In August of this year a Private Law Working Group was set up by Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division. The group, whose reporting chairman is Mr Justice Cobb, has just released its first report aimed at trying to improve private family law processes. Private family law processes mainly involve issues arising out of divorce or parental contact with children during separation and after.

The report is a 24 page document with over 100 points to its name, so you’ll need a few Digestives and a large-ish box of PG tips. There’s lots to love in this document, and we’re excited to see the President tackling private family law matters, not just focusing on public family law matters, as the two are inextricably linked.

So, what’s to love about this report?

  • It is focused on trying to help families resolve disputes out of court
  • The Child Arrangements Programme (CAP) is designed to help keep disputes about child arrangements out of court as much as possible and to resolve matters that have to be dealt in court thereafter, as swiftly as possible
  • The Programme’s (CAP) central focus is on the child, rather than the court process
  • The Voice of the Child is given weight in this document – courts will be required to ensure all children who are able to and wish to express their views, should be heard, whilst ensuring no child feels responsible for the process
  • The working core philosophy will be the Paramountcy Principle
  • A conscientious effort has been made to ensure that LIPs are able to access information on the process, and to make the process simpler
  • An effort to make the system more dynamic in how it problem solves is also a key feature
  • Whilst the report mentions the need to reduce delay wherever possible, it reinforces not doing so at the expense of the Paramountcy Principle. As a result, the Group have chosen specifically not to incorporate time limits on case resolution
  • The report wants to ensure that the right level of judge is present for any hearings which take place and that families don’t find themselves in front of several different judges during the life of their case. Continuity is key
  • The report allows local family district judges to be creative with dispute resolution, as long as suggestions comply with the provisions in this report
  • It raises concerns over a lack of funding for expert evidence, when a judge makes it clear such reports/ evidence are needed but funding is unavailable
  • It recommends relaxing the rules on the requirements of McKenzie Friends to produce CV’s and short summaries about themselves and relevant expertise
  • A focus on the use of plain language throughout the process
  • The report is open for consultation – they want to hear what people think about its recommendations

That’s all good stuff, and there was only really one issue we hummed at:

  • The report focuses heavily on mandatory mediation – which we all know doesn’t work. We would much rather see suggestions which help to ease tension rather than bring tension to the negotiating table.

The Judiciary website tells us that, “The President would welcome and value all comments from anyone with an involvement or interest in the family justice system on these proposals. Comments should be sent to Nicola Massally ( and Joanna Wilkinson (”

Comments on the draft Guidance on Allocation and Gatekeeping should be sent by 2 December 2013 and on everything else by 6 January 2014. 

Do check it out and tell us what you think.