Legal Gateway Panel
This chapter has been substantially updated in April 2022 and should be re-read.
1. Purpose of Legal Gateway Panel
The Legal Gateway Panel is an essential part of the process for dealing with public law children's cases under the Public Law Outline. Its purpose is to consider all the information available and decide if the legal threshold is met to commence pre-proceedings or to issue immediate care proceedings.
The legal gateway panel will:
- Ensure that responsibility for decisions for children to become looked after is held at a sufficiently senior level;
- Ensure the application of consistent, effective practice and decision making for children who may or who become looked after;
- Ensure that decisions and plans to provide local authority care for children are likely in all cases to lead to better outcomes for the children concerned and are provided only in cases where all other options for safe care have been exhausted;
- Underpin timely and effective implementation of decisions and action arising from the LGP;
- Ensure consistency in decision making where requests for issue of public / private law proceedings are made, prior to issue of those proceedings;
- Provide legal advice on the plans for the children, the options available and to assess the quality of the proposed evidence being prepared for proceedings;
- Ensure that planning for children looked after is clear and timely.
The legal gateway panel is responsible for the decision making around children’s cases requiring any one of or a combination of the following:
- An application for a public law order in relation to a child including those that are currently the subject of the pre proceedings PLO process;
- Cases to be considered for the pre proceedings PLO process;
- A decision to accommodate a child under Section 20 of the Children Act;
- All admissions to local authority care, including admissions to residential and fostering placements as well as admissions to care with relatives (in line with regulation 24 of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010);
- Where a S37 report and recommendation is to be filed with the court;
- Where an application for a secure order is being considered;
- In some cases where discharge of a care order is being considered (at the discretion of the CSM).
Public Law Working Group Best Practice Guidance: Support for and Work With Families Prior to Court Proceedings sets out some (non-exhaustive) examples of some key points at which a family should be considered for presenting at legal gateway/planning meeting:
- Where a pre-birth conference decides a child is to be made the subject of a child protection plan ahead of birth and there is no active involvement from the extended family;
- Where a child has a child protection plan and parental engagement with the process, and support services, has been persistently inconsistent and ineffective, limiting progress and putting the child at risk of significant harm;
- Where the child has a child protection plan and there has been no progress and/or the impact of the identified concerns has worsened at the point of the second review conference. Every care should be taken to recognise change takes time, particularly where families are experiencing longstanding challenges;
- Families that have previously been through the pre-proceeding process and similar concerns re-occur within a 12-month period;
- Families where the mother or father have had child(ren) removed from their care in the past and there is concern that any presently identified risks cannot be managed with the children remaining in the parents’ care;
- Families where the risks and concerns are sufficiently significant that the matter is highly likely to proceed to court, but allowing time for the PLO pre-proceedings.
At the meeting, a decision should be made in principle about whether the Threshold Criteria have been met. The local authority should then decide, based on a robust analysis of the level of assessed risk, whether:
- It is in the best interests of the child to provide a further period of support for the family with the aim of avoiding proceedings; or
- Whether proceedings should be initiated immediately.
The meeting should also identify any evidence gaps, clarify whether additional assessments will be required, and consider what would be a suitable draft Care Plan for the child.
Note: where children are already Section 20 Accommodated there should be no delay in issuing proceedings where this is required (see Decision to Look After Procedure, Section 20 Accommodation).
2. Who can Convene Legal Gateway Panel?
A senior manager should decide if it is appropriate to refer a case for consideration by the Legal Gateway Panel with a view to instigating pre-proceedings.
In reaching that decision, the following points should be considered:
- What is the lived experience of the child(ren) and how is it impacting on their wellbeing?
- Is the legal threshold met to commence pre-proceedings or to issue immediate care proceedings?
- How long has social care been involved with the family? What are the concerns, and the history of such concerns, of the local authority and/or other agencies?
- Have any changes been made within the family to mitigate the risk factors?
- What support services have been offered to the family?
- How has the family engaged with these services and what is the impact on the children’s wellbeing / outcome of this engagement?
