A Family Court judge has criticised the lack of plain language in a social worker’s report.
In a recently published judgment, His Honour Judge Lea said that he was “somewhat critical, and unapologetically so” of the report in question. Several passages were written in a way which made their meaning difficult to understand and “might just as well have been written in a foreign language”, he added.
One passage he cited described the relationship between two parties as “imbued with ambivalence” with “many commonalities emanating from their histories that create what could be a long lasting connection”.
This was not a case of “linguistic pedantry”, the judge declared. Such reports are not solely for the benefit of other legal professionals because “parents and other litigants need to understand what is being said and why”. While he understood what the social worker meant in her report, he was not sure that the people who featured in it would be able to.
That was not the only reason for his criticism, however. Judge Lea said that the overly complicated language in the report led him to question whether the social worker who authored it was able to communicate effectively with the parties.
The comments came during a hearing in Nottingham to determine if two girls should be adopted. A woman who had previously believed she was the grandmother of one of the children applied to care for them. Despite DNA tests proving that there was no biological link between her and the children, she maintained her willingness to look after them.
Although the social worker gave the woman a negative assessment, Judge Lea speculated that the reason for this could be because the two “were simply not on the same wavelength when discussing matters”. He noted that the woman did not have an extensive vocabulary, “speaks in plain language and would not readily comprehend a lot of what [was] written about her”. As a result, he thought the social worker’s criticisms were “unfair”.
Judge Lea ruled that the woman should be able to care for the two girls and made a special guardianship order to that effect.
Derbyshire County Council v SH is available in full online. To read it, click here.