Yet another facet of the system is creaking under the caseload: I am reliably informed that the Official Solicitor has written to family law practitioners to inform them that his staff is unable to accept new instructions to act as a guardian ad litem or litigation friend without some delay.
In recent months there has been a marked increase in the number of public law children cases in which the Official Solicitor has been asked to act. The steady increase in Official Solicitor’s family litigation case load shows no sign of having reached a plateau.
In the letter the Official Solicitor reiterates that his staff should be used as last resort and that practitioners should ascertain from their clients if all other options for representation have been exhausted before seeking to make an application to his office.
If all alternative avenues have been exhausted, then the Official Solicitor is asking practitioners for specific information and an indexed file to assist with the decision making process. This is a much more detailed request than hitherto and is more specific than the questionnaire that has existed for a number of years.
In the letter, the Official Solicitor states: “New cases have been and will be placed on the Official Solicitor’s ‘waiting list’ when this office has received a formal invitation from the court by way of sealed order and the capacity evidence is viewed by this office as satisfactory. They will be ‘accepted’ only when the acceptance criteria are satisfied and there is a case manager who can manage the case. Save in exceptional circumstances, they will be accepted in strict chronological order starting with the earliest on the list”.
This of course is a factor particularly in care cases where one of the parents is mentally unwell or unable to understand the proceedings, which causes delay to the already slow process of deciding outcomes for children in foster care.