Of course I am a pedant. All lawyers are pedants. The trick is to judge which of the little things you really should sweat.
Here’s a little thing that I think does matter, or might in some cases. The C1A.
The C1A is the supplemental information form that Applicants and Respondents in cases involving child arrangements are supposed to complete where they are saying there are issues of domestic or other abuse. In the context of Practice Direction 12J and the Child Arrangements Programme, where the ethos is on early safeguarding, and on triaging cases so that they are safely conducted and so that the need for protective measures or fact finding exercises is identified early, these little forms really matter. Or they have potential to. But for some reason they are usually just ignored, especially the Respondent’s C1A, which comes along later when the safeguarding train has already chugged off from the platform. That gets forgotten, like the middle sibling who nobody notices.
Take a recent example. Applicant father issues with a C100. Mother responds with a C1A. Cafcass carry out safeguarding checks (in which M raises domestic abuse but in a fairly non specific way) but don’t recommend a fact finding hearing. The safeguarding letter is produced at the FHDRA, but it does not mention the C1A. Lo and behold, when checked CAFCASS confirm they don’t have the C1A and haven’t therefore taken it into account. They conduct a review and change their recommendation to one for a Fact Finding. What if I hadn’t spotted it? A LiP wouldn’t know to do this, and I almost missed it myself. The facts of the case don’t matter here, its the process I’m interested in.
I’ve seen this sort of thing quite often. In another case of mine the C1A kept getting left out of the bundle. Applicants often don’t seem to receive them (I think this is because it is unclear who is supposed to serve them – the rules say the court serves the C100 but don’t specify with the C1A, and the form itself doesn’t really help as it only talks about sending it to the court).
So anyway, because I am a saddo I checked the rules. Part 12 is useless. PD12C doesn’t help. PD12B (Child Arrangements Programme says that the court will send CAFCASS the C1A if supplied no later than 2 working days after the date of issue (pa 8.9), but of course this is the APPLICANT’S C1A, by this stage the Respondent won’t have even got the application probably. It goes on to say that ‘The court shall not send Cafcass any other application…unless the court has made a specific direction…therefore, any application which is not in Form C100… will be returned to the court at which the application has been issued’. This just means, I think, that Cafcass don’t want all the crud people tend to attach to their applications. But it isn’t really about the C1A, which is not an ‘application’. There is NO mention of a Respondent’s C1A so it just isn’t properly woven into the safeguarding process.
The C1A is mentioned in the bit about the Gatekeeping stage, but again the only C1A they will have at that early juncture is the applicant’s C1A. It is usually the Respondent who fills in a C1A, because the preponderance of applications are by parents wanting contact when the other says it isn’t safe. In the section heading Safeguarding – not a whisper about the C1A.
This is where it gets weird.
The C7 acknowledgment form says this. It firstly tells Respondents that if they tick yes to the various harm questions on C7 they must fill in a C1A. And then it says :
…When you have answered the questions make copies of both sides of this form. You will need a copy for the applicant, and each party named in the application for an order (form C1, C100, C78 or C79).
Post, or hand, a copy to the applicant and to each party. Then post, or take, this form, and the Statement of Means and Supplemental Information Form if you have filled one in, to the court at the address below. You must do this within 14 days of the date when you were given the Notice of Proceedings, or of the postmark on the envelope if the Notice of Proceedings was posted to you.
Now this seems to suggest that you are supposed to serve the C7 but just file the C1A.
AND it also seems to be the case that you have 14 days to do this. This is going to be quite close to the 17 working days Cafcass have to do their checks, although in practice Cafcass are I think sometimes given / take a little longer.
Now I would certainly not want to suggest that the safeguarding checks should take any longer than they already do – the wait for the court to actually DO SOMETHING when you are desperate to see your child is quite awful enough. But if the C1A is to have any purpose shouldn’t it be properly fed into the pre FHDRA safeguarding process? Shouldn’t the court be obligated to send it on to Cafcass, or shouldn’t the Respondent be obligated to send it to them directly? Or perhaps even Cafcass should check with the court for a C1A as a part of their other safeguarding checks? They certainly don’t seem to be picking up the existence of these forms from their safeguarding telephone calls and I guess many litigants would not know what a ‘C1A’ is if asked about it on the phone (even if they’ve completed it not long before).
One day, particularly where Respondents are in person and without legal aid, are frightened and inarticulate, a C1A might save someone’s life. One day the neglect of what a C1A says might leave a child or adult exposed to harm. In most cases it doesn’t matter, and it gets picked up at one point or another, and in many cases the allegations in a C1A are neither her nor there – but the point of these checks is to help the court distinguish which is which. So we really ought to do it properly.