Alternative Law Journal
The views that are expressed in your published review of my book Magistrates' Decision-Making in Child Protection Cases (Ashgate, Rants, England, 2001) by J. Neville Turner (Alt.LJ, Vol 26, No. 5, October 2001) are original. They do not represent what is the actuality of the book.
In the Introduction to my book (pp.4-5) I note that the increase in reports of child abuse has placed considerable demands on the child protection services and the courts. Magistrates in the Children's Court in my study, were acutely aware of the importance of their decision-making, and the need to balance the often competing interests of parents, the state and. 'the needs of the children. Rather than in Turner's words: 'a magistracy that is more concerned with their lowly status than the privilege of shaping disturbed children's lives', I wrote that:
• 'The majority of the magistrates (13 of the 15 magistrates) said their work in the Children's Court had a significant personal impact on them: a pressure to make the correct decision, not only because of the consequences of such decisions but also because of community reaction to such decisions' (Sheehan2001: 88).
• 'Most of the magistrates commented that the work of the Children's Court is not highly regarded in legal circles. This lack of status in the legal system meant there was insufficient recognition given to the Court's important purpose' (Sheehan 2001: pp. 93-94).
The book does not suggest, as stated in Turner's review, that 'magistrates err in their decision-making', or that 'the views of magistrates themselves reveals a degree of cynicism and arrogance', or that 'there is a strong tendency for magistrates to berate social workers'. Comments such as these both distort the context of magistrates' comments and the discussion offered in the book.
Significant attempts have been made, and continue to be made, by the Children's Court, and the Department of Human Services, Victoria, to improve cooperation between the legal and welfare systems.
The book is not, as Turner appears to suggest, an attack on the people who work in the child welfare jurisdiction, but rather an examination of the system that is the child welfare jurisdiction. Throughout the book, there is consider able discussion about the difficulties that confront magistrates in the child welfare jurisdiction. The aim of the book is to make a theoretical contribution to knowledge of judicial decision making in child welfare matters. It aimed also to inform practice by professionals who work in this area and con tribute relevant information to statutory child welfare policy and planning. Further, I hope that the book can contribute to debate about how our community protects children affected by abuse and neglect.
Dr Rosemary Sheehan
ALTERNATIVE LAW JOURNAL