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Judge seeks family justice shake-up
An eight-month review into the modernisation of family justice has called for an improvement in top-to-bottom organisation.
Mr Justice Ryder, who consulted more than 5,000 interested parties, is publishing a range of proposals with an over-arching emphasis on better management.
In November a family justice review concluded improvements for children at the heart of family court tussles would have to come from, among other things, "the way people choose to work" and "from change to the culture of delay".
"Everyone in the system must play his or her part to support effective case progression," it said.
As well as establishing a single family court with magistrates and judges (and assisted by High Court judges), Mr Justice Ryder's proposals include managing "cases closely, identifying the key issues and making sure timetables are followed".
In his report Judicial Proposals For The Modernisation Of Family Justice, the judge wrote: "One of the keys to better performance in reducing delay is the more effective management of existing judicial resources. This will be provided by better patterning of judges and magistrates to enhance experience and to provide judicial continuity.
"Better listing practices will improve the preparation and hearing of cases particularly during case management. A more reasoned and informed allocation of workload to available judicial resources will reduce the prevalence of proceedings being transferred on the grounds of complexity after months have elapsed and also between judges because of their unavailability.
"In addition, a well-led and managed system, informed by management information as to workloads and timeliness, will allow judges and case managers to prioritise cases to provide more timely opportunities for cases to be heard."
The judge also said better use has to be made of experts who will be scrutinised more carefully in future. "Experts are misused and over-used," he wrote.
The changes will be made in two phases, the first by the end of 2013, putting in place structures and "leadership and management principles". The second phase, from 2013-2014, will include judicial training and will prepare for the implementation of the Children and Families Bill, likely to deal with the Government's desire to limit most care cases to 26 weeks.