Stages in a child protection case in the Children’s Court – Part 2
What is a pre-hearing conference?
A pre-hearing conference is a meeting that takes place at court where you and the other people involved in the case can say what they think is best for your child and try and reach an agreement.
The following people attend the meeting:
- you and your lawyer (if you have a lawyer)
- the other parent and their lawyer (if they have a lawyer)
- the magistrate or a registrar
- your child’s Child Protection case worker
- your child’s Child Protection team leader
- your child’s lawyer (if one has been appointed), and
- anyone else who is involved in the case.
A pre-hearing conference can be arranged by the court if an agreement cannot be reached about what Child Protection is asking for. For example, what Child Protection has set out in their written proposal, or the final protection order Child Protection is asking for.
The pre-hearing conference is confidential. This means what you and others say during the meeting cannot be told to the court later unless everyone agrees to the information being shared or the court allows this.
If an agreement is reached at the meeting, your court case can finish on the day of the meeting. If agreement cannot be reached, the next stage is for the case to go into the trial allocation list.
What is the trial allocation list?
The trial allocation list is a type of court hearing where the court sets the dates for the final order hearing.
The court will want to hear from you and others involved in the case about:
- what you can agree on and what you cannot agree on
- what paperwork has been lodged with the court, and
- any other paperwork that needs to be lodged before the final order hearing.
Everyone involved in the case must complete a document called a ‘Trial Listing Callover Certificate’, and lodge this with the court at least 3 days before trial allocation list. The certificates help the court work out how long the final order hearing will take.
If the court sets dates for a final order hearing, it will also make orders about when other paperwork needs to be lodged before the hearing. Typically, paperwork must be lodged with the court at least 21 days before the readiness hearing. However, the court may make different orders about when paperwork must be lodged.
If you are close to reaching an agreement, the court may decide it would be helpful for everyone to attend another pre-hearing conference or a child protection mediation conference.
What is a readiness hearing?
A readiness hearing is a short court hearing to check the case is ready for the final order hearing. For example, the court may check if everyone has received the right paperwork and ask who will have a lawyer and who will represent themselves at the final order hearing.
At a readiness hearing the court can make orders to help make sure the case is ready to go ahead on the final order hearing date.
Not all cases have a readiness hearing.
In most cases, you will need to lodge a document called a ‘Case Outline’ at least 7 days before the readiness hearing.
Your case outline should set out:
- the issues you cannot agree about,
- which of the other side’s witnesses you want to ask questions at the final order hearing,
- a list of all the court documents you have lodged with the court; and
- any other evidence you want to use at the final order hearing
You should get legal advice about what to put in your case outline.
What is a final order hearing?
A final order hearing, also sometimes called a trial, is a hearing where the magistrate listens to all the evidence in the case. You, the other parent, Child Protection, the child’s lawyer (if one has been appointed) and anyone else involved in the case, can have a say. If you have a lawyer, they will help you put your evidence to the court.
The magistrate will listen to everyone and then decide whether a final protection order is needed to keep your child safe.
Typically, a final order hearing goes for several days.
At the final order hearing, the court can decide if:
- a protection order is needed
- parents and family need help to make sure things are safe for the child at home
- the child can live at home, or
- the child cannot live at home, how long the child will be in the care of Child Protection or a special guardian.
Reviewed: 24 August 2022