Care Crisis Review

Today, June 13th the Family Rights Group published the Care Crisis Review report. The email sending out the press release states:

The Review confirms there is a crisis in Children’s Social Care and Family Justice Sector, explores the reasons why and sets out 20 options for change.

Over 2000 people and organisations contributed to the Review, including the Local Government Association, Ofsted, Cafcass and Cafcass Cymru, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, the All Wales Heads of Children’s Services, third sector organisations and alliances, the Offices of the English and Welsh Children’s Commissioners, members of the judiciary, lawyers, social care practitioners, young people and families.

For further information please contact Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive, Family Rights Group.

Read the report here.

The 20 options for change

  • Immediate steps that could be taken to move away from an undue focus on processes and performance indicators, to one where practitioners are able to stay focused on securing the right outcomes for each child.
  • Approaches, including family group conferences, in which families are supported to make safe plans for their child.
  • Suggestions of ways in which statutory guidance, such as Working Together to Safeguard Children, can be changed in order to promote relationship-based practice.
  • Opportunities for revitalising local and national family justice forums and other mechanisms, so that all can become places where challenges within the system are discussed and solutions developed.
  • Proposals for the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education, in consultation with the devolved administrations, to examine the impact of benefit rules and policies, and the projected effect of planned benefit reforms, on the numbers of children entering or remaining in care.
  • A call for the Ministry of Justice to undertake an impact assessment of the present lack of accessible, early, free, independent advice and information for parents and wider family members on the number of children subject to care proceedings or entering or remaining in the care system, and the net cost to the public purse.
  • That the National Family Justice Board revises the approach to measuring timescales, including the 26 week timescale for care proceedings.
  • That there are improvements in exploring and assessing potential carers from within the family, when a child cannot live at home, and better support is provided to such carers and children so they do not face severe financial hardship.
  • That Ofsted and Social Care Wales in their inspections and research should take into account the duties on local authorities to support families and to promote children’s upbringing within their family.

The report also notes the £2 billion shortfall in children’s social care service and supports The ADCS and LGA’s call for Government to provide the cash, making the uncontroversial point that “Money and resources matter for families and for services”.

I don’t disagree with any of those 20 points. That there is a crisis in the child protection system is obvious and has been for a long time now. The President of the Family Division agrees.  Lord Justice McFarlane’s speech at the launch of the Review is now available online.

I first wrote this post about ‘Forced adoption’ in 2014. I have long commented upon and decried the frankly woeful state of the debate in our country about these vital issues and I have warned time and time again at the dangerous impact of those who profess to ‘campaign’ for parents.

However, I am sadly very pessimistic that anything is going to change. There can be little doubt what the problems are and little doubt about what is needed to fix them. Social workers who are not struggling under excessive case loads. Who have access to services and support for families who are struggling. That needs money. There isn’t any and there won’t be any because we have shown, collectively, as a society  – when we need to make a choice about the politicians we elect, we chose those who promise to cut taxes and hence services.

However, it goes further and deeper than that I fear. The only value children seem to have in our society is as economic actors; if they aren’t on track to achieve whatever grade is now valued in school exams, they are worthless. If they fail, its because they deserved to. Because they were lazy or didn’t try.  The culture of blame and shame which makes it so difficult for people to own and learn from their mistakes is enthusiastically promoted by politicians and journalists.

Journalists tell me that there is no point in trying to move away from sensationalist reporting and click bait headlines because ‘it’s what people want’. Even with easily available published judgments to the cases they write about, they will not provide their readers with a link to that judgment or even read it themselves.

I note with sadness that, for example, The Times offers a short comment on this review and can’t even be bothered print the correct name of the Family Rights Group.

We are really in a mess.

What’s the way out? Short of a magic money tree and shipping a boatload of politicians and journalists off to some hellish version of Love Island where they can simply rant at each other and leave the rest of us in peace, I have no clue.

All I can do is continue to operate in my sphere of influence. If we cannot make the fundamental changes to the system that I and many others think are needed, we can try and make parents and children have an easier passage through the system, to feel less brutalised by a system they do not understand or which is not well explained.

I think we do that by talking, listening and discussing. To find out what we can achieve to make things better.

The Transparency Project is again supporting #CPConf2018 and we are going to meet in London on 15th September to talk particularly about the issue of removal of children on the basis of future emotional harm. All are welcomed who have an interest – which really, should be all of us.

