Today, the President of the Family Court Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, published interim reports from his Public and Private Law Working Groups.

The President opened with a short statement on his concerns around both the rising volume of care cases before the courts, and the rising number of private law applications made, these often without legal representation since the withdrawal of much legal aid provision. Sir Andrew is mindful of the lack of resources available in terms of judges, magistrates, Cafcass Officers, court staff and courtrooms themselves, and how this then in turn can create delay for children. The idea behind the Public Law Working Group, Chaired by Mr Justice Keehan, and the Private Law Working Group, Chaired by Mr Justice Cobb, was to create a “collaborative endeavour” by those working within the Family Justice System, across England and Wales, to address these issues.

We have summarised the recommendations for the Public Law Working Group below. There is a Consultation now open and responses can be sent from today, the 3rd of July, until September the 30th 2019. Details on how to send in your responses can be found here.

Our summary of the recommendations for the Private Law Working Group can be found here.

Public Law

Mr Justice Keehan felt it was first important to note that these are simply interim recommendations, are in draft form and exist within current statutory provision. Further revision and refinement will take place following the consultation period.

The Working Group, and the six sub-groups (local authority decision-making, pre-proceedings and the PLO, the application, case management, special guardianship and s 20 / s 76 accommodation) have identified 57 core recommendations across the six areas examined by the sub-groups.

Core Recommendations

Local authority decision-making
1. sharing good practice;
2. a shift in culture to one of co-operation and respect that values and equally questions the contribution of all parties;
3. a renewed focus on pre-proceedings work and managing risk;
4. develop consideration factors to support decision-making prior to legal gateway meetings;
5. re-focussing the role of local authority legal advisers and the use of the legal gateway meeting;
6. develop and share good practice in driving positive challenge with the IRO / conference chair.

Pre-proceedings and the PLO
7. a renewed focus on the central principles in the pre-proceedings phase of the PLO;
8. drafting of local authority pledges or charters to families;
9. working with children, including using the FJYPB’s Top Tips;
10. simplifying letters to parents;
11. using the pre-proceedings phase of the PLO early (where required) and effectively;
12. a standard agenda for meetings before action;
13. re-focusing the role of local authority legal advisers;
14. better use of assessments, services and support and fuller record keeping;
15. tracking progress of cases pre-proceedings;
16. working with family and friends and the use of the FRG’s Initial Family and Friends Care Assessment: A good practice guide (2017);
17. greater pre-birth preparation for newborn babies;
18. effecting a change in culture, with training in support.

The application
19. revision of the Form C110A;
20. greater emphasis on pleading “the grounds for the application” in the Form C110A;
21. revision of the Form C110A for urgent cases / use of an “information form” for urgent cases pending roll out of the online form;
22. early notification of Cafcass;
23. good practice guidance for courts listing urgent applications and CMHs;
24. working with health services in relation to newborn babies;
25. including the child’s birth certificate in the bundle;
26. focused social work evidence / the SWET for urgent applications;
27. revision of the SWET generally;
28. a revised template for standard directions on issue;
29. introduction of checklists for advocates’ meetings and CMHs for practitioners and the court;
30. circulation of case summary templates;
31. early and active case management;
32. DFJ focus on wellbeing;

Case management
33. use of short-form orders;
34. advocates’ meetings: using an agenda and providing a summary;
35. use of new template position statements and case summaries;
36. renewed emphasis on judicial continuity;
37. renewed emphasis on effective IRHs;
38. the misuse of care orders;
39. case management of cases in relation to newborn babies and infants;
40. experts: a reduction in their use and a renewed focus on “necessity”;
41. experts: a shift in culture and a renewed focus on social workers and CGs;
42. judicial extensions of the 26-week time limit;
43. a shift in focus on bundles: identifying what is necessary;
44. fact-finding hearings: only focus on what is necessary to be determined;
45. additional hearings: only where necessary;
46. the promotion nationally of consistency of outcomes;

Special guardianship
47. more robust and more comprehensive special guardianship assessments and special guardianship support plans, including a renewed emphasis on the child-special guardian relationship and special guardians caring for children on an interim basis pre-final decision;
48. better training for special guardians;
49. reduction in the use of supervision orders with special guardianship
50. renewed emphasis on parental contact;

S 20 / s 76 accommodation
51. circulation and use of the working group’s guides on:
(1) s 20 / s 76,
(2) good practice,
(3) a simplified explanatory note for older children
(4) a template s 20 / s 76 agreement;
52.. no time limits on s 20 / s 76 – but agreement at the start of the offer of accommodation on how long it will last;
53. focus on independent legal advice for those with parental responsibility “signing up to” s 20 / s 76;
54. local authority implementation of the working group’s guides and review of their functioning;
55. on-going training and education on the proper use of s 20 / s 76;
56. a process of feedback and review on the proper use of s 20 / s 76;
57. further consideration of and guidance on s 20 / s 76 and significant restrictions on a child’s liberty.

In addition, a further 16 recommendations for longer-term change have been made. These would require legislative changes, as well as the approval of public spending by Government. These can be found here, on Page 26, paragraph 22.

We’d welcome your thoughts and comments on this interim report.

Picture by David Miller (Flikr Creative Commons – thanks)