Preparing Statements and Reports for Court
GUIDANCE NOTES FOR PREPARING STATEMENTS AND REPORTS FOR COURT IN FAMILY PROCEEDINGS
PART 1: INTRODUCTION
This guidance aims to assist staff working within Health and Social Services who may have to prepare a statement or report for use in family proceedings in court.
The guidance is to be read along with the template statements.
Most statements will be prepared to support an application being made by the Department (e.g. for a Community Parenting Order) but it is possible that you will also be asked to prepare a statement for use in private law proceedings when the Department has important information relevant to issues in the case.
All Statements should be drafted only after discussion with a lawyer from St James, dealing with the case and will be checked by him/her (for LEGAL content only) prior to filing with the Court.
Statements should normally be prepared in draft, ideally five working days before it is required to be filed at Court. Once drafted, they should be approved by the social worker's supervisor, before sending to legal. Once the final version has been agreed, the original Statement should be signed and sent to the lawyer to file and serve.
Part 2: GOOD PRACTICE & CHECKLIST
Why strive for high standards in reporting to court or tribunal?
- To promote the best interests of the child.
- To provide accurate, accessible and relevant information,
- To provide a sound foundation for the action being requested from the court,
- Because well structured and clearly presented written material saves time, improves the Department's case and is the best preparation for giving oral evidence,
- Because all written material (with very limited exceptions) is automatically disclosed to all parties
- Because it can help with your confidence about a case and appearing in court,
- Because poor reports (or misleading reports) can result in:
- not achieving the best outcome for the child,
- losing the trust and confidence of the family,
- issues of professional conduct,
The layout of a statement is important because its content will only be noticed if it is accessible.
- Insufficiently focused
- Failing to distinguish between fact and opinion
- Reproducing large parts of case records with little editing or structure
- Failing to discuss the best interests of the child
- Insufficient (or no) analysis,
- Use of jargon and acronyms without explanation (CAMHS / ASW / MAPPA),
- Basic factual errors (e.g. getting names and dates of birth wrong),
- Unnecessarily identifying third parties,
- Complex sentences can obscure the meaning and bore the reader,
- Large blocks of dense text are unattractive and discourage the reader.
Why write a statement you would not want to read yourself?
Time in planning a statement will be rewarded and preparation is key. Before you start:
v Read the relevant records - question and verify information
v Identify key issues
- What has happened?
- Why is an order needed and what is its purpose?
- Why now?
- Is an expert assessment needed?
Before you start writing you will need to know:
- The parties
- The name of the court where the case is the case being heard
- The deadline for filing the statement
- Whether the court has said what the statement is to cover
- When the legal advisor wants the draft statement by (usually at least three working days prior to it being filed)
- Whether you are responding to other evidence already filed
- Whether you are supplementing other evidence e.g. a previous statement
- The outcome the Department is seeking at the hearing/in the case (or the issues before the court in private law matters)
- Whether a care plan/s is also required to be filed
- What the broad outline structure of the statement looks like
- The issues or questions you need to address
You will also need access to:
- The file
- Other relevant documentary evidence not on the file
- The chronology
- Previous court documents, if there are any
- Legal advice about the relevant law
When it is written, ensure that your statement has:
- The court name
- The case name and number
- The author's name and 'statement of truth'
- Page numbers
- Paragraph numbers
- Headings and sub headings
- An introduction (Beginning)
- Sources of information clearly set out
- A main body (middle)
- A conclusion (end)
- Opinions, if appropriate
- Reasoning for those opinions
- One and a half or double spaced lines
- Wide margins
- Single-sided printing
- Been drafted in the first person
- No jargon
- Short, clear sentences
- Short paragraphs
- Been proof read
- No errors
- Signature and a date
- Appendices where helpful
The content of the Statement should:
- include relevant and balanced information based on the case records;
- clearly distinguish between any facts and opinions;
- not include legal advice;
- not include "jargon";
- avoid using emotive, inflammatory language;
- identify the source of information or state if the information is from an anonymous source;
- give adults' names in full, e.g. Mrs. Janet Smith, not just first names;
- when referring to publications, give the full references;
- not repeat information from other statements/reports filed in the proceedings, but refer to the date of the report/statement and page number/paragraph number;
- use appropriate tenses and complete sentences without abbreviations;
- be signed and dated on the last page, on which page there always needs to be some text;
- not use abbreviations/acronyms.
