‘Spirit of the Agreement’ will continue to operate
In a joint message signed by Sir Nicholas Wall, President of the Family Division, and Anthony Douglas CBE, the Chief Executive of Cafcass, it has been agreed that there is no need to renew the interim guidance, originally entered into on 1 October 2009 (‘PIG1’) and again on 1 April 2010 (‘PIG2’). Instead both are of the view that the good practice generated by the PIGs and by the subsequent Agreement is now well established and should continue without the need for any formal agreement.
The interim guidances were originally described as “short-term measures” and were designed initially to last six months. On the expiry of PIG2 on 1st October 2010, an Agreement was made to assist Cafcass to manage constantly increasing demand for its services pending implementation of the Family Justice Review.
The Agreement was to last until 30th September 2011 and contained provision for the Ministry of Justice, HMC(T)S, and the Department for Education to monitor its effect. The Ministry of Justice and the Department for Education have sent the Local Performance Improvement Groups the results of their Review of local arrangements between Cafcass and Designated Family Judges. This review document concludes that the Agreement “has been successful in achieving its aims, which is demonstrably clear from the statistical evidence, supported by concurring opinion from frontline practitioners collected through an online survey.”
The joint message says that the success of the Agreement has been as a result of two main factors:
- Cooperative working between the courts, Cafcass and other agencies with strong information-sharing across the system being used to identify ways of improving the system locally.
- Improved good practice in observing the detailed case management provisions of the Public Law Outline Practice Direction.
Sir Nicholas and Anthony Douglas accept the recommendation in the review document that, “with the continued high levels of s31 applications being forecast and the consequent continuation of high demand for Cafcass services, there is strong evidence that the successful working practices adopted by local areas to manage current workloads should be maintained”. However, they are confident that the arrangements for good communication and working relations which, they say, were already in existence in some areas, but which were formalised by the Designated Family Judges and Cafcass Heads of Service under the PIGs and restated at paragraph 4 of the Agreement will be maintained.
In these circumstances, they have come to the conclusion, after consulting the Designated Family Judges and local Cafcass managers, that it would not be right formally to renew the Agreement and that in any event it is unnecessary to do so. They are both of the view that the good practice generated by the PIGs and by the Agreement is now well established and should continue without the need for any formal agreement between us. Thus, the joint message continues, the spirit of the Agreement will continue to operate: local discussions and initiatives will continue and local agreements or protocols will remain in place or new ones be drawn up as the need arises.
There is confidence that Judges and magistrates hearing cases under the Children Act will continue to manage according to the Public Law Outline and the Private Law Programme and will continue to assist guardians in the manner envisaged in paragraphs 9 to 11 of the Agreement and set out in the final paragraph of the joint message which we sent with the Agreement on 1 October 2010.