The Public Law Working Group (PLWG) set up by the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has this week published its final report, which contains some 47 core recommendations.
The report, Recommendations to achieve best practice in the child protection and family justice systems, identifies issues and challenges as well as a series of recommendations for longer-term change. The child’s voice and their wellbeing are key themes throughout as is partnership working and achieving cultural change.
The recommendations cover:
- Support for and work with families prior to court proceedings
- The application
- Case management
- Supervision orders
- S20/76 accommodation.
In addition the PWLG makes 15 proposals for longer-term change. These recommendations will require (a) legislative changes to be implemented and/or (b) the approval of additional public spending by the Government.
The working group, which was led by Mr Justice Keehan, also recommends that the President issue (attached as appendices to the report):
- Best practice guidance for support for and work with families prior to court proceedings
- Best practice guidance for the case management and the application
- Best practice guidance for S20/76 accommodation.
A standalone report on special guardianship orders, with accompanying best practice guidance, was published in June 2020.
Endorsing the publication of the report, Sir Andrew said: “The report and its recommendations are the fruits of intense and extensive collaborative work by professionals from all of the sectors working on child protection cases in the Family Justice system. Whilst the group has been brought together and led by the judiciary, this has genuinely been a joint endeavour by all of the many PLWG members and others who have been involved. I am most grateful to each and every one of them.”
The Family President said the PLWG was formed, prior to the Covid 19 pandemic, to investigate the steep rise in public law cases coming to the Family Court and to offer recommendations for improving the system’s ability to address the needs of the children and families at the centre of these important cases.
“The additional pressures on the Child Protection and Family Justice systems arising from Covid have only gone to underline the need for the new ways of working that the PLWG’s recommendations describe,” he said.
Sir Andrew noted that it had been a “striking feature” of this work that the development of the group’s ideas and recommendations had been organic and has proceeded at each turn on the basis of agreement across the board, rather than controversy.
“That this is so, strongly suggests that the recommendations made are both sound and necessary. It gives ground for real optimism that the messages in this report will be welcomed by social workers, lawyers, judges, magistrates and court staff across England and Wales and that, after a short implementation period, they can be put into effect and begin to make a real difference on the ground. That is my earnest hope and confident expectation.”