Friday 24 July 2009
Can-you-imagine – epetition response
We received a petition asking:
“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to hold a public Enquiry into the System of Family Law and its impact on children’s life’s and society.”
Details of Petition:
“We feel that the Government and/or it’s relevant departments should hold a open public enquiry with a wide ranging remit and consider a royal commission report and have a national debate , involving all interested groups, both public and private, into the System of Family Law and its executive bodies in use in the United Kingdom. To ascertain why the current laws including the Human Rights Act, designed to uphold the rights of the child to have the love and support of TWO natural parents and extended family, are failing to deliver for those children.”
Read the Government’s response
Thank you for your e-petition.
The Government is committed to ensuring that all aspects of family law have the welfare of any children involved at the heart of every policy and takes its responsibilities as set out by the Human Rights Act very seriously.
An inquiry into the operation of the family courts was announced in September 2004 by the House of Commons Constitutional Affairs Committee. This inquiry examined evidence from many witnesses and looked in particular at the handling of private law cases (mainly contact and residence disputes between separated parents). We published our formal response in March 2005 and much of the work that we have been taking forward since has its roots in that inquiry.
The Government is aware of the difficulties that can be faced by non-resident parents in maintaining contact with their children. The Government believes that where it is safe and is in the child’s best interests, a child will benefit from both parents’ and extended families continued involvement in their upbringing and from regular meaningful contact with both parents. Many parents, who separate or divorce, manage to agree arrangements for their children with only around 10% seeking a court order to resolve a disagreement about contact. We legislated through the Children and Adoption Act 2006 to give the courts wider powers to facilitate and enforce contact and to support parents to focus on the needs of their children. These new powers came into effect on 8 December 2008, so are still relatively new. They will take time to bed in.
The judiciary is leading a working group to improve the timeliness and availability of safeguarding information at the first hearing of private law applications. Trials of the intended new processes commenced in 6 areas on 18 May 09. The Legal Services Commission are using the trials to test the immediate availability of mediators in addition to in-court conciliation available from Cafcass officers and where appropriate, are encouraging more separated parents to use mediation to resolve disagreements as an alternative to legal proceedings. This can be is better for children and better for parents. It may cost less, be quicker and can be less stressful than court proceedings.
In addition a National Family Justice Board has recently been established to scrutinise and drive forward further improvements in both public and private family law with children’s welfare being their paramount concern. Following Lord Laming’s review after the tragic baby Peter case, ‘The Protection of Children in England: A Progress Report’ in March 2009, a national Safeguarding Unit will be responsible for delivering the 58 recommendations set out in Lord Laming’s Report. The National Family Justice Board will support this unit in delivering the recommendations that impact on the family justice system
New statutory instruments came into force on 27 April 2009, allowing accredited members of the media the right to attend most family court cases (except adoption, placement and judicially assisted conciliation or negotiations hearings). This is to improve the public’s understanding of the work of the family courts. The courts have discretion to exclude the media in specific circumstances outlined in the statutory instrument. Work is ongoing on the second phase of the Government’s plans to improve transparency of family courts by revising the existing statutory framework governing the reporting of family proceedings.
Given the previous comprehensive inquiry, the significant amount of work being undertaken in this area and the need to allow changes and improvements to be embedded and realised, the Government does not feel that there is any justification for a public inquiry into the family justice system.
“It is a rare breed of human who can blend a free spirit, a decisive nature, a deep respect for life, love for adventure, and an uncompromising sense of integrity into human happiness and being. Such individuals hear the heartbeat of wholeness.”
“Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding” Convention on the Rights of the Child
A child who is separated from one or both parents is entitled to “maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child’s best interests” (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, Article 9)