Head of Family Department, Karen Frankland, provides an update regarding assessments in Care Proceedings and the importance of early legal advice for parents.
Following amendments to the Children Act in 1989 the Courts must deal with care proceedings without delay and within a 26 week time frame commencing from the date that the proceedings were issued. This deadline can only be extended in exceptional circumstances taking into account the child’s welfare and the right to a fair trial. The circumstances in which an extension can be granted are very strictly limited. This has an impact on applications for expert assessments.
An expert assessment will only be granted where that evidence is deemed to be necessary to allow the Court to resolve the case justly. The Court will expect the assessment to be completed within the 26 week timeframe. Any application for an expert assessment will need to be considered in a child focussed manner. The issue of the costs of the expert report will also be considered by the Court. The Court will also consider whether the evidence sought from an expert assessment can be obtained from another source such as the social worker and / or the Guardian for the child. Further assessments will only be allowed if they bring something additional or important to the case.
Parents in care proceedings do not have an automatic right to have an assessment of their choice rather than the one undertaken by the local authority or to have an assessment that will present them in a positive light at a final hearing. It is more than ever important therefore for parents to obtain legal advice at an early stage, to ensure that appropriate assessments are undertaken even before the care proceedings commence and to start preparing their case as time will be limited once the proceedings start.
For advice regarding family matters please contact us.