REVIEWS

DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2230.1993.tb01905.x
Publication Date01 Sep 1993
REVIEWS
i
Mewyn
Murch
and
Douglas
Hooper,
The Family Justice System,
Bristol:
Jordan,
1992, 153
pp, pb
214.95.
The stated purposes of this book are ‘to focus attention on some key thematic
issues’ (p
1)
and to challenge the reader to ‘think broadly about a system of justice
which each year deals with thousands of children and their families at critical
moments in their lives’ (p
4).
The key thematic issues which the authors select are:
(i) the development and co-ordination of various court welfare and conciliation
services; (ii) information feedback mechanisms; and (iii) cross-disciplinary post-
professional education. The reader is warned that the text can only ‘provide a
partial picture of the salient features of a highly complex and diverse system of
judicial administration undergoing dynamic evolution’
(loc
cit)
and ‘does not
advance a completely synoptic conception of the family justice system’ (p
2).
Although there is interesting discussion in Chapters Five and Six of professional
and institutional domains and of their conflicting discourses (where the authors
consider the different languages and theoretical assumptions of the various
professional groups with an interest in the resolution of child-care disputes), the
potential for this to become more developed is limited by the uncritical use of
particular conceptual frameworks. For example, are the four models
of
expectation available for problem solving (p
38)
mutually exclusive? The outline
of the various governmental agencies with responsibility for policy and
administration in the family justice system is a useful guide for those less well-
acquainted with the labyrinthine corridors of power.
Despite these contributions, the reader is entitled to expect recommendations
more inspired or innovative than, for example, that it ‘would help to clarify
thinking if, say, the Lord Chancellor were to set up a working party
.
. .
to
examine the family justice system’s likely information requirements over the next
decade and to consider the best options for meeting them’ (p
142).
Even if such a
working party did clarify thinking (though, if it did, it would be a remarkable if not
unique example of the same), the authors’ own forecasts of the requirements are
not set out in detail, other than the unexceptional comment that computerisation
will have to be introduced. The recommendation that there be established a
combined court welfare and child advocacy support service is made, at first,
tentatively (p
82)
and then is said to be ‘more feasible’ because of various recent
developments (p
137).
Indeed, there are
so
many reservations that the book brings
to mind the aphorism that if all the economists in the world were laid end to end,
they would not reach a conclusion. For example, ‘the concept of an emergent
family justice system appears to be rapidly gaining acceptance’ (p
125).
The notion that the book is written for a bureaucratic rather than academic
readership is reinforced by the way in which the authors devote the first three
chapters to their argument that there is a ‘changing context’ of family justice.
No
academic could seriously dispute the proposition, though many would question the
need for or the value of devoting such a large amount of effort presenting other
researchers’ material to make the point. The fundamental weakness in the authors’
approach is that they seem unnecessarily constrained by the realms of the possible,
as if they have been captured by the bureaucracy which they seek to describe. The
0
The Modern Law Review Limited 1993 (MLR
565,
September). Published by Blackwell Publishers,
108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4
1JF
and 238 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA.
766

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