The Justice Committee publishes its report into the Prelegislative scrutiny of the Children and Families Bill.
Proposed changes to family justice have been broadly welcomed by the Justice Committee in its report scrutinising the draft Children and Families Bill, but the Committee maintains significant concerns about the draft clause on shared parenting.
The report welcomes the Government's commitment to reducing delay within the care process, and the work being undertaken by some local authorities and the Courts to achieve a shorter timetable in care cases to the benefit of children. However, the Committee is less positive about the private law clauses, welcoming the focus on providing information about and assessing separating couples for mediation, whilst maintaining a degree of scepticism about the need and effect of changes to contact and residence orders.
The Committee maintains significant concerns about the clause intended by the Government to encourage parental involvement, on the grounds that any new presumption or legislative statement might detract from the principle that the best interests of the child are paramount. If the Government proceeds with its intention to include the draft clause in the Children and Families Bill when it is introduced, the MPs recommend that the Government makes clear what effect it intends the draft clause to have on Court orders.
Sir Alan Beith MP, Chairman of the Justice Select Committee, said:
"Relationship breakdown and the care proceedings process are highly emotive areas. Throughout our inquiry we have kept at the front of our minds that the primary purpose of all interventions in family relationships must be to protect the safety and wellbeing of children.
The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Children and Families) at the Department for Education, Edward Timpson MP, made clear in his answers to our questions that the Government did not intend or expect that the proposed new wording would change the content of Court orders, but that it could encourage parents to reach agreement on shared parenting and would help to reduce the ‘sense that there is an in-built bias towards one parent or another’ in the system. We concluded that the absence of enforcement of Court orders is a bigger factor in the perception problem than the content of those orders."
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