The Children Order Advisory Committee
Twelfth Report



It is my pleasure to introduce this, the twelfth Report of the Committee, by referring to some of the salient features of our work during the year under report and especially to pay tribute to its members for all their work throughout the period, not merely during the regular meetings of the full Committee but in the various sub-groups and committees where most of the detailed and often lengthy discussion and drafting takes place. The key to the success of “COAC” is the co-operative spirit that exists between the representatives of all the interests and professional disciplines that comprise it, the breadth of which can be seen from the list of members at Appendix 1. Notwithstanding the different standpoints that flow naturally from the varying professions and approaches of its diverse body of members, their unifying common determination to achieve the best outcomes achievable for children means that solutions to problems and outcomes of projects are consistently the subject of agreement.

It is very satisfying (and somewhat unusual) to be the Chair of a body where agreed ways forward are actively sought by people of such disparate backgrounds and interests and invariably found. This collaborative approach yields excellent results as I shall exemplify below. I therefore wish to record my sincere thanks to all the members and to our excellent secretariat for harmoniously combining to make the work of COAC so successful and my task as its Chair so straightforward and happy.

During the year the standing panel constituted to keep under continuous review the scope and contents of the COAC Best Practice Guidance has continued its work and in Chapter 2 are described the diverse areas of practice with which it concerned itself. It will readily be seen that keeping this work up to date so as to ensure that it remains a helpful and reliable source of guidance for practitioners is a very considerable task.

The committee on Secure Electronic Communication between Courts, Social Services, NIGALA, DLS and the two branches of the profession brought its work towards a successful end. This exercise has proved much more complex and protracted than anticipated (at least by the luddites amongst us) and thanks are due to the group for persevering over time to bring it within sight of conclusion.

The invaluable work of the four Family Court Business Committees, each centred on its particular Family Care Centre, continued as normal with regular meetings throughout the year. These groups, also multidisciplinary in composition, are the local “eyes and ears” of COAC which greatly depends on them to identify and report on problems arising at their local level, solve them where possible and refer on to COAC if not. Detailed contributions for this Report were received from Belfast, Craigavon and Dungannon and are at Chapter 3 which will repay reading for a full appreciation of the issues, some old and some new, which arose for their consideration. Their respective Chairs, members and secretariats all deserve much credit for the considerable and painstaking work involved in acting in effect as COAC’s “first tier”.

Chapter 4 describes some of the more major matters considered by COAC during the year. Of particular interest was a review of the working of the Guide to Case Management in Public Law Proceedings which was in its first full year of operation. As you will read, the general conclusion was that the implementation of the Guide has been a success resulting in the earlier resolution of Public Law cases due to the earlier identification of key issues and therefore the speed with which these can be addressed. You will also read of the very useful initiative by the multi-disciplinary literature sub-committee to secure the widened appeal of the Child and Family Law Update published by SLS by combining in it the material previously to be found in the Newsletter, thereby further improving the value of the publication and making it more attractive to a wider range of professionals.

Those with a historical perspective on the work of Family courts will not be surprised to see that the Court Children’s Officer Service still remained the subject of much discussion both at Family Court Business Committees and at COAC itself. The good news is that during this year the pressing perennial need for a properly staffed and resourced regional service has at last been acknowledged and positive practical recommendations to achieve this have been advanced which will, I am quietly confident, bear fruit and become the subject of positive comment in future reports.

I hope that these introductory comments and a closer reading of the report itself will give a flavour of the extensive range of topics discussed, the problems tackled, the range of voices heard and above all, the remarkable spirit of co-operation leading to many successful and practical outcomes of the work undertaken. It gives me much pleasure to commend this COAC twelfth Report to you.

The Honourable Mr Justice Weir
Chair of the Children Order Advisory Committee

The Children Order, The Courts and The Committee

The Order

The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (‘the Order’) came into operation on 4 November 1996. Widely recognised as the most comprehensive legislation relating to children ever introduced in Northern Ireland, it enshrines a number of key principles:

Court proceedings under the Order are known as ‘family proceedings’. The term also encompasses a range of proceedings under other legislation including:

The main court orders available under the Order are set out below under the broad headings of Private Law and Public Law. Orders concerning financial matters are not included:

Private Law

Contact, Prohibited Steps, Residence and Specific Issues Orders (Article 8)

Family Assistance Orders (Article 16)

Parental Responsibility Orders (Article 7)

Public Law

Care and Supervision Orders (Article 50)

Child Assessment Orders (Article 62)

Education Supervision Orders (Article 55)

Emergency Protection Orders and Extension of Emergency Protection Orders (Article 63)

Parental Contact with Children in Care Orders (Article 53)

Secure Accommodation Orders (Article 44)

In any family proceedings in which a question with respect to the welfare of a child arises, the court may make an Article 8 order. This can occur either where a person entitled to do so makes an application, or where the court gives that person leave, or if the court itself considers that such an order is necessary. There are four types of Article 8 orders. These may determine with whom a child is to reside or have contact, may prohibit particular steps being taken concerning the child without the consent of the court or any other directions regarding specific issues concerning the child.

