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20 JUL 2012

Justice Committee criticises Government's shared parenting plan

CommitteeThe Chair of the Justice Select Committee, the Sir Alan Beith MP, has written to the Prime Minister to set out the Committee's opposition to the Government's proposals to change the Children Act 1989 in an attempt to promote shared parenting.

The Committee is opposed to the insertion of a legislative statement that would change the present responsibility to safeguard the rights of the child to promote shared parenting.

Family Law DirectoryThe Justice Committee published a report opposing to the insertion of such a legislative. However, the Department for Education recently published a consultation which contains four possible draft clauses designed to promote shared parenting. 

In the letter Sir Alan argues that promoting shared parenting through legislation undermines the paramount principle of the welfare of the child. He also states that there is no evidence to suggest that judges are not starting from a position in favour of contact being maintained with both parents.

In their Final Report, the Family Justice Review agreed with Justice Select Committee that no legislative statement promoting meaningful relationships should be introduced because "... the core principle of the paramountcy of the welfare of the child is sufficient and that to insert any additional statements brings with it unnecessary risk for little gain."

Evidence from similar legislation introduced in Australia showed that cases where the child's or parent's safety was at risk were not being effectively filtered out of the shared parenting scheme by the courts.

Sir Alan wrote in his letter to the Prime Minister: "We have yet to be provided with any evidence or argument that properly counters the evidence we and the Family Justice Review considered before concluding that there should be no changes to the current legislation."

"We remain of the view that the introduction of a statement will simply lead to confusion, and will risk undermining the central principle of the Children Act 1989 that the welfare of the child is paramount.  It remains unclear to us how the Government intends that the two tests will work in tandem in the difficult cases that end up before the Courts.  The Consultation Paper and information we have received so far makes no effort to engage with the criticisms of shared parenting, nor properly explain how the pitfalls of the Australian experience will be avoided, beyond stating that they will be."

He added: "We remain extremely concerned that clearly expressed and well researched conclusions of our Committee and the Family Justice Review are being ignored."

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