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Sir Ernest Ryder speaks on the Role of the Justice System in Decision-making for Children

Sir Ernest addresses the principles underpinning judicial decision-making and the evidential requirements in a changing environment

Sir Ernest Ryder, Senior President of Tribunals, spoke at the BASPCAN 10th International Congress at the University of Warwick on 9 April on the subject of The Role of the Justice System in Decision-making for Children.
Sir Ernest focused on

Sir Ernest noted that, 'as a starting point', the approach must be underpinned by three principles:

The speech emphasised the importance of ensuring, in developing training and materials to improve judicial decision-making, that the experience from the social sciences, from behavioural psychology, from legal academics who study judicial decision-making, is drawn on.

As to the nature of evidence that informs judicial decisions, Sir Ernest characterized it in two ways: the evidence that helps inform individual judicial decisions; and, the evidence that informs the improvement of the family justice system as a whole.

Sir Ernest highlighted a recent collaboration between the judiciary, academics led by Professor Broadhurst at Lancaster University and the Nuffield Foundation which, he said, has produced real results. He noted that the Family Justice Review had identified a gap in our understanding of the family justice system, and particularly concerning how it makes decisions concerning children. The gap, he said, was evidential.

The Nuffield Foundation has agreed to fund the establishment of an organisation – the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory – to fill that gap. Its aim is to 'support the best possible decisions for children by improving the use of data and research evidence in the family justice system in England and Wales.'

The Observatory will include within its remit examination of the ways in which the individual judicial decision-making process can be improved. It will work to 'identify priority issues where empirical evidence may help guide practice'; provide 'reliable summaries of what is, and is not, known from research or administrative data'; combine 'knowledge from empirical research with insights from policy practice and user experience'; and, work with 'system professionals to develop, update and test guidance . . . based on [their systems] knowledge'.

In his concluding remarks, Sir Ernest said that underpinning the themes of his talk was a 'broader theme'. He noted:

"[D]elivery of justice is changing. For a long time justice was something that was done by the State to its citizens. It was the product of a primarily adversarial process, and one that was party-led, or perhaps more accurately lawyer-led.

"That adversarial approach is challenged in the context of family justice with its more inquisitorial process, in which the focus must be on safeguarding children by securing their best interests… It can be seen in the family context, where as a result of the Family Justice Review it has been embedded in our approach in the Family Court and through the development of, for instance, the Family Drug and Alcohol Court …

"If we are to ensure that these developments enhance how we deliver justice, we will need to ensure that judges have the training, experience and materials to enable them to carry out their evolving roles effectively."

For the full text of the speech, click here.