Judges have been warned by the Court of Appeal not to adjourn final decisions in family cases simply to 'press the pause button'.
Handing down judgment last week in S-L (Children: Adjournment), Lord Justice Peter Jackson said adjourning a decision 'is a positive choice that requires proper weighing-up of the advantages and disadvantages and a lively awareness that the passage of time has consequences'.
A local authority was challenging a recorder's decision made in May to adjourn applications for care and placement orders for a three-year-old and her seven-month-old brother.
Jackson LJ said: 'In cases involving children, there can sometimes be good reasons for adjourning a final decision in order to obtain necessary information. The overriding obligation is to deal with the case justly, but there is a trade-off between the need for information and the presumptive prejudice to the child of delay...
'Judges in the family court are well used to finding where the balance lies in the particular case before them and are acutely aware that for babies and young children the passage of weeks and months is a matter of real significance.'
Public law proceedings are subject to a 26-week statutory timetable. Proceedings for the three-year-old began on 3 September 2018 and for her brother on 24 January this year.
Jackson LJ said the recorder was obliged to explain why the timetable needed to be extended. He concluded that the adjournment was wrong.
He said: 'The parents had been intensively assessed in relation to one child and there was no gap in the evidence to justify a further assessment in relation to two children for whom delay in decision-making was a pressing negative feature. The recorder did not refer to the statutory timetabling obligations or explain why further extension was necessary.'
The recorder's decision was also announced 'without context or coherent explanation'.
Jackson LJ ordered the matter to be remitted for an expedited final hearing 'in the light of the sensitive ages of these children'. Lord Justice Green and Lord Justice Floyd agreed.