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1.4.4 Legal Protocol for Judicial Case Management in Public Law Children Act Cases

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter was added to the manual in August 2012


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Procedure for Initiating Family Proceedings
  3. Step 1 - The Application
  4. Step 2 - The First Hearing
  5. Step 3 - Allocation Hearing And Directions
  6. Step 4 - The Case Management Conference
  7. Step 5 - The Pre-Hearing Review (PHR)
  8. Step 6 - The Final Hearing
  9. Conclusion

    Appendix A/3: Case Management Checklist

    Appendix A/5: PHR Checklist


1. Introduction

The Children's Act 1989 has for over a decade been successfully implemented, however, delay in completing Care Proceedings has persisted in being a problem as the average case lasts for almost a year, leaving the child(ren) uncertain as to their future. Please also refer to the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

The Scoping Study published by the Government in March 2002 and the work of the Advisory Committee finalised a Protocol for Judicial Case Management in Public Law Children Act cases.

The protocol's aim is to ensure that there is a clarification of focus for those involved in care cases and sets a guidance of 40 weeks for the conclusion of care cases. Some cases will need to take longer than this, but many more cases should take less.

Following the government's Protocol on Judicial Case Management, the following local PPD has been produced to help advise and guide social workers involved in childcare proceedings.


2. Procedure for Initiating Family Proceedings

Wherever possible a Family Group Conference (FGC) should be held prior to initiating family proceedings with the aim of exploring what help extended family members can offer. It may well be that enough family support is offered to avert family proceedings. It may also help to identify interested parties at an early stage, allowing the opportunity for assessment and reducing delay in the proceedings.

If a FGC does not reduce concerns and legal proceedings is a likely outcome, a legal meeting should be called as a final attempt to prevent family proceedings.

All decisions to initiate proceedings should be made in consultation with your manager and Head of Service.

In emergency situations where proceedings need to be initiated immediately, a FGC should be called as soon as is practically possible to ascertain if any extended family members can offer long term support and care to the child/children.

A decision should be made whether it is appropriate to 'twin track' the case from the outset, as the Local Authority (LA) solicitor and social worker would then have to ensure that built into the timetabling was a date for the social worker to attend the Adoption Panel and enough time for the Local Authority Solicitor to lodge a Freeing application to Court so that this can be heard at the Final Hearing.

Where proceedings have been initiated, See Section 3, Step 1 - The Application


3. Step 1 - The Application

3.1 Social Worker

The social worker will discuss the issues of the case with their line manager and Legal Services Department to ensure the threshold criteria has been met. No family proceedings should be initiated without the approval of a Head of Service.

The social worker will instruct the Legal Services Department that a decision has been made with Children's Services to initiate family proceedings.

3.2 Legal Services Department

The Legal Services will complete and file application forms (C1/C13) to court.

3.3 Social Worker

The social worker by day 3 must file the following reports:-

  • Initial statement and Chronology;
  • Single Assessment reports;
  • Section 37 (if any);
  • Any other additional evidence.

The social worker must inform the LA solicitor of all relevant persons in the case and discuss whether the case should remain in the Family Proceedings Court (Magistrates) or be transferred to County Court.

The decision to transfer the case to County Court should be based on complexity. If the Local Authority decides to apply for transfer, the LA solicitor should submit the application at the First Hearing.

Any other party involved in the proceedings can also apply for transfer of the case.

3.4 Social Worker

The social worker should also discuss with the LA solicitor any witnesses identified and experts if required.

In discussing the use of 'experts' it is important to ensure that an 'expert' is actually needed with clear reasons why.

Any other party can apply to the court for the use of experts. If the Local Authority does not agree that an expert is required, the LA solicitor should inform the court of the reasons why.

3.5 Court

The court is responsible for appointing a GAL.


4. Step 2 - The First Hearing

4.1 Timescale

The First Hearing shall take place in the Family Proceedings Court (FPC) on or before day 6.

4.2 Social Worker and Legal Services Department

The social worker shall attend the First Hearing and to discuss and instruct the LA solicitor on issues about the case.

This should include:-

  • Clarifying who the witnesses should be;
  • Assessments and reports that will be required;
  • Timetable of when the social worker needs to complete court reports, care plans and assessments;
  • Timetable to include Adoption Panel and completion of Schedule 2 report if appropriate.

The 'expert's' report (if any) should be completed and served prior to the social worker's final Care Plans, court and assessment reports so that the 'expert's' opinions can be considered by the Local Authority when making their recommendations.

The social worker should inform the LA solicitor of their availability for future meetings and hearings. It should be agreed by both parties when a social worker should attend court, as it is not always necessary for social workers to attend hearings, except in any contested hearings where the social worker must attend.

4.3 Court

The court should:-

  • Decide who should be party to proceedings;
  • Set a date for contested hearings if necessary;
  • Consider whether the case should be transferred to Court or County Court;
  • Complete the case management checklist (Appendix A/3: Case Management Checklist).


5. Step 3 - Allocation Hearing And Directions

5.1 Timescale

By day 11.

5.2 Legal Services Department

In consultation with the social worker, the LA solicitor is responsible for completing the Standard Directs Form (SDF).

The LA solicitor discusses and clarifies any relevant aspects of the case to ensure instructions from social worker are clear.

5.3 Court

If the case has been transferred to the County Court, the Court Officer will allocate case management and judges and, where possible, identify the judge who is to be the Final Hearing judge.

At an Allocation Hearing the case management judge shall consider if it is appropriate for the case to remain in County Court or be transferred back to the Family Proceedings Court.

The judge will determine any contested interim application for a Care or Supervision Order.

