Lawyers warn that legal review could undermine safeguarding agenda

Family lawyers have criticised the government for rushing through a “cost cutting” review of child care proceedings.

Two of the biggest family lawyer groups have complained that little has been done to canvas the opinion of practitioners since July, when the review was announced as part of a wider consultation on legal aid reforms.

Resolution and the Association of Lawyers for Children (ALC), which together represent more than 6,200 lawyers, said that with civil servants due to report back to ministers next January there was now little time for any effective consultation.

In a letter to the Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer they said that, unlike previous reviews of child protection laws which had been “carefully considered”, there was little opportunity for a “measured approach” within the current review. 

Highlighting the importance of balancing the need to reduce costs with the need to protect children’s safety, the groups asked Falconer to provide statistical evidence to support his fears of rising costs. 

Concerns are focused on the wording of the terms of reference of the review. ALC chair Liz Goldthorpe said it could only be concluded that by making references to an “over-represented approach within the courts” the Department for Constitutional Affairs had pre-empted the review’s findings and already decided that costs needed to be cut. 

She continued: “The ALC is extremely concerned that the government’s current safeguarding agenda risks being seriously undermined by the way in which this review is proposing to undertake its work.”

A spokesperson for the DCA stressed that there would be further time for consultation beyond the January deadline.

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