You should be represented by a barrister at the final hearing. Ask your solicitor to arrange a case conference with them BEFORE THE FINAL HEARING so you can go through the case with them and make sure they have all their facts right and are ready to represent you properly. You have the right to this under your legal aid certificate. You should for this conference to happen several days before court hearing so you have time to consider their advice and sort out any missing information or disagreements before the hearing. Lawyers are often reluctant to do this, but your children’s welfare and happiness are at stake so insist!
Before court starts your barrister will go and speak to the other barristers, and may strongly advise you to agree with some or all or the Children’s Services ‘care plan’. DO NOT AGREE UNLESS YOU REALLY DO!
At this hearing Children’s Services should produce their final Care Plan. This is your chance to make the strongest case possible about why your children should stay in your care. A final decision will be made regarding with whom the children will live. If they do not stay with you, the court will say what the contact arrangements are for you and your wider family.
The previous court order will have stated the date by which you should get copies of the final care plan, any expert reports (e.g. psychologist), contact centre notes (if relevant) and the Guardian’s report. This may only be a few days before the hearing and often local authorities and Guardians fail to meet these deadlines, leaving you with little or no time to respond before the hearing. If you have a lawyer, we suggest you email them on the deadline date and insist that they start chasing and ask the court to agree that your response can be filed late so that you have the same time to respond.
Make sure you go through all the documents very carefully. This is crucial because your solicitor has to help you to make your own very detailed witness statement, putting your position strongly and responding to anything in the other reports that you disagree with. Insist on an interpreter if you need one. Ask any counsellor or other professional you’ve been working with, and family or friends who are reliable and know you and the children well, to make a witness statement – they have to be ready to come to the final hearing and give evidence if they do this, if the judge agrees. Tell your solicitor who you want statements from so they can make sure they are done officially and can be added to your position statement as an exhibit – this might also include photos and recording with the permission of the Judge.