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I wanna live like CMO-on people like you

 

Are you a family lawyer? Do you have loads of free time?  My eardrums just split from the sound of hollow laughter echoing around the country.

Do you want to have LESS free time?

Do you want to spend MORE of your evenings and weekends, faffing about with longer, more cumbersome Case Management Orders?  Is there nothing you like more than emailing back and forth over painstaking detail to perfect the Case Management Order and you just wish you could do more of it?

I suspect not, which is why I’m telling you two things:-

 

1) There is a consultation about a new Case Management Order and it runs out on 16th April

2) The proposed new Case Management Order runs to 22 pages. It has 130 paragraphs.

 

Now, the idea is that 80% of those paragraphs won’t apply to most cases, but you still need to delete them individually each and every time that you draft an order. And you need to dig around in the 130 paragraphs to find the bits that you want. For example, the section about whether to extend the timetable beyond 26 weeks is paragraph 120.

 

This is happening to us, unless as a result of the consultation, the Powers That Might Be Giants reconsider.

The only chance of that happening is if lawyers who draft these orders, or amend other people’s drafts of the orders, or who have to explain them to their clients take part in the consultation and give their views.

And if for some reason, you WANT CMOs to be three times longer than the current model then you’d better put in your view to counterbalance the one I submitted…

 

So please – half an hour of your time now, is going to save you about half a day per a week in the future. Like Jennifer Aniston in L’Oreal adverts, it is worth it.

 

https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/publications/practice-guidance-standard-family-orders/

 

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Runaway train, never going back

The British Association of Social Workers, BASW, commissioned an independent report to look at adoption. The report has just been published.

There’s a summary piece at the Guardian about it

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/18/adoption-has-become-runaway-train-social-workers-cannot-stop

In summary of the summary, concerns about a lack of ethics and human rights approach, concerns that adoption has been politically pushed and dominates thinking, concerns about lack of support for families and adopters, concerns that there’s rigidity in thinking about contact (and the report compares the English approach of an assumption of no direct contact with Northern Ireland where the assumption is that there should be direct contact four to six times per year) and critically that there’s not enough attention being paid to poverty (and austerity) being the driving force behind children being removed from families.

The impact of austerity was raised by all respondents to different extents but was a particular
concern for social workers. Cuts to family support and social work services were a recurring
theme, with the decreasing availability of early help highlighted. Very costly resources are being
used in care proceedings. As a result, less is available for earlier interventions that could support
children to stay at home safely.
Most respondents wanted a better balance between support and assessment, with families
currently too often subject to repeated assessments rather than actually helped. A number felt
social work had become increasingly risk averse and fearful of blame, with the high rates of care
applications one key example given of the impact this has on practice.
A lack of resources once children had come into care or been adopted was similarly seen as
impacting on the effectiveness of services. There were many observations about decision-making
being impacted by the lack of resources and examples given of the results, such as siblings not
being placed together.

Having read the report, I think the summary is a fair one – the report does raise all of those issues. The report is careful to say that just as treating adoption as a perfect solution for all families is not realistic or helpful, demonising all social workers is not realistic or helpful either. Adoption is the right outcome for some children, and some adoptive families thrive and prosper. But there needs to be a genuine debate about whether it is being sought too frequently.

The report is here
http://cdn.basw.co.uk/upload/basw_55841-1.pdf

I’m not going to attempt to critique it or deconstruct it – it’s a long and thoughtful piece, taking on board views of a wide variety of people involved in the process, notably hearing from both birth parents and adoptive parents who had very similar viewpoints on some issues. I have had the opportunity to read it twice, but I honestly feel I want more time with it and to reflect on it. So I don’t know whether I agree with it all, but it says things that I genuinely think needed to be said and need to be discussed and thought about. And I wanted to alert people to its existence and hopefully get people to read it and have those conversations.

Nothing in family justice ever exists in a vacuum though – for every person who reads the report and agrees with it, there will be ten who think it doesn’t go far enough and that adoption should be burned to the ground, and ten who think it is ridiculously anti-adoption and goes far too far. That polarisation about adoption is, itself, part of the problem. The stakes are so high, the emotional devastation caused to those on the wrong side of adoption so great, the political capital invested in it, that it is hard to have the conversations that need to be had.

A particular issue that comes up within the report is the self-labelling by the social work system of social workers being ‘the social worker for the child’ rather than a social worker for the family.

