MON 29/03/2010 - The President of the Family Division, Sir Mark Potter, has announced he is extending the Interim Guidance intended to assist Cafcass for a further six months.
The aim of the original Interim Guidance was to put in place measures to address the backlog in preparing court reports and in the allocation of Children's Guardians.
However, ahead of his retirement in the coming days, the President has accepted that there has been insufficient time to formulate a long-term solution to the difficulties faced by Cafcass and the family justice system. Instead he has now handed the baton over to the Government to solve the ongoing crisis.
In a letter accompanying the Guidance, Sir Mark wrote: "While the judiciary will continue to assist so far as it is able, it is clear, that pressures on the Family Justice System have not abated and have in some areas intensified since the implementation of the Interim Guidance. We have to face the fact that the number of applications in both private and public law Children Act applications continue to rise. It is clear to me that it is a matter for which the Government must now assume responsibility and take an inter-departmental lead. It is my hope that government will immediately look for a solution to these problems and it is for this reason that I am only prepared to renew the Interim Guidance for a period of six months."
When Sir Mark announced the Interim Guidance in July 2009 he said: "It must not simply become or be adopted as the benchmark for the future". However, family lawyers are disappointed as the Guidance is increasingly looking as though it will become permanent.
Simon Heaney, Head of Children and Advocacy at Heaney Watson, commented: "Those who cynically predicted the President's Interim Guidance for England would be anything but temporary have unfortunately been proved right. Described as a measure to address the current backlog and preventing future backlogs 'in a planned and limited way' - the President's sentiment were laudable, but arguably the guidance and its extension masks the ongoing problem.
"Everyone within the family justice system agrees that the system is creaking at the seams and without the resources required, it cannot function properly. Cafcass management continually chant the mantra that everything is fine - the problems will resolve. The bottom line is unless Government accepts there is a genuine problem and genuinely commits to their strap line that 'Every Child Matters' then the problems will continue to mount.
"There seems to be an element of despair that the President has been compelled to extend the guidance. It is my fear and that of many, that these interim measures will remain until a further tragedy leads to a realistic call to arms," Mr Heaney added.
Changes within the Renewed Interim Guidance have been kept to a minimum. The two main alterations are: changes as a result of the issue of the Revised Private Law Programme Practice Direction and the introduction from 6 April 2010 of a new application form for section 31 Children Act 1989 applications and; certain changes in recognition of possible management difficulties resulting from the wording of the original Guidance.