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What is an Emergency Protection Order (EPO)?

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Occasionally, a situation may arise in which it is necessary for a child to be urgently removed from their current living situation if they are in imminent risk of harm, be that physical, emotional or psychological harm.  In this event, an Emergency Prevention Order (EPO) could be applied for, which is one of several Court orders that can be ordered if your child’s welfare is under review.  Robyn Finnegan, Solicitor in our Family Law department, explains more here about what this order is, who can apply and how we can assist if an EPO is put in place.

Who can apply for an Emergency Protection Order?

Anyone is able to apply for an EPO if they believe that a child is at imminent risk.  This could be another family member, however it usually the Local Authority who applies, or the police or NSPCC. 

In making its decision as to whether to approve the order application, the Court will consider whether:

  • the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm unless they are taken away from where they are now, if they are living in the unsafe environment,
  • the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm unless they stay where they are now, for example if they are in hospital or staying with foster carers.
  • an EPO would be in the child’s best interest,
  • an EPO would be an appropriate way for the Local Authority or other applicant to confirm whether harm is imminent, particularly if access to the child is being denied.

For the purposes of the EPO, harm refers to any ill-treatment of the child or any refusal to allow the child access to facilities that will improve their health and development.  This could be a one off event, or it could be a number of events which impact the child in a significant manner.

What happens under an Emergency Protection Order?

Once an EPO is in place, this gives permission for the applicant to remove the child from their parents, giving the applicant limited parental responsibility while it is in place.  It is important to note that this does not remove the parental responsibility from the parent; it simply places limited responsibility on the applicant for the period of the order.

The Local Authority will attend your property or the location where your child is and remove them, possibly with the police if they believe there will be resistance from you, which is a criminal offence to obstruct the Court order.  This may seem daunting when presented with this situation, however they will only be acting in the best interests of your child, and will wish to work with you to return them to you at the earliest possible time. 

In addition to the removal of the child, the EPO could also include instructions regarding:

  • medical examinations,
  • the reasonable contact between the child and particular persons that will be permitted, such as parents or others with parental responsibility,
  • any exclusions that should apply.

How long does an Emergency Protection Order last for?

There usually needs to be one day’s notice given to the parents that there is an EPO being applied for, however in the most serious of cases where the child’s life is at risk or it is believed that one parent will remove the child without consent, for example, this is not a requirement.  If this is the case, you still have the right to be given a copy of the application and the subsequent order within 48 hours.  If you are given notice that the EPO is to be served, you have the right to attend the hearing and ask questions of the applicant, however you should always seek legal advice before attending such a hearing, which generally can be provided through Legal Aid. 

In most cases, an EPO will be in place for a maximum period of eight days to remove the child from the risk they are facing.  The Local Authority will review the situation every day from the implementation of the order and will return the child as soon as they see feel it is safe to do so.   After the eight days, if the Local Authority believe there is still an unsafe environment, an extension of seven days can be applied for. 

If you do not agree with the EPO, you can apply to discharge the order, however this is a complicated process and you would need to demonstrate that the reasons the applicant has for applying for the order do not exist or have been improved to an appropriate standard.

“We know that if an EPO has been raised against you, you will have a number of questions and will have little time to understand your rights and how to proceed,” concludes Robyn.  “This is why it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible so you can learn the next steps, what you are entitled to do, whether you should attend the hearing with legal representation and how you can work with the Local Authorities to have your child returned to your care.  In most situations, Legal Aid is available for you and legal support can make all the difference.  We can take you through each part of the journey, offering you our advice and guidance to secure the best outcome for your child.”

To discuss your situation with Robyn or a member of the team, you can contact us today on 023 8071 7431 or email familyenquiries@warnergoodman.co.uk.

ENDS

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.