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About this book

This book provides social workers with the theoretical and practical knowledge they need to effectively deal with courts and legal issues, which includes presenting evidence, supporting vulnerable service users in the legal system and developing good professional relationships.

Table of Contents

1. Social Workers in the English Legal System

Abstract
From day one in practice a social worker is required to work within the law, for example, to handle case files and information in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998. In practice it is not always obvious that departmental guidance and local authority policies are actually reflecting law and legal requirements. As a trainee social worker you will have learnt about aspects of law as part of your training. This book builds on that knowledge and tackles the practical detail of how to get things done in a way that will make dealing with lawyers and courts a more effective and rewarding experience for you and your service users. (I have used the term ‘service user’ throughout this book though I recognize that sometimes social workers will use other terms such as ‘client’ or ‘customer’.)
Penny Cooper

2. Record-Keeping and Handling Personal Information

Abstract
The primary purpose of social work records is to assist you in decision-making. The secondary purpose is to help resolve a dispute if one arises. Was the referral made? What support was the foster carer promised? How often were visits agreed? And so on. If the matter goes to court, records may be used in two ways: to establish the ‘history’ of the case and/or to judge the quality of the social work.
Penny Cooper

3. Producing Written Evidence

Abstract
Many cases that are contemplated or even started never actually get to court. This is because decisions about whether or not to proceed with or to defend a case are made after evaluation of the evidence. It is therefore vital that the written evidence is produced with the highest possible skill and care. It can and often does make or break a case even before it gets to court. However, if the matter does go to court and you give evidence, your work will be exposed to scrutiny by the cross-examiner, the judge and, if there is one, the jury as well. This chapter is all about how to prepare written evidence that will help not hinder the case and that will assist you if you give evidence.
Penny Cooper

4. Being a Witness

Abstract
Consider the advice below from a professional witness who gave evidence in 2013. The witness had gone through witness preparation, including a mock cross-examination, and she knew her report inside out and back to front.
The hardest thing is not to get defensive and emotional or start taking it personally when it is a sustained attack and no-one appears to be leaping to your aid — just accept this is par for the course and try to keep cool and professional — remember it’s all just a game and the QC will be off butchering somebody else tomorrow.
Email correspondence from the witness to the author, 2013
This witness’s feedback chimes with the findings of a recent study in New Zealand (Henderson and Seymour, 2013). In that study expert witnesses were asked about their experiences in the criminal and family courts in New Zealand where the procedure during cross-examination is conducted in a very similar way to ours. Experts said they thought cross-examination felt like game-playing and attempts at trickery by the advocate. The researchers ‘found strong support for the anecdotal reports that expert witnesses dislike the court process and would prefer to avoid any involvement’. However some positive news from this study was that many experts said that through ‘experience or training they have learnt how to combat many cross-examination techniques’. (Henderson and Seymour, 2013:124)
Penny Cooper

5. Working with Other Professionals in the Legal System

Abstract
A social worker might find herself consulting local authority lawyers for advice about how to protect a child, she might provide a statement to solicitors for a vulnerable adult for the Court of Protection or a statement to the police as a witness to a criminal matter. She might also work alongside an intermediary in a police interview. Situations like this require understanding of those other professional roles in order to achieve the best working relationships. The chapter contains examples of good practice as well as barriers to effective working based on actual cases.
Penny Cooper

6. Giving Children and Vulnerable Adults a Voice in the Legal System

Abstract
Not only must a social worker understand the courts and the legal system so that they can present their own best evidence, they must understand how to support their service users to give their best evidence. What is meant by ‘give their best evidence’? Simply, it means having the opportunity to offer a complete, accurate and coherent account. It includes a witness being able to say what they want to say, being questioned in a way that they understand and giving answers that can be understood. That is no less than each of us would expect for ourselves in a fair justice system because having your voice heard is a fundamental right.
Penny Cooper

7. Dealing with Outcomes: The Results and the Aftermath of Court Hearings

Abstract
If you prepared well, you should be able to walk away from the witness box feeling you did your best. You may not have liked the experience but you should at least feel that you have had your chance to say what you saw, what you heard and what you did and been able answer questions and challenges that came by way of cross-examination.
Penny Cooper
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