Soldiering on

Soldiering on

Family analysis: Barbara Connolly QC, barrister at 7 Bedford Row, discusses how the recent family law reforms have affected her practice.

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

Of course, the most significant reforms are the introduction of the single Family Court and the 26-week rule for completion of care proceedings. The principle of the unified Family Court not only makes good sense, I recall it being championed by reformers before I was a pupil. So it is difficult to argue that its introduction nearly three decades later was achieved at breakneck speed. As for the 26-week rule, how can any family practitioner consider that achieving the resolution of care proceedings in the majority of cases within 26 weeks, is anything but desirable? But aspiration does not always match reality. And we cannot ignore the devastating impact legal aid cuts have had and will continue to have upon the entire family justice system at a time of such major reform, together with savage cuts in local authority finances affecting vulnerable children and families.

What are your experiences from the front line?

It is too early to say how effective the single Family Court will be in the long term. There are bound to be some teething problems, and inevitably a period in which we 'find our way'. We need to give it time, and I suspect we may see further changes as better/more effective systems are worked out (and perhaps some of those lengthy forms and case management orders will be shortened). I believe there is goodwill all round, from the judiciary, practitioners, and staff, so that everything will be done to ensure its success.

I have very limited personal experience of the impact of the 26-week rule given that most of the cases in which I am instructed fall into the exceptional category outside 26 weeks. Where I have needed to argue an extension outside 26 weeks, I have done so successfully. This accords with

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