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Public Law Outline Proceedings & Legal Aid

Public Law Outline Proceedings

The President of the Family Law Division re-launched the Public Law Outline in January 2023, to try and bring care proceedings cases within the statutory 26-week limit by setting out clear expectations around case management and timetabling. The COVID-19 pandemic had seen an unacceptable lengthening of cases taking an average of 46 weeks to resolve, but some far exceeding even that lengthy timescale.

As part of the drive to reduce the length of care proceedings, Local Authorities are looking at ensuring they use the pre-proceedings process fully. Under the pre-proceedings process, the Local Authority arrange a meeting with parents and sends them a letter referred to as the ‘letter before proceedings’. We commonly refer to these as ‘PLO letters’ and ‘PLO meetings’. The parents are invited to attend a meeting with the Local Authority and are allowed to bring a legal representative with them. The cost of legal representation at that meeting is covered under the Legal Aid Agency’s Legal Help scheme and is available to any parent who has received this type of letter irrespective of their financial circumstances.

The pre-proceedings process is considered the last chance for parents to address the concerns identified by the Local Authority. There are usually certain objectives that parents are expected to meet and also things that social services are required to do to support the family and ensure that things are improving. If the issues aren’t resolved as part of the pre-proceedings process then the Local Authority may well choose to issue care proceedings, which in some cases can result in children being taken into foster care or placed with other family members.

During the pre-proceedings process, the Local Authority will assess the parents and other family members. It is hoped that in carrying out these assessments and encouraging the parents to work with the social workers, care proceedings can be avoided. Once the assessments are carried out, a review meeting will be held. If all is well, the case will conclude, but in some cases, there may need to be some further work either under the pre-proceedings process or through a Child In Need, Looked After Child or Child Protection Conference plan.

In the cases where the Local Authority may decide to issue care proceedings, the work done prior to the issue of proceedings will mean that there is less work to be done within the court proceedings as the assessments should not need to be repeated. This should reduce the overall length of the care proceedings.

During the pandemic, there was an increase in the number of court hearings taking place during care proceedings. Under the PLO process, the Court is restricting the number of hearings per case and only allowing evidence from external experts where it is necessary. It is hoped that this emphasis will also help to bring down the overall timeframes for cases.

Should you be served with a pre-proceedings letter, also known as Public Law Outline letter and require legal advice, or are told that care proceedings are likely to be issued, please do not hesitate to contact one of our team today.

Social Services involved but no pre-proceedings letter?

If the Local Authority propose to carry out work with you subject to one of the below plans, you can also seek legal advice in regard to this process under the Legal Aid Agency’s Legal Help scheme.

  • - Child Protection Conference
  • - Child In Need
  • - Looked After Child
  • - Early Help
  • - Pre-Birth
  • - Section 47 Investigation
  • - Section 20 Agreement

In this instance, the Legal Help scheme is limited to applicants who meet financial criteria. If Social Services are involved with your family, it’s really important you seek legal advice so that you understand why you have been placed on the relevant plan and what the options are for you and your family.

If you are unsure as to whether your family needs a plan or if the plan doesn’t include services that your family needs, please do not hesitate to contact one of our team today.

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