News and Events

The Local Authority have issued care proceedings - how long will it take?

View profile for Jasmine Lees
  • Posted
  • Author

How long should public law proceedings take?

When the Local Authority initiate public law care proceedings, the standard duration of these proceedings should be 26 weeks which equates to 6 months. There may be some variance on this timeframe, and this will depend on the complexity of the matter, the assessments which are being completed within the proceedings and any other unexpected delay.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, exponential delay was caused to all cases including  public law proceedings which were before the Family Court, impacting on Court timetables and this caused a huge backlog of cases. This has had a knock-on effect across the UK and even where the Local Authority has put forward final care plans for children, if the plans are contested, there is considerable delay in the listing of contested final hearings to hear evidence and for the Court to make a final decision.

Other factors which may impact on the duration of the Court timetable are the availability of PAMS parenting assessors to complete specialist assessments of parents, availability of experts for specialist assessments such as psychiatrists, psychologists or medical experts. There have also been delays in receiving police disclosure and GP / medical information which may be imperative to the resolution of the case.

PLO process

The PLO process was established as a result of previous delay in public law proceedings where a statutory time limit of 26 weeks for the conclusion of care proceedings was implemented.[1] The PLO process was designed to set out the duties of the Local Authority and what they need to consider when taking a case to Court when seeking either an interim care or interim supervision order. This process can also be referred to as the Pre-Proceedings process in that it occurs prior to proceedings being initiated.

Most Local Authorities follow similar practices during the PLO process which often lasts around 12 weeks to include:

  1. A letter sent to the parents or carers of the child informing them of the reasons for their concerns that the child(ren) is at risk of significant harm
  2. Confirmation of what needs to happen for the concerns to be reduced such as the level of engagement, assessments to be completed and for the parents / carers to work openly and honestly with the Local Authority
  3. Information detailing what may happen if there is no positive progress during the proposed “period of change”.

The letter is usually followed with a PLO / Pre-Proceedings meeting held with the social work team and the legal representatives for the Local Authority / parents & carers. At the meeting, any areas in contention will be discussed and agreement will be sought in relation to the expectations of the PLO process. The meetings are usually minuted so that they can be relied upon in the future during any court proceedings.

There is likely to be a review of the PLO process at around the 12 week mark and the process may be extended to consider if further changes can be made, the process can come to an end due to positive progress and a reduction in the concerns or the case may escalate to Court.

Recent Developments

In November 2022, guidance was published by ‘The President’s Chambers’ which detailed “the need for all involved in public law children cases to reconnect with the core principles of the Public Law Outline (PLO)”.

The following steps are sought by the President of the Family Court to re-initiate the PLO process:

  • The PLO pre-proceedings process should be a thorough process to include engagement from the parents and a range of assessments should be completed prior to the issuing of proceedings.
  • There should be a reduction in the amount of urgent hearings sought by the Local Authority, on the basis that many hearings sought are for matters which are not considered “urgent”.
  • The first hearing should be a Case Management Hearing, held not before Day 12 and no later than Day 18. An advocates meeting between the legal representatives should take place no later than 2 days prior to this hearing.
  • Parents are to identify any potential alternative carers for the purpose of assessment, at the Case Management Hearing or within a week of this hearing.
  • As standard, unless necessary, there should be a Case Management Hearing and an Issues Resolution Hearing followed by a Final Hearing if the matter remains contested.
  • Experts should only be instructed within the proceedings where it is ‘necessary to assist the Court to resolve the proceedings justly’ and where there may be a gap in the evidence available to the Court without an expert’s instruction.
  • The Court are only required to determine if the s31 threshold is met, the permanence provisions of the care plan and the contact arrangements arising from that care plan.
  • Robust case management by the Court is required at all stages of the case and the onus is on all parties to disclose non-compliance to any court directions.

The guidance and viewpoint of the President of the Family Court is that, despite lack of resources and staffing issues which are generally faced by Local Authorities, this should not prevent the changes which is required.[2]

How Johnson Astills can help

If you have been informed that the Local Authority are beginning the PLO process or are initiating care proceedings in respect of your child then please contact us for specialist advice. Please contact  Johnson Astills at either our Leicester Office on 0116 255 4855 or our Loughborough Office on 01509 610 312 and ask for a member of the Care Team so that we can advise you accordingly. Alternatively, please email us on and a member of our team will be