Renewed calls to speed up care proceedings
Family law

Renewed calls to speed up care proceedings

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Walker Family Law
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The prospect of having your children removed by the state is obviously one of the most awful things that a parent could face. It is therefore essential that care proceedings, the legal process of deciding whether removal is necessary, should be dealt with as swiftly as possible. Renewed calls to speed up care proceedings

And of course it is even more essential for the child that such potentially life-changing issues are resolved quickly, to avoid them suffering further damage and distress, and so that they can move on with their lives.

But sadly care proceedings are not always dealt with swiftly. In fact, as we will see, they are now taking considerably longer than they used to.

26 week time limit

The problem of care proceedings taking too long is not a new one.

In 2011 a review of the family justice system was undertaken. It found that delay was ‘endemic’, with care cases taking an average of 61 weeks to be dealt with.

To rectify this situation the review recommended that the Government fix a 26 week time limit for the completion of care proceedings.

That time limit was implemented in 2014 when new legislation was passed requiring the court dealing with care proceedings to draw up a timetable with a view to disposing of an application without delay and, in any event, within 26 weeks. Only in exceptional cases would the court allow that time limit to be exceeded.

And the time limit did have an effect. By 2016 the average time taken for care proceedings was down to 27 weeks, with 62% of cases finishing within the 26 week time limit.

But the effect did not last.

Increasingly the time limit has been missed. By the first quarter of this year cases were taking an average of 49 weeks, with only 17% being completed within the 26 week time limit.

Relaunching the 26 week target

The situation has led to renewed calls to speed up care proceedings, coming from two directions.

Firstly, last month the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane issued a call for all involved in care proceedings to renew their efforts to keep to the 26 week time limit.

Acknowledging that there were reasons for cases taking longer, in particular a sustained rise in the number of care applications and the effect of the pandemic upon the capacity of the courts, the President said that there is a need for a “radical resetting” of the culture within the Family Court so that it once again aims to meet the 26 week time limit.

He is therefore embarking on a campaign to “exhort, require and expect” every professional, judge, magistrate or staff member in the system to get back to operating within the 26 week limit, without exception. His aim is for the necessary change in working practices to ‘go live’ in all local authorities and courts throughout England and Wales by mid-January.

The second call for care proceedings to be sped up came from a House of Lords committee. Reviewing the 2014 legislation, the committee said that the 26 week timeframe had generally been positive, highlighting that it is essential that children—particularly the very youngest children—receive timely judgments. However, while flexibility may sometimes be needed in the most complex of cases, the average case duration has been allowed to become too long.

The committee therefore urged the Government to publish a target for the timeliness of care cases, along with an associated action plan laying out how it aims to achieve this reduction, and how it will measure progress.

Let us hope that, for the sake of both parents and children, these calls are heeded, and that a return to completing most cases within, or close to, the 26 week limit is achieved.

Ian Walker Family Law & Mediation Solicitors are award-winning family solicitors and are recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England. For expert advice, please contact the team.