The definition of the social worker role as being ‘the social worker for the child’ was a source of
concern, as it often led to a lack of support for birth parents:
‘Children are part of families – a social worker cannot only be the child’s social worker.’ (birth mother)

A lot of the respondents talked about the importance of the relationship that existed between the social worker and the family – and how the quality of that relationship can transform cases (for good or ill)

Repeatedly, across the range of family members, the importance of the relationship that was
developed with a social worker was stressed.
Birth family members gave accounts of both poor and good relationships. They related experiences of feeling deceived by social workers who they considered had not been honest with them. They described not understanding or being helped to understand why their child(ren) were
permanently removed; being unfairly judged/ labelled (‘the report said I was ‘hostile’ so he could not stay, but I was not hostile – I am ‘loud’’ – birth grandmother from a traveller background); and
generally being treated in what they perceived were inhumane ways.
Birth family members emphasised the importance of social workers listening to their views, being
respectful and honest, recognising strengths and displaying acts of kindness. It was considered
that the nature of the relationship could influence what happened with the child. Examples were
given of differing outcomes for children in the same family (i.e. adoption or remaining with the
parents) and these were, at least in part, attributed to the quality of the relationship with the
individual social worker. It was considered vital that social workers have the time to get to know
and work with the family in non-judgmental ways.

Many of the responses from adoptive parents repeated the themes found in the birth parents’
accounts. The relationship between the social worker and adoptive parents was considered to be
key, with the importance of professional but caring social workers highlighted. Adoptive parents
and adopted people also spoke about the importance of good communication, honesty, being
listened to and treated as an individual human being.

The use and misuse of power was a key issue

Families stressed that social workers have a great deal of power in relation to assessment, the
provision of help and decision-making. There were many examples given by birth families,
adoptive parents and adopted people of how they had experienced the exercise of social workers’
power, both positive and negative.
Birth family members repeatedly mentioned the lack of attention by social workers to the social
contexts in which they lived. A number of respondents reported that housing, or the lack of it,
was used as evidence against them in assessments.
The importance of practical support was stressed; ‘a washing machine for example would have made a big difference’ (birth parent). One birth mother spoke of the lack of adequate interpreting facilities in her contact with social workers and legal professionals. Other birth family members also felt discriminated against because of their cultural practices (e.g. a traveller background) or for being working class or having a lack of secure immigration status.
There were many examples provided by birth parents of feeling powerless in a climate that was
seen as very risk averse. Risk of future emotional harm was described as being frequently used,
and was seen as a particularly unjust basis for permanent separation. Birth mothers reported high
levels of domestic abuse and suggested they were being punished for having a violent partner
and/or having experienced domestic abuse in childhood.
Fear of an unsympathetic and punitive response was seen as inhibiting families from asking for
help when it was needed. Parents with mental and physical health problems and learning
difficulties all reported concerns about asking for help because of the emphasis on risk. They
reported receiving an assessment rather than support and feeling they were being scrutinised
rather than helped.
Being judged and stigmatised simply for having a history of care and/or abuse was an issue. Care
proceedings, involving newborn babies, were identified as being particularly traumatic, with a
lack of attention, in particular, to the impact of having just given birth on the mother. Residential
settings were described as being too often focused on monitoring risk rather than providing help
or therapeutic support. Women with disabilities highlighted the disabling environments in which
assessments were carried out.


The report concludes with recommendations (I suggest reading them in detail, but I’ll just put the bullet points here, for reasons of space)

Recommendation 1: The use of adoption needs to be located and discussed in the context
of wider social policies relating to poverty and inequality
Recommendation 2: UK governments should collect and publish data on the economic
and social circumstances of families affected by adoption
Recommendation 3: The current model of adoption should be reviewed, and the
potential for a more open approach considered
Recommendation 4: There needs to be further debate about the status of adoption and
its relationship to other permanence options.
Recommendation 5: BASW should develop further work on the role of the social worker
in adoption and the human rights and ethics involved

Court Supporter

A consultation document has been published, making some suggestions about McKenzie Friends. One of the proposals is that their name be changed to something more meaningful

(I think I have told the story before about how the term McKenzie Friend just arrived out of chance because that was the name of the case where it was first asked for – in fact, as the person who was asking to assist was a Australian pupil barrister called Mr Hangar, it could just as easily have been “Hangar Friend”  – though if you say that aloud, it takes on the murderous imperative sense.     Digression 2 – for similar reasons, it is never advisable to attend Court singing the Smiths song “Panic” where the chorus goes “Hang the DJ, Hang the DJ, Hang the DJ, Hang the DJ”  as Security will probably take you into a dark room and shine lights in your eyes)

The suggestion is “Court supporter”

Whilst that makes sense in terms of “It is a person who supports you in Court”,  it carries the other connotation – as in “West Ham supporter”  being a person who supports and admires and endorses West Ham. There are a few McKenzie Friends who wouldn’t really describe themselves as being a supporter, admirer or endorser of the family Courts.