31 thoughts on “Care Crisis Review

  1. Sam

    “It may properly be said that we have reached a stage where the threshold for obtaining
    a public law court order is noticeably low, whereas, no doubt as a result of the current
    financial climate, the threshold for a family being able to access specialist support
    services in the community is conversely, very high.” from Lord Justice Mcfarlane’s speech. Judges are acting just as risk adverse as social workers as if they were not they would be throwing these cases out of court as they are clearly not compliant with the duty in the CA for LA’s to minimise both care proceedings as well as human rights infringements. I don’t want to be critical all the time and I am glad the judiciary are recogonising what families have been yelling about for years.

  2. Angelo Granda

    I ,too,agree with the twenty points of the care crisis review and thank Sarah for continuing to provide us with the opportunity to discuss matters on the CPR. As she says ,all she can do is operate within her sphere of influence . As leader of this resource and as a member of the transparency project, i hope she will consider issuing periodic press releases nationwide ( even worldwide) under the CPR letterhead as a way of publicising the thoughts of both websites and that she will submit periodic reports and miscellaneous views of service -users to those in power like McFarlane J and MP’s ,Ministers etc.

    A Parents View.

    Yes we are in a mess so what can we do? The mention of magic money trees and the necessity to rid the system of ranting politicians ,raving journalists etc. confirms what most of us have known for a long time. The current system is led in some county boroughs (making it a post-code lottery) by bunches of politically-controlled local public officials whose main fault is that they are not attuned to the requirements of the Children Act and not focused on the legitimate aim to help and support families and keep them together.They are intent on the illegitimate aim of taking children into care for reasons which do not gel with the Law.

    Yet i believe that lawyers have more power to implement change than they think they have. An important point, in my opinion, is that child-protection cases are local affairs and hearings are in local courts heard by locally-based Judges. This may be okay in civil cases involving other matters such as financial disputes, libel cases, employment law etc. and perhaps even private law family disputes but i don’t believe the current system is entirely fair ( see article 6 ECHR) when public law cases involving the local politically-inspired local authorities are the litigants or the respondents. Let me explain my thoughts on this.

    There is a national government and a national statute. There is a national high court and supreme court. It is usual for the national judiciary to appoint hundreds of provincial judges to sit in the various provinces whose job it is to implement the Law .In the civil court system ,these provincial judges whom we might also call for the sake of discussion ‘provincial governors ‘ are granted the discretion to pass judgment which are attuned to the Local Authorities provincial politics and penchants.
    Like Pontius Pilate, it may well be they know there is not enough evidence to endorse severe sanctions against a family but they will often find it more politically prudent to keep the local officials happy and ignore the real truth.
    Please note this is a historic truth which often leads to unfair decisions in this day and age. Sarah and other lawyers, i imagine in your long years in court , you can think of more than one occasion when you have considered decisions unfair. They are!

    1.Cases may have been conducted wrongly,evidence flawed and untrue ,frameworks not followed etc. The Judge’s decision seems irrational but how can one argue with a judges decision when they are granted such wide discretion. What can be done ? There is only one remedy and that is an appeal to a higher ( national) court not subject to local influences.
    To enable this course of action ,it will be necessary to free parents from the requirement to get leave to appeal from the local court. Appeals to the High Court must be automatic ( and legally funded ) . That is one precise,practical solution to the mess we are in.
    2. The other precise, practical solution to the mess we find ourselves in ,in my opinion, is that strict limitations be placed on civil family courts. To force compliance with article 8 (ECHR) as to proportionality, it should be barred from imposing family liquidation plans .This will oblige the LA’s to consider all the options for family support in accordance with the Children Act and to either pay for them or drop the case.

    Please discuss readers, and ask Sarah questions. Might i say that i do not think any change of the law will be necessary to clean up this mess.I believe the judiciary can adapt and alter its protocol at will when it comes to fair hearings and proportionate penalties and so on.

    1. Sam

      On the question of bias, I now have another viewpoint from personal experience. I am currently in a position where I am given more than the benefit of the doubt. Which is a great postion to be in , but got me thinking. I can do no wrong as the people trust me as they have past experience of others like me with a similar background. There are others , who do not have this background and they are not shown similar favour.
      Is this not an example of what happens in court? The judge is far more likely to trust the evidence of a professional as they have professionals in front of them day in and day out, than a random parent. I think in particular of Cafcass officers. The only court model that may eliminate this bias is FDAC as the judge which actually get to know the parents. Roll on all care proceedings in FDAC type courts.

