JUDITH MASSON, Professor of Socio-legal Studies, Bristol University
In a series of cases over the last 12 months, starting
with the judgment of McFarlane LJ in
Re G (Care Proceedings: Welfare Evaluation)
 EWCA Civ 965,  1 FLR 670
condemned social work evidence and lower court decisions in care proceedings
because they were based on ‘linear judgements’.
This paper questions the basis
of the criticism by examining how the term ‘linear judgment’ is used in the
courts, the potential defects of such judgments and how else the term may be
understood. It makes the case for
acknowledging a hierarchy of care plans, consistent with obligations under the
European Convention of Human Rights, Art 8 and the requirements on local
authorities in Children Act 1989, s 22C.
In considering what options are ‘realistic’, courts should be more aware
of research evidence, particularly on the difficulties of successful re-unification
of children with their parents. Assessments, and evidence of social work
witnesses, should include analysis which provides a clear chain of reasoning
linking the child’s needs and carers’ capacity to meet these with the proposed
plan, order or placement. So far as possible, this should be written in a way
that service users can understand. The requirements for timely decision-making
should also apply to appeals.
The full version of this article appears in the September 2014 issue of Family Law
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