The debate on the Family Justice Review is hotting up – but it is still leaving thousands of people feeling cold, including me, because of just how far we still have to go before any real prospect of changes.
In a debate this week, family law expert Baroness Deech again struck out, calling the current system "out of date" and "out of step" with the rest of the EU, arguing its shortfalls are leading to high litigation costs and have a negative impact on families.
"There is enormous public anger, especially among those who have been involved in divorce," she said. "They find this state of affairs unjust and immoral.”
I have to agree and applaud the sentiment. However, this is nothing we have not heard before, several times from Baroness Deech and indeed other politicians over the last few months. And still here we all are, waiting on the outcome of a lengthy and cumbersome review, without real optimism for speedy change at the end of it all.
Indeed, what I feel is happening is that while this whole process lumbers on, politicians (Baroness Deech aside) are treading water and refusing to show any resolve on positive change. Instead, key figures hide behind the process without voicing a strong opinion that could really steer things towards real change. We have to wait for due process.
I know these things take time and acknowledged this in my blog a few weeks ago, but this has been talked about for so long now and still the end is some way off.
The Ministry of Justice’s website says the review will “examine the effectiveness of the family justice system and the outcomes it delivers, and make recommendations for reform”. Bearing in mind how long we have been calling for this already, we now have to wait for the outcome of this snail-like review before even considering changes. The official timetable states an initial ‘call for evidence’ was launched in June 2010, running until 30 September 2010. The panel will now spend the rest of the autumn and winter examining submissions and come up with an interim report, listing recommendations I hope, “in spring 2011”. Considering we work in the law and deal in precise details, the breadth of this deadline in itself is quite unbelievable and gives a lot of room for squirming.
There will then be a public consultation on the proposals with the final report with “proposals for legislation” due in “autumn 2011”. Proposals. Not changes, but more proposals will then have to be debated, relevant legislation drawn up and voted on and adopted. The process appears to be never ending. Has this slow speed of progress not always been one of the greatest criticisms of our legal system?
In the meantime, the frustrations and “out of date” limitations of the family justice system will continue to frustrate families across the UK.