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'No sacred cows' in family justice review, president warns

21 September 2010

The coalition government will swoop on any recommendations posed by the current Family Justice Review to bolster a significant political shift in attitudes to domestic disputes, the president of the Family Division has hinted.

Lord Justice Wall said his impression of the government was that it was likely to invest heavily in the outcome of the review.

Speaking at the charity Families Need Fathers in Coventry on Sunday, he said: “Be under no illusions, the recommendations are likely to be radical. There are no sacred cows.

“I have no idea what the final recommendations will be, but you do not need a crystal ball to see that legal aid for private law proceedings is likely to be further diminished if not abolished: that long and protracted contact and residence disputes will become things of the past, and that out-of-court mediation and conciliation will be encouraged.”

The first stage of the Ministry of Justice’s review into the way family law is handled in England and Wales is due to close on 30 September.

Evidence gained from interested parties, including children, parents and professionals will form the basis of a raft of proposals scheduled to be published for public consultation next spring.

The review is being led by a panel of experts with an independent chair, David Norgrove, and will report its proposals for legislation this time next year.

In a tub-thumping speech calling for improvements in mediation, Wall told the audience not to criticise lawyers for the shortcomings in the system, arguing that parliament must step in to resolve key disagreements in areas such as shared residence orders.

“The best thing about the family justice system, in my view, is the people who work in it,” said Walls LJ, adding: “Most of them, in my experience, are decent, honest and hardworking. They are not in it for the money, but do the work because they believe in it.

“This may not be a view you share. You may tell me that your experience is different. But it is always a mistake, I think, automatically to attack the good faith of the professionals with whom you deal.”

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