Doubt cast on an increased role for social workers in family courts
July 17, 2013 8 comments
The head of the Consortium of Expert Witnesses to the Family Courts has criticised plans to give social workers an increased role within family courts.
Speaking at a parliamentary forum on family law reform, psychiatrist Dr Judith Freedman stressed that social workers are not medically trained and so cannot give assessments on medical matters, the Solicitors Journal reports.
“Now I have nothing against the role of social workers, I wish that social workers were able to do the work better,” she said.
In a recent report, President of the Family Division Sir James Munby said:
“Social workers are experts. In just the same way, Cafcass officers are experts. What has gone wrong with the system is that we have at least two experts in every care case – a social worker and a guardian – and yet we have grown up with the culture of believing that they are not really experts and we therefore need experts with a capital E. Much of the time we do not.”
And in a much discussed report on reforms to the family law system published last summer, Lord Justice Ryder said expert witnesses from outside the judicial system take up much time in the family courts.
Referring to Cafcass head Anthony Douglas, Dr Freedman told the audience:
“I just hope that when the president, Lord Justice Ryder and Mr Douglas go to hospital to have an operation, they can look forward to being operated on by social workers.”.
Following legal aid restrictions, some courts have begun to turn all reports from expert witnesses Dr Freedman added.
“How can we go from expert witnesses are important to we need none at all?”
The Consortium of Expert Witnesses to the Family Courts is a group of 600 medical professionals who prepare reports and assessment for legal cases.
Photo by John Halbrook via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence