Public Law Outline


This chapter focuses on the Public Law Outline process (PLO). The Public Law Outline: Guide to Case Management in Public Law Proceedings came into force with effect from 6th April 2010. A Pilot Scheme of a revised Public Law Outline was phased in between 1st July 2013 and 7th October 2013, and ran until 21st April 2014. A revised Public Law Outline was then introduced on 22 April 2014.


This chapter was updated in March 2023 to include information in relation to a new Public Law Outline form on LCS to support Public Law Outline recording.

1. Public Law Outline

1.1 Introduction

The Public Law Outline sets out streamlined case management procedures for dealing with public law children's cases. The aim is to avoid care proceedings if possible and for those cases where proceedings are necessary, identify and focus on the key issues for the child, with the aim of making the best decisions for the child within the timetable set by the Court, and avoiding the need for unnecessary evidence or hearings.

As well as the Court-set timetable, the case management tools also involve the case management documentation to be filed by the local authority and other parties, (including case summaries and a schedule of proposed findings), advocates' discussions/meetings, a Case Management Hearing and an issues resolution hearing before the final hearing.

Under the revised section 32(1)(a) of the Children Act 1989 (introduced by section 14 of the Children and Families Act 2014), care and supervision proceedings must be completed 'without delay, and, in any event, within twenty-six weeks beginning with the day on which the application was issued' unless the case is exceptional. In no case can an extension beyond 26 weeks be authorised unless it is 'necessary' to enable the court to resolve the proceedings 'justly'. Only the imperative demands of justice – fair process – or of the child's welfare will suffice'. (Re-S (A Child) {2014} EWCC B44(Fam) (para 34).

This places an increased emphasis on pre-proceedings work and the quality of assessments.

Sir James Munby, the previous President of the Family Division, set out his interpretation of the revised Public Law Outline in 'The Process of Reform: the revised PLO and the Local Authority'.

1.2 Flexible Powers of the Court

Although the Public Law Outline sets out a prescribed set of stages, it also provides for flexibility at any stage of the proceedings. Steps, which the court will ordinarily take at the various stages of the proceedings, may be taken at another stage if the circumstances of the case so merit.

The flexible powers of the court include the ability for the court to cancel or repeat a particular hearing, to give directions without a hearing including setting a date for the Final Hearing (or a period within which the final hearing will take place), or to take oral evidence at the Case Management Hearing, Further Case Management Hearing or Issues Resolution Hearing. Where it is anticipated that oral evidence may be required at the Case Management Hearing ('CMH'), Further Case Management Hearing ('FCMH') or Issues Resolution Hearing ('IRH'), the court must be notified well in advance and directions sought for the conduct of the hearing.

It is crucially important that Child Litigation Unit receive instructions from the social worker or Team Manager two days in advance of the advocates meeting that proceeds each hearing to ensure that they can put forward the strongest possible case for CS and try and resolve any issues arising prior to the hearing.

Where a party has requested an urgent hearing:

  1. To enable the court to give immediate directions or orders to facilitate any case management issue which is to be considered at the CMH; or
  2. To decide whether an ICO is necessary.

The court may list such a hearing at any appropriate time before the CMH and give directions for that hearing. It is anticipated that an urgent preliminary case management hearing will only be necessary to consider issues such as jurisdiction, parentage, party status, capacity to litigate, disclosure and whether there is, or should be, a request to a Central Authority or other competent authority in a foreign state or consular authority in England and Wales in an international case. It is not intended that any urgent hearing will delay the CMH.

It is expected that full case management will take place at the CMH. It follows that the parties must be prepared to deal with all relevant case management issues, as identified in Stage 2 - Case Management Hearing. A FCMH should only be directed where necessary and must not be regarded as a routine step in proceedings.

1.3 Pre-Proceedings General

Work done in the period pre-proceedings is vital for two reasons:

  • It may divert a case along a route which avoids the need for proceedings;
  • When that is not possible, and proceedings have to be commenced, the preparatory work will facilitate the smooth running of the case.

Family Group Conferences and the identification and assessment of Connected Person carer  placements, if appropriate. (NOTE: identification of carers should focus on the child's interests, not on parents' approval/disapproval).

(See Family and Friends Care Policy and Special Guardianship Orders Policy and Procedure).

The sending to the parents of a timely 'letter before proceedings' triggers the availability of public funding for them.

There should be pre-proceedings work focusing on identifying and evaluating possible family carers.

Sir James Munby, the previous President of the Family Division, set out in 'The Process of Reform: the revised PLO and the Local Authority', the expectations of the local authority.

He recommended that:

  • Local authority lawyers be involved, advising and assisting their social work clients, at an early stage;
  • A properly organised legal planning meeting is invaluable and can be the key to achieving timely outcomes to care proceedings.

In March 2021, the Public law Working Group set up by Sir Andrew McFarlane, the current President of the Family Division, published Best practice Guidance for supporting and working with families prior to court proceedings.

The key themes from this guidance are as follows:

  • Care proceedings are an option of last resort;
  • The pre-proceedings process is a genuine opportunity to work closely with families to negate the need to issue court proceedings;
  • A collaborative approach is required;
  • The child's safety must be maintained and the child's voice heard;
  • Managing risk whilst building on family strengths and energizing wdier family support is critical;
  • Any decision to issue care proceedings should be taken by a senior manager;
  • It is crucial the parent's understand the pre proceedings process.
See link to the guidance here: Prior to court proceedings BPG report (

In a small minority of cases, the safety and welfare of the child may be jeopardised if the start of proceedings is delayed until all of the documents in the Pre-proceedings Checklist are available. The safety and welfare of the child should never be put in jeopardy by delaying issuing proceedings (whether because of lack of documentation or otherwise), and immediate action such as an application for an Emergency Protection Order should be taken where necessary. Depending on the circumstances, the Court may require a statement and care plan for an EPO application.

Where any of documents are not available at the time of issue of the application, the court may make directions about when any missing documentation is to be filed. The expectation is that there must be a good reason why one or more of the documents are not available. Further directions relating to any missing documentation will also be made at the Case Management Hearing.

Where an application for an interim order is urgent, then the hearing of that application is NOT expected to be postponed until the Case Management Hearing. The Case Management Hearing is still to be held not before day 12 and not later than day 18. If an urgent preliminary Case Management Hearing or an urgent contested ICO hearing is held before the CMH, the court should not dispense with the CMH unless all of the parties have been sufficiently prepared and the court has been able to deal with all case management issues which would have come before it at the CMH.

1.4 Pre-Proceedings with Specific Required Actions

See Legal Planning Meetings Procedure.

The relevant Head of Service is contacted to gain agreement to any proposed further expert assessments under the PLO process. Information should be added to monitoring systems at this point in the process, and the case booked in for a PLO meeting.

There is a PLO form on LCS that should be completed. In practice, the Chair of the Legal Planning Meeting starts the form, then reassigns to the relevant Team Manager. The Team Manager will make sure the child’s LCS record has the ‘PLO’ flag and will keep the form open as a draft form in their work tray. The Team Manager will review and if needed, update it weekly and then finalise the form once either the Public Law Outline is exited or conclude proceedings.

To support this, prompts will be added to LCS at the end of Resource Panel if Public Law Outline is agreed and at the end of Public Law Outcome meeting minutes.

The parent(s) should be sent:

  • Pre-Proceedings Going to Court - Letter before proceedings (this must be authorised by the Children Services Manager). This will trigger the entitlement of the parents and those with parental responsibility, to non-means tested publicly funded legal advice;
  • A list of local solicitors;
  • PLO Agenda for PLO Meeting.

The Letter Before Proceedings will vary from case to case, but also has a standard format. The list of solicitors is obtainable from Legal and will vary over time).

Parents should be clearly advised of the importance of seeking legal advice.

The Team Manager should then prepare for the PLO meeting. This includes firmly establishing the areas of concern and any gaps in assessment. A draft Letter of Instruction (LOI) to an expert, should be prepared if an assessment is required, and circulated to parents' solicitor (if known) before the meeting. This will be prepared by CLU.

The PLO meeting then takes place, chaired by the relevant Children Services Manager. Ideally, the meeting will include parents, parents' legal representatives, and relevant members of the Social Work Team and their legal representative. There is a standard Agenda for PLO Meeting and PLO Record of the Meeting. The attending solicitor will write this Record and include SMART Actions as the conclusion of that record. Again, it must be authorised by the Children Services Manager before being circulated with any agreed LOIs. A review PLO date should be set at the meeting.

Viability, Friends and Family Assessments and SGO Assessments should also be clearly agreed at this meeting. Timescales must be set for these, and parents given a clear understanding of their meaning. A Permanency Planning Meeting (see Permanence Planning Procedure, Permanence Planning Meetings) must also be held within 5 working days of the PLO meeting to clarify the permanence and contingency plan for the child.

If parents do not bring a solicitor, the meeting will need to go ahead without the Local Authority solicitor being present.  In this instance, it is for the Children Services Manager to decide who minutes the meeting, but the Record should still be checked by Child Litigation Unit and signed off by the Children Services Manager before it is sent to the parents. If only one parent is legally represented at the PLO meeting, it is at the discretion of the parent that has the legal representation as to whether the other parent can remain in the meeting and whether the unrepresented parent can be offered consultation from the represented parent's legal representatives.

