In memory of Judge Nicholas Crichton

Posted by Emma Norton on 29 December 2018

In 2008, District Judge Nicholas Crichton set up the UK's first ever family drug and alcohol court (FDAC). The court was designed to tackle parental alcohol and substance misuse whenever that was the main element in a local authority decision to remove the children.

It was a fantastic and pioneering scheme, underpinned by a simple idea: that with the right professional support, vulnerable people would make better choices and could be supported to change their lives, and keep their children. By 2016, the scheme had expanded to 12 different court areas.

It was no easy option. Tough and structured, parents could expect to be closely supported but also very heavily supervised. The best interests of the children remained at the heart of the scheme. But fundamental to that concept was a recognition that the state had an obligation to do all it reasonably could to keep children with their families; and that every week of a child’s life spent in care or in a family that could not care for her, was a week of that child’s life she would never get back.

Crichton was well known for setting strict deadlines by which things had to be done and sticking to them. Parents were given 12 months, and they were called to court every 2 weeks to review their progress, always seeing the same judge. Crichton said “We work these people extraordinarily hard. We tell them at the beginning we cannot do it for them - they have to find the strength within them to turn their lives around”.

It is a tragedy that the national unit set up to support the pioneering courts that Crichton established is to be closed due to a lack of funding, something the former President of the Family Division Sir James Munby described as the product of “a failure of imagination of vision and of commitment by local and national government”.

Crichton himself observed that it was very hard to get the Government to understand that a system “that removes the fourth, fifth or sixth child from families without doing anything about the reasons for removal is a failing system”.

He was a passionate advocate for children’s rights. He believed in people’s capacity to change. He was a human rights hero.

His family has set up a Just Giving page for the hospice that cared for him.

Emma Norton

Emma Norton

Head of Legal Casework