A family assistance order is available in exceptional cases and is the only order where the consent of all parties is required. The order offers short-term support and advice to a family, perhaps following a divorce or separation and usually where one or more Article 8 orders have also been made.

The Courts

The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 confers concurrent jurisdiction on the High Court, County Courts and Magistrates’ Courts. It provides for two specialist classes of courts to hear any proceedings under the Order. At the County Court level, these are Family Care Centres and at the Magistrates’ Court level they are Family Proceedings Courts.

Family Care Centres – these courts are presided over by County Court Judges. Their function is to hear cases transferred to them and appeals from the Family Proceedings Court. There are four Family Care Centres, situated in Belfast, Craigavon, Dungannon and Londonderry.

Family Proceedings Courts – these courts are constituted as juvenile courts presided over by a District Judge (Magistrates’ Court) who sits with two lay magistrates. There are seven Family Proceedings Courts – one for each County Court division and they exercise jurisdiction throughout the division in which they are situated.

The concurrent jurisdiction referred to above is regulated to ensure that children’s cases are heard at the appropriate level of court and that proceedings regarding the same child are heard in the same court. Subject to the overriding principle that delay is likely to prejudice the welfare of the child, Children Order cases may be transferred upwards to the higher courts when specific criteria have been established. These criteria can include where the matter is exceptionally grave, complex or important, or to consolidate with other family proceedings.

The general rule is that all Public Law proceedings under the Children Order are to be commenced in the Family Proceedings Court. This is also the case with free standing Private Law applications i.e. those applications made when there are no other on-going family proceedings. As regards connected Private Law applications e.g. where there are divorce proceedings pending in the County Court or High Court, such applications are required to be made at that court.

The Committee

In recognition of the importance of the Order to children and their families, COAC was established:

COAC is chaired by the Judge of the Family Division of the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland and its membership reflects the broad spectrum of disciplines and professions engaged in working with children, both in the courts and in other spheres. The membership of the Committee during the currency of the report is set out at Appendix 1.

Work of Sub-Committees during 2010/11

Best Practice Guidance Review Panel

The Best Practice Guidance Review Panel continues to review and update the Guidance (2nd Edition). Three Review Panel meetings have been convened within this reporting period.

During this year the Review Panel has received suggestions for amendments from the Advisory Committee, via Family Court Business Committee Minutes and from the Review Panel members. No contributions or suggestions for amendment or update have been received from the Bar Council or the Family Bar, the Law Society NI Family Law Committee, DHSSPS or NIGALA other than via the Advisory Committee and the Review Panel. This is concerning as no doubt there are many new practices and procedures if not case law which may warrant consideration in the Guidance. It may be that the importance and profile of the Best Practice Guidance needs to be highlighted via suitable awareness raising initiatives on the part of the multi-disciplinary family and child care professions whose practices are included in the Guidance.

One new and important partnership has developed with the Child and Family Law Update which has combined with COAC’s Multi-Disciplinary Newsletter editorial team. This new publication aims to keep lawyers, social workers, medical practitioners and advice workers up-to-date with current legal developments. SLS publish both the Best Practice Guidance and the Child and Family Law Update. It is generally agreed that those involved with these publications are well placed to give an early alert of relevant new matters and the aim is to speed up alerts for new updates in each publication.

Topics for proposed revision in this reporting period included:

The Review Panel requires and welcomes on-going contributions from all multi-disciplinary professions who use and are assisted by the Guidance in order to keep such Guidance up-to-date.

Electronic Communication

The Children Order Advisory Committee (COAC) established this sub-committee with a remit of providing a recommendation to COAC on the best method of ensuring secure electronic transmission of documentation between the various stakeholders in family proceedings. The remit then was subsequently extended to ensure that necessary action is taken to deliver the recommended systems and to ensure uniformity of approach.

Representation on the sub-committee has been drawn from the following organisations:

NICTS sits on the Northern Ireland Civil Service and Government Secure Intranet and the five HSC Trusts, the HSC Business Services Organisation (whose Directorate of Legal Services provides legal representation for each HSC Trust) and NIGALA all reside on the HSC secure network. Solicitors in private practice, barristers and many expert witnesses are outside the secure highways enjoyed by HSC organisations and NICTS.

There was a commitment by all of the public sector organisations to the adoption of the Criminal Justice Secure Mail (CJSM) system of secure electronic transmission of documentation and the practical implementation of that commitment is now in train.

Work of Family Court Business Committees during 2010/11


This Committee met three times during the period covered in this report.

The composition of the Committee reflects the users of Belfast Family Proceedings Court and Belfast Family Care Centre. The members of the Committee include representatives of the relevant Health & Social Care Trusts (HSC Trusts), Education and Library Board, Women’s Aid, Lakewood Care Centre, Mediation organisations, Court Children’s Officer Service, Northern Ireland Guardian ad Litem Agency, Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission, the Bar, Solicitors, Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service and the Judiciary. The membership is here set out in detail to demonstrate the breadth of interests, knowledge and experience we have available to call upon to deal with any issues that arise. The Committee discussed a wide range of issues, some of them new and some that have become very familiar over the years that the Committee has been in existence.