The PLO period should last a maximum of 10 weeks except in exceptional circumstances. All cases should be tightly monitored by the Teams.

If a case does not improve or there is a critical incident, it may be necessary to issue care proceedings as an emergency or bring the PLO review meeting forward.  All such decisions should be made in conjunction with advice from Child Litigation Unit, but children's safety remains paramount.

If having assessed the parenting offered during the PLO period the parenting has not improved and/or is not meeting the child(ren) needs consideration should be given to instigating care proceedings. At the end of the PLO process legal advice should be sought about the need to issue proceedings at that point. This should then happen within 10 working days unless there are exceptional circumstances.

1.5 Documentation

1.5.1 Local Authority Documentation Documents to be Filed with the Court

(Note that some courts may require electronic submissions. Your legal department will be able to advise).

See General Guidance on Electronic Court Bundles.

The following documents must be attached to the application filed with the court on Day 1:

  • The social work Chronology;
  • The social work statement and genogram;
  • Any current Assessment relating to the child and/or the family and friends of the child to which the social work statement refers and on which the local authority relies;
  • The Care Plan (for each child);
  • Index of Checklist documents;
  • Any other documents relevant to threshold. Documents to be Served on the Other Parties (but not filed with the court)

On Day 2 the local authority must serve on the other parties (but must not file with the court unless expressly directed to do so) the application form and annex documents as set out above, together with the 'evidential checklist documents'. These are evidential and other documents which already exist on the local authority's files, including:

  • Previous court orders (including foreign orders) and judgments/reasons;
  • Any assessment materials relevant to the key issues, including capacity to litigate, Section 7 or Section 37 reports;
  • Single, joint or inter-agency reports, such as health, education, Home Office and Immigration Tribunal documents). Documents to be Disclosed on Request by any Party
  • Decision-making records, including:
    • Records of key discussions with the family;
    • Key local authority minutes and records for the child;
    • Pre-existing Care Plans (e.g. Child in Need Plan, Looked After child plan and Child Protection Plan;
    • Letters before proceedings.

1.5.2 Principles

The filing and service of documents must be focused on what is relevant, central and key, rather than what is peripheral or historical. Local authority materials are expected to be succinct, focused on analysis rather than on history and narrative. Even if there has been local authority involvement with the family extending over many years, both the social work Chronology and the summary of the background circumstances as set out in the social work statement must be kept appropriately short, focusing on the key significant historical events and concerns and rigorously avoiding all unnecessary detail.

Documents must be recent - restricted to the most recent, limited to those from the last two years. Documents need not be served or listed if they are older than two years before issue of the proceedings, unless reliance is placed on them in the local authority's evidence.

Documents must be focused and succinct:

In accordance with Practice direction 27A – Family Proceedings: court bundles, the social work Chronology can be a maximum length of 10 pages. It is a schedule containing:

  • A succinct summary of the length of involvement of the local authority with the family and in particular with the child;
  • A succinct summary of the significant dates and events in the child's life in chronological order, i.e. a running record up to the issue of the proceedings, providing such information under the following headings:
    1. Serial number;
    2. Date;
    3. Event-detail;
    4. Witness or document reference (where applicable);
  • Also in accordance with Practice direction 27A, the social work statement can be a maximum of 25 pages in length and is to be limited to the following evidence:
    1. Summary:
      • The order sought;
      • Succinct summary of reasons with reference as appropriate to the Welfare Checklist.
    2. Family:
      • Family members and relationships especially the primary carers and significant adults / other children;
      • Genogram.
    3. Threshold:
      • Precipitating events;
      • Background circumstances:
        • Summary of children's services involvement. This must be cross-referenced to the Chronology;
        • Previous court orders and emergency steps;
        • Previous assessments.
      • Summary of significant harm and / or likelihood of significant harm which the local authority will seek to establish by evidence or concession;
    4. Parenting capacity:
      • Assessment of child's needs;
      • Assessment of parental capability to meet needs;
      • Analysis of why there is a gap between parental capability and the child's needs;
      • Assessment of other significant adults who may be carers.
    5. Child impact:
      • Wishes and feelings of the child(ren);
      • Timetable for the child;
      • Delay and timetable for the proceedings.
    6. Permanence and contact:
      • Parallel planning;
      • Realistic placement options by reference to a welfare and proportionality analysis;
      • Contact framework.
    7. Case management:
      • Evidence and assessments necessary and outstanding;
      • Any information about any person's litigation capacity, mental health issues, disabilities or vulnerabilities that is relevant to their capability to participate in the proceedings;
      • Case management proposals.

The local authority materials must be succinct, analytical and evidence-based. Assessment and analysis are crucial. They need to distinguish clearly between what is fact and what is professional evaluation, assessment, analysis and opinion, and between the general background and the specific matters relied on to establish 'threshold'.

