The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has again failed to acknowledge independent social workers alongside other expert witnesses to the courts in its latest consultation on legal aid reforms.
Independent social workers (ISW’s) say they have been insulted by the MOJ refusing to consider them as expert witnesses in its consultation on hourly court fees, published last month. This new consultation was produced after the Law Society won a judicial review which ruled the Legal Services Commission’s (LSC) previous tender round for new family legal aid contracts was unlawful.
However, a spokeswoman for the MOJ, said ISW’s were not included in the new fee structure because their rates were the subject of a separate consultation on legal aid reforms covering solicitors. In that consultation it has proposed capping ISW’s fees at about £30 per hour, similar to rates charged by the family court advisory service Cafcass.
Alison Paddle, former chair of the guardians and ISW body Nagalro, said it was an “irrational and a real insult to social workers and their profession” She added that linking ISW’s to guardians showed a lack of understanding of the court work ISW’s undertook which was closer to that of other professional expert witnesses.
“The MoJ’s latest list covers an incredibly wide range of professions – from nurses to the people in charge of finger-printing – but there is no mention of ISWs.”
A coalition, formed by Nagalro, the British Association of Social Work (BASW), Independent Social Work Associates and independent provider Willis Palmer, has written a letter to ministers this week about the impact of the MoJ’s decision on vulnerable children and their families. In it they claim that 200 ISW’s have written to the LSC suggesting many of them will not be able to continue with this work if the current decision on capping their fees goes ahead. “It is our strong view that neither the MOJ nor the LSC have carried out an appropriate impact assessment of the consequences.”
“In our view, they’ve looked at a very narrow amount of what ISWs do,” Paddle said.
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