The Welfare Checklist
The Welfare Checklist S4 The Children (Guernsey and Alderney) Law 2008 should usually be considered in all statements prepared by social workers (unless just providing a factual report in private law proceedings). If it has been covered in detail in an earlier statement, you can simply refer back and update as necessary.
A chronology can be a useful document to include in a statement:
- Provides a diary of key events,
- Is an invaluable document and is often the first read,
- Attach a chronology to the first statement / with referral and update as required,
- A chronology prepared for court should provide a skeleton of the events which led up to the proceedings and be directed to the issue the court is being asked to determine.
A court chronology should be:
Clearly identify key facts which can be agreed by all parties,
Unbiased and factual,
Contain no opinion or judgment,
Cross reference other evidence or the documents on the social work file.
Events to be included in the chronology may include:
- family history including marriages, births, deaths and changes in the make-up of the household
- the child's changes of address and school
- dates of case conferences and child protection registration
- key planning meetings
- relevant medical examinations
- incidents giving rise to concern
- child protection investigations
- history of children being accommodated voluntarily
- history of court applications, hearings and orders
Research & Analysis
Should you cite research in your statement?
The exception rather than the rule,
It can be susceptible to challenge,
Exercise caution and be aware of research that came to a different conclusion and cite it,
If you do cite research:
identify author of research and publication
apply it to the particular case
. Analysis & Conclusions
This is the most important part of any statement. Make the conclusion FLOW from the rest of your statement (not look as though it is an afterthought!):
- Make it clear how you reached your conclusions
- Demonstrate the factual basis for each part of your conclusion
- In assessing risk explain what would need to change for the child not to suffer serious harm at home
- Set out the options to the court and assess each in turn
- Take account of and record parties' views including a child's wishes and feelings,
- Develop your recommendation as a result of consultation (including with Safeguarder),
- Facilitate conciliation:
- Not all significant harm is caused by malicious intent,
- Remember that you or a colleague will probably have to continue working with the family,
- Try to frame your proposals in a way which takes a compassionate view of the parents
Consider whether your recommendation:
- Is realistic and clearly explained
- Is well-founded in the body of your statement
- Takes account of the welfare checklist
- Explains why an order is necessary
Reviewing your statement
It is important to review your statement once drafted. One should consider if it is :
- Well focused, balanced and fair,
- Includes all relevant facts,
- Verifies significant facts and justifies opinion,
- Avoids unnecessary repetition,
- Presents information with sensitivity,
- Takes account of changes that have occurred.
Ensure it is reviewed by manager (and peer reviewed where possible) before sending to the lawyer.
- If any documents/reports/photographs are to be appended to the Statement, then the following wording should be used:
"I append to this Statement, (my report/the medical report/photographs etc) marked "Appendix 1.1" onwards.
- The item appended should have the initials and number clearly written/typed in the top right hand corner of the document.
- Hard copies of the item appended should be used and faxed copies avoided as far as possible.
- Appendix sheet to be attached.
When attaching documents of a third party, it is necessary to seek their consent to use the document first unless it was specifically prepared for use in the court proceedings.
- If necessary, minor amendments to the Statements can be made by the author, but must be initialed at the time the amendment is made.
- Deletions should be made in ink, then the amendment inserted above.
- If major amendments are being made, usually it will be more appropriate to type a fresh copy of the amended statement and then sign it.
PART 3: LAYOUT & FORMAT
- General guidance on format
- All Statements should be in 1.5 line spacing on single-sided paper.
- Statements should be in accordance with house style ("Arial" type, point 12).
- Please set all indentations by tabs on the ruler and not by using the space bar.
- Following the opening paragraph, all subsequent paragraphs should be numbered.
- Please avoid use automatic paragraph and page numbering or protected areas, as these cause problems when amending the statements.
- Please do not use returns at the end of a line.
- Do not use capitals/bold for names.
The Statement must:
- be dated,
- be signed by the person making the statement and contain a declaration that the maker of the Statement believes it to be true and understands that it may be placed before the Court.
