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Norgrove calls for six-month limit on care proceedings

3 November 2011

David Norgrove has called for a statutory six-month limit on care proceedings in his final report on family justice, launched this morning.

Norgrove said cases took “far too long and previous attempts to tackle it have not succeeded” and the new limit should be set out in secondary legislation.

He said that the introduction of time limits and other changes meant that the Public Law Outline would have to be remodelled.

Norgrove said that although courts should continue to play a central role in public law cases, they should “refocus on the core issues of whether the child is to live with parents, other family or friends, or be removed to the care of the local authority”.

He said “other aspects and the detail of the care plan” should be the responsibility of the local authority.

Norgrove said the requirement to renew interim care and supervision orders after eight weeks and then every four weeks should be amended so that judges had discretion to grant interim orders “for the time they see fit”.

He called for a pilot on the use of mediation in public law cases and said the benefits of family group conferences should be recognised.

In his foreword to the report, the former civil servant said prejudice against care as an option for children and distrust of local authorities was “fuelling delays in the system”.

He went on: “Research shows that the majority of maltreated children who are looked after by authorities will do better in terms of their wellbeing and stability than those who remain living at home.

“Courts need to recognise the limits of their ability to foresee and manage what will happen to a child in the future. They must also learn to trust local authorities more.”

Norgove said his diagnosis was the family justice system was “not a system” and was “characterised by mutual distrust and a lack of leadership, by incoherence and without solid evidence-based knowledge about how it really works.

“The consequence for children is unconscionable delay that has continued to increase since we began our work. The average care case in county courts now takes over 60 weeks and many take much longer – an age in the life of a child.”

Mark Chanter, family law partner at Foot Anstey in Taunton, said the six-month time limit was “great in theory”, but, bearing in mind the pressures on the courts, he did not see how it could be achieved.

Chanter said there was scope for mediation in only a “limited number” of public cases, though he agreed that there was a lack of enthusiasm among practitioners.

“It can only be used if there is an agreement in principle,” Chanter said. “If the question is ‘do we take a child into care or not’, there is not much scope for it.”

He added that, in public law cases, some investigations took time because of the issues involved.

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