Catherine McKinnell MP, Labour’s Shadow Children’s Minister, commenting on the Government's family justice announcement today, said:
“It’s hugely important for a child, wherever possible, to have an ongoing and meaningful relationship with both parents after separation or divorce. Therefore, any steps that assist in ensuring this would of course be welcome. So I commend the Government’s plans to take forward the Norgrove Review’s recommendations on educating parents and Parenting Agreements while speeding up the court process and making mediation broadly compulsory.
"However, I am concerned that legislating for a child to have an ongoing relationship with both parents may carry significant risks. Despite a very long and thorough review, and against a background of confusing reports in the media, it’s not clear at all how the Government intends to do this. Indeed, today’s announcement has not provided any real clarity in this area.
"I urge the Government to consider very carefully how such legislation would be framed to avoid protracted arguments in the courts over interpretation which will inevitably lead to delays, and harm to the child involved. The Children’s Act 1989 firmly places the child’s welfare paramount, allowing judges to examine what’s best for the child in each individual case - which in the majority of cases will be for them to have an ongoing relationship with both parents. Nonetheless, we must guard against anything that would take the focus away from the child, a concern that has also been voiced by many children's charities."
Rob Flello MP, Labour’s Shadow Justice Minister added:
“One of the key priorities for reforming the family justice system has to be reducing delay – it is in no-one’s interest for proceedings to be long and protracted and it is particularly damaging for any children involved. Evidence from Australia suggests that there is a risk that the proposed reforms could cause even further confusion among parents and increased delays in the courts. Avoiding this at all costs is critical, and moves towards more pre-court mediation is clearly central to the success of any future system.
"However, all this risks being exacerbated by the Tory-led Government’s plans to remove legal aid for private family matters, which may lead to a rise in litigants in person. With many more women than men in such cases lacking the finance to afford legal representation, and having to represent themselves in court, this could seriously worsen existing inequalities in divorce proceedings and the unintended consequences may place women and children at serious risk.”