Britain’s family court boss, Andrew McFarlane, has started a campaign to get people working inside the family justice system to stick to the guidance in place for public family law (care) cases, including enforcing a 26-week deadline in which to complete these cases.
The deadline was originally designed to ensure that children did not languish inside the care system, but experiences inside the system have shown the deadline to be pointless. Any length of time away from what children know is for the most part hugely detrimental to them, including abrupt removals which mean children are isolated from the people and places they have known all their lives.
While this kind of removal may be appropriate in some cases, it is only appropriate in a very small number of instances, with most children benefitting from regular and safe contact with their natural families in environments they are familiar with, or comfortable in.
The 26-week deadline is really about ensuring the family courts are not clogged up with cases, and bear no significance for children in care.
The time it takes to process care proceedings in Britain is currently at a nine-year high, with cases taking 44 weeks to complete on average in 2021.
McFarlane also insists that families identify a potential carer within a week – an almost impossible task for some families, as they struggle with resources and other challenges linked to their circumstances.
Another dim-witted call by McFarlane can be seen in his demand that expert witnesses should only be asked to give evidence where “necessary to assist the court” rather than where it is is “desirable or helpful.” What is help, if it is not assistance?
Another example of our family court focusing on the superficial aspects of the law to get these cases out of the system as quickly as possible.
If McFarlane really cared about children, so much more could be done to ensure children in care are treated properly. The rest, of course, would just fall into place.
This is an extract from the summary:
The President sets out the basics of what is required to get back to operating the PLO and to meet the statutory requirement of completing each public law children case within 26 weeks:
• the PLO pre-proceedings process, with the engagement of parents and a thorough assessment exercise, following the Department for Education guidance and the PLWG recommendations, is essential
• only very rare cases that are truly urgent should be the subject of an urgent first hearing
• the first hearing should be the case management hearing (CMH), held not before day 12 and no later than day 18—an advocates meeting is to be held no later than two days before the CMH
• parents are expressly required to identify any family members for assessment at, or within a week of, the CMH
• no other hearing should normally be listed after the CMH until the issues resolution hearing (IRH)
• experts should only be instructed where to do so is necessary to assist the court to resolve the proceedings justly, rather than where it is merely desirable or helpful (CFA 2014, s 13(6))
• the third hearing in the case, if necessary, will be the final hearing
• at the IRH or final hearing the court is only required to evaluate and decide upon the following issues:
○ are the ChA 1989, s 31 threshold criteria satisfied?
○ what are the contact arrangements (ChA 1989, s 34(11))?
○ by affording paramount consideration to the welfare of the child, what final order(s), if any, should be made?
• the court is not required to consider any aspect of the care plan other than the permanence provisions
• robust case management by the court is required at all stages including, where necessary, regular compliance hearings to deal with any failure by a party to meet dates, the monitoring of compliance with the court timetable and, if needed, the reporting of any failures to the court