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Legal Gateway Meetings

RELATED CHAPTER

Protocol and Good Practice Model: Disclosure of Information in Cases of Alleged Child Abuse and Linked Criminal and Care Direction Hearings (October 2013)

RELATED GUIDANCE

Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on Court Orders and Pre-Proceedings (2014)

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in November 2016 to reflect the outcome of a judgment following an application to remove a child at birth. The judge set out what were thought to be ‘basic and good practice steps’. (See Section 2, Considerations.)


Contents

  1. Purpose of Legal Gateway Meetings
  2. Considerations
  3. Who can Convene Legal Gateway Meetings
  4. Attendance at Legal Gateway Meetings
  5. Timing and Duration of Legal Gateway Meetings
  6. Recording of Legal Gateway Meetings


1. Purpose of Legal Gateway Meetings

Legal Gateway Meetings are an essential part of the process for dealing with public law children's cases under the Public Law Outline

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division in ‘The Process of Reform: the revised PLO and the Local Authority’, states that a properly organised legal gateway meeting is invaluable and can be the key to achieving timely outcomes to Care Proceedings. He also recommends that local authority lawyers be involved, advising and assisting their social work clients, at an early stage.

A Legal Gateway Meeting should be held to discuss the way forward in a particular case, where an application for a legal order may be required. This can include:

  • Following an application for an Emergency Protection Order when consideration is being given to an application for an Interim Care Order;
  • When it is clear that the protection or welfare of a child cannot be achieved by agreement with the parents, or the security of a legal order is necessary to ensure the viability of a plan for a child, or the existing court order is not providing adequate protection for the child;
  • Where it is thought that a legal order may be required in order to assist in the permanence planning for children, whether that is a return to the family or to achieve permanence elsewhere.

Note: Where children are already Section 20 Accommodated there should be no delay in issuing proceedings where this is required (see Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure, Section 20 Accommodation).

At the meeting, a decision should be made in principle about whether the Threshold Criteria have been met. The local authority should then decide, based on a robust analysis of the level of assessed risk, whether:

  • It is in the best interests of the child to provide a further period of support for the family with the aim of avoiding proceedings; or
  • Whether proceedings should be initiated immediately.

The meeting should also identify any evidence gaps and clarify whether additional assessments will be required.


2. Considerations

A Legal Gateway Meeting is an opportunity to discuss a case fully, and to consult with colleagues to ensure that children are the subject of active case management and that appropriate legal action is taken when required to promote and safeguard the welfare of the child.

The role of the local authority legal adviser is to advise about the legal possibilities for achieving the desired aim and to give a view about the quality of the evidence available.

In order to enable a full discussion to take place, the following must be available:

  • Relevant assessment/s, including a risk assessment;
  • An up to date Chronology;
  • A Plan or a clear indication that options for a plan have been considered;
  • A Genogram.

The issues to be considered at the meeting will include the following:

  • The reasons for the concerns and the evidential basis for establishing Significant Harm and the Threshold Criteria;
  • Whether a Letter Before Proceedings meeting should be convened to clarify the concerns and required action to the family;
  • Whether Care Proceedings are necessary and if so  what is their aim, objective and purpose;
  • The steps already taken to clarify the issues of concern - i.e. Assessment, as well as other medical and other expert involvement;
  • When the assessment and other supporting documentation will be available? Note that with pre-birth situations a recent High Court judgment has set out good practice steps to include:
    • A risk assessment of the parent(s) should be undertaken immediately the social workers are made aware of the mother’s pregnancy and should be completed 4 weeks before the mother’s expected delivery date and disclosed to the parent(s) (and their solicitor where relevant);
    • All relevant documentation should be then sent to the Local Authority Legal Adviser to issue proceedings.

(See Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline, Pre-Birth Planning and Proceedings.)

  • The action/decisions already taken and where the decisions were made e.g. Strategy Discussion/Meeting, Child Protection Conference, Core Group meeting;
  • Whether it may be appropriate to instruct any further expert assessment before the commencement of court proceedings and if so, what are the proposed remit of the instructions and the areas to be addressed, who should the assessment be done by and what are the likely timescales;
  • Whether there are any potential issues regarding parents capacity to instruct a solicitor;
  • Whether there have been previous Court proceedings in relation to the family. If so, what steps are required to obtain the papers in relation to the case from the Court or another local authority;
  • If a legal framework is not seen as necessary how the care plan for the child will continue to be monitored.

If Care Proceedings are recommended, the Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure should be followed.


3. Who can Convene Legal Gateway Meetings

The decision to convene a Legal Gateway Meeting will be made by the social worker's line manager. The decision will usually be taken following a recommendation from a Child Protection Conference, as a result of a Looked After Review, or on the request of a social worker, manager, local authority lawyer, or other agency.


4. Attendance at Legal Gateway Meetings

The meeting will be chaired by the Service Manager, and will usually involve the following:  the child's social worker; the team manager, a local authority legal adviser;  and any other professional  from other agencies or services  that have relevant  involvement with the family and whose view would assist in making decisions about the child's legal status, who has first-hand evidence and may be a potential witness, and/or who may be involved in the provision of services integral to the order being sought.


5. Timing and Duration of Legal Gateway Meetings

The timing of a Legal Gateway Meeting is likely to be determined by the urgency of court proceedings and the need to allow sufficient time for necessary preparation.


6. Recording of Legal Gateway Meetings

Notes of Legal Gateway Meetings should be added to the child’s record. These are legally privileged and should not be made available to parents or other parties in any potential proceedings without the permission of the chairperson or Director.

End