I officially submitted my response to the Family Justice Review this week. This, of course, is the long running review of all legal procedures relating to family law. I have mentioned many points on this in previous blogs (and I’m sure I’ll return to them in future ones!), but as with most things it is a mix of good and bad.
I agree with a more child-focused approach, but believe there is an awful lot that still needs to be done on the administration and management front to bring the service into the 21st Century. I am all for specialist lawyers to speak for children in proceedings, but they must be independent of the welfare system. Better IT is definitely needed to help speed processing and allow electronic payments, as well as emailing documents. The review does now seem to be ignoring grandparents rights, and suggestions of changes in language, particularly relating to residence and access, are just semantics in my opinion. However, parenting agreements are a good idea.
Last week I was discussing the proposed changes with my local MP in Stratford, Nadhim Zahawi, and in particular two specific concerns. The first relates to a change in rules which came into force in April which led to deployment of new forms which no one was ready for and most courts didn’t appear to know about. This led to delays for clients. Can we have assurances that any changes implemented from the Review will be handled more professionally to avoid confusion I asked?
The second main point I raised was around a shared desire to change things for the better but that this must be done to actually improve things rather than just to be seen to be doing something.
Now, I am often critical of (some) MPs for their action – or lack thereof – so, credit where credit’s due, it was heartening to get a response from Nadhim. He was sympathetic to the point about a lack of cohesion and administrative delays, and agreed that whatever changes are introduced they should be focused on positive outcomes for young people. He suggested we wait until the outcome of the review and then, if my concerns have not been allayed, he is happy to raise them with the Ministry of Justice.
I can’t promise I won’t come back to the Family Justice Review before the final outcomes, but I am happy to take advice on board from one politician at least.