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14 MAY 2013

Amy Sanders: Summary of the latest ‘View From The President’s Chambers’

Amy SandersThe previous View from the President's Chambers entitled The process of reform, published in the May issue of Family Law referred to work underway on a revised Public Law Outline ‘PLO'.

In June, the journal publishes a further instalment in the series View from the President's Chambers: it is entitled The process of reform: the revised PLO and the local authority. In it, Sir James Munby looks in detail at the reforms. An interim version of the revised PLO will come into effect on 1 July 2013 with the final version (incorporating any adjustments) to be brought into force in April 2014. The main outlines of the revised PLO are however, already clear and unlikely to change substantially.

Emphasis has previously been placed on the importance of the first hearing which is to be the effective case management hearing and set each matter on course to meet the 26 week deadline. Crucial to the progress all other parties are able to make, will be the compliance of the local authority with its obligations under the revised PLO.

The key principle is that the local authority must deliver the right kind of material on Day 1, or the entire timetable will be thrown out.

The local authority must attach the following documents to the application filed with the court on Day 1:

  • The social work chronology
  • The social work statement and genogram
  • Any current assessment relating to the child and/or the family and friends of the child to which the social work statement refers and on which the local authority relies
  • The threshold statement
  • The care plan
  • The allocation proposal form

On Day 2 the local authority must serve on the other parties (but must not file with the court unless expressly directed to do so) the ‘checklist documents'. These are:

  • Evidential and other documents which already exist on the local authority's files (eg, previous court orders, judgments / reasons, relevant assessments, section 7 or section 37 reports, and single, joint or inter-agency reports). These documents are to be served with the application form.
  • A list of decision making records (eg records of key discussions with the family, key local authority minutes and records, pre-existing care plans and letters before proceedings). These documents are to be indentified by list, not served, but must be disclosed on request by any party.

Documents older than two years need not be served unless they are to be relied upon by the local authority. There will be a clear distinction between documents which need to be filed at court and served on parties; those that need to be served on the parties but not necessarily with the court, and those documents which must be listed but not served unless requested.

There is a strong emphasis on the local authority only producing documents that are focused, succinct, analytical and evidence based. There is a detailed list of the scope of information to be incorporated in the key sources including the social worker's statement and threshold document.

The idea is to get away from local authorities providing voluminous amounts of materials which are too narrative and historical. Only key significant historical events are required and there is a need to distinguish clearly between fact and professional evaluation.

Front loaded work on a case will avoid the need for proceedings in some instances or alternatively, well prepare a matter to run more smoothly in the longer term.

Local authorities will need to have properly organised legal planning meetings in place. The early sending of the ‘letter before proceedings' to parents is vitally important to trigger the availability of public funding. Equally important is the need to identify and evaluate possible family carers.

Lastly, the revised PLO is hoped to re-position social workers as trusted professionals playing the central role in care proceedings. Social workers are experts in the same way as Cafcass officers (albeit not for the purposes of Part 25 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010).

Amy Sanders is a Family Law PSL at Jordan Publishing and was formerly a children and family solicitor practising in London and more recently in Devon.

She can be contacted on Twitter: @Amy_Sanders1

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