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Care- Proceedings - Is the 26-week timetable long enough?

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The Children and Families Act 2014, s14, introduced the 26-week ‘time limit’ on how long care proceedings should take to conclude. Before this, cases would take over a year to conclude and this had caused stress for both the parents and their children due to the uncertainty.

The new provision raised concerns that parents may not be given enough time to demonstrate the changes. Also, there was considerable concern that the Courts’ would not order vital assessments from experts to determine the case if the meant this would take the case outside of the 26-week limit.

However, statistics have shown that most cases conclude at 30 weeks and the more complex cases take even longer.  When asked to concern an application for an extension, the Court’s approach is to deal with each application on its individual merits.  The Courts realise that the final decision is life changing for the families, particularly the children and therefore all cases require thoroughly exploration before a final order can be made. 

If you wish to discuss your case further contact our Care Team.

The provision used to allow the Court’s to extend the timetable is found within the Children and Families Act at S32 (5). The extension is only allowed by increments of up to 8 weeks and only if Court considers that it is:

necessary to enable the court to resolve the proceedings justly’.

At S32 (7) it states that:

‘Extensions are not to be granted routinely and are to be seen as requiring specific justification’.

The Court needs to justify the following:

(a) the impact which any ensuing timetable revision would have on the welfare of the child to whom the application relates, and

(b) the impact which any ensuing timetable revision would have on the duration and conduct of the proceedings;

To assist further as to whether an ‘extension’ can be justified there is guidance within Sir James Munby’s Judgement at para 33 in the case of Re S (A Child) [2014] EWCC B44 (Fam)

Munby listed three different contexts where extensions can made so that the cases go beyond the 26-week timetable:

i) The first is where the case can be identified from the outset, or at least very early on, as one which it may not be possible to resolve justly within 26 weeks. [  . . . ]  Four examples which readily spring to mind (no doubt others will emerge) are (a) very heavy cases involving the most complex medical evidence where a separate fact finding hearing is directed [ . . .] (b) FDAC type cases [ . . .] (c) cases with an international element where investigation or assessment have to be carried out abroad and (d) cases were the parent's disability require recourse to special assessments or measures [ . . .]

ii) The second is where, despite appropriately robust and vigorous judicial case management, something unexpectedly emerges to change the nature of the proceedings too late in the day to enable the case to be concluded justly within 26 weeks.  Examples which come to mind are (a) cases proceeding on allegations of neglect or emotional harm where allegations of sexual abuse subsequently surface, (b) cases which are unexpectedly 'derailed' because of the death, serious illness or imprisonment of the proposed carer, and (c) cases where a realistic alternative family carer emerges late in the day.

iii) The third is where litigation failure on the part of one or more of the parties makes it impossible to complete the case justly within 26 weeks.

If you are a parent where care proceedings have been issued and the court has applied an ‘extension’ to your case, it is important that you understand that this is because  the Court requires more time to resolve the issues justly and fairly.

If you wish to discuss your case further, contact our Care Team.