In addition to our discussions, two presentations were given during the reporting period. The first was by the “Next Steps” organisation. This is a newly-formed organization that offers a counselling and support service for birth relatives throughout Northern Ireland. Support is available for parents, and other family members, where children have been placed for adoption against their wishes. The group help the parents and other family members cope with the loss or potential loss of their children. The second presentation was by the Family Care Society. They gave an overview of their planned services including the introduction of a DVD, Drop-In Centres, a Helpline and a “Buddying” scheme. We are very grateful to both organisations for these very informative presentations.

The Guide to Case Management in Public Law Proceedings was in full operation during the year covered by this report and the Committee continued to monitor the effect that it was having on the progress of cases. More generally the progress of cases continued as always to exercise the mind of the Committee.

The Committee continued to be concerned in the delay in providing Article 4 reports and the fact that courts often only become aware at a very late stage that a report will not be available by the date requested. It was agreed that all requests for reports should be sent through the Court Children’s Officer Service. If there had been previous social work involvement the request will be sent to the relevant field team. The HSC Trust gave an undertaking that 80% of reports would be provided within six weeks.

The Committee was informed about research being carried out, by Queen’s University, Belfast into judicial expectations from social services reports and assessments and as to whether those expectations were being fulfilled by the reports presently provided. The Committee was also informed about similar research being carried out in respect of Guardian ad Litem reports.

The Committee discussed mediation either as an alternative to court proceedings or as an additional tool to be available during court proceedings together with the issue of the availability of legal aid for mediation. The Committee also considered the ever increasing need for interpreters in family cases and the associated costs.

The Committee were informed of the use of Attendance Forms by members of the legal profession in the Family Care Centre. It was emphasised however, that in collecting these forms the court staff were not confirming that any individual had actually been in court, only that the form had been lodged.

As Chair of the Committee, I would like to express my thanks to the members for their support during this reporting year.


This Committee met on four occasions during this reporting period. Recurring themes were the use of Contact Centres, maintaining continuity of Court Children’s Officers, difficulties in receiving Article 4 Welfare Reports at Lisburn, the pressure on the Craigavon Family Care Centre and Lisburn Family Proceedings Court lists.

In respect of the lack of cover during absences of Court Children’s Officers, Judiciary expressed concern that there appeared to be no contingency plan for sickness, maternity leave or holiday periods and suggested a ‘floater’ should be available in reserve to cover such occasions. The situation has been eased somewhat because of the success of the Family Mediation Service offered by the Newry Family Resource Centre. Ms Anne Brant (Family Mediator) gave an update to the Committee in September 2010 and members thanked her for providing an alternative support service to the court. The service offered by Barnardo’s was also highlighted and commended.

The pressure of lengthy Care Centre lists was repeatedly discussed. The Chair informed the Committee that she was to have met with The Recorder of Belfast in relation to the volume of Care Centre business and the need for extra sitting days. Unfortunately this meeting had had to be postponed.

The Committee noted that statistics collated manually at local court office level differed significantly from those recorded in the Children Order Quarterly Bulletin and in the ICOS MIS Report (Children Order). The Northern Ireland Courts & Tribunals Service (NICTS) advised that manual statistics had been compiled which included all business before the family courts (i.e. not only business under the Children (NI) Order 1995 but also proceedings in relation to adoption and domestic violence). The MIS Report and the Quarterly Bulletin both contain statistical information specific to business under the Children (NI) Order 1995 only and therefore a like-for-like comparison was not feasible. NICTS further advised that discussions would be held with the Chair of COAC with the aim of developing one agreed and consistent statistical information source.

The Committee considered that for Craigavon Family Care Centre, sitting 4 or 5 days a month was insufficient to address the current volume of business. Due to the Division covering such a large area of social deprivation, there are many complicated family matters that transfer from the Family Proceedings Court to the Care Centre for resolution. It was noted that the current number of sittings per month made each sitting very intensive which it was felt was not beneficial for the children and families concerned.

The Committee heard that the Presiding Judge at Lisburn had requested that an extra day be made available for that Family Proceedings Court however the Judge reported advice was that a day would need to be relinquished from another Division. Though the Judge was not optimistic of another Division relinquishing a day, the Committee wanted to highlight this issue. The Committee also discussed the level of business at Lisburn Family Proceedings Court in comparison with Newtownards Family Proceedings Court.

The pressures at both Lisburn Family Proceedings Court and Craigavon Family Care Centre were compounded by the chronic difficulties in securing reports from Lisburn Social Services.

The Committee heard that practitioners were dissatisfied at the number of repeat pre-proceedings reviews and the fact that this rendered the single pre-proceedings review inadequate discouraging ever more practitioners from this everyday work as one set fee applies regardless of the number of pre-proceedings reviews actually held.

The Committee also heard of the pressure being placed on Guardians ad Litem and agreed to the grouping of each Guardian’s cases more closely in the lists and excusing Guardians from attendance at court whenever possible.


The Committee met on three occasions with an average attendance of 25 members and active participation from the two branches of the legal profession together with representatives of court users.

The family court system continues to function at an adequate level within the Division with no substantial issues to report.

