Welcome to another week.

Sir Ernest Ryder, the Senior President of Tribunals, who is also a judge in the Court of Appeal, gave a speech last week, in which he said that the family courts’ focus must be on safeguarding children’s best interests, and that better training was needed for judges.

Ryder also questioned the system’s current adversarial approach, which has historically led to a shift in focus away from children’s needs, and more on individual performances of lawyers representing parties. On this point, he observed that an adversarial approach ‘is challenged in the context of family justice with its more inquisitorial process, where the focus must be, on ‘safeguarding children by securing their best interests’.

Whilst Ryder notes that family courts are increasingly trying to use inquisitorial avenues to process cases, the Family Court still remains largely adversarial, from the processes used, to the working, day-to-day culture inside the courts. The discussion about these two models though, is not new.

Researching Reform started the debate around whether the family courts should remain adversarial, or switch to an inquisitorial model in 2010, where we attempted to offer a balanced view of both. The two systems are not always mutually exclusive, with neither being completely immune to bias, error, or abuse of power. Both models can also share similar characteristics, and unsurprisingly, a more inquisitorial model would hand judges far greater powers than they have at present, which may explain judicial support for an inquisitorial system.

Our question this week, then, is just this: would you like to see the Family Court move away from an adversarial system, to an inquisitorial one? 

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