Expert Witness Update -The View from the President’s Chambers

On 10th July 2023, the President of the Family Division published his most recent ‘View from the President’s Chambers’; as expected, amongst other things, he provides an update on the progress seen since the relaunch of the Public Law Outline at the beginning of this year.

Statistical data

Statistics show that, compared to the same quarter in 2022 (Q1), in Q1 of 2023 public law case receipts had reduced by 7.4 percent which indicates that the changes in approach are starting to have a measurable impact.

Specifically on the instruction of experts, ‘The overall aim in the public law field remains that proceedings should not be issued until all necessary assessments have been conducted, so that the only cases brought to court are those that need to be there. Thereafter, the court will only permit further expert assessment if it is necessary for the determination of (a) the s 31 threshold criteria, (b) the permanence provisions in the care plan, (c) contact or (d) the final welfare assessment as to outcome. The court process will be focussed, within 26 weeks and with few hearings, only on those four issues.’

This is certainly reflected in the numbers of referrals we are currently receiving from local authority clients and the stage of involvement at which assessments are being commissioned.

Supervision Orders

He also refers to the work of the Public Law Working Group around the use of supervision orders. Published in April 2023, their report ‘Recommendations to achieve best practice in the Child Protection and Family Justice Systems: Supervision Orders’, advises ‘a supervision order should be seen as a much more useful option than has been the case in recent years’.

The case of JW (Child at home under care order) demonstrates this guidance being put into practice following a determination made in the Court of Appeal. The PLWG guidance is clear that any plan for children to remain at home under a supervision order should be underpinned by robust support.

How long is it taking for proceedings to conclude?

The most recent CAFCASS data suggests that the PLO changes have not yet begun to have an impact on the time it is taking for proceedings to conclude, with the average timescale being 46 weeks.

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