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BASW calls for urgent MoJ meeting over fee capping

BASW has called for an urgent meeting with the Ministry of Justice to discuss the role of independent social work (ISW) in the family courts, as the prospect of a sharp cut in ISW expert witness fees edges closer.

The Association called for an immediate postponement of an MoJ plan to restrict expert social work witness court fees to £30 an hour (£33 in London) from 1 October 2010, a move that would put ISW remuneration on the same footing as Cafcass rates, even though they are self employed and need to fund their own tax and administration arrangements.

In a letter to MoJ minister Jonathan Djanogly, BASW chief executive Hilton Dawson said the Association wants social workers to be treated the same as other expert witnesses, such as psychologists, whose fees are being reviewed by an Expert Witness Review Group. Social workers have not been included in the review, with the decision to cap ISW fees already confirmed.

In Mr Dawson’s letter to Mr Djanogly, parliamentary under secretary of state, he described ISWs as ‘some of the most experienced and skilled social workers in the child protection field’ who offer a unique contribution to the family court arena. ‘Authoritative advice from ISWs frequently leads cases to settle without expensive contested hearings because it is seen as independent, objective and thorough, thus saving the public purse considerable sums,’ the letter stated.

Urging the government to think again, Mr Dawson said the planned cuts were being made without evidence of the cases ISWs are involved with or the current cost of using them in courts, a fact confirmed by a senior MoJ civil servant at a campaign event organised in March.

The letter forms part of an ongoing campaign by BASW and Nagalro to resist the fee capping, with investigations continuing into the launch of a judicial review and a postponement of the move pending the outcome of the forthcoming review of the Family Justice System.