It is well known that the Courts are under considerable pressure at the moment, but delay in children court proceedings is almost always considered to be against a child’s best interests.
Delays in the Court can be caused by a number of different factors in final decisions being made for children subject to public law proceedings.
A recent case has highlighted the tension between concerns about delay and the imperative that decisions about children’s futures are made with comprehensive knowledge.
Example case of delay on child care orders
In a recent case, interim care orders were made in respect of three children as a result of concerns about severe bruising to one of them.
The fact finding hearing in April could not complete because of outstanding transcripts of police interviews which were considered essential. The possible opportunity for the hearing to resume was between mid August and November.
The mother and her partner were viewed as the potential perpetrators of the severe bruising. The mother applied for discharge of the interim care orders and for all three children to be returned to her care. The Judge granted the application for discharge of the interim care orders in the context of recognising that the concerns about risk that had lead to the fact finding hearing commencing in April had not changed.
The Judge, balancing the potential risks against the potential harm from the children’s ongoing separation for their mother, felt that the children should return home.
The outcome of the case
The Local Authority appealed this decision and the Court of Appeal set aside the original decision with the result that the interim care orders remained effective and the children remained apart from their mother.
The Court of Appeal considered that a Court should ask itself whether any further information has changed the original risk assessment. Therefore whilst any delay to proceedings continues to be presumed to be detrimental to a child’s welfare, it is not something on its own which is likely to effect the original risk assessment that was the catalyst for the concerns in the first place.