Session 2010-12
Publications on the internet

To be published as HC 518 -v

House of COMMONS



Justice Committee

The Operation of the Family Courts

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Mr Jonathan Djanogly MP, Ms Catherine Lee and Mr Tim Loughton MP

Evidence heard in Public Questions 293 - 349



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Justice Committee

on Tuesday 26 April 2011

Members present:

Sir Alan Beith (Chair)

Chris Evans

Ben Gummer

Mr Elfyn Llwyd

Yasmin Qureshi

Elizabeth Truss

Karl Turner


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Mr Jonathan Djanogly MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice, Catherine Lee, Director, Access to Justice, Ministry of Justice, and Tim Loughton MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education, gave evidence.

Q293 Chair: Mr Djanogly, Mr Loughton, Ms Lee, welcome. We are glad to have you with us as we look at family justice. I want to start with the Family Justice Review itself to establish what you may have either decided or may want to speculate on at this stage about the timetable for implementing proposals in the Review.

The Interim Report said that the system is not working. The President of the Family Division says that the courts are at breaking point now. Obviously, there are things that you might want to do quickly and things that will take longer. Where are we on that?

Mr Djanogly: It is important, first, to say, Sir Alan, that a lot of work has been carried out by the Government over the last year. I would be delighted to go into that in more detail and it is perhaps important that we should. On the Review and the important proposals that it is going to take forward to bring together the various strings of work, not only that we have been carrying out but also that the Review has been looking at in other countries and across the board in this country, I should say that the consultation document went out in March. The consultation will go on for a three-month period. The Final Report is due in the autumn. The Government will look to respond to that as quickly as possible. Our response will include an impact assessment and that will then lead to us putting forward our implementation proposals before the end of this year.

Q294 Chair: Is there anything that you feel you could be doing at this stage which is in Norgrove without waiting for the next stage of consultation?

Mr Djanogly: The answer is yes. Some people have said, "Why don’t you wait until Norgrove has responded until you do anything?" Given the state of the system as it exists and the urgent needs of children waiting for court cases, we felt that we had to act. I can tell you, for instance, that last year we approved 4,000 extra county court hearing days, and I have just approved another 4,000 this year. We feel that immediate investment in the system in that regard is necessary to deal with the delays that are there at the moment.

It goes much deeper than that, not only in terms of an immediate reaction but in terms of the view that the MoJ and indeed the DfE have as to how we should be working together. One of the immediate problems that we saw when we came into Government was the lack of joined-up thinking between Departments and, indeed, with the judiciary. We have immediately acted to rectify that. At the highest level, we now hold quarterly meetings between myself, Mr Loughton and Sir Nicholas Wall, President of the Family Division. Those have proved to be very helpful and hopefully are providing a degree of leadership at the highest level that did not exist previously.

At the lower level, we have instituted a series of local performance improvement groups. The first one started in October last year. There are now some 42 of them around the country. These are multi-disciplinary, bringing together local authority representatives, local judges, HMCS, Cafcass and LSC. Sometimes local lawyers are invited along as well. Working together, they are already providing excellent results in terms of identifying problem areas relevant to that area. You specifically mentioned at the start, Sir Alan, that "the system is not working" and "the system is at breaking point", quotes which you attributed to various people.

I would say that it is rather more complicated than that. When you look at it on the ground, some areas are doing much better than others. In particular, some Cafcasses are performing better than others and some courts are performing better than others. In the courts field, I can tell you that an average case in public law may be 53 weeks, but in the best performing courts, they are turning around cases in under 30 weeks.

The question is, first, that we need to look at and identify what is going on in specific areas-and we now have the means to do that-and then pull that together and look at it nationally. That is something we can do through the new National Performance Partnership which we have set up at the higher end to look at best practice across the country. A lot is already going on, and obviously we are looking forward to the Family Justice Review pulling that together.

Q295 Chair: The Review Panel were unable to cost their proposals because of what they describe as "an absence of information about the costs of the current system". How can you make decisions about implementation when you do not know what the proposals will cost?

Mr Djanogly: I think it is important to make the preliminary point here that we will wait until the Final Review and we can look at the cost implications in Government. The Review team themselves have identified a whole series of gaps in the statistics that they need to find out before they can put in costs. The costs that appear in the Initial Report are actually very high level.

But if you look at the Report at page 25, paragraph 133, they say it quite succinctly in these terms: "It is not possible to cost our proposals in the absence of information about the costs of the current system, but we believe that by removing duplication, refocusing the court’s attention and encouraging other methods of dispute resolution costs will be reduced. We will continue to work on this..."

Clearly, Sir Alan, MoJ and DfE will do our best to help them in identifying those costs so that we can benefit from that information at the time of the Final Report.

Tim Loughton: Can I chip in here? Clearly, there are going to be structural changes that will be required if we are to move ahead with the Norgrove Report that will have some costs attached to them. A lot of the solutions that we can bring to bear sooner rather than later are to do with communication and better management. Sir Nicholas Wall and the senior judges that you had in front of you said that a lot more could be done with the existing funding that is there, recognising that there is not going to be, on the face of it, a lot of extra funding coming in. The duplication to which the Report refers is a major source of cost.

The bureaucracy around a lot of the proceedings and the lack of trust between various different agencies involved in the court procedures, such as the duplication of expert reports and everything else, is bringing about costs now which need not be there. If everybody spoke to each other more and we had a better handle on the management, which is what we are trying to bring about now ahead of the structural changes, we could speed things up and save a bit of money in the process.

Q296 Chair: One of the areas of greatest cost uncertainty is integrated IT, which the Panel saw as a very important part of the integration of the whole system. Do you not face that with some apprehension?

Tim Loughton: Yes.

Mr Djanogly: Yes, I agree. The answer is yes. The Report quite rightly points out that different parts of the system are operating off different statistics in terms of court days. What that means from a Cafcass point of view might not mean the same from an MoJ point of view. One of the advantages of the Final Report will be to identify those areas in which people are working off different bases and to pull them together.

Q297 Chair: That is not quite the same thing as having an integrated IT system, which is a notoriously difficult thing to achieve.

Tim Loughton: I think one of the problems is that they do not have a centralised integrated information system at all, let alone a technical solution to do this. Having the headquarters brought together in Coventry is a start to that.

Now, it may well turn out that there will have to be a serious project for centralising IT to go with it. The history of central Government-initiated IT projects is not one that makes one jump up and down with joy, of course, Sir Alan. We will need to look at that very carefully. It does strike us that the admin procedures of Cafcass are slightly behind time and we need to get up to speed with it. IT is going to be part of that solution, I am sure.

