Family law reform: experiences from the front line

Family law reform: experiences from the front line

Family analysis: Suzanne Todd, partner in the family law team at Withers, discusses how the recent family law reforms have affected her practice.

What are your views on the quantity and pace of recent reforms?

The reforms are wide-ranging and have been introduced in record-breaking time. This Family Justice Review came to life four years ago following the government's acceptance of David Norgrove's recommendations. Yet only this year, we saw the largest reform of the family justice system for decades:

o           a complete overhaul of the court system with the creation of the single Family Court and the demise of the family proceedings court

o           the legislative changes brought about by the Children and Families Act 2014, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 and the Crime and Courts Act 2013

o           the implementation of the Child Arrangements Programme (CAP 2014) in private law cases, and

o           further reforms designed to promote mediation and to make the family courts more transparent

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, has made clear the remit of this revolution from the outset, having set up working parties, committees and task forces to deal with various aspects of reform and their consequential provisions. The profession has been kept up-to-speed with his regular 'View from the President's Chambers.

I welcome the reforms in so far as they do what it says on the 'Norgrove label' - namely to improve the family justice system so that it is quicker, simpler, more cost-effective and more fair. However, I am very concerned at the removal of public funding provision for the vast majority of family law cases, following the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and the effect this is having on our justice system generally. As a result of the reforms, some of the most vulnerable families will be hardest hit when it comes to access to legal advice and, therefore, justice.

What are your experiences from the front line?

Clearly it is going to take some time for the reforms to bed in. My view is that practitioners are coping well with the changes, as they have been well-prepared. There are bound to be teething problems as practitioners, court staff and the increasing numbers of litigants in person endeavo

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