Pressure mounts for changes to the family courts system

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A High Court judge has called for greater openness in the family courts in a bid to prevent future inaccurate and one-sided media reports.

Lord Justice Wall said the behind-closed-doors principle which operated in the family courts “easily leads to accusations of secret injustice”, and called for it to be replaced with a system of anonymised rulings delivered in open court.

The judge was dealing with the case of a young Essex couple whose children were taken into care, and whom the Daily Mail and other newspapers claimed had only lost their children because of their low IQs.

Vindicating the professionals involved, Justice Wall said the case had in fact been very carefully considered by the family courts and “no fair-minded, third party or outsider” could reasonably have concluded that there had been a miscarriage of justice.

The ruling came as the secretary of state for constitutional affairs and Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer announced plans to push ahead with the creation of a single civil court and a single family court to encompass all the jurisdictions currently shared between the High Court, county courts and family courts.

It also coincided with the launch by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service of a consultation paper suggesting that all agencies within the family justice system must change their ways of working for the benefit of the 100,000 children involved in family court applications every year.

Under the proposals, every child referred to Cafcass through the family courts would have a practitioner allocated to their case within two days by April 2007.

“At the heart of these proposals is a new way of working with a focus on early and intensive interventions,” said Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas (pictured). “This will offer every child the service they need from us at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Cafcass consultation response form from www.cafcass.gov.uk

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