Days after it emerged that a national board set up to improve the performance of the family justice system and chaired by government ministers had not met for 17 months, a national unit set up only three years ago to support a pioneering problem-solving court service for families is shutting down due to lack of government support.
Sir James Munby, outgoing president of the family division, said the 'profoundly disturbing news' that FDAC (family drug and alcohol court) National Unit will close in September demonstrates a 'failure of imagination, of vision and of commitment' by national and local government.
The specialist court, which was pioneered in London by district judge Nicholas Crichton in 2008, aims to tackle parental substance misuse when it is a key element in local authority decisions to bring care proceedings. Munby described it as 'one of the most important developments in family justice in the last 40 years'.
The service was originally jointly paid for by the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health, but has faced repeated funding uncertainties.
The national unit has helped to establish a dozen courts covering 15 local authorities. Munby said today that the unit has had to withdraw its application for cash from the government's £80m Life Chances Fund because of a lack of support from local authorities and will close in September 'because of the lack of continuing funding from central government'.
Munby said the news was 'grim', especially at a time when he and his successor, Sir Andrew McFarlane, have stressed that the care system is in crisis.
Munby hopes the unit's closure 'will not prejudice the continuing viability of the established FDACs'. However, 'this profoundly disturbing news must be of immense concern to everyone who, like me, is passionate about the need to improve our family justice system for the benefit of the families, children and parents we serve.
'For those families and parents, unable at present to access FDAC, and who were anticipating the possible early arrival of an FDAC in their area, the outlook is bleak in the extreme. They surely deserve better of us.'
Munby concluded: 'The minister recently visited a settlement conference court. The visit, I would imagine, was valuable and informative. Would it not be possible for time to be found in the minister’s no doubt busy diary for a ministerial visit to an FDAC?'
Crichton told the Gazette: 'We must not let it go under, we really must not. The adversarial system does not work in family law - it's what we have to fall back on if the parents are not willing to listen to us and make use of the support we give them. But a system that removes the fourth, fifth or sixth child - which happens quite routinely - from families without doing anything about the reasons for the removal is a failing system. Getting government to understand that is actually quite a challenge.'