Thursday, 1 March 2007

For mention

Yesterday morning was spent at a 'for mention' hearing. This is one of those phrases that lawyers treat as normal and bandy about all the time, but which is in fact not a very good description of the event in question. I'll talk you through it, as it was pretty typical.

It was for the Case of the Two QCs. The fact finding hearing is over and judgment has been given. What is called the 'disposal' hearing is coming up in a few months' time. At this point the judge decides what he's actually going to do about the facts that he previously found. Will the child go back to its parents, is foster care the way forward, or is adoption an option?

At the end of the fact finding hearing, I think it was one of the parents who asked for a 'for mention' hearing before the disposal hearing. The purpose in mind at that time would have been to check that the local authority was managing contact between parents and child in an appropriate way. Bringing everyone back to court would focus minds and ensure that everyone was being co-operative.

This is indeed pretty much what happened. The local authority had been trying to be as co-operative as possible about arranging contact, but a change of circumstances for the parents meant that the previous contact arrangements had broken down. The hearing was, by accident rather than design, perfectly timed to get everyone back together to sort out who would do what when. I've commented before on how much family work is done immediately outside a court room, and this was no exception. The hearing was listed for 10am, so everyone turned up at 9.30am. The problems quickly emerged, there was much shuttling between the little bits of turf to which the various parties laid claim in the open areas and the consultation rooms, and a way forward started to materialise.

We were called before the judge at about 11am. It almost goes without saying that we weren't the only case listed at 10am before the same judge. My mother tells me that consultants in the NHS used to do this and potentially keep a patient waiting all day at the convienence of the consultant, but that ended some time ago when consultants came to realise (or realisation was forced upon them, more likely) that the time of the patient might also have value. The Master informed the judge of the situation and the progress that had been made towards a solution. The judge gave us some pointers, told us to go away, reach an agreement, draw up a draft order and come back at 12.45pm.

It took another half hour or so to draw up the draft order, then we sat around waiting for 12.45pm. It came, the judge approved the order, and we went.

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