Proposed 26-week target receives support of Resolution
Family lawyers’ group Resolution has expressed support for the introduction of a 26-week target for care cases, but warned the needs of children must remain paramount.
The Children and Families Bill, published last week, implements David Norgrove’s Family Justice Review recommendation for a 26-week target in child care proceedings. Judges will have discretion to extend this where necessary, as long as the case comes back to court within eight weeks.
Harjinder Kaur, the local authority representative for Resolution’s children committee, says the courts are already starting to put the 26-week deadline into practice so there will not be a sudden change overnight when it becomes law.
“The courts want to achieve a change in culture,” she says.
“Since April 2012 each case has been tracked, there is an initial hearing to determine the immediate placement for the child, and then a case-management hearing within weeks of the initial hearing, where it is recorded whether the case can meet the 26-week target and, if not, the reasons. Previously the target for completing a case was 40 weeks and cases could take a year or more.”
“A lot of delays have been caused by waiting for experts such as a psychologist or independent social worker,” she says. As of 1 February, however, experts can only be instructed where “necessary”.
Kaur says Resolution agrees that making decisions within 26 weeks will be in the interests of most children, but hopes judges will retain discretion to allow cases more time.
Local authorities will need to complete their assessments prior to court, whereas at the moment they go to court at an earlier stage, she says, which may mean cases take longer to reach court, even if they make faster progress once there.
SOURCE: New Law Journal