In the Media

Judiciary must speak out on 'parlous state of family law'

PUBLISHED December 18, 2009

The judiciary must ?come off the bench? and speak out about the ?parlous state of family law in 2009?, lord justice Wall has said.

Speaking at the Association of Lawyers for Children conference, the Court of Appeal judge said ?the time has come when the historical and indeed instinctive judicial reluctance to go public over matters properly within our sphere of activity must come to an end?.

He added: ?We must say what we think, and if we feel that the exercise of our proper functions is being impeded by anyone or anything, we should say so, loud and clear, and in plain language.?

Wall said the family justice system was made up of ?conscientious individuals who are doing their best for the children they serve, often ? indeed commonly ? with wholly inadequate resources.?

He added: ?Family practitioners have striven to cut costs and delays. We have pared ourselves to the bone? Government must realise that, if it fails to properly fund the system, there will undoubtedly be greater delays, poorer justice, too few judges, and many litigants in person left to struggle on their own.

?If you double the workload but leave the number of judges and sitting days the same, delays will increase? It is the children who will suffer.?

Wall noted that the senior judiciary has a detailed knowledge of family justice. He added: ?By contrast, I have to say, I have lost count of the junior ministers in the various departments dealing with children since I began to practise in 1969.

?And how many of them, I ask rhetorically, have ever actually practised family law or know anything about the stresses and strains of practice?

?Even now, while practitioners recognise the interdisciplinary nature of family justice and legislate by good practice for co-operation between its various strands, legislative provision for children remains divided between different departments of state,? Wall said.

He added that the judiciary does not ?engage in politics? or ?score political points?, adding: ?We adhere to the fiction that parliament controls the executive, even though we know that in reality it is the other way round?.

Wall noted that in voicing his concerns he was following the lead of Sir Mark Potter, president of the family division, who was not afraid of ?coming off the bench and speaking his mind?.