Difficulties highlighted in earlier reports concerning the provision of Court Children’s Officers (particularly in the east of the Division) continued to persist, notably during a period of long-term sick leave which lasted throughout most of this reporting period. Fortunately this particular problem was resolved at the beginning of 2011 but the inability to resolve it during the absence of the Officer concerned highlighted the on-going difficulties within the CCO Service.

There has been general satisfaction with the implementation of the Guide to Case Management in Public Law Proceedings. It was reported that as a result the Western Health and Social Care Trust were diverting from court up to 60% of cases. The Southern Health and Social Care Trust, which covers part of this Division, reported a lower percentage of diversion.

At the request of the CCO Service, a consultation room in each of the court venues is now allocated solely for their use. It is reported that this has greatly assisted them in progressing their work on court days.


No Report Was Received

Issues Considered/Addressed by the Committee during 2010/11

Guide to Case Management in Public Law Proceedings

This reporting period provided a period of consolidation in the implementation of the Guide to Case Management in Public Law Proceedings with on-going monitoring by the gathering of statistical information, consideration by the Children Order Advisory Committee and by those who use the Guide in a court room environment.

The Guide came into operation so that it applies to all proceedings issued on or after 1 October 2009 under Part V of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. Any assessment of its effectiveness since then must be measured against its purpose which is the same as the fundamental objective in Public Law proceedings i.e. to achieve a solution, or if none is available, an outcome, which is in the best interests of the child without delay. In relation to delay it is important to bear in mind two factors. Firstly, a young person’s timescale is different from and more urgent than that of an adult. Secondly, delay in reaching decisions about a child’s future almost invariably adds to the stress and anxiety being experienced by the child, particularly if in addition the child experiences a threat, actual or feared, of separation from those to whom he or she is attached. The Guide is a tool devised to assist the fundamental objective of achieving an outcome in the best interests of the child without delay.

The method set out in the Guide to assist in achieving that objective is to identify six keys stages, from key stage one, the pre-proceeding stage, to key stage six, the trial. The intermediate stages are:

Key stage 2 - issue of proceedings. At this stage the Trust is required to bring clear definition to its case and to provide documents. It crucially covers the appointment of a representative for the child. Thereafter it is incumbent on the child’s representative to immediately and actively enter the arena on behalf of the child.

Key stage 3 - first directions hearing. At this stage directions are given to bring definition to what is being said on behalf of the parents and on behalf of the child. The parents are required to respond at a much earlier stage than had previously been the practice in order to ensure early identification of the important issues and elimination or resolution of less or unimportant issues. Also the Guardian ad Litem on behalf of the child has an obligation at an earlier and therefore a more effective stage to pro-actively identify the issues and to provide an initial analysis.

Key stage 4 - case management hearing. It is expected to occur by day 45. By this stage the evidence should be complete or almost complete and the target is that this hearing should deal with all outstanding case management issues.

Key stage 5 - final review hearing prior to the trial.

Prior to implementation of the Guide there was an extensive training process for all those who participate in Public Law proceedings in Northern Ireland. That training included 600 social work staff and the staff of the Guardian ad Litem Agency (NIGALA). Both branches of the legal profession organised continuing professional development events addressed solely to the structure, ethos and implementation of the Guide.

A system of gathering of statistical information in relation to Public Law proceedings was established to determine how the Guide was working in practice. The statistical information continued to be gathered via a form available to all family court staff. The indications from both the monitoring process and also from subjective reports are that the Guide has facilitated earlier resolution of Public Law cases and has helped to identify earlier and more clearly the substantive issues to be resolved in the judicial process.

The Guide was inserted as part of the Best Practice Guidance in relation to family law cases.

A need has been identified to have a structured review of the Guide after a further period of approximately one year.

Multi-Disciplinary Literature

During this reporting period the Multi-Disciplinary Literature sub-committee decided to embark on a new project. The sub-committee had brought together legal, social work and medical expertise, preparing and circulating a Newsletter each quarter. This was sent to a wide range of professionals in social work, medicine and law. The sub-committee decided that rather than continue to email subscribers with updates, a written contribution in journal form might be more effective.

To that end, the new project was launched in conjunction with SLS Legal Publications NI. Which already published a journal called Child & Family Law Update. This journal has been revised and expanded to include information previously contained in the Newsletter. The Update now includes articles from a multi-disciplinary group alongside case studies reports of decisions and updates on legislation.

In the wake of cases such as ‘Baby P’ the family law fraternity has been reminded of the benefits of working together and sharing information. Indeed the then Children’s Minister in responding to the case, referred to a variety of concerns but particularly to “agencies working in isolation from one another and without effective coordination.”

There are a range of disciplines at play in family law and rather than each working in isolation it is clear that the best results are achieved from a collaborative approach.

That philosophy also applies to the family law debate in general which is at its most productive when the full range of professionals comes together to debate issues, agree or disagree but most importantly learn from each other. The new Update is directed at stimulating debate on important family law issues. The aim is clearly stated as follows:

"The new Update is designed to keep lawyers, medical practitioners, social workers, advice workers and others involved in the field of child and family law up to date with legal developments. In addition to case notes, the Update contains articles on topical issues relating to children and families that will assist professionals across a wide range of disciplines discharge their responsibilities. Articles and case notes are written by practising professionals and academics."

