Sir James Munby told last week’s Legal Wales Conference in Bangor that ‘radical’ reform is necessary to address the effects of legal aid cuts.
Munby said the new child arrangement programme, which came into effect in April, requires a new approach to private law cases.
He stated that the system must reflect the ‘reality’ that parties will no longer be represented and the courts will have to adjust accordingly.
‘The concept of the courts’ continuing monitoring and review function following the substantive hearing – the legacy of ideas rooted in old wardship practice – will in large measure become a thing of the past,’ he added.
On divorce, Munby suggested even more fundamental change may be required.
He asked whether the time has come to legislate to remove all concepts of faults as a basis for divorce and to leave irretrievable breakdown as the sole ground. This may also lead to separating the process of divorce from the process of adjudicating claims for financial relief following divorce.
‘May the time not come when we should at least consider whether the process of divorce still needs to be subject to judicial supervision?’ he added.
Munby said the aim of the family court must be to ‘simplify and streamline’ the process to make it more user-friendly for litigants in person and cheaper for all.
On the subject of cohabitants’ rights, he was critical of the ‘injustice’ of unmarried partners not receiving the same treatment as married couples from courts in the redistribution of assets.
‘Reform is desperately needed – has been desperately needed for at least 40 years,’ Munby concluded. ‘Thus far governments have failed to act. Reform is inevitable. It is inconceivable that society will not right this injustice in due course.’