Bristol University study into the representation of parents in care proceedings published
Care proceedings system dependent on a small number of specialist solicitors, says report
A study by the University of Bristol into the representation of parents in care proceedings has been published and is accessible from the University's website.
The study, conducted in four court areas in England and Wales, explored the work of lawyers representing parents in care proceedings through observation of hearings; interviews with legal professionals involved in care proceedings; and focus groups with solicitors, barristers, judges and magistrates' legal advisers. Sixteen cases, selected to reflect the different circumstances where care proceedings are brought, were followed from an early hearing to completion of the proceedings, with a researcher shadowing a parent's representative in discussions with their client, with the other parties' lawyers and in the courtroom. The study provides an in depth account of the task of representation and court processes in care proceedings under the Public Law Outline (PLO).
Key findings from the study were:
- The operation of the care proceedings system is heavily dependent on a small number of specialist solicitors who devote most of their time to this work. Not all are members of the Law Society Children Panel.
- Lawyers doing this work, including judges and local authority representatives, viewed the State's powers as draconian, justifying parents' absolute rights to contest, however hopeless their case.
- Parents were able to find committed and able lawyers, generally attended court hearings and most remained engaged in their case.
- Solicitors carried very heavy workloads, sustained by their commitment to this work, so as to meet the demands of cases and maintain profitability within the fixed fee regime.
- Solicitors aimed to enable parent clients to understand the process and make it work in their favour. Most also felt some responsibility to consider the child's welfare.
- Most lawyers gave realistic advice and identified options for parents. They stressed to parents the importance of co-operation with the local authority.
- Negotiation between lawyers had a greater role than judicial case management in shaping the progress of cases.
Further details of the research and findings are contained in the research report: Just Following Instructions? The representation of parents in care proceedings, School of Law University of Bristol (2011) which can be downloaded without charge along with further copies of this summary at: www.bristol.ac.uk/law/research/researchpublications/.