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The Public Law Outline (PLO) came into force in England and Wales yesterday.
The PLO has been introduced to replace the existing Protocol for Judicial Case Management in Public Law Children Act Cases. This is underpinned by revised statutory guidance to local authorities in England and Wales issued under section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 to support them in preparing care applications to the court.
The revised statutory guidance places greater emphasis on the work undertaken by local authorities before care proceedings can commence. In particular, they are required to notify parents of their intention to make an application to the court and to set out the basis of their concerns and an outline of their future plans for the child. On receipt of this, parents have immediate access to non-means tested legal help from a solicitor, funded by the Legal Services Commission, with the aim of avoiding proceedings or narrowing the issues to be determined by the court.
Where cases do proceed to court, the PLO introduces a more streamlined court process (reducing the current six stages to four). It promotes better quality applications through following the revised local authority guidance; requires timetables for the court process to be set which are focused on the needs of the children involved; and, introduces enhanced case management procedures which include earlier identification of the key issues leading to better targeted and effective use of experts evidence in those cases where it is required.
Speaking at the launch of the PLO, family justice minister Bridget Prentice said:
"Children and families involved in care proceedings are among the most vulnerable in society. We should try and prevent children from having to be removed by the courts from their parents' care. It should be a last resort after all other options have been explored, such as care from grandparents or other family members.
"But where a child is suffering abuse or neglect, court intervention may be the right option. Improving the care proceedings process in the courts and reducing delays will go a considerable way to better meet the needs of these children."
At the launch Bridget Prentice also announced that research is being undertaken to find out the views of parents as to how they can be assisted to make better informed decisions.
Public Law Outline, The The Court Companion - A Special Bulletin
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