WALES/ENGLAND – Reforms must work, family division head warns

Sir James Munby

‘Revolutionary’ reforms to the family justice system to speed up cases and cut costs must be made to work, the head of the Family Division has warned practitioners.

In an update to the profession on the ‘revolutionary’ changes, Sir James Munby (pictured) noted the family justice system is undergoing ‘the most radical reforms in a lifetime’.

He recognised the concern caused to many by some of the reforms, but said ‘we must do the very best we can with what we have’.

‘We have to realise that public finances remain in a dire state and that asking for more money, more judges, more this, more that, is simply crying for the moon,’ Munby added.

He warned the profession to steel itself for further cuts, saying: ‘Our task is to ensure that greater efficiencies in the family justice system minimise the impacts of these cuts on the families we serve.’

In particular, in public law cases, Munby said the new 26-week time limit for the completion of care cases and restrictions on the use of experts had to be implemented.

He said: ‘We can and must reduce the excessive length of far too many care cases. We can and must get a grip on our excessive and in many instances unnecessary use of experts. If we do not, government and society will finally lose patience with us.’

In an uncompromising message, he warned: ‘This deadline can be met, it must be met, it will be met. Remember, 26 weeks is a deadline, not a target; it is a maximum, not an average or a mean. So many cases will need to be finished in less than 26 weeks.’

Munby stressed that he did not accept that either of the changes will prejudice the quality of justice or the interests of the children and other who appear before the courts.

On his visits around the country, he noted, the one thing that has been ‘conspicuous by its complete absence’ is any suggestion from judges that the new timetable is producing unfairness or injustice.

Munby also indicated his desire to improve the transparency of the system once the new single family court comes into existence in April 2014 – increasing access to and reporting of family proceedings.

He concluded: ‘I am determined that the new court should not be saddled, as the family courts are at present, with the charge that we are a system of secret and unaccountable justice.’


SOURCE: Law Society Gazette

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