Cafcass chief Anthony Douglas is called to account by judge

June 1, 2009

The head of the childrens court agency was summoned by a judge yesterday to explain deplorable and entirely unacceptable case delays after the Baby Peter scandal.

District Judge Byron Carron set up a live conference call from his court in Swindon and questioned Anthony Douglas, the chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), for 70 minutes over inordinate delays in childrens cases.

The judge alerted the media to the occasion making deliberate use of the new transparency in family courts since they were opened to the press last month after a campaign led by The Times.

His action was prompted by anger and frustration over the several months that it can take Cafcass to provide reports about where a child should live or what contact it should have with a parent.

In other cases where children at risk have been taken into care, it can be 12 weeks before a guardian, or social worker, is appointed to represent a childs interests without which a hearing cannot take place.

District Judge Carron said: No parents or children should have to wait many months before knowing the outcome of their proceedings. It makes a mockery of the words access to justice.

Cafcass has experienced an increase in its workload of nearly 40 per cent since the Baby Peter case, with a total of 739 new cases arriving in March this year, compared with 536 the year before. In all it has 100,000 cases in England and Wales.

Three cases before District Judge Carron had led him to summon Mr Douglas.

In the first one a father had not seen his daughter for a year although that was partly because he did not apply for a contact order to be enforced until October 1, 2008. After two requests for more time from Cafcass, the due date for filing its report is now July 15 eight months later.

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