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President’s Interim Guidance renewed

Emergency measures to relieve pressures on Cafcass extended until 30 September

As widely predicted, Sir Mark Potter, the retiring President of the Family Division, has extended for another six months the Interim Guidance in respect of Cafcass's functions.

The aim of the guidance, originally issued in July 2009, was to put in place measures which would address the backlog in the allocation and reporting of children's guardians while preventing backlogs arising in respect of new work in a planned and time limited way. It was intended to be a temporary solution to help in an emergency situation. The guidance was to cease to have effect on the 31st March 2010 at which point it was expected that the backlog would have been substantially reduced. 

In early February, the President wrote to organisations with an interest in the operation of the Interim Guidance, to advise them that it seemed likely that renewal of the Guidance would be necessary for a minimum of six months and to ask for comments. Some, including Cafcass, thought that if real progress were to be seen in the face of the level of cases brought, twelve months was appropriate. However, the President was prepared to renew for only six months.

The President has explained that he and the judiciary generally have, through the medium of the interim guidance and local agreements made under it, and by maintaining close contact and co-operation with local Cafcass managers, done all that they can consistently with the welfare provisions of the Children Act to assist Cafcass with its problems. The performance of the non-judicial agencies involved is now a matter for Government which must assume responsibility and take an inter-departmental lead in urgently pursuing a solution to these problems. Sir Mark has written to the Ministry of Justice setting out what he considers to be required.

Changes to the Interim Guidance have been kept to a minimum. They fall broadly into three categories: (i) necessary alterations to the dates consequent on renewal; (ii) changes consequent on recent developments, such as the issue of the Revised Private Law Programme Practice Direction and the introduction from 6th April 2010 of a new application form for section 31 Children Act 1989 applications and (iii) certain changes in recognition of possible local management difficulties resulting from the wording of the original Guidance.