President of the Family Division commends the 'can do' approach of family lawyers and sets out future plans

President of the Family Division commends the 'can do' approach of family lawyers and sets out future plans

The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, gave the opening address at the Resolution Future of Family Law conference today, which was held remotely. He expressed his thanks to the family law community for its 'can do' mentality and noted that above all other areas of law, the family justice system had 'achieved a surprising penetration into the volume of family cases' and that some courts do not have a backlog of cases, while other courts do but have a plan for dealing with them. He said that the family justice system should be proud of how it has functioned during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and expressed his 'profound gratitude' to those who have gone the 'extra mile', and that family lawyers could 'hold their heads high' when looking back on what has been achieved. He emphasised the need to focus on well-being and acknowledged the stress those working in the family justice system have experienced and continue to experience.

​Updating the conference on his future plans, the President confirmed, inter alia, that:

• he has commissioned a further report from the Family Justice Observatory, in relation to which there were over 1,000 responses, and that report will be available in approximately ten-days time

• he does not have plans at this stage to issue further guidance on work in the family justice system during the pandemic, and there are no current plans for MacDonald J to issue revised guidance on the remote family court, however he noted that should the Family Justice Observatory report identify any deficits, revised guidance may be required then

• the family justice system is moving away from paper working to online, for the processing of consent orders and the issue of, for example, care proceedings, and that while there may be teething issues, that move would be more efficient in the long run and that moves towards, for example, e-bundles, mean that the current situation has accelerated digital progress by years

• he was clear that he would 'fight any suggestion' that all hearings should be dealt with remotely in the future and that while some hearings may continue to be dealt with remotely (for example, a short directions appointment of say 15 minutes), any hearings that involve engaging families directly must go back to face-to-face hearings in a court room

• the private and public law working groups had largely completed their work prior to the pandemic, but the reports were not published – both reports are aimed at reducing the volume of work and the ability to deal fairly and justly with family cases and will be published in three to four weeks, at same time

• the public law report is largely concerned with professional practice while private law children is harder because it relates to private individuals, but that the report recommends a number of strategies

• the experts working group report is also to be published in the coming weeks, and

• the President's review of transparency in the family courts is ready to move on, evidence having been received before the pandemic, and is now going to be reinvigorated

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