Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs Sixth Report


30. Following the Constitutional Affairs Committee's report into the family justice system in the last Parliament, we are pleased that there appears to be some movement on the issue of transparency in the family courts, both from the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the judiciary. We await the publication of a consultation paper by the Department on this issue with interest.

31. In respect of the question of delay, it seems plain that funding difficulties are holding back the judiciary from improving the service that it can offer. We trust that the Department will ensure that any short term difficulties in finance do not impact upon the provision of vital services that the family courts provide. In particular, we hope that the Department will facilitate the "cascading down" of cases to the Family Proceedings Courts, as suggested by the judiciary. To do this, it needs to provide sufficient legal advisers, ensure that any vacancies continue to be filled and remedy the lack of additional District Judges (Magistrates Court) working full time on family cases.

32. Finally, in relation to the issue of diverting parents away from the courts, we believe that the Department needs to think again about the question of compulsion. In terms of the numbers participating, the Family Resolutions Pilot Project was a failure. It seems plain that without an element of compulsion, projects like the Family Resolutions Pilot Project will not succeed. In particular, the Department should introduce a compulsory preliminary meeting with a mediator. There is no reason why this is acceptable for those seeking legal aid, but not for other couples.

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Prepared 11 June 2006