The government has announced that court fees in child care proceedings will no longer be abolished in April 2011 as previously planned.
In March 2010 the former justice minister, Jack Straw, announced that the court fees charged to local authorities for care and supervision proceedings would be abolished. The fees came into force on 1 May 2008 and increased court fees in public law family proceedings, meaning local authorities' costs of bringing proceedings, including the court fees, increased from £150 to £5,225 for a fully contested court case.
Following a review by Francis Plowden and a recommendation in Lord Laming's report on the protection of children in England, the Jack Straw commissioned a review of the fees. The review concluded that the fees can deter local authorities from bringing proceedings.
A report by Cardiff University in April 2010 found that in 2009 there was a 7.5 per cent increase in the number of cases of children aged up to 10 being treated for assault injuries in hospitals in England and Wales. The report's author, Professor Jonathan Shepherd, said the increase may have been linked to the rise in care order fees.
"The anecdotal evidence we are getting from hospitals tells us that this is a real increase. The question is why. One explanation is that it is more difficult for children to be taken into care by local authorities, and that may mean more young children are staying in risky home situations than they were before," Professor Shepherd said.
In making his announcement in written ministerial statement today junior justice minister Jonathan Djanogly said he believes that there is no justification in the fees being abolished.
"Francis Plowden's review found that resource issues could play a part in determining whether proceedings were initiated, however, he only believed this occurred 'at the margins'," Mr Djanogly said in the statement.
He added: "The fundamental principles in setting court fees at levels that reflect the cost of the service being provided are now more important than ever in the drive to ensure all departments are transparent and accountable for the money spent on public services."
In an interview with Newswatch in March 2010, Lord Laming explained why he thought the fees ought to be removed.
"I don't understand the reason for the fees. Firstly, it can't be claimed that they would deter frivolous applications for care because if the local authority succeeds in getting a care order it is going to potentially cost them a huge amount of money by having the child in public care. Secondly, it seems to me odd that the public purse on the one hand gives £40 million to the local authority and on the other the local authority gives it back when they make an application for a care order.
"Finally I think that where the state decides it must intervene in family matters to the degree of trying to have parental rights removed from parents to the state, then frankly fees are not a relevant matter."