Anyway, I know some McKenzie Friends read the blog and may be able to share this with others.  [I’m not sure how the authors of the consultation intended to let practicing McKenzie Friends know about it]

 

Here are the details for responses

 

1.6 Consultation responses may be submitted by

email to mckenzie.friends@judiciary.gsi.gov.uk or by post to: McKenzie Friends Consultation, Master of the Rolls’ Private Office, Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London WC2A 2LL.

1.7 The consultation opens on 25th February and closes on 19th May 2016

 

The document itself is here

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/system/froala_assets/documents/447/consultation-paper-mckenzie_friends_feb2016.pdf

 

Sorry if you can’t do PDFs, I’d suggest emailing the address above and asking for a copy in a different format.

Here are the ten questions they pose

Question 1: Do you agree that the term ‘McKenzie Friend’ should be replaced by a term that is more readily understandable and properly reflects the role in question? Please give your reasons for your answer.

Question 2: Do you agree that the term ‘court supporter’ should replace McKenzie Friend? If not, what other term would you suggest? Please give your reasons for your answer.

Question 3: Do you agree that the present Practice Guidance should be replaced with rules of court? Please give your reasons for your answer. Please also give any specific comments on the draft rules in Annex A.

Question 4: Should different approaches to the grant of a right of audience apply in family proceedings and civil proceedings? Please give your reasons for your answer and outline the test that you believe should be applicable. Please also give any specific comments on the draft rules.

Question 5: Do you agree that a standard form notice, signed and verified by both the LiP and McKenzie Friend, should be used to ensure that sufficient information is given to the court regarding a McKenzie Friend? Please give your reasons for your answer.

Question 6: Do you agree that such a notice should contain a Code of Conduct for McKenzie Friends, which the McKenzie Friend should verify that they understand and agree to abide by? Please give your reasons for your answer.

Question 7: Irrespective of whether the Practice Guidance (2010) is to be revised or replaced by rules of court, do you agree that a Plain Language Guide for LIPs and McKenzie Friends be produced? Please give your reasons for your answer.

Question 8: If a Plain Language Guide is produced, do you agree that a non-judicial body with expertise in drafting such Guides should produce it? Please you’re your reasons for your answer.

Question 9: Do you agree that codified rules should contain a prohibition on fee-recovery, either by way of disbursement or other form of remuneration? Please give your reasons for your answer.

Question 10: Are there any other points arising from this consultation on that you would like to put forward for consideration? Please give your reasons for your answer.

 

I thought this bit of suggested legislation was interesting.  (I am really looking forward to seeing how one defines ‘quietly’)

Except where a rule or other enactment provides otherwise, where a hearing is in public a court supporter may assist a litigant. Assistance may, as the litigant requires, take the form of any of the following:

(a) providing moral support;

(b) helping to manage the court documents and other papers;

(c) taking notes of the proceedings;

(d) advising the litigant quietly on—

(i) points of law and procedure;

(ii) issues which the litigant might wish to raise with the court;

(iii) questions which the litigant might wish to ask a witness.

 

If the proceedings are in ‘private’ (i.e a family case), the person needs permission from the Court.

McKenzie Friends may wish to know that although the proposed legislation allows a Court to allow a “Court supporter” to conduct litigation or have rights of audience (the ability to address the Court or put questions to witnesses) the proposal is that this MUST NOT be given where the “Court supporter” is charging for it in any way.

