Organisations representing independent social work expert witnesses have written to the Justice Minister, Kenneth Clarke, to condemn his department's "flawed and irrational" approach to hourly court fee rates payable to expert witnesses.
Social workers were shocked to find that recent Legal Service Commission guidance on fee rates for professional expert witnesses in court cases excludes social workers. Despite advanced proposals to cap ISWs fees at Cafcass rates of just £30 an hour outside of London and £33 in the capital, the MoJ document reveals that nurses can expect to receive £81 per hour of court work, occupational therapists £68 an hour, a doctor £99 and a child psychiatrist £135.
Ann Haigh, Nagalro Chair, said: "This undervalues social work expertise and demeans the whole social work profession. The government needs to act speedily to preserve the availability of high-quality social work advice that courts rely on for making good and timely decisions for children".
The letter from BASW, Nagalro and independent social work agencies reminds the Minister that MoJ officials have publicly acknowledged that this decision was taken without evidence about the number and types of cases where ISWs are used, or any assessment of the impact on children of this serious loss of expertise. Independent social workers point out that comparisons with Cafcass officers are erroneous, especially as Cafcass now appoints newly qualified staff, who can have no claim to be regarded as experts by the courts.
Two hundred of the most experienced ISWs have recently written to the MoJ to protest at disproportionate cuts in their fees as compared to other experts. They say they will stop taking court-related work if the cut, which they estimate at 40-50%, goes ahead. This could further add to delays in children's court cases.