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Lord Justice Wall warns of under-resourcing in the family justice system

Date:9 DEC 2009

Lord Justice Wall has said that senior family judges must speak out for children, their rights and their welfare.

In his keynote address to the Association of Lawyers for Children at their annual conference in Manchester, Lord Justice Wall told his audience that "the need for a powerful and properly resourced Family Justice System, peopled by specialist practitioners who are properly remunerated cannot be over-emphasised".

He gave a stark warning as to the effect of the current under-resourcing of the family justice system: "In my judgement, the time has come for the judiciary to make clear the effect that this lack of sufficient resources will have in the cases for which they are responsible.

"Government must realise that, if it fails properly to fund the system, there will undoubtedly be greater delays, poorer justice, too few judges, and many litigants in person left to struggle on their own... But above all - and this is without doubt the most important point - it is the children who will suffer."

He added: "If all this happens, politicians should not blame practitioners. We have done what has been asked of us... Politicians are very happy to take the credit when things go well, and equally reluctant to take the blame when they go badly. But let there be no mistake; if the Family Justice System is not properly funded it will implode, and it is the children who will suffer most."

Lord Justice Wall, the author of Family Law's Handbook for Expert Witnesses in Children Act Cases, went on to consider aspects of the Children, Schools and Families Bill.

The Bill was to have contained a proposed amendment to section 41 of the Children Act 1989, to replace the appointment in care proceedings of an individual named Guardian to act for the child throughout the case with the appointment of Cafcass as a corporate body.

After strong opposition from children's organisation and charities, the Government chose not to proceed with this proposal. "The appointment of an individual guardian for individual children", Lord Justice Wall said, was "pivotal to the system". Any attempt to alter that position, he added, would be "retrograde... and must be fiercely resisted".

He was also highly critical of the process that had led to the proposals in relation to media access to the family courts which do feature in the Bill: "In my judgment, it is not a subject to be rushed, or to be the subject of ill-thought through legislation immediately prior to a general election. It needs to be considered with care; it needs to be the subject of sensible dialogue between the government, those directly affected by the proposed change, and the press. None of this - so far as I am aware - has happened."

Lord Justice Wall's full speech will be published in January's Family Law journal.

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