Permission granted under rule 3.23(3) will be withdrawn by the court at any time where the court supporter is receiving, either directly or indirectly, remuneration from the litigant in respect of exercising the right of audience or carrying out the conduct of litigation

 

This bit imposes the same duties on a Court supporter as a on a solicitor

 

Where an individual is authorised to act as a court supporter, that individual in respect of those proceedings is deemed to be an officer of the court and thereby owes such duties to the court as if they were a solicitor.

http://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/handbook/code/part2/rule5/content.page

O(5.1)

you do not attempt to deceive or knowingly or recklessly mislead the court;

O(5.2)

you are not complicit in another person deceiving or misleading the court;

O(5.3)

you comply with court orders which place obligations on you;

O(5.4)

you do not place yourself in contempt of court;

O(5.5)

where relevant, clients are informed of the circumstances in which your duties to the court outweigh your obligations to your client;

O(5.6)

you comply with your duties to the court;

O(5.7)

you ensure that evidence relating to sensitive issues is not misused;

O(5.8)

you do not make or offer to make payments to witnesses dependent upon their evidence or the outcome of the case.

 

 

The proposed Rules also give the Court the discretion to refuse a particular individual to act as a “Court supporter”

 

(6) Assistance from a court supporter may be prohibited, refused, or withdrawn under rule 3.22(5) where:

(a) such assistance would be or is contrary to the efficient administration of justice; or

(b) the court supporter is an unsuitable person to act in that capacity (whether generally or in the proceedings concerned).

 

The proposed Rules also say that a person subject to Civil Restraint Order (i.e someone who isn’t able to make their own Court applications as a result of having made a number of frivolous or vexatious ones) can’t be a Court Supporter AND that a Court may consider making a Civil Restraint Order against a “Court supporter”

 

1. This Practice direction applies where the court is considering whether to make –

(a) a limited civil restraint order;

(b) an extended civil restraint order; or

(c) a general civil restraint order;

 

against:

(a) a party who has issued claims or made applications which are totally without merit;

or

(b) against a court supporter who has acted in any proceeding or proceedings

(i) in a manner which is contrary to the proper administration of justice;

(ii) for remuneration contrary to any rule or order of the court; or

(iii) sought or exercised a right of audience or a right to conduct litigation on a regular basis.

 

I suspect lots of people will have views on these changes, one way or another*, so if you want to express your view, participate in the consultation.

 

(* for example, some people may consider that the changes are long overdue and level an unequal playing field, whereas some people may consider that the changes are a grudging acceptance that McKenzie Friends are necessary and required as a result of savage cuts but an attempt to starve/scare them out of taking on the role. Your mileage, as the saying goes, may vary. )

Little boxes and the ark of the covenant

As part of the continuing desire to standardise everything, and a belief that any problem can be solved if only there is enough written guidance, practice directions, policy frameworks and standard documents, there is a proposed model for the initial social work statement.

I am not sure why it is that there is a belief that one can collapse the diversity and detail of families into one standardised little-boxes pro-forma, as though all parents and children were Lego figures rather than individuals with hopes and fears, dreams and disappointments, struggles and triumphs.  If you have read any of the cases in my blog over the last two years, you will see that the Family Courts deal with surprising and intricate things, that people can end up in situations or predicaments that no person could anticpate and cater for in a standard document.  Structure, yes, guidance to avoid jargon and verbosity and sloppy attention to the difference between evidence and assertion – all good things. But don’t try to make a pro-forma that fits every case. It just isn’t do-able.

[I’m not entirely neutral on this point, I have to confess]

This one has been put together by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/279212/Annexes_to_statutory_guidance.docx

I don’t want to be unkind.  (I should just end the blog there to be honest). Apologies if you, or your friend, or your cousin was one of those people. I’m afraid that I don’t like it. Others may differ from my opinion – I may just be one loud-mouthed jerk, after all. Don’t take it to heart.  Honestly, stop reading right now. There is a really nice you-tube thing of ducklings on a waterslide – go and find that, it will cheer your heart.

In a Solution-Focused-Therapy style, let’s try to say something nice  “What were you pleased with?”

Well, people have clearly worked very hard on it.

Not necessarily the right people, but people have obviously worked very hard on it.

This version is actually worse than the first version of it, which takes some doing. It is also worse than the standardised model laid out in the revised PLO. A sentence I never thought that I’d type – I prefer the version in the new PLO document.

It is packed full of everything that is worse about design by committee – it is little boxes galore, it is reductionist, it assumes that everyone who will be writing the document is a moron incapable of independent thought without being led by the nose to the next little box to complete. The process of reading it is offensive to your eyes. It doesn’t include a Welfare Checklist. (I mean, the Act gives everyone a specific tool for analysis, is it too much to ask that this tool would be a centrepiece of the evidence produced?) It makes the Core Assessment look gorgeous and inspirational (this is some feat)

My actual reaction to this, when I opened it up and read it was…. well, do you remember the bit at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the nazi’s open the ark and one of the chief bad guys has his face melt off whilst screaming? Sort of that.

