CHILDREN involved in care proceedings are being denied proper access to lawyers and information about the legal process, according to a damning report conducted by Professor Judith Masson.
Masson, from the University of Warwick, says: “The key point is that solicitors tend to act, despite what they say, as if the guardian ad litem [usually a qualified social worker] is the client – and not the child.
“Children's concerns are often overlooked, legal procedures are not explained, they are excluded from court processes and, in a number of cases, the children are not told of the outcome.”
Association of Lawyers for Children (ALC) spokesman Martin Parry comments: “We are naturally concerned at any suggestion that solicitors for children don't treat children as the clients.”
Masson also raises concerns over what she describes as a “cosy relationship”
between some solicitors and guardians.
Parry disagrees: “A lot of guardians tend to instruct the same solicitor over and over again, which can lead to allegations of a 'cosy relationship' – but actually it is a sign of a good working relationship.”
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the University of Warwick's School of Law conducted the first observation-based study into children and legal representation. It involved 20 children and looked into the discharge of care proceedings, applications for contact and secure accommodation.
But Parry says: “It's important to put the study into context. Masson admitted to the ALC [at its annual conference] that this is not a representative study.”
Allan Levy QC, a leading child care barrister, says: “I find some of the conclusions surprising. My overall view is that the system can be imp-roved and there can never be room for complacency, but it is certainly not my view that the child does not know where, or with whom, they would live.”
Masson claims problems arise because some courts issue care orders before a detailed care plan has been finalised.