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Child Protection Court Fees Scrapped – About Time

March 17, 2010

Patrick Butler writing in the Joe Public Blog at the Guardian reports on the good news that the government is scrapping the huge hike in court fees charged to local authorities bringing child protection cases before the courts. It was about two years ago that the government raised these court fees from a nominal £150 to almost £5000. The failure to put the case of baby Peter before a court of law was one of the main failings of Haringey Council in that case but that was before the government raised the fees. It seemed outright bizarre, especially in the light of the baby Peter case, to deter local authorities from placing such cases before the courts by increasing court fees.

When these fees were raised I think there was not a single person knowing anything about child protection who was in favour. All were united in condemnation. The increase so surprised the then President of the Family Division, Sir Mark Potter, that he came dangerously close to criticising the government.

… case of Baby P which came forcefully to public attention in November 2008 at the conclusion of the criminal trial of those responsible for his death. One of its immediate side effects was to cause a dramatic upsurge in the number of care proceedings commenced by local authorities following a downward trend over the preceding 6 months while local authorities came to terms with the provisions of the Public Law Outline and the large increase in court fees payable by them as the price of issuing proceedings in the course of their child safeguarding duties. [Sir Mark Potter – Hershman / Levy Lecture 2nd July 2009]

Lord Laming said these fees ought to be reviewed and Frances Plowden has now published that review. The conclusions are basically that there are no benefits, financial or otherwise from the raised fees and that they have had a deterrent effect leading to delay and inappropriate decisions being taken in child protection cases. The government now says the fees will be scrapped from April.

UPDATE: Patrick Butler has posted a comment containing detailed information which I urge you to read. In particular he has corrected my hasty assumption that the scrapping of the fees in April meant April this year. It does not it is to be scrapped in April 2011. So the whole stupid business is to carry on for another year even though it is now fully realised to be pointless and counter-productive. Can anybody explain how that makes sense?

The remaining questions (which you are invited to offer answers to) are:

Why on earth were fees raised in the first place in the face of united professional objection?

Exactly who initiated and pushed through this wholly counter productive policy?

Why, when so obviously wrong, has it been permitted to continue for two years and is going to continue for another year?

What can be done to prevent such stupidity in future?

And

Is it only the imminence of a general election which has made the government see sense on this as in several other matters (dog licences, elected house of lords etc)?

If the answer to the last question is in the affirmative then I may I suggest we  have general elections at six monthly intervals.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 17, 2010 7:34 pm

    Good post Wall. Here’s a quick attempt to answer your q’s.

    Q. Why on earth were fees raised in the first place in the face of united professional objection?
    A. Good question. Plowden notes that the policy was basically a done deal. Formal consultation ended just three weeks before implementation started.

    Q. Exactly who initiated and pushed through this wholly counter productive policy?
    A. Plowden blames the Treasury. “The main driver for change in these fees was the Treasury policy on fees and charges and the specific aim of increasing the proportion of court costs financed from users.”

    Q. Why, when so obviously wrong, has it been permitted to continue for two years?
    A. It’s actually going to continue for a further year, making nearly three in all. Abolition doesn’t take place until April 2011. Which appears to suit the Ministry of Justice. See my Society Daily blog post http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/mar/17/nhs-hygiene-society-daily

    Q. What can be done to prevent such stupidity in future?
    A. Another good question. The following is a quote on the government’s approach to policy making from Sir Roger Singleton in his report today on safeguarding, which might serve as a kind of warning against over-active top-down policy making.

    “This reflects a feeling, on the part of many professionals, of a wider lack of engagement in the development of policy by the centre. I have considerable sympathy with those frontline practitioners and managers who said to me, ‘I wish the policy people would come and talk to us before making changes’.”

    Q. Did the imminent election make the government see sense?
    A. I’d guess it was more likely that they couldn’t sit on the Plowden report any longer (it was completed last Autumn) because of the Laming progress report this week

    Patrick Butler, The Guardian

    • Brick permalink*
      March 18, 2010 10:53 am

      Thank you very much Patrick for your most helpful and informative comments. I have updated the main posting.

      • March 18, 2010 6:55 pm

        Wall – keep up the blog, I enjoy it. It’s a great read with great insights.
        Patrick

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