Pressure on guardians to represent children in more private law cases

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service is in
discussions with the Lord Chancellor’s Department over plans to
increase its involvement in divorce and separation proceedings.

The move reflects feelings among legal experts that there is a
growing need for children to be represented by a guardian or
independent social worker in certain private law cases.

The issue is to be the subject of a meeting between the president
of the family law division and Charles Prest, director of Cafcass
legal services, in the next few weeks. It could also be included in
the current review of Cafcass’s work by the Lord Chancellor’s

With nearly half of the 160,000 divorces last year involving a
dispute over contact with the child, and contact applications from
parents increasing to 50,000, the need for children’s views to be
heard is likely to continue to increase.

Currently, Cafcass only assigns a guardian to about 150 children
involved in private law cases a year. Cafcass would only intervene
in the most serious cases. Recent recommendations by judge Mr
Justice Wall defined serious cases as where contact was being
withheld, where there were allegations of domestic violence or
sexual abuse, and where the parents’ relationship was so
acrimonious the child’s voice could not be heard.

The new Adoption and Children Act 2002 regulations will give
further guidance on the scope of Cafcass’s obligations to private
law cases when published. However, it is unlikely Cafcass would be
able to fulfil such obligations without extra funding.

Judith Timms, policy consultant and former chief executive of the
National Youth Advocacy Service, said: “If this section of the
statute is not implemented because of problems with Cafcass’s
resourcing, I would be extremely disappointed.”

The youth advocacy service has represented children in three
private law cases referred by Justice Wall, and is recruiting more
case workers in anticipation of this work increasing.

Liz Goldthorpe, chairperson of the Association of Lawyers for
Children, said Cafcass was already struggling to carry out its
public law duties with existing finance.

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