  3. Angelo Granda

    Sam, From my own experience i know what you mean. The LA appears to be in control whatever their aims happen to be.Legitimate or not as the case may be. Whichever ,once they set out their stall, all other professionals,guardian’s ,IRO’S,contact workers,parenting assessors,placement officers,foster-carers etc, appear to follow the leader and adapt their purportedly independent reports and assessments to fit. I have never seen anyone ever disagree with the LA yet. Of course,most often the Judge goes along with the LA too.

    Indeed there lies a clue for us, ‘to go along with’.

    Sarah is fairly insistent that there is no ‘bias’ in Family Courts. How can there be?,She says quite rightly that both men and women complain of bias and they can’t both be right.Both Mums and Dads claim the Court is biased towards professional evidence over theirs but is bias the right word to use?

    Perhaps the right word is comitant. In Latin,it means to go along with,set up camp with ,to follow. Think about it for a minute; apparently the CS under the auspices of its controlling employers ,the LA , whose policy imperatives must be obeyed , is granted the power to lead the child – protection process. They are professionals and they are given a mandate to carry out inquiries and make decisions as to care-plans.

    The lawyers and the Judges also grant the CS comity i.e. courtesy ,mandate and mutual respect on the understanding that , they are professionals with equal and the same ethos and ethical standards as they have and that their intentions are bone fide and in accordance with the law etc. They accept the authority of the LA ; they also consider the CS the leaders and rely on them to be open and honest.
    In other words , cases rely entirely on the integrity of the LA and the professionals it commands. They hold most of the strings and why shouldn’t they? They are the local government; an authority with the power to decide; even parents themselves go along with them as advised by their solicitors.

    In truth, the only protection citizens against these civil courts lies in the law itself. As Lord Munby has said , the CS have to be open and honest especially on oath, they should consult parents and allow them to express disagreements etc,they have to keep meticulous records and follow guidelines and frameworks. Their enquiries must be fair and impartial.THEY MUST CONDUCT CASES CORRECTLY.

    The lawmakers are fully aware of the weaknesses of the civil court system ,comitance and mutual respect between professionals and how it can result in unfair trials ,disproportionate decisions and miscarriages of justice. Which is why they have laid down strict legal guidelines and safeguards to be followed scrupulously . Unless they are , the permanent liquidation of families should NEVER be ordered and should only be ordered very rarely anyway.

    I am afraid to say none of this alters the fact that the LA’s have illegitimate aims and in the pursuit of them , they are guilty of abusing the power and authority granted to them.The guidelines and frameworks are regularly flouted and court documents are regularly dishonest.Further proof of the illegitimate aims lies in the continual erosion of human rights especially to a fair trial. I see the FDAC type hearings are being stopped and legal funding cut again.

    Just to try and explain comity again. If one were engaged in a civil court case against the Inland Revenue,for example regarding non-payment of tax, it is they who are the trusted authority who are expected to be open and honest not you. When everything is said and done, there word will be relied on by the Court. However, should one insist the tax has been paid and show the revenue officer a receipt for the payment, you will expect them to act professionally,credit one with the payment and withdraw the case.You would not expect them to deny the receipt, fail to report it to court and refuse to alter the accounts and continue with the case against you. Yet the LA does it all the time in child-protection; i guess they want them in care really badly.

    Sam ,regarding the child-sex abuse in the care system. It was fully examined by a Crown Court Judge in the case of Operation Cleopatra not that long ago after a full inquiry which resulted in several convictions. He described it as having been cultural in social services since the 1940’s at least and he also stated that children were usually abused within ‘hours’ of being taken from parents. The impact on the children is pretty rapid.

    1. Angelo Granda

      Sam, Notwithstanding what I have written about LA’s having the mandate and that on some occasions ( not all,Sarah ) they don’t conduct cases correctly, it is still the Judiciary and lawyers who are ultimately responsible when the human rights of children are contravened and families liquidated.
      It is the Judge who makes the orders and does so at his or her discretion as to articles 6 and 8.
      Whether for reasons of politics or not.
      Indeed,and I hope you correct me if I am wrong ,Sarah,often the removal of children permanently isn’t always mentioned in interim plans.It is the Judge who orders the LA to get busy on plans for placement halfway through proceedings at a directions hearing.The Judges signàl their intentions before even hearing all the evidence and submissions.This undoubtedly effects all final assessments,professional’s meetings.
      Cases are decided early on and the parents don’t even know it because of the lack of candour.They don’t even relate the words ‘placement order’ to family liquidation not being professionals.Don’t forget SW’s themselves always complain it is the Court which decides on removal not they and that it is often against their wishes.So I am not wrong!
      All comments welcome.

