Children ‘left in limbo’ waiting for Family Court decisions, warns Law Society President

With the back log since Covid-19 still impacting the daily lives of all individuals today, the Law Society of England and Wales has highlighted the unacceptable backlog that our Family Courts are facing.

Sydney Edwards, Trainee Solicitor at Staffordshire Family Law reflects upon the impact that these backlogs are continuing to have on the children of today’s society, in particular within Public Law Proceedings:

“Public Law proceedings are issued by the Local Authority when they have concerns in respect of the care that the children are being afforded by their primary care givers. Public Law proceedings, also referred to as Care Proceedings issued under the Children Act 1989, invite the Court to grant either an Interim Care Order or an Interim Supervision Order. These interim Orders can allow the Local Authority to share parental responsibility with parents, and/or remove children from their parents’ care if the Court deems this a necessary and proportionate step to take.”

Practice Direction 12A highlights that Public Law Care Proceedings must, by default, be finalised within a 26-week statutory timeframe. The aim of this statutory timeframe is to ensure that children subject to Public Law Proceedings are not waiting for extended periods of time for permanency decisions to be made. This statutory timeframe can on occasion, be extended at the discretion and permission of the Court in cases where the Court feels there is merit for this. Typically, the extension of the statutory timescale is only considered in cases where a Court expert is required to be appointed whose filing dates are outside the timescales, or where a complex issue arises.

Within their research, the Law Society highlight their findings that worryingly in 13 out of the 42 designated family Judge areas within England and Wales, the time from public law proceedings being issued to them reaching a conclusion was double the timeframe as recommended by Sir Andrew McFarlane within his presidential guidance. One of the areas with the longest public law delays in the last quarter of 2022-2023 was Wolverhampton/Telford with those proceedings taking on average some 58 weeks to reach a conclusion. This delay is extremely concerning given that Wolverhampton is only some 20 miles from Stafford where the offices of Staffordshire Family Law are located.

Sadly, these in some cases, extremely lengthy delays cause further uncertainty for children as to what their future living arrangements may look like. Furthermore, this prevents children from being provided with their permanency options at the very earliest opportunity and in certain circumstances can lead to children waiting years for final decisions to be made.

Based on experience from my professional career thus far, the longer that public law proceedings take to reach a conclusion, the more protracted they become. In addition, Public Law Proceedings by nature of their purpose can lead to increased tension between the parties the longer that they continue for. This increased tension can at times, result in parties being unable to make the relevant child-focused decisions which in turn significantly impacts on the children who are the subject of those proceedings. It is therefore vital that final permanency planning is reached for children without significant delay being encountered.


How can Staffordshire Family Law help?

At Staffordshire Family Law we wholeheartedly believe that permanency options for children should be reached at the very earliest opportunity whilst also allowing time for parents to meaningfully engage within the Public Law Proceedings. This allows parents and family members to complete the necessary assessments to explore whether their children can be returned to their care, if appropriate.

If the Local Authority are playing an active role within your family and have indicated their intention to issue Public Law Care Proceedings or you wish to discuss the extent of their involvement further. Please do not hesitate to contact the Children Department here at Staffordshire Family Law on 01785 336629 or via email on [email protected]

The full article prepared by the Law Society can be found here Children “left in limbo” waiting for family court decisions, warns Law Society President (