1.5.3 Threshold Statement

'Threshold Statement' means a written outline by the legal representative of the local authority in the application form, of the facts which the local authority will seek to establish by evidence or concession to satisfy the threshold criteria under s31(2) of the Children Act 1989, limited to no more than 2 pages. Local Authority Case Summary

A document prepared by the Local Authority legal representative for each case management hearing in the prescribed form. Case Analysis

A written (or, if there is insufficient time, an oral) outline of the case from the perspective of the child's best interests prepared by the Children's Guardian or Welsh family proceedings officer for the CMH or FCMH (where one is necessary) and IRH or as otherwise directed by the court, incorporating an analysis of the key issues that need to be resolved in the case including:

  • A threshold analysis;
  • A case management analysis, including an analysis of the timetable for the proceedings, an analysis of the Timetable for the Child and the evidence which any party proposes is necessary to resolve the issues;
  • A parenting capability analysis;
  • A child impact analysis, including an analysis of the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child and the impact on the welfare of the child of any application to adjourn a hearing or extend the timetable for the proceedings;
  • An early permanence analysis including an analysis of the proposed placements and contact framework, by reference to a welfare and proportionality analysis;
  • Whether and if so what communication it is proposed there should be during the proceedings with the child by the court. Parents' Response

A document from either or both of the parents containing:

  • In no more than two pages, the parents' response to the Threshold Statement;
  • The parents' placement proposals including the identity and whereabouts of all relatives and friends they propose be considered by the court;
  • Information which may be relevant to a person's capacity to litigate including information about any referrals to mental health services and adult services.

1.6 Case Management Hearing

A great emphasis is placed on the first hearing, which is renamed Case Management Hearing ('CMH') (previously Case Management Conference). It is vital that the first Case Management Hearing is effective in order to meet the 26-week deadline.

The first Case Management Hearing should take place not before Day 12 and not later than Day 18.

It is expected that full case management will take place at the Case Management Hearing. The parties must be prepared to deal with all relevant case management issues, as identified in Stage 2 - Case Management Hearing. A Further Case Management Hearing ('FCMH') should only be directed where necessary and must not be regarded as a routine step in proceedings.

1.7 The Timetable for the Child and the Timetable for Proceedings

1.7.1 The Timetable for the Child

The Timetable for the Child is the timetable set by the court which takes into account dates which are important to the child's welfare and development.

The Timetable for the Proceedings is set having particular regard to the Timetable for the Child, and the Timetable for the Child needs to be reviewed regularly. Where adjustments are made to the Timetable for the Child, the Timetable for the Proceedings will have to be reviewed consistently with the aim of resolving the proceedings within 26 weeks or the period of time specified by the court. If proceedings can be resolved sooner than 26 weeks, then they should be.

Examples of the dates the court will take into account when setting the Timetable for the Child are the dates of:

  • Any Looked After Review;
  • Any significant educational steps, including the child taking up a place at a new school and, where applicable, any review of a Education, Health and Care Plan;
  • Any health care steps, including assessment by a paediatrician or other specialist;
  • Any review of local authority plans for the child, including any plans for permanence through adoption, Special Guardianship or placement with parents or relatives;
  • Any change or proposed change of the child's placement; including where there is an application for Special Guardianship Order, (see Timetabling and timescale for full family and Friends Assessments, (Family Justice Council));
  • Any significant change in the child's social or family circumstances; or
  • Any timetable for the determination of an issue in a case with an international element.

Information about these significant steps in the child's life must be provided in the Application Form and the social work statement, and this information must be updated regularly, taking into account information received from others involved in the child's life such as the parties, members of the child's family, the person who is caring for the child, the children's guardian, the Independent Reviewing Officer, the child's key social worker and any Central Authority or competent authority in a foreign state or a consular authority in England and Wales in a case with an international element.

Where more than one child is the subject of the proceedings, the court should consider and will set a Timetable for the Child for each child. The children may not all have the same timetable, and the court will consider the appropriate progress of the proceedings in relation to each child.

Where there are parallel care proceedings and criminal proceedings against a person connected with the child for a serious offence against the child, linked directions hearings should where practicable take place as the case progresses. The timing of the proceedings in a linked care and criminal case should appear in the Timetable for the Child. The limit of resolving the proceedings within 26 weeks applies unless a longer timetable has been set by the court in order to resolve the proceedings justly. In these proceedings, early disclosure and listing of hearings is necessary.

See also Protocol and Good Practice Model: Disclosure of Information in Cases of Alleged Child Abuse and Linked Criminal and Care Direction Hearings (October 2013).

