Nicholas Crichton CBE, the family law judge who pioneered the UK’s first Family Drug and Alcohol Court has died at 75. Crichton believed that the problem solving courts, first implemented in America, were essential to the UK’s family justice system. Despite the courts saving the government vast amounts of money and delivering outstanding results, FDAC has continued to struggle for funding. 

Crichton was the first full-time family judge to oversee child welfare cases in England and Wales. Researching Reform met Judge Crichton for the first time in 2009 to interview him in his chambers. Although our views differed at times, our shared interest in improving the family justice system resulted in a professional friendship that we will remember with fondness. 

Nicholas very graciously sat on the panel for a debate we produced in the House of Commons about the Summer Riots.

His speech looked at alternative ways to approach vulnerable families and he talked about the benefits of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court. In his speech, Nick described the phenomenon of parents having more children as a way to try to get over the loss of previous children being taken into care and explained the importance of policies which work to keep parents and children together:

“Today I have been sitting in the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC)… It’s extremely hard work for the parents… It’s no good just saying that these kids are not safe and removing them, we have to tackle the core problem..  

I have had women scream at me in court, “If you take this one away, I’ll go on having one a year until you let me keep one”. I have read a psychiatric report in which a mother said that “every time they take a child away the only way I can deal with the pain of the loss is to get pregnant again”.”

Over the years Nick assisted us with various projects, including an encyclopaedia on Family Law, coming on board as one of the encyclopaedia’s editors. We also worked with the BBC on a documentary about Phoenix Futures, one of the rehabilitation centres for FDAC. One of our favourite Nick quotes came from a meeting for this project. Nick was describing some of the conflicts of interest judges faced inside the child welfare system and he said:

“Some judges simply follow the guidelines with a view to getting promoted, even if those rules fly in the face of what’s best for a family. I refuse to play that game.”

When the Voice of the Child Sub-Group, which Nick chaired, wanted to launch a consultation about children’s wishes and feelings during child welfare proceedings, Nick very kindly shared his thoughts with Researching Reform. 

Nick felt strongly that children should be able to contribute to decisions being made about them if they actively wanted to do so. During the interview he said, “Children, however young, are individuals in their own right, and we have a duty to listen to what they have to say… It is my experience that children are almost always very vocal and keen to participate… I believe it essential that children’s wishes and feelings should be recorded verbatim.”

We spoke with Nick again after the publication of guidelines released by the Sub-Group on children being able to speak with judges in family law cases. Nick was always keen to push the family courts’ boundaries in order to improve the experience for children. His efforts at launching FDAC across the UK resulted in several courts being rolled out across the country and his determination and innovative thinking won him allies in Westminster and elsewhere. Nick was a force for good inside the system. 

Our thoughts are with Nick’s family at this difficult time. Nick will be remembered by Researching Reform as a rebel judge with a very big heart.