Jo Tunnard (Independent consultant at RyanTunnardBrown, partners in the FDAC National Partnership at CJI) reflects on recent developments in Family Justice. She uses this moment to consider the broader legacy of pioneering judge Nick Crichton, ahead of an award in his honour next year.
Exciting things are afoot in the Black Country. The newest Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) is opening there next month. Its launch will extend this specialist assessment and intervention service for families in care proceedings triggered by parental substance misuse to Walsall, Sandwell and Dudley. The expansion brings the current number of FDAC sites in England to 10. The multi-disciplinary teams and family court judges operate from 14 courts and serve 24 local authorities.
This welcome news gets me thinking once more about Nick Crichton’s legacy to family justice. Nick was the distinguished judge who pioneered and championed FDAC and its problem-solving approach to care proceedings. It’s thanks to him – and his characteristic “human and humane” approach – that so many children have had a greater chance of being able to stay safely with their parents, or of remaining within their family network if parents cannot overcome their difficulties quickly enough.
As a solicitor, Nick had a passion for fairness and justice and a keen interest in how to make the legal process work better, particularly for parents and children. When he became a District Judge he was determined to focus solely on family law. He argued his corner and won, becoming the only judge at magistrates’ court level not to hear criminal law cases.
Having sorted out that challenge to the system, he moved on to the furniture. He converted the layout in his court room, shifting from the traditional ‘eyes-front-and-look-up-at-me’ design, in favour of a horseshoe arrangement that enabled those present to see and converse with everyone, not just the judge. He also introduced space for parents and children at court, and side rooms where families could have some privacy, to be together or to meet their advocates. All this was prompted by the wish to make the court experience as painless as possible for parents and children involved in either public or private law disputes.
Then, later in his career, he came across the problem-solving model of care proceedings that made perfect sense to him – a way of using the authority of the court, combined with a compassionate concern for those afflicted by substance misuse, to offer parents an intensive package of professional support and treatment that might enable them to turn their life around. He was driven by a strong desire to break the cycle of recurrence, having seen so many parents come back into court to have subsequent children removed when nothing had been done to help them deal with the problems that led to that removal.
After five long and busy years of strategic planning, thinking and talking, FDAC came into being, starting with a pilot service for three local authorities in Nick’s court in central London. It was a huge achievement, as testified by the plethora of subsequent national awards, both for the work of the FDAC team and for Nick’s role in establishing it.
And now there’s an award in his name, a fitting tribute to Nick’s vision for a fairer world, his can-do spirit, his practical contribution to family justice. The award is for the initiative that has done most to help families reduce disputes and resolve problems – so the remit is broad.
Perhaps you are doing something innovative to divert families from care proceedings? Or to boost improved relationships and family well-being after proceedings have ended? Have you been doing amazing things (before or during the pandemic) to help children, parents and other relatives in different ways – providing advocacy, acting as intermediaries in court, running a service that makes decisions in a fair and transparent way? Or maybe you are doing something completely different to spread the spirit and practice of family justice? If so, Nick would want us all to know – so why not bid for his award this year?
The Family Justice Award, sponsored by the Centre for Justice Innovation, was created to honour the memory of District Judge Nicholas Crichton, who pioneered the creation of Family Drug and Alcohol Courts to tackle parental substance misuse in care proceedings. The award is for the initiative that has done the most to help families avoid disputes and resolve problems. The judges will look for examples of innovation, in particular where families have played a key role in developing the initiative.
The awards are free to enter and entries should focus on work that was launched, or ongoing, between 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020. Any organisation, setting or project from across the UK, whether in the public, voluntary or private sector, can enter. The closing date is Friday 25th September 2020 and the awards will take place at a gala ceremony on the evening of Thursday 18th March 2021 at the Hurlingham Club in London. To find out more, including how to enter, please click here.
To find out more about Family Drug and Alcohol Courts please visit fdac.org.uk/ and the Centre for Justice Innovation’s web pages here. To learn more about Nick's work, an informative obituary is available here.
You can subscribe to the Centre for Justice Innovation’s free newsletters, including their quarterly Family Justice bulletin here.