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Sir Andrew McFarlane ‘supportive’ of early intervention in post-separation arrangements for children

‘Proposal should be given serious consideration by family judges’

Sir Andrew McFarlane, who will soon succeed Sir James Munby as President of the Family Division, has reiterated his support for the 'Early Intervention Project' ('EI') promoted by Dr Hamish Cameron.

Delivering the keynote speech to the Families Need Fathers Conference 2018, Sir Andrew referred to his address to the NAGALRO Annual Conference in March entitled 'Contact: A Point of View'.

In that paper he acknowledged that the judiciary had in the past pulled back from publishing guidance on the range of outcomes that are regularly considered to be the 'norm' in the majority of cases, and accepted that there might well be good reason for such reticence. Nevertheless, he quoted from his NAGALRO address, setting out his own perspective in these terms:

"For a long time, going back to conferences chaired by Dame Margaret Booth and Dame Joyanne Bracewell 15 years ago, I have been interested in and supportive of the EI promoted by Dr Hamish Cameron and others. At the core of the EI approach is the need to manage the expectations of parents as to the post-separation arrangements for their child from the earliest point. Key to this approach is the issuing of general guidance on what a court would regard a reasonable amount or pattern of contact to be (in cases where there is no safeguarding risk to the child); to be of weight, such guidance can only come from the judiciary.

"In addition to a statement of norms being of benefit as a thing in itself, other jurisdictions have linked this approach with other steps, some of which are now familiar here, including:

• The early agreement to, or imposition of, a 'standing temporary order' based on the norms for the age of the child in order to maintain some contact in the interim stages;
• Parenting Education Classes (similar to the PIPs that are currently available);
• A Parenting Conciliation Session (similar to the current FHDRA appointment);
• The making of a consent order.

"Whether or not this is an idea that is taken forward and developed must be entirely a matter for the Family judiciary. For it to be authoritative, it would need to be developed and 'owned' by all levels of the judiciary, particularly the lay justices and district judges who hear the majority of these cases. The process of development would take time, but it is, in my view, a proposal that should now be given serious consideration by family judges."

Sir Andrew said that during his planned series of visits, this autumn, to meet every fulltime family judge at each of the 40 or so designated Family Court centres, he intends to canvass the family judiciary widely upon ideas on ways in which to improve the courts' ability to assist families to achieve a reasonable and child-focussed solution to private law disputes. If there is a groundswell of support for some form of judicial guidance of the type described by Sir Andrew, then he intends to take it forward.

He concluded:

"I must stress, however, that for any such initiative to carry weight and respect it must genuinely arise from within the judiciary and carry the support of a good majority of the family judges and magistrates. Whilst I am firmly in favour of looking at this option, it will be for the family bench to decide whether to develop and deliver it."

For the full speech, click here.

For coverage of the speech by Families Need Fathers, including a response from Jerry Karlin, Chair and Managing Trustee of the organisation, click here.