Reforms to the Family Justice System
A single Family Court was created on 22 April 2014. On the same day, the majority of the family justice provisions in the Children and Families Act 2014 came into force.
The new Family Court can deal with all family proceedings apart from a limited number of matters, which will be exclusively reserved to the High Court. Family proceedings courts will cease to exist.
Magistrates’ courts and the new single County Court will not be able to deal with family proceedings. However, as the Family Court can sit anywhere in England and Wales, it will be possible for it to sit in county or magistrates’ court buildings.
The Children and Families Act 2014 (CFA 2014) received royal assent on 13 March 2014. It covers both public and private children proceedings.
In public law proceedings, amongst other matters, it imposes a 26-week deadline for care and supervision proceedings (as piloted since July 2013), it scraps the 28-day time limit for interim care/supervision orders and it introduces new provisions regarding post adoption contact.
In relation to private law proceedings it introduces controversial new subsections into section 1 of the Children Act 1989, adding a presumption of parental involvement, which was hotly debated, and contact and residence orders have been scrapped – in their place are child arrangements orders.
The requirement to attend a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) is now embodied in legislation (CFA 2014, section 10) as well as rules about expert evidence (CFA 2014, section 13). The CFA 2014 gets rid of the requirement for the court to consider on divorce/dissolution whether to exercise its powers under the Children Act 1989 and therefore the Statement of Arrangements is scrapped.
The new system aims to reduce unnecessary delays, allowing judges to focus on the facts of the individual case and ensuring the interests of the child take precedence over the bureaucracy of the court.