      1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

        Judges don’t ‘signal their intentions’ to liquidate a family. Judges are mindful of the LAW they have to apply – and that law is now that care proceedings must conclude in 26 weeks so it is very common for Judges to tell LA to hurry and and get on with it if they want to make an application for a placement order.
        Yes, cases are decided by the LA ‘very early on’ as their final evidence must be in before the IRH so well before the end of 26 weeks.
        This change to the timetable was a result of decisions by democratically elected politicians, so if you object to the 26 week timetable and the inevitable impact its had on care proceedings, you need to take this up with politicians NOT judges, who have no choice but to obey the law set down in Statutes which are approved by Parliament.

        1. Angelo Granda

          Sarah,they appear to pick and choose which parts of the statute they obey in reality; the statutes are always arguable.
          I do so wish Judges were ‘ mindful’ of all aspects of the law. Especially the law in regard to correct procedures , safeguards etc. Unfortunately they have the sole discretion to ‘apply’ only those aspects of the law they choose to as they wish.
          I suppose the 26 week limit gives them a good enough excuse to speed up I’ll thought out decisions despite it being a recommendation only.
          If only ,if only they would pay as much attention to process and police it scrupulously as the statute demands.

          1. Angelo Granda

            Good news, I took the time limit issue up with local politician following your advice,Sarah.He said I was quite right and if I would leave it with him,he will look into it and I can consider it done.So we can look forward to changes in due course.
            He could not,however,say how long it will take and he shooed me out of his office after 5 minutes.He was very busy and can only grant each petitioner a short time.

          2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

            nope. The politicians won’t change it as they were the ones who wanted it! I assume you are being sarcastic about the availability of the politician. Strange then you offer 99% of your criticism to the Judges and the lawyers and very little to the politicians who MAKE the laws. We only apply them.

          3. Sarah Phillimore Post author

            Yes, you can make arguments but most statutory provisions are tolerably clear. The 26 week limit must be obeyed unless you can show very good reason why not. then the judge will hear argument. but the expectation is that the timetable will be met. Apparently the threat from the politicians was that if judges couldn’t get hearings under control then care proceedings would become some kind of administrative system or a tribunal of lay people. Not a happy thought.

  4. Angelo Granda

    Yes,I was just being funny about politicians.However,it is interesting what you say.
    Thinking about it, the lawmakers can’t really be blamed for trying to speed proceedings up for the sake of the children whether they are earmarked for adoption or not.Otherwise,their torment would continue indefinitely with delay after delay,adjournment after adjournment whilst the courts get their act together.
    Logically,the judiciary deserves criticism.Even you agreed it is hanging on by a thread.It might be in the South West anyway but I’ m not so sure about Humberside by all reports or up here in the North-West.

    Sarah,please can you say more about your objection to the involvement of lay people by which I assume you mean non-legals.I have expressed the opinion before that it is to avoid the involvement of the real school and medical experts who know the families and the truth about allegations is precisely why the LA’s are so keen on getting the so-called facts and matters into the closed court arena where they can more or less say what they want.If they make mistakes,however illegitimate,it is simply said they do so without malice.They especially like to keep the autistic experts out when special needs are involved.They know they could never get away with malpractices and false ,biased assessments at a medical tribunal.
    If a parent offers to work with professionals and tries to get experts and support agencies involved,the LA’s just refuse to cooperate ,announce that they have no Intention of changing their plans and says if parents don’t like it they must take it to Court. Once behind closed doors ,the real experts are excluded,the parents get very poor ,if any,legal representation,and they can manipulate the court process and control things apparently at will.Without much comeback.For example,they can just ignore court orders and make up evidence.They do too.
    All comments welcome especially as to readers experiences when trying to work with LA’s.Remember Adoption.P?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Because the gov suggested a tribunal staffed by ‘non-legals’ for no other reason than it is cheap. It is dangerous to put the protection and implementation of laws in the hands of the ‘non-legals’. If you don’t take my word for it, read Barrister Secret’s book and his/her concerns about the lay magistrates and their involvement with criminal cases.

