Please visit Suesspicious Minds for a consideration of the issues raised by an article in the Gazette about DJ Crichton’s views on the PLO. It articulates some of the concerns I know many share (myself included), and some of the ambivalence that we feel about the new PLO pilot and proposed statutory reform. It is rare to hear such non-conformist views these days, and even when they are articulated they are often drowned out by the roar of the rushing cascade from the President (pun intended) and the constant dripping of authority from the Court of Appeal about the importance of intellectual rigour in adoption cases. For we have all seen cases where delay has run wild, and a grave injustice is done. And I think if we are honest, we may now appreciate that there was a real need for a major shake up of the way we approach delay, and for the imposition of some form of constraint or structure. Professionals were lazy and late. Lawyers did take the piss. Judges eyes were sometimes off the ball. BUT. But but but. I can think of a number of cases where there has been unnecessary delay caused by parties other than parents or children and where in order to reach a fair and right outcome it is necessary to postpone a conclusion until beyond 26 weeks (culture change amongst lawyers and social workers is not yet complete). And I can think of a number of cases I have dealt with where rehabilitation has been possible but which under the new regime would be highly doubtful. And I can think of a number of frightening stories of misinterpretation at FPC level of the 26 week rule – where in essence we make it as fair as we can within 26 weeks, but if it hasn’t been done or can’t be done (for whatever reason) in time for 26 weeks thats tough. End of.
Its a difficult balance. It would be easier to identify and argue for those adjournments where on the merits an extension beyond 26 weeks is justified if we were not still dealing with cases where 26 weeks is rendered necessary by poor case management or preparation by the parties. The last two final hearings I’ve dealt with have been adjourned because they were not ready – if IRH’s were being properly utilised this should be a rare occurrence.
This week I attended a lecture by our new Designated Family Judge here in Bristol, His Honour Judge Wildblood QC, to inform the legal community about modernisation, the new PLO and how things will be in the new world order. Although some of the lecture dealt with local approach to particular issues, the majority of it will, I think, be illuminating for those practising further afield. So below are my notes of that lecture. Lawyers beware.
- Collaboration (team work)
- Change (recognise and accept)
“Local Practice” used to be a term issued with a sneer by London counsel, lording it about how parochial sticks-based courts were (in truth I may be guilty of muttering it under my breath myself occasionally when I appear in an unfamiliar court that appears to have had an article 6 bypass).
However, Local Practice is positively de rigeur these days. In my neck of the woods we are struggling to maintain our composure in the face of three distinctly distinct local approaches. My head is spinning with guidance and protocols and emailed admonitions, pleas and explanations of new rules.
In Bristol, where (as one newcomer recently observed) “They don’t really do IRH’s do they?”, practitioners have received an emailed “Exhortation” from the DFJ. At least it is in the form of a request for cooperation rather than a demand or a pre-emptive criticism. And it is admirable in its 2 page brevity. This and other requests for help and joint working in Bristol cases have resulted in courteous exchanges of emails between HMCTS and local practitioners, resulting in finessing of the guidance to make it more workable for all. Collaboration gotta be good. Bristol’s “Exhortation” is a sort of judicial poetry, the “Not Waving but Drowning” of local PDs. It made us feel wanted and I think in Bristol practitioners work together to try our best to achieve good and just outcomes whilst minimising delay. Less good was the communication about secure email, which I blogged about before and which has still not resulted in any workable system and has been largely ignored because its impracticalities have neither been thought through nor addressed by HMCTS, and the necessary changes have not been made by most practitioners. Its stuck in a chicken and egg feedback loop (or something). Although I’m a fan of the comparatively flexible Bristol approach to case management, it has to be acknowledged that average care case duration in Bristol has not been great (although there are no doubt many drivers of those stats including the fact that historically Bristol has suffered particular CAFCASS difficulties). Continue Reading…