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12 JUL 2007

CARE PROCEEDINGS: Somerset County Council v D & others [2007] EWCA Civ 722

(Court of Appeal; Sir Mark Potter P, Sedley and Wilson LJJ; 12 July 2007)

The local authority, concerned that six children were at risk of neglect and emotional abuse from the mother and father, sought permanent care orders to be made in respect of the children.

At a hearing in February 2007 the judge refused to make the permanent care orders or to endorse the local authority's care plan, preferring an initially short postponement of the final decision in order that the parents might have a final chance of keeping the family together. The applications were directed to be restored to the judge one month later for further directions, when he had had an opportunity to consider whether the parents had made sufficient progress in addressing their problems. At the March 2007 hearing interim care orders were made, with directions that the parents file further statements and the matter be listed for further directions in April 2007. The local authority appealed the judge's decision.

The appeal would be allowed on the basis that the judge's order failed to lay down focussed directions necessary for the timely final disposal of the matter: his disposal fell substantially short of what was necessary by way of ongoing judicial control of the proceedings. It was essential in the interests of the children that he should have required a specific raft of proposals to be laid before the court, analysed in detail on all sides and, to the extent that they were approved, made the subject of directions. He should have laid down a specific timeframe providing for a further substantial review at a hearing at which there should be a proper opportunity for consideration whether, in view of the parents' efforts, they should be allowed more time.

There had been some progress made by the parents since March 2007 but in view of the time lapse a more professional and measured appraisal of the progress needed to be made: the court could not rule out the possibility that there was a sufficient prospect, within an acceptable time frame, of reunification of the children with the parents. The full care orders would not be made: the applications and applications for adoptive placement orders would be transferred to the Family Division to be heard in September 2007. The parents were ordered to attend and give evidence at that hearing. A series of directions were made with a view to the efficient collection and presentation of the relevant evidence at the September 2007 hearing as to the parents' progress.

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