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The Major Political Parties and Their Pledges for the Family Justice System in 2024

Comment & OpinionThe Major Political Parties and Their Pledges for the Family Justice System in 2024

 

Author: Baldip Singh, Barrister No5 Barristers’ Chambers

My trial settled and I found myself with a little spare time today. As a workaholic, I did not quite know what to do with this unexpected break. Given the rainy weather outside, I opted to stay indoors, seeking refuge in my chambers’ library. With the UK gearing up for the general election this Thursday, I decided to explore what each party has to say about the family justice system in their manifestos.

I may be biased, but I do feel that the family justice system is integral to the fabric of our society. I am no psychologist, but in my decade at the family bar, I must admit, I believe that problems start and finish within the family home, which is why I have committed my career to this area. The family justice system rarely forms a significant topic in political debate, usually leaving it to the higher courts to assist us in navigating this very sensitive area of law. The system, which addresses matters such as divorce, child arrangements, and domestic abuse, is essential in safeguarding the welfare and rights of families and children.

Each of the major political parties in the UK—the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party and for completeness Reform UK has set forth some limited pledges to reform and improve the family justice system. This article summarises them for you.

 The Conservative Party

The Conservative Party manifesto for the 2024 General Election outlines two main commitments specifically related to the family justice system, along with one that may be of interest to family lawyers regarding the expansion of arbitration through an Arbitration Bill.

The expansion of the Pathfinder Courts pilot is a central feature. These courts are designed to streamline family court processes, making them more efficient and user-friendly. By focusing on reducing delays and simplifying procedures, the Pathfinder Courts aim to provide quicker resolutions for families in dispute.

The continuation of the mediation vouchers scheme is also highlighted. These vouchers help families resolve private law child arrangements outside the courtroom. Mediation aims to create a less adversarial environment, encouraging amicable settlements that are in the best interests of children and families. By reducing the reliance on contentious court proceedings, mediation can also help alleviate the burden on the court system.

Additionally, the manifesto emphasizes support for the legal services sector through new legislation, including the introduction of an Arbitration Bill. This bill is intended to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of arbitration, although its impact on family arbitration remains unclear.

These measures are intended to create a more responsive and equitable family justice system that better serves the needs of families and children, while also addressing some of the systemic challenges faced by the legal services sector.

The Labour Party

The Labour Party’s approach to family justice is deeply rooted in their broader commitment to social justice and equality. Their 2024 proposals reflect a strong focus on protecting vulnerable individuals and ensuring fair and equitable treatment. The Labour Party’s manifesto for 2024 outlines a commitment to supporting victims of domestic abuse and ensuring that they receive the protection and justice they deserve. This includes prioritising victims’ needs within the family law framework and addressing violence against women and girls.

Labour recognises the impact of the current backlog in the justice system. While much emphasis is placed on supporting the criminal courts, the commitments they set out to address the backlog in the criminal courts, will have a knock-on effect on the family courts. Labour pledges to expedite justice in domestic abuse cases and promises a review of sentencing powers. I can see how the family courts that often find themselves in the classic chicken-and-egg situation, having to determine whether the family court should conduct fact-finding inquiries first or whether the criminal courts will address them first. This issue will hopefully be resolved if the criminal courts expedite matters.

Labour also intends to enhance policing performance, which will affect family law cases involving domestic violence and other family-related offences. New measures will be introduced to hold perpetrators of serious violence accountable and provide better support for victims. In some areas of the country, we have seen Labour Mayors pioneering a more joined-up approach in attempts to reduce reoffending. In Greater Manchester, probation is linked up with housing and health services to ensure offenders leaving custody receive the support they need. Labour says it will conduct a strategic review of probation governance, including considering the benefits of devolved models. I can see how this will also have an effect on family justice system when dealing with repeat offenders if given the right support, perhaps a version of the DVPP course might also assist offenders as a preventative measure.

These commitments underscore Labour’s focus on improving legal protections for vulnerable groups, enhancing victim support, and reforming the justice system to ensure it serves all citizens effectively.

The Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have long championed civil liberties and individual rights. Their 2024 family justice pledges reflect a desire to modernise the system and make it more responsive to the needs of contemporary families.

The Liberal Democrats have outlined a comprehensive vision for reforming the family justice system in their 2024 manifesto. Central to their approach is the commitment to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into UK law. This move aims to ensure that children’s rights are firmly protected and upheld within the family court framework, promoting their wellbeing and best interests in all legal proceedings.

Additionally, the Liberal Democrats propose the establishment of an independent advocacy body dedicated to enhancing children’s safety online. This initiative responds to growing concerns about online harms and aims to empower children while safeguarding them from digital risks.

Addressing longstanding issues of underfunding and neglect in children’s mental health services, youth services, and youth justice services is another key priority. By prioritising these areas, the Liberal Democrats seek to improve the support available to young people, ensuring they receive the care and attention necessary for their development and resilience.

Furthermore, the party recognises the pressing need to tackle the significant backlogs in the family courts, which often result in delays of nearly a year for cases to be resolved. Their proposal to simplify, make fairer, and increase the generosity of the legal aid system is intended to facilitate more efficient and equitable access to justice for children and families navigating the legal system.

Overall, these commitments underscore the Liberal Democrats’ overarching goal of creating a fairer and more supportive environment for children and families within the UK’s family justice system, reflecting their broader commitment to human rights, equality, and social justice.

The Green Party

The Green Party’s approach to family justice is influenced by their broader commitment to social equity, environmental sustainability, and community well-being. There’s very little I can say as their manifesto is very light, 44 pages and I can simply lift what they say about the Justice system which is as follows;

“We will fight to pay for new courts and make sure there is more support for school children with their mental health or learning disability”.

I have set out their pledge in black and white above, which leaves little room for any detailed analysis form me.

Reform UK

For completeness I have also summarised the commitments of Reform UK in their 28 page manifesto;

They pledge to Reform the Child Maintenance Service. They will launch a special division of the Family Court for maintenance and defaults. Share parental care 50/50 where appropriate. Rights of access for grandparents.

Conclusion

The family justice system is a cornerstone of societal stability, affecting the lives of countless individuals across the UK. The 2024 pledges from the parties offer varied approaches to addressing the challenges faced by families navigating this system. Whether through increased expanded legal aid, comprehensive support services, or child-centred reforms, each party aims to enhance the efficiency, fairness, and accessibility of family justice, reflecting their broader ideological commitments and policy priorities. As the election approaches, voters will have the opportunity to choose which vision aligns best with their values and expectations for the future of family justice in the UK.

Baldip Singh, Barrister, No5 Barristers’ Chambers

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