Thomas unable to step down as child guardian
A social worker who is suing the Government for $2.6 million over its alleged failure to pay her wages is unable to leave her role as an independent advocate in a case because no replacement has been appointed, her lawyer claimed this week.
Mark Diel, who represents Tiffanne Thomas, explained that an application was made to the Family Court on Monday for her to step down but the matter was adjourned until next month.
He said it was understood that the Government was putting together a panel of litigation guardians to represent vulnerable children.
Ms Thomas, an independent social worker, revealed she intended to resign her position as a litigation guardian from 11 active cases involving 17 “at risk” minors last November.
She later filed a civil action against the Attorney-General and Accountant-General in the Supreme Court for payment for her work since 2014.
Ms Thomas claimed she should be paid $2,621,720, or an amount the court rules is reasonable in the absence of a figure being set out in a legally enforceable contract.
It was understood she was still not being paid for her services as a litigation guardian.
Mr Diel explained: “Since November, no one has come along to replace her and the court has taken the view, certainly in these proceedings, that she can’t just walk away, as she was appointed she has to be discharged or there has to be a replacement. With that in mind, we attended on Monday and said, yes, she does wish to be discharged provided of course that the outstanding issues of her fees are resolved and that these children are protected with a replacement litigation guardian.”
A Court of Appeal ruling in June found that the Government showed a “flagrant disregard” for children by failing to pay for them to have independent legal representation.
It made declarations that ministers had been in breach of obligations under the Children Act 1998 for some time because they failed to introduce a scheme to fund litigation guardians.
As a result, the court found that children in specified proceedings had been denied effective access to, and participation and representation in, court proceedings, breaching their human rights.
The Royal Gazette asked to attend the closed-doors hearing in front of Puisne Judge Nicole Stoneham this week but no permission was granted.
Mr Diel said after the hearing: “We have learnt that hopefully, in the next few weeks, the minister will appoint a panel from which the court can select litigation guardians.
“Who they are and how much they’re getting paid remains a mystery. We should hopefully find out within the next month.”
He added: “We have heard this before, that they’re going to get around to making replacements, and nothing has happened.
“We will wait and see.”
Mr Diel said: “At the moment, Ms Thomas is the one with the most experience and certainly should be on that panel.
“In fact, we’re surprised that we haven’t been approached in regard to this at all.”
He added: “One could be forgiven for thinking that the Government seems to be wanting to keep her off the panel for the temerity of asking to be paid for her services for the last five years.”
The lawyer said the court heard that four potential panel members were going through a vetting process.
He explained that proceedings were adjourned so that Brian Moodie, counsel for Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, could take advice about a proposal to pay Ms Thomas’s fees in the case from which she applied to withdraw.
The Government was approached for comment but none was provided.
• It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.
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