- What needs to change/happen and what is the plan for the family moving forward?
- How have social and cultural differences and inequalities been addressed? Have interpreters been consistently used whilst working with the family?
Following consideration of the above points, the senior manager will then identify whether further work is required with the family or if the children should be considered by the legal gateway panel. At this point, the senior manager should make a written record, clearly setting out the reasons for their decision. This will inform the decisions that follow so clear and unambiguous reasoning is important.
A Legal Gateway Panel is an opportunity to discuss a case fully, and to consult with colleagues to ensure that children are the subject of active case management and that appropriate legal action is taken when required to promote and safeguard the welfare of the child.The role of the local authority legal adviser is to advise about the legal possibilities for achieving the desired aim and to give a view about the quality of the evidence available.
In order to enable a full discussion to take place, the attached Legal Gateway Panel Document (Documents Library) should be completed with sufficient detail
The Chair’s role is to consider all the information and advice available and decide the most effective course of action to promote the safety and wellbeing of the child(ren).
In coming to a decision, all members of the LGM/LPM will identify:
- The specific issues, risks and mitigating factors of relevance at this time, which will include known historical concerns;
- Continuing support or any additional direct work to be undertaken with the child(ren) during this period;
- Specify further support the local authority could offer the family to mitigate identified risks;
- How the local authority will continue to assess the risks and/or track positive changes in this period;
- Family members who are to be consulted to offer either support or be assessed as alternative carers. The early sharing of necessary information with extended family and the use of a FGC (or similar model developed and used locally) is essential, unless there is good reason why this is impracticable;
- Make a record that the duration of pre-proceedings process will commence from the date of the first PLO meeting at which the plan will be discussed with the parent(s); and agree the frequency of review meetings;
- When the pre-proceedings letter will be sent in order to communicate with the family and agree when the pre-proceedings meeting will take place;
- If appropriate, timetable with the family a return date for LGM/LPM at the conclusion of the intervention to consider the assessments and interventions completed in pre-proceedings and make subsequent decisions.
The issues to be considered at the meeting will include the following:
- The reasons for the concerns and the evidential basis for establishing Significant Harm and the Threshold Criteria;
- Why Care Proceedings are necessary - what is their aim, objective and purpose?
- The steps already taken to clarify the issues of concern - i.e. Assessment, as well as other medical and other expert involvement;
- Whether the requirements of the Pre-Proceedings Checklist set out in the Public Law Outline have been met, including a written notification to the parents about the areas of concern and their right to seek legal advice. See Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure;
- When will the Assessment and other supporting documentation be available, if not already?
Note that with pre-birth situations a recent High Court judgment has set out good practice steps to include:
- A risk assessment of the parent(s) should be undertaken immediately the social workers are made aware of the mother's pregnancy and should be completed 4 weeks before the mother's expected delivery date and disclosed to the parent(s) (and their solicitor where relevant);
- All relevant documentation should be then sent to the Local Authority Legal Adviser to issue proceedings.
(See Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure, Pre-Birth Planning and Proceedings).
- The action/decisions already taken and where the decisions were made e.g. Strategy Discussion/Meeting, Child Protection Conference, Core Group meeting;
- The proposed Care Plan for the child, including the proposed placement and any cultural, language and ethnic issues, the need for a Twin Track Plan, consultation with parents and the wider family, whether any family members are available to care for the child on an interim or permanent basis, if so whether the required checks have been made, the proposals for contact;
- How the proposed Care Plan is to be achieved, including where appropriate arranging a date for the case to be presented to the Adoption Panel;
- Whether it may be appropriate to instruct any further expert assessment before the commencement of court proceedings - if so, what are the proposed remit of the instructions and the areas to be addressed, who should the assessment be done by and what are the likely timescales?
- Have there been previous Court proceedings in relation to the family? If so, what steps are required to obtain the papers in relation to the case from the Court? or another local authority?
- When will the social worker's Statement of Evidence be ready?
If Care Proceedings are recommended, the Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure should be followed.
