HC Deb 16 May 1988 vol 133 cc674-5
56. Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

To ask the Attorney-General what further representations the Lord Chancellor has received seeking the establishment of a family court; what response he has made; and if he will make a statement.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell)

The Lord Chancellor continues to receive representations from both hon. Members and others, and the Government are actively working on the issues comprehended by the concept of a family court. High priority is being given to the rationalisation of the law relating to the care and upbringing of children, which is an essential precursor to any reform of court structures.

Mrs. Bottomley

Bearing in mind that it is 16 years since Finer first raised its report, and recognising the Lord Chancellor's commitment to the rationalisation of family and child law, is my hon. and learned Friend aware that this is a necessary first step, not a final one? So long as many family cases are heard in courts that primarily exist for criminal purposes there is little likelihood of proper justice being done in such cases. When does the Lord Chancellor envisage responding officially to his own consultation document, to which many have made representations?

The Solicitor-General

I well understand the point that my hon. Friend is making. A response will be forthcoming. Some of the answers are to be found in the White Paper of January 1987. Once we have the rationalisation of the law well in train, we hope to come forward with a formal response, as my hon. Friend has requested.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Is the Solicitor-General aware that the profession that is generally most opposed to change, the legal profession, is virtually unanimous in the belief that a family court system is urgently required? Immediate attention should be given to the dual jurisdiction of magistrates' courts and to the hostility that county court matrimonial proceedings inevitably engender because of the adversarial system that is still retained in those proceedings.

The Solicitor-General

Yes. The rationalisation of the law will provide a helpful first step in the process, and then we can look to the court structures. When the hon. and learned Gentleman refers to unanimity within the legal profession, he may refer to unanimity over the belief that something should be done, but there is less unanimity within that profession about what should be done.

Mr. Sims

If it is the view of my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor that changes in child care legislation should precede rather than follow changes to set up a family court, may we have an assurance that such changes, particularly legislation on child care, will form an essential part of the Queen's Speech later this year?

The Solicitor-General

I can say that they will be given high priority.