Early legal advice

This advice provides information regarding the aims of seeking early legal advice from the Child Protection Litigation Office (CPLO).

Document ID number 2205, version 3, 20 October 2017.

Introduction

The CPLO offers a 'model of early legal advice'. This is a location based legal consultation service in metropolitan offices and a phone based service for both rural and metropolitan practitioners. The service is committed to assisting child protection practitioners to achieve desired court outcomes through the provision of legal advice at the earliest opportunity of statutory intervention.

Aims of providing early legal advice to child protection practitioners

The purpose of providing early legal advice to child protection practitioners is to support:

  • positive court outcomes for children
  • improved experience of child protection practitioners at the Melbourne Children’s Court
  • earlier and more consistent involvement of solicitors in decision making and case presentation to improve child protection practice and performance in court
  • child protection practitioners in legal proceedings
  • child protection practitioners' understanding of court processes, procedures and expectations
  • child protection practitioners' preparation for court
  • additional training on court and legislative processes
  • the links and relationships between the CPLO and divisions.

Early legal advice will be provided on matters prior to issuing an application and in contested matters and hearings. This includes:

  • protection applications by notice and emergency care, including withdrawal of a protection application
  • temporary assessment orders
  • interim accommodation orders
  • breaches and revocations
  • contested matters including conciliation conferences and directions hearings
  • sexual abuse and likelihood of sexual abuse cases
  • high-risk infants
  • likelihood of abuse cases
  • Family Court matters
  • internal review and VCAT matters
  • appeals to County Court and Supreme Court.

Child protection staff (practitioners and managers) should seek legal advice with the CPLO solicitor in their division prior to an application being issued or hearing date to:

  • ensure that the investigation is conducted in a way that optimises the gathering of relevant evidence in order for any subsequent application to be successful
  • ensure that there is sufficient evidence for the application
  • identify if a temporary assessment order is appropriate
  • identify if additional evidence is required, such as medical reports, school reports
  • determine the appropriate legal intervention, through examination of the merits and deficits of an application, issues of dispute and options for settlement in achieving timely outcomes for children
  • ensure that the appropriate court process and procedures are undertaken according to legislative requirements and practice standards by child protection practitioners
  • ensure child protection practitioners are clear about the issues and rationale for the initial application and recommendations
  • ensure child protection practitioners are prepared for giving evidence
  • initiate contact with the legal representatives of other parties to obtain information on the matters that are being contested and to negotiate contested matters prior to the hearing, where appropriate.

Legal services to AHCPES

The provision of legal advice to AHCPES is available during normal business hours with the solicitor attached to the East Division.

Resolving differences

To ensure the successful integration of the model, it is essential that differences be addressed as soon as possible after they arise.

The procedure for handling a concern is as follows:

  1. The solicitor and child protection practitioner to discuss the issue. Where a concern relates to a case specific court matter and points of negotiation, the legal officer may contact the team manager.
  2. If the matter remains unresolved, the issue should be managed up to the senior solicitor and team manager.
  3. In the event that the matter has not been resolved at this level, involvement of the CPLO manager and relevant child protection manager may be necessary.

Considerations for good practice

Court can be a very stressful and difficult phase of child protection work. Being well prepared and confident in your presentation can go a long way to making court a less stressful event and increases the likelihood of obtaining a better outcome for children. The model of early legal advice should be utilised with this in mind.

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