In November 2011 the Family Justice Review was published. This was the work of an independent panel, headed up by David Norgrove, who had been asked by the government to consider the changes which should be made to make the family justice system in this country more effective. The government accepted the majority of findings, and it recorded in its response that the vision of the government was to have “a family justice system that effectively supports the delivery of the best possible outcomes for all children who come into contact with it.” The Crime and Courts Act 2013 and the Children and Families Bill have incorporated these recommendations. I am going to look at two points here: 1. The role of the court in looking at children arrangements on divorce, and 2. The single family court.
1. Arrangements for children on divorce
If you currently file a divorce petition, you must also file a statement of arrangements detailing all aspects of your children’s lives. The court has an obligation to consider whether, in light of those arrangements which have been filed, it needs to exercise any powers under the Children Act in relation to your children. The court even has the power to delay pronouncement of the final stage of divorce if the court believes it may need to use its powers under the Children Act and that the case needs further consideration. The forthcoming bill provides that “Arrangements for children will no longer be scrutinised as part of the divorce process but can instead be resolved through separate proceedings at any time.”* Whilst the court rarely used this power, the fact that the courts will no longer be scrutinising the arrangements at all may assist those couples who have not yet decided how to divide their children’s time, and would prefer to deal with that issue in mediation, rather than lodging a potential divisive document setting out their preferred arrangements alongside their petition.
2. The Single Family Court
The other point of real interest is that the new Single Family Court which will be effective from 1 April 2014. The recommendations of the Family Justice Review about the implementation of a Single Family Court were set out in the report as follows:
A single family court, with a single point of entry, should replace the current three tiers of court. All levels of family judiciary (including magistrates) should sit in the family court and work should be allocated according to case complexity.
The roles of District Judges working in the family court should be aligned.
There should be flexibility for legal advisers to conduct work to support judges across the family court.
The Family Division of the High Court should remain, with exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving the inherent jurisdiction and international work that have been prescribed by the President of the Family Division as being reserved to it.
All other matters should be heard in the single family court, with High Court judges sitting in that court to hear the most complex cases and issues.
The single court approach is already being implemented in Milton Keynes, the practical consequence of which seems to have been a shift of the private law children work onto a bespoke list.
*Children and Families Bill explanatory notes