Background - During November 2011 the Family Justice Review panel published its final report setting out its key conclusions and recommendations for the family justice system in England & Wales. The review was sponsored jointly by the Ministry of Justice the Department for Education and the Welsh Assembly Government. It was led by an independent review panel, chaired by David Norgrove.The panel was asked to consider reform of the current systems for:
- resolving disputes about contact with children and where they should live when couples break up (private law);
- the process of divorce; and
- processes when local authorities apply to the courts to take children into care (public law)
The Justice Committee concludes;
187. In our view, it is unlikely that the draft clause on shared parenting, on its own, will change perceptions of bias within the family court system, many of which are entrenched. It is possible that, in combination with changes to MIAMs and Child Arrangements Orders, there may be an overall improvement however slight in perceptions, but on balance, we think that is unlikely. Although the draft clause could lead to a few parents reaching agreement because their perception of the likely outcome of the Court process has changed, given the fact that these will be cases in which there is already a high degree of conflict, this is also unlikely.
188. We have considered the problems raised by individuals who provided evidence of their experiences, and we believe that the absence of enforcement of court orders is a bigger factor in the perception problem than the content of those orders. This makes it regrettable that the Government has not brought forward draft legislation on enforcement for us to consider as part of this pre-legislative scrutiny. Considering our conclusions on all four questions, we maintain significant concerns about whether the draft clause is a necessary or desirable legislative change.
189. We consider that any legislation on this subject, when interpreted objectively, should retain the paramountcy of the welfare of the child, and should prevent shared parenting orders being made where the child is at risk of harm, and/or where, whatever the level of parental involvement, that involvement would not further the welfare of the child. The problem, as we identify it, is how the clause will be subjectively interpreted by parents who appear before the Court, or who agree arrangements for residence and contact without a Court order, but on the basis of what they understand the law to say and mean. The distinction is one of technical drafting versus the practical effect on real families. We recognise concerns about the inclusion of the draft clause, and we consider that if the Government includes the clause in the Bill as introduced, the revised wording which we suggest may reduce the likelihood of its effects being misinterpreted.