1. Taping CAFCASS Interviews
CAFCASS guidelines already advise that an interviewee asking to tape record an interview should usually be given permission to do so, although the interviewee should be reminded the tape is for personal use only - and the recording must not be played to anyone else.
In practise, CAFCASS officers are usually very suspicious of anyone who asks to tape an interview. They will often refuse to allow it or refuse to continue the interview – or permit it only on agreement to a set of conditions after consultation with their office. (It would seem the guidelines are not widely followed, or perhaps CAFCASS officers do not know they exist? Neither alternative is encouraging.)
We believe that taping of interviews should be routine, and that in addition the interviewee should always be invited to make their own recording, if they wish.
There are a number of reasons why we say this:
CAFCASS Interview is part of court process
People do not get interviewed by CAFCASS without involvement of the court, the court make an order for CAFCASS to investigate a case. The CAFCASS interview and report are part of the court process, it is contempt of court to reveal details of the interview or report to unauthorised persons, effectively it is court by proxy. The CAFCASS officer is an officer of the court.
We have an adversarial system of justice in this country (rightly or wrongly in the case of family law) where the principle is that two sides stand opposite each other in court and present their case openly, with all evidence being presented in court. The judge then decides based on the evidence presented.
Except in exceptional cases, in a court, neither side should be able to wander off with the judge and present evidence (which the other side may not even know about) and then expect the judge to be able to make a reasonable and fair decision. Clearly this would be unfair to the side that was not aware of the evidence presented. (Of course, in a family court, by unfair we mean a decision that is wrong or not in the best interests of the child).
But the way that CAFCASS reports are produced and used in family courts exactly reflects this faulty mechanism. Interviews with the participants are secret and it is entirely at the discretion of the CAFCASS officer as to the evidence they put in their report. This process is almost guaranteed to fail.
These procedures in family courts render CAFCASS reports essentially unsafe – and therefore unreliable as evidence in all cases.
It cannot benefit the child to have such a central part of the family court process based on such unsound principles. The question must be: can we reasonably guarantee that independent CAFCASS (or any other expert reports) are truly ‘what it says on the tin’?
Integrity of CAFCASS Reports
Many of the complaints about family law ‘injustices’ stem from a belief by a participant that they have been misquoted by a CAFCASS officer in their report, or the CAFCASS officer ignored evidence they presented. Taping of interviews would – at a stroke – render these complaints moot, (or prove they are true).
If a participant believes (correctly or not) that they have been unjustly or unreasonably represented in a CAFCASS report, then their confidence in the entire process reduces to almost zero. Consequently, even if the outcome of the case is ‘in the best interests of the child’ then they will not accept the judgement, believing they have been unjustly treated.
A CAFCASS officer would be able to replay the tape to check what was said, reducing reliance on note-taking.
We believe the openness that would result from the taping of CAFCASS interviews would bring overall substantial benefits to the integrity of the court process and hence the children concerned.
Arguments Against Recording Interviews