The Crime and Courts Act 2013 introduced the concept of a single Family Court, which will deal only with family matters. This, it is anticipated, will be operational from April 2014. The Family Court will deal with all family cases with the exception of two areas of law: those involving the jurisdiction of the High Court – i.e. serious and unusual matters such as Wardship – and International cases.
The Family Court will include all levels of Judge and there will not be the transfer between Magistrates and County Court as there is at the moment which should enable cases to be heard quicker and in less time. As there are various levels of Judges it is important to ensure that each case is allocated to the correct level which is hoped will be achieved by a specific team when cases are submitted. Court staff have been assured that there will be no Court closures or redundancies as a result of this single Family Court – we shall see!
The big change after the reduction of the availability of Legal Aid in April is of course the number of people who are making applications in person rather than using a Solicitor or Barrister. As they are often not aware of the procedure, cases can take longer and Judges are being given specific training on how to deal with litigants in person. The new Family Court is presumably to make the whole process easier for everyone to use.
Other key changes being introduced are: –
- Attendance at a MIAM (Mediation Information Assessment Meeting) will be a prerequisite before making an application to the Court (unless there are specified exemptions such as domestic violence). This is a meeting before a Mediator who gives both parties (not necessarily together) information about the options available to them and encourages Mediation rather than an application to the Court.
- There is to be a presumption that both parents should be involved in the life of the child and that this will be in the child’s best interests – unless of course there is an exception indicating one parent’s unsuitability.
- Contact and Residence Orders are to go – they will be replaced by “Child Arrangement Orders” specifying with whom a child is to live with, spend time with or otherwise have contact with, and when they are to do so.
The most important change is of course the introduction of a single Family Court which it is hoped and intended will speed up the hearing of children proceedings which should of course be in everyone’s interest.