An English Family Court Through The Lens of Complexity : An Ethnographic Study Of Modernisation in Practice

Green, Richard and Broadhurst, Karen and Geyer, Robert (2023) An English Family Court Through The Lens of Complexity : An Ethnographic Study Of Modernisation in Practice. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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The thesis is formed of an ethnographic study of public law practice in a family court in England, with reference to reforms of family justice (commonly referred to as ‘modernisation’). It draws on Complexity Theory to analyse policy and practice. Direct observation of public law work, supplemented by professional interviews, facilitates close engagement with practice and thereby adds to the meagre ethnographic literature on family justice. The thesis examines the influence of rational thinking upon modernisation (characterised by a statutory timeframe for care proceedings and curbs on the court’s power to appoint expert witnesses), the short-term benefits and longer-term problems that have flowed from rational policymaking, and the ways professionals in the family court try to deliver fair justice and support children’s welfare despite modernisation, which many now consider problematic. The relationship between policymaking and practice is explored, including the ways that professionals interpret the law and thus make policy upstream. The complexities of public law work are uncovered: the commonly intractable social and health problems of families subject to care applications; a family justice system that is formally adversarial in nature but also incorporates elements of consensual justice; challenges to managing cases that do not neatly fit into the prescriptions of modernisation; and, finally, the impact of Covid-19. The thesis advocates a more responsive and pragmatic policymaking to acknowledge the role played by professionals in making policy and to enable family justice to recover from the pandemic. It also argues that expectations that the family court can resolve many families’ complex problems are unrealistic and makes the case for more concerted efforts to support families before and after proceedings.

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21 Mar 2023 14:45
Last Modified:
29 Jun 2024 01:12