Court Skills Training for Social WorkersLouise Hill
Park Square Barristers provided a training seminar in advanced court craft skills for social workers, specifically dealing with the challenges faced by social workers in cross-examination. The session was run by Louise Hill, Diana Lessing and Caroline Shields, with Diana gamely volunteering to demonstrate the social worker under fire.
The session was attended by social workers from Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees and Leeds local authorities and from a diverse range of teams.
The aim of the presentation was to explain and to enable delegates to understand the process of giving evidence, to recognise the importance of case preparation and to understand the role of the social worker in giving evidence. There was an initial appraisal of the court system and types of hearing to provide the background framework, which was then followed by tips on case preparation both prior to and during the hearing. They were then taken through the format of giving evidence, and differences in examination in chief, cross-examination and re-examination were identified.
The delegates were asked to read a mock case bundle prior to attending. Diana Lessing stood in as the social worker being cross-examined, drawing on her previous experience in this field. Caroline Shields commenced cross-examination which was paused at intervals to discuss both the nature and purpose of the questions being put, and the way in which the witness answered them. Louise Hill concluded the cross-examination to give the attendees the opportunity to view a different style of cross-examination.
There was a lively and interesting discussion during this process during which a number of the delegates were able to share their own particular concerns about giving evidence and cross-examination specifically. Discussion also broadened to cover specialised areas such as the evidence which is now being sought from adoption and fostering social workers in order for local authorities to address their balance sheets as to appropriate placements.
It is recognised that social workers are sometimes anxious about this aspect of giving evidence. As advocates, we have our instructions when acting for parents within care and placement applications and consequently that case to put when cross-examining. The court, however, needs to have the best possible evidence before it to make the right decision in each child’s case and so it is vital that professionals such as social workers have the skills and confidence to be able to give their evidence in the best possible way to achieve that end. It is hoped that sessions such as this and others planned in the future will assist in that process.