Cafcass responds to judicial consultation
Cafcass is a member of the two cross-professional working groups, led by Mr Justice Keehan (public law) and Mr Justice Cobb (private law), established to look at practices and processes in these two areas of family court proceedings.
The interim reports of both working groups, setting out proposals for reform, were made available for consideration and response. Cafcass has responded in its own right to both set of proposals.
Cafcass welcomes the initiative taken by the judiciary to review what changes need to be made to the Public Law Outline and Child Arrangements Programme five years after their introduction. In that time the family courts have experienced unsustainable rises in the numbers of cases coming before them and the working groups are right to point to the need for strengthened pre-court arrangements to ensure courts are only making decisions about children’s lives where it is absolutely necessary. Cafcass also supports the need to take action to improve consistency, streamline approaches, and strengthen case management to improve decisions for those families who do need to be in proceedings.
In our public law response, we support:
- A renewed focus on pre-proceedings work and managing risk, with more emphasis on gaining and recording the wishes and feelings of children at this stage. But we do not believe Cafcass should have a direct role in public law pre-proceedings work – this is a local authority role and we want to share learning and good practice so that local authority social workers are equipped to undertake this work and get it right first time.
- Proposals to reduce the number of unnecessary short notice applications, whether made by local authorities at the point of application or courts looking to fill available slots when scheduling. In the long-term, HMCTS will roll-out an online C110A form that will prompt the reasons behind a short notice application, with an interim protocol available in the meantime. However, we believe HMCTS reforms for family justice are urgent and should, if at all possible, be brought forward.
Our private law response supports the case for:
- Improved coordination and consistency of services that currently sit outside current legal or dispute resolution services and offer the right support at the right time to families experiencing separation, with practical means – including a revitalised Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) – to support positive co-parenting, so that the family court is not the default option.
- Introducing a triage system for applications to the family court to ensure that case allocation and ‘tracks’ for case progression are based on the individual circumstances of each case. We believe that effective triage could lead to improvements in directly evidencing children’s wishes and feelings; help address current concerns around how allegations of domestic abuse are handled; and result in swifter resolution of returning cases.
Cafcass is committed to working with the judiciary and other partners to achieve system improvements. As set out in our joint statement with our sister organisation, Cafcass Cymru, we believe this will require a sustained and coordinated programme work overseen by the Family Justice Board, with enhanced improvement support for local family justice boards through improved benchmarking analysis, peer challenge, and involvement of children and families in the design of any changes.