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29 MAY 2009

Cafcass chief Anthony Douglas is summonsed by District Judge Carron

Swindon District Judge Byron Carron yesterday summonsed the Cafcass Chief Executive, Anthony Douglas, to explain the delays in preparing reports for three cases before him.

According to The Times today, the judge held a live conference call with Mr Douglas lasting for 70 minutes, having alerted the newspaper to the occasion in an attempt to expose the failings of Cafcass.

Mr Douglas told the judge that care applications had risen sharply in the last few months since the closure of the criminal case into the murder of Baby Peter. The number of care applications in March 2009 was the highest monthly figure ever recorded by Cafcass - amounting to an increase of 37.9% compared to March 2008.

However, Mr Douglas accepted that the delays were unacceptable and reassured District Judge Carron that he would review the cases in question.

In two of the cases, Cafcass are not due to file their reports on residence and contact until eight months after they were originally requested. In the third case an application for an interim care order was made in March but a guardian will not be appointed until mid-June, despite the fact a guardian should be appointed within three days in such cases.

District Judge Carron is reported to have said to Mr Douglas: "No parents or children should have to wait many months before knowing the outcome of their proceedings. It makes a mockery of the words 'access to justice'.

"Anyone who has listened to these cases will quickly realise the lamentable delays there are in the preparation of reports. Such delays cause considerable distress to the parties but, more importantly, to many of the children involved in the matters."

Mr Douglas has been Chief Executive of Cafcass since 2004 and in 2008 he was awarded a CBE for services to family justice and adoption. Prior to his current role at Cafcass, Mr Douglas was a Director of Social Services at Suffolk County Council.

Cafcass is under pressure to make dramatic improvements to its services after Ofsted published several damning reports last year which highlighted areas of weakness and inadequacies in its regional offices.

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