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How the Family Public Law digital service helped local authorities and children during the pandemic

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: COVID-19, Family

The Family Public Law service lets users submit an online application for a court order to make arrangements for a child or resolve a dispute about their upbringing.

All designated family court sites now use the service. As we progress with mandating the service, I've been reflecting on how the service has helped local authorities.

Close up photo of child walking and holding an adult's hand (faces not seen)

Safeguarding children throughout the COVID-19 pandemic

The Family Public Law digital service enables legal representatives to view a case online. All legal representatives have access to the application and can help it progress. For example, a judge or legal advisor can make an initial assessment of a case, a local authority can upload the court bundle for representatives to view and solicitors can add the parents’ statement to the file.

The online service is flexible and can be accessed from any device or location. This was pivotal when ensuring that safeguarding vulnerable children continued during the pandemic. As Lisa Thomas from Swansea City Council explains:

“With the advent of COVID the service has allowed a much smoother transition for us than would otherwise have been the case. All files with us are paperless and the ability to issue and manage a case online has allowed the work from home arrangements to be seamless.

“Uploading of CMOs and case management docs, orders are approved very quickly, which is very useful in terms of service on others. Orders being available electronically in the current climate has also meant that trips to the office have been avoided. The court using the court portal for bundles has saved both time and money, and has allowed bundles to be updated easily.”

National rollout and mandating the service

The service is now used by all 44 designated family judge court sites across England and Wales. 141 local authorities are also using the service and saving valuable time. Judges and legal professionals are viewing bundles at hearings and collaborating on draft orders that are being approved faster and providing more time to for parties to comply with directions.

In recent months we’ve been working closely with the senior judiciary, Ministry of Justice policy teams and our stakeholder groups to agree a phased approach for making the service mandatory for local authorities.  Local authorities and legal professionals under the jurisdiction of Bristol, Newcastle, Taunton, Kent, Cardiff and Kingston-Upon-Hull family courts are now using the online service for all their applications. By the end of 2021 the online service will be the default method for submitting all applications and managing public law cases.

Listening to feedback

We’ve listened closely to feedback from local authorities on increasing flexibility and reflecting different ways public services are delivered. As a result, local authority legal teams can now add and manage legal representatives on digital cases. This means they can access case documents, upload evidence and view case information at any time.

Local authorities can also add respondents’ legal representatives at the point of issuing an application. Representatives are notified as soon as they've been added to a case, allowing them to react quickly to urgent cases.

Respondents' representatives can also add themselves to a case, reducing workloads for local authority teams and simplifying the way applications are managed. Respondents' representatives registered with our online system, MyHMCTS, can complete a Notice of Acting/Change on MyHMCTS. We'll inform them if the request to a local authority was successful. Once approved, they will be able to act on cases in the normal way.

What’s next for the family public law service?

Following feedback from users, we’re making it easier to complete discharge of care and supervision applications and introducing the ability to request an accelerated discharge of care or supervision order to ensure local authorities can act as quickly as possible to achieve the best outcome for families..

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