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Urgent care proceedings still going ahead in spite of coronavirus
- AuthorRobyn Finnegan
For those parents who are facing Court proceedings over their children, the coronavirus pandemic will be bringing additional stresses to an already emotional situation. If you are currently in the midst of proceedings or the Local Authority have contacted you to notify you that they will be starting proceedings to remove your children, you may be wondering whether lockdown will have an impact on those. Robyn Finnegan, Solicitor in our Family Law team, explains here how the Courts are still acting for urgent care proceedings and how we are available to offer you compassionate support to get the best result for you and your family.
Even in the current pandemic, Local Authorities are still required to intervene if they believe that a child is at risk of being harmed. They may decide that where there is a risk, to make an application to the Court for a Care Order or Supervision Order. If granted, this would allow them to place the child in a safe place outside of the family home. In certain situations the Local Authority may advise holding a pre-proceedings meeting, otherwise known as a PLO meeting. During this meeting, the parents and anyone else with parental responsibility will be called upon to discuss how everyone can work together to improve the care of the child and prevent the need for Court action. As the parent, you would be entitled to have a Solicitor present, which is available through Legal Aid.
Robyn explains, “PLO meetings are still going ahead, normally through telephone or video conferencing. If anything, the number of these types of meetings and orders has only increased due to the lockdown. The changes required to our lives will naturally impact our behaviour and that of our children. We are all facing new pressures and having to adjust to a new way of living together, which will no doubt add to any existing tensions in a family unit.”
Court proceedings during lockdown
At the outset of this pandemic, it was made very clear by the Government that the justice system had to continue, and so cases particularly of this nature are ongoing. There are changes to how things are run operationally in order to adhere as much as possible to the social distancing regulations, for example, there are more telephone and video conference hearings currently, and there may also be a slight delay due to the number of proceedings, with the Courts prioritising the most urgent cases where a child is at risk.
In the unfortunate situation that your child is removed from your care and placed under the parental responsibility of the Local Authority, they will make the decisions about contact with your child, and how that can proceed under lockdown. The Local Authority will be obligated to allow your child “reasonable” contact with you as their parent, taking into account the wishes of everyone concerned, primarily your children’s wishes, and, of course, the safety of the child. Any arrangements will be detailed in your child’s care plan, which will be under regular review.
Can the Local Authority use coronavirus to deny me contact with my child?
The only reason the Local Authority could deny you contact with your child is if they believe their safety and welfare would be at risk. They should not use the Government restrictions, lockdown or the pandemic as a reason. If they do refuse contact, they can only do this for up to seven days, explaining in writing why they have reached that decision. If they wish to extend this to longer than seven days, then they will require a Court Order. If you do not believe they are justified in their decision, you in turn can apply for a Court Order to request to see your children.
Robyn concludes, “Legal aid is available to all parents if the Local Authority is threatening to issue proceedings or have already issued them, no matter your financial situation. It is essential that you seek specialist legal advice at the earliest stage as proceedings of this nature can be very fast paced, especially at the outset. Holding proceedings such as this over the telephone or video conferencing will be incredibly difficult as it will be a highly emotional time for all concerned, but we are on hand and available to assist you.”
To discuss your current family situation with Robyn or a member of the Family Law team, you can call us today on 023 8071 7431 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice. All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.