About the Family Law Week blog

The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.

The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Nagalro on the PLO

CHILDREN’S VOICES REDUCED TO ‘JUST A FAINT CRY’
UNDER NEW COURT ARRANGEMENTS

Speakers at a NAGALRO reception in London on 8th April warned that
children at risk of abuse and neglect will not be adequately safeguarded in the
crucial period before care proceedings are started under recently introduced
court arrangements.

Alison Paddle, the departing Chair of NAGALRO welcomed a speedier and
more flexible approach to court proceedings for children as a result of the new
‘public law outline’, but cautioned that ill-thought out changes to the complex
family justice system will bring unintended and risky consequences for
children.

Alistair MacDonald, co-Chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children in the
keynote address, ‘The Voice of the Child – Still a Faint Cry?’, pointed out that
the new court approach to care proceedings requires local authorities to work
more closely with parents when considering going to court for care orders.
Parents are entitled to legal assistance when they receive a ‘letter before
proceedings’ from the Local Authority, but children have no entitlement to
independent representation until a later stage, when a court application has
actually been issued. He called for the early appointment of a children’s guardian when this ‘letter before proceedings’ was sent, in the interests both of natural justice and to ensure children have independent representation to protect their interests andput across their views when crucial plans are being made about their future. Mac Donald said: ‘Vitally, the involvement of the Children’s Guardian following the letter before proceedings would also militate effectively against collusive agreements that satisfy an adult agenda at the expense of the interests of the child.’

MacDonald advocated access to legal help for the child too, saying: ‘The
concept of access to justice for children and young people cannot be limited
and must extend outside the boundaries of court proceedings.’
He concluded: ‘Sadly, whilst the central aim of the pre-proceedings process is
to fix safe and sustainable arrangements for the child, the voice of the child
within this process is a very faint cry indeed.’

Helen James the new Chair of NAGALRO today said: ‘The 3100% increase in
court fees that local authorities will have to pay to take a case of neglect or
The Professional Association for Children’s Guardians, Family Court
Advisers and Independent Social Work Practitioners and Consultants
abuse to court is a deterrent to vital safeguarding measures. Put that together
with the loss of specialist family lawyers who are leaving the field because of
cuts in legal aid funding and the late involvement of the children’s guardian
and solicitor and a very worrying picture emerges. The protective
mechanisms for vulnerable children are being seriously weakened, and their
rights are being undermined.’

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