Madam Chairman, Mr Vice Chairman, Officers and Members of the Family Law Bar Association, Former President of the Family Division, Ladies and Gentlemen –
Since I stood here last year much has happened. I look back on a year when, between us, we have managed to achieve more than most of us had dared to hope. I look forward to a year of what I am sure will be continuing challenges.
Last year the focus was very much on public law – the revised PLO – and setting up the new Family Court. The result of everyone’s dedication and hard work has been a continuing reduction in the time that care cases are taking. Large numbers of the older cases have now been resolved. The backlog is reducing both in size and in age. This is a remarkable achievement in which every one of us in the family justice system can take pride.
Work is almost completed on the amendment of the current Pilot PLO and the supporting rules. The final version (PLO 2014) will be finalised by the Family Procedure Rules Committee next Monday. The changes to be incorporated in the light of experience with the Pilot PLO are few.
In large measure the new Family Court is already up and running for most practical purposes. In some places – not as many as I would wish, though financial resources for such works are limited – work is going on in finding space in existing buildings which can be adapted for additional courts or hearing rooms. This is particularly important where the consequence is that magistrates will for the first time be able to sit in the same building as their professional judicial colleagues – something which is very important if we are to make a reality of the Family Court.
Early in the New Year I issued the much-heralded Practice Guidance on Transparency in the Family Courts – the first step in the vitally important process of opening up the family courts to appropriate public scrutiny.