1.7.2 The Timetable for the Proceedings

The court will draw up a Timetable for the Proceedings with a view to disposing of the application:

  • Without delay; and
  • In any event, within 26 weeks beginning with the day on which the application was issued unless the Court considers the case exceptional.

The court will have regard to:

  • The impact which the timetable or any revised timetable would have on the welfare of the child; and
  • The impact which the timetable or any revised timetable would have on the duration and conduct of the proceedings.

The court will use the Timetable for the Child to assess the impact on the welfare of the child, and to draw up and revise the Timetable for the Proceedings.

A standard timetable and process is expected to be followed in respect of the giving of standard directions on issue and allocation and other matters which should be carried out by the court on issue, including setting and giving directions for the Case Management Hearing.

1.8 Extensions to the Timetable for Proceedings

Having regard to the circumstances of the particular case, the court may consider that it is necessary to extend the time by which the proceedings are to be resolved beyond 26 weeks, but may do so only if it considers that the extension is necessary to enable it to resolve the proceedings justly. This may be on application or the court's own initiative. Extensions are not to be granted routinely and require specific justification. When deciding whether to extend the timetable, the court must have regard to the impact of any ensuing timetable revision on the welfare of the child.

If the social worker or Legal Services are aware of any factor that means that an extension to the 26 week timetable will be necessary then an application should be made to extend the timetable at the earliest opportunity.

It is important that all Court directions are complied with- non-compliance with directions will not be considered a good reason for extending the timetable. In Re W (a child) 2013 the President stated:

'For present purposes that principle applies as much to orders by way of interlocutory case management directions as to any other species of order. The court is entitled to expect - and from now on family courts will demand - strict compliance with all such orders. Non-compliance with orders should be expected to have and will usually have a consequence.

A person who finds himself unable to comply timeously with his obligations under an order should apply for an extension of time before the time for compliance has expired. It is simply not acceptable to put forward as an explanation for non-compliance with an order the burden of other work.

Non-compliance with an order, any order, by anyone is bad enough. It is a particularly serious matter if the defaulter is a public body such as a local authority.'

Applications for an extension should, wherever possible, only be made so that they are considered at any hearing for which a date has been fixed or for which a date is about to be fixed. Where a date for a hearing has been fixed, a party who wishes to make an application at that hearing but does not have sufficient time to file an application notice should as soon as possible inform the court (if possible in writing) and, if possible, the other parties of the nature of the application and the reason for it. The party should then make the application orally at the hearing.

The reason(s) for extending a case should be recorded in writing in the Case Management Order and orally stated in court, so that all parties are aware of the reasons for delay in the case. The Case Management Order must contain a record of this information, as well as the impact of the court's decision on the welfare of the child.

The relevant test for justifying an extension of time in care proceedings was whether it was "necessary", as stated in the Children Act 1989 s.32(5).

In respect of the new statutory framework the President in Re S (a child) 2014 made a number of points:

  • The 26 week time limit is a mandatory limit which must be complied with, subject to the statutory exception set out in the new s.32(5). He reiterated his message that deadlines can and must be met;
  • However, he approved of Pauffley J's judgment in Re NL (A child) that "justice must never be sacrificed upon the altar of speed";
  • The President in Re B-S had dealt with the possibility of extension beyond 26 weeks in a potential adoption case if the court was not properly equipped to make decisions. In this judgment he said at paragraph 27: "That approach, which is entirely compatible with the requirements of section 32, applies not just in the particular context under consideration in Re B-S but more generally";
  • Whether a case would warrant a s.32(5) extension must be determined on a case by case basis. But by way of illustration, it may be appropriate in drug abuse/alcohol abuse cases or cases involving parental mental ill-health to consider an extension beyond 26 weeks to see if a parent can make changes within the child's timescales. However, extensions should not be granted in the hope that something may turn up. But rather: "Typically three questions will have to be addressed. First, is there some solid, evidence based, reason to believe that the parent is committed to making the necessary changes? If so, secondly, is there some solid, evidence based, reason to believe that the parent will be able to maintain that commitment? If so, thirdly, is there some solid, evidence based, reason to believe that the parent will be able to make the necessary changes within the child's timescale?" (Para.38).

An initial extension may be granted for up to 8 weeks (or less if directed). A further extension of up to eight weeks may be agreed by the court. There is no limit on the number of extensions that may be granted. If a further extension is granted, the Case Management Order should:

  • State the reason(s) why it is necessary to have a further extension;
  • Fix the date of the next effective hearing (which might be a period shorter than a further eight weeks); and
  • Indicate whether it is appropriate for the next application for an extension of the timetable to be considered on paper. Extensions should generally be considered at a hearing - this can be by telephone or by any other method of direct oral communication.

