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Family justice report rejects legal rights for grandparents

31 March 2011

David Norgrove’s interim report, published this morning, has rejected the idea that grandparents should be able to apply to the courts for contact orders giving them access to their grandchildren.

“We have heard representations that the requirement for grandparents to seek leave of the court before making an application for contact should be removed but have concluded this should remain,” Norgrove said in the report’s executive summary.

“But the importance of these and other relationships must be emphasised throughout the process of reaching parenting agreements.”

The report envisages that separating parents would draw up a parenting agreement, setting out arrangements for their children’s care, education, health, finance and access.

Under the report, residence and contact orders should no longer be available to parents with parental responsibility for the child, but there would instead be ‘specific issue orders’ to make the parties avoid thinking in terms of a ‘winner’.

One of the main recommendations of the Norgrove report, increased use of mediation, has already been implemented with the introduction of compulsory mediation awareness sessions from 6 April 2011.

The report went further, however, by saying that only where parties could not agree on a specific aspect of the parenting agreement or where an exemption was raised by a trained professional should either party be allowed to apply to court.

“Family justice is under huge strain,” Norgrove said. “Cases take far too long and delays are likely to rise. Children can wait well over a year for their futures to be settled. This is shocking.

“Our recommendations aim to tackle these issues, to bring greater coherence through organisational change and better management, making the system more able to cope with current and future pressures and to divert more issues away from court where appropriate.”

The report called for the creation of a Family Justice Service, with a chief executive, backed by a family justice board. It said there should also be a single family court.

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