This was an appeal by a grandmother against a refusal of her application under s24(2)(2) Adoption and Children Act 2002 (“the 2002 Act”) for leave to apply to revoke placement orders in respect of her grandchildren. The application for leave was made six weeks after the care and placement orders had been made.
The grandmother’s case was that she had expected to be assessed in the care proceedings. The LA case on that issue was that she had not put herself forward as a carer.
Appointment of a Guardian
The Judge, at case management stage, had directed that it was not necessary for the children to be party to the proceedings, nor for a Cafcass Guardian to be appointed until the application for leave had been determined. That decision was the subject of the first ground of appeal.
After undertaking a detailed and forensic analysis of the various statutory provisions in the 2002 Act, the Children Act 1989 (“1989 CA”), case law underpinning the application of s24 by the court and Parts 1, 4, 14, 16 and 18 of the FPR 2010 (as well as considering the 2005 rules), Baker LJ held that:
The court described the situation as leading to an “anomaly” which was an unintended consequence of the changes to the rules in 2010 and proposed referring the matter to the Family Procedure Rule Committee for review.
It is perhaps a surprising decision, which Baker LJ acknowledged “may cause some alarm amongst judges dealing with applications for leave to revoke”. He fell back on the family court’s extensive case management powers under Rule 4.1(3) FPR to find a mechanism to prevent resource exhaustion and stated:
“In my judgment, whilst a judge is obliged to join the child to an application for leave to revoke a placement order and to appoint a guardian, it is entirely permissible to direct that the guardian take no substantive step in connection with the application…”
whilst recognising that these were “powers that should be exercised with caution” and suggesting that they ought to be reserved for those cases where the application has no prospects of success.
It will further come as a surprise to the many judges and practitioners who had been working on the basis that leave applications in respect of applications to revoke a placement order had been governed by the Part 14 FPR scheme. This is perhaps not unreasonable as Part 14 is entitled “Procedure for Applications in Adoption, Placement and Related Proceedings”. Interestingly, were the leave application to be governed by Part 14, the court would have the discretion not to appoint a guardian if satisfied that it was not necessary to do so to safeguard the interests of the child – in substance, a discretion that Baker, LJ strove to protect by highlighting the case management powers the court can invoke.
That said, it is now clear that Part 18 FPR takes precedence and that many of us ought to have paid more attention to the wording of Paragraph 1.1 PD18A that “All applications for the court’s permission should be made under this Part” (save where specific provision is made in other parts of the FPR).