Delay on right to representation sparks concerns over cost-cutting

Legislation to allow all children involved in private law proceedings to be represented separately from their parents has been delayed, amid fears of cost-cutting.

Measures within section 122 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which came into force last week, would have provided children in complex contact and residence cases with a right to legal representation by court guardians.

But the government has decided against introducing new private law rules for this section of the act until research it commissioned has been analysed. It has fully implemented part of the clause that introduces separate representation for children placed for adoption

The study, by Cardiff University, is gathering views from children and families on the particularly difficult and complex private law cases where children are already entitled to separate representation by guardians.

These come under rule 9.5 of the Family Proceedings Rules 1991, which continues to be enforceable and applies to cases such as those involving allegations of abuse or domestic violence.
In a letter last November, Terry Hunter, head of the Department for Constitutional Affairs’ domestic violence branch, said the delay to section 122 was “regrettable”.

But she said it allowed the results of the research to be analysed alongside the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service’s recently published professional strategy, Every Day Matters.

However, Alison Paddle, chair of guardians’ organisation Nagalro, said she was concerned that the plans were “being driven by finances rather than children’s rights”.

She said rule 9.5 had been a “postcode lottery” for children, whereas section 122 would have made separate representation an entitlement.

Cafcass deals with far more cases in private law than those in public law, handling 27,093 and 12,332 cases respectively from November 2004 to October 2005.

The number of time-consuming 9.5 cases brought to court also trebled after a clarification on the rule issued in 2004 by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, then family division president. Cafcass handled 1,060 such cases in the year to October 2005.

The act also allows joint adoptions by unmarried couples, including gay and lesbian couples, in England and Wales.

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