Mr Djanogly: Of course, a positive side of this, Sir Alan, is that having various IT systems, where, hopefully, at the end of the day, one would be in place, could actually be a cost-saver as well.

Q298 Chair: How often have I heard that said?

Mr Djanogly: Indeed, but this time we will get it right, I am sure.

Q299 Yasmin Qureshi: Minister, I want to ask you some questions about the proposed Family Justice Service. First, what is your understanding of how this would work? As you know, there have been a number of recommendations made by the Family Justice Review about this, and, in particular, about the question of ensuring that there is the independence of the judiciary and a full role for the President of the Family Division in this whole set-up.

Mr Djanogly: Your question is a very broad one and goes to the heart of the sort of system that we want to see set up at the end of this. I think the starting point is the statutory framework. The terms of reference for the Review were that we should work within the existing statutory framework but that the Review team could look to question that. I was very pleased to see that they have fundamentally accepted the existing statutory framework. They say that it is fit for purpose. They have reinforced the principle that the interests of the child should remain paramount and also reinforced the idea that the voice of the child should be heard more prominently within the system. I think that is a very good starting point.

Equally, they also make the strong point that, where people reach agreement within the system, either privately through contract perhaps or through court order, there should be greater adherence to what has been agreed. That has also come strongly through their Report and it is something that I would certainly endorse too. The Family Justice Service should bring support for the needs of children and families to work together more coherently. The key towards changing the system to address that will be to have closer joint working between the various agencies, to take out the high levels of duplication that exist within the system, to increase efficiency within the system, and to reduce the delay and the financial and emotional costs that exist for children and families within the system at the moment.

Q300 Yasmin Qureshi: In relation to the fact that the Government have themselves estimated that, through the proposed changes to legal aid, about 211,000 people will no longer receive legal help and about 53,500 people will no longer receive representation for private law cases and have budgeted for extra mediation, how are the Government going to deal with the fact that it is accepted generally in areas of family law that people will not just give up because they do not have public funding? They are going to carry on trying to argue their cases. What plans do the Government have to deal with these types of scenarios?

Mr Djanogly: First, it is not the Government’s intention by any means that people should give up. It is very important to make the opening point here that 90% of separating couples reach agreement between themselves or with varying degrees of mediation. What we are actually talking about is the very small minority-about a tenth of the cases-where at the moment, for one reason or another, they do not reach agreement between themselves, and they want to take their case to court.

The Government are saying here that, in such a situation, we believe that, to a great extent, more of those people should have a non-court alternative-not all of them; some will have to go to court as there may be terrible incidents of violence or whatever where court is going to be the option. By providing a non-court alternative, yes, we can take cases out of the system, which will help to de-clog a clogged system. Yes, we can get savings for the taxpayer, and, yes, we also believe that for the majority there will be a better outcome through alternative procedures such as conciliation or mediation, where the evidence suggests that the costs are cheaper-literally one-fifth of going to court-and the time taken to take the case through is much quicker as well.

Q301 Yasmin Qureshi: Would you also have a provision in it that a judge, who feels that a case needs legal representation, is able to make that decision?

Mr Djanogly: The decision as to whether someone has legal representation is ultimately their own. The question is whether they can afford to pay for that legal representation. Of course, in a public family law matter, where there is domestic violence or an instance of a threat to a child, in those situations then legal aid will be available.

Q302 Chris Evans: I have read through the Pre-Action Protocol for mediation and I am concerned about the costs of that. Is it realistic to budget for a 3,300 increase in mediations when more than 200,000 litigants will no longer be eligible for legal aid?

Mr Djanogly: I am personally very pleased that you have brought up the Pre-Action Protocol, which came into effect on 6 April. It is something with which I am very pleased. That was a significant piece of work for the Department. Of course, to answer your question directly, it is important to realise that, at the moment, if someone is eligible for legal aid, they have to go to mediation assessment. What we are proposing is not a new system if you are within the publicly-funded sector. What we are doing is extending that system to the privately-funded sector.

We have no maximum number of mediations that we will permit. You mentioned a figure, and that comes from the impact assessment. If it is more, we would be pleased because that would be less court costs. The more mediation the better as far as we are concerned and we will fund it. If someone is currently eligible for legal aid, they will be eligible, if our proposals come into effect, for mediation.

Q303 Chris Evans: What concerns me is that, in our brief, it says, "Initial analysis estimates that 3,300 more mediations might be provided, at a total additional cost of approximately £5m." That is what I am concerned about. Are we talking about costs maybe running away with themselves here?

Mr Djanogly: No, we do not believe so. We can come back to you on that. Of course, all these are averages, and I think the variation is £5 million to £7 million. At £7 million, that would still be fine within our savings projections. Indeed, it is the right thing to do because this Government support mediation and support it as a form of early intervention. It is better to get to the cases earlier and deal with the problems, not least in terms of the interests of the families and children involved, with early non-conflict resolution rather than long drawn-out court cases.

Q304 Chris Evans: The last question is on costs. How can you be sure that the Protocol does not add costs and delays because one party is not co-operating and is just being completely unreasonable? How can you make sure that the costs are going to stay down in that way?

Mr Djanogly: Ultimately, our proposals for mediation are for non-compulsory mediation. Even if someone goes for a mediation assessment, if they want to be difficult, they can say, "I am not interested in mediation." If that is the case, then the case goes immediately to court. That is the reason for the assessment coming to an end, if you like. I do not see this as being a cause of delay. I only see this as a cause of cases being speeded up.

Q305 Chris Evans: What are your views on compulsory mediation?

Mr Djanogly: The Government’s view to date in the Pre-Action Protocol that has been adopted is that that is not the way to go forward, but we do not have closed minds on this issue. Interestingly, the views of the Family Justice Review in their Interim Report are also not to go for compulsory mediation, although I know they looked at it in Australia.

They are taking our position slightly forward, though. It is important to note that they have accepted the Government’s position and support it. They are saying that we should go slightly forward by saying that it should be open for judges. If there was a situation where one party was being difficult and did not want to engage in mediation, for instance, the Interim Review is saying that, in such a situation, the judge could take that into consideration in looking at the costs. That is something that the Government will certainly be keen to look at. I know the Review team is going to be doing more work on that aspect up to the Final Report and we will look at that with interest.

Q306 Chris Evans: An NAO report says that, on average, mediation cost £753 and took 110 days. Cases that went to court cost £1,682 and took 435 days. Is there an aspiration to reduce the amount of time that mediation takes, from the Government’s point of view? Are there any sorts of targets they have produced that go any further with those costs?

Mr Djanogly: Mediations are not conducted through the Government, obviously, but, to be frank, our concentration is going to be on reducing court times rather than mediation times.

