Monday, 9 August 2010

Family Court Crisis

Barnardo’s is right to highlight the issue of delays in the family court system with children waiting on average one year for the outcomes of care proceedings - These concerns echo those of retired judge Sir Mark Potter, who stepped down as president of the family division and head of family justice for England and Wales earlier this year. The Guardian then reported Sir Mark as saying that the family court system was in crisis with lack of funding and huge increases in the number of care proceedings cases following the Baby Peter tragedy.

However, I have severe doubts about whether a Government imposed time limit in care proceedings, as proposed by Barnardo’s, is the correct way forward. Simply speeding-up the process without tackling resource issues may result in miscarriages of justice and serious mistakes about the best interests of individual children. A child taken into care unnecessarily is as much a tragedy as a child who is not afforded the necessary protection of a care order.

The crucial issue is the capacity of the family courts. This has been strained by the increase in cases since the Baby Peter tragedy. Rather than simply requiring courts to make decisions more quickly, and thereby risking getting it wrong, Government has to bite the bullet: more cases inevitably means more cost and therefore requires more funding.