Magistrates say many children’s cases will take longer than 26 weeks

Many family law cases involving children will require longer than 26 weeks to reach a resolution, the Magistrates Association has warned.

Mr Justice Ryder proposed a 26 week timetable for most family law cases in his report Judicial Proposals for the Modernisation of Family Justice, published last year.

In a recent submission to an all-party parliamentary group examining the forthcoming Children and Families Bill, the Association said it supported the principle of a 26 week timetable but sounded a note of caution.

“… based on the complexity of a number of contested cases before the court it is likely that many cases will not be concluded within this restriction.”

Magistrates would work hard to realise a 26 week timetable through efficient case management, said the Association, but a greater emphasis on preparatory work by local authorities would reduce the burden on the courts.

“Not only would this reduce the number of cases reaching court but would ensure that applications are brought correctly. This would include working with the family, a better understanding by the parents of what is involved, identification of and work with extended family members, and detailed assessments being carried out.”

Photo by Jim Crossley via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Marilyn Stowe

The senior partner at Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers with clients throughout the country, in Europe, the Far East and the USA.

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1 comment

Anon - January 23, 2013 at 10:12pm

Many cases will of course take longer than 26 weeks; it’s entirely aspirational hence provisions have been put in place to have this extended because it’s widely anticipated that this is unrealistic in a lot of cases. So, an extension can be sought for exceptional cases – I wonder how many cases will be presented as exceptional and how many will be accepted?

I know that many people who have found themselves involved in proceedings (i.e. with their own kids) were quite pleased by the move because they think speeding up the process will ‘sugar the pill’, but I think it’ll adversely affect parents and children alike.

26 weeks does not allow for rehabilitation so if you’ve got a parent with drug/alcohol problems, how can they really prove that they’ve turned their lives around in such a short space of time? It’ll be very difficult. They’re not really getting a fair crack of the whip. This is not good for anybody. Such people need time otherwise it’s verging on lip service.

Guardians now ‘enter the game’ much later – so who’s looking after childrens’ interests during pre-proceedings?

Courts have really clamped down on independent experts, e.g. Independent Social Workers. I can see the logic, but I don’t like the lack of balance.

Such a stringent time-table can cause a real problem if a certain type of expert is required and can only do a report at say week 20! Assessments take time to schedule and time to under-take; reports can take ages to come in. Who wants a rushed or ‘cut and paste’ report? And what if an independent expert is really, really needed to challenge the Local Authority’s evidence? That parent will have a real battle on their hands.

Cases will end up in the CA because there’ll be such fear in some quarters about going over 26 weeks that unwise decisions will undoubtedly be made.

This may free up the lower courts, but I don’t think it’ll be in a lot of childrens’ best interests.

It’s verging on a fast-track to adoption.

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