A warning was sounded by a High Court judge this week against penalising councils that bring cases to court unnecessarily
and delay hearings. Justice Ryder said wasted costs orders imposed by courts were “no longer a rarity” but penalising councils was not the answer.
He told the Association of Lawyers for Children’s annual conference: “If we are working with local authorities where there is not enough cash to employ one extra social worker, then simply imposing a wasted costs order exacerbates the problem,” he
He added that, although the government allocated the money to each individual case, the judiciary could do more to control the budgets.
Ryder made the comments in response to accusations by delegates that councils often start cases so they can access legal aid funding for assessments that they would otherwise have to pay for.
Lord Carter’s controversial review of legal aid, which will introduce three payment bands, has prompted predictions of an exodus of lawyers out of child care.
Ryder said that in the next two years there would be a range of changes for children in the legal process. He said the president of the Family Court Division would publish a new framework for the family courts this month including new arrangements for organising and managing cases. It is expected to be implemented by April 2008.