Court Proceedings

This chapter is subject to review in line with the Revised Public Law Outline 2013.


This chapter should be read in conjunction with:

Legal Planning Meetings Procedure

Public Law Outline

Court Reports in Adoption Procedure (re: Placement Orders and Adoption Orders)

Social workers should pass draft court documents, at least 8 working days prior to the court ordered date for lodging the statement or care plan, or for application of an order, to the Team Manager. This is to obtain for agreement by the relevant manager and legal department prior to lodging with the court.


For applications for Emergency Protection Orders, see Application for Emergency Protection Orders Procedure.

This chapter should be read in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice Guidance: Preparing for Care and Supervision Proceedings.


This chapter was updated in September 2022.

1. Introduction

Under the Public Law Outline and the Children and Families Act 2014, there is a 26-week time limit for the completion of care and supervision proceedings. This places an increased emphasis on pre-proceedings work and the quality of assessments. The expectations of courts in relation to pre-proceedings work and local authority documentation are set out in detail in the Public Law Outline Procedure.

2. Legal Planning Meetings

Where a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm it is the local authority's duty to consider the evidence and decide what, if any, legal action to take. The information presented to the Child Protection Conference should inform that decision-making process but it is for the local authority to consider whether it should initiate the pre-proceedings PLO process or issue Care Proceedings.

Before a decision can be made to initiate either the PLO process or issue care proceedings, a Legal Planning Meeting must be held and the approval of the relevant Head of Service obtained.

Further detail can be found in the Legal Planning Meetings Procedure.

N.B. Any decision to commence Care Proceedings should have regard to the requirements of the Public Law Outline - see Public Law Outline Procedure.

Legal advice provided to Children Services is 'privileged information' and as such should not be made available to anyone viewing the files.

2.1 Expert Witness, or Expert Witnesses

As part of the legal planning meeting process, the instruction of experts will be considered. The Head of Service must agree the plan for instructing expert witnesses within the PLO process or in care proceedings, and the basis upon which the costs will be met.

Careful consideration should be given in the Legal planning meeting as to whether an expert assessment is necessary. It is important to consider if the evidence required is available in other ways, for example from community mental health teams, teachers, GPs, school nurses, health visitors etc. or through the social worker’s own assessment.

In the event an expert assessment is sought within care proceedings, the court will give permission 'only if the court is of the opinion that the expert evidence is necessary to assist the court and resolve the proceedings justly'. [1]

[1] Section 13(6) Children Act 2014

3. Involvement of CAFCASS Children's Guardian

Working Together to Safeguard Children informs that; The responsibility of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), as set out in the Children Act 1989, is to safeguard and promote the welfare of individual children who are the subject of family court proceedings. It achieves this by providing independent social work advice to the court.

4A Cafcass officer has a statutory right in public law cases to access local authority records relating to the child concerned and any application under the Children Act 1989

That power also extends to other records that relate to the child and the wider functions of the local authority, or records held by an authorised body that relate to that child.

Where a Cafcass officer has been appointed by the court as a child's guardian and the matter before the court relates to specified proceedings, they should be invited to all formal planning meetings convened by the local authority in respect of the child. This includes statutory reviews of children who are accommodated or looked after, child protection conferences and relevant adoption panel meetings.

4. After the Issue of Care Proceedings

It is essential that the social worker and the local authority solicitor have regular contact during the course of the proceedings, and that the progress of the case is kept under constant review.

This will include discussion of any disclosure issues, which may need to be the subject of directions by the Court.

The Public Law Outline checklist will become a running document and completion of the Checklist will require regular liaison between the social worker, local authority solicitor and barrister (if instructed) during the course of the proceedings.

In addition the social worker must keep the local authority solicitor and Children's Guardian up to date with any changes in relation to the child during the proceedings, for example, placement, contact, school/education, health.

If the social worker is aware of anything that is likely to cause delay to the Care Proceedings e.g. assessment not completed to timescale, then s/he must inform the s allocated solicitor so the court may be informed.

Arrangements must not be made for any change to the child's placement without prior consultation with the Children's Guardian.

The IRO should also be notified of any change in the child's placement and any major changes in the child's care plan.

Social workers must provide a note of key unavailable dates to the allocated solicitor prior to each hearing. Team Managers should monitor this through supervision. The allocated solicitor in Legal Services will ensure this is effectively communicated to the court, and that the Social Worker is informed of changes to dates at earliest opportunity.

5. Format of Care Plans Filed in Care Proceedings

The Interim Care Plan and Final Care Plan, which must be exhibited to the social worker's Statement in Care Proceedings, should contain the information set out in Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure, The Care Plan.

There must be a separate Care Plan for each child.

Where adoption is part of the Care Plan either as the preferred or contingency plan, legal advice should be sought as to the need for and timing of a Placement Order application.

A Placement Order application cannot be made without the approval of the Agency Decision Maker (ADM). See Adoption Panel and Agency Decision Makers (ADM) Decision.

The social worker and Service Manager must sign the Interim Care Plan. The social worker and Head of Service must sign the Final Care Plan. The Care Plan cannot be changed without reference to the authorising manager. The Social Worker should own the reasoning for the care plan and the child focused outcomes being sought. The Team Manager should ensure this through Professional Supervision.

6. Correspondence During Court Proceedings

All correspondence received from solicitors for other parties during court proceedings must be passed to the Legal Services to deal with.

Where the Legal Services receive correspondence during court proceedings and require the social worker's instructions for the reply, the letter will be sent to the social worker upon its receipt and the social worker must give clear instructions to the solicitors as to the reply as soon as practicable.

In relation to any other contentious correspondence, including letters received from an expert during court proceedings, the social worker must send the letter to Legal Services as soon as possible, together with detailed instructions for the reply.