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Pre-proceedings process does not shorten care proceedings, research shows

But the process does succeed in diverting cases from court

A major new research report on the pre-proceedings process shows how local authorities, lawyers and the courts have operated this part of the 2008 PLO reforms.

The pre-proceedings process aimed to divert cases from care proceedings, alternatively to ensure applications were better prepared and narrow the issues so that care proceedings could be completed more speedily. Where a local authority has decided to bring care proceedings, the process requires it to send the parents a 'letter before proceedings', inviting them to a meeting to discuss its concerns. The letter entitles parents to legal aid so they can attend the meeting with a lawyer.

The research was conducted in six local authorities in England and Wales, which made substantial use of the pre-proceedings process. The research showed that the process was successful in diverting a quarter of cases from court, either because parental care improved or alternative arrangements were agreed. However, the courts appeared to take no account of the pre-proceedings stage for cases that were not diverted. These cases took just as long as those without pre-proceedings, 52 weeks on average.

Key points of the research included:

The research was conducted by Professor Judith Masson and Kay Bader at the School of Law, Bristol University and Jonathan Dickens and Julie Young at the School of Social Work, University of East Anglia. The report, Partnership by law? and a summary can be downloaded.