Any potential issues/documentation regarding parental capacity to litigate should be flagged up at the meeting.
4. Attendance at Legal Gateway Panel
Attendance should include:
- Head of Service (Chair);
- Principal solicitor;
- Service Area CSMs;
- Locality safeguarding teams:
- Front Door;
- Family Placement.
- IRO manager;
- Manager Families First;
- Lead Psychologist Northumberland Emotional Wellbeing Team;
- Deputy Head Virtual School Head;
- A minute taker.
Where staff are considering initiating the public law outline (PLO), an initial legal planning meeting (LPM) should be held in the service area with the social worker, team manager and solicitor to ensure all alternative options have been considered, whether the threshold for care proceedings is met and that the proposed plan is clear, proportionate and is likely to result in better outcomes for the child.
Where there is a recommendation that the PLO should be initiated, this will need to be considered and agreed by the CSM with a clear outline plan to be presented to the legal gateway panel (LGP).
5.2 Section 20 Accommodation
Any requests for section 20 should be considered by the social worker and team manager and if this is recommended then agreement of the CSM will be sought. All alternatives should be considered before the request is presented to the LGP with a clear plan for a decision.
5.3 Urgent Cases
In urgent circumstances where the safety of a child will be seriously compromised and emergency legal action is needed, a legal planning meeting will be convened. The meeting shall consist of the Team Manager, the social worker and legal adviser. Should an urgent application to court be recommended to ensure the child’s safety prior to the next legal gateway panel LGP, this will need to be agreed by the CSM and Head of Service and the matter subsequently put to the next Legal Gateway Panel.
Similarly, any urgent requests for S20 accommodation need to be agreed by the CSM and Head of Service if the child is to become Looked After. This decision should subsequently be presented to the next LGP for further scrutiny and ongoing decisions.
Appendix 1: Legal Gateway Panel Document is in the Documents Library. The concerns and proposed plan should be summarised in line with the Signs of Safety practice model. Language should be clear and jargon free and focus on impact or harm to the child. A genogram and/or network must be included. This document can be created for and populated prior to and within the legal planning meeting.
The legal advice section of the document will be recorded separately in an appendix. The legal advice given is subject to legal professional privilege and shall not be disclosed to any person, other than local authority staff, upon request.
If a case is returning to legal gateway panel then the original paperwork should be updated to reflect developments making it clear where change has occurred. Updates should be recorded in a different colour text for the sake of clarity. The original agreed plan should be left in the document and new proposed plan added in a different colour to assist the panel members.
5.5 Attendance at Panel
The relevant Team Manager will attend for each case submitted to the Panel. In some cases, the manager may request that the allocated social worker also attends with the agreement of the relevant CSM. This should be for information sharing purposes and the team manager remains accountable for the implementing the decision and progressing the care planning.
Appointment slots can be booked to present to LGP (PA to Head of Service). All relevant documents should be shared with the PA’s by 4pm on Friday in preparation for circulation to panel members on Monday morning to allow time for the papers to be read prior to the meeting. If the paperwork is not made available for circulation the item will be removed from the agenda.
The Legal Gateway Panel meets every Tuesday between 09:45 and 12:30 and is held virtually as circumstances dictate.
5.6 Process at LGP
Panel members will read all documentation in advance of the panel meeting.
Panel attendees should be prepared to briefly present the case to the panel specifically in relation to the issues prompting the request for accommodation or initiation of pre-proceedings/issuing of proceedings.
Panel members will consider these, providing scrutiny and challenge. The final LGP decision rests with the panel chair
Panel members will be responsible for ensuring actions relevant for their service area are undertaken promptly in line with the panel decisions.
5.7 Recording of the LGP Meetings
Key points from the discussion will be recorded. The decision and rationale will be recorded as well as subsequent actions, timescales and responsibilities. These will be provided to the social worker, line manager and the legal services team within 5 working days of the LGP and will be uploaded onto the child’s file by the Head of Service PA with a case note added. The PA will also add within the Legal module on ICS.