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Ryder J launches push to restrict care proceedings to six months

16 April 2012

Mr Justice Ryder, the judge in charge of modernising family justice, has said care proceedings will be divided into ‘standard track’ and ‘exceptional track’ cases to help the courts resolve them within six months.

The government announced in February that it would bring in a law imposing the six-month limit, suggested in the Norgrove report, as soon as it was “reasonably practical” (see solicitorsjournal.com, 13 February 2012).

However, Cafcass revealed last week that the number of care applications over the last 12 months had exceeded 10,000 for the first time, leading some to question whether the new time limit was realistic.

Ryder J said in his fourth annual update that, in a “major innovation”, a new case management system would track every public law case issued from 2 April 2012.

“The system is able to monitor the progress of cases which the judiciary decide can and should be completed within 26 weeks, and where that is not in the interests of the child concerned it will monitor the progress of the timetable for the child which is set by the court,” Ryder J said.

“It will record all adjournments, use of experts and the reasons for the same.”

Ryder J said that for the first time the family courts would have a record of “baseline information” to enable them to understand how public law cases are allocated and the consequences in terms of delay for existing case management decisions.

“Every reason for a case management decision made by the case management judge or case manager will be recorded in the appropriate order and logged on the new system,” he said.

“For the first time we will know why unplanned delay is occurring and we will be able to say so.”

Ryder J said the problem to be solved in care proceedings was essentially “placement”, which could involve the success of rehabilitation, the feasibility of “kinship options” and the question of contact.

He said it was likely that courts would “start from the proposition that only such expert evidence as is necessary to decide a relevant issue upon which the ultimate decision is based should be ordered”.

He went on: “Changes to the rules and practice directions relating to experts will make provision for this approach.

“In standard track cases it is likely that if any expert is needed that expert will be a single expert for a party or one agreed expert.”

Ryder J said that, as part of the modernisation programme, there would be a separate project looking at the reforms to private law.

“Quite apart from a careful reconsideration of the court’s case management processes, having regard to the number of litigants who may fall out of scope of public funding and the benefits of mediated resolutions, there are primary legislative changes proposed by government which include the concept of shared parenting and amendments to section 8 of the 1989 Act.

“We will return to private law in more detail during the course of this year, when government intentions are clear.”

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Children