The unsung heroes and heroines of the family justice system

Family Law|October 20th 2016

Working within the family justice system can sometimes seem like a pretty thankless task. Those that do often have to deal with the very worst of human nature, regularly under the stress of time and workload pressure, and many work long and unsociable hours. In return they are faced with a seemingly constant barrage of criticism and worse from all angles, including politicians, media and disgruntled public.

It was very nice, therefore, to come across an instance this week of a worker in the family justice system receiving some well justified praise. I say this week, because that was when I read the news story, although the praise was contained in a judgment in care proceedings handed down by His Honour Judge Hess on the 2nd of September. In the judgment Judge Hess praised the social worker involved in the case, saying:

“She has plainly devoted many hours of her time in the last year to this family and I am satisfied that she has not in any way prejudged them and that she has given proper and full attention to the case. On factual matters I found no example of her saying anything which was unreliable and on matters of judgment I found her to be an intelligent, considered, well-balanced and fair witness.”

This led me to thinking of the many often unsung heroes and heroines of the family justice system, who also deserve a bit of praise.

I will start with those social workers. They often have to deal with very difficult people, usually in extremely demanding circumstances. They are under increasing pressure with ever-rising numbers of care applications, and their rewards, at least in terms of remuneration, are often derisory. Yet they do an absolutely vital job. Without them we essentially have no child protection system.

In a similar vein on the private law side of things, there are the Cafcass officers, the ‘eyes and ears of the court’, who investigate disputes between parents over arrangements for their children, usually providing the court with a recommendation as to what order or orders the court should make. How could the court deal with such matters without them?

And then there are the judges (and their staff) who make themselves available out of normal working hours to deal with urgent cases. By their nature these cases can often involve very serious issues, such as the abduction of a child, or perhaps the urgent medical treatment of a patient who is unable to consent to it. They may not express it, or may not be able to express it, but many people owe a great debt of gratitude to the judges who make themselves available to deal with these cases.

And then there are all those people who, in various capacities, deal with Court of Protection work, looking after the welfare of those in society who are unable to look after themselves. Again, this can be very difficult work, but what kind of society would we have if no one was prepared to do it?

And finally, there are the thousands of lawyers across the country who offer their services on a pro bono basis. Yes, I know I’ve made this very same point about them here previously (in a post with a very similar headline!), but that was nearly two years ago, so I think it’s about time I made the point again. Pro bono family work, of course, has taken on a whole new importance since legal aid was abolished for most private law family matters three years ago, and many thousands of people who would otherwise be denied access to a qualified lawyer are benefitting from it.

These are just a few of the deserving people working within the family justice system who merit recognition. There are many others, and society should be grateful to all of them, because without them most of those who find themselves needing to call upon the system at some time during their lives (and that is a large proportion of society) would have a considerably worse experience than they do now, or perhaps wouldn’t have any service at all.

Read the ruling here.

Image by sean hobson via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Rupert Holderness says:

    And the magistrates who sit for free in the family court?

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