  5. Angelo Granda

    I understand your point but I also think public law cases where the powerful Local Authorities pitch their resources against vulnerable families are unsuited to civil proceedings in family courts held in private without the involvement of laypersons .These cases should not be totally reliant on the integrity of lawyers no matter how well qualified.I believe serious cases should be decided by a panel (jury) of real people more in touch with the reality of family life.
    Sarah,the reality of behind closed doors CIVIL procedures and ‘applying’ the statute is that the lawyer’s job is to dissemble the law and read it in a way which depends on which side they are on.
    Fact: There is a power gap between LA’s and parents.The Authorities have most money!
    Fact: They have in-house lawyers who apart from passing down instructions to sw’s,make the court applications and other vital documents without following due procedure ; they make no attempt to vouch for evidence lodged with the court under oath.The City Solicitor whose job is to achieve the LA’s policy imperatives and to get around the law rather than work within its frameworks also ‘instructs’ the CLP solicitors who are obliged to act accordingly.
    The actual Judges are prone to dissemble and administer the law for political reasons .
    Fact: Look at some of the published judgements.Process is regularly abused by LA’s but even when less invasive alternatives are available,they still liquidate families for some reason (perhaps saying parents won’t cooperate with the process).
    Fact: The judgments published or not are usually even more fictitious and contain more exaggeration than actual reports.Bound to be when cases are wrongly conducted and he may have to justify himself to a higher court.

    This could never happen in open court with real,impartial ,ordinary folk witnessing proceedings and even possibly acting as jurors.

    The Judges don’t necessarily take wrong decisions in respect of care-orders.All risk of significant harm is significant to parents.We all know the criteria are low and a care-order thus inevitable if the LA wants one.
    He is wrong when he endorses disproportionate care plans for ‘permancy’.
    Disproportionate sanctions are against our human rights.
    I don’t want to be impudent by referring you to your own words again,Sarah,it must be annoying,but we have to face the core realities here.

    Hearings contravene art.8. for two reasons,in my opinion;they are incompatible
    with the law.
    A) the court protocol ( especially in relation to no public involvement) is not strict enough,lacks safeguards and is not at all commensurate with the gravity of cases.
    B) Family liquidation is disproportionate to any Civil Court.They cannot imposes sanctions which exceed those which can be ordered by a criminal court.
    Hope this parents view helps,particularly please remember at the CPR conference that all harm is significant to children and parents whether physical or emotional and whether actual harm or ‘ risk of future harm’. The latter exists in every family thus a cate-order application can always be justified when applied for.The care-plan is the primary matter . It is never wise to remove children from family into a scenario where trauma and emotional harm is guaranteed and the risk of all kinds of abuse multiplied by a factor of 10.
    All comments welcome.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Yes I agree with you about the power imbalance but I don’t think the imbalance is as marked when it gets to court as by then the parents have their own legal team. But I accept that if parents by then are distrustful and fearful, they may not make the best use of their team.

      One of my suggestions for reform is that before any court proceedings are issued there is a round table discussion involving as many of the professionals as possible. And the parents attend WITH A LAWYER. This may help level the playing field and will allow the parents’ lawyers to remind the LA of the legal boundaries to their actions. I suspect that paying for a lawyer for a day at the outset may save a lot of money towards the end, on final hearings that take over 3 days, for e.g. ITs certainly worth a try to see if it makes any difference in the ability of parents to engage and to be more part of the procedures.

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  7. Angelo Granda

    You agree there is a power imbalance,any ideas about evening things up?
    You agree the judicial system is broken.Same question and i look forward to replies from any lawyers among our readers.Another question ,please can you tell me who it is who sets the Court fees and how they are spent?

    Sarah, when LA’s act criminally and remove children from parents without following correct procedure etc. both the children and their mothers are TRAUMATISED severely ,emotionally disturbed and set for PTSD as a direct result of institutional abuse they have suffered. To part children from their mothers ( and fathers) is life or death to them. Parent and child relationships are the very meaning of life especially to mothers and the children. Mothers are born for childbirth and a child to be with mother; the mother/child bond is everything to both of them. That is why the children fight the Police and Social Workers and cling to their parents.
    Parents are bound to be distrustful and fearful likewise the children especially when the Authorities are flouting the Law and making false claims. The first thing any real solicitor should do is demand forensic,factual evidence of allegations just as a criminal solicitor does. If the LA claims it has received reports that a parent is part of a ring that uses the blood of children in sacrificial rituals, sacrifices them and makes burgers with them, they should demand Police investigations and demand some shred of physical proof .They don’t appear to understand that, unfortunately.They think that hearsay and intelligence reports , referrals and LA files comprise a reliable and trustworthy evidence base and just accept the claims as probably factual without any forensically certain proof.In one case i know ,it was alleged apparently by a four-year old who could barely talk that father had jumped up and down on her on the bed whilst Mum danced around the bed in a witches outfit with spiders all over her.Again,not a shred of physical evidence and no Police investigation such as a search of the house. You are convinced ,Sarah, that LA’s are bona-fide but the claims made are more often than not outlandish and deliberately so.What is more,they don’t let up as cases progress even if proved wrong. THEY INVENT ANYTHING to win a case .As one thing is disproved,they come up with more. A grandmother bought a magic cook- book for a child which Mum took to a contact. Nothing was said, the child loved it and took it home.Later , the LA reported that it was a black magic book,smeared with excrement on every page and that the foster-carer had thrown it away.Not a shred of evidence but hearsay.