It’s the sort of thing that when you read it, you wonder who it is supposed to help? The workers writing it? Clearly not. The parents reading it? No way. The Judges? I’d be amazed if any Judge would prefer this cumbersome little-box form (that at one point tries to encapsulate all of the issues and thought processes around contact into a six column table) to a considered narrative document.  So, other than the designers of whatever computer programme will standardise this onto every social work computer in England, who is it FOR?

I think, comparing it to Lucy Reed’s suggested pro-forma for social work assessment, which was intended to be a nasty satire – I think Lucy’s is more rigorous as a document.

http://pinktape.co.uk/courts/family-justice-modernisation-programme-update-no-nine-and-three-quarters/

 

This document, however, it at the moment still just a consultation (which means that it is inevitable unless people who will be writing them, reading them, trying to explain them to parents speak out and say how ghastly and unfit for purpose it is – OR of course if you disagree with me, you should tell them that too)

https://www.education.gov.uk/consultations/index.cfm?action=consultationDetails&consultationId=1949&external=no&menu=1

Consultation ends 26th March.

If you can’t manage a long and detailed response, just send them this link.

 

Transparency Guidance

You probably recall that the President of the Family Division is rather keen on transparency – he’s been saying so for many many years, he’s certainly no Johnny-come-lately on the issue, and was saying so for a long time as pretty much a lone voice.

He called for views on a proposal to publish every judgment in care proceedings decided by Circuit judges or above, and all Court of Protection judgments back in October, and those views have now been considered and the plan is going ahead.

In fact, from 3rd February, the overwhelming majority of judgments in care proceedings will be published on Bailii. These will be anonymised (by the poor saps who work for local authority legal departments, with the anonymising then being approved by the judge) and will be available for anyone who wants to read them.

I think that in principle this is a good thing – as the President has said many times, in the debate between those within the family justice system who say that confidentiality and respecting the child’s privacy is the point and those outside who say “secret courts – if there’s nothing to hide, why is it secret”  – the transparency camp have clearly won.

If we are to move the debate about family justice beyond “secret court, what have you got to hide” and into proper areas of where the family justice system is getting it wrong, and where it is getting it right, and what can be done differently, then publishing judgments is an idea whose time has come.

I am absolutely in favour of transparency and the public being able to see what is being done by the State in their name. Only by doing that can we properly test the system and to recalibrate if things are taking place that don’t have public backing, that are being done wrong. Every wrong decision in family justice is a huge tragedy, but at present we have very limited ability to see whether wrong decisions are a rarity or endemic.

 

Pink Tape writes very efficiently about the issue and the guidance here

 http://pinktape.co.uk/rants/and-suddenly-it-all-becomes-clear/

There are things that I worry about – not least being that we are going to go very fast from announcing it to doing it in 2 weeks, that the previously expressed views from children don’t seem to have played much of a part, how we prevent jurors from finding those judgments and contaminating the criminal trial,  that there doesn’t seem much in the way of safeguards about privacy (the President is of the view that as long as the name doesn’t get out, privacy of the child is preserved – I am slightly more cautious about the ability of the general public, journalists and determined people on the internet to put known facts together to be able to link Mr X with a genuine name), and a lack of clarity about the boundaries.

It is the latter one which troubles me, because I really think there are now gray areas – once the judgment is a public document, how direct does one have to be in highlighting that the person in that public document is the same as this very real person here.

For example, if what is currently forbidden is the parent (or anyone else) directly or indirectly identifying that the child in  Re B (Parents who snort Polyfilla) 2014 is called “Timmy Grout” but that publishing the judgment or facts in the judgment is fine, are any of these actions going to get people in trouble?

