(Court of Appeal; Ward and Wall LJJ; 8 July 2008)
On the basis of undertakings by the authority to serve various documents, including a pathway plan, the proceedings concerning an eligible child were dismissed. However, the authority failed to comply with its undertakings; the authority had ignored its duty to comply with court orders on three previous occasions. The parents appealed the order dismissing the proceedings.
Managers in social services departments must understand that court orders were to be obeyed: this was a particularly poor example of an utter failure to do so. If time had permitted it, the director of the social services department would have been directed personally to attend court to proffer an explanation and apology; instead the court would direct that the director write to the Court of Appeal and the court at first instance to explain the disgraceful failure of duty and to proffer sincere apologies. The judge's basis for making the order had been frustrated by the local authority, therefore the appeal was allowed. The authority's undertakings were replaced by an order requiring the authority to serve the documents within 3 days, to be endorsed with a penal notice. Contemptuous disregard of the order could lead to an application to commit the director of the social services department, who was fortunate not to be facing a summons for contempt at this stage. With the benefit of hindsight it would perhaps have been better if the original order had dismissed the proceedings upon production of the relevant documents, so that the original judge could have dealt with a failure to produce them.