Court of appeal promises fundamental review of care orders

    The court of appeal gave advance notice that the traditional
    boundaries between care orders and interim care orders are to be
    reviewed. In the case of Re C, having announced that this bombshell
    was coming, the court set aside the judge’s care order and made an
    interim care order in the light of the expected decision (please
    see two legal updates also dated June 1 for details of the other
    case mentioned here).

    This has important implications for all local authorities who
    commence care proceedings, and expect a care order at the end of
    the process, giving them final responsibility for a child committed
    to their care. The clear expectation is that the hitherto definite
    line between care and interim care orders will become more
    unclear.

    The case concerned an unnamed grandfather in dispute with an
    unnamed local authority and his eight-year-old grandchild C. The
    judge dealing with C’s case had announced his intention to make a
    care order on 20 January, but would give his reasons on 12
    February. By that time the local authority had amended its plans.
    The issue at stake was whether this change meant that the judge
    should have re-opened the matter and reconsidered the need for a
    final care order.

    The two-man court of appeal (Lord Justice Thorpe and Mr Justice
    Bell) decided that the sequence of events undermined the foundation
    for the care order, but then declined to do more than make an
    interim care order because of the forthcoming reserved judgement
    expected in the following two weeks, in which there would be a
    review of the restrictions placed on a judge’s use of interim care
    orders at final hearings. In C’s case, they said that the progress
    of the relationship between C and the grandfather should be
    assessed by the original court, since there was evidence to say
    that he had not been able to look after C.

    Comment: It has long been known that the judiciary has been
    unhappy with making final care orders and not being able to re-open
    proceedings when care plans submitted to them have not been carried
    out, have been unsuccessful or have been jeopardised because of the
    action or inaction of a party (or the local authority in committing
    resources to assist).

    Often a judge’s only option at a final hearing has been to make
    continuing interim care orders, thus continuing the proceedings.
    This has had the effect of lengthening the proceedings, in itself
    undesirable, and making children wait longer for final decisions
    about their destinations, in or out of the care system. There has
    been considerable disquiet voiced by professionals and advocates
    for children’s rights about the situation and now it seems that the
    court of appeal has decided that enough is enough. The landmark
    decision will be eagerly awaited by those who have had reservations
    about the current state of affairs and local authorities who may
    have their powers decreased.

    Bernadette Livesey

    Human Rights Solicitor

    Walker Morris

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