Social workers were unfairly singled out by the Family Justice Review in its bid to reduce the number of experts called by courts, a member of the review panel has admitted.
Dame Gillian Pugh OBE conceded that, in making recommendations that courts should be less reliant on expert witnesses, the review panel had “unfortunately and unintentionally” focused on independent social workers (ISWs) above any other professional.
Speaking at an event organised by the Confederation of Independent Social Work Agencies (Ciswa), Pugh clarified that the review’s recommendations applied to all expert witnesses called by courts, from whichever profession.
She also said the review recognised the “positive contribution that expert social work opinion brought to complex cases before the courts”.
Her comments followed claims from ISWs that the Family Justice Review’s interim report, published in March, amounted to a “victimisation of ISWs”.
Alison Paddle, former chair of Nagalro which represents court guardians and ISWs, said ISWs felt “unfairly singled out” by recommendations that courts should reduce their use of expert witnesses and identify areas where expert assessments duplicate local authority assessments.
“There were lots of statements made about ISWs in the family justice review’s report with absolutely no evidence base so ISWs feel they have been attacked on a pretty anecdotal basis.
“There is no evidence at all that the work ISWs offer is not helpful to courts, in fact they are very well regarded and often help to resolve issues in family court cases. We are pleased that Dame Gillian Pugh acknowledged this.”
The Family Justice Review’s final report is due to be published in the autumn.
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