Monday, June 16, 2008

Family courts out of touch says judge

From The TimesOnline

June 16, 2008

Frances Gibb, Legal Editor

A senior family judge has attacked the present system of family courts run by a “self-selecting great and good and a professional judiciary” as out of tune with society.

Mr Justice Ryder, the most senior family judge on the northern circuit and a leading reformer, has called for an overhaul to make family courts open and in touch with the public.

The judge, who sits on a committee advising the Lord Chancellor in cases involving children in care, said: “We are at a crossroads in family justice.”

Despite reforms in recent years, including the emergence of a unified family court embracing magistrates and judges, the system had never faced more critical comment, he said.Courts lacked capacity to “deal with an ever-increasing volume of the most serious and complex cases in a timely fashion” and as a consequence many medium-risk cases were downgraded “as if we haven't got time for them”.

In addition case law used by courts means that cases where children were at most risk required the most difficult standard of proof, “undermining the child protection imperative”, he said.

The judge's comments, which have gone to Resolution, the family solicitors' organisation, and the Family Law Bar Association, will have support among a number of judges who are concerned at the continuing criticisms of family justice.

Mr Justice Ryder said that the family courts system needed to lay itself open to scrutiny which, he said, was necessary for the public's reassurance and satisfaction. “Our judgments should be given in public and anonymised where necessary,” he said.

He urged the creation of a new “family court diversion scheme” and the adoption of a continental-style model where local community tribunals act as a gateway for family justice and deal with cases at an early stage, outside the criminal or civil courts

The judge, who outlined his proposals in a recent speech to mark the 25th anniversary of Family Law Service, which is provided by the legal publishers LexisNexis Butterworths, also called for other reforms. He said that legal aid would only be granted for cases, other than where a child had urgently to be removed from home, where people had first gone to a panel of lay people chaired by a lawyer. Its decisions would be binding, subject to appeal.

He pointed to Guernsey, where he has been involved in a scheme that involves decriminalising under-12s. Youth justice and family breakdown cases have been transferred to a specialist interdisciplinary panel that identifies solutions to avoid a child being removed from home.

Original Article-

Family courts out of touch says judge - Times Online

Related Links

Family courts: everybody out

Family courts should be led out of the dark ages

To bad this story wasn't in the USA

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