On the 22nd of April the new PLO was officially introduced. As a result of section 12 of the Children and Families Act 2014 the FPR 2010 have been amended to provide for the new PLO. This is a revised regime, different in a number of respects to the existing pilot which has been applied previously. The key changes are;
- The requirement that all applications for care/supervision orders are completed within 26 weeks of issue is now a matter of statute,
- The court must consider at the point of issue whether an urgent Case Management Hearing (CMH) or contested interim care order hearing is necessary and direct accordingly.
- A threshold document is no longer included in the Annex documents to be filed on day 1.
- The documents to be filed and served on day 1 have been restricted. They are separated into two classes;
- “Evidential documents” including previous orders, assessments relevant to the issues (section 7/37 reports, capacity reports etc.) and single, joint or inter-agency documents (e.g. health and education records, home office documents) are to be served on all parties on day 1.
- “Decision-making records”, including local authority minutes, letters before action and previous care plans are no longer to be served on day 1.
None of the above should be filed at court on issue. Instead an index is to be prepared of all such documents and filed and served. Any party who wishes to may request disclosure of any decision-making records required and the court will consider what documents need to be included in the bundle at each hearing. None of these documents (referred to as “checklist documents” are to be more than 2 years old unless reliance is placed on them in the local authority’s evidence.
- The CMH is to be listed not before day 12 and not after day 18 (instead of by day 12).
- An updated application form to reflect the new regime.
- Issue Resolution Hearings (IRH) are now to be listed as directed by the court, rather than by week 20, with an advocates’ meeting not less than 7 business days before the IRH (rather than 3 days before.
- Where there are concurrent criminal proceedings, wherever possible there should be linked directions hearings and the timetable for the criminal proceedings should be included in the timetable for the child in the relevant Case Management Orders (CMO).
The practice direction requires that the court should take evidence at an IRH to resolve the issues in dispute if to do so would be practical and reasonable. Where it is proposed that evidence is to be heard at a hearing the court must be notified well in advance so that directions can be made.
Specific provision is made (at section 6) for the extension of the 26 week timetable. Such extension must be necessary, and must have specific justification. The reasons should be recorded in the CMO. Extensions will initially be for no longer than 8 weeks at a time. There is no limit to the number of extensions. If an extension for longer than 8 weeks is required the CMO must state the reasons for this, fix the date and indicate whether future extensions should be considered as a paper exercise.