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Mr Justice Baker comments on exceptions to 26 weeks time limit in care cases

Importance of specialist family practitioners emphasised

In Devon County Council v EB & Ors [2013] EWHC 968 (Fam), a complex fact finding hearing concerning twins born to parents who suffered from a range of medical conditions, Mr Justice Baker took the opportunity to comment on the introduction of a 26 weeks time limit for care proceedings, the adducement of expert evidence and the role of specialist family practitioners.

Baker J said:

"[T]his case demonstrates that, whilst it will be possible to conclude the vast majority of care cases within 26 weeks, as proposed by the modernisation reforms, there will still be a small minority of cases, exceptional cases, where the investigation takes longer. ..... Judges must be vigilant to identify those rare cases which require longer time.  It is, of course, important that these cases are identified as soon as possible at the outset of proceedings and that any delay is kept to a minimum."

In respect of expert evidence he said:

"Judges will be rigorous in resisting the call for unnecessary use of experts in family proceedings but equally will not hesitate to endorse the instruction of experts where, under the new rules, they are satisfied that they are necessary for the determination of the issues in proceedings."

As to the contribution of specialist family lawyers, he commented:

"Finally, this case demonstrates again the crucial role played by the specialist family bar and solicitors.  The role played by all of the representatives for all of the parties in this case has been of the utmost importance.  All judges are very concerned at the prospect of an increase in self-represented litigants and the consequences for the family justice system.  Not enough recognition is given to the contribution to the family justice system made by family lawyers."

For the judgment in this case, preceded by a summary written by Katy Rensten of Coram Chambers, please click here.

Mark Whitehall of Colleton Chambers appeared on behalf of the claimant. Paul Storey QC and Christopher Butterfield,  both of 29 Bedford Row, (instructed by Edward Hayes LLP) appeared on behalf of the mother. Tina Cook QC and Katie Phillips both of 42 Bedford Row (instructed by Wollen Michelmore) appeared on behalf of the father. Elizabeth Ingham of Colleton Chambers (instructed by Hartnell Chanot & Partners) appeared on behalf of the guardian.