Why the Practice of Family Law needs Radical Reform

26 APR 2010

DR ROGER KENNEDY, Cassel Hospital

I have been giving evidence in court for some 30 years, most of that time from my position as consultant psychiatrist at the Cassel Hospital, a place of last resort for the assessment and treatment of multi problem families. As a result of this work, my team and I have had extensive experience of giving expert evidence in a wide variety of courts across the UK, including the High Court, Principle Registry, county courts and magistrates' courts. This has given us an opportunity to experience for ourselves considerable variation in practice. As well as having to deal with public law, I have also undertaken a number of private law assessments, mainly involving complex contact disputes. Much of the clinical issues around both these sorts of work have already been described elsewhere (R Kennedy, Psychotherapists as Expert Witnesses; families at breaking point (Karnac, 2005)). The purpose of this article is to share some of my grave doubts about the way that family law is practised in this country, in the hope that it may lead to an active debate about the issues I raise. Much of what I suggest will be controversial and is focused on criticisms but it is offered in the hope that it might contribute to producing real change. I shall also propose an outline of possible reforms that address my criticisms. I should add that by and large the defects I see are not about the legislation. The Children Act 1989 seems to cover the field fully. Indeed, one of my grumbles is that the courts do not necessarily keep the intentions of the Children Act legislators in mind when they reach crucial decisions.

To read the rest of this article, see May [2010] Family Law journal. To log on to Family Law journal Online or to request a free trial click here.

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