It is hoped that this project will gain momentum as child care professionals see the high quality of the articles that are provided. The material does include a wide variety of topics e.g. Non Accidental Injury in Children: Diagnostic Dilemmas, Legal Aspects of the “Unite” Project and the “Resolutions Approach” in care planning.

All limbs of the family law community are encouraged to submit materials for inclusion in the Update. A multi-disciplinary conference has been arranged for the 12 October 2011 when the initiative will be formally launched.

Review of Court Children’s Officer Service

In Private Law applications, the court has the power under Article 4 to direct a Welfare Report from a social worker of the relevant Health & Social Care Trust (HSC Trust) to assist it in determining residence and contact arrangements for children.

The Court Children’s Officer Service for Northern Ireland (CCO Service) was officially launched in December 2008 to assist the HSC Trusts meet their statutory duty to report to the Courts in these cases.

In early 2010, a Review of the CCO Service was commissioned by the Directors of Children’s Services for the five HSC Trusts in Northern Ireland. The Review Group consisted of representation from each of the HSC Trusts and from the Law Society of Northern Ireland. The Group’s work was informed by:

The Review concluded that overall the CCO Service is performing well and that it has made a clear improvement on the arrangements previously in place. Comments from members of the judiciary and from legal practitioners confirmed that where a dedicated Court Children’s Officer is present in court the potential for positive outcomes for children within a reasonable timeframe is increased.

The Review gave particular consideration to the Regional CCO Service Referral Form developed at the time the Service was established. This is completed by the solicitors for the applicant and respondent at the point of court direction for HSC Trust involvement. However, an alternative form was proposed by a member of the Judiciary. The Review Group recognised that this alternative form usefully included information not contained in the Regional CCO Service Referral Form. Following consultation with CCO Service practitioners, the Review Group decided to retain the layout and questions of the original form but amended it to incorporate the additional matters identified. Minor issues raised by HSC Trust staff together with legal representations during the Review process were also addressed in the revision of the form.

A number of other issues were identified through the Review process, including:

The Review report, which included a number of recommendations for enhancing the Service, was submitted to the five HSC Trust Directors of Children’s Services who agreed that a sub-group of the Reform Implementation Team should be established to refine and progress those recommendations. The Review report was subsequently shared with COAC where it was agreed that a member of the judiciary would join the sub-group, which includes a number of other key stakeholders.

The Review report indicates that the CCO Service is generally working well. The report recommendations help chart the way to build on this work for the future.

Appendix 1

The Membership of the Committee (1st April 2010 to 31st March 2011)

The Honourable Mr Justice Weir High Court Judge (Family Division)
High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland
Deputy Chair
The Honourable Mr Justice Stephens High Court Judge (Family Division)
High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland
His Honour Judge Rodgers
(Her Honour Judge Loughran substituted on 20 Jan 2011)
County Court Judge and Family Judge of the Belfast Family Care Centre
Her Honour Judge McReynolds County Court Judge and Family Judge of the Craigavon Family Care Centre
His Honour Judge McFarland County Court Judge and Family Judge the Dungannon Family Care Centre
His Honour Judge Marrinan
(replaced by His Honour Judge Grant from 20 Jan 2011)
Recorder of Londonderry and Family Judge of the Londonderry Family Care Centre
Master H Wells Master of the Office of Care and Protection, High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland
District Judge (Magistrates’ Court) Meehan Council of District Judges (Magistrates’ Court) Northern Ireland
Miss Brenda Donnelly Official Solicitor to the Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland
Ms Deirdre Kennedy Vice Chair of the Northern Ireland Lay Magistrates Association
Mrs Siobhan Keegan QC Queen’s Counsel
Ms Arleen Elliott Solicitor
Mr Ronnie Williamson Executive Director of the Northern Ireland Guardian Ad Litem Agency
Mr Fergal Bradley
(up to and including 07 Oct 2010)
Head of Child Care Policy Directorate, DHSSPS
Ms Fionuala McAndrews
(from 20 Jan 2011)
Director of Social Care and Children, Health & Social Care Board
Mr Sean Holland Chief Officer, Office of Social Services
Mr Brian Dornan Representative of the Association of Directors of Health & Social Services Boards
Ms Kathryn Minnis Directorate of Legal Services, Central Services Agency
Mrs Laura McPolin Civil Law Reform Division, DFP
Ms Kathryn Stevenson Children in Northern Ireland
Mr Jim Coffey
(Mr Peter Luney substituted on 07 Oct 2010)
Northern Ireland Courts & Tribunals Service
Mrs Audrey Quigley (DHSSPS)}
Ms Alice Beggs
(NI Courts & Tribunals Service)}

Appendix 2


The statistics which form the basis of the tables and figures in this appendix are collected from Children Order business in all the courts in Northern Ireland. Except where otherwise indicated, all figures and tables cover the financial year 2010/111.

Wardship Actions

At the time of introduction of the Children Order in November 1996, a marked decline in the number of wardship actions made in the High Court was observed reflecting the restrictions placed on such applications by the Children Order. Since the introduction of the Order, wardship actions have remained at a consistently low level with no significant change in annual numbers observed in recent years (Table 1).

