Recent years have seen delays in care proceedings reaching their conclusion, the relaunch of the Public Law Outline (PLO) meetings is aimed to bring this timeframe back down.
What is a PLO meeting?
PLO stands for Public Law Outline Meeting (also referred to as the pre proceedings stage). These meetings are a platform where the local authority let parents know what is expected of them to elevate their concerns and to prevent the issuing of court proceedings.
How is it being relaunched?
Over the years court proceedings generally have been delayed with the cuts in legal aid forcing more people to represent themselves in private law proceedings which has slowed down the process for all court users, and with covid-19 causing severe strain and pressure on the court system in its entirety.
In January 2023, the President of the Family Division announced the relaunch of the current PLO process with an aim of reducing the number of court hearings in proceedings to two or three so that matters can be concluded within 26 weeks, which is the statutory time limit for care proceedings. Statistics have shown that in 2021, care proceedings completed in an average of 45 weeks instead, which shows that it is taking significantly longer for public law proceedings to reach a conclusion – this in turn means that it is taking longer for permanence to be achieved for children, whether that is with parents, with other family members, or outside of the family unit. In broad terms, the Children Act sets out that delay is prejudicial to the interests of the child, so this is a concern.
The renewed process highlights that the PLO pre proceedings stage is essential and is encouraging assessments at a PLO stage that are not to be repeated during court proceedings unless necessary. The local authority must provide parents with a thorough assessment and parents must engage thoroughly which must be encouraged by legal professionals advising them.
The view is that if parents are given a thorough assessment before entering the court arena this could firstly, limit the number of applications issuing care proceedings if the parents are given a full opportunity to engage with the local authority.
Secondly, if the matter is still required to go to court, the aim is that most of the robust assessment work would have been done at an earlier stage so the proceedings can conclude quicker and lead to decisions regarding children being made without delay.
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