Absence of discretionary powers cause of CSA hiatus

THE GOVERNMENT'S failure to provide the Child Support Agency with the power to use discretion in making maintenance orders is seen by the legal profession as a “lacuna” in the legislation, a former High Court judge said.

Speaking at last week's fringe meeting of the Liberal Democrat Lawyers' Association, Dame Margaret Booth said the objectives of the Child Support Act had not been met, and the act is seen as flawed “both in its content and its implementation”.

Booth, who presided over the CSA's test case involving “clean break” father Gary Crozier, said the agency has no discretion other than to apply a set formula, and this has resulted in a number of problems.

“I recognise that it's impossible to please all of the people all of the time,” said Booth. “But this act has gone a remarkably long way in displeasing all of the people a lot of the time.

“The act is, in fact, an important piece of social legislation, and it has far-reaching effects for many people. Its approach is radically different to all that has gone before and no-one, if they thought about it, could have expected it to lie easily with existing law.

“No doubt it was intended to be cheap and speedy and to avoid the problems of many months of going to court to get orders against errant fathers and to actually get those orders enforced.

“The criticism it has brought is unfortunate when you consider that the objectives of the act are very acceptable indeed.”

Joyce Rose, former chair of the Magistrates' Association, told the meeting that one of the “pities” of the act was that “the Children Act consolidated family while the Child Support Act fragments”.

“The act is wrong in design and in practice,” said Rose. I can't see that it does anything other than harm the children, the families and relationships it was supposed to support

“I can see nothing to commend this act or its operations.”