1.9 Use of Experts

Revised Rules and Practice Directions relating to expert evidence were put onto a statutory footing by section 13 of the Children and Families Act 2014:

  • The test for permission to put expert evidence before the court is that it should be 'necessary to assist the court to resolve the proceedings justly'. This test also applies to permission to instruct an expert and for a child to be examined or assessed for the purpose of the provision of expert evidence;
  • There are specific factors which the court should give particular regard to when reaching a decision whether to give permission relating to expert evidence, including :
    • Any impact which giving permission would be likely to have on the child(ren);
    • The impact on the timetable and conduct of the proceedings;
    • The cost;
    • What other expert evidence is available (whether obtained before or after the start of the proceedings), and whether evidence could be given by another person, such as a social worker or the Children's Guardian.
  • No expert can now be instructed in a children case unless the court is satisfied in accordance with s 13(6) of the Children and Families Act 2014, that the expert is 'necessary' to assist the court to resolve the proceedings 'justly';
  • An application for permission to instruct an expert should state the questions which the expert is required to answer and the court will give directions approving the questions that are to be put to the expert.
PD36C, paragraph 7.1, substitutes a new FPR 25.6, which requires the parties to apply for permission under FPR 25.4 "as soon as possible and…no later than the case management hearing"; see also PD25C, paragraphs 3.7-3.9.

FPR 25.7(2)(a) sets out what the application notice "must" include; amongst other things the matters set out in PD25C, paragraph 3.10:

  1. "the discipline, qualifications and expertise of the expert (by way of CV where possible);
  2. the expert‟s availability to undertake the work;
  3. the timetable for the report;
  4. the responsibility for instruction;
  5. whether the expert evidence can properly be obtained by only one party (for example, on behalf of the child);
  6. why the expert evidence proposed cannot properly be given by an officer of the service, Welsh family proceedings officer or the local authority (social services undertaking a core assessment) in accordance with their respective statutory duties or any other party to the proceedings or an expert already instructed in the proceedings;
  7. the likely cost of the report on an hourly or other charging basis;
  8. the proposed apportionment (at least in the first instance) of any jointly instructed expert‟s fee; when it is to be paid; and, if applicable, whether public funding has been approved."

1.10 Expectations of the Local Authority by the Court

Timetabling and conduct of the case - throughout the proceedings, the local authority must comply with court directions made regarding the timetabling and conduct of the case and the delivery of additional information and any specialist reports or up-dated assessments relevant to the local authority's case which the court decides are necessary. This additional material should be delivered within the timeframes set by the court. Where compliance becomes problematic the local authority will notify the court without delay and in advance of the deadline and seek an extension.

Both the local authority social worker and the local authority advocate should be in command of the essential evidence and equipped to present this clearly and confidently to the court. The social worker should also be clear on the degree of certainty in the conclusions they have drawn and have to hand the key facts and dates to support their judgements.

Where significant new factors or circumstances bearing on the case emerge late in the proceedings, the local authority (or the children's guardian or parent/ lawyer) will draw these to the court's attention, sharing the information with other parties at the earliest opportunity and seeking to reach a common approach on handling before the next court hearing.

Interim placements - pending final decisions by the court, children's need for stability and security remains a priority and will be reflected in any interim Care Plans, including plans for contact, which the local authority puts forward to the court. The local authority should ensure appropriate, high quality and stable placements are provided, where necessary, while a child's future is decided.

Communication - 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. Any correspondence received by the social worker from solicitors/experts during court proceedings, should be forwarded as soon as possible to the local authority solicitor, together with detailed instructions for the reply.

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

Recording - the Family Court, in the case of RE M and N (Children) (Local authority gathering, preserving and disclosing evidence) made clear the need for good practice in relation to note-taking and record-keeping, and disclosure of relevant evidence to all parties:

  • Social workers/practitioners must make contemporaneous notes which form a coherent, contemporaneous record. The notes should be legible, signed and dated and record persons present during the meeting/conversation in question. The notes should be detailed and accurately attribute descriptions, actions and views etc. Sketches/diagrams may be helpful in establishing the veracity of explanations given, e.g. in relation to how injuries were sustained;
  • Formal case-notes based upon these contemporaneous notes must be created as soon as possible in order to reduce the potential for inaccuracy/faulty recall as a result of delay. The original notes should be retained and be available to the court if required. Legal advice should be sought as to the need for disclosure of these notes to other parties in the case. If the notes constitute 'material evidence', then they must be disclosed;
  • The local authority must ensure full disclosure of all material evidence to all relevant parties at the earliest opportunity. This includes ensuring that expert witnesses have had sight of one another's evidence – a full picture must be presented to the expert witnesses in the case.

