STOP PRESS - Lee Young Successful in the Court of Appeal; setting aside Care & Placement Orders and remitting decision back - Re: T (2015)

Court of Appeal, Aikens, McFarlane, Bean LJJ, 18 June 2015  (Public law children – Procedure – Judgment – 6-month delay  handing down  ) The parents' argument that the judge had not regarded drastic changes in the family home in the six months between the concluding hearing and the judgment being handed down was successful and their appeal was allowed. In care proceedings concerning 10 of the mother's 15 children there were allegations of long-standing neglect and poor parenting. The threshold under s 31 of the Children Act 1989 was agreed by all parties on the basis of neglect, physical and emotional harm. It fell to be determined whether the parents would be able to provide good enough care. Four of the 10 children had remained living with the parents throughout the proceedings under interim supervision orders. Six mothers after the hearing concluded judgment was handed down and final care orders were made. The parents appealed, primarily in relation to the four children who had remained at home. They claimed that the judge had paid no regard to what had or had not occurred in the 6 month period leading up to the handing down of the judgment. The appeal in relation to the four children was allowed and the final care orders were set aside. The case was remitted to the judge for a reappraisal in light of updating evidence which would be filed by the parties. Pursuant to s 32(1) of the 1989 Act and FPR 12.22 the court's key responsibility was to draw up a timetable to ensure so far as was reasonably practicable that an application could be dispensed within 26 weeks. Where a case could not be completed in that timeframe and further time was required for preparation of the judgment s 32 continued to apply. It was incumbent upon a judge to make express provision for an extension of up to 8 weeks to the timetable for that purpose. In deciding whether to extent the timetable the court had to have regard to the requirements of s 32 and to the need for an extension to be limited to what was necessary to enable the court to resolve proceedings justly and to the need to have regard to the impact of any extension on the welfare of the child. The judge had identified that the question of whether the parents could provide good enough care for the children was at the centre of his deliberations. He was clear that careful thought had to be given to whether it was really necessary to remove the children. He had addendum submissions which noted that the parents had made significant and sustained progress in the 6-month interim period. On the facts, it was necessary for the judge to receive updating evidence from the parties as to the welfare of the children who had remained at home.