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Munby calls for amalgamation of youth and family courts

A ‘problem-solving court’ that looks at the difficulties facing both children and families should be introduced, a senior judge has said.

President of the High Court's Family Division, Sir James Munby, told the Howard League for Penal Reform’s 2017 Parmoor lecture that a re-vamped family court with an enhanced jurisdiction could tackle the problems a family faces as a whole.

“I believe that this points the way forward to what in my view is so urgently required: a fundamental re-balancing of the family court towards what ought to be its true role as a problem-solving court, engaging the therapeutic and other support systems that so many children and parents need,” said Munby.

“But the concept of the problem-solving court surely has to extend far further than that, not least, it might be thought into the processes of the criminal courts as they impinge on families, whether the child or the parent,” he added.

Sir James Munby highlighted the seven problems he believes need to be addressed.

  1. Cases involving children are spread across jurisdictions: the Family Court, the Youth or Crown Court, the First-tier and Upper Tribunals of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber and the Health, Education and Social Care Chamber. However, there are no mechanisms to facilitate collaborative, joint or even joined-up decision-making.
  2. Judicial decision-making is constrained by the extent of the resources made available by other public bodies.
  3. The way in which public finances are organised means responsibility is spread across too many agencies and too many budgets
  4. There is a lack of resources, particularly in a climate of austerity.
  5. Different government departments are responsible for various issues relating to children and families.
  6. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has not been incorporated as such into domestic law.
  7. Too often with the criminal and family court, too much of the time and the exercise is still limited to determining what is the appropriate disposal for the case.

“In an ideal world we would be giving very serious consideration to sweeping jurisdictional changes, bringing order to disorder by incorporating many if not all of these jurisdictions within the expanded jurisdiction of a family court,” said Munby.

However, he said more could be done immediately including:

  • Improving understanding across the jurisdictions of how the others work.
  • Introducing mechanisms to facilitate collaborative, joined-up or even joint decision-making.
  • In particular, ensuring by appropriate judicial ‘ticketing’ and ‘cross-deployment’ that judges with expertise and experience in the family court can also sit in the Youth Court, the Immigration and Asylum Chamber and the Health, Education and Social Care Chamber.
  • In cases where there are parallel proceedings in different courts involving the same child, listing the cases simultaneously before suitably ‘cross-ticketed’ judges.

Munby concluded by calling for more to be done to embed Articles 3 and 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 8 of the European Convention in law and in practice across all the jurisdictions which impact on children and their problems.

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