"The contents of this Statement are true to the best of my knowledge and belief and I make the same, knowing that it is intended that the Statement is placed before a Court"
2. Each Statement, regardless of the type or stage of the proceedings, should commence with the following key information on the front page (see templates for examples of layout):-
Name of Child:
Name of Court Order/Application:
Date of Court Hearing:
Type of Hearing:
Author of the report:
This report is strictly confidential and is restricted to Members and Officers of the Court and Parties to the case before the Court and their Advocates and such other persons as the Court may authorise
3. The type and amount of detail included in each Statement will depend on the nature and stage of the proceedings for which it is prepared.
4. The Statement should be signed and dated on the last page. The opening paragraph of any Statement should include details about the person making it (or should refer to a previous statement where that information was given previously). These details are:
- identity of the author of the statement;
- position held;
- relevant qualifications;
- how long involved with the family concerned.
PART 4: GUIDANCE FOR STATEMENTS FOR SPECIFIC APPLICATIONS
Set out below is guidance as to the information required in Statements prepared for the most common types of proceedings, together with suggested headings.
A: APPLICATIONS FOR EMERGENCY CHILD PROTECTION ORDERS (ECPO's)
1. Ex-parte applications
Where an ECPO is applied for on an ex-parte (i.e., without notice), or on abridged notice basis, there will not usually be sufficient time to prepare a detailed written Statement. You still need to provide reasonable and proportionate evidence to support the application and wherever possible a concise statement should be prepared although the Social Worker may need to give evidence on an oral basis. Use should be made of any relevant reports, e.g., medical reports and chronologies, available. It should be noted that such reports used will need to be disclosed to the parties to the proceedings, unless leave not to do so is obtained from the Court.
2. Applications on notice for ECPO's
Where the application is on notice, there should be time to prepare a Statement (albeit a brief one) for filing with the Court. Again, consideration should be given to the use of any existing relevant reports. The statement should focus in particular on the following
a) Significant Harm:Information regarding the perceived risk of significant harm and nature of the emergency and why an emergency order is necessary, i.e., why the child "is suffering or at imminent risk of suffering serious harm."
b) Need for an Order:Information as to why an order is better for the child than no order, e.g., details of attempts to work on a voluntary basis.
or details of why a voluntary agreement with the parents would not afford sufficient protection for the child.
c) Directions/Powers;Details of any directions/other orders sought e.g., contact orders/plans to interview/medically examine a child and why. Whether a warrant is required to enter property.
d) Care Plan: Details of the Interim Plan for the child for the period of the ECPO, (8 days maximum).
B: APPLICATIONS FOR COMMUNITY PARENTING ORDERS (CPO's)
Initial Social Work Statement
1. The Statement needs to be ready before the application is lodged.
2. This initial Statement needs to set out the following:
- The background circumstances, relevant to the grounds and reasons for making the application, including a brief description of any referral and assessment processes that have already occurred.
- Any facts and matters that are within the social worker's personal knowledge.
- Any emergency steps and previous court orders that are relevant to the application.
- Any decision made by HSSD, which are relevant to the application.
- Information relevant to the ethnicity, language, religion, culture, gender and vulnerability of the child and other significant persons in the form of a "family profile", together with a narrative description and details of the social care services that are relevant to the same.
- Why a CPO is sought in respect of the child, i.e., why is plan for long-term placement/permanency.
- The HSSD proposals for the further assessment of the parties during the proceedings, including twin track planning.
- The social work timetable, tasks and responsibilities, so far as they are known.
- Any expert assessments to be undertaken.
3. This statement should address the criteria for making the order:
- In order to make Community Parenting Orders, the court must approve the child's plan (S.49(1) (a) of The Children (Guernsey and Alderney) Law 2008) ("The Children Law") andbe satisfied that the circumstances described in S.49(2) (a) or (b) apply.
- S.49(2) (a) requires that at least one condition of the S.35(2) criteria are satisfied and there is no reasonable prospect of the child's parents or any other member of the child's family being able and willing to provide adequate care, protection, guidance and control for the child.
- Pursuant to S49(2) (b), all those with parental responsibility consent to the making of a Community Parenting Order, (or they cannot be located to give consent).
S.49(2) (a) (i) - The S.35 Conditions
S35(2) (a) the child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant impairment to his health or development
S49(2) (a) (ii) there is no reasonable prospect of the child's parents, or any other member of the child's family being able and willing to provide the child with adequate care, protection, guidance and control and one of the 535 (2) conditions is made out (list?).
