His Honour Judge Wildblood QC
Designated Family Judge for Avon, North Somerset and Gloucestershire
1. Gloucestershire CC – Many of you will have read that Ofsted has published a report about Gloucestershire County Council’s Children’s Services. If you haven’t, please can I suggest that you read the executive summary, at least. It can be found by following this link and then scrolling down to the link for the pdf version of the report (The file is called Single inspection of LA children’s services and review of the LSCB as pdf).
2. As you will know, I have published a number of judgments on the Bailii website to ensure that the public were aware of difficulties that are similar to those highlighted in the Ofsted report. I also met regularly with the previous management team to explain and discuss the issues arising from those judgments and other issues of practice. I very much hope that solutions can now be found to the difficulties that have been identified and I am grateful to the new management team for meeting with me on Wednesday to discuss how matters will be dealt with in the future. At the start of this year it was arranged that I should sit for one week in every month in Gloucester and, since early last year, District Judge Woodburn has been hearing public law cases there as well. I hope that the increased presence in Gloucester of judges specialising in public law cases will emphasise further the need for change and encourage it. I have asked that any public law cases that involve significant issues of practice should be listed in front of me; please can practitioners and courts in the area ensure that this occurs.
3. Orders – Getting orders drafted and issued imposes heavy demands on all those involved and the first thing that I would want to say is thank you to everyone for running the system so smoothly in this area.
4. It remains the rule that orders should be submitted to the court for issue within 48 hours of the hearing at which the order is made. This is demanding for solicitors and barristers but the demands would not be any different if we imposed any other timescale (e.g. it would not make any difference if we said 72 or 96 hours). On the whole, orders are sent in within 48 hours but please can I ask you to ensure that you do send them in within that time.
5. If the order includes provision for disclosure by the police or other third parties, please can I ask that a separate order is drafted for that disclosure. The order for disclosure needs to be issued as swiftly as possible following the hearing. If a short disclosure order is drafted and issued on the day of the hearing it means that the police, or other third party, are more likely to be able to provide the necessary disclosure within the time provided by the order. There have been a number of cases in which there has been a delay in drafting the long case management order and, as a result, the disclosure provisions within the long order have not been sent to the police until shortly before, or even after, the dates specified for disclosure. If a separate short order is drafted and sent out immediately that difficulty can be avoided. Where a disclosure order is made please can an email be sent immediately to the police, or other relevant third party, informing them that the disclosure order has been made so that they can begin to collate the material.
6. In a suitable case the judge or magistrates may wish to direct, at the end of a case management hearing, that the order may be submitted to the court office for issue without further scrutiny by the court of the drafting of the order. Plainly, there will be some draft orders which have to be scrutinised by the court before they are approved for issue. However there are some instances where straightforward orders are delayed in issue unnecessarily because they await approval following the drafting by the parties. Where the court does so direct, it will be essential that any email sending in the order should state clearly: ‘the court directed that this order should be issued immediately upon being emailed to the court, without being further referred for approval to the judge/magistrates’. Such a direction will be particularly inappropriate where there are penal provisions within the order.
7. Non-molestation orders need to be issued immediately following their making. It is very important that orders made in Bath or Weston-super-Mare, which are to be sent to Bristol for issue, are sent immediately to Bristol following the hearing. Where a tick box form is used by the judge / magistrates that document needs to be scanned and sent by email by the court staff immediately to the Bristol court office for issue. There has to be liaison between the courts involved to ensure that there is no delay in the issue of orders of this kind. Particular difficulties can arise where orders are made on Friday because it is essential that the orders are issued, sent to the police and sent for service before the weekend. If there are difficulties in relation to this, there must be communication with court immediately.
8. If there are urgent private law orders to be issued, emails containing any draft orders must be marked urgent when they are sent in to Bristol. Orders are issued and drawn up in Bristol, even when made in Weston-super-Mare or Bath (this does not apply to Gloucester, of course). Once issued, the order can only be sent to the applicant/the applicant’s solicitor on paper by post or DX, the order cannot be emailed to the applicant/applicant’s solicitor for issue. In circumstances where the applicant needs a copy of the sealed order immediately (e.g. where there is a prohibited steps order following the retention of a child or threatened removal) the sealed order can be scanned by Bristol and sent to Weston-super-Mare or Bath where it can be printed there. However, the applicant/applicant’s solicitor must arrange to collect the order and must liaise with the court to ensure that an agreed system is in place for that to occur. Otherwise, the only other way in which the applicant/applicant’s solicitor will receive a copy of the order is through the post/DX.
9. It is particularly helpful to the court staff if typed orders can be submitted (i.e. not in manuscript) and can also be produced on the right forms (e.g. on CAP forms).
10. Out of hours hearings – Please can I ask that everyone is familiar with the system for hearings that need to take place outside normal court hours. It is too late to try to find out once emergency has arisen. If you don’t know the system please ask the court office to provide you with information about it.
11. Urgent hearings in normal court hours – if a local authority or other court user knows that an urgent application will be made please inform the court as soon as this is known. In particular, if a Local Authority knows on a Thursday that an EPO application is likely to be made on Friday, please can the authority let the court know on Thursday and not leave it until Friday before setting in hand arrangements and applications for a hearing. It is unfair on court staff and judges where applications are brought to the court in a rush on Friday afternoon without warning (e.g. because police protection powers under section 46 of The Children Act 1989 are due to expire over the weekend). If you do apply late and without forewarning you may well find that your case has to be dealt with under the out of hours procedures.
12. Judges seeing children – we do seem to make little use of the procedure that is available for judges to see children (see page 1530 of the 2017 Red Book for a summary of the guidance about this). When dealing with cases involving children please can I ask you to think carefully about whether it would be beneficial for the child to meet the judge. After all, which of us would like a major decision to be made about our lives by someone upon whom we had never clapped eyes?
13. Theatre – I have been working with St Brendans College in Bristol and we have set up a theatre production group to stage scenes showing some of the social issues with which the family court deals. The first production will be on 6 July 2017 at St Brendans College (doors open at 4 PM and the production will last from about 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM). This will be interactive, or forum, theatre in which the actors will play out scenes on stage and then, with the aid of a facilitator, the actors will discuss with the audience what is happening, ask questions of the audience and take questions from them. The first production will cover domestic violence, the removal of a child from a mother in public law proceedings, a comedy sketch about dysfunctional families and a scene involving a father in prison grappling with indirect contact. If you would like to book into this event please do so by accessing the website: www.ticketsource.co.uk and entering ‘The State v The Family : Drawing the line’ in the box marked ‘Search events’. Tickets are free and I do hope that you will be able to support this event.
14. As ever, thank you to everyone for working so hard to keep our very hard pressed system running as efficiently as it does.
16th June 2017.
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