Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Children and Families Bill - Justice Committee Contents


Summary

The draft clauses on family justice cover a wide range of public and private family law, and largely follow the recommendations of the Norgrove Report. We broadly welcome the draft clauses, but we have significant concerns about the clause on shared parenting.

As regards the public law clauses, we welcome 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. We were impressed by the evidence we heard about changes to social worker training and management and how such changes are speeding up the care process to the benefit of children. We think, however, that, as recommended in the Norgrove Report, the 26 week time limit would be better set out in secondary legislation, with primary legislation setting out the power to set such a limit.

We are less positive about the private law clauses. As regards the family mediation, information and assessment meeting (MIAM), we welcome the focus on mediation and the compulsory nature of the MIAM for applicants; but are disappointed that the Government has not addressed quality standards for mediators, a matter that we raised in our 2011 Report, Operation of the Family Courts. We also remain sceptical about the likely effect of the draft clause on Child Arrangements Orders, and recommend that the Government reconsider the cross-jurisdictional implications of the proposed changes. The draft clauses on divorce are necessary and proportionate.

We maintain significant concerns about any legislative statement, be it a presumption or otherwise, that might detract from the principle that the best interests of the child are paramount. If the Government decides to introduce the draft clause on shared parenting, we recommend that the revisions we have suggested are considered and adopted. We believe that the absence of enforcement of Court orders is a bigger factor in the perception problem than the content of those orders. It is regrettable that the Government has not brought forward draft legislation on enforcement for us to consider as part of this pre-legislative scrutiny.

This is a period of great change for all involved in the family justice system, and it is important to consider the draft clauses in the light of other proposed changes. Of equal importance is the establishment of comprehensive data collection processes, in order that the effect of individual clauses and the combined clauses can be recorded and analysed.





 
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Prepared 14 December 2012