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Grandparent 'access agreement' proposed - Family Justice Review

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Further to our blog ‘The Budget, family law and grandparents!’ on 24th June 2010, the coalition government’s proposals for consultation have been set out in a report by David Norgrove, Chair of the Family Justice Review.
However, the anticipated changes to the law to enshrine ‘Grandparents Rights’ in respect to access to their grandchildren fall short of what had been expected upon announcement of the review, last year. Instead the family justice review will suggest a ‘statement in law’ about the importance of both parents having a relationship with their children, should promote parenting agreements, and that such agreements should also ‘reinforce the importance of a relationship with grandparents’.
Reflecting the fears of some in the family law system, it seems that the review has decided that such rights were too blunt an instrument to introduce, but no doubt there were also concerns that introducing new rights risked overstretching an already struggling family justice system, by overburdening family courts while there are proposals for courts across the country to be closed, in addition to a reducing legal aid budget.
Instead, at least until the review’s consultation period ends later in 2011, grandparents will have to rely upon the existing provisions of The Children Act 1989 in support of making any application to the court.
Reflecting the findings of the report Just Following Instructions? The representation of parents in care proceedings, School of Law University of Bristol (2011), Mr Norgrove said: “There are lots of very committed and very able people in the family justice system and we have got a lot to be proud of”. He went on to explain the limitations to the current family law system which caused delay and unnecessary expense in concluding proceedings, saying: “Family justice is under huge strain. Cases take far too long and delays are likely to rise. Children can wait well over a year for their futures to be settled. This is shocking.”
With the future of legal aid under such uncertainty as a result of government proposals to withdraw funding from all but the most serious of cases, it may mean that many of those seeking to exercise their new found rights, whatever they may be, might be forced to do so in the future without the benefit of obtaining the assistance or advice of a specialist legal aid lawyer, if they could not afford to pay for legal representation themselves.
Fortunately, as the number of legal aid firms continues to reduce, Stephensons Solicitors LLP remain fully committed to Legal Aid which is an important public resource, where other firms are reducing or leaving Legal Aid work altogether, and therefore are able to provide a range of  funding options, including Legal Aid to all individuals requiring legal advice in respect to family or other matters, regardless of their income.
By family law solicitor, Chris Fairhurst