Adoption Act safeguards could be casualty of care proceedings review

The introduction of laws to ensure children involved in court cases are represented separately from their parents has been thrown into doubt, lawyers are warning.

Children placed for adoption and those in contact and residence cases must be represented by a guardian, under measures contained in section 122 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 due to come into force next month.

But Liz Goldthorpe, the former chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children, has claimed that the implications of the measures – including the rise in the number of guardians needed and the cost – have not been properly addressed by a government group set up to review care proceedings.

She told delegates at the association’s annual conference last week: “I can’t quite believe that the review team did not listen when we said from the outset ‘there is a huge piece of legislation you are forgetting’.

“They are now proposing not to implement section 122 of the act, which makes you ask the question does every child really matter or is Every Child Matters just a rather flimsy exercise.”

The review, being carried out by the Department for Constitutional Affairs, began in July and will report back early next year, has been slammed for focusing on cost-cutting rather than families’ right to representation (news, 29 September). Goldthorpe said it was “tempting to step away from the process”.

She was speaking after it emerged that child law solicitor Richard White, who has 36 years’ experience in the field, has written to the lord chancellor, Lord Falconer, saying he will no longer advise the government because of the way it has conducted the review.

In his letter, he slams the consultation as “irresponsible, self-interested and ignorant”, and argues that the review is being conducted by people with no experience of working with child law or care proceedings.

He stated: “It is not difficult to see the underlying agenda, given the clear statement that there is no more funding for legal aid.”

But a spokesperson for the department said it was “fully satisfied the group had access to the expertise it needed to carry out the review”.

He said the review was continuing and the team would take on board any concerns.

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