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Transforming our Justice System

Consultation and Statement seek to map out future for the court system

The Ministry of Justice is consulting over its proposals to achieve reform of the justice system, including the family courts and invites the public and interested stakeholders to give their views on specific measures.

In respect of family courts, the document – Transforming our Justice System – notes that there have been major reforms with the creation of the Single Family Court and changes to legal aid eligibility in private law cases. Whilst it is acknowledged that there is more work to be done, it states only that the MoJ is working to consider what further changes are needed and will bring forward proposals in due course.

Tony Roe, solicitor and arbitrator, commented:

"The summary of reforms in the MoJ consultation paper says that work has already begun to allow divorce applications to be made and managed online. It expresses the aim of removing some of the bureaucracy from often stressful and lengthy proceedings and simplifying cumbersome administrative processes.

"There is a lot of excitement and expectation over this amongst the family law community but we will need to be patient. My enquiries of HMCTS show that the process is still at a very early stage. The Court Service is looking at how it can build and roll out an online system and whether or not there should be a pilot site. Research has started with "end users", divorcing spouses, about how any problems with the present procedure can be best tackled. I understand that they hope to have more information in a couple of months."

The MoJ has also published a joint statement from The Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice, and the Senior President of Tribunals on their shared vision for the future of Her Majesty's Courts & Tribunal Service.

The statement says that the system needs radical change, to have modern IT and processes and to be located in buildings which are fit for purpose. It continues:

"The reforms outlined here will achieve that by combining our respected traditions with the enabling power of technology. The vision is to modernise and upgrade our justice system so that it works even better for everyone, from judges and legal professionals, to witnesses, litigants and the vulnerable victims of crime. When they have to engage with the system, we want everyone to have available to them the finest justice system in the world."

Transformation of the courts and tribunals will be based on the following three core principles which, it is said, will make sure that our courts and tribunals always deliver swift and certain justice for everyone: 

Section 5 of the statement is devoted to the family courts. In respect of private law cases, the statement says that "it is important to offer separating parents the opportunity to resolve issues equably between them, avoiding the stress, expense and aggravation of legal proceedings. We are considering how we can best help separating couples to do this, and a major part of this will be digitising and simplifying our processes and providing more information to enable people to make the right arrangements themselves."

Divorce process will be simplified and as much as possible put online.

In respect of public law cases, the statement says:

"Work is being undertaken to understand better what works, and to test and promote innovative problem solving approaches: the Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDACs), the Pause programme (which works with mothers who have had more than one child removed from them to try to break the cycle) and judge-led settlement conference pilots (a voluntary, non-adversarial process to help negotiate agreement between parties).

"Such approaches provide an alternative to the current process which can at times tip into a battle between the parents and local authority, and in turn make it harder to focus everyone on the child's best interests and to work together once a decision is made."

More generally, the statement indicates that lawyers will need to embrace innovation: "to find new ways of delivering services, of simplifying working practices, of focusing more on meeting the needs of all their clients, from defendants to families and civil claimants."

The consultation document is here. The statement is here.

15/9/16