In a slightly maverick move District Judge Carron has enlisted the support of the media in trying to right the injustices caused by the failure of CAFCASS to keep up with demand for their services. The resulting article in today's Times can be read here. Oh, you can raise an eyebrow at the notion of a Judge calling up the press before grilling the head honcho of the statutory body responsible for court reporting, but actually our collective brows should be raised in the direction of the extraordinary delays in allocationa nd reporting that are endemic at CAFCASS. What else is a poor champion of justice to do where orders of the court have failed, but to draft in the media? I feel for Anthony Douglass but he appears able to hold his own and appears always willing to provide photographs and quotes for anything remotely related to family justice.
I was particularly struck by the list of how long it is taking to complete reports. I knew there was a particular problem in our region but this is shocking:
Bristol 26-34 weeks
Basingstoke 15 weeks
Southampton 16 weeks
Aldershot 17 weeks
Bournemouth 17 weeks or more
Gloucester 20 weeks and no date now given in many cases
Portsmouth up to 22 weeks
Trowbridge 34 to 40 weeks
Earlier this week I had to explain to a client why he would have to wait until late September at the earliest for a report and that in all probability he would have to wait significantly longer as CAFCASS were likely to write requesting an extension at the last minute. In the meantime he has NO CONTACT with his son. He simply did not understand how this could be. I have also dealt with emergency protection orders, interim care orders where there is no Guardian and none expected for 6 weeks. Decisions are being made about the removal of children from their families without their interests being separately represented. Solicitors for the children do their best, but they are legal experts not experts in children per se.
So yes this is an unusual step for a District Judge to take (I have seen head honchos summonsed and grilled by judges before but never after an invitation to the media to watch the spectacle). And although it is not telling those of us who work in the system anything new, it IS right that systemic failures that are having such a fundamental impact on families and children should be brought to wider public attention somehow. Without this kind of judicial proactivity this issue would have been highly unlikely to have been aired.