Special Guardianship Orders - The Family Justice Council: Guidance on Special Guardianship reflected on:      

  • The importance of the Pre-proceedings stage (see Section 2, Pre-proceedings);
  • The issue of delay - there are often tensions with the court 26 week timetable when seeking the best outcome for the permanent placement for the child, particularly with regard to potential applicants: for example, where 'a realistic family carer' emerges late in proceedings; where there has been limited or no contact between the applicant and the child and so the quality of this needs to be assessed; possible training needs for the special guardians; assessments of potential special guardians living in another country.

It is expected a full assessment of potential special guardians will usually require a 3-month time scale and that a Special Guardianship Order may not be made for up to 12 months from the initial Application. However, decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis. (See also: Timetabling and timescale for full family and Friends Assessments, (Family Justice Council));

  • Quality of special guardian reports - all assessments/suitability reports should comply with the schedule set out in regulation 21 of the Special Guardianship Regulations 2005 (as amended 2016). Where local authorities commission assessments from independent social workers, it is essential that there is clarity about the standard of the assessment commissioned before it is filed;
  • The interim placement of the child - the identification of family members who, as a result of an initial assessment, are then considered as a prospective Special Guardian will raise a number of issues about the placement of the child in the interim.

These issues will need to be addressed in the interim plan for the child. It must be considered that making an interim placement which does not develop into a long-term placement could have serious implications for the child.

See also Special Guardianship Orders Policy and Procedure.

2. Case Management Checklist and Flowcharts

2.1 Pre-Proceedings

Caption: pre-proceedings checklist

Annex Documents are the documents specified in the Annex to the Application Form which are to be attached to that form and filed with the court:

  • Social Work Chronology;
  • Social Work Statement and genogram;
  • The current assessments relating to the child and/or the family and friends of the child to which the Social Work Statement refers and on which the LA relies;
  • Care Plan;
  • Index of Checklist Documents.

Checklist documents (already existing on the LA's files) are:

(a) Evidential documents including:

  • Previous court orders including foreign orders and judgments/reasons;
  • Any assessment materials relevant to the key issues including capacity to litigate, Section 7 and 37 reports;
  • Single, joint or inter-agency materials (e.g. health & education/Home Office and Immigration Tribunal documents).

(b) Decision-making records including:

  • Records of key discussions with the family;
  • Key LA minutes and records for the child;
  • Pre-existing care plans (e.g. child in need plan, looked after child plan and child protection plan);
  • Letters Before Proceedings.

Only Checklist documents in (a) are to be served with the application form.

Checklist Documents in (b) are to be disclosed on request by any party.

Checklist documents are not to be:

  • Filed with the court unless the court directs otherwise; and
  • Older than 2 years before the date of issue of the proceedings unless reliance is placed on the same in the LA's evidence

2.2 Stage 1 - Issue and Allocation


On Day 1 (Day of issue):

  • The LA files the Application Form and Annex Documents and sends copies to Cafcass/CAFCASS CYMRU;
  • The LA notifies the court of the need for an urgent preliminary case management hearing or an urgent contested ICO hearing where this is known or expected;
  • Court officer issues application.

Within a day of issue (Day 2):

  • Court considers jurisdiction in a case with an international element;
  • Court considers initial allocation to specified level of judge in accordance with the Allocation Rules and any President's Guidance on the distribution of business;
  • LA serves the Application Form, Annex Documents and evidential Checklist Documents on the parties together with the notice of date and time of CMH and any urgent hearing;
  • Court gives standard directions on Issue and Allocation including:
    • Checking compliance with Pre-Proceedings Checklist including service of any missing Annex Documents;
    • Appointing Children's Guardian (to be allocated by Cafcass/CAFCASS CYMRU);
    • Appointing solicitor for the child only if necessary;
    • Appointing (if the person to be appointed consents) a litigation friend for any protected party or any non subject child who is a party, including the OS where appropriate;
    • Identifying whether a request has been made or should be made to a Central Authority or other competent authority in a foreign state or a consular authority in England and Wales in a case with an international element;
    • Filing and service of a LA Case Summary;
    • Filing and service of a Case Analysis by the Children's Guardian;
    • Filing and Serving the Parents' Response;
    • Sending a request for disclosure to, e.g. the police or health service body;
    • Filing and serving an application for permission relating to experts under Part 25 on a date prior to the advocates meeting for the CMH;
    • Directing the solicitor for the child to arrange an advocates' meeting no later than 2 business days before the CMH;
    • Listing the CMH.
  • Court considers any request for an urgent preliminary case management hearing or an urgent contested ICO hearing and where necessary lists the hearing and gives additional directions;
  • Court officer sends copy Notice of Hearing of the CMH and any urgent hearing by email to Cafcass/ CAFCASS CYMRU.

