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Monro Review – Second Act

August 9, 2010

I’m amazed it took so long before the second of the Monro “reference group”, Martin Narey took the stage to treat us to his extraordinary expertise and experience about almost everything. Currently, Martin is worried about delay in the family courts.

He claims that uncertainty has spread through family courts and with:-

“additional, sequential expert assessments being routinely ordered. This, paired with the evident lack of credence given to social workers, is causing unnecessary delay. The courts need urgently to reflect on the damage these delays are having on extremely vulnerable children.”

I don’t think there could be found a Family Judge or Family Magistrate in the land who would agree that they “routinely” order additional expert reports. Nor many who would admit to “uncertainty” about managing their court. As for a “lack of credence” given to social workers Martin misses the obvious point that social workers represent the applicant authority and, from the point of view of an impartial court, are regarded as witnesses as to fact but when they offer opinions, however expert they may be, their opinions cannot be regarded as independent. It’s like asking a police officer witness for an opinion about whether the accused is guilty or not.

It’s clearly a long time (if ever) since Martin attended a hearing in the Family Courts. If he had frequented these courts he would have heard social workers varying from the barely competent to the highly experienced and expert giving evidence. He would have quite often have heard them asked the following question by a lawyer:- “And is that your own professional opinion?” and heard answers like; “It’s the view of my authority.” or “It was the consensus at the conference.” or “It’s what my manager decided”. Very embarrassing; but the fact is that local authorities mostly do not permit their social workers the freedom to express their professional opinion on the witness stand in court for fear those opinions might run counter to policy or commit the LA to expenditure they have not budgeted for.

Both Martin Narey and Marion Davis seem to think that the way to get child protection cases through the courts at speed is by reducing  judicial scrutiny and cutting corners with justice. They hanker for the pre-1989 Act days when children, neglected and abused by their parents, were dumped into care to be neglected and abused  by the state after a quick rubber-stamp hearing in the magistrates’ court. A cheap but not at all cheerful prospect.

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