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It comes to something when this represents a good news story…Nottinghamshire County Council has pledged that although it will most likely have to shed 3,000 employees none of the job cuts will come from childrens’ social care. Just as well considering the frightening statistic that 40% of social workers describing their caseloads as ‘unmanageable’*. Lets hope other Authorities follow suit.

*that’s 40% of a relatively small sample, but I’d hazard a guess its pretty much got the situation pegged. I’m only surprised the figure isn’t higher.

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Joshua Rozenberg warns of injudicious cost cutting of courts and legal aid:

Many of the economies we can expect will be false ones. Cutting legal aid will simply lead to more litigants in person. Cases will take longer and court costs will rise. Vulnerable children will be at greater risk. There will be more miscarriages of justice, costing huge sums to investigate and put right.

Full article here.

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I managed to get away from court early today. No stringing things out just to earn an extra bob or two for me. No, common sense and good counsel prevailed and the public purse has been saved a pretty penny and justice done etc etc. But as always there is much to do back in chambers. So whilst there is no time to hone the following into some compelling piece of art or pop-journalism, here are some interesting bits and bobs I’ve collected this week:

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Wall of Brick’s excellent observations on Martin Narey of Barnardos (and ex Probation Service) recent expounding of views on the family courts. I agree with Brick, and I think it best if I let him express my views through the link to his blog post, otherwise I might vent my spleen inappropriately – there are so many people with so many views on how to fix the family courts – Barnardos, LSC, solicitors organisations, CAFCASS, children’s organisations and slightly informed journalists… Every time I have turned on the radio I have heard a different element of the system being blamed for the totality of the current or impending catastrophe. I’m glad that the crisis is reaching a wider audience but there is an awful lot of balone out there.

Barnardo’s press release is worth reading in full. The headlines sound sensible – why not aspire to a 30 week longstop, even if we all know it won’t happen? But then you read that Barnardos want to have a a tiered, fast track target of 12 weeks for children under 18 months. Don’t get me started on why that’s *not good* idea. Quite apart from the fact that I hadn’t even worked out which end of my baby was up by the time he was 12 weeks, its astonishing to hear the suggestion that we can deal with quite the most difficult and sensitive of cases in the shortest period of time. Maybe we should just brand parents ‘bad mother’ across their forehead when their first child is taken away so that we can fast track them through to adoption when they deliver their next child? You see what churlish mood I’m in? I’ll stop now before I say what I really think.

Also worth a read are Law Society Gazette’s interview with Carolyn Downs (interesting take), and Catherine Baksi’s summary of the same.

I’m off to do some work. And some deep breathing.

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Background to this post appears here.

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Alas, this is not the beautifully crafted discussion piece I had wanted to post, but I cannot devote as much time to this as I would like, and so I offer it as your starter for ten in its slightly disjointed and unpolished form…

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Firstly, let me explode the myth that the outcome of care applications is inevitable and that therefore care proceedings are purposeless.

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Almost all care applications result in orders of some kind. Most result in permanent or long term removal, many in adoption. Only a very few are withdrawn because the evidential hurdle of threshold cannot be met. In that limited sense applications made are by and large justifiably made (The alternative viewpoint is that almost all applications succeed because the courts are a mere rubber stamp – I don’t subscribe to that view).

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But many applications result in different orders than originally anticipated or sought (supervision orders, residence orders or special guardianship orders) or with less draconian care plans (care order with a placement at home, a plan for eventual rehabilitation, a change in placement type, or identification of more suitable carers, more structured or substantial support package for parents or child, proper financial and support package for kinship carers). These changes in plan and outcome are on one level matters of detail, but it is in matters of detail that long term outcomes for children and families can be radically altered – the chaos theory of family law. Complaint was made at the review session that there is an increasing tendency for courts to micro-manage care planning and that this is inappropriate. In the first place I don’t think that this is an accurate representation of the law or of practice. But really, why shouldn’t care plans be scrutinised? If they are appropriate and properly thought through there will be no problem – detailed scrutiny is necessary where, as is sadly often the case, they are ill thought through or poorly justified. The extent to which courts scrutinise the detail of care planning is in direct correlation with the quality of the care planning, and the confidence of the courts in it. (more…)

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Couldn’t have put it better myself. This letter from the ALC published in today’s Times is spot on.

POSTSCRIPT: More superlatives – this time it’s implosion rather than meltdown (per Wall LJ).

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The Family Justice Review is calling for written evidence by the end of September (see here). Anyone who is considering submitting a response should consider this: at the recent oral evidence session I attended with other lawyers, the panel were asking serious and reaching questions about the extent to which the courts needed to be involved in decisions about care planning. Suggestions were made that in our search efficiency we need to seriously scrutinise whether or not there is a need for judicial sanction along the whole process we currently know as ‘care proceedings’. Although there seemed to be an acceptance that court involvement could not be avoided insofar as there were disputes of fact, the need for judicial scrutiny of Local Authority decision making was not necessarily approached as immutable: the implication being that once threshold is proven to have been crossed decisions to removal of children from their families could become decisions of social services alone (or possibly of some yet to be created tribunal?).

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Take a deep breath and wait for the significance of that to dawn upon you. Yes. They are really considering leaving these decisions to The Man, without the safeguard of The Judge. The full horror of it may be evident to you and I, but it evidently raises crucially important questions that do not appear on the call for evidence list of questions – but which need to be answered explicitly, directly and forcefully. Those of us who believe in a Family Justice System clearly need to make the case at base level for judicial scrutiny of state intervention into families. It will be vitally important for those responding to the call for evidence to give their views about this very specific and fundamental issue rather than just answering the questions as posed. To get you thinking I will post something shortly on the question of ‘Why do we need care proceedings?’ which you will be at liberty to plagiarise, develop or denounce as you see fit. But I’m afraid that now is too late in the evening for me to contemplate embarking on that little beauty. It will have to wait…

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LAG reports on the slashing of the numbers of legal aid solicitors up and down the country as a result of the tendering process – from 2400 to 1300 in one fell swoop. It’s pretty disastrous. I understand that there are now only approximately 5 firms in the whole of Cornwall able to undertake family work (previously around 20), and only four firms in Exeter. Geographical distance can be a real barrier to access to justice particularly in rural areas with poor public transport and vulnerable impoverished clients. If those figures stand it is not difficult to envisage parents unable to obtain or make full use of legal advice and support even where the state is trying to permanently remove their children. If such things are not precisely what legal aid ought to be all about, what then is legal aid for?

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Whilst a number of results have yet to be announced and large numbers of solicitors are likely to appeal decisions refusing them contracts, it seems highly likely that this green and pleasant land may be undergoing something of a desertification as far as access to justice is concerned…

(Thanks to Provincial Solicitor for reminding me that I needed to post on this topic)

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