Legal representation of parents in child care proceedings problems and strategies

  • Pearce, Julia F (Principal Investigator)
  • Masson, Judith M (Co-Principal Investigator)
  • Bader, Kay F (Researcher)

Project Details


Qualitative study with ethnographic elements of the work of lawyers representing parents in care proceedings in England and Wales under the PLO 2008

Layman's description

Study of the work of lawyers acting for parents in child protection proceedings in courts in England and Wales

Key findings

In 3 of the 4 courts area in the study, the court (judge or magistrates legal adviser) did not manage cases - the progress of cases was achieved by negotiation between lawyers and lawyers had control of the litigation process.This arose because of lack of familiarity with the case and decisions already made. The number and timing of hearings had not been effectively controlled by the PLO for this reason.
Lack of continuity in representation at court and in the judiciary involved meant that issues were not developed or resolved in a coherent way; this process was not understood by parents.
Lawyers handling this work formed a community with a shared ethos. They generally regarded care orders as draconian and saw parents as having an absolute right to contest. Lawyers rarely tried to constrain clients from contestingeven where the case seemed unarguable ; only parents who were thought unable to cope with the demands of a contested case were managed to assent to the court's decision . Such practice was not seen to undermine parent's rights or produce different decisions, rather the process was curtailed.
Restriction of legal aid payments to lawyers had reshaped the way cases were handled to some extent; some lawyers were acutely aware of funding levels and rules. Instructing counsel, representing colleague' clients at court, seeing clients only at court and file reading practices were all influenced by the funding rules.
Lawyers felt that they had to continue to represent very difficult clients because of the problems of clients finding a new lawyer if the relationship was ended. Similarly they were unwilling to accept clients who had 'sacked' their lawyer.
Effective start/end date1/06/081/06/10


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