There has been a call to “Scrap Cafcass” from Andrew Povey, leader of Surrey Council. Not a bad idea in itself but he goes on to recommend that Cafcass’s responsibilities be transferred to local authorities. The Children’s Guardian service, previously Guardian ad Litem (GAL) service was, up to 2001, administered through local authorities. There was wide concern about that because of the potential conflict of interest. Local authorities in England and Wales apply to the courts for Care and related orders. The job of the Guardian is to scrutinise such applications from the point of view of the interests of the child and, if necessary, criticise or even oppose the local authority application. In the pre 2001 era GALs were mostly administered at “arm’s length” but there were examples of interference by local authorities. Family Law Weekly Blog comments on Andrew Povey’s letter and gives an instance of at least a perception of pressure:- “I remember one GAL telling me in the olden days that she had to be careful what she said in evidence because if she was too often critical of the LA she would be dropped from receiving work.”
I myself recall from those bygone days when I did some GAL work a case where my enquiries uncovered wrongdoing by a local authority. A parent was told he had no legal right of contact with his child when in fact he had full rights and the LA knew this but continued to knowingly misinform him. My court report would reveal this. A LA Team Manager asked me not to include this information in my report because it would damage the LA’s reputation in their local court. I refused, he said he would lodge a complaint and recommend I not be reappointed as a GAL when my term came up. That indeed did happen and I then had a great fight on my hands to get reinstated. Well, all that was a long time ago and before NAGALRO was created, but it would certainly be a retrograde step to return the Children’s Guardian service to local authority control.
What Mr Povey may also not be fully aware of is that the Guardian service is only one part of Cafcass. There is also the private law service which provided court reports in cases where there are disputes over residence and contact between separated or divorcing parents. That service previously sat (uncomfortably) within the Probation Service and was never administered by local authorities. Nor would there seem any logic in it being moved into local authority control.
The obvious administrative answer about where to locate its responsibilities when Cafcass is disbanded is within the Court Service (HMCS). Now, I suspect a lot of people will sigh loudly and suck their teeth at that conclusion but, do you have a better answer?