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Wednesday 23rd
posted by Joana Ramiro in Britain

FAMILIES voiced concern over new law reforms which came into effect yesterday - despite being told they would "amount to a revolution."

The new Family Court of England and Wales replaced three sections of the Ministry of Justice that previously dealt with family cases.

President of the High Court's Family Division Sir James Munby told the press that this was "the largest reform of the family justice system any of us have seen."

The decision to change the existing legal structures followed a damning report by the independent Family Justice Review published in 2011.  The review found proceedings to be substandard and suggested vulnerable children were seeing their "futures undermined" by continuous delays in decision-making.

Further changes to the family justice system include the delimitation of childcare proceedings to a 26-week period.

But critics have been quick to show concern over the way things were put in place.

In a BBC Radio 4 interview Family Rights Group representative Cathy Ashley called the reform a "hotch-potch" and said she was "particularly worried both about the speeding-up of care proceedings in terms of making sure there are some safeguards for people [in a situation where more time is needed]."

The reforms come less than a month after lawyers complained that cuts to legal aid had been the cause of severe delays in family courts.

A shorter proceedings period, added to lack of support for low-income families, could mean decisions being rushed through court.

Ms Ashley added that some provisions could "work against children," especially in the case of foster care being set in place when family members, given longer than the 26-week limit, might be able to come forward.

The Law Society has endorsed the reforms but expressly warned that legal-aid cuts could undermine the whole process.

"Delays in care proceedings had reached an unacceptable level, and everyone in the system - judges, lawyers, social workers - has been working hard to reduce them," explained the society's Nicholas Fluck.

"The problem now is not that too many experts are being called, but that there are too few experts to go around, following cuts in their legal aid fees," he added.