Q307 Chris Evans: The last question I have is that the NSPCC, among others-and my colleague touched on this-expressed concern that the voice of the child is not heard during mediation. How can you ensure that mediation produces results that are in the best interests of the child rather than those of the parents?

Mr Djanogly: Sorry, the door was slamming. I could not hear.

Q308 Chris Evans: My colleague touched on the voice of the child. How can you make sure that the voice of the child is heard during the mediation process and that it is in the best interests of the child and not just the parents?

Mr Djanogly: The current guidelines that mediators follow have very specific proposals for how a child should be dealt with within mediation. They very much highlight the importance of the child. Indeed, within a mediation, the mediator will engage the child in the mediation. I would go so far as to say that, from everything that I have seen, a child is more likely to be given a fair hearing in the less formal atmosphere of a mediation-which for a child is obviously very important-than is the case for a court process. Obviously, there are exceptions. If violence is involved and so forth, that might not be the case and court might be the way to go. In a normal situation, I would say that the voice of the child would be heard in just as fair a fashion, if not more so, through mediation rather than going through the courts.

Q309 Chris Evans: The other thing is that we have heard in evidence that mediation is patchy. How can the Justice Department ensure that there is high-quality mediation available to everybody?

Mr Djanogly: If someone is having mediation which is being paid for by the taxpayer-LSC-funded mediation, if they are eligible for legal aid-then they would have to go to a mediator approved by the LSC, which basically means that Family Mediation Council qualifying levels apply. The FMC have worked very hard on this. They now have a Kitemark and that provides a pretty high level of mediation.

If someone privately wants to go to mediation, we are now saying that they have to go for assessment before they issue court proceedings. But they may not want to go through the court system or the public system at all. They may want to use their neighbour as a mediator. This sort of thing happens in real life. What we are saying, though, is that there should be higher levels for those who do go to mediators. There should be an expectation of a certain quality. We are working on that at the moment with the FMC.

Q310 Chair: Is that just the Justice Department or are both Departments involved in the mediation issue?

Tim Loughton: That is yours, Jonathan.

Mr Djanogly: That is the Justice Department because it is the Justice Department’s form that has to be handed in to the court in order that they can show they have been assessed for mediation.

Q311 Chair: You cannot be entirely unconcerned about the quality of mediation available to those who are not getting legal aid, can you?

Mr Djanogly: No, I am indeed concerned, and a lot of work is going on between the MoJ and the FMC in terms of getting a set level between mediators. This is going to take time, but it is something that is very much being concentrated on. I know also that the professional bodies such as the Law Society are very keen that this should happen as well. So I think we are all heading in the same direction.

Q312 Elizabeth Truss: Mr Loughton, in terms of the Public Accounts Committee’s report on the performance of Cafcass, my understanding is that the Government’s recommendation was that, despite agreeing with the recommendations in the Report, you supported the continuation of Cafcass as an organisation. Could you perhaps outline the other alternatives that the Government considered and why you decided to maintain Cafcass in its current organisational structure?

Tim Loughton: That was the PAC report from last November, which did not come out in the most glowing terms for Cafcass. It was at a time when the Norgrove Review was starting its work and had not reported. So we declined to make known any views on the future of Cafcass until after Norgrove. Norgrove, in the Interim Report, has quite clearly stated that the future of Cafcass should be within the new Family Justice Service and transfer responsibility to the MoJ.

Some people in the past have said that we should scrap Cafcass altogether, but you have to have somebody doing that job. Also, we took the view that, with all the problems there are with Cafcass, we are going through, hopefully, some quite abnormal times at the moment, given the very high increase in workload that Cafcass has been faced with post-Baby Peter from 2008 onwards. There are a number of reforms and improvements going through with Cafcass that are beginning to bear fruit. There have been some signs of improvement. On that basis, we deferred any decision about the actual future structure of Cafcass until after Norgrove. It was slightly unfair to judge Cafcass at that precise time. I think that the rather easily bandied-around soundbite about Cafcass at the time was slightly unfair, given the extraordinary demands on that service.

Q313 Elizabeth Truss: Do you support the idea that the service will move to the MoJ from the Department for Education?

Tim Loughton: We are not going to make a final judgment until we have got the Final Report, but we have had meetings with David Norgrove and his Review team, including my Secretary of State, the Lord Chancellor and the Ministers directly involved. We all see a deal of logic in that direction. There is a lot of work to be done on the detail of a transition, the status of Cafcass within a court service within the MoJ and how we retain the integrity of a board of Cafcass. Cafcass is a very different animal from the court service which employs a lot of administrative people. Cafcass employs an awful lot of social workers with different skill sets as well. In principle, that direction, probably, has met with a favourable response from both Departments, but then you have to start thrashing out the detail and that is a rather more complicated process.

Q314 Elizabeth Truss: Are other alternatives to Cafcass being considered? Rather than asking whether the current system is working, are we looking at what works in other systems, how is this handled elsewhere and has there been a more open study by the Government into this, aside from the Norgrove Review? Is that something that you are actively looking at?

Tim Loughton: We are not looking at a Cafcass Mark II. The problems with Cafcass are not just about Cafcass. The problems relate to the whole of the way in which we run family courts in terms of protection, private law and everything else that goes with it. There are a number of reviews running at the moment that are very germane to what happens with Cafcass, starting with the Munro Review.

The Munro Review is going to come out next month with some quite radical proposals that will have big implications for the way in which family courts look after public law cases, particularly in relation to safeguarding. Cafcass will need to be able to respond to that if that is to be successful. The judiciary will need to be able to respond to that. Local authority social workers will have to change their ways if we are to improve the whole system. If we get all that right, the implications are that Cafcass, in whatever form it is, under whichever other umbrella it is in the future, will be able to do its job more effectively, more swiftly and better focused on the child, which is absolutely germane to all this.

Q315 Elizabeth Truss: To what extent do you think the current problems in Cafcass are the quality of the management as opposed to the organisational structure and the way in which it works?

Tim Loughton: I think it is a combination of both and other things. That is why it is really difficult just to put your finger on what has gone wrong in Cafcass. To try and put all the problems happening in the family justice system at the moment on Cafcass is unfair. I think it is a combination of things.

First, it is the quality of social work and the demands on social workers involved in safeguarding at the moment. There are high case loads, high turnover, low morale, high vacancy rates and a very, very bureaucratic system such that they are spending 80% of their time, as UNISON will claim, in front of a computer screen rather than eyeballing the people they are there to protect.