5. It should not rehearse the factual information contained in the Chronology and any Core Assessment, if completed.
6. It should contain:
- social work analysis of the key issues affecting the children, including consideration of the welfare checklist; (see below)
- their identified needs;
- the need for further assessment as appropriate;
- the Department's plans for the child(ren).
1. The Template Statement for use in public law proceedings sets out suggested headings/layout.
Prior to the final hearing and after any assessments have been completed the Social Worker will need to submit a Final Statement and Care Plan to the Court, addressing the conclusions of those assessments and making a final recommendation to the Court.
The Statement and Care Plan should be sent to the relevant Lawyer a minimum of 5 workings days before the date for filing, unless agreed otherwise with the Lawyer. The final evidence should be compiled, ideally, following a planning meeting involving relevant professionals, when the final recommendations and plans can be discussed.
Witness Statements from Others
Statements are likely to be required from persons other than the Social Worker during the course of the proceedings. These may deal with the involvement of other people with the family previously or as part of assessments. Legal advice as to the contents of such Statements needs to be sought, but in general, these should include details of the following:
- How long the person has been involved with the family and why or when instructed to complete assessment and by whom.
- What agreement reached with family assessed regarding work to be undertaken.
- Amount of contract/number of sessions with the family.
- Issues addressed.
- Information gathered.
The lawyer handling the case will normally be responsible for obtaining and finalising Statements from other individuals.
PART IV: CARE PLANS
1. Community Parenting Orders
In applications for Community Parenting Orders HSSD must file a document setting out full details of the Care Plan proposed for each child. The Court cannot make a Community Parenting Order without first approving such a plan. Depending upon the circumstances of the case, it may be necessary to file an interim Care Plan at the commencement of the proceedings with a Final Care plan being filed in advance of the final hearing (e.g. where permanency planning has not yet been concluded. In such cases the c are plans must set out the short term plans and the stages of permanency planning being undertaken with timescales for each step)
2. Applications involving siblings
Separate plans should be drawn up for individual children, where more than one child is the subject of the application.
3. Approved by Senior Managers
The Care Plan must be approved by the relevant Social Services manager(s), prior to being presented to the lawyer and will need to be countersigned by that manager.
4. Structure and Contents of the Care Plan
There is no specific guidance ion the Children Law on the specific content of care plans. However, it is helpful to have regard to the guidance used in England - Department of Health Guidance on Care Plans LAC (99)29. That sets out helpful headings that can be used as starting point for drafting a care plan. That guidance is used in the Template Care Plan but may need to be adapted for the particular circumstances of each case.
3. Reasons and time-scales
Care Plans need to be understood by a range of professionals, the child and the child's family. The following should be reflected in the wording of the Care Plan:
- Confusion and mistrust can inadvertently be generated where Care Plans explain what is proposed, but give insufficient detail as to why a particular placement or course of action has been chosen.
- Attention to this aspect of the Care Plan may reduce time spent later, often in court itself, explaining the basis on which the local authority has made certain key decisions, including those around contact.
- Similarly, it is important that everyone concerned with the finalisation of the Care Plan considers achievable time-scales leading up to specific outcomes for overall implementation, as well as for each of the key steps within it. This should be made clear within the plan.
- Contact plans should set our frequency, whether direct/indirect timescales for reduction in contact and frequency of indirect contact.
4. Format of care plan
The Care Plan in the proceedings is a distinct and separate formal court document. It is not required to be presented as a sworn statement or affidavit. It should not be incorporated into a local authority statement of evidence. It should not appropriately duplicate information in such statements, such as the child's history and evidential aspects of the proceedings.
Where during proceedings several plans have been produced, each should be numbered to avoid confusion. This will help ensure that after the CPO is made, the particular numbered Care Plan is that understood by all parties and the court as being the operative one and may be referred to as such in any formal judicial communication.
The subsequent pages (also single sided), should set out the main elements of the Care Plan under clearly marked headings. These should correspond with sections 1 to 5 as shown on the Template Care Plan. Paragraph numbers will aid communication in court.
5. It is important that the first page of the Care Plan under "type of hearing", should clearly distinguish between Interim Care Plans for review hearings and the final Care Plan for the final hearing.
Author: William Simmonds
Children's Lawyer , Law Officers of the Crown
- Child protection
- Youth Offending
- Children with Disabilities