Legal Planning Meetings are an essential part of the process for dealing with public law children's cases under the public law outline.
Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division in ‘The Process of Reform: the revised PLO and the Local Authority’, states that a properly organised legal planning meeting is invaluable and can be the key to achieving timely outcomes to care proceedings. He also recommends that local authority lawyers be involved, advising and assisting their social work clients, at an early stage.
A Legal Planning Meeting should be held to discuss the way forward in a particular case, where an application for a legal order may be required. This can include:
At the meeting, a decision should be made in principle about whether the threshold criteria have been met. The local authority should then decide, based on a robust analysis of the level of assessed risk, whether:
The meeting should also identify any evidence gaps, clarify whether additional assessments will be required, and consider what would be a suitable draft care plan for the child.
Note: where children are already section 20 Accommodated there should be no delay in issuing proceedings where this is required, (see Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure, Section 20 Accommodation).
A Legal Planning Meeting is an opportunity to discuss a case fully, and to consult with colleagues to ensure that children are the subject of active case management and that appropriate legal action is taken when required to promote and safeguard the welfare of the child.The role of the local authority legal adviser is to advise about the legal possibilities for achieving the desired aim and to give a view about the quality of the evidence available.
In order to enable a full discussion to take place, the following must be available:
The issues to be considered at the meeting will include the following:
If Care Proceedings are recommended, the Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure should be followed.
Any potential issues/documentation regarding parental capacity to litigate should be flagged up at the meeting.
The decision to convene a Legal Planning Meeting will be made by the social worker's line manager - the decision will usually be taken following a recommendation from a Child Protection Conference, as a result of a Looked After Review, a Permanence Planning Meeting, or on the request of a social worker, manager, local authority lawyer, or other agency.
The meeting will be chaired by the social worker's line manager, and will usually involve the following: the child's social worker; a local authority legal adviser; and any other professional from other agencies or services that have relevant involvement with the family and whose view would assist in making decisions about the child's legal status, who has first-hand evidence and may be a potential witness, and/or who may be involved in the provision of services integral to the order being sought.Where the child has been in foster care, the views of the foster carer should be sought by the child’s social worker, and taken into consideration in the legal planning meeting. This may include information on the child’s progress in their placement and on the impact of contact with their family.
The timing of a Legal Planning Meeting is likely to be determined by the urgency of court proceedings and the need to allow sufficient time for necessary preparation.
Notes of Legal Planning Meetings should be circulated to all attendees. These are legally privileged and should not be made available to parents or other parties in any potential proceedings without the permission of the chairperson or Director.
The meeting should consider whether further Legal Planning Meetings are necessary and if so, when. It may be that new information emerges which requires a change of plan for the child. In this event, the Legal Planning Meeting must be reconvened in order to consider the implications for the legal plan.