    Part and parcel of the broken system are the severe shortcomings, the lack of training ( often they are unqualified ) and abysmal representation given by parent’s legal teams.Please accept that Sarah. When parents try to engage with them and even when they provide evidence ,they prefer the evidence of the LA’s with which they have a very cosy business relationship thank you very much. I suggest you consult with the chairman of the bar. For example, their own guidelines encourage solicitors to attend meetings with parents but IF ANY ARE HELD , they tell parents they cannot do so.

    Of course,i like your suggestion about a round -table discussion but ( see above) the lawyers refuse to attend. All this happens before you get involved Sarah and nowadays, often no barrister will be engaged at all. Yes,it would level the playing field somewhat but don’t forget how many times it has been suggested and what happened to the settlement conference idea. It just petered out and went nowhere.What has happened to the drug and alcohol court advocated by Munby ,the ex-president. Petering out.
    I can safely predict ,given the amount of control the Courts hold over the Authorities now, that any such procedures which are brought in such as that you suggest, will simply be flouted just as the current procedures are! Because the Courts don’t bother enforcing them. At the COP recently,as i have written before, the Judge actually issued a court order that a round table conference should be held and if an agreement were to be mediated, the final hearing would be cancelled.The order was simply ignored by ALL sets of solicitors.
    A good idea but…… let’s try and think of more radical change.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Round table conferences with lawyers won’t happen now as the lawyers won’t get paid. So we need a change in the law, practice and procedure to make it a clearly defined event where the parent is entitled to non means and non merits tested legal aid. I think this could have beneficial impact down the line and save more money at final hearings by avoiding them or cutting them down.

      The ‘settlement conference’ idea is ludicrous as it is timetabled around time of the IRH by which time everyone is wedded to battle. Also Judges are not trained to run ‘settlement conferences’ and contribute in any event to the power imbalance. Coming ‘off the bench’ and sitting with parents doesn’t mean they are any less an intimidating figure for many parents.

    2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Angelo this is a ludicrous point If the LA claims it has received reports that a parent is part of a ring that uses the blood of children in sacrificial rituals, sacrifices them and makes burgers with them, they should demand Police investigations and demand some shred of physical proof .They don’t appear to understand that, unfortunately.

      That is exactly what the LA did in the Hampstead Hoax case. The LA did NOT believe the frankly ridiculous allegations made by the children’s mother. They acted to make sure the children were kept safely away from their very dangerous mother and her equally dangerous boyfriend. What else would you have had them do? Of course they understood about proof and evidence.

  8. Angelo Granda

    I would just like to add this in respect of your suggestion,Sarah.
    Before every court hearing a round -table meeting is held between lawyers,SW’s and Guardians when evidence is discussed and mediation takes place.The only ones not permitted to sit around the table are the respondent parents. Where is the sense in that? That is the ideal time for mediation with lawyers present. I imagine the LA’s use those meetings to their advantage and stick the boot in. In fact i know they do! They spread false gossip. No honest minutes are kept of any professional’s meetings ,naturally.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      EH? I haven’t heard of this ’round table’ meeting before every court hearing. Are you talking about the lawyers meeting to discuss directions etc? That has to happen. We have to talk at some point. If LA lawyers try to use meetings to be unconstructive, I will end them. They don’t spread ‘false gossip’ – they do their job and make their case. If I don’t think their reasoning is sound or their evidence reliable, I say so. That is MY job, when I act for parents.

