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Practitioners urged to remain vigilant over Public Law Outline

The success of the system is in the hands of those within it, warns family lawyer

2 February 2015

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A senior barrister has warned judges and lawyers not to cut corners if the Public Law Outline (PLO) is to achieve its objective of cutting the length of care proceedings to six months.

Tim Parker, head of the family team at 9 Gough Square, said concerns expressed in advance of the PLO's introduction, such as having insufficient expert evidence and adherence to procedure trumping justice, have not yet materialised but remain dormant.

Under the PLO regime, cases involve fewer experts and place a greater reliance on the expertise of social workers and children's guardians. This led to fears from lawyers' groups that the courts would not have the right evidence before them.

"The PLO has introduced a rigour that did not exist 18 months ago, and it has generally been a positive experience," said Parker. "There is more emphasis on active case management, but the Family Court and specialist lawyers have met the challenge of providing the right evidence in a manageable timescale."

"There is pressure on the lawyers involved to keep a close eye on the quality of the evidence too. Parents are relying on the courts and practitioners to get this right. In essence, the success of the system is in the hands of those within it," he continued.

Parker added that family judges have allayed concerns the PLO would introduce the type of hard line on compliance seen in the civil courts following the Mitchell ruling. In February 2014 Mrs Justice Pauffley urged that "justice must never be sacrificed upon the altar of speed", a view later endorsed by Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division.

"Ultimately judges will require the parties to adhere to the new rules and timetable, but they are prepared to work with complicating issues as and when they occur," concluded Parker.

John van der Luit-Drummond is legal reporter for Solicitors Journal

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