Section 9: Care Proceedings: how do I defend myself and my child/ren?

If the local authority decides to take you to court under care proceedings, the court must complete its hearings within 26 weeks from the day that the application was issued. Cases often take longer than this, but time scales are supposed to be adhered to. 

You are entitled to a lawyer as soon as you find out you are being taken to court and you should contact one urgently. Try to find a solicitor who works for a specialist family law team or firm, rather than go to a high street firm where the solicitors are much less likely to specialise in family law.

Types of Court   

Magistrates Court – can deal with family matters and you usual sit in front of 3 magistrates. The Family Court – these are separate courts up and down the country, sometimes sitting in larger courts, made up of Judges and lay Justices and are covered by the Family Procedure Rules. High Court – a Judge in the Family Division of the High Courts has greater powers than the Family Courts. Court of Appeal – deals only in appeals. Supreme Court – the highest court in England and Wales and deals with appeals from the Court of Appeal.

Remember when appealing your case, you must go through the order of the above list ie if your case was heard by a magistrates’ court, you have to go to the High Court, not the court of appeal.

Can I talk to about my case outside Court?  

As you are aware and often told, what happens in Family Court is secret and you cannot talk about it outside of court, not even to your family and friends and you may not show them your paperwork. This can be considered ‘Contempt of Court’, for which there can be serious consequences.

However,  under Family Court Rules EX71 you are able to talk to support groups like ourselves for the purposes ‘to get confidential advice to help you present your case or to get support during proceedings – although the discussions between you and the person you ask for the advice and help must be private.’

This means you can share court documents, evidence given in court such as statements or responses to questioning, reports, the Judgement and any reasons or decisions the Judge made. The people or organisations you talk to can only use the information you share with them for the reason they received it.

The media can attend family proceedings in any court if correct applications are made. However, there are restrictions on what they can report, for example, they may not always be able to publish details of what happened in court and what was said in evidence, especially in cases involving children. So please be very careful talking to the media about your case, they might see a “good” story but you might be left with the consequences of their reporting and this could harm your case.

We also advise very strongly NOT to share the details of your case on social media. If you are identified by name or photos, even if you do not name your child, a Judge can view this as ‘Contempt of Court’, as by default the child can be identified using your name. Judges will punish parents who do this and as with talking to the media it could harm your case. Even if a friend or relative disclosed the information, you could still face the consequences in court as you are not supposed to talk to family or friends about what happens in court.

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