WALES/ENGLAND – Mr Justice Ryder sets “challenging” timetable for modernisation of family justice

The judge in charge of modernising family justice has said he aims to have agreed proposals and a plan for their implementation in place by the end of July 2012.

Mr Justice Ryder, whose appointment runs out at that stage, acknowledged in his first update on the progress of the Family Justice Modernisation Programme that this timetable was “challenging”.

The judge was appointed to the role by the President of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall, on the publication of the Family Justice Review’s final report in November 2011.

The report’s key recommendation in the public law field was that all child protection cases should be completed – save for exceptional circumstances – within six months. This was necessary to tackle “shocking delays” in the system, the Norgrove review said.

Mr Justice Ryder said in his update that ten workstreams had been identified so far:

  • Family justice governance
  • Family management information (including performance and effectiveness)
  • Judicial and inter-disciplinary training and communication
  • Unified Family Court
  • Judicial leadership and management
  • Judicial deployment (including patterns and listing guidance)
  • Gatekeeping and allocation (including tracking and continuity)
  • Case management (including case progression, timetables and deadlines)
  • Use of experts and assessors
  • External services including court social work, mediation and ADR, contact services, safeguarding, testing, experts, representation and support in court.

Describing the task as comprehensive, the judge said the work would develop on receipt of the Government’s response to the FJR. This is expected to be published later this month.

Mr Justice Ryder added that he was very keen to ensure the views of all representative groups of the profession and the judiciary are taken into account.

He said that by Christmas he already spent 90-100 hours talking with a wide range of groups, including judges and practitioner groups such as the Law Society, the Family Law Bar Association, Resolution and the Association of Lawyers for Children. Further discussions will be held with these groups as detailed guidance and plans are developed.

The judge said he was convinced that “for further change to be effective, there will need to be a strong consensus and a commitment to a change in culture from all who contribute to the family justice system”.

At the same time as Mr Justice Ryder was appointed by the President as Judge in Charge of the Modernisation of Family Justice, the Lord Chief Justice approved the formation of a Family Business Authority as a committee of the HMCTS Board able to make decisions in relation to the family justice system.

In December, Sir Nicholas Wall outlined his opposition to the creation of a Family Justice Service, another of the key FJR recommendations. The President said he did not consider such a service practical or – in the short term – necessary.

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