The Family Justice Review was published today and despite the reports in a number of our national newspapers, one can’t help thinking it could be a “bit of a damp squib.” An opportunity has certainly been lost to propose any radical changes to the law and one has to wonder whether the money will ever be made available to follow the recommendations that are made. It’s all very well and good for the report to say that care cases should be resolved within a period of six months, but with the court system already stretched beyond belief are extra judicial hours going to be provided to achieve this and will staff- cuts at the associated agencies on whose reports the courts rely be halted?
An internet hub for the initiation of all divorce cases sounds marvellous but the Court Service has generally lagged behind the private sector so far as technology is concerned and one has to wonder whether there is the actual capability to develop this within the foreseeable future. Mind the Ministry of Justice is going to have to come up with something or it is shortly going to be swamped by litigants in person as we move ever closer to the withdrawal of legal aid from families in dispute at the time of relationship breakdowns.
That part of the report that appears to have really incensed the media is inevitably the about turn from the interim report where a legal presumption in favour of shared care of children as between Mum and Dad was touted. The Chair of the review, David Norgrove, appears to have anticipated this would be the case for I note that in his foreword he acknowledges that “some will be disappointed by our decision to recommend against a legal presumption of shared parenting.” Whilst he stresses that shared parenting should be encouraged, he qualifies this with “where this is in the child’s best interests,” and goes on to explain that the opinion of the review body was that shared parenting is best achieved by “parental education” and “information.”
“Progress depends,” he writes, “on a general social expectation of the full involvement of both parents in the lives of their children before separation, not on changes in the law.”
The aim of the report is to be applauded, namely to find a quicker, simpler, more cost-effective system, but if a cultural shift is required for the sentiment of the report to be fulfilled, that will never happen overnight. So will anything much change? We'll just have to wait and see.