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Doughty, Julie
Languages: English
Types: Doctoral thesis
Subjects: K1
The functions of family courts in England and Wales in making decisions about children are identified as processing disputes and protecting vulnerable individuals, with latent functions of applying and influencing social policy. The thesis explores why family courts have been singled out for particular criticism in undertaking these functions. Two issues are examined: complaints that family court proceedings are held in secret and that a court is not the appropriate place for resolving disputes about children. The methods used are historical analysis, a comparison with courts in Australia, and applying the theories of Habermas.\ud According to Habermas, when systems are maintained for their own sake without being anchored in people's values and needs, or operate without rational discourse, institutions can lose their legitimacy. The historical analysis shows that as social policy developed over the past 60 years, court structures were trapped in a dual jurisdiction which made it difficult to adapt to changing expectations. Since the 1970s, there have been calls for a unified family court to better meet familiesā€˜ requirements. However, a comparison with such a court, the Family Court of Australia, reveals another set of dualities which undermine its legitimacy.\ud The claim that family courts do not function effectively because they are closed and secret is examined. The law is set out in the context of concepts of secrecy, privacy, openness and transparency. It is argued that children have a particular right to privacy which is marginalised in the current debate, and that a recent consultation process undertaken to reform the law on media access to court proceedings was not undertaken in a transparent manner.\ud Attempts to introduce alternative dispute resolution and remove disputes about child care and upbringing to mediation and other non-legal alternatives are also shown as likely to fail unless formulated through rational discourse.
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