Judges and practitioners urged to stay vigilant over Public Law Outline

The Public Law Outline (PLO) is achieving its objective of cutting the length of care proceedings to six months, but its continued success is dependent on judges and lawyers ensuring that corners are not cut, the Head of the Family Team at 9 Gough Square has warned.

Senior barrister Tim Parker said that so far the main concerns expressed in advance of its introduction – such as having insufficient expert evidence and adherence to procedure trumping justice – have not materialised.

Under the new regime, cases involve fewer experts, with greater reliance upon the expertise of social workers and children’s guardians. This led lawyers’ groups to fear the courts would not have the right evidence before them.

Tim Parker, who is the general editor of 9 Gough Square’s recently published book, The PLO Explained, said: “The PLO has introduced a rigour that did not exist 18 months ago, and it has generally been a positive experience. 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.”

Tim Parker added that family judges have allayed concerns that the PLO would introduce the type of hard line on compliance seen in the civil courts with 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.”