In England and Wales, the issue of delay in public law children cases has been a concern for more than a decade. Delay can lead to an increased burden on the public purse and greater uncertainty for children and families. Indeed, children have often been left ‘dangling’ on the edge of care for two years or more.
Various procedural measures have been introduced in England and Wales recently in order to try to reduce delay both before the issue of proceedings at court and subsequently. There is now a national 26-week target for the completion of proceedings. However, although there is a national ‘pre-proceedings process’, there is no suggested time limit for the conclusion of pre-proceedings work.
Various attempts have been made at a local level to introduce a target for the completion of pre-proceedings. One of them applies to the City of Bristol in the South West of England; another applies to the City of Chester in the North West of England. One of the aims of the protocols was to complete pre-proceedings work within 26 weeks, without ‘shifting’ work from the pre-proceedings stage into the proceedings themselves. Another aim was to improve the quality of the social work that had been undertaken prior to the issue of proceedings.
A research team based predominantly in Bristol has spent the last 3 years examining the operation and impact of these pre-proceedings protocols. The speaker will summarise the qualitative and quantitative data that the team collected in 2014 and 2016. She will discuss the similarities and differences between the initial and follow-up stages of the study, and the differing perspectives of the local authorities and the courts and the challenges they have faced in trying to work more quickly and more collaboratively. She will consider the extent to which the pre-proceedings protocols have succeeded in achieving their aims and also contributed to better outcomes for families and children. The experiences and views of a focus group of young people will form the centre-piece of the discussion, not least because they help to illustrate some of the differences between the law and the practice of the law.
Whewell, E. (2017, December). Why pre-proceedings work is important and needs to involve children. Paper presented at The Law Society's Children Sub-Committee, London