Secondly, it is Cafcass itself, the workers they have and the vacancy rates that they have had. I think it was the whole way that it was managed right from the start when it was set up under the aegis of the now Chairman of the PAC-interestingly, the first Children’s Minister. I also think the judiciary itself is not the most efficient way of running some of these cases. Again, Norgrove had some very interesting things to say there, comparing it with the way they run it in other countries.

In all of this, as Jonathan has said, it is very mixed picture. I can take you to some Cafcass offices that are running very efficiently and I can take you to another one, which I shall be visiting shortly, which is not. Why is it that within the same organisation they can get things quite right in one part of the country and quite wrong in another part? I think there is poor dissemination of best practice, which, to an extent, is down to management. It is management at the top but also management at regional and local level. But then you could say that, ultimately, it is the responsibility of the national management to get it right. I think we have all been frustrated with the time that it has taken for some of the poorer performing areas to improve. Is part of this down to communication? Are they actually talking to those areas which are doing it better now? If they are not, why not, and why haven’t management done something about it?

Q316 Elizabeth Truss: What would you say the crucial factor is between the areas that are doing well and the ones that are doing badly?

Tim Loughton: Communication. There is one thing that I have found absolutely extraordinary. I have sat in on a number of family courts. I visit Cafcass. Most weeks I am visiting a Children’s Services Department and talking to social workers.

Let us take the example of adoption, which is quite a contentious issue at the moment. I have sat in on adoption panels where they will claim that all the problems are down to all the delays caused in the courts, who are forever asking for yet more expert witness reports and delays. If you go and speak to the judges, they will say that all the problems are down to the adoption panels. They are always taking for ever to meet and decide. I said, "Have you spoken to each other?" That does not happen, apparently. So I had to write to every local authority in the country saying, "Would your adoption panel people please go and have a chat with the judges?" Sir Nicholas Wall has made the same recommendation to his people as well.

Cafcass should be in that loop. Local authority social workers should be in that loop. It has not happened, and it seems absurd that people are not talking to each other to try and get the system working more efficiently. This is why these local performance improvement groups are absolutely essential-we have already got 42 up and running- to make sure that people are communicating with each other to see where the problems are and what they are doing about them.

Mr Djanogly: There was an obsession with targets and statistics, but what was missing was communication.

Q317 Elizabeth Truss: That is often the case when you have a series of centralised organisations that report upwards. They do not necessarily communicate on a horizontal level with each other. That can be a structural problem.

Tim Loughton: But what is interesting is that, when real people get round a table locally, they appear to be doing some good things. Therefore, just bunging a whole load of top-down targets and directives on them is not necessarily the way to do it. The way to do it is to make sure that we learn how they are doing it well there and say, "Why on earth are you not doing it?"-next door, in some cases.

Q318 Mr Llwyd: Following on from what you have just said, can I put this question to you both? A typical scenario in the Family Court nowadays is a couple appearing before a Family Court judge, and one of the former partners will allege violence and/or sexual interference with a child. That, unfortunately, is very often used as a ploy in order to spin the matter out. Not always, but very often, judges, with the best will in the world, want a finding of fact hearing within a reasonable time, but they are unable to do so. That immediately causes a huge delay in the system, which then impacts on judicial performance, on Cafcass and everybody else. What can we do to sort this out?

Mr Djanogly: Are you talking here about public or private?

Mr Llwyd: It could be either, but public principally.

Mr Djanogly: Generally, there is a recognition by those of us who are involved-this came out in the Family Justice Review as well-that too many people are not taking enough notice of what the courts are saying and we do need a tougher approach towards enforcement of what has been agreed.

Q319 Mr Llwyd: But, gentlemen, is it not a resource issue? As I say, family judges are people who are committed to the work they do and they want things done properly for the children. When they see their diary coming up from below them saying that they do not have a free day for four months, it is not good stuff at all.

Mr Djanogly: I will refer you to the Family Justice Review Interim Report, paragraph 17: "More money would not be the answer, even if it were available. Major reform is needed to ensure better outcomes, and make better use of the available resources." That runs through the Report in many different ways. It is not fundamentally a resourcing issue. There is huge duplication within the system as it exists between our Departments and the various services, with significant cost implications. We need to sort those out.

Tim Loughton: Can I add to that on several levels? There is a lack of management. Who is actually running the courts? There is a lack of joined-up ownership of this, which is why there is a suggestion of the Chief Executive of the Family Justice Service coming in to get a handle on all of this. Who is in control? Is it the social worker, Cafcass or the judge? It should be the judge.

One of the things that the Norgrove Review highlights at finding 64 is this: "Judges have a natural tendency to look for certainty and support in making these difficult and emotionally demanding judgments….This has been exacerbated by lack of trust in the judgment of local authority social workers". It is not just them but others as well, which leads, I think, judges to ask for excessive amounts of documentation and expert reports, which takes time, causes delay and causes cost as well.

If we can get people talking together and we can get a system that works together, we might have a system where the major players trust each other. This is absolutely where Eileen Munro is coming from in terms of the social worker input into all of this. There are people, I think, who should be available to give evidence in court who are rarely called on, such as foster carers. I go and speak to foster carers and rarely do they get asked into court to give their view on the future of a child they may have been looking after for months or even years, and yet they probably have a better-formed view than a Cafcass guardian, who has spent half-an-hour on the child in the last three months, but they are not asked. There should be better communication and better trust.

Elfyn, on your specific point on violence, I spent a week being a social worker effectively, last October up in Stockport, which was a really useful use of my time. It was absolutely fascinating seeing it from the sharp end. One thing I had not completely appreciated was just how much of children’s safeguarding cases, which then end up in court, are related to domestic violence. It may then turn out to have the sorts of claims and counter-claims which you mentioned. It is a problem that we underplay.

In the team that I worked with in Stockport, there was a specialist domestic violence social worker on the safeguarding team. She was an absolute lynchpin, a really good social worker as well. She was the real lynchpin of that team and the expertise that she brought to bear on determining domestic violence angles to various cases was absolutely invaluable. I think that is an example from which we could learn more, such as integrating domestic violence teams. There is some great expertise around the country, but often it is in a silo from what the safeguarding units are doing, and the two are very closely bound up.

Q320 Mr Llwyd: Can I move on to Cafcass itself? In a previous evidence session before us, Mrs Justice Pauffley said that "it is….a major anxiety that the self-employed guardians, generally the more mature and more experienced guardians, are viewed by some areas as being too expensive. In the judges’ experience, those are precisely the individuals who are best able to help in private and public law cases."

Cafcass figures show that self-employed staff are not only cheaper than agency staff but they are marginally cheaper than directly employed staff. They also offer flexibility, and, as we have already heard, they are popular with the judiciary. Given this, why does Cafcass seem to be making less use of them now?