  9. Angelo Granda

    Unfortunately ,barristers don’t often attend initial fact-findings before magistrates which are crucial not in my experience anyway.
    My comment is not so ridiculous when it is the LA making the ludicrous allegations,Sarah but thanks.
    How about my question about court fees,any idea?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Eh? Of course I attend magistrates court hearings. Care proceedings are supposed to all start with the magistrates but most of mine will move to district or circuit judge. Magistrates will struggle with anything more complicated than a 2 or 3 day hearing, mainly due to the limits on how often they can sit.

      sorry, lost your point about court fees.

  10. Angelo Granda

    In my experience,ICO’s issued by Magistrates after summary proceedings lasting about half-an hour.Also with less than 48 hours notice given to respondents in which to prepare.Guardian not appointed until late thus unable to meet parents until just before court in the foyer.
    Decision taken on the basis of application,faulty core-assessment and threshold document plus brief holding view of the Guardian.
    A few questions asked of parties verbally but not under oath.I feel Magistrates were bounced into a decision by LA legals along with the Magistrates Clerk.
    I am unable to say how regularly guidelines are broken in such fashion but I have my suspicions.In my experience,no barrister even commissioned at ICO stage.
    Sarah,the judicial system is in tatters!

    Regarding Court fees,my questions were who sets the fees to be paid for applications and hearings and how are they spent? Where does the money go?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      yes urgent orders will be made in this way. But if the parent wants to contest, another date will be set quickly for the matter to be contested and that should be listed for a day or half a day at the very least. That hearing should take place within a few days – is sometimes delayed because there are not enough available judges, again not the fault of the judges but those who appoint and pay them i.e. the government.

      Government sets court fees. They go, I assume to paying the court staff and running the court building. They clearly don’t raise enough money to do either as court staff are cut and buildings falling down.

  11. Angelo Granda

    Two possible solutions to the power imbalance would be enabled if the Family Division were to charge more realistic fees especially in Public Law cases where Local Authorities are the applicants.
    1. The President should campaign for an increase.He should consider how expensive it is for the Public to bring cases in civil law .Financial cases sometimes cost opposing parties hundreds of thousands in legal fees.
    LA’s gain financially and their political sponsors,private contractors AND foster-carers do .
    Just an example of the money at stake in these cases .Roughly £3000 per week is spent on private care-home contractors.Care-proceedings last 26 weeks so why don’t the Courts multiply that by three and charge £78,000 for their services.Nothing to Local Authorities in the scheme of things. Keeping a child in care until 18 (or longer) costs millions.This money could then be used to mend the broken system ,pay for more judges, provide local courthouses ( not miles away), facilitate round-table mediation and reduce the wait.More fees to be charged also in private law tug-of-love cases which waste a lot of court time but could be more lucrative rather than overloading the system.
    2.This suggestion would take some political influence but I think it is a fair one.The LA’s use our money to pay their lawyers and impose their policy imperatives upon us and they usually choose vulnerable families rich or poor. The mentally ill and victims of d.v. all are vulnerable to any Authority looking to work the system to its advantage.The applicant LA’s should be forced to use our money (public funds) to pay for parents legal teams too. I suggest up to £100,000 should be made available to all respondents to cover professional fees up to appeal stage ,if necessary.This is similar to how public funds are distributed in a Courts Martial.The Public finance both sets of lawyers.
    This would undoubtedly redress the power imbalance because it would pay for a decent legal team.When i say that i mean a team of barristers as well-paid as those appear in commercial,financial cases and corporate disagreements. Sarah, how can you operate on a pittance properly? You should not have to try and concentrate on your job whilst making notes at the same time. You should have a legal secretary with you and in other cases as serious as care proceedings ,you should have junior counsel backing you up.You should also be able to take the necessary time to read all the bundle properly AND have someone carry it for you.Legal teams must go to war on injustice and drive it out . Even if it means disgracing a few politically inspired judges and LA lawbreakers.

    You suggested in a recent comment ,Sarah ,that i should complain to the politicians. In my opinion, the bar council and its barristers are the ones who should be doing the political lobbying not me. Why doesn’t the CPR circulate every MP putting improvements forward.I’m sure you have better ideas than me. Tell them about the lack of transparency and explain the hypocrisy of the proposition that it is in a child’s ‘best interests’ to deny them justice! That is what happens in closed courts. Two years ago,i listened to a Judge addressing the conference.His final words left us in no doubt that justice MUST be seen to be done.
    Then write to the new president and make an appointment. Tell him about the CPR and how long you have studied the system,tell him how we all say it is unfit for purpose and put our points to him. Tell him about the Dr. Devine doctrine on risk of emotional harm ,how it doesn’t amount to abuse and dire circumstances necessary to liquidate families. Tell him that in some cases you think the degradation imposed on families by the system ‘may’ activate article 3 etc. Then make radical suggestions .Who knows,he might have more influence than Lord Munby did.
    We want some action not endless years of the current status quo.
    Or will there always be a power imbalance? Is change going to be prevented because of the politicians or will the Judiciary use its influence more effectively and mend itself?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      The judges are well aware of the problems but I think you misunderstand the role of judges – serving judges cannot be seen to take political positions. This is an important part of the separation of powers in our constitution. judges are supposed to be independent of political interference; in return they do not interfere with politics.

