FULL REPORT RELEASED: Independent Study of Australia’s Independent Children’s Lawyers

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Release of the Family Law Express Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL) study: Full Report – released 13th November, 2015

In contrast to the generally positive findings of the Australian Government’s 2013 AIFS Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL) Study, the findings of the Family Law Express Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL) study  entitled “Neither Seen Nor Heard: Australia’s Child Protection Conundrum” has exposed the undeniably arduous state of current ICL practice in this country.

independent childrens lawyer surveyThe Family Law Express study was primarily comprised of a detailed questionnaire, designed with a distinct emphasis on robust and meaningful representation.

Of enormous significance and as a point of distinction with the AIFS research, Family Law Express focussed on the experiences of the affected parents, as opposed to the views of lawyers, judges and other family law professionals, who it could be argued would have been denied exposure to the ultimate consequences of the ICL practices in question, amongst other obvious deficiencies.

The study findings have exposed many flaws with regard to current enforcement of ICL standards and guidelines, as well as funding, education, and ICL practice more generally. The respondent parents expressed dissatisfaction and a lack of confidence in ICLs repeatedly through-out the study, raising obvious questions as to the extent of the discord between the perceptions of professionals and the core subjects themselves.

Given the principle responsibility of an ICL is to improve the outcomes for children in family law disputes , Family Law Express have attempted to address the incongruence in the AIFS study where only 6% of research participants were parents, carers or children involved with an ICL.

Given that 94% of the research participants in the AIFS study were professionals within the Australian legal system, Family Law Express have added a different and essential perspective to the ICL debate, that of parents who, alongside their children, are most closely affected by the involvement of ICLs in family law disputes.

Amongst the more surprising of the Family Law Express’ findings, only 8% of research respondents believed that the ICL best represented the interests of their child or children. In a further finding, 64% of respondents ranked the ICLs instrumentality at just one on a scale of one to ten where one represented no importance at all. Not only do these findings reveal problems with current ICL practice but they undermine the principles upon which ICL practice is premised.

Just as surprising, an overwhelming 79% of respondents expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the overall performance of the ICL. This can be attributed to a number of factors; to the poor preparation of ICLs indicated by 64% of respondents; to the 76% of respondents and their children who were not appropriately informed of the ICLs role upon appointment; to the fact that 91% of respondents and their children were not regularly updated of the ICLs progress; or to the gender bias felt by 71% of respondents. These findings are compounded by disparities in ICL funding arrangements and questions surrounding the adequacy and substantiality of current ICL training and accountability measures.

This study suggests that reform in the practices and accountability of ICLs is not merely required, but is in fact necessary and urgent. It is necessary not only to ensure that the law remains applicable and relevant to current and changing contexts, but in terms of ICL practice, law reform is necessary to the wellbeing and future of countless Australian children.

And in an era of heightened awareness of child safety in the context of family disputes, reform of the practice of ICLs is a constructive and worthwhile measure that can be quickly undertaken, but only if the political will is there.
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Read the Full Report here.

Jessica Goddard

Online Legal Information Author at Family Law Express
I am currently studying my fourth year of a combined Law and Social Science degree, majoring in development and cultural studies at Macquarie University, NSW. I have a strong passion for social justice and humanitarian issues and highly value the role of legal research and legal reform in positively impacting these areas. I have paralegal experience spanning a number of areas of law and endeavour to use my legal knowledge and skills to assist those facing legal complications or a challenge of their rights.
Jessica Goddard
Categories: Children's Views in Court, Complaints against Lawyers, Independent Children's Lawyer, Independent Children’s Lawyer Study: Final Report, Independent Children’s Lawyer Study: Final Report, Independent Children’s Lawyers
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