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1.4.3 Legal Planning Meetings

RELATED LOCAL GUIDANCE

Request for Legal Planning Meeting Template

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in December 2016 to reflect the outcome of a judgment following an application to remove a child at birth. The judge set out what were thought to be ‘basic and good practice steps’. (See Section 1, Purpose of Legal Planning Meetings)


Contents

  1. Purpose of Legal Planning Meetings
  2. Who can Convene Legal Planning Meetings
  3. Attendance at Legal Planning Meetings
  4. Timing and Duration of Legal Planning Meetings
  5. Recording of Legal Planning Meetings
  6. Review/Subsequent Legal Planning Meetings


1. Purpose of Legal Planning Meetings

When it is clear that the protection or welfare of a child cannot be achieved by agreement with the parents or the security of a legal order is necessary to ensure the viability of a plan for a child or the existing court order is not providing adequate protection for the child or is no longer required, a Legal Planning Meeting should be convened.

A Legal Planning Meeting may also be convened in circumstances where it is thought that a legal order may be required in order to assist in the permanence planning for children, whether that is a return to the family or to achieve permanence elsewhere.

A Legal Planning Meeting should be convened following an application for an Emergency Protection Order when consideration is being given to an application for a Interim Care Order.

Legal Planning Meetings are an essential part of the process for dealing with public law children's cases under the Public Law Outline.┬áSir James Munby, President of the Family Division in ‘The Process of Reform: the revised PLO and the Local Authority’, states that a properly organised legal planning meeting is invaluable and can be the key to achieving timely outcomes to Care Proceedings. He also recommends that local authority lawyers be involved, advising and assisting their social work clients, at an early stage.

A Legal Planning Meeting will be chaired by the social worker's line manager, and involve a legal adviser to the local authority on childcare matters. Consideration should also be given to whether it would be advisable to have a colleague from another agency or service that have an active involvement with the family and whose view would assist in making decisions about the child's legal status.

It is an opportunity to discuss a case fully, and to consult with colleagues to ensure that children are the subject of active case management and that appropriate legal action is taken when required to promote and safeguard the welfare of the child.

The role of the local authority legal adviser is to advise about the legal possibilities for achieving the desired aim and to give a view about the quality of the evidence available.

In order to enable a full discussion to take place, the following must be available:

  • Relevant assessment/s;
  • An up to date Chronology;
  • A Plan or a clear indication that options for a plan have been considered;
  • A Genogram;

The issues to be considered at the meeting will include the following:

  • The reasons for the concerns and the evidential basis for establishing Significant Harm and the Threshold Criteria;
  • Why Care Proceedings are necessary - what is their aim, objective and purpose?
  • The steps already taken to clarify the issues of concern - i.e. an Assessment, as well as other medical and other expert involvement;
  • Whether the requirements of the Pre-Proceedings Checklist set out in the Public Law Outline have been met, including a written notification to the parents about the areas of concern and their right to seek legal advice;
  • When will the Assessment and other supporting documentation be available, if not already?
  • The action/decisions already taken and where the decisions were made e.g. Strategy Discussion/Meeting, Child Protection Conference, Core Group meeting;
  • The proposed Care Plan for the child, including the proposed placement and any cultural, language and ethnic issues, the need for a Twin Track Plan, consultation with parents and the wider family, whether any family members are available to care for the child on an interim or permanent basis, if so whether the required checks have been made, the proposals for contact;
  • How the proposed Care Plan is to be achieved, including where appropriate arranging a date for the case to be presented to the Adoption Panel;
  • Whether it may be appropriate to instruct any further expert assessment before the commencement of court proceedings - if so, what are the proposed remit of the instructions and the areas to be addressed, who should the assessment be done by and what are the likely timescales?
  • Have there been previous Court proceedings in relation to the family? If so, what steps are required to obtain the papers in relation to the case from the Court? or another local authority?
  • When will the social worker's Statement of Evidence be ready?

Note: where children are already Section 20 Accommodated there should be no delay in issuing proceedings where this is required (see Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure, Section 20 Accommodation). Note that with pre-birth situations a recent High Court judgment has set out good practice steps to include:

  • A risk assessment of the parent(s) should be undertaken immediately the social workers are made aware of the mother’s pregnancy and should be completed 4 weeks before the mother’s expected delivery date and disclosed to the parent(s) (and their solicitor where relevant);
  • All relevant documentation should be then sent to the Local Authority Legal Adviser to issue proceedings.
(See Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure, Pre-Birth Planning and Proceedings)


2. Who can Convene Legal Planning Meetings

The decision to convene a Legal Planning Meeting will be made by the social worker's line manager - the decision will usually be taken following a recommendation from a Child Protection Conference, as a result of a Looked After Review, a Permanence Planning Meeting, or on the request of a social worker, manager, local authority lawyer, or other agency. The Request for a Legal Planning Meeting Template should be completed following a discussion between the social worker and Team Manager.


3. Attendance at Legal Planning Meetings

The following can be invited to attend a Legal Planning Meeting: the child's social worker; the social worker's line manager; any other professional who has first-hand evidence and may be a potential witness; and those who may be involved in the provision of services integral to the order being sought.


4. Timing and Duration of Legal Planning Meetings

The timing of a Legal Planning Meeting is likely to be determined by the urgency of court proceedings and the need to allow sufficient time for necessary preparation.


5. Recording of Legal Planning Meetings

Notes of Legal Planning Meetings should be circulated to all attendees. These are legally privileged and should not be made available to parents or other parties in any potential proceedings without the permission of the chairperson or Director.


6. Review/Subsequent Legal Planning Meetings

The meeting should consider whether further Legal Planning Meetings are necessary and if so, when. It may be that new information emerges which requires a change of plan for the child. In this even, the Legal Planning Meeting must be reconvened in order to consider the implications for the legal plan.

End