UK Family Law Reform

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Their last letter gave no great insight into judges training even though they state they have forwarded the information.
barry gaynor

Our Ref: 179105
Date : 14 November 2007

Dear Mr Gaynor

Thank you for your email dated 5 November addressed to Bridget Prentice MP and your question relating to the training of family judges. As a Government official with responsibility for this area of family policy it has been passed to me to reply.

Cases that involve who the child should live with and who the child should have contact with after parental separation can be very distressing. When contact orders are made, the Children Act 1989 requires the court at all times to make the welfare of the child concerned its paramount consideration. The Government believes firmly in this principle and that the child’s best interests are usually met by both parents continuing to have a meaningful relationship with, and responsibility for, their children after separation, so long as it is safe to do so.

The Government is committed to the continued independence of the judiciary and since the constitutional reforms the Lord Chief Justice has replaced the Lord Chancellor as head of the judiciary. This role also includes overall responsibility for the provision of judicial training. For practical purposes this is effectively delegated to the Judicial Studies Board (JSB).

With regard to your question as to what training the named judges of the family division have received, as the training records for judges form part of the confidential personnel information, I am unable to advise you what training courses have been attended by these particular judges. However, I understand that the JSB has previously furnished you with information concerning the family law training that is available to judges. For further information on the work of the JSB please look at their website

I hope you find this letter helpful.

Yours sincerely
Sharon Rowand
Family Relationships 2 Branch
Family Justice Division

Family judges learn from Australian approach to battles over children

· Studies say disputes are better settled out of court
· Child-inclusive mediation may cut mental health toll

Senior family judges and civil servants are studying new research findings from Australia on how to minimise lasting psychological damage to children whose parents are caught up in post-separation battles. A growing body of research shows that taking disputes over children to court makes conflict between parents worse, and that continuing parental acrimony causes mental health problems which can persist into adulthood.

The response has been to encourage the 10% of estranged parents who are unable to agree on arrangements for their children to avoid court and resolve disputes through mediation. Parents are urged to put aside their own bitterness over their failed relationship and focus on the needs of their children.

But the Australian study shows that, while child-focused mediation improves the outcomes for children and parents, "child-inclusive" mediation, where children are seen separately and their wishes fed back to their parents, works significantly better. Australia's family law system has undergone a revolution in the last five years, with official recognition that the fallout from family upheaval is a serious public health issue. The government has poured money into community and court-based dispute resolution focusing on the child.

Britain lags way behind. But the Australian research, unveiled recently at a London seminar organised by the Family Justice Council and Cafcass, the family court support service, and attended by officials from the education department, is likely to influence how services develop here.

Researcher Jennifer McIntosh of La Trobe University told the seminar that while 37% of children whose parents went through child-focused mediation felt the outcome was positive, the proportion rose to 61% for child-inclusive mediation.

Although the child-inclusive cases were more complex, with higher conflict to start with, the children who took part showed better progress on emotional symptoms such as anxiety and clinging behaviour. Both fathers and mothers became more emotionally available to their children. In 43% of cases, said Dr McIntosh, parents said "hearing from my kids was the thing that helped the most".

Child-inclusive mediation already has a small toehold in Britain. Cafcass is using it in a few areas, including Leeds, as is the children's charity NCH, in Derbyshire, London and a few other centres. Cafcass officers now spend most of their time preparing reports for court cases, but their role is to shift towards helping parents resolve their own disputes and facilitating contact. The service will need to find a model and the Australian research points strongly towards child-inclusive mediation.

Many contact disputes in England and Wales are now resolved by in-court conciliation, typically a single session on court premises geared to agreeing a parenting timetable, with no involvement of children or guidance for parents on how to co-operate. This produces agreement in three out of four cases, according to research from the University of East Anglia, but it has no significant impact on the quality of the parents' relationship, the most important factor for children.

Parents caught up in their own battles often fail to see things from their children's point of view, said Liz Ralph, project manager of Derbyshire family mediation service, run by NCH. She cited the case of a divorced couple who had both started new families. Their 11-year-old son was "causing real grief at school".

The real issue, she said, was the "terrible relationship" between the two couples. "They met in the school yard and sent abusive text messages to each other." The parents were told: "He wants all these arguments to stop and he wants you both to know he loves you both." Ms Ralph added: "The parents were gobsmacked. They both started crying. They decided they'd give it a go and it seems to be working quite well."

----- Original Message -----
From: Andrea.Dowsett@JSB.GSI.GOV.UK
To: dave.mortimer
Sent: Friday, July 14, 2006 11:56 AM
Subject: JSB FoI Act request

Dear Mr Mortimer,

Following my e-mail of 14 June and your response of 15 June, the JSB has now undergone the period of consultation with the authors described previously and considered where the balance of the public interest lies in releasing this information. We have come to the conclusion that it is in the public interest to make all of the handouts listed in my email of 14 June available, with one exception. I am, therefore, now attaching to this e-mail the following handouts:

* 'The position of children in contested contact cases', Dr Liz Trinder, January 2006, Family law seminar
* 'Problematic contact cases', Judge Lesley Newton, January 2006, Private family law continuation course
* 'Problematic contact cases', Judge Lesley Newton, November 2005, Private family law continuation course
* 'Problematic contact cases', Judge Lesley Newton, January 2005, Private family law continuation course
F Problematic Contact cases HHJ Eaglestone
Priv induc Mar 06 Basic issues Eaglestone
Priv induc Mar 06 Problematic cases Eaglestone
Priv induc Oct 05 Basic issues Eaglestone
Priv induc Mar 05 Basic issues Eaglestone
Priv induc Mar 05 Problematic cases Eaglestone
* 'Problematic contact cases', Judge Diana Eaglestone, November 2004, Private family law continuation course
Priv induc Oct 04 Basic issues Eaglestone
Priv induc Mar 04 Basic issues Eaglestone

We have added a number of handouts to this list, to which we have subsequently been directed. These are the handouts produced by Judge Diana Eaglestone on 'Basic issues in contact' in March 2004, and 'Basic issues' and 'Problematic contact cases' for the Private family law induction courses in October 2004, March and October 2005 and March 2006.

We have not included the paper 'The psychology and management of intractable contact cases', by Dr Gerald Byrne, used for the JSB's Private family law continuation course in January 2006 to which the exemption under section 36 ('Prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs') applies. By virtue of section 10 (3), where public authorities have to consider the balance of the public interest in relation to a request, they do not have to comply with the request until such time as is reasonable in the circumstances.

The JSB is continuing to consider where the balance of the public interest lies in relation to this handout. It is our intention, however, to come to a conclusion (and to be in touch with you again) before the end of next week - that is, by Friday 21 July. I hope that this is of help.

Yours sincerely,
Andrea Dowsett
Judicial Studies Board

----- Original Message -----
From: dave.mortimer
To: Andrea.Dowsett@JSB.GSI.GOV.UK; Neal.Jayes@JSB.GSI.GOV.UK
Sent: Monday, April 24, 2006 4:03 PM
Subject: Request for material

Dear Andrea Dowsett,

(1) Please will you kindly provide me with copies of the peer reviewed research which is used by the JSB to advise judges on how much contact time divorced parents should have with their children to ensure that their long term relationship is sustainable.

(2) I would also like copies of the peer reviewed research which shows that sole residency is in the best interests of the majority of children following separation or divorce where safety is not an issue.

Yours Sincerely
David Mortimer

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