Tim Loughton: That is largely an operational matter for Cafcass, but I agree with the comments of the judge. There is a great deal of expertise in those self-employed workers. There used to be many more of them working within Cafcass before the reorganisation back in 2003, who did a rather good job. Part of the problems with Cafcass now is the haemorrhaging of some of those staff going back 10 years.

Q321 Chair: I have to say that when we did our report on Cafcass a long time ago, which led to the resignation of the Board, we were warned by the self-employed guardians that this is what would happen.

Tim Loughton: They were right, and you were right to highlight that at the time. I had just become a Shadow Children’s Minister in those days, and one of the concerns that many of us raised was that we seemed to be losing a huge amount of expertise and grey hairs, to put it in that way. That is double-sided, because part of the problem with Cafcass now is that the age demographics of the work force is such that a lot of them are coming up to retirement. Many of them have chosen to take early retirement, as have many social workers already in any case, which means that we are losing a lot of that expertise. Over half of the Cafcass workers are over the age of 50, which is quite alarming. If we do not get Cafcass right, in whatever form, then I fear that many more of them will decide to vote with their feet and leave at a time when we can ill afford that.

We need to use all the expertise there is. There has been a problem with Cafcass regarding their sickness rates, which they have started to get on top of. It is now down to about the average for equivalent public sector workers. But, again, it is highly differential in different parts of the country, Elfyn.

Q322 Mr Llwyd: With regard to the spike in cases brought to court after the Baby Peter case, it is argued that some were chronic neglect cases and there were strong arguments that these should have been brought to court sooner anyway. Do you accept that the number of public law cases may well continue at the current level for some time to come and are you planning on that basis?

Tim Loughton: The answer to that is that I fear they will, and the 882 care applications in March represented the highest monthly figure on record. There has been an increase of 35% in care and supervision cases over the last couple years, post-Baby Peter. That is a huge increase for any organisation to deal with, let alone one that was in a relatively fragile state, as Cafcass was at that stage. Whatever has happened with Cafcass, we have to look at it in the context of the huge additional workload. Now, why did that happen?

Mr Djanogly: Can I just interrupt you briefly?

Tim Loughton: Please do.

Mr Djanogly: This is one of the reasons why we took the immediate decision to increase the number of county court family days. Indeed, that will not only cover the increase of cases but will also reduce the backlog.

Tim Loughton: The two points I was going to make were, first, has that spike happened because the people responsible are doing their job better and they should have been seeking out some of these cases rather more efficiently pre-Baby Peter, so this is a reaction to that? Or, secondly, are they being too risk averse? Are they saying, "That could be another Baby P. Quick, we had better start care proceedings", whereas, in the past, they may have given that family the benefit of the doubt and they may have put more resources into keeping that family together rather than taking the child into care on a temporary or full-time basis? It is a difficult call, but certainly the number of children in care about whom the courts have then upheld that was the right decision would suggest that perhaps more children should have come into the care system pre-Baby Peter than actually did, which is part of the problem.

On the delay point, because it is now taking, on average, 53 weeks, there is a delayed effect, and we will still see the effect, of the post-Baby Peter spike for some while to come, I fear, because of the time that it has taken to get them through the courts. Even though the numbers coming up now are falling off, the numbers going through the courts will continue to be quite high, although last month the number of disposals showed a slight increase, which was an encouraging chink of light at the end of the tunnel. However, we have a way to go yet.

Q323 Mr Llwyd: Baroness Howarth told us that, while Cafcass had cleared the backlogs, "I am sure that is true [that children don’t see enough of their social workers]". Do you think this is acceptable, and how can Cafcass ensure that the courts are fully appraised of a child’s best interests and wishes while providing a safe minimum service?

Tim Loughton: It is not acceptable. That view and the figures related to it have come up in numerous reports, not least from the Children’s Rights Director with his regular and very good surveys of children in the care system, who will say that they do not see enough of their social worker or that they do not see the same social worker because of the high turnover in social workers.

I set up a group of children in the care system who come and see me on a quarterly basis now. They are a group of young people who have been through the care system as well. They come and tell me what the situation is at the sharp end and they do not hold back. A common complaint, absolutely, is the lack of quality interaction. Despite the best endeavours of social workers, because of chasing their tails with high case loads and everything else, that is not there and that is a false economy as well.

Again, the Munro Report is very much focused on the wishes, feelings and the journey of the child. What she is trying to do is to ask a fundamental question: if the system were to change, how would it need to change to make sure the child is getting a much better deal and everything is focused on getting the best deal for that child, with the child being part of that deal too? That means entirely taking on board, when they are old enough, their wishes, feelings and welfare.

There is the point I made earlier that, despite the best intentions and some very good people working within Cafcass as guardians and others, the amount of quality time that they do spend, or are able to spend, with the actual children is far too low in many cases and yet the judges place great store on their views. There may be other people involved in those court processes who have spent rather more quality time with the child, who do not get much of a look-in for their views, which may be rather better informed. That seems to me an odd way of doing it.

Q324 Ben Gummer: If I may ask one supplementary question on Cafcass, Mr Loughton, in simple terms, are you not just describing the deficiencies of Cafcass of variable quality across the country as the deficiencies of any monopoly?

Tim Loughton: That is a rather interesting and much bigger question. Should there be some competition within the safeguarding and care of children scenario? That is probably an argument for another day. What are the incentives for Cafcass to get it right? There is the fact that they are facing big shake-ups and greater transparency in how they are getting it wrong but they cannot sustain. It will mean big implications for who is running Cafcass and how it is run if we do not see sustainable signs that it is going right.

I think the antidote at this stage to a monopoly is the sunlight and transparency of better scrutiny and accessibility to what is going on there. Part of the problem is that all the different agencies, Cafcass and others, use different sets of figures and assessments as well as costs, which is why it is so difficult to get a handle on all of this and to find out exactly where the problem is, hence needing to have proper management of the whole system, which is what Norgrove is trying to work towards. Cafcass is a part of that, but it is not the only problematic part of that.

Q325 Ben Gummer: Could I just pick up on one thing you were talking about, which is case management? It is a common complaint which I am sure you have heard many more times than I have about the number of adjournments. It is running at 80% at the moment in my Family Courts in Ipswich. It is the inability of the judges there to be able to manage cases efficiently and not to employ wasted costs orders when they should do. There are people getting away with delaying the court process time after time after time. They are repeat offenders, be they particular social workers, Cafcass, lawyers or whoever. No one ever bears the costs of that. You rightly say that there should be more communication, which is the good side of it, but what happens when things go wrong? If I can add a further question to that, who will actually make sure that the judges are managing their cases properly and bear the consequences for case management?