2.3 Stage 2 - Case Management Hearing

Caption: Stage 2 - Case Management Meeting
(including any litigants in person)
No later than 2 business days before CMH (or FCMH if it is necessary)

CMH: Not before day 12 and not later than day 18

A FCMH is to be held only if necessary, it is to be listed as soon as possible and in any event no later than day 25
  • Consider information on the Application Form and Annex documents, the LA Case Summary, and the Case Analysis;
  • Identify the parties' positions to be recited in the draft Case Management Order;
  • Identify the parties' positions about jurisdiction, in particular arising out of any international element;
  • If necessary, identify proposed experts and draft questions in accordance with Part 25 and the Experts Practice Directions;
  • Identify any disclosure that in the advocates' views is necessary;
  • Immediately notify the court of the need for a contested ICO hearing and any issue about allocation;
  • LA advocate to file a draft Case Management Order in prescribed form with court by 11a.m. on the business day before the CMH and/or FCMH.

Court gives detailed case management directions, including:

  • Considering jurisdiction in a case with an international element;
  • Confirming allocation;
  • Drawing up the timetable for the child and the timetable for the proceedings and considering if an extension is necessary;
  • Identifying additional parties, intervenors and representation (including confirming that Cafcass/CAFCASS CYMRU have allocated a Children's Guardian and that a litigation friend is appointed for any protected party or non-subject child);
  • Giving directions for the determination of any disputed issue about litigation capacity;
  • Identifying the key issues;
  • Identifying the evidence necessary to enable the court to resolve the key issues;
  • Deciding whether there is a real issue about threshold to be resolved;
  • Determining any application made under Part 25 and otherwise ensuring compliance with Part 25 where it is necessary for expert(s) to be instructed;
  • Identifying any necessary disclosure and if appropriate giving directions;
  • Giving directions for any concurrent or proposed placement order proceedings;
  • Ensuring compliance with the court's directions;
  • If a FCMH is necessary, directing an advocates' meeting and Case Analysis if required;
  • Directing filing of any threshold agreement, final evidence and Care Plan and responses to those documents for the IRH;
  • Directing a Case Analysis for the IRH;
  • Directing an advocates' meeting for the IRH;
  • Listing (any FCMH) IRH, Final Hearing (including early Final Hearing) as appropriate;
  • Giving directions for special measures and/or interpreters and intermediaries;
  • Issuing the Case Management Order.

2.4 Stage 3 - Issues Resolution Hearing

Caption: Stage 3 Issues Resolution Hearing
(including any litigants in person)
No later than 7 business days before the IRH As directed by the court, in accordance with the timetable for the proceedings
  • Review evidence and the positions of the parties;
  • Identify the advocates' views of:
    • The remaining key issues and how the issues may be resolved or narrowed at the IRH including by the making of final orders;
    • The further evidence which is required to be heard to enable the key issues to be resolved or narrowed at the IRH;
    • The evidence that is relevant and the witnesses that are required at the final hearing;
    • The need for a contested hearing and/or time for oral evidence to be given at the IRH;
  • LA advocate to:
  • Notify the court immediately of the outcome of the discussion at the meeting;
  • File a draft Case Management Order with the court by 11a.m. on the business working day before the IRH.
  • Court identifies the key issue(s) (if any) to be determined and the extent to which those issues can be resolved or narrowed at the IRH;
  • Court considers whether the IRH can be used as a final hearing;
  • Court resolves or narrows the issues by hearing evidence;
  • Court identifies the evidence to be heard on the issues which remain to be resolved at the final hearing;
  • Court gives final case management directions including:
    • Any extension of the timetable for the proceedings which is necessary;
    • Filing of the threshold agreement or a statement of facts/issues remaining to be determined;
    • Filing of:
      • Final evidence & Care Plan;
      • Case Analysis for Final Hearing (if required);
      • Witness templates;
      • Skeleton arguments.
    • Judicial reading list/reading time, including time estimate and an estimate for judgment writing time;
    • Ensuring Compliance with PD27A (the Bundles Practice Direction);
    • Listing the Final Hearing;
  • Court issues Case Management Order.

2.5 Public Law Outline 2014 (26 weeks) Flowchart

Click here to view the Public Law Outline 2014 (26 weeks) Flowchart

2.6 Further Information

Protocol and Good Practice Model: Disclosure of Information in Cases of Alleged Child Abuse and Linked Criminal and Care Direction Hearings (October 2013)

Public Law Outline (2014)

Pre-proceedings and Family Justice Hub (Research in Practice) - an open access resource hub to support family-centred practice and decision-making in pre-proceedings (PLO) and the Family Court, including guidance, practice tools, publications, videos and podcasts.