New family justice reforms introduced in England and Wales
A new combined family court has been introduced in England and Wales as part of family justice system reforms today.
The reforms include a 26-week time limit on proceedings and introduction of a single family court to replace the three tiers of courts that used to handle family justice cases.
In addition, expert witnesses will be called in cases when necessary for a just outcome, and child arrangement orders will be introduced to encourage separating parents to focus on their children’s interests rather than their own.
Families will also be required to attend family mediation meetings in private law cases.
Welcoming the new reforms, family justice minister Simon Hughes said it was “a hugely important change” to what had been a “very dysfunctional system”.
There are approximately 270,000 new family cases registered each year dealing with issues such as local authority intervention, divorce, domestic violence and adoption.
A review carried out in 2011 showed, on average, care and supervision cases took 56 weeks to solve that “undermined” futures of vulnerable children.
New reforms will address shortcomings and will also look into the way in which children are dealt with in family cases, with the abolition of labels such as residence and contact.
Mr Hughes told the BBC that under the previous system “the battle over children went on for weeks and weeks and months and months absolutely against the interests of the child.”
However, he predicts that the new rules would provide “security and certainty and would prevent children being moved from pillar to post”.