Mr Djanogly: This is a very important question and one that is addressed quite significantly by the Family Justice Review team. They have looked at how other countries work. The Norgrove team have come up with management practices from other countries that show there is much more transparency in those other countries as to how judges operate and how they allocate their time and so forth. The Justice Review team is going to be doing more work on that aspect. I assure you that it is an area in which the Government take a great deal of interest for all the reasons you have just given. We will be looking to seek action in this regard following the Final Report.

That has to be balanced with the point made by Sir Nicholas Wall in his response to the Family Justice Review that the independence of the judiciary must be sustained. There is clearly a balance to be had here, but I do agree with you that we will want to see better management systems put in place so that we do get better value for money in the way that we use our courts.

Tim Loughton: And continuity and consistency as well. It seems absurd to me that, in too many cases, there will be different judges seeing a case through-not least as this is probably one of the most sensitive areas of family law, where you are dealing with deeply damaged children and families. You desperately need the continuity of the same social worker and guardian dealing with them, which too often is not there. When you have a different judge piloting the various stages of the case through and it gets delayed because a criminal case comes in which the judge is involved, etcetera, it seems to me a remarkably inefficient way of doing it. You said, "Who bears the cost of all this?" The child bears the cost of all this and that is why the delay is absolutely unacceptable.

There are ways of doing it better. I do not know if you have had Nick Crichton in front of you but certainly he has given evidence to past Select Committees. He has a Family Drug and Alcohol Court in Wells Street, in which I have sat many times. He is part of the Munro Review Panel and is a remarkably talented and inspirational judge. Basically, his productivity levels are enormous because he sits there and ploughs though the cases. He will have a mother in every Monday morning, if that is what it takes, to make sure that she is following the guidance of the court. He will sit until late on Christmas Eve, if that is what it takes to make sure that cases are not just left in limbo and adjourned for another few months or whatever. He makes time to see those cases through. I think that most people who have been through his court will agree that they have had a sympathetic and efficient hearing. Whether or not they like the outcome is another matter, but they are seen very much as an individual case rather than as a statistic.

The Family Drug and Alcohol Court pilots which he has been running-this came up in the earlier statements from Sir Nicholas Wall and others-are doing some incredibly interesting things about how you deal with deeply damaged relationships between children on the cusp of going into care and their parents. It is a much more efficient way of running things. Certainly, it may cost more money up front, but look at the money it is saving because you do not then have children coming into care in most cases or you do not have the case dragging on for years and years at high cost. I think we have a lot to learn from that pilot.

Mr Djanogly: Can I just add, Sir Alan, that in fairness to the judiciary, this is not an issue that they have ignored? They have been working on it. I should point out that only two weeks ago, the President’s Guidance on Listing and Hearing came out, which addresses this exact point. They are looking to reduce delays through the system but also continuity of judges running through cases. That particular point is also featured very clearly in the Family Justice Review. So let us see now how the Justice Review team take on board what the judiciary have just come out with. I will be very interested to see that. But it would be wrong to say that this is a point that has not been noticed by the judiciary.

Q326 Ben Gummer: I am sure. May I ask three very quick questions about expert witnesses? Mr Djanogly, you mentioned in a previous session about your consideration of rule 9.5 cases where the child will continue to receive legal aid for expert witnesses. What happens when the judge directs that parents require expert witnesses for their side but they are unable to afford it? Are you looking at that?

Mr Djanogly: Under the proposals, experts would be available not only in exceptional circumstances-we are talking about private family law cases here-but also where there is domestic violence and where a child is separately represented, as well as in all public law cases. If violence is there, then legal aid will be provided.

Ben Gummer: On the issue of the fee cut-

Q327 Chair: Just before we leave that, what if it is the judge who forms the view that there is something about this case other than the factors that you have described which makes it perhaps unusually necessary to have some piece of expert evidence? It is not clear who would then pay for it.

Mr Djanogly: It is the LSC which makes the decision now and not the judge. However, what we are looking at very carefully as part of our Legal Aid Review, to which we will be responding shortly, is what constitutes domestic violence? In that regard, we are looking at different measures as to when that will apply. Certainly, the views of the judge in a case are obviously being looked at in that context. The answer to Mr Gummer’s question is that we are looking at that carefully.

Q328 Mr Llwyd: But, to follow up Sir Alan’s point, I always thought that the judge had an inherent right to override the system in the interests of justice and to say, "Here is a case deserving of public representation."

Mr Djanogly: In that situation the case would probably be adjourned and the judge’s views would be made clear to the LSC. If you would like, I can come back with the procedure on that in more detail. If you would like that, I will do it with pleasure.

Q329 Ben Gummer: Regarding expert witness fees, there has been a lot of complaint about the reduction of fees and the effect that is having, especially in London, on the availability of witnesses. Some NHS Trusts are saying that the fees are now beneath the costs of providing consultants to the court. Is this a problem that you are finding? Is it anecdotal or is it right?

Mr Djanogly: We have anecdotally also heard about fee cuts in London, but I can confirm that the LSC has made no fee cuts in London. I have also been told that there are no significant problems with access to appropriately publicly-funded expert witnesses in London. Different types of witnesses have different rates and the rates vary across the country, so maybe that is what people are looking at. But we do not see there being a problem in terms of people accessing experts in London.

Q330 Ben Gummer: If more expert witnesses are to come from panels supplied by the NHS but the NHS are saying that the rates are now beneath those which are affordable to lead consultants, is it not going to make it difficult to draw expert witnesses from the NHS?

Mr Djanogly: I understand that staff employed by NHS trusts who undertake expert witness work generally do so independently and are instructed and paid directly. So we do not see that as a problem.

Q331 Ben Gummer: They seem very high in any case, in my view.

Mr Djanogly: In terms of taking things forward, of course this is being looked at as part of the Legal Aid Review. That does propose an immediate cut of 10% across the board and also a further review as to how expert reports are costed generally. This is a work-in-progress.

Q332 Chris Evans: Do you intend to implement the scheme for media access to the Family Courts contained in the Children, Schools and Families Act?

Tim Loughton: Shall I take that?

Mr Djanogly: Yes.

Tim Loughton: This is Part 2 of the Act from last year, which was a Bill on which I sat and went through in the wash-up. Part 2 on transparency in the courts was never debated. So we had decided not to implement it at least until we had the Final Report from Norgrove to consider. I have to say that I think it was a piece of legislation in haste, which managed, remarkably, to unite just about everybody in opposition to it-from the judiciary, who thought it could be too intrusive, to the children’s charities, who thought it would compromise the welfare and confidentiality of children, to the editors of newspapers, who felt that it did not go far enough and was a fudge. I remember having all of them in front of a Bill Committee giving evidence and united from completely different angles on why this was a wholly unsatisfactory fudge. It was always going to have to be returned to. It was legislation which was put through in haste.

