The Private Law Working Group, which was set up by the President of the Family Division in August 2013 under the chairmanship of Mr Justice Cobb, has now reported. Its Report recommends the replacement of the Private Law Programme with an entirely new Child Arrangements Programme. The Programme (the ‘CAP’) applies where a dispute arises between separated parents and/or families about the arrangements concerning children. The CAP is designed to assist families to reach safe agreements where possible out of the court setting. If parents / families are unable to reach agreement, and a court application is made, the CAP encourages swift resolution of the dispute through the court.
The Working Group considers that within the context of the wider Family Justice reforms, changes to the practice and procedure of Private Family Law in relation to children are necessary. Those proposed changes, supported where relevant in draft documents accompanying the report, are designed to address:
(a) The launch of The Family Court in April 2014
(b) The likely requirement for applicants to attend for Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (‘MIAMs’) (currently Clause 10 of the Children and Families Bill 2013), and the increased emphasis of dispute resolution outside the court process;
(c) The impact of the scope changes in public funding for litigants in private law cases, following the implementation of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012 in April 2013;
(d) The likely terminology for private law orders (currently Clause 12 of the Children & Families Bill 2013).
In considering private law issues, and in formulating the CAP, the Working Group has tried to prioritise the most pressing demands on private law dispute resolution. In this respect, the Group says that it has sought to devise a programme which:
(a) Places a greater emphasis on mediation and out-of-court dispute resolution services for resolving low risk disputes concerning children;
(b) Identifies key resources for litigants to access such services currently;
(c) Re-inforces the (likely) imperative for most Applicants to attend a MIAM (Clause 10 of the Children & Families Bill 2013) before issuing an application for a court order;
(d) Preserves and builds on the aspects of the existing private law procedure which are believed to work well;
(e) Adapts the arrangements for resolution of private law cases to fit the new model for family justice in The Family Court;
(f) Aims to ensure that private law cases are allocated to the right tier of judge;
(g) Meets the needs of a system populated by a high number of Litigants in Person.
The proposed CAP will consist of the following flow chart. However this is still currently subject to consultation and therefore change.