Remote hearings still need improvements to ensure fairness
More than 3,200 professionals (lawyers, magistrates, judges, social workers and others in the family justice system), parents and other family members from across England and Wales have shared their experiences of the family court over the last year as part of a rapid consultation by Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (‘NFJO’) to inform post-pandemic recovery planning by the President of the Family Division.
The majority of professionals saw a continuing role for certain types of remote hearing, though raised concerns that hearings were often remote ‘by default’ and that considerations such as the vulnerability of lay parties and their wishes and views, the complexity of the case, and whether there was access to suitable technology for all those taking part should be taken into account.
A majority of parents (73%) indicated that they did not feel supported during their hearing(s). Just under half (46%) did not have legal representation, and others raised concerns about not being able to be with their legal representative during the hearing and the difficulties communicating with them as a result. Two in five reported that they had wanted to attend court but had been prevented from doing so.
Suggestions to improve how remote hearings were run included making sure lay parties and their representatives were better prepared for the hearing, checking access to technology/links before the start of the hearing, providing better written guidance to parents and professionals and improving the technology.
Lisa Harker, director of NFJO said:
“There is a clear disconnect between the measures professionals can see would help remote hearings run more smoothly – particularly for parents and family members – and what is still happening in some family courts. Many of the suggestions for improvements are neither complicated nor new, so it is vital to understand why they are not being put into practice. Families must feel that they have had fair access to justice in what are some of the most life-changing cases heard in courts – and that must apply to remote hearings too.”
Families across England to receive better support to adopt
Thousands of families are to receive better support when adopting children, through a new strategy to tackle the postcode lottery and break down barriers to creating permanent, stable and loving homes as quickly as possible.
Backed by a £48 million investment, the new National Adoption Strategy is set to improve adoption services in England by putting in place better recruitment across the country and removing any unnecessary delays, through more training for front line staff, improving approval process and funding for targeted recruitment campaigns.
Recruitment will focus on matching prospective adopters, from any community, with children and young people and to ensuring adopters are not deterred from pursuing adoption because of their background.
As part of the Government’s commitment to level up opportunities for vulnerable children in care, a new framework of national standards will be introduced to end the ‘postcode lottery’ that too often means the quality of adoption services depend on where a child or adopter lives and ensure support can be delivered swiftly and effectively to improve outcomes for these children.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
“There is no substitute for a loving, permanent family. A stable family unit is key to boosting life chances and there are so many adoptive parents across the country who have opened their homes and hearts to some of our most vulnerable children, often with very challenging backgrounds.
“We are committed to improving adoption services, as well as breaking down barriers so that parents from all walks of life can adopt and to ensure they are not deterred from adopting simply because of their background.
“We have taken steps to ensure these children and young people can be matched with the families that are right for them, but we know there is more to do and this strategy sets out our vision for radically improving systems so that we can be confident that every adoptive family in England is receiving the same high quality service no matter where they live.”