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Christina Blacklaws, Senior Partner of London's largest family law practice, Blacklaws Davis, and the Childcare representative on the Law Society Council has hit out at delays affecting the family courts and Cafcass which, she says, imperil children's wellbeing and safety.
Ms Blacklaws, former Chairman of the Law Society's Family Law Committee writes in the Law Society Gazette that "As a child in the care system in London, you could wait four to six months before a children's guardian is allocated by Cafcass. That means the court has no independent advice from the guardian - an experienced social work expert - and the child has no one independent with whom to speak about their wishes and feelings."
Of the courts she states "Judges are visibly pained by their inability to list hearings. It is not their fault. There are not enough sitting days to deal with the numbers of cases (rightly) issued by local authorities.
"The family justice system is like its client base: vulnerable, poor, abused and neglected. We desperately need more resources. We need a seismic change in Cafcass (reform or revolution), we need more specialist judges and we need a living wage. In terms of government spending, the family justice budget is tiny - it would fund the NHS for just four days.
"We have to address these issues now. The alternative does not bear thinking about," she concluded.
Last month, in response to "unacceptable" delays by Cafcass in the appointment of guardians and the rendering of reports, the President of the Family Division, Sir Mark Potter, issued Interim Guidance setting out short-term measures intended to alleviate the delay.
The Guidance will cease to have effect on the 31 March 2010 at which point it is hoped that the backlog will have been substantially reduced.
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