A Look Into The Public Law Working Group Recommendations In The Family Justice Systems

A Look Into The Public Law Working Group Recommendations In The Family Justice Systems

Continuing our coverage of the Bi-Annual Family Law Conference by the Birmingham Law Society, we look at the key issues raised by speaker Lord Justice (LJ) Mr Keehan.

Mr Keehan LJ led an interdisciplinary Working Group into the functioning of public family law that published its interim findings in June 2019. With 57 recommended actions for immediate change and 16 recommendations made for longer-term change, the report has been well received, with an only 5-7% of respondents disagreeing with the recommendations.

As well as Social Services and other organisations involved with children in public law, agreeing to the recommendations, it was found that many parents had also participated in the survey. The final report is due in late December to January and Mr Keehan stated that it would be issued as best practise guidance.

The working group has made recommendations that more robust assessments be made and support plans made to ensure courts can make a ‘fully informed welfare decision’ when placing children into special guardianship care. This would include allowing time to build and develop a relationship between the proposed special guardian and allow the relationship be observed and assessed.

Mr Keehan LJ stressed that this time should not be rushed and that it had been proposed to take this assessment period out of the 26 week time limit. It was also suggested that should the child and the special guardian have no prior relationship, it would be beneficial to place the child with the guardian on an interim basis before any final consideration is made before the making of a special guardianship order, this is not an option currently available. This would also allow consideration to be taken of actual ‘lived with experience’ rather than assumptions.

When there are urgent care applications, time is of the essence, therefore it has been recommended that to support an urgent application, there should be a separate short social work evidence template (SWET) that addresses the need for the urgency and delays the legal test for removal until the full SWET can be completed.

The shortened form would also allow litigants in person to understand the issues raised more easily and clearly. The Working Group has also recommended the revision of the SWET to avoid repetition of documents. Mr Keehan LJ did state that digital documents were under construction and hoped to see them in the not too distant future.

Mr Keehan LJ was keen to stress that the making of care orders to be used to provide support and services was wrong. If it was the case that the family required support or services, a more appropriate order should be sought, such as a supervision order. When a care order is used this is a ‘massive interference’ into the private life of the family and extra resource required from the courts.

“A care order represents a serious intervention by the state in the life of a child and the lives of the parents in terms of their respective Art 8 rights. This can only be justified if it is necessary and proportionate to the risks of harm of the child.”

More information on the findings and recommendations by the Public Law Working Group can be found here.

The consultation has now closed and the final results released early 2020.

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