The work undertaken by the ‘spotlight panel’ appointed by the Ministry of Justice, reported in what is being referred to as the ‘harm report’, has already been commented on here and here. Its full title is ‘Assessing Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Cases’. The purpose of this blog post is to try to see how the harm report fits in with the wider reforms discussed by the President’s Private Law Working Party (the PrLWG) in its two reports.
The PrLWG was originally reviewing the effectiveness of the Child Arrangements Programme i.e. very much about the fairness and efficiency of procedural matters in private law disputes about contact and residence. The group was working in the context of the President’s concerns about the courts’ inability to cope with the volume of private law cases. It first reported in June 2019, made some suggestions for consultation, and then published a further report in March 2020. Just prior to publication of its first report, the spotlight review was set up by the Ministry of Justice in response to the escalating claims that children were being sent by courts to unsafe contact, culminating in the Victoria Derbyshire show in May last year. A separate piece of research undertaken at the University of Sussex revealed lawyers’ concerns about the lack of attention being paid to the correct procedures (Practice Direction 12J), designed to protect victims of abuse, in magistrates courts. That report was published in February this year.