HL Deb 09 July 1990 vol 521 cc106-7WA
Lord Brougham and Vaux

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made by the Lord Chancellor's Department towards the implementation of the Children Act 1989.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

The Children Act 1989 represents a major step towards the Government's objective of providing proper and rationalised arrangements for hearing and determining family proceedings. It brings together in one statute all the public and private law on the care and upbringing of children with the overriding purpose of promoting and safeguarding the child's welfare. It also establishes a new jurisdictional structure encompassing the magistrates court, county courts and the High Court in which children's cases will be heard at the appropriate level of tribunal by trained lay and professional judiciary, according to uniform rules and procedures.

An extensive programme of work is being undertaken by my department, in conjunction with the Home Office and the Department of Health, to ensure that the Act can be implemented in October 1991.

First, new rules of court, embodying the recommendations of an advisory committee on procedure chaired by Mrs. Justice Booth, will be drafted for consultation this autumn. There will also be public consultation on the criteria to be laid down by the Lord Chancellor for the allocation of cases between courts.

Secondly, it is intended that children's cases in the higher courts should be heard by judiciary who, by reason of their experience and training, are specialists in family work. An amendment will be tabled to the Courts and Legal Services Bill giving the Lord Chancellor the power to nominate such judiciary, with the concurrence of the President of the Family Division. The judicial studies board has already embarked on a programme of 17 inter-disciplinary seminars throughout the country to explain the guiding principles of the Act to both lay and professional judiciary and these will be followed next year by more detailed training in the new procedures.

Thirdly, all courts with divorce jurisdiction will continue to deal with such cases but work requiring the attention of a circuit judge will be concentrated on a network of family hearing centres. Some 52 of those courts will also act as centres for care cases transferred up from the magistrates' courts.

Finally a central advisory committee will be established to advise on whether the guiding principles of the Act are being achieved and the new system is working effectively. Local groups will also be set up before October 1991 to ensure that the system is properly established at local level by the date of implementation and thereafter maintained.