The family courts are to participate in a new information sharing scheme for cases of suspected child abuse.
The scheme, launched by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), will see the police sharing and requesting information on children thought to be at risk with the family courts, social services and schools.
The ‘2013 Protocol and Good Practice Model’ sets out procedures for the ‘disclosure of information in cases of alleged child abuse and linked criminal and care directions hearings’ – i.e. criminal investigation into suspected child abuse and/ or related care proceedings.
Under the protocol, family courts and local authorities will be notified when the police launch an investigation into suspected abuse, but the scheme has also been designed to encourage the exchange of information and documents between the police, the CPS, local authorities and the family courts – although such exchanges will still be subject to standard legal restrictions on the disclosure of sensitive information.
A number of procedures for the exchange of information are set out, including ones allowing the police or CPS to apply to the family courts for permission to disclose material related to ongoing family cases.
The scheme has attracted support from senior judges, the Department for Education, and a number of other major organisations, including the Association of Directions of Children’s Services and the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC said:
“The joint information sharing protocol is a real breakthrough. Sharing information, such as school files which may help police and prosecutors piece together compelling evidence of abuse, will now be done. All those who have supported this information sharing protocol share a mutual aim of protecting children, and I am confident that this protocol will help us all to do that.”