Press Notice No. 1 of Session 2006-07, 21 November
Committee give cautious welcome to the Governement's stance on Family Courts
The Constitutional Affairs Committee today welcomes the Government’s assurances that it has accepted the Committee’s insistence that there should be no reduction in the number of legal advisers in magistrates' courts. The Government was responding to the Committee’s report on the family courts Family Justice: the operation of the family courts revisited, published in June of this year.
The Committee had expressed concern that continuing difficulties with resources appeared to be hindering the judiciary from reducing delays in the family court and warned that any move to reduce the number of legal advisers in family proceedings court as part of budget cuts would cause additional difficulties. The Government’s response, published at 11am today, says there will be no reduction.
The response also picks up on the issue of transparency in the family courts, which the Committee first raised in an earlier report. The Committee called on the Government to “open up” the family courts make the process of what are often emotive and contentious cases about access to and custody of children more transparent. The Committee suggested that it would “go a long way towards dispelling accusations of bias and restoring public confidence in the system if the process was open”, with the necessary reporting restrictions in place to protect the child.
The Government’s consultation on transparency in the family courts, undertaken a year after the Committee first raised the issue in its report of March 2005, has now concluded and the Committee welcomes the promise to publish the results. The Government says in its response that its “proposals will need primary legislation” but that “it may be possible to pilot some of the proposed changes within the existing legal framework”. The Committee would like to ensure that the Government moves quickly to pilot this new process and will continue to take an active interest in progress in this area.
The Committee also recommended that more be done to resolve family court cases through mediation wherever possible, and avoid taking cases involving children into the adversarial court system. The Committee welcomes the Government’s recognition that mediation is, as it says, “far more effective than going to court” and its admission that "more could be done to encourage people to consider the use of mediation."
Rt Hon Alan Beith MP, Chairman of the Committee, said:
In our report, we recommended that everyone using the family courts should have to consider mediation, as those using legal aid already do. There are now new powers for courts to send parties to a meeting on mediation, and we urge the courts to use these powers to ensure that everyone at least considers whether mediation, which it is recognised brings better outcomes, could work for them.
1. The Committee’s Report Family Justice: the operation of the family courts revisited (HC 1086), is available on the Committee’s website: www.parliament.uk/conaffcom
2. The Government's Response to the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee’s Report (Cm 6971) can be found on the Department for Constitutional Affairs Website: www.dca.gov.uk
4. Committee Membership is as follows: Rt Hon Alan Beith MP (Chairman), David Howarth MP, Siân James MP, Mr Piara S Khabra MP, Jessica Morden MP, Julie Morgan MP, Mr Andrew Tyrie MP, Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Dr Alan Whitehead MP, Jeremy Wright MP
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