 

1. Pam Grout, the mother of Timmy, posts a link to the judgment on facebook, and makes no comment about it.

2. People add comments under the link saying “you were robbed Pam”

3. A member of Pam’s extended family posts a link to the judgment and says “Don’t talk to me about British justice”

4.A campaigner about family justice who lives abroad, say a resident of the Vatican posts a link on their website, hosted abroad, saying “Pam Grout was betrayed by the State, read the case here and see how the Judge stitched her up”

5. People living in England post links to that website

6. Pam Grout posts a link to the website on facebook, but with no comment, or someone posts a link on her facebook wall and she ticks “Like”

7. A person on Twitter says “This judgment LINK is awful. My friend Pam Trout had an awful experience in Court”

8. A newspaper runs a story about the case, quoting the judgment. In the comments section, someone says “Pam Grout is not a bad person”

9. A prominent tweeter posts “Why is Pam Grout trending? #innocent face”

10. An MP stands up in Parliament and says “Pam Grout is the mother in the well known miscarriage of justice that the Courts call Re B (Parents who snort polyfilla) 2014

11. Every newspaper in the land reports what the MP has said.

 

12. Or how about this – one of the children is 14 and tweets “I am the brother of  Timmy Grout, the Polyfilla boy” and that goes viral?  

Are any of these actually breaches, would there be sanctions? Or are all of these things okay, and the only breach would be Pam Grout saying in terms “My son Timmy was taken off me by social services”

If you are advising Pam, how confident are you in telling her which of those twelve things are breaches and which are not?

 

It may well be that we end up having a debate about whether, once these anonymised judgments are out there, that we are playing a semantic game in saying that the child is not identified, given that they clearly become IDENTIFIABLE by what’s already a simple process of putting two or three facts together.

If you live in Bon Temps, and are one of six children, and you are all taken into care, and children in your class know that this has happened to you, but they only know the lurid details if you chose to tell them; then it isn’t that hard for anyone who wants to know more to find it.   Because a  judgment is published about six children who were taken into care in Bon Temps at about the right time and the ages and genders of the siblings match up, it isn’t rocket science for people who know a few things about you – perhaps your friends, perhaps people at school who have taken an unhealthy interest in you or who dislike you, to be able to read a judgment about you online and learn about your family life, allegations that have been made – perhaps that you still wet the bed, maybe you self-harmed, perhaps you have been confused about your sexuality,  maybe your dad has mental health problems, maybe your mum smokes crack, perhaps that your uncle molested you?

Maybe that won’t just be in your childhood – perhaps a prospective love interest will search about you, perhaps a future employer, perhaps future work colleagues.  If the link between Timmy Grout and Polyfilla boy ever gets out into the public domain, that information will be there for years to come, capable of being found by anyone who wants to know a bit more about Timmy. 

Perhaps when we are all wearing Google-Glass or whatever supersedes it in five years time, every time anyone sees Timmy Grout in the street they will be alerted to who he is and what happened to him as a child and be able to read all about it.  {Google Glass is here now, and facial recognition software that sees a face and can take you to any websites they are mentioned on is already here – this sort of thing is going to be commonplace in the near future}

It may be that we reach a point where society says that the interests of transparency mean that anonymity can’t be totally preserved, and that if children’s identities are found out and that people who are not invited by them to know about their lives can find out the most intimate details themselves then that is a price worth paying for opening up our family justice system and ensuring that there are no secrets.  Maybe we will eventually get rid of the bar on identification completely.  

There are many people who think that this will be a good thing. Me, I’m mostly interested in what Timmy has to say about it.

Can one simultaneously be baffled and pleased?

It appears so. The MoJ have published a consultation on Court fees. Long time readers of this blog will know my rather low opinion of consultations  (they are a way of breaking bad news to people whilst pretending that “your view can make a difference”)

 

And any consultation on Court fees normally means one thing – they’re going up, stand still whilst the MoJ mugs you. It is so tiresome for the MOJ if you wriggle about whilst they go through your pockets and wallet.

 

This one, it appears not

 

https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/court-fees-proposals-for-reform

 

 

Please send your response by 21/01/14 to:

Graeme Cummings Ministry of Justice Law and Access to Justice Group Post Point 4.38 102 Petty France London SW1H 9AJ

Tel: (020) 3334 4938

Fax: (020) 3334 2233

Email: mojfeespolicy@justice.gsi.gov.uk

 

[Might actually be worth doing that, this time]

 

 

Here are some good news items from it  (good news, from an MoJ consultation on fee changes, you can see why I am baffled)

 

Removing the fee from Non-molestation or Occupation order applications (currently £75).  Given what a palaver getting the fee-exemption was, many people ended up just paying the fee, and it always seemed wrong to me that people should have to pay a fee to get protection from domestic violence.

