information on the wider Green Paper on Families and Relationships please call the DCSF Press office on 020 7340 8188.