It goes without saying that training in PA will be helpful for everyone, but STOPPA’s view is that it is not as much of an issue as you might think.
Training for Judges
STOPPA is of the view that UK judges are well-familiar with the idea of PA. They see it all the time. They probably don’t like labels and psychological terminology, and feel that they are perfectly able to spot PA without any help.
The problem is not with judges being ignorant. The problem is with judges being effective.
As far as training is concerned, most judges could do with reading, and re-reading Mrs Justice Parker’s judgement in re H. The simple point is that judges do not have to follow slavishly what CAFCASS say. Judges are, or should be, the ones with the power, not CAFCASS, particularly when CAFCASS is burdened with the problems it currently has.
STOPPA feels, too, that the tension in the Act between S 1(2) and S1(5) should be pointed out. A judge should be looking to do something as required by S 1(2), not sit on his hands, as seems to be recommended by S1(5). Also, all of the cases indicate that a judge should get on with it, and not sit idly by whilst the relationship between a child and a parent disintegrates.
In conclusion, judges don’t need much training on the pathology. They need training on how to judge!
Training for CAFCASS
Training courses for CAFCASS are already available. It’s just that (unlike the courses telling them how to claim their expenses!) only 2% of CAFCASS officers go! Training in PA must be mandatory.
It is clear from Anthony Douglas’s talk at FNF this year that there are plentiful resources for CAFCASS officers. They have a huge library. Perhaps their officers could read a few books!
The problem, though, with CAFCASS is not so much ignorance (though this is rife) but with attitude. CAFCASS officers simply do not believe that there is such a thing as PA. It looked like they might be getting there earlier this year, but within a few weeks they were obviously back to their old ways.
Most CAFCASS officers believe that a child is always better off with its mother. It would not be difficult to make a case that CAFCASS are institutionally gender-biased using, for example, the fact that they consult only women’s groups on some important issues.
In the 21st century, in a modern western democracy, surely we can re-jig the paradigm. Fathers are just as good at looking after children as mothers, and, in many cases, better. Some of this problem could be addressed with a presumption of co-parenting.
Training for Lawyers
Lawyers here means solicitors, barristers and Legal Executives. We have already highlighted the appalling level of ignorance amongst lawyers about PA. As with CAFCASS officers, STOPPA recommends a compulsory PA training module in the CPD (Continuing Professional Development) of all family lawyers. Use our questionnaire when talking to lawyers.
Training for McKenzie Friends
McKenzie friends are not lawyers and are not obliged to undertake Continuing Professional Development. Maybe they should be.
The use of McKenzie friends has increased sharply over recent years, as has representation ‘pro se’ (an American (well, Latin)) term meaning Litigant in Person (‘LIP’). Both phenomena are due to the cutbacks in Legal Aid, introduced by the Tories, but continued under labour, coalition and Tory administrations since. So, because we can’t get Legal Aid to pay for lawyers (and that is not going to change with any political party probably) we have to DIY (being a LIP) or use a McKenzie friend.
McKenzie friends do not represent us. They are there merely to help us present our own cases and offer suggestions and advice. The court can, though, allow McKenzie friends to speak on our behalf, but tend not to.
STOPPA has no experience with, or affiliations to, any McKenzie friends. All we can say is the obvious thing, that there will doubtless be good and bad McKenzie friends, and you should take care, and make your own enquires. But, as with lawyers, ask the hard questions.