How does the new single Family Court work?
The single Family Court hopes to provide court users with effective access to justice while seeking ways to improve the efficiency of the justice system as a whole. A single Family Court will aim to allow magistrates, legal advisers and the judiciary to work more closely together.
Lay magistrates and all levels of judges will be able to sit in the Family Court. The changes mean that most proceedings will now be issued by the Family Court and cases will be allocated as soon as possible to the appropriate level of judge.
This means that cases will no longer need to be transferred between the old tiers of court. For families who need to use the court, this will help reduce delay and wherever possible, ensure greater continuity in who hears the case.
There will be four levels of Family Court judges working in the one court with each level of judiciary reflecting the varying complexity of cases. Lay Magistrates, District Judges, Circuit Judges, and High Court judges will be housed in the same Court Building. This new structure should allow a more effective and efficient use of all judges' time.
Each Designated Family Centre will have at least one Designated Family Judge who will be responsible for the administrative running of the Family Court.
There will be a ‘gatekeeping team’ at each Family Court who will determine to which level of Judge a particular case will be allocated (a Lay Magistrate, a District Judges, a Circuit Judges or a High Court judge)
Magistrates are able to deal with all the straightforward family cases: care cases and private law contact cases.
Magistrates do not deal with anything more legally complex, such as serious abuse, possibly capacity issues (where the Official Solicitor is involved) and anything with a foreign element.
For Private Law – anything that is not listed on the schedule can be heard before magistrates unless the case is likely to last more than 3 days.
For Public Law – anything that is not listed on the schedule can be heard before magistrates unless the case is likely to last more than 3 days.