Fears for children’s rights over move to cut guardians’ time on court cases

    Guardians have warned that cost-cutting measures to keep them out
    of court and reduce their role in private law cases will harm the
    representation of vulnerable children.

    Professional association Nagalro condemned the moves by the
    Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and the
    family division of the High Court at its spring conference this
    week.

    It passed a resolution rejecting calls by Cafcass chief executive
    Anthony Douglas and family division president Elizabeth
    Butler-Sloss in a memo last week for judges to minimise Cafcass
    practitioners’ “unnecessary attendance” in court.

    The move is designed to free up staff for other work, but chair of
    Nagalro Alison Paddle said there was no way of knowing in advance
    which court sessions guardians could afford not to attend.

    “The child [will lose] the person who stands for them,” Paddle
    said. “We are very unhappy that people who should be really
    concerned with children’s rights are diminishing the capacity of
    practitioners to actually protect children.”

    There was also condemnation of a Butler-Sloss ruling last month.
    She ruled that, from this April, district judges will not be
    permitted to appoint guardians under rule 9.5 of the family
    proceedings rules 1991, which covers sensitive or complex private
    law cases.

    There has been an explosion in cases under rule 9.5 over the past
    year, and the interim measure is designed to reduce “an intolerable
    strain on an already overstretched Cafcass” and reduce pressures on
    the legal aid budget.

    Under the ruling, district judges would have to transfer cases to
    circuit colleagues if they believed a guardian should be
    appointed.
    But, stressing that there was no evidence that district judges were
    making rule 9.5 appointments unnecessarily, Paddle said: “There is
    no recognition of those children who will need a 9.5 guardian and
    will not get it under this system.”

    Lamorna Wooderson, a corporate director at Cafcass, said the move
    was not designed to prevent children getting necessary
    representation but to ensure appointments were only made when
    absolutely necessary.

    “It is too early to predict whether number of appointments will
    change,” she said. “But if demand remains high, then all
    partiesÉ will need to adjust resource commitments
    accordingly.”

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