 

The fee for any application in Children Act cases (other than s31) is now just £215, same across the board. No more looking up in a chart to try to work out just what the bloody fee is for those applications that you hardly ever make. It’s just a standard fee across the board. That’s gone up a bit (£35) for most of the applications.

 

And here’s the odd one  – you may recall that the fee for issuing care proceedings went up several thousand per cent – from about £175 to over £5,000, and went up again in April.

The lie / spin at the time was that this was completely cost-neutral and would be covered by central government funding and that it was not an attempt to artificially depress care proceedings or provide a financial incentive for Local Authorities not to place cases before the Court.  You may recall a judicial review that didn’t succeed, and then all the various reports saying “these fees should be abolished”.   If the fees ever were cost-neutral, which almost anyone in local government would dispute, they certainly aren’t now, as central funding has been salami sliced over many years. Those court fees represent a significant drain on public authorities limited resources.   

 

The current arrangement is that the LA pay the court a fee of £3,320 up front, and then a further fee of £2,155 if there’s a final hearing.

 

Well, I immediately look for that section, to see how much care proceeding court fees are going to go up by, and see the proposals are :-

 

Flat fee on issue to change from £3,320 to £2,000   (yes, that’s actually gone DOWN)

 

Fee for final hearing to change from £2,155 to £0   (yes, that’s actually nothing)

 

This is something of a climb-down – I mean, it’s not the recommendation of the Laming report, the Plowden report or the Family Justice Review (all of which the Government said in advance they would implement in full) that the fees be scrapped entirely, but it’s a START.

 I couldn’t find anything within the consultation document that was a rationale for this reduction, so I went to the public attitude survey here

 

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/262917/public-attitudes-civil-family-court-fees.pdf

 in which people were surveyed about court fees and given some hypothetical examples to set fees for. (There are some interesting things, more useful for private law, about public attitudes towards fairness of the court system)

 

[I did this exercise  because if I see a gift horse, the first thing I DO is look in its mouth. It is nonsensical advice to say “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”  – the story comes from the Trojan War, and OF COURSE the Trojans should have been wary about the gift horse…]

 

Anyway, there’s nothing in that either.  In any event, thank you MoJ for a consultation document that made me happy rather than miserable. Let’s see if it translates into action.

 

(That’s potentially a lot of money that can be spent on services to help and support troubled families, so it is not just good news for Local Authorities, but for real people too)

Death by a thousand cuts – expert fees take another hit

 

You might remember some time back that there was a consultation on a proposal to reduce expert fees further from the drastic cuts brought into play in October 2011   (I say consultation, what I mean of course is, breaking the news to experts that this was definitely going to happen and giving them a few months notice whilst pretending that no decisions had yet been made)

 

As ever with a Government agency, finding the document that actually publishes the new rates is a forensic ferreting exercise all of its own, but this is it, below

 

http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/legal-aid/funding-code/remuneration-of-expert-witnesses-guidance.PDF

 

These rates now come in to all cases with a start date after December 2013   (so it is worth knowing that an expert who is INSTRUCTED in January 2014, might get paid at the old rates if the CASE itself started before December 2013. If you’re an expert, that might well be a question worth asking)

 

 

Picking out the ones most common in care proceedings  (these are non-London rates, some of the London ones are slightly different)

 

[When I say 2011 rate, that was the rate from Oct 2011 until April 2013, when there was an interim cut]

 

Child psychiatrist now £108 per hour  [the rate in 2011 was £135]

 

Child psychologist £100.80 per hour [the rate in 2011 was £126]

 

DNA testing  £252 for the sample and testing, £72 for the report  [2011 was £315 and £90]

 

Interpreter £28 per hour   [2011 was £32]

 

Neurologist £122.40 per hour [2011 was £153]

 

Paediatrician £108 per hour            [2011 was £135]

 

Psychiatrist £108 per hour               [2011 was £135]

 

Psychologist £93.60 per hour          [2011 was £117]

 

Risk assessment expert £50.40 per hour [2011 was £63]

 

 

 

If you imagine a ballpark of the costs having been cut by 33% in two years (having already been cut down extensively in the 2011 changes) you’d be about right.

 

The new guidance is silent on social work costs, which have historically been at £30 per hour.  Let’s take that to mean that ISWs can still be paid at £30 an hour, which is good news, because applying the 33% cut given to other experts would mean ISWs working at £20 an hour, and there really would be none left at that rate.