We need better transparency in the courts. I think everybody agrees with that. Whether or not it is true, there is a perception that there is a bias in the courts. Various fathers’ groups will tell you that it is a bias in favour of the resident parent, usually the mother. There are others who will tell you that there are incompetent or perhaps even malign social workers and other local authority people who have got it in for certain families and will therefore use whatever methods to extract a child from his or her family, with all that being brushed under the carpet, or that the judges are complicit in trying to conceal where justice is not really being done.

Some of all that, in a little dose, may well happen. The bigger issue is the perception that it does by all sorts of different people. Unless we go back and address this properly, we will always have this problem. It is a high profile issue, particularly with regard to adoption cases at the moment, with which I have been dealing. I am very concerned with it. This is not something that we can put on the back burner and forget about. It is going to have to be addressed at some stage. I doubt whether it will be a straightforward implementation of the legislation that went through in that Bill, but we will take a view and assess it again properly once Norgrove has reported in full.

Q333 Chris Evans: Do you have confidence in the Family Court at the moment?

Tim Loughton: I think some people do and some people do not. Those people who do not tend to be rather more vociferous and carry more weight in the media than those people who do, which is part of the problem.

Q334 Chris Evans: I was reading the paperwork and it seems that the Family Justice Review Panel was very impressed by the Australian model. Is there any intention of making any studies of the way things are done in Australia?

Tim Loughton: They were impressed by it?

Chris Evans: Yes. In particular, they said that the Report commented that "panel members who travelled to Australia were impressed by the way in which members of the public and those waiting for their own cases to be heard could sit at the back of the court while other proceedings were in progress. This had advantages in terms of parties-particularly people representing themselves-being able to see how their own cases would be handled". Also, in Australia, the press are not permitted to report anything that identifies parties or expert witnesses.

Tim Loughton: Interestingly, we had conversations with the Norgrove Panel on this case. They came back from Australia rather less impressed with transparency in the courts than what you have just read out suggests, which I was surprised about. They will claim that the greater move to transparency in Australia and the way in which it has been done has, in some cases, compromised the welfare of children. I think it is a rather more complex matter than that. We will make sure that there is a rather clearer explanation of exactly what they found. We will request that David Norgrove and his team do that in the fuller report. I think that this is going to be a separate piece of work that we will then have to take on from the Full Report. There is the Australian example, there is the Italian example and there are examples from certain states in the US, all of which have got mixed reviews as to how better they have done.

I am an inveterate believer in greater transparency in the courts. I am also a believer in the concept that shared parenting should be enshrined in law. We put in amendments to the 2006 Act to that effect. That is all part of the same issue.

Q335 Chris Evans: The real intention in all this is to protect children from adverse publicity and how we manage that. Is that not the main nub of the question here?

Tim Loughton: The most powerful piece of evidence when we were considering the 2010 Act came from Dr Julia Brophy from Oxford University, who had been commissioned by the then Children’s Commissioner to make a study of the impact on children of greater transparency in the courts along the lines of what was being suggested in that Bill. There was quite a comprehensive response from those children that they were very much against it and that they would be very much more reluctant to come forward and give their views and statements to the court, because, often, in very sensitive situations-be it a family break-up or safeguarding, whatever it is-the last thing they want in any way is to feel that their personal circumstances are going to get into the public domain, regardless of all the anonymity qualifications that would go with it.

That was quite a categorical piece of work which was done. It is absolutely essential that we make sure that children, or however the representatives of children are chosen, are comfortable that what they are doing does not undermine them, otherwise they are not going to open up on what they really think. Getting to the nub of the wishes and feelings of the children is absolutely key to all of this. That must rank above satisfying greater press interest in exposing some of these cases.

Q336 Karl Turner: Could I ask you about legal aid and litigants in person and pin you down on the timetable for the proposed reforms of legal aid? What is the proposed timetable for the reforms?

Mr Djanogly: The Government are currently assessing the responses to the consultation. We will come back with our response in the very near future.

Q337 Karl Turner: Do you have a date for that, Minister?

Mr Djanogly: We do not have a date for that at the moment, but, to give you an overall idea, we are looking to introduce the legislation before the summer recess.

Q338 Karl Turner: I wonder whether the Government have considered delaying changes to family legal aid until the Family Justice Review has finalised its report. Is that a consideration?

Mr Djanogly: The Family Justice Review, from a legal aid point of view, is a separate and independent programme of work. We do not feel that one should delay the other. As we have discussed in many different respects today, there are ongoing streams of work from the MoJ, the DfE, and indeed from the judiciary on all different areas. The important thing is that we all co-ordinate and work together. The Family Justice Review team has had representatives from both our Departments serving on it. We have met with the Review team. There is regular contact between the judiciary and the MoJ. There are contacts from all different levels so that we know what is going on and there are no surprises in terms of who is doing what. I think that is the key.

Q339 Karl Turner: I think I am right in saying that family legal aid is going to be suffering a hit of something like £180 million out of the £350 million overall. It must be accepted-I think it is, even by you-that litigants in person will increase as a result. What protections could be put in place to protect litigants in person cross-examining those that they accuse of very serious allegations such as child abuse?

Mr Djanogly: First, in terms of the numbers, we do think that there will be an increase in the numbers of litigants in person. Given that we think the overall numbers going to court will reduce, we do not see the additional pressures on the court being significant. That is the first point.

Q340 Karl Turner: Could I just press you on that answer?

Mr Djanogly: Yes.

Q341 Karl Turner: It would seem to me that you are just thinking. Is there any evidence for what you have just said?

Mr Djanogly: We have conducted a literature review of the available evidence on litigants in person. We also have our own internal management statistics because there are significant numbers of litigants in person within the system as it currently exists. The answer is not conclusive, to be frank. However, I have given you the position as we currently see it. What I would say is that, whether or not there is going to be a significant or insignificant increase in the number of litigants in person, the important thing is that we create a system that is more friendly for them. I repeat that there are a lot of litigants in person in the system at the moment.

A very important step in that direction has been taken. On 6 April, the new Family Procedure Rules came into effect. These have been worked on for a long time. They have pulled together all the family legislation into one coherent set of rules. They will simplify those rules. They will simplify the application procedures. They significantly simplify the terminology involved within the system. All of these will greatly go to help litigants in person. We also have a stream of work within the MoJ to enhance the guidance provided for litigants in person and also to make better use of technology. We are particularly looking for an online walk-through system to be created so that people will be introduced to the system through the use of IT. There is one point about whether we are going to have more litigants in person or not, but there is quite another issue in saying that we do want a better deal for them.

