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The representation of children in public law proceedings

Author: Amy Summerfield

Public family law cases deal with families where local authority intervention is needed to protect a child from harm. Whilst there are a range of outcomes for children, the weight of the decisions in public law – including the option of permanent separation between a child and their birth parents – means that the processes within proceedings are necessarily thorough, robust and consistent, in order to protect children and ensure the rights of their parents are respected.

Children subject to public law cases are usually represented by both a publicly-funded legal representative and a Cafcass guardian. This is known as the ‘tandem model’ of representation. Whilst the Family Justice Review (FJR) in 2011 recognised the value of the tandem model, it raised some concerns in relation to the potential for duplication of work between these professionals and the local authority and concluded that a more proportionate approach should be considered. This approach included a pro-active assessment of whether, when, and how the respective contributions of the legal representative and the guardian were required during proceedings.

There has been no systematic review of the operation of the tandem model since the FJR. This study makes an important contribution to the evidence on the operation of the model in the current context. It explores how the tandem model is working in practice and whether the proportionate approach advocated in the FJR has been adopted. In light of rising care volumes and stretched public resources, the study also aims to understand whether any amendments to the model are feasible or appropriate in order to ensure the rights of the child are safeguarded, efficient judicial case management is supported and public resources are effectively allocated.