      I reject your assertion that it is up to the lawyers alone to lobby politicians. We are all responsible for child protection. It is the responsibility of all of us to vote in general elections and to consider the manifesto commitments of those politicians we vote for. For many years now the majority of people have voted for politicians who have promised to cut services and promote austerity. So we get what we deserve.

  12. Angelo Granda

    I do understand the role of judges and the separation of powers.
    1.The Judges should not take political positions but they do have a clear duty to uphold the Law and they do have a duty to the body politic ( the nation) to enforce the Queen’s Justice. Even when it means going against sitting politicians and the powers that be.
    2. It is absolutely the duty of the Lords Justices ( in the House of Lords) and the Attorney General , the Solicitor General and all the other lawyers at the top of the hierarchy in London to lay down the Law to the MP’s and the Civil Service ( the Government) and to see that the Justice system is not subverted for political reasons. For example, if the Government want to go to war, the Attorney General has a duty to ensure the war is a legal one.If not he has to lay down the law to Parliament without any bias or favour.
    4. Throughout history, Justice has always had to be fought for. Governments forever endeavour to subvert it for political ends of their own. It is the duty of the Judicial system to hold them in check.
    5. It has always been a fight between good and bad lawyers because often the Government will deliberately appoint an Attorney General sympathetic and biased towards their particular politics.
    6.It is the duty of the bar ,Q.C’s and senior Judges like the President of the Family Division to force the Government to make the funds and the Courts available to ensure justice and to see that the Court protocol is conducive to it. For example, if there is a power imbalance which means injustice ,it has to be set right and they have a duty,in my opinion, to lobby MP’s , the Attorney General and his political chums to set up and pass Parliamentary Bills designed to enforce Justice. In my opinion it would be a good idea to fight for one which orders the LA’s to finance parents legal teams and for an increase in court fees.
    7. In history, sometimes injustices have continued for years and it is not until a new government and a new Attorney General is installed that the balance of power is finally restored .Even then ,of course , matters can soon go to the dogs again.
    8. Of course, this is only a parents view .I am no lawyer , but I reckon , a good percentage of lower court judges, not out of malice but because they are only human and thus prone to fall to the vices of too much power and their own political preferences ARE NOT independent of political interference. This is obvious when they act irrationally ,for example, when they avert their eyes from clear unlawfulness and criminal abuse on the part of the Authorities saying illogically that children may still be at significant risk etc. Also when they impose summary justice and fail to enforce legal guidelines and court orders. Also when they know full well that the risk in the care system faced by children is ten times worse than at home and that the Law says they should act only in the best interests of children , they still liquidate rather than order a support plan.
    Sarah,in my humble opinion, you should be fighting those type of Judges and you will have to go to the High Court in London to do it. Get them out.
    9. Readers, austerity has nothing to do with injustice. Even before it was thought of as a policy we had injustice and institutional abuse. So don’t imagine that by voting against austerity,you can change the system or that your choice of political party will affect the status quo, that is madness.
    10. The real power to change things lies in London with the Law Lords.Money is often the deciding factor with LA’s and lower court judges and that is why we have to be sure that Judge doesn’t have the final decision at his discretion.To do so leads to injustice. Justice has to be in open court,it has to be seen by the Public and, in all democracies, the decisions have to be taken by peers ( twelve of them to cut out any bias).

    Fine words from me but they only count as waffle when injustice and inhumanity is allowed to rule.

  13. Angelo Granda

    Sarah,another question if you don’t mind.
    Does the President ( MacFarlane) have any powers to broker and change the Family Court protocol,issue practice directions to lower court judges etc.?
    I am assuming he is the president at some sort of judge’s board of directors whose task it is to make changes and reforms to the protocol when necessary without going to Parliament.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I am sure he can issue Practice Directions, but he can’t change the actual law. Only Parliament can do that by Act of Parliament.

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