This week the Government gave an indication that they were preparing to bring in legislation to ensure that care proceedings are completed within six months. This comment follows on from the Norgrove Committee’s recommendations published in November 2011.
The remit of the committee had been to look at a number of aspects of family law whilst maintaining the principle that the child’s welfare was the Court’s paramount concern, that conflict should be minimised within families and that a court should not unnecessarily interfere with family life. There are, of course, many instances when the Court must intervene and one area in particular is in Care proceedings when the Court believes that a child has suffered or is at risk of suffering significant harm.
By their very nature, care proceedings are extremely distressing for parents and children. The report indicated that proceedings for care and supervision orders are currently taking far too long, thereby causing more distress to families.
The report recommended a six month time frame in which proceedings should be concluded; going on to make several recommendations to ensure the delivery of this goal. These include:
- A robust role for Judges in ensuring the compliance with court orders,
- Judicial continuity,
- An avoidance of the excessive use of experts,
- Enhanced interdisciplinary working and training.
There is a balance to be struck in ensuring that cases are dealt with as expeditiously as possible whilst ensuring that the Court has the best evidence before it to safeguard the needs of the children. The Ministry of Justice has indicated that they want to ensure the “best service for those at the heart of the system – the children’.
Change is unlikely to happen overnight; the Court system has experienced increased numbers of care proceedings being issued in recent years, and financial cutbacks have affected all parts of the system. Proposals for change from a panel headed by Ryder J are expected by the end of July 2012.
Family rights campaigners have suggested that in fact the issue is that more should be done to avoid care proceedings in the first place. What is clear is that Family Justice is likely to be overhauled in the coming months and that the debate will continue for some considerable time.