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Posts Tagged ‘reform’

Further to my previous post, I am en route back to the sticks having thrown my two penn’orth in the general direction of the Family Justice Review Panel (I got ’em, right between the eyes). I was somewhat surprised to find that the session was ‘private’ (and apparently not recorded), and so I will not report it’s contents here until clarification on that is received (jokes about the transparency of the family justice system on a postcard please). BUT:  in light of this evidence session, can I urge everybody to consider with renewed vigour to PLEASE respond to the review? It is more important and more serious than you may imagine. We 8 lawyers were asked to contribute orally in an hour and a half and, predictably enough for a room full of lawyers with a short time estimate, were falling over each other to respond to the serious points raised – we could not hope to address the issues fully in that format and the written representations will be crucial.  Over the next little while I will be posting some blog posts to focus minds on issues which the Review are likely to address. No doubt the FLBA and other associations will be consulting more widely over the summer on the matters discussed today (as far as permitted) in advance of presenting their written representations.

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Apologies for the slightly ridiculous cloak and dagger approach. But know this:  there are no givens. Change is a comin’.

POST SCRIPT 5 AUG: Although I have not had time to post further, the Panel confirmed that they have no objection to wider discussion of the issues raised for discussion at the evidence session I attended. I will be posting shortly about that.

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On Wednesday the Family Justice Review will be taking evidence from the Family Law Bar Association, Association of Lawyers for Children, Law Society and Resolution. I will be hotfooting it from Swansea to Paddington in order to attend, along with Stephen Cobb QC, on behalf of the FLBA. It promises to be an interesting session, notwithstanding that, after some reflection, I have decided not to wear my Wonder Woman outfit.

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If you would like to participate in the Review the call for written evidence is open until September. All the blurb along with a long list of questions to get you thinking are available here. I sense this review may well redefine the way we do ‘Family Justice’ in the years ahead.

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Pootling around on the internet in the light of this weeks horse painting shennanigans I came across Matt O’Connor’s new blog Father4Justice, the new F4J website (be warned, it looks nice but plays annoying music which won’t turn off) and facebook group for the recently relaunched Fathers 4 Justice. Matt O’Connor’s first substantive blog post explaining the decision to re-enter the fray and to relaunch F4J is (as ever with Matt O’Connor) punchy, hard hitting and well crafted – it roused my rabble – and I’m “the enemy”.

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But seriously, although I don’t buy into many of the conspiracy theories about the anti-male agenda of the system, there is a place for campaigns for reform of the family justice system – dads, mums and kids do very often get a raw deal. And although I recognise that for many I’m part of the problem, I like to think I do my bit for justice, even though I do it from within the system.

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So the Government has published its Families & Relationships Green Paper in which it proposes a fundamental review of the Family Justice System and a number of other reforms. Like John Bolch at Family Lore I’m not sure what this really adds up to. There are a number of press releases from the relevant departments: DCSF and MoJ. So what does it all mean for the family justice system?

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Primarily, there’s a review which we won’t know the outcome of until 2011, and right now we don’t even know who will conduct it. Judging from the press releases it seems to be predicated upon the assertion that the problem is the adversarial nature of court proceedings and the fact that they heighten conflict. Jack Straw says:

‘We know that for many families the current family justice system is proving far too complicated, and its adversarial nature can lead to bitter, lengthy court hearings, prolonging what is already a stressful and emotionally draining experience. ‘

So in summary, the Courts make it worse. Of course it’s a no brainer that the adversarial nature of proceedings can increase the temperature but that does rather dance over the fact that it is only the most highly conflicted cases that end up in court at all. Most couples do find other ways  to sort things out, and even those that end up in the system must pass through a barrage of non-adversarial processes designed at resolution (in court conciliation, lawyer assisted negotiation etc.) before they ever get to an old fashioned trial. And in the current circumstances its not the court system per se which worsens conflict, and it’s not because it’s all too complicated –  it’s the lack of resources available to properly run the court system that leads to delay, frustration and despondency, and perpetuates or exacerbates conflict.

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Ah, it’s just a roller coaster in this job. You never know what to expect – at court, or in your bank account. Don’t you just love it? Today the Justice Select Committee has blown a great big hole in the bow of the LSC proposals to cut our fees (I’d like to say it was all my doing as a result of my eloquent whining at the House of Lords the other day, but I suppose we must give credit to others who have been continuously banging their collective heads against the walls of the LSC trying to get through to them for the longest time).

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As much as I did enjoy reading the press release below, I’d much rather forfeit all the PR noise to know if I’m going to be able to pay my mortgage next year. Who knows what lies in store on this endless voyage? I am feeling pretty seasick (it’s probably all the mixed metaphors I had for lunch). One more consultation and I’m going to walk the plank! So without further ado follows the Bar Council Press Release, which needs no editing:

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Legal Services Commission proposals to cut legal support for vulnerable children and families have been savaged in a damning report from the all-party Justice Select Committee.

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The report, published today, concludes that ‘proposals for reform were based on incomplete data, [and] a superficial understanding of the supply of legal services in this area’.

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The LSC’s approach to reform is condemned as ‘flawed, weak and inflexible’. It is criticised for a ‘conclusions first, evidence after’ approach to policy-making, having commissioned Ernst & Young to gather data to inform its thinking after proposing swingeing cuts to the system.

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