Cafcass and the President of the Family Division have extended temporary case allocation procedures for another year. A new Joint Agreement, effective from today, builds upon the Interim Guidance in tackling case backlogs and places the emphasis on local agreements continuing until October 2011.
The Agreement will last for 12 months and seeks to build on the inter-agency partnerships that have been established in many parts of the country between the Judiciary and local Cafcass offices. In particular, it seeks to continue to reduce backlogs which have fallen since the introduction of Interim Guidance.
The thrust of the Agreement is that all involved in the system should work cooperatively to operate the Public Law Outline (PLO). The revised PLO came into effect from 6April 2010 and was designed to streamline the documentary requirements on issue of family proceedings. It also provided further guidance on the principle relating to the Timetable for the Child, and the overly cumbersome original PLO forms were simplified.
In a letter to judges and legal advisers who case manage proceedings in the Family Proceedings Court, Sir Nicholas Wall said: "The Agreement is not simply as a renewal of my predecessor's Interim Guidance. Whilst the inter-agency contacts have been valuable and, where they are working well, should be continued, the Agreement represents a real intention on my part to implement the PLO.
"I thus cannot over-emphasise the importance of the Agreement or the need to make the PLO work. Be under no illusions. We are all under attack for the operation of what is perceived as a cumbersome and slow care procedure which is failing children. It goes without saying that I regard this criticism of us as unfair, since Parliament has charged us with the decision making process, and we cannot make care orders unless we are satisfied that intervention by the state in the lives of a family is not only warranted but in the interests of children.
"Also, please do not think that I am unaware either of the difficulties under which you operate or the difficulties which arise in putting the PLO into effect. Subject to further government involvement, however, I believe that the PLO - if fully and properly operated - currently represents the best and most effective way of dealing with care proceedings."
Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas Anthony Douglas welcomed the new Agreement saying, "Through brilliant local negotiations, and sheer hard work by our local staff, we now have viable and sustainable agreements with judges and courts all over the country about the priority work we need to focus on to assist children, families and courts in the best way we can, within the resources we have. Feedback from judges about these local agreements has, without exception, been positive. We can build on this and strengthen our joint approach still further over the next year."
The Agreement, which includes a joint statement by Anthony Douglas and Sir Nicholas Wall, can be downloaded below.