What to expect at a family court during care proceedings
It can be very daunting attending court for the first time, especially during care proceedings. Care proceedings are a court process started by a Local Authority when they are concerned that a child may be at risk of harm. If care proceedings are issued, several hearings will be listed which you must attend if ordered by the court.
Clients have a number of questions before attending a hearing at a family court. The these can range from:
- Who will be at the hearing?
- Where do I sit?
- Do I need to speak?
- Will you be wearing a white wig?
We will deal with these questions in this blog.
Who will be present at the hearing?
A number of people will be at the hearing:
- Persons with parental responsibility – usually parents of the child but can be others for example someone who a child lives with who is not a parent.
- The Judge/Judges – a judge is the person who makes the decisions about what is best for your child and what should happen. There are three different types of judges who could hear your matter.
- District Judge – these judges hear most family law cases.
- Circuit Judge – these judges deal with family law cases with additional complexities.
- Magistrates – these are people from the community who have been recruited and trained to hear family cases. They will receive assistance from a Legal Advisor in the court who will assist them on the law and procedure. There are usually 3 in Court.
- Local Authority solicitor/barrister – this is the person representing the Local Authority (Children’s Social Care) during proceedings. They will lead the hearing and tell the Judge the Social Worker’s views.
- Solicitors/barristers acting on behalf of those with parental responsibility – these are people who are instructed by those people with parental responsibility to represent them. They will advise you during proceedings on the law and procedure, prepare any necessary documents, speak on your behalf in court and meetings, and much more.
- Guardian - A Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) officer will be appointed. These are also known as Children’s Guardians. They are independent from social services, and they will act in your child’s best interests. Their role is to ensure that proposed care plan by the Local Authority protect the child, promote their welfare and is in their best interests. The Guardian may speak to a number of different people to assist them in making recommendations on behalf of the child. Ultimately the role of the Guardian is to recommend to the court what they think is in your child’s best interest.
- Solicitor for Guardian – this person is instructed by the Guardian to represent them during proceedings. They will do the same job for your child as the solicitors for those people with parental responsibility.
Other people who may be in attendance:
- Social worker
- Advocate – advocates will be present if it has been deemed that a party requires their assistance. They are used to help the party understand the process, assist the party to ask questions and getting the parent’s view across to the court and professionals. They will also attend meetings, court and help the parent understand decisions that are being made regarding the child.
- Intermediary – an intermediary is used to support a person who has any physical or mental health conditions that could affect their ability to participate fully during a hearing.
Family care proceedings are not open to the public. However, if a Judge orders it, a reporter may be present to record the case.
Where do I sit?
A court Usher will confirm where you will be sitting either before or as you enter the room.
The court room will usually be set up in the following way:
Front: Judge will be sat at the front of the court room with all parties facing him.
First row of tables: Solicitors or barristers representing the parties.
Second row of tables: The parties, such as persons with parental responsibility, Child’s Guardian or social worker.
Do I need to speak?
It is very unlikely that you will need to speak before the judge during care proceedings unless the judge requests this particularly at the first hearings. You will be required to speak when the judge asks (or orders) you to give evidence. This will usually happen during a Fact-Finding hearing or at a final hearing. These hearings are not always required. Your solicitor is there to represent you during each hearing. It is therefore important that you and your solicitor have enough time to discuss your position to ensure that they convey this clearly to the judge and other parties.
Will you be wearing a white wig?
The simple answer is no.
Family law solicitors and barristers only wear the white wigs seen on TV and newspapers in special circumstances if the Judge requires it.
If a Local Authority have issued care proceedings and you require assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us. Porter Dodson specialise in this area of law and our designated Child Care Team will be happy to offer advice and represent you at hearings. Please contact us on 01935 424581 and ask for a member of the Child Care Team.