The court will follow the case management checklist and fix a date for a case management conference, which will be within 54 days of the First Hearing. The judge will also fix a date for the Final Hearing and the Pre-Hearing Review which shall be not later than two weeks and no earlier than eight weeks before the Final Hearing date.

The court will clarify with the LA solicitor the necessary contents in the bundle of documents for the case management conference.

5.4 Social Worker

The social worker will, if necessary, update the Chronology and initial Care Plan for the case management conference.

5.5 Legal Services Department

The LA solicitor will complete the Case Management Questionnaire (Appendix A/3: Case Management Checklist) for the case management conference and any other documents required.


6. Step 4 - The Case Management Conference

6.1 Timescale

Between days 15 and 60.

6.2 Legal Services Department

The LA solicitor shall, not later than 5 days before the case management conference, prepare and file all relevant case management documents that were directed at the Allocation Hearing.

Before the day fixed for the case management conference, or (where it has not been practicable to have an earlier meeting) not later than 1 hour before the time fixed for the case management conference, all parties' solicitors, social worker and GAL shall:-

  • Meet to identify and narrow the issues of the case;
  • Consider the case management checklist;
  • Consider the case management questionnaires;
  • Consider in accordance with the experts' code of guidance whether and if so why any application is to be made to instruct an expert.

6.3 Social Worker

The social worker should attend the Advocates meeting with the LA solicitor to ensure clarity of issues and to update information.

The social worker should attend the case management conference.

6.4 Legal Services Department

Following the advocates meeting, the LA solicitor should draft:-

  • Aa schedule of issues which identifies:-
    • A summary of the issues in the case;
    • A summary of issues for determination at the case management conference by reference to the Case Management Questionnaire and Case Management Checklist;
    • The timetable of legal and social work steps proposed;
    • The estimated length of hearing of the Pre-Hearing Review and of the Final Hearing;
    • The order which the Court will be invited to make at the case management conference;
    • Lodge to the Court a Freeing application order if appropriate. (At least one month before the Final Hearing).

6.5 The Hearing

At the case management conference, the case management judge/court shall:-

  • Give any necessary case management directions to:-
    • Timetable any remaining legal and social work steps;
    • Ensure that full and frank disclosure of any relevant documents is complete;
    • Ensure that, if an expert is to be instructed, the expert and the parties will complete their work for the Court within the Court's timetable.


7. Step 5 - The Pre-Hearing Review (PHR)

7.1 Timescale

By week 37.

7.2 Court

The Court Officer ensures that the case management judge receives the court file/bundle during week 28.

7.3 Advocates Meeting

In the week before the PHR the advocates who are party to the Final Hearing shall:-

  • Communicate with each other and, if necessary, meet to identify and narrow the issues to be considered by the court at the PHR and the Final Hearing;
  • Consider the pre-hearing review checklist (Appendix A/5: PHR Checklist).

7.4 Legal Services Department

Two days before the PHR, the LA solicitor must file a composite schedule of issues, which includes:-

  • A summary of issues in the case;
  • A summary of issues for determination at the PHR;
  • A draft witness template;
  • The revised estimate of hearing and of the final hearing;
  • Whether the proceedings are ready to be heard and, if not, what steps need to be taken at the PHR to ensure that the proceedings can be heard on the date fixed for the final hearing;
  • The order which the court will be invited to make at the PHR.

7.5 Social Worker

Prior to the PHR, the social worker will:-

  • Do the necessary preparatory work to ensure that they can update the court and ensure that they have had a recent look at the case and all the issues involved;
  • Ensure all court reports, assessments and care plans are submitted to court as agreed by the court timetable;
  • Attend the Pre-Hearing Review.

7.6 The Hearing

At the PHR, the court will:-

  • Consider the pre-hearing review checklist;
  • Consider the parties composite schedule of issues;
  • Confirm or give revised time estimates for the Final Hearing;
  • Give such directions as are necessary to undertake the existing case management documents and the court/bundle;
  • Give such directions as are necessary to ensure that the Final Hearing will be effective.
The court may decide to dispense with the PHR or deal with it on paper or by electronic means, including computer, video or telephone conferencing.


8. Step 6 - The Final Hearing

8.1 Timescale

By week 40.

8.2 Legal Services Department

2 days prior to the Final Hearing:-

  • The parties must prepare and file case management documents;
  • File court bundles.

8.3 Social Worker

The social worker must ensure that any updated information is discussed with the LA solicitor.

The social worker should attend the Final Hearing.

8.4 The Court

At the conclusion of the Final Hearing, the court will set out the basis/reasons for the orders made or applications refused.

8.5 Reserved Judgement

In a complex case, a judge (but not in Family Proceedings Court) may decide to reserve judgement and take time for consideration. Where judgement is reserved, the court will endeavour to fix a date for judgement to be given or handed down within 20 days (4 weeks).

8.6 Disclosure

At the end of every Final Hearing the court will consider directions for disclosure of documents. For example:-

  • In any case where it is proposed that the child should be placed for adoption and so that subsequent adoption proceedings are not delayed at the LA adoption panel, specialist adoption agency and/or proposed adopters and their legal advisors for use in subsequent adoption proceedings;
  • For any medical or therapeutic purpose;
  • For a claim to be made to the CICA.


9. Conclusion

The Local Judicial Protocol procedure has been developed to ensure, wherever possible, that decisions regarding children and young people are not unnecessarily delayed in childcare proceedings.

This procedure also aims to clarify roles and responsibilities for social workers involved, as it identifies a step-by-step guide and timetable for social workers to follow throughout the court process.


Appendix A/3: Case Management Checklist

Click here to view Appendix A/3: Case Management Checklist


Appendix A/5: PHR Checklist

Click here to view Appendix A/5: PHR Checklist

End