Peter Wandle’s son was removed at birth by social services. The family court FDAC presented the new father with a stark choice: abandon his drug-taking and drinking or lose parental rights. Five years on, Wandle takes his young son to school every day.Such specialist courts – like those focusing on drug or domestic violence offences – lead to lower reoffending rates and improved support for those going through the justice system, according to a recent study of judicial performance.
More direct communication with defendants before hearings and in the courtroom also enhances perceptions of procedural fairness and results in better outcomes, the report by the Centre for Justice Innovation and the Criminal Justice Alliance argues. According to the report, To Be Fair: Procedural Fairness in Courts, research shows that fair and clear interactions between the judges and families means that when decisions go against parents, they feel they have understood the reasons for the decision and appeals are kept to a minimum. The report is being presented this week at a conference, Better Courts that brings together practitioners and experts to discuss new ideas in the UK court system.
The call for a more considered delivery of justice, however, comes at a time when Ministry of Justice MoJ budgets are being cut and legal aid withdrawn from many areas of civil law.Wandle’s story is emblematic of the success of the FDAC in central London, which was launched in 2008 as a way of dealing with civil care proceedings involving parents who misuse substances, causing harm to their children.