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Courts Act 2003

Family proceedings courts and youth courts

Section 49: Family proceedings courts

114.This section sets out the framework whereby lay magistrates and District Judges (Magistrates’ Courts) are to be authorised to hear family proceedings. Section 66 also gives the higher judiciary the ability to exercise the justices’ jurisdiction, although there is no current expectation that there will be widespread use of these powers in family proceedings.

115.Currently, in areas apart from Greater London, lay magistrates are voted on to a specialist “panel” by other members of the bench.

116.Under this section, the “panel” system would be abolished. The Lord Chancellor will have to authorise a justice of the peace before he or she can sit as a member of a family proceedings court. These personal authorisations will be valid throughout England and Wales. The Lord Chancellor will have power to make rules regarding (a) the allocation and removal of authorisations for justices to sit as members of family proceedings courts (b) the appointment of chairmen of family proceedings court and (c) the composition of such family proceedings courts.

117.It is envisaged that new rules, which provide for a more transparent selection procedure, will be published for comment. Because of the sensitive nature of family cases, and the specific knowledge and understanding that is required, these rules would help to ensure that only trained and suitable magistrates sit in family proceedings. District Judges (Magistrates’ Courts) are in practice required to be “ticketed” for this work.

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