Sir Ernest Ryder considers how decision-making for children is affected by the Justice System

Published: 19th April 2018

Earlier this month, at the BASPCAN 10th International Congress at the University of Warwick, the Senior President of Tribunals, Sir Ernest Ryder, spoke aboutthe justice system and thepart it plays in decision-making for children. Sir Ernest Ryder focused on the approach that is currently in place in relation to children, as well as how evidence influences judicial decisions.

Sir Ernest Ryder’s Speech

Sir Ernest suggested that the approach to decision-making should be outlined by three separate propositions. He said that ‘as a starting point’ any approach to making improvements should be based on tested and strategic evidence and reforms should be enforced through training. He also said that judges should be supported by 'high quality materials' when making decisions.

Within his speech, Sir Ernest highlighted the importance of gathering information from various sources, including behavioural psychology, social sciences and individuals that study judicial decision-making. This Information should then be used to aid the development of training and materials to improve judicial decision-making.

Sir Ernest went on to characterise the evidence used to inform judicial decisions, suggesting that it can be categorised in two ways. First, there is evidence that helps to inform judicial decisions on an individual basis, and then also evidence that influences improvements to the family justice system on a bigger scale.

Improving the Judicial Decision-Making Process

Sir Ernest also discussed a previous meeting between the judiciary, the Nuffield Foundation and academics led by Professor Broadhurst, which was successful in highlighting and understanding a gap in the family justice system. There were mutual concerns regarding the decision-making for children, and so a solution was outlined. As a result, the Nuffield Foundation is to fund the creation of an organisation, known as the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, with the aim to 'support the best possible decisions for children by improving the use of data and research evidence in the family justice system in England and Wales.'

The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory will be responsible for considering the different ways of improving the individual judicial decision-making process, working to 'identify priority issues where empirical evidence may help guide practice'.

Concluding his speech, Sir Ernest said: ‘Delivery of justice is changing. For a long time justice was something that was done by the State to its citizens. It was the product of a primarily adversarial process, and one that was party-led, or perhaps more accurately lawyer-led. That adversarial approach is challenged in the context of family justice with its more inquisitorial process, in which the focus must be on safeguarding children by securing their best interests… It can be seen in the family context, where as a result of the Family Justice Review it has been embedded in our approach in the Family Court and through the development of, for instance, the Family Drug and Alcohol Court. If we are to ensure that these developments enhance how we deliver justice, we will need to ensure that judges have the training, experience and materials to enable them to carry out their evolving roles effectively.’

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