Q342 Karl Turner: The increase in litigants in person coincides with the cuts to local government funding and what I think will be an increase in public law cases. How will the Government monitor the effect of more litigants in person?

Mr Djanogly: Public law cases will receive legal aid. There are concerns about litigants in person. I think you voiced them at the start of your first question, namely, that they could be there in court questioning the person on the other side. I have to say that that is a concern now. It happens now, probably every day of the week. The judiciary have pretty well honed tactics for dealing with that, if it is insisting that questions are asked through a third person or, indeed, the judge being very particular on the sorts of questions that can be asked in the first place. It is an important issue and it is an issue with which we have to deal.

Q343 Karl Turner: If the system breaks down, what will the Department do to step in? How will you know that the system is breaking down?

Mr Djanogly: Sorry, how do you mean?

Q344 Karl Turner: If the system breaks down, what will the Department do to step in or would you not bother and just let it happen? How will the Government deal with it?

Mr Djanogly: Why would the system break down?

Q345 Karl Turner: Because we have an increase in litigants in person. I think there are bound to be delays as a result of that in court time. What mechanisms are in place? What is the plan?

Mr Djanogly: We do not necessarily see there being an increase in time taken in all types of case because of an increase in the litigants in person. The evidence actually shows that, in some types of case, having litigants in person on both sides may reduce the time taken in court. We cannot take these things for granted.

The other big question is to what extent our proposals are going to lead to behavioural changes and, in particular, non-court alternatives. That is, to what extent more people are going to want to go to mediation or conciliation, for instance, as a result of our proposals. So, to whatever extent there is an increase in litigants in person, we do not see it leading to the system breaking down.

Catherine Lee: Just to add to that, we did promise in the Legal Aid Reform consultation paper that we would be doing a post-implementation review specifically to look at the impact of litigants in person. We will be doing that. It will be a question of looking at the backlog, looking at the actual length of cases taken involving litigants in person and seeing whether there is a connection. As the Minister said, the evidence so far is not clear cut on the subject.

Q346 Karl Turner: I am not sure that I have explained myself particularly well. Perhaps I have not. But I wonder how the Government will be able to look at the system as it exists now, perhaps, and then compare the system as it will become once there has been an increase in litigants in person and whether it is better or worse. That, I suppose, is my final question.

Mr Djanogly: Our intention is not to have the existing system continuing. What we are aiming at is to change the system so that people realise that, where they do not need to go to court, they should not go to court and clog up the system. Our reforms are aimed at inducing that. From the Interim Report of the Family Justice Review, it looks as though they think we are heading in the right direction in that regard.

Q347 Mr Llwyd: I think we would all agree that the implementation of the Public Law Outline initiative has been a good idea from the very beginning, but it has been described in terms of actual implementation by our specialist adviser, Professor Judith Masson, as being "patchy, at best". What discussions have both Ministers had with other colleagues at, for example, the Department for Communities and Local Government about the working of the PLO?

Mr Djanogly: First, thanks for bringing up the point about the Public Law Outline because it is an important plank in making the system work in a more streamlined process. The other point that we should put on record is that it has, I believe, recently been reviewed-

Catherine Lee: Yes.

Mr Djanogly: -and updated as at April 2010, from its original inception in 2008. Again, this is not a "stuck in stone" process. It is one that is being updated and reviewed. I do not disagree with your point that, again, it is patchy. This has been spotted by the Family Justice Review Team and it is an issue that they are going to be working on further. We will be looking to work with them on that up until the end of the Review.

Q348 Mr Llwyd: Could I add a further question then? What do you consider will be the effect of the inevitable departmental cuts-in other words, cuts to your own Departments and also the Department for Communities and Local Government? What will be the inevitable effect of these cuts on the operation of the Public Law Outline?

Mr Djanogly: We hope none whatever. Indeed, that is the position taken by the Family Justice Review in its Interim Report. Each case should have a timetable for proceedings which is based on the timetable for the child. Judicial continuity should be kept in play. These are not things that should necessarily increase costs. In fact, if we get it right, they should reduce costs by avoiding duplication in the system.

Q349 Mr Llwyd: With respect, I do not follow that because one of the problems that we have already identified during this session is that sometimes social workers’ reports can be patchy in terms of quality and in terms of the time it takes to deliver. Secondly, we also know that there are good and bad within Cafcass. Frankly, if there are to be cuts in those two fields alone, then it will impact upon delivery of a proper service, will it not?

Tim Loughton: Let me take social workers, because at the moment a lot of money is being wasted on failure and bureaucracy. When a social worker is spending a very substantial part of his or her time complying with a very bloated rule book and filling in forms and ticking boxes on a computer, that is not the best use of his or her time. More of that time should be spent literally eyeballing the vulnerable children and families that that social worker is there to represent. That is not happening at the moment.

The whole point of the Munro Review is to allow social workers to get on with the job of being social workers again because too many of them have turned into computer operatives. Because of the system, with the very best intentions of what has happened post-Climbie and the Laming Report 11 years ago now, the bureaucracy and risk aversion is driving what they are doing. It is standing in the way of them making well-informed value judgments about the right level of intervention or not regarding a particular family.

If we get it right with Munro-it is a very important report that she has almost finished and I will look to institute as much of it as quickly as possible-then we will have social workers doing more of the job of social workers much more efficiently, hopefully making more of the right decisions and keeping more families together where possible, hopefully making the right call on what level of intervention is required where it is required, and making better informed judgments and submissions to the court process.

If we get all of that right, that is going to save a lot of money. One way in which it is going to save money is by stimulating social workers to want to stay in child protection social work so that we will not have the 20% vacancy level that we have in many London boroughs at the moment. This requires us to spend a great deal of extra money on agency workers, which is expensive and also undermines the continuity that the families they deal with actually need as well.

If we can get all of that right, there is a considerable saving to be made financially but, more importantly, a much better and enhanced service for the experiences of the children for whom we need to do a better job.

Mr Djanogly: One of the points coming out very strongly from the Review is that, after Cafcass has had its say, sometimes these cases go to court and the judges do it all again. So there is huge duplication as a result. Also, they say that too much time is often spent trying to predict the child’s future welfare needs through the examination of the detail of the care pack and sometimes too much detail is given on things for the future. It would be better to look carefully at what is going on at that point in time and in the immediate future, and then perhaps come back and look at things again at a future date when circumstances will probably have changed.

Mr Llwyd: Thank you.

Chair: Mr Djanogly, Mr Loughton and Ms Lee, thank you very much for your help this morning.