The President of the family division has raised concerns in relation to the current backlog and delays in the Family Court in his latest view: Make Every Hearing Count – Case Management Guidance in Public Law Children Cases: March 2022.
It is recognised by all professionals working within the Family Court that court backlogs and delays remain high with the impact of unacceptable delays in children’s cases. The President recognises that children’s cases work in a dynamic context where the participants’ lives continue. It is not unusual for fresh events to occur and those requiring the court to evaluate during the court proceedings. The longer the case takes, the court will be faced with new developments, and this can cause a delay in the final decision. The President describes this as dough proofing on a baker’s shelf, growing the longer the cases are left without a final resolution.
What is to be done:
The President recognises there is no simple solution but sets out a range of initiatives to reduce backlogs and individual workloads; some are listed below:
- The Designated Family Judge has the discretion, which can be applied in the delivery of Family Justice.
- Ensure every hearing is effective and to keep hearings short, if possible.
- Reconnect with the principles of the Public Law Outline case management process.
- Improving the quality of the evidence and thereby ensuring further assessments will not be required unless they are deemed by the court to be “necessary”.
- Language matters- change is required in the use of language when dealing with family disputes.
- Addition funding is to be made available for Family Mediation
- Brief position statements to be filed 24 hours prior to the hearing, this is beneficial for the parties and the court to know the position of each party ahead of the hearing so that it can be focused.
- Remote hearings will continue. However, there should be more attended hearings, although social distancing rules will continue to apply. Whether the hearing will be remote or face to face will be at the judge’s discretion.
What can social workers do to make every hearing count and reduce the delay:
- Robust use of the pre-proceedings part of the Public Law Outline can result in co-operative partnership working with the parents and may even result in positive outcomes for the child and in not having to commence proceedings.
- If court proceedings are necessary, than an effective pre-proceedings process will enable the local authority to provide reliable and robust evidence, with the ability to oppose any requests for further assessments.
- Once court proceedings are commenced, social workers to provide clear and up-to-date information to the local authority lawyers in advance of each hearing or advocate’s meetings. This will assist the lawyers to draft and file the local authority’s position statements in the required time of 24 hours before the hearing.
- To read all parties’ position statements before the hearing so that the social work team can consider matters and provide their views to the local authority lawyer prior to or at the hearing.
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