Too often in private Children Act proceedings there’s a history of police involvement with the family, with allegations of abuse having been made.
It is also an unfortunate reality that getting hold of police records (whether you’re acting for the alleged perpetrator, the victim or someone else) often take weeks if not months – and invariably much longer than the 30-day time limit.
With the introduction of Practice Direction 12J (which sets out the protocol for Children Act cases where allegations of abuse are made), and the resulting increase in cases listed for a fact-finding hearing, it is increasingly important that police records are obtained in a timely fashion.
However, standard subject access requests made to the police often take many weeks to process, so what can be done to speed up the disclosure of police records in family proceedings?
In 2013, the senior presiding judge for England and Wales, the president of the Family Division and the director of public prosecutions (DPP) signed the 2013 Protocol and Good Practice Model for disclosure of information in cases of alleged child abuse and linked criminal and care directions hearings. The aims and objectives of the protocol are:
The protocol applies to cases involving criminal investigations into alleged child abuse (including sexual and non-sexual abuse), and or family court proceedings concerning a child aged 17 or under. It covers three main scenarios, as follows:
Here, we focus on part A (disclosure into the family justice system) by the police; and how the 2013 protocol may be utilised in private Children Act proceedings.
Part A sets out in detail the steps each agency involved should take to secure the disclosure of relevant information into the family justice system in a timely fashion. In relation to requesting information and the provision of information, it provides that:
The protocol is clear that where possible, there should be voluntary disclosure of information by the police into the family justice system, redacted if necessary, to avoid prejudicing the police investigation.
However, in certain circumstances it may be necessary to obtain a court order for disclosure against the police/CPS (perhaps where time is of the essence or where the police seek to attach conditions to the release of information). Where an order is sought, the protocol provides that:
Private cases where the local authority is not involved
There will be many private Children Act cases in which the local authority is not (or not yet) involved, notwithstanding police involvement and allegations of abuse. In those cases, in my experience the best results are still achieved by adhering to the protocol.
Put the police on notice that you will be seeking disclosure; make your request for disclosure using the standard request form; and refer to the protocol in your correspondence with the police.
If your request is not fulfilled within a reasonable timescale, put the police on notice that you will be seeking an order for disclosure of the relevant information into family proceedings; and notify them of when and where the application will be heard.
Always make the application well in advance of the first hearing and dispute resolution appointment (FHDRA) so that, ideally, the information is produced before it; or if the information is not forthcoming before it, your application for an order for disclosure can at least be heard at the FHDRA (avoiding the cost of a separate hearing).
In summary, the 2013 protocol facilitates and improves communication between the police and CPS, the local authority and the family court; and timely and consistent disclosure of information and documents between the police and CPS and the family court.
It also provides several useful precedent documents to speed up and assist in the process of obtaining relevant information, including a standard request form and a standard form of order. The protocol is a useful tool in cases where you are likely to need to obtain police records.
Mariko Wilson is a senior Associate at Family Law in Partnership flip.co.ukTags:
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