Children’s welfare is suffering because family courts are “bogged down” with unnecessary assessments, the leading magistrate in the field has warned.
Margaret Wilson, chair of the Magistrates’ Association’s family courts committee, told Community Care Children and Families Live that assessments were the “biggest single cause of delays” in the courts.
She said they threw out the timing of the Public Law Outline system which is supposed to govern the length of cases: “It does appear at the moment that the PLO isn’t working.”
“We have to question whether all these assessments are necessary. We are trying to limit the need for them as they all take about 12 weeks,” Wilson said.
“It’s generally accepted that assessments are causing delays. If you have a psychologist’s assessment, that takes 10 to 12 weeks and that throws out the timing of the PLO completely.”
Wilson gave to Community Care the example of a mother of a child involved in court proceedings who had gained a new boyfriend and demanded reassessment as an example of the sort of case where the value of an assessment could be questioned.
Enver Solomon, Barnardo’s assistant director of policy, told the session that the average wait in family court proceedings was now 51 weeks.
He warned that the family justice review, due to report next year, would not lead to reform to speed up the system until 2012 at the earliest.
“We are particularly concerned about the sequential requests for additional expert evidence,” he said.
He said delays caused further harm to vulnerable children and called for “strong judicial leadership” to prevent delays.
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