Operation of the Family Courts - Justice Committee Contents

Written evidence from Mike Quee, Parent (FC 52)


You may find useful an experience I have had with Cafcass earlier this year.

1.  It concerns an in-court mediation session I was encouraged to attend prior to a directions hearing following a new application for contact with my daughter on the 17 March 2010 in the County Court at Chelmsford Essex.

2.  The court service/Cafcass prior to this hearing sent me the attached Mediation Information Sheet prior to the hearing to inform me of what to expect.

3.  I, along with my solicitor, duly turned up for the hearing with and we were approached by a female Cafcass officer who introduced herself and advised us she would be conducting the mediation. During the session that followed, it became very apparent this officer did not have any of the paperwork that you would normally expect a Cafcass officer to have in their possession about the case or any possible history. For example, no C100 application form, copies of previous orders or welfare reports written by other Cafcass officers from the same office.

4.  There was absolutely no attempt to mediate a solution of any kind ahead of the court appearance. There was, as a result of her not having a copy of the C100 application, no knowledge of why I had made my application or what in fact I was applying for (contact, residence etc); she was totally clueless. She had to ask me for confirmation of what I was applying for and also asked the respondent to supply a copy of the last welfare report written by one of her colleagues when she discovered one had been issued. My solicitor was most alarmed at this approach and suggested to me after the proceedings, as he couldn't talk to me about his concerns during the meeting, which lasted for about 15 minutes, that he should write a strong letter of complaint to the Cafcass Service Manager who this officer reported to.

5.  After the session and having had time to reflect on the proceedings, more disturbing facts came to light which is the prime reason I bring this to your attention.

6.  You will note from the attached sheet, the mediator who I should have seen was to be totally impartial, will not make judgments about me (or the respondent) and will not be an officer of the court. Additionally, any discussions that took place would be covered by legal privilege and would not be discussed with the judge, only the outcome. Furthermore, it states that all mediators to the court are professionally trained and accredited by the Legal Services Commission.

7.  Through a Freedom of Information Act request on Cafcass, I discovered that this officer (and many others like her) was not professionally qualified or trained to conduct mediation sessions, in fact I gained the distinct impression she was just qualified to the minimum to carry put her job. Furthermore, she was confirmed as not being accredited by the LSC and was established as being an officer of the court by her line manager and the regional manager.

8.  Moreover, there was no way she could be considered impartial as this officer was subsequently ordered that day, by the court to write another welfare report which, by its very nature, would have dictated she would have to be judgmental towards both the Respondent and me. Therefore it would be reasonable to conclude, any information gleaned either from the respondent or me during this mediation session could be used in the compilation of this report. This would have happened if I, through my solicitor, had not stopped it by way of a complaint against this particular officer.

9.  In the event, a colleague of hers from the same office generated this report which in my opinion could not in any way be described as impartial.

10.  This, I believe, is gross misrepresentation on the part of Cafcass with the collusion of HMCS .

11.  I have raised this issue with Cafcass locally and all the way to the top by bringing it to the attention of Anthony Douglas ( Cafcass CEO) who I was advised to involve due to the attempted cover up to protect the officer concerned. The documentation I have received directly from him in response and all levels within Cafcass down clearly denotes the attempts to side step the issue, paying lip service to my complaint and deflecting it towards my daughter.

12.  I am reluctant to raise the issue with HMCS locally due to the fact my current application is on-going and could be prejudiced. Such is the fear I Harbour due to the apparent "cosy relationship" Cafcass have with the judiciary in my area (Chelmsford)

13.  I therefore bring it to your attention . It could be that it is confined to the local Chelmsford area but I believe this dubious practice has been going on for some time.

14.  People's expectations that use the Family Justice System are being contemptuously and recklessly abused with suspect practices like this. Due to the highly emotionally charged situation when people end up in court they may not even realize this is happening to them and solicitors may not even give a second thought to it if it has been happening for so long. Solicitors may not have received the information sheet as this would normally be sent to the applicant and respondent directly. In my case a mediation opportunity was needlessly squandered by the actions of this Cafcass officer and the courts time wasted.

15.  You will appreciate a mediation skillfully conducted could reduce the angst and confrontation normally associated with warring parents who unfortunately end up in FJS. This would also be in keeping with the rationale why the courts introduced this practice to keep their involvement to minimum in intervening in disputes.

16.  You should also be aware I have brought this along with my other long experiences (6+ years now) dealing with the Family Justice System, to the attention of the Norgrove Committee who, as you know, has been tasked by the MoJ to carry out a review of the confrontational and adversarial nature of the FJS.

September 2010

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