Child access for Dads to be debated
Mr Justice Munby said the system had failed fathers
Child access for Dads to be debated
10.31PM, Fri Apr 2 2004

The Government is planning "major changes" to the family justice system, a minister has revealed.

Junior constitutional affairs minister Lord Filkin said the Government was hoping to reduce the number of child access disputes which ended up in court, with new legislation designed to promote negotiation between parents.

He also said it was "vital" for both parents to be involved in a child's upbringing and wanted courts to make quicker decisions in access cases.

He was responding after Family Division judge Mr Justice Munby slammed the system for "failing" a father who had not been able to see his daughter for more than two years.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was forced to give up his five-year battle for access to his seven-year-old daughter after 43 court hearings, which were presided over by 16 judges.

Mr Justice Munby said the system had failed fathers and criticised the "sheer length" of proceedings in a damming statement at the end of the High Court hearing.

Lord Filkin said he was not surprised by the judge's comments and said ministers had been looking at ways of improving the system for some time.

"It's quite clear that the system is not working well in some cases, which is why we are carrying out a root and branch review of the system.

"About 10% of cases end up in court, but we don't think that they are the best places to resolve these disputes.

"We have got to get parents to work together in the best interests of the child and the best interest for the child is to have meaningful contact with both of them."

Lord Filkin said he wanted the Government to give parents a "clear signal" that working together and discussing their options would best serve the child's interests.

"If a case has to go to court we would like better mechanisms. It's quite clear that the system needs to change and for decisions to be made more quickly.

"If it's taking months and years to resolve, the system has failed to get a decent result.

"If they do drag on there is evidence that parents often lose hope and contact with their child, or simply get frustrated with dealing with their ex-partners and walk away. We want to make sure that doesn't happen."