The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.
I had a salutary reminder recently of how useful it can be getting hold of minutes of internal meetings held within the local authority which are not routinely disclosed. Thanks to the Guardian in the case who badgered the local authority to produce the minutes of the Adoption Panel the court was able to see the natural and unvarnished attitude of the social work team towards a parent in the case. I can think of a number of other cases in which these sorts of minutes have been useful. In one instance an Adoption Team Manager gave evidence that a child could be placed for adoption within 6 months. The following day we received the minutes of the adoption needs meeting which showed that her realistic time estimate in relation to the particular child was actually that it would take at least a year to place her. In two other cases the Panel minutes revealed that blatant lies were told to the Panel by social workers (for example, that a child had been injured when they had not and that the care plan approved by the court did not involve a recommendation for direct contact post adoption). Strategy meeting minutes can also be useful in identifying the approach of professionals to a case from the very outset. Running records and documents which follow the trail of internal decision making within the local authority can also be extremely helpful. There is clear case law reminding local authorities of their duties to disclose documents and in theory, according to Munby J, a suitably experienced legal practitioner from the local authority should identify any relevant records from the files and disclose them. When this case was first reported there was a flurry of requests for extensive and arguably unnecessarily burdensome automatic disclosure. Whilst things have settled down it is always worth seeking specific disclosure if you start to get a feeling in your bones that strange decisions have been made or that a social worker has formed a view that does not seem to marry up with your impression of the client.