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ALC Letter to Sir Alan Beith, the Chairman of the Justice Select Committee

If you listened to/watched the lengthy questioning of CAFCASS board and senior management which followed ALC Co-Chair Martha Cover’s appearance, you may have been astounded to hear that, at 22nd March 2011 there were only 7 public law cases which did not have an allocated Children’s Guardian. Many thanks to those of you on the Yahoo Children Panel group who posted their astonishment, and subsequently provided hard information. We wrote to Sir Alan Beith, the Chairman of the Justice Select Committee, on 9th April as follows (the table of 17 cases has not been included):

Dear Sir Alan

THE JUSTICE SELECT COMMITTEE’S INQUIRY INTO THE WORKING OF THE FAMILY COURTS

We provided a written submission to the committee on 13th September 2010, and although we were not called upon to give oral evidence to the committee we have, of course, followed the oral evidence sessions with interest.

We are writing to you to express the Association’s concern at one of the statistics provided to you by CAFCASS during the session of 22nd March 2011, namely that there were, at that time, only 7 public law cases which did not have a guardian allocated.

We do not think this can possibly be correct, if it is intended to be taken literally in the sense that, of live public law cases notified to Cafcass by 21st March 2011, only seven cases did not have a named guardian allocated to them in accordance with the provisions of section 41 of the Children Act 1989. We have, as the Justice Committee will be aware, serious criticisms of the manner in which Cafcass has used the term “allocation” over the past two years. Without accurate data, the meaning of which is clearly understood, it is not possible (either within Cafcass, or outside it) to measure performance, identify trends, and so decide how best improvements can be made.

Email comments posted on the Children Panel’s email forum about this statistic, in the course of about an hour, on the morning of 29th March by 6 members of the Children Panel who happened to be reading emails and wanted to comment, made it clear that between just these six panel solicitors there were considerably more unallocated cases than 7 on that morning.

On 7th and 8th April 2010 we conducted an informal survey, via that same email group, in which we asked for examples of cases which did not have a named guardian on 21st March 2011. Below is a table of the results:

[Table of 17 cases, with courts/court number]

It will be appreciated that this will not represent the full picture, as it incorporates only the responses of those panel members who are members of that email group, and were both working on 7th/8th April and in a position to respond to the email request. Further, membership of the group is concentrated in London and the South East. We received a number of additional notifications which we have not included, as the solicitors involved were unable to access the case information in time. We believe it to be the tip of the iceberg only.

As you may recall from our written submission of 13th September 2010, and the enclosed letter to the National Audit Office dated 28th May 2010 (section D, paragraph 3), we had hoped to produce data of our own in the early summer of 2010 showing the extent to which cases remained unallocated, but we encountered significant practical difficulties in eliciting such data.

We think that the true picture will only emerge from an independent audit of Cafcass’s own data.

Your committee may wish to seek some clarification of this issue.