In our other articles, we have discussed specific issue applications, what they are and when you can apply to the court for one, such as deciding a child’s school or regarding their medication needs. We have also discussed how long the order might last. Here, we delve into the final specific issue order hearing and set out the things you should expect on the day.
How does the court decide what should happen?
If the issues cannot be sorted out at the first hearing dispute resolution appointment (FHDRA), the court will timetable the case for a final hearing. In the time between the first appointment and final hearing, the court may order a CAFCASS (Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service) officer to prepare a report. Such a report may be limited to the specific issue in question rather than investigate non-relevant matters, as this can reduce the time taken to produce the report. Both parties will also be given the opportunity to set out their position in a witness statement, filed with the court and served on the other party.
As with any case involving a child, the court’s first concern is its welfare. The Children Act 1989 sets out a full list of matters that the judge, who is tasked with deciding the case, uses to help them reach their decision. Find out more on the factors that are taken into consideration by CAFCASS that the judge takes into account. The court must also be satisfied that making an order is better for the child than making no order at all.
Can I expect to attend any other hearings between the FHDRA and the final hearing?
Prior to the final hearing, the court may list the case for a Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA). At this hearing, the court will:
- Identify the key issues to be determined at the final hearing, and whether these can be narrowed or resolved at the DRA
- Consider whether the DRA can be used as a final hearing
- Narrow/resolve the issues by hearing evidence from the parties
- Identify the evidence to be heard on the unresolved issues prior to final hearing
- Give case management directions, including: filing of evidence, statements of fact, witness templates, skeleton arguments, ensure compliance with the relevant Practice Directions regarding bundles (27A), and list the final hearing
What happens at the final hearing?
At the final hearing, the judge will consider all the evidence that has been filed, including witness statements, CAFCASS reports, and any other information that has been provided by third party agencies, such as the local authority or police. They will also hear evidence from the parties themselves, and the CAFCASS officer on the contents of their report. Both parties legal representatives will be given the opportunity to cross-examine (question) the evidence of the other and that of any other party giving evidence. The judge may also ask questions if they wish to clarify a particular point. Additionally, if there has been a fact finding hearing, the judge will take into account any findings made in the course of those proceedings, too.
By using all of this information and the welfare checklist, the judge will come to a decision that is in the best interests of the child.
Can I get a hearing adjourned?
Applications to have a hearing adjourned can be made by either party, but these must be submitted formally to the court for the judge to consider, where a decision to adjourn is made solely at their discretion.
The court is encouraged to deal with cases efficiently because delays will have a detrimental effect on all parties, including the child involved. Factors the judge will consider when deciding to adjourn the hearing include:
- The reasons given for postponing the hearing
- The stage of the proceedings
- The impact the adjournment will have on the other parties involved, including witnesses
- How far in the future is the next available hearing date
If the other party has not given their consent to the adjournment, the court will obtain their views to ensure that no one is disadvantaged by the decision.
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