Going to the courts should always be a last resort, however, sometimes it can not be avoided. This page is mainly written from the point of view of former foster carers seeking a Contact Order, but much of the information may be helpful in other situations.
Although it can all seem quite overwhelming, the process is actually quite straight forward, even if you choose to proceed without a solicitor (which we will cover later). In our experience, the court will look fairly and fully at your case and will always strive to make a decision which is in the best interests of the child.
The confidentiality of the child is protected during and after the application to court. There are strict rules about who you can talk to and for what purpose. The Family Procedure Rules Part 12 cover the proceedings for the court in this kind of application. You don’t need to read all of this as it relates to many aspects of court, but you may find some of the information useful as you get more familiar with what is going on. With respect to confidentiality, near the bottom there is a section titled ‘VII COMMUNICATION OF INFORMATION: CHILDREN PROCEEDINGS’. This outlines who can be told what information. This is supplemented by Practice Direction 12g.
Solicitor or McKenzie Friend?
We would always advise you to use a solicitor if you can. At the very least, you should consult a solicitor (most offer a free consultation). Read the section ‘Can I Make An Application’ first, as there is some important information which can help you make the most of your consultation. There is also free legal advice available from Coram Children’s Legal Centre. Legal Aid is usually only available in cases involving parents etc. If you can afford to engage a solicitor, this is preferable, but if you can not afford their fees, you are still able to apply to the court yourself. In this case, you will be what is known as a Litigant In Person (LIP).
You may have noticed in the Practice Direction 12g that there is a reference to a ‘McKenzie Friend’. If you do not have a solicitor, the court will normally allow you to have a McKenzie Friend, who can help you with papers in court, take notes and quietly assist you by suggesting questions you may like to ask. They may not (except under exceptional circumstances) address the court. We recommend that you do further research into the role of a McKenzie Friend. There are a number of paid McKenzie Friends available online, but they mainly deal with cases such as divorce. If you want help from an unpaid McKenzie Friend, please contact us as we may be able to offer assistance, although we do not offer McKenzie Friends ourselves.
Can I Make An Application?
Contact Order applications can be made under two sections of the Children Act 1989. Where the child is under the care of the Local Authority (LA), the application should be made under Section 34(3) of the Children Act 1989. Solicitors (and even the courts) sometimes talk about making an order under Section 8, but the wording of Section 9(1) does seem to exclude its use in this case.
Don’t accept court directions as though they are a Contact Order – not binding.
Contact Order – sections 8 and 34, C2 and C100 etc
What to expect in court
Important arguments to make / what not to say (e.g. liar), statements, evidence (Making not Breaking), not character statements etc
What Judge can rule
What next – appeals, complaints etc