• April 19, 2024
 ‘It’s a real privilege’: Shabana Jaffar on new role as Head of Cafcass Legal

‘It’s a real privilege’: Shabana Jaffar on new role as Head of Cafcass Legal

Shabana discusses her recent appointment to the role and shares opportunities to join her team at the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass).

Aside from a handful of regular meetings and a few cups of tea, there is no typical workday for Cafcass’ newly appointed Head of Legal, Shabana Jaffar. Thankfully, the experienced family lawyer (and former Senior Lawyer) does not seem to mind.

From providing advice to Cafcass’ leaders and other corporate teams to advising on key policy and strategic objectives of the organisation—and of course, supervising Cafcass’ legal team—Shabana’s role is both varied in nature and highly influential. Like all of her colleagues at Cafcass, she also endeavours to keep children’s safety, and best interests at the heart of her work.

Though only appointed Head of Legal in September this year, Shabana is no stranger to the sector. With more than seventeen years of experience working in family law—including four years as a Senior Lawyer for the team she now leads—Shabana is well equipped for the job.

After kick-starting her career with six years in private practice, representing parents, children and guardians in both private and public family law proceedings, Shabana spent some time working as a local authority lawyer. The experience she gained from these roles—and at Cafcass Legal—has allowed Shabana to represent a broad spectrum of clients involved in family cases and to develop a concrete and well-rounded understanding of all aspects of family case work.

While Shabana’s workdays are rarely the same, there are a few key responsibilities that come with her new role as Head of Legal. One of these responsibilities is to provide supervision to the lawyers in her team in their complex and “sometimes novel” casework undertaken predominantly in the High Court.

Shabana also supports organisation-wide activities to ensure Cafcass meets its statutory responsibilities regarding the safeguarding of children. She does this by providing legal advice regarding any Serious Incident Responses, acting as Legal Advisor to the Cafcass Board and liaising with other key partners in the family justice sector.

Like their new department head, Cafcass’ team of lawyers also have a range of duties and responsibilities, some quite unique compared to the average legal role. Alongside casework, the team prepares legal updates for practice staff to ensure they are aware of key legal developments and creates bespoke legal training on a yearly basis. They also represent children in High Court cases and provide legal advice and support to Cafcass Family Court Advisers (FCAs) across England via the duty advice line.

Although the legal team’s case work is exclusively in private law, Cafcass lawyers act for children in a variety of cases including complex adoption proceedings, international child abduction, surrogacy and those involving end-of-life medical treatment decisions.

Shabana and her team occasionally receive requests from the High Court Judiciary to act as “Advocate to the court”. This is a unique role fulfilled by Cafcass lawyers who assist the court by undertaking legal research often related to novel issues that   may not have arisen in previous cases. Speaking about Cafcass Legal’s unique role within family justice, Shabana said:

“We’re lucky to be part of the ongoing debate about [family law] reform, about what we do well in our work [at Cafcass], what we can improve and how we can continue to positively impact the children and families we work with.”

Yet despite the everchanging nature of the family justice system and the legal debates that go with it, Shabana is not phased by—and even welcomes—the variability of her and her team’s work. She explains:

“It’s a dream job for any family lawyer. We’re able to be a part of an organisation that is constantly striving to improve and which is a key partner in family justice. The lawyers are often involved in developments in case law at High Court level and we’re constantly learning and developing our specialist expertise in order to provide the best service to the children we represent.”

And for family lawyers who are also dreaming of a role like this, it may just be fate.  Cafcass Legal is now recruiting, and the incentives are significant. Those who join the team would be working alongside an exceptionally experienced and knowledgeable group of lawyers undertaking specialist casework to support children across the country and, in some cases, beyond.

In addition to playing an integral role in family justice, recruits would also be part of an in-house team that does not have financial targets and where the focus is on delivering high quality legal advice—providing space for them to stay on top of the latest legal developments through their own case-related legal research and through training developed for the wider organisation. Shabana notes that this is not always possible in other legal roles due to competing pressures. She added:

“It’s a different mindset working in Cafcass legal because we’re looking to make a difference. It’s a real privilege.”

On top of such privileges, Cafcass Legal also offers a competitive salary, great working flexibility and unique opportunities for career learning and progression.

Discussing where Legal team colleagues typically end up after working for Cafcass, Shabana laughs and says, “No one really leaves!”

“A couple of colleagues who have left over the past eleven years have moved on to other roles. The others had been with us for a long period until they eventually retired, after making an invaluable contribution to the team with their knowledge and expertise.”

After more than a decade with Cafcass Legal and her recent appointment to department head, it seems Shabana may be on a similar path!

See here for live link to our Legal recruitment campaign: Lawyer (Legal Services Team) (current-vacancies.com).

Shaelyn Stout (Press and Communications Officer for Cafcass)

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