Welcome to our new feature: expert information from local businesses. We know a lot of families have to go through courts and legal processes at some point and with the new reforms now in effect we asked local solicitors and specialists in family law, KJ Smith, if they could provide us with a brief summary. If you need to speak to a lawyer personally then their contact details are at the bottom, or you can get in touch with one of the other local firms available. We hope this is useful to you – please post a question in the comments section if you want any clarification and we’ll pass it on.
New Reforms to Family Justice now in Effect
The biggest reform to hit the family justice system in England and Wales for decades has now come into effect. The family justice system will face significant changes under the new system, including the introduction of a combined family court.
Provisions from the Children and Families Act are to be implemented in an effort to improve the experience of children going through the family justice system. In particular, these provisions aim to provide a better system for children taken into care while their parents are divorcing or separating.
The reforms were first proposed by the government in 2011 when an independent Family Justice Review identified severe delays and raised concern over the effect these might be having on children. Some cases relating to care and supervision of children were taking up to 56 weeks to be resolved. It was felt that the family justice system should better focus on providing for the children involved in these cases and addressing their needs, and it was in response to this that the new reforms were drawn up.
Overall, a number of changes are being introduced as a result of the reforms, including:
– A 26 week time limit on care cases.
– A new, single family court to simplify processes and reduce delays caused by transfers.
– Senior family judges will be able to spend more time on more complex cases.
– Mediation awareness sessions will be compulsory before parents can take child- or finance-related issues to the courts.
– New rules relating to the use of expert evidence in cases that involve children.
– New child arrangement orders, which move the focus away from parents’ rights and towards children’s needs.
Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson expressed delight at the introduction of the new reforms. He particularly praised the new 26 week time limit, which he said would not only reduce delays but also “[ensure] judges focus on the facts without getting caught up in unnecessary evidence or bureaucracy.” Timpson summed up the benefits by saying that “these reforms will mean a swifter system where children’s best interests are placed – where they rightly should be – at the heart of decision making.”
Simon Hughes, Family Justice Minister, was also vocal in his support of the new reforms, saying “For too long children have suffered from excessive delays and confrontational court battles.” Hughes went on to say that the new reforms “will keep families away from the negative effects of battles or delays in court and make sure that when cases do go to court, they happen in the least damaging way.“
Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, stressed the magnitude of the changes. He said that there has been “a fundamental change in the cultures of the family courts” and that “these reforms amount to a revolution.”
These changes are being introduced as part of the government’s social justice strategy. This strategy aims to improve the way that our society functions and make sure that vulnerable children have access to all the help and support that they need.
This article was contributed by K J Smith Solicitors in Henley-on-Thames, Reading, Windsor and London. If you would like to find out more about mediation or discuss your situation, contact K J Smith Solicitors today on 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames), 0118 418 1000 (Reading), 01753 325000 (Windsor) or 020 7070 0330 (Central London).