The Family Justice Board (FJB) has set out the priority actions it intends to pursue in response both to immediate pressures within the family justice system, and to bring about longer-term reform.
It has issued an overall statement and two further documents, Guidance on Recovery & Reform in Public Law Proceedings and Private Law Advisory Group – Final Report.
In relation to public law matters in the short term, the FJB said it recognised that the immediate focus “must remain on ensuring that the children, young people and families who are most severely impacted by delay stemming from Covid-19, are prioritised.
“There is an immediate need to ensure cases with serious child safeguarding risks are taken to court and heard in a timely manner, and collective action is needed to progress permanence decisions and find ways to manage the most complex and contested hearings in a way that is just.”
In relation to longer term matters for public law, the Board said: “The system needs to be ready to support all vulnerable children and adults who depend upon it, and the greatest need is to ensure that those who need support and safeguarding receive it at the right time.
“Where appropriate, pre-proceedings work and the extended family network should be used. The priority should be to renew existing good practice within the Public Law Outline and implement a system-wide leadership focus on practice improvement.”
The FJB said the task of addressing the profound challenges facing family justice needed to be a genuinely shared endeavour. “The system is complex and multi-faceted, and no single organisation can deliver the changes that are needed in isolation.”
It added that the Family Justice Reform Implementation Group –comprised of leaders from across the system – would be accountable to the Board for overseeing delivery of our priorities.
The FJB also acknowledged that pressures and challenges prevalent in one part of the country would be different from those elsewhere – “a prescriptive central plan will never recognise and accommodate this regional variation”.
In recognition of this, the Implementation Group is finalising the regional and local arrangements that it will adopt to ensure the activities of greatest potential impact in different parts of the country are pursued, the FJB said.
“Local Family Justice Boards are uniquely well positioned to ensure that priority actions respond to the most pressing local and regional challenges and will have an essential role to play.”
The FJB said it would share further information about the national, regional and local delivery arrangements in early January 2021.