A local authority has lost its appeal against a decision to adjourn a care case for ten weeks.
In the Matter of M-F concerned prolonged care proceedings brought in relation to two children – ‘V’, who is now 16, and her brother ‘M’, who is 10.
In March of last year, care proceedings were launched. The following September, Judge Probyn ruled that the mother had caused “emotional harm” to both children, as well as physical harm to V. She asked a clinical psychologist to report on the impact the authority’s plan to take them into care could have on the children, as well as any risks posed by them going home to their mother. Subsequently, both children absconded from their care placements, the case was adjourned and plans for both children were revised. V returned to live with her mother under a supervision order, despite the previous physical harm, to the annoyance of M.
The mother began a course of work recommend by the clinical psychologist, and in May, the court agreed to adjourn the care proceeding for ten weeks to enable her progress on the course to be properly assessed. The local authority applied for permission to appeal the decision, 67 weeks after proceedings had initially been launched. Both the children’s guardian and the mother opposed their application.
At the Court of Appeal in London, Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, noted the authority’s principal argument: that under recent amendments to section 32 of the Children Act 1989, care cases should be concluded within 26 weeks, except in certain limited circumstances.
But, the President referred to his comments in the earlier case of Re S, which had also concerned the application of the 26 week timetable in care proceedings.
Sir James said:
“It suffices to note my observation (para 28) that the 26 weeks rule ‘is not, and must never be allowed to become, a straightjacket, least of all if rigorous adherence to an inflexible timetable risks putting justice in jeopardy’ ”.
Judge Probyn had been “entirely justified”, he declared.
The President continued:
“Her reasoning, in my judgment, displays no error of law or approach; it correctly identifies the relevant factors that had to be taken into account; and it explains her ultimate decision in a way which makes clear how very understandable that decision was in all the circumstances…”
Read the full judgement here.
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