Family Justice reform proposals published

Today saw the publication of the report of Mr Justice Ryder on the planned modernisation and improvement of the way the family courts work in England and Wales. The report is the culmination of many months of wide ranging consultation following the appointment of Mr Justice Ryder in November 2011.

Central to the report, are a series of recommendations which are intended to change the whole culture of the family courts for applicants and professional users alike.

In particular, it is, at long last, proposed that a new single family court will replace the current mix of family work in the County and Magistrates Courts. Both magistrates and all levels of judges will be entitled to sit in the new court as “Family Court Judges ”.

It is understood that these reforms will be introduced by the end of next year and will roll out in two separate phases. The first phase, which should carry us to the end of this year, will put the principles in place, along the publication of practical materials and good practice guides. The second phase involves training the new judges and preparation for the proposed Children and Families Bill.

Amongst the key targets for improvement of the family courts is the reduction of delay and the length of some family law cases – through better case management, less use of experts and improved allocation of judges.

The recommendations contained in the report, have already been supported by the Lord Chief Justice. Response to the proposals has generally been positive – though some, like President of the Law Society, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, have warned that achieving these admirable targets aims may prove a challenge without both any additional resources and given next year’s cuts to the public funding budget, [and in particular the removal of almost all divorce cases from the scope of public funding] which will inevitably lead to more and more people being unable to afford a divorce solicitor and a corresponding surge in the number of unrepresented litigants faced by the new court.