What's wrong with linear judgments?

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In a series of cases over the last 12 months, starting with the judgment of McFarlane LJ in Re G (Care Proceedings: Welfare Evaluation) [2013] EWCA Civ 965, [2014] 1 FLR 670 judges have condemned social work evidence and lower court decisions in care proceedings because they were based on ‘linear judgements’.

This paper questions the basis of the criticism by examining how the term ‘linear judgment’ is used in the courts, the potential defects of such judgments and how else the term may be understood. It makes the case for acknowledging a hierarchy of care plans, consistent with obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights, Art 8 and the requirements on local authorities in Children Act 1989, s 22C.

In considering what options are ‘realistic’, courts should be more aware of research evidence, particularly on the difficulties of successful re-unification of children with their parents. Assessments, and evidence of social work witnesses, should include analysis which provides a clear chain of reasoning linking the child’s needs and carers’ capacity to meet these with the proposed plan, order or placement. So far as possible, this should be written in a way that service users can understand. The requirements for timely decision-making should also apply to appeals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1277-1283
Number of pages6
JournalFamily Law
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 3 Sep 2014


  • care proceedings
  • decision-making
  • judgment


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