Friday, December 1, 2017

Private Law Proceedings And Cafcass

Private Law Proceedings And Cafcass
Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service) was set up on 1st April 2001 to bring together the family court services previously provided by a number of different organisations. Cafcass is a non-departmental public body which is accountable to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, who at the present time is Michael Gove MP. Cafcass work together with family and child lawyers for both legal aid and private family law and childcare law. Duncan Lewis offers both Private family law and publicly funded (legal aid) family law.

The role of Cafcass is to:

safeguard and promote the welfare of children
give advice to the family courts
make provision for children to be represented
provide information, advice and support to children and their families

Cafcass assist the Court in a number of different types of cases, however, this article deals with cases in which CAFCASS are asked to assist when parents or carers are separating or divorcing and have not reached agreement about arrangements for their children. These types of cases are referred to as private law proceedings. Duncan Lewis family lawyers are able to deal with such cases with Cafcass.

Cafcass consists of professionally qualified social workers who are known as Family Court Advisors. They are completely independent of all the parties and the Court unless appointed to represent a childs interests separately within the proceedings.

In private law proceedings the Family Court Advisor will act as a Child and Family Reporter or a Guardian if separate representation of the rights and interests of the child is required. A Family Court Advisor will only be appointed if an agreement cannot be reached between the parties and it is necessary for a report to be prepared on the issues in dispute. This report is called a Section 7 Report. The recommendations contained within the report are not binding on the Court when it comes to make its final decision, however it is generally very influential.

Since Cafcass was set up it has experienced a consistent rise in the request for Family Court Advisors to assist within Court proceedings. In January to December 2008 they received 37,052 private law cases compared to 43,697 during the same period in 2009, this equating to a 17.9% increase. This means that in some cases it is taking CAFCASS 20 weeks rather than the usual 12 to 14 weeks to prepare a report.

So what is the effect of the delay in a Child and Family Reporter being allocated by Cafcass? The negative effects of all this delay are being felt by the Courts, the family solicitors in the legal profession and most importantly the children and families themselves. Within private law proceedings parties are often left waiting a number of months before a Child and Family Reporter is allocated and during this time contact may not be taking place at all. Furthermore, if the issue to be determined is that of a childs residence, by the time the case is allocated and a Child and Family Reporter is able to carry out their investigations and report, a number of months will have passed during which time the child in question will become more settled with the current resident parent which will mean if all things are equal between the parties, the Court will be reluctant to change the status quo and the childs residence in favour of the other parent. Surely it is not fair for a parents case to be prejudice due to a delay beyond their control.

The Revised Private Law Programme came into effect on 1 April 2010. Its aim is to expedite court applications and the listing of the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA). The programme is also intended to address the issue of the current delays in Cafcass preparing reports. Under the revised Private Law Programme Cafcass has to carry out safeguarding investigations, such as determining if there are any issues of domestic violence, prior to the FHDRA. A Child and Family Reporter will then be required confirm the outcome of their investigations three days before the FHDRA and then attend the FHDRA when the Court, with the assistance of a mediator, will help the parties conciliate in the hope that agreement can be reached. If this process results in more agreements being reached, at an early stage, this will reduce the need for a Child and Family Reporter to prepare a report therefore reducing the pressure this places on Cafcass scarce resources.

In the event a report is required, the Revised Private Law Programme confirms that the Court should identify the specific issues that require investigation to enable the Child and Family Reporter to prepare a short focused report without delay. However, this may result in the allocated reporter not being able to undertake important investigations outside the ambit of the request and relevant information not being discovered and placed before the Court for consideration when making their decision.

Delay in private law cases coming to a satisfactory conclusion goes against one of the main principles underpinning the law relating to children, this being that any delay is likely to prejudice the welfare of the child. Therefore there needs to be fundamental changes in the way in which family cases and all those involved, including family solicitors and Cafcass, are funded and managed and these changes need to come about quickly in order to protect the most vulnerable members of our society, children.

Duncan Lewis one of the UKs fastest growing firms of solicitors, servicing both corporate entities and private individuals. The author is an experienced writer with expertise in writing about Family Lawyer, Family Solicitors, Domestic Violence and domestic violence solicitor.