This from the Association of Lawyers for Children, reporting on Ryder J and MacFarlane LJ at the NAGALRO conference recently. This is short, but there’s a lot of content in there.
On Monday 15th October 2012, the NAGALRO conference was addressed by Mr Justice Ryder and Lord Justice McFarlane.
Practitioners from different parts of the country raised concerns about courts rigidly implementing the 26 week timetable. One child care lawyer asked Mr Justice Ryder if he was aware that in the experience of many lawyers, the 26 weeks requirement had been written “on tablets of stone” – even if it led to a denial of justice for children and parents. Ryder J responded that the 26 weeks was not written in stone, that it was aspirational, and that in his view it may be achieved in two years’ time.
Both he and McFarlane LJ were very clear that there was “no missive from on high”, and no direction given to impose 26 weeks. The family modernisation programme did not have the status of a practice direction. Ryder J went on to observe that early data being collected from courts showed that the 26 week timetable was only achievable in about 30% of cases.
I had this debate fairly early on with the Legal Advisors in my area, when I was aware that their new computer system was making them fill in explanations of why a case was taking longer than 26 weeks and that there was no legal basis yet for making case management decisions around a 26 week timetable rather than a 40 week timetable. My fear was obviously that they would decline an appropriate expert assessment that took the case from say 25 weeks to 30.
I will be interested to see what happens when the first such case management decision made in the County Court goes up to the Court of Appeal. I’m sure that there have been some made on these grounds. I’ve certainly seen orders that reflect that “this case has not been possible to conclude within 26 weeks because…’
And I think their 30% figure is probably about right. What we don’t yet know, and I’ve blogged about it in the past, is how many of the decisions we take at 26 weeks when this comes in, are going to be right. Where they are been over-optimistic, we will know, because the case will come back to Court. Where they have been over-pessimistic, we will never know because the Placement Order will be made and we know already how hard they are to revoke for a parent.