Table 1: Wardship Actions (April 2006 – March 2011)

Wardship Actions 06/07 07/08 08/09 09/10 10/11
Non- Emergency 16 2 21 14 17
Immediate Provision 1 11 6 10 20
Jurisdiction 0 1 2 4 1

Figure 1: Wardship Actions (2008/09 – 2010/11)

  08/09 09/10 10/11
Non emergency 21 14 17
Immediate provision 6 10 20
Jurisdiction 2 4 1

Applications and Disposals

Tables 2a and 2b show the number of applications lodged and disposed of in all court tiers for 2010/11. For a breakdown of applications received and dealt with by the Family Care Centres and their related courts, please see Annex 1 (Tables 8 and 9).

Table 2a: Applications 01/04/10 – 31/03/11

Applications High Court County Court Magistrates’ Court Total
High Court Care Centre Other FPC Other
Public Law 34 19 0 593 0 646
Private Law 247 118 0 4530 0 4895
Total 281 137 0 5123 0 5541

*This table includes the no of initiating applications lodged in the period and does not reflect the number of transfers received in the High Court and Care Centres.

Table 2b: Disposals 01/04/10 – 31/03/11

Disposals High Court County Court Magistrates’ Court Total
High Court Care Centre Other FPC Other
Public Law 68 120 0 399 0 587
Private Law 225 291 0 3784 0 4300
Total 293 411 0 4183 0 4887

Figure 2 shows the number of applications lodged and disposed of each year since 2006.

Figure 2: Applications Lodged and Disposed of (April 2006 – March 2011)

Year Lodged Disposed of
2006/07 5211 4875
2007/08 4030 3536
2008/09 4025 3636
2009/10 4585 3758
2010/11 5541 4887

During 2010/11, 12% of applications lodged concerned Public Law and 88% concerned Private Law. In terms of disposals, 12% of applications disposed of concerned Public Law and 88% concerned Private Law (See Figures 3a & 3b).

Figure 3(a): Applications Lodged (April 2010 – March 2011)

Public Law 12%
Private Law 88%

Figure 3(b): Applications Disposed of (April 2010 – March 2011)

Public Law 12%
Private Law 88%

The following graphs depict applications lodged and disposed of in each year from 2006/07 to 2010/11 by the type of orders made.

Figure 4a depicts the number of applications for supervision orders lodged and disposed of. Figures show that the supervision orders made increased from 74 to 78 between 2009/10 and 2010/11. Overall, the numbers of applications for supervision orders lodged and disposed of are relatively small and any trend should therefore be treated with caution.

Figure 4(a): Children Order Public Law Applications Lodged and Disposed of (April 2006 - March 2011)

Year Lodged Disposed of
2006/07 31 18
2007/08 12 29
2008/09 13 56
2009/10 15 74
2010/11 9 78

NB: Disposed of figure refers to number of orders made from April 2007 onwards

Figure 4b depicts the number of applications for care orders lodged and disposed of. Figures show that care applications lodged have increased by 26% and disposals have increased by 74% on the same period last year.

Figure 4(b)

Year Lodged Disposed of
2006/07 336 240
2007/08 287 259
2008/09 219 207
2009/10 214 238
2010/11 269 414

NB: Disposed of figure refers to number of orders made from April 2007 onwards

Figure 4c depicts the number of applications for emergency protection orders lodged and disposed of. Figures show that these orders have shown a general upward trend since 2006/07. Overall, the numbers of applications for emergency protection orders lodged and disposed of are relatively small and any apparent trend should therefore be treated with caution.

Figure 4(c)

Year Lodged Disposed of
2006/07 32 28
2007/08 55 80
2008/09 56 60
2009/10 75 107
2010/11 86 107

NB: Disposed of figure refers to number of orders made from April 2007 onwards

Figures for lodgments and disposals by court tier are depicted below. Figure 4d shows applications lodged and disposed of in the Family Proceedings Court; receipts and disposals have both increased for the fourth consecutive year and applications lodged are at their highest level over the past 5 years. 2010/11 figures show an increase in lodgments (20%) and an increase in disposals (27%) since 2009/10 in these courts.

Figure 4(d): Applications Lodged & Disposed of in Family Proceedings Court (April 2006 - March 2011)

Year Lodged Disposed of
2006/07 4802 4484
2007/08 3673 3061
2008/09 3699 3092
2009/10 4256 3282
2010/11 5123 4183

Figure 4e shows applications lodged and disposed of in the Family Care Centre; 2010/11 figures show a decrease in lodgments (14%) and an increase in disposals (50%) since 2009/10 in these courts.

Figure 4(e): Applications Lodged & Disposed of in Family Care Centre (April 2006 - March 2011)

Year Lodged Disposed of
2006/07 252 249
2007/08 174 313
2008/09 170 388
2009/10 160 274
2010/11 137 411

Figure 4f shows applications lodged and disposed of in the High Court; these have increased dramatically since last year. 2010/11 figures show an increase in both lodgments (66%) and disposals (45%) since 2009/10 at this court tier.

