Official Slow-icitor

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.

CAFCASS Chief Exec Subjected to Very Cross Examination

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.

moving on

Just a thought about how often in intractable contact cases it is very difficult for parents to move on – not only because of the issues in the case themselves but because of the need to retain eligibility for legal aid – often a parent (typically a father) is unable to go out and look for work to occupy his mind and time because in doing so he will lose his legal aid. It leaves people in a frustrating limbo where they cannot go out and fulfill themselves in other ways and have nothing to focus on but the destructive litigation. There shouldn’t really have to be a choice between gainful employment and being able to pursue a relationship with your child. And in the intractable type of case I’m thinking of I would not be suggesting a parent should be expected to act as a litigant in person.