Operation of the Family Courts - Justice Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the Family Courts' Unions Cross Party Group (FC 37)

We are writing on behalf of the Family Court Unions Cross-Party Group in light of the Justice Committee's inquiry into the operation of the family courts.

As you may be aware, the Family Court Unions Cross-Party Group comprises over 50 MPs and Peers from all parties and meets together with the unions (PCS, NAPO) on a regular basis to discuss issues concerning the family courts system. In the past we have hosted meeting with ministers and Anthony Douglas (Chief Executive, CAFCASS), with whom we developed a constructive dialogue underlined by a mutual commitment to ensuring CAFCASS is able to achieve the goals and aims it has been set.

There is concern felt within the Group that the welfare checklist used by practitioners to determine issues concerning the best interest of the child has been lost in favour of CAFCASS Five outcomes. We are aware that numbers of experienced staff are leaving CAFCASS and note the relevant inexperience of those who are being recruited. We have been informed that there is a feeling amongst staff that they are over managed and that there had been a sharp increase in the number of new service managers, often at the expense of the frontline. In addition, we have apprehensions regarding the affects that the constant restructuring of CAFCASS is having on staff morale and service delivery.

In addition the Group is alarmed by the Ministry of Justice's publication (23 June 2010) of consultation papers setting out proposals to close 103 magistrate's courts and 54 county courts (closing 15 September). This proposal - which amounts to almost a third of courts across the UK facing closure and around 1,000 jobs being at risk - at a time when the sector is already under strain from inadequate resources, soaring workloads and low moral, will be a significant blow to service delivery.

In particular, the impact on family justice will be significant and as, most simply, the reduction in the number of courtrooms available for family cases will lead to people having to travel to more distant locations and delay in hearing their case.

It is therefore our view that the family courts system is facing an unprecedented crisis in terms of workloads, resources and morale. As a consequence we believe that child protection issues are potentially being compromised. We believe that this deteriorating situation is not helped by the change in attitude by managers, caused arguably by demands from Ofsted, that practitioners change to devote most of their time to keeping records on files rather than seeing children.

I understand that Napo and PCS have submitted documents for the consideration of the Committee, which we believe to be detailed and valuable documents.

September 2010

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 14 July 2011