Figure 4(f): Applications Lodged & Disposed of in High Court (April 2006 - March 2011)

Year Lodged Disposed of
2006/07 157 142
2007/08 183 162
2008/09 156 158
2009/10 169 202
2010/11 281 293

Care applications & supervision applications accounted for 56% of Public Law orders in 2010/11 (Figure 5a). Emergency protection orders made up 17% of all Public Law orders in 2009/10 and make up 13% in 2010/11; secure accommodation made up 7% of all Public Law orders in 2009/10 and 4% of all Public Law orders in 2010/11. The percentage of orders classed as ‘other’ has decreased from 12% in 2009/10 to 11% in 2010/11.

Figure 5(a): Public Law Orders Made (April 2010 – March 2011)

Care 47%
Supervision 9%
Education Supervision 6%
Emergency Protection 13%
Secure Accommodation 4%
Article 53 Contact 8%
Recovery 1%
Other Orders / Applications 11%

The most common types of order made in Private Law were ‘other’ (40%) and contact (32%) (Figure 5b). In 2009/10, contact orders were 34% of all Private Law orders and make up 32% in 2010/11; residence orders in 2009/10 were 20% of all Private Law orders and make up 20% in 2010/11. The percentage of orders classed as ‘other’ has increased from 38% in 2009/10 to 40% in 2010/11.

Figure 5(b): Private Law Orders Made (April 2010 – March 2011)

Contact Permission 32%
Contact Refusal 0%
Parental Responsibility 3%
Residence 20%
Prohibitive Steps 3%
Specific Issues 2%
Other Orders / Applications 40%


Table 3 shows the number of cases transferred and the reasons for transfer quoted. The most numerous reason given for transfer from the Family Proceedings Court and from the Family Care Centre was complexity (59% and 52% respectively). During 2010/11 transfers from the Family Proceeding Court made up 84% of all applications transferred.

Table 3: Transfer of Business (Reasons) 01/04/10– 31/03/11

  Transferred From: Total
FPC FCC High Court
Reason Complexity 329 46 0 375
Consolidation 102 13 3 118
Convenience 12 9 1 22
Gravity 20 2 0 22
Jurisdiction 60 3 3 66
Returned to Lower Court 0 8 10 18
Separate Representation for Child 14 0 0 14
Urgency 5 4 0 9
Point of Law 12 4 0 16
Public Interest 1 0 0 1
Other 0 0 2 2
Total  555 89 19 663

Disposal Times2

Table 4 and Figure 6 show the relative disposal times for both Public Law and Private Law cases in each court tier for 2010/11. In the Family Proceedings Court, average disposal times were 23 weeks for Public Law and 22 weeks for Private Law cases. In the Family Care Centre, it was 51 weeks for Public Law cases and 43 weeks for Private Law cases. Public Law cases in the High Court took 57 weeks and Private Law cases took 38 weeks. Lodgment to disposal times for Public Law cases have decreased by 7 weeks and disposal times for Private Law have decreased by 2 weeks between 2009/10 and 2010/11 overall. It should be noted that due to relatively small numbers at the High Court and the Family Care Centre, it takes very few lengthy cases to substantially affect the average time taken to dispose of cases.

Table 4: Disposal Times 01/04/10 – 31/03/11

Lodged to final hearing times (in weeks) for cases entered in the designated courts
  High Court Care Centre Family Proceedings Total
Public Law 56.8 51.1 23.4 32.9
Private Law 38.2 42.6 21.9 24.2

Figure 6: Disposal Time in Weeks (April 2010 – March 2011)

Court Type Private Public
All Court Types 24 33
FPC 22 23
Care Centre 43 51
High Court 38 57

Disposal Types

Table 5 shows the distribution of the different types of disposal made for 2010/11. Consent orders accounted for 56% of orders made.

Table 5: Orders and Disposals 01/04/10 – 31/03/11

  Order Made by Consent Other Order Total
Adjourn Generally 0 44 44
Article 8 Contact Order 2440 819 3259
Authority to refuse contact with a child in Care 0 3 3
Care Order 166 248 414
Contact with a child in Care 0 75 75
Declaration of Parentage 86 50 136
Discharge Care Order 18 18 36
Discharge Emergency Protection Order 0 8 8
Discharge interim Contact Order 4 18 22
Discharge Non Molestation Order 0 10 10
Discharge Prohibited Steps Order 21 13 34
Discharge Residence Order 12 3 15
Dismissed 137 385 522
Education Supervision Order 0 54 54
Emergency Protection Order (EPO) 12 95 107
Emergency Protection Order (EPO) – out of hours 0 10 10
Extension of an EPO 10 10 20
Family Assistance Order 13 6 19
Financial Provision 0 28 28
Leave to change surname by which child is known 11 13 24
Leave to remove child from the UK 2 14 16
Non-Molestation Order 0 26 26
Order of No Order (Final Order) 136 80 216
Other Order 58 1054 1112
Parental Responsibility Order 262 79 341
Prohibit further proceeding for set period 0 1 1
Prohibited Steps Order 58 197 255
Recovery of a child 1 7 8
Refusal of Article 3 Legal Aid Certification 0 10 10
Residence Order 1411 613 2024
Secure Accommodation Order 19 19 38
Specific Issues Order 144 90 234
Strike Out Order 72 109 181
Supervision Order 27 51 78
Terminating Appointment of Guardian Ad Litem 389 213 602
Withdrawn 698 374 1072
Total 6207 4847 11054

NB: Final orders exclude Article 3 Legal Aid orders.

