UKCORRUPTFAMILYCOURTS

May 8, 2010

blatant lies were told to the Panel by social workers

Panel Minutes

I had a salutary reminder recently of how useful it can be getting hold of minutes of internal meetings held within the local authority which are not routinely disclosed. Thanks to the Guardian in the case who badgered the local authority to produce the minutes of the Adoption Panel the court was able to see the natural and unvarnished attitude of the social work team towards a parent in the case. I can think of a number of other cases in which these sorts of minutes have been useful. In one instance an Adoption Team Manager gave evidence that a child could be placed for adoption within 6 months. The following day we received the minutes of the adoption needs meeting which showed that her realistic time estimate in relation to the particular child was actually that it would take at least a year to place her. In two other cases the Panel minutes revealed that blatant lies were told to the Panel by social workers (for example, that a child had been injured when they had not and that the care plan approved by the court did not involve a recommendation for direct contact post adoption). Strategy meeting minutes can also be useful in identifying the approach of professionals to a case from the very outset. Running records and documents which follow the trail of internal decision making within the local authority can also be extremely helpful. There is clear case law reminding local authorities of their duties to disclose documents and in theory, according to Munby J, a suitably experienced legal practitioner from the local authority should identify any relevant records from the files and disclose them. When this case was first reported there was a flurry of requests for extensive and arguably unnecessarily burdensome automatic disclosure. Whilst things have settled down it is always worth seeking specific disclosure if you start to get a feeling in your bones that strange decisions have been made or that a social worker has formed a view that does not seem to marry up with your impression of the client.

Cafcass & fact finding

Speaking as one who is having enormous difficulties managing my own caseload I was interested to learn yesterday of a novel approach being adopted in the Stoke area to managing the deluge of cases in which domestic violence allegations are made and which would ordinarily be listed for a fact finding hearing. The pressure on the courts is such that Cafcass Officers are apparently being instructed to express an opinion on allegations and counter-allegations made by parents in order to assist the court and avoid the need for a hearing. In my view this is very dangerous territory. This is an effectively judicial function for which Cafcass Officers have no training and unless they are extremely careful they run the risk of making judgements without having the full facts or the skills to challenge the evidence being presented to them by one or other parent.

Has anyone else come across this approach in other parts of the country? The District Judge in the case in which the issue emerged expressed disapproval of the practice for reasons which will be obvious to family practitioners. He also picked up another important practice issue: the welfare checklist has been deleted from the new style analysis & recommendations pro forma with the obvious danger that the statutory criteria may end up being ignored by those charged with advising the court.

Posted by jacquig at 15:57 0 comments Links to this post
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