The Revised Private Law Programme Practice Direction, which comes into effect on the 1 April, outlines new measures which will expedite court applications and the listing of the first hearing, sets out Cafcass safeguarding checks, and provides details of a new conciliation process.
Under the revised Private Law Programme, Cafcass should carry out safeguarding investigations, such as determining if there are any issues of domestic violence, in the three to four weeks between the date of application and the first hearing. Should any safety issues emerge, Cafcass should send a note to the Court outlining the issues prior to the first hearing. Having spoken to each party alone, the Cafcass officer will then be expected to attend the first hearing.
At the first hearing the court will conduct a conciliation process with the assistance of the Cafcass officer and/or where practicable, a mediator. Where agreement is not reached, the court should adjourn for the parties to go to mediation, consider whether it has sufficient information to order attendance at contact activities or whether to adjourn for Cafcass to provide a report regarding suitability for contact activities.
Addressing the issue of current delays in Cafcass providing court reports, the revised Private Law Programme provides that where a report from a Cafcass officer is required, the Court will identify such issues as narrowly as practicable to enable Cafcass to prepare a short focused report without delay.