In 2009/10, 15,846 interim orders were made. The number of interim orders made increased by 10% to 17,410 in 2010/11. These were made up primarily of contact, residence and care orders (Table 6).

Table 6: Interim Orders Made 01/04/10 – 31/03/11

Business Interim Order
Parental Responsibility 15
Contact: Permission 9377
Residence 1662
Prohibited Steps 496
Specific Issues 51
Care 5286
Contact with a child in care 0
Supervision 258
Secure Accommodation 220
Non-molestation 45
Refuse contact with a child in care 0
Total 17410

Age of Children

Table 7 shows the distribution of children’s ages. Over one third (39%) of children involved in cases were within the 0-4 years old category (Figure 7).

Table 7: Children Subject to Applications

Age and Gender of children involved3: 01/04/10 – 31/03/11
  Age Range Number of children in respect of whom orders have been made
0-4 5-8 9-12 13-16
Male 1311 890 694 359 3254
Female 1132 825 659 367 2983
Unknown 10 2 1 1 14
Total 2453 1717 1354 727 6251

Figure 7: Age and Gender of Children Involved (April 2010 - March 2011)

Age (Years) Male Female
0 to 4 1311 1132
5 to 8 890 825
9 to 12 694 659
13 to 16 359 367

Annual Comparisons

Figure 8 presents the number of orders and disposals for 2006/07 to 2010/11. Parental responsibility disposals increased by 26% between 2009/10 and 2010/11. Contact (permission) disposals increased by 25% between 2009/10 and 2010/11. The number of applications for residence orders disposed of also increased by 30% between 2009/10 and 2010/11 and care applications disposed of increased by 74% between 2009/10 and 2010/11.

Figure 8: Orders & Disposals (April 2006 - March 2011)

Year Parental Responsibility Contact Permission Residence Care
2006/07 315 2471 1449 280
2007/08 168 2167 1363 259
2008/09 210 2182 1419 207
2009/10 270 2597 1551 238
2010/11 341 3259 2024 414

Annex 1

Table 8: Business Volume - Care Centres and Related Courts Applications Lodged: 01/04/10 – 31/03/11

  Public Private Total
Care Centre 11 79 90
County Court 0 0 0
Family Proceedings Court 340 2491 2831
Magistrates’ Court 0 0 0
Total 351 2570 2921
Care Centre 2 2 4
County Court 0 0 0
Family Proceedings Court 81 338 419
Magistrates’ Court 0 0 0
Total 83 340 423
Care Centre 5 0 5
County Court 0 0 0
Family Proceedings Court 40 553 593
Magistrates’ Court 0 0 0
Total 45 553 598
Care Centre 6 32 38
County Court 0 0 0
Family Proceedings Court 132 1148 1280
Magistrates’ Court 0 0 0
Total 138 1180 1318

Table 9: Business Volume - Care Centres and Related Courts Disposals: 01/04/10 – 31/03/11

  Public Private Total
Care Centre 79 179 258
County Court 0 0 0
Family Proceedings Court 221 2198 2419
Magistrates’ Court 0 0 0
Total 300 2377 2677
Care Centre 3 8 11
County Court 0 0 0
Family Proceedings Court 76 277 353
Magistrates’ Court 0 0 0
Total 79 285 364
Care Centre 6 26 32
County Court 0 0 0
Family Proceedings Court 24 450 474
Magistrates’ Court 0 0 0
Total 30 476 506
Care Centre 32 78 110
County Court 0 0 0
Family Proceedings Court 78 859 937
Magistrates’ Court 0 0 0
Total 110 937 1047

Appendix 3

Article 4 Reports – Overview (1st April 2010 to 31st March 2011)

Court Location New Reports requested in period Outstanding Reports to be filed in period New Reports to be filed in period Reports Actually Filed Extensions sought in period Otherwise Accounted For
Ballymena 162 162 31 150 45 27
Belfast FPC & FCC 87 86 39 83 47 19
Craigavon FPC & FCC 34 60 1 40 25 8
Dungannon FPC & FCC 47 37 17 31 21 9
CoJ (High Court) 53 57 18 53 25 16
Lisburn 24 39 3 19 28 6
Londonderry FPC & FCC 46 47 14 40 23 11
Newry 33 68 3 25 50 16
Newtownards 348 320 147 314 211 46
Total 834 876 273 755 475 158

(Newtownards FPC requests a high number of Verbal Reports and Verbal Updates. Breakdown of Requests for Written/Verbal Reports and Updates will be included in the 2011/2012 Annual Report)

NB: More than one extension can be applied for in the same case

FPC - Family Proceedings Court

FCC - Family Care Centre

1 Prior to 2007/08 there may be more than one application per child and more than one child per case; in 2007 a new computer system was introduced therefore caution should be used when comparing figures prior to 2007

2 Disposal times include the time spent at other court tiers before determination.

3 Includes children not subject to an application disposed of.