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2.3.1 Legal Proceedings and Legal Planning Meetings


Contents

  1. Working with LGSS Law
  2. Private Law Proceedings (S7, S37)
  3. Legal Planning Meetings
  4. Convening a Legal Planning Meeting
  5. Considerations
  6. Recording of Legal Planning Meetings
  7. Review/Subsequent Legal Planning Meetings


1. Working with LGSS Law

It is essential that LGSS Law are contacted as soon as possible to advise on any proposed legal action.

The Consultant Social Worker/social worker must always obtain the agreement of their District Safeguarding Manager/ Group Manager to contact LGSS Law for advice when not already in legal proceedings. This includes any request to convene a Legal Planning Meeting.

The ‘instructing officer’ for each separate matter will always be the DSM/Service Manager.

For new/urgent matters, one-off advice, and advice on an existing case if the allocated lawyer is unavailable, the CSW/social worker will contact either the Principal Lawyer (Child Care) or the 'duty solicitor' for that particular day. There is a qualified lawyer on duty during office hours every day.

Client Care Letter. When a new matter is opened, LGSS Law will send a Client Care Letter, normally within 48 hours, which will contain a summary of the instructions and any advice already given; the name and status of the solicitor and their manager; the charging rate, an estimate of the length of time it will take to complete the work and a total cost estimate. Should it subsequently appear that this will be exceeded, the solicitor will send a revised cost estimate.

Correspondence during Court Proceedings. All correspondence received from solicitors representing other parties during court proceedings must be passed to LGSS Law who will action as appropriate.

Where the local authority solicitor receives correspondence during court proceedings and requires the social worker's instructions for the reply, the letter will be copied to the social worker immediately upon its receipt and the CSW/social worker, in consultation with their line manager, must give clear instructions as soon as is practicable.

In relation to any other contentious correspondence, including letters received from an expert during court proceedings, the social worker must send the letter to LGSS Law as soon as possible, together with detailed instructions for the reply.


2. Private Law Proceedings (S7, S37)

Where a Section 7 or Section 37 (Children Act, 1989) report is requested by the court regarding a child who is the subject of Section 8 Private Law Proceedings, this request would normally come into MASH as a contact and be processed as a ‘contact on an open case’ or a referral on a case not currently open to Children's Services. Where the case is open, the allocated social worker will complete the report in the timescale specified by the court.

For s37 Reports, if the case is complex the social worker should contact LGSS Law with the agreement of the DSM/Service Manager. Legal advice must be taken at any time when it is considered the child might be at risk of significant harm.


3. Legal Planning Meetings

Legal Planning Meetings are an essential part of the process when considering whether the threshold is met for instigation of the Public Law Outline (PLO) or care proceedings.

Sir 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 should be held to discuss and agree the way forward where an application for a legal order may be required. This can include:

  • Application for an Interim Care Order (ICO);
  • Application for an Interim Supervision Order (ISO);
  • Application for an Emergency Protection Order (EPO);
  • Following an application for an EPO, when consideration is being given to an application for an Interim Care Order;
  • When 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 an existing court order is not providing adequate protection;
  • Where it is thought that a legal order may be required in order to assist in permanence planning, whether that is a return to the family or to achieve permanence elsewhere.

At the meeting, the LGSS Lawyer will advise on whether the legal threshold is met. The local authority must then decide, based on a robust analysis of the assessed risks, whether:

  • It is in the best interests of the child to provide a further period of support for the family with the aim of avoiding proceedings; or
  • Whether proceedings should be initiated immediately.

The meeting should also identify any evidence gaps, clarify whether additional assessments will be required and consider what would be a suitable draft Care Plan for the child. Consideration will also be given to the assessment of extended family members and whether a CAFCASS Plus referral might be appropriate. The Unit will be asked to provide copies of the child/ren’s birth certificates to LGSS Law.

Note: where children are already Accommodated (s20, Children Act 1989) there must be no delay in issuing proceedings where this is assessed to be required (see Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure).


4. Convening a Legal Planning Meeting

The decision to convene a Legal Planning Meeting will be made by the DSM/Service Manager in discussion with the social worker. The social worker will normally have completed/updated a Single Assessment to inform this discussion.

Where the DSM/SM agrees to an LPM being held, they would record this on ICS with a Management Comment case note. Where they disagree, the case note must be clear about the rationale for this and the Head of Service will be advised.

The social worker must complete the Legal Planning Meeting request form, normally within 24 hours of the agreement, and email this to LGSS Law. Urgent requests must be followed up by a phone call to the duty solicitor (Tel: 01223 699 361) if legal advice is required that day.

The meeting will be chaired by the CSW/Team Manager or DSM/Service Manager and will usually involve the child's social worker and, if appropriate, any other professional from CCC with relevant involvement with the family whose views might assist in making decisions about the child. A lawyer from LGSS Law will provide advice.

Where the child has been in foster care, the views of the foster carer must be sought by the child’s social worker, and taken into consideration in the meeting. This may include information on the child’s progress in their placement and on the impact of contact with their family.


5. Considerations

A Legal Planning Meeting is an opportunity to discuss a family situation 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 LGSS Law is to advise on whether the legal threshold is met and to identify the possible options available to children’s social care to safeguard the child/ren. The lawyer will give a view about the quality of the evidence available and what other information/evidence is required. Responsibility for decision making rests with the DSM/SM and Head of Service for the Public Law Outline, and with the Threshold and Resources Panel (TARP) for the initiation of care proceedings.

To inform a comprehensive discussion, the following must be available:

  • Relevant assessments(including most recent s47, Single Assessment, report to CP Conference, etc;
  • 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: the social worker must provide a comprehensive update;
  • Whether the legal threshold is met;
  • Exploring all options available to safeguard the child/ren;
  • Whether care proceedings are necessary - their aim, objective and purpose;
  • The steps already taken to clarify the issues of concern - i.e. 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. See Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure;
  • Possible viability assessments of extended family members;
  • Whether there are any issues/concerns about the parent(s)’ capacity and ability to engage fully with the assessment and/or proceedings;
  • When the Assessment and other supporting documentation will be available, if not already.

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 local authority is 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);
  • If the legal threshold is deemed to be met and TARP approve the case being issued, all relevant documentation should then be sent to the allocated lawyer at LGSS Law to issue proceedings.

    (See Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure, Pre-Proceedings);
  • 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 Agency Decision Maker;
  • Whether it may be appropriate to instruct any further expert assessment before the commencement of court proceedings. If so, to agree what would be the proposed remit of the instructions and the areas to be addressed, who the assessment should be done by and the likely timescales;
  • Whether there have been previous Court proceedings in relation to the family. If so, the steps required to obtain the papers in relation to the case from the Court or another local authority;
  • When the social worker's statement (the SWET: social work evidence template) will be ready.

If Care Proceedings are recommended, the Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure should be followed.


5. Recording of Legal Planning Meetings

Following the meeting, the social worker will complete the Legal Planning Meeting exemplar on ICS, which must be signed off by their CSW. This is emailed to the DSM and then to the Head of Service for authorisation. Where costs are anticipated, for example to fund expert assessment, these must be highlighted.

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 and advice from LGSS Law.


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 event, the Legal Planning Meeting must be reconvened without delay in order to consider the implications.

End