Triaging cases could speed up family courts

Speaking to the Equality, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament at their round table session on 22nd February, Ian Maxwell of Shared Parenting Scotland presented our ideas for changes to  family court hearings.

He welcomed the initial triaging of family cases, which started when the courts were closed in 2020 due to COVID. That was used to identify urgent business—for example, if contact with children was being unreasonably withheld from one parent.

He commented that a form of early triaging, now that we have had a taste of it, could inject a sense of urgency into the whole court system. Months of a child’s life should not be allowed to slip by because the system is slow. The Cochem family court in Germany has found that such a radical change works very well; cases there have a first hearing in two weeks, not two months.

Adopting such an approach in Scottish family courts  would allow contact to restart as soon as possible—the best outcome for the child.  This could either be in a contact centre, if there is concern about safety or abuse, or unsupervised if there is no such concern.

Responding to questions from Committee members, he also mentioned ideas such as the publication of anonymised versions of all family court judgments and the importance of finding appropriate ways of consulting with children and informing them about court decisions while protecting them from involvement in court disputes.

He also mentioned the need to provide support to separating parents as early as possible, to reduce the number of disputes ending up in court, and the need for a problems solving rather than adversarial approach if the court does have to make decisions.