Can final decisions and order(s) made by the court at the end of care proceedings be appealed?
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Sometimes families do not agree with the final decisions or orders made by magistrates or judges at the end of care proceedings. Family members may want to know whether they can appeal the decision(s) made. For example, they may want to know if they can appeal:
- The order made by the Family Court, or the decision not to make an order at all
- The decision about who a child lives with
- The decision about who a child stays in touch with, spends time with or sees.
But the law says it is not possible to appeal a decision simply because someone does not like it. Or because they disagree with it. There must be grounds (reasons) for appeal.
The FAQs below explain more about grounds for appeal, the key rules about appeals and the appeals process.
Who can appeal a decision made at the end of care proceedings?
Only someone who was a party to the care proceedings can appeal the decision or order(s) made.
In care proceedings, the following people or organisations will be parties:
- Children’s services
- The parents
- Anyone else with parental responsibility for the child
- Other family members who don’t have parental responsibility but who the court joins as (makes) parties to the proceedings.
Who deals with appeals and where are the rules about appeals found?
|Decision or order was made by:||Who the appeal needs to be made to and relevant rules|
|Lay justices (magistrates) in the Family Court||A Circuit judge sitting in the Family Court|
|A District Judge in the Family Court (Sir, Madam/Ma’am)||A Circuit judge sitting in the Family Court Family Procedure Rules (FPR): Rule 30 and practice direction 30A|
|A Circuit Judge or Recorder in the Family Court (Your Honour)||Court of Appeal Civil Procedure Rules (CPR): Part 52 and practice direction 52C|
|High Court Judge (My Lord/Lady)||Court of Appeal (As above)|
See Practice Direction 30A, paragraph 2.1 of the Family Procedure Rules for a more detailed table about routes of appeal.
Is there a deadline for appealing a final decision made at the end of care proceedings?
- Sometimes the magistrates or judge dealing with the care proceedings will set a time limit for appealing. If this has happened, then that is the timescale that has to be kept to
- If no time limit was set, then the person appealing has 21 days to file a notice of appeal with the appeal court. The 21 days runs from the day after the decision that is being appealed was made (FPR 30.4(2)(b)).
If the person wanting to appeal misses that deadline, they can ask the Family Court to extend the time allowed for bringing the appeal.
What exactly are grounds for appeal?
Grounds for appeal are the reasons why someone says the decision of the Judge or Magistrates was wrong.
The law says someone cannot win an appeal just because they do not like or agree with the decision the court made.
A decision of a court, including the Family Court, can only be successfully appealed if the decision was either:
- Wrong or
- Unjust (unfair) because of a serious procedural or other problem in the lower court proceedings.
A decision can be wrong because the magistrates or the judge did any of the following:
- Made a mistake in law. This means they applied the law wrongly to the case
- Failed to take into account an important piece of evidence
- Took into account a piece of evidence that they should not have relied on.
A decision can be unfair because the magistrates or the judge:
- Did not follow the correct procedure. For example, not making sure that all parties had a proper chance to speak
These are examples and there may be other good reasons why a decision was wrong or unfair.
Is permission needed to appeal a final decision?
This depends on who made the final decision or order being appealed:
- Decision made by Magistrates = No permission needed
- Decision made by a District Judge = Permission needed
- Decision made by a Circuit Judge = Permission needed.
If permission to appeal is needed, how can this be requested?
If permission is needed this can be asked for at the end of the final hearing when the final decision was made.
Permission can also be requested afterwards from the court who will hear the appeal. This can be done if permission was not asked for at the end of the final hearing. Or if permission was sought but it wasn’t given. The next dropdown explains the process.
What process and rules apply when seeking permission to appeal?
- The request for permission must be made an appellant’s notice (sometimes called a notice of appeal). This is a type of court form
- The form to use is called form N161. There are guidance notes to help complete the form on the same page
- If the request for permission is being made to the Court of Appeal (because the decision was made by a circuit judge or Recorder) the rule about seeking permission is in Civil Procedure Rule 52.3(2). There is a guidance note about appealing to the court of appeal available here (known as form 202)
- If the request for permission is being made to a Circuity judge in the Family Court (because the appeal is from the decision of a district Judge) then the rules about requesting permission afterwards that apply are in the Family Procedures Rule 30.3(3)
- The application for permission to appeal and the appeal itself can be made at the same time. Use the same form – the appellant’s notice
- And remember if the decision being appealed was made by magistrates, no permission is needed.
What exactly is the appellant’s notice (notice of appeal)?
This is the form that must be completed when someone is:
- Seeking permission to appeal, or
- Bringing an appeal.
If permission to appeal is needed then the application for permission to appeal and the appeal itself can be done at the same time in the same appellant’s notice using form N121.
How should the appellant’s notice be completed?
The notice should:
- Include the grounds of appeal.
- Be sent within strict time limits
- Be on the correct form.
Grounds: The grounds (reasons) of appeal should be set out on a separate sheet of paper, and in numbered paragraphs.
Timing: It is important that the appellants notice is sent into the court within the time allowed for making an appeal. Do this even if not all the documents are ready. Tell the court in a letter when the extra documents will be sent.
Guidance: The form for the appellant’s notice is form N161 and there are guidance notes to help complete the form on the same page.
What other documents will the court need for an appeal?
The documents that the court needs are set out in the court rules. But these are also all listed in the form for the appellant’s notice. IT is a good idea to go through that carefully.
Some of the documents listed come from the court that made the final decision. This includes:
- A sealed or stamped copy of the order that is being appealed (this should be sent to you by the court, or you can request it from the court office)
- A transcript or notes of the judgment (a written copy of what the judge said). In the magistrates court, this is called ‘written reasons for the court’s decision’.
If the person appealing was represented by a barrister or solicitor at the final hearing, ask them for their notes of the judgment. If the transcript does not come through in time, these notes could be sent to the appeal court in the meantime.
What if someone can’t afford a transcript?
If the person appealing is on low income, they can ask for the cost of provided for the transcript be paid for by the court. They will need to fill in this form EX105.
How does the court decide whether to give someone permission to appeal?
To give permission, the court has to be satisfied that either:
- The appeal would have a real prospect of success, or
- There is some other compelling reason why the appeal should be heard. FPR 30.3(7), CPR 52.6
This means that:
- The appeal court will look carefully at the grounds of appeal
- The appeal court will then decide it looks like the person who wants to bring the appeal has a realistic chance of winning
- It is very important for the grounds to set out clearly what was wrong with the first decision. (See R (A Child)  EWCA Civ 895).
What happens when the appeal court gets the form (appellant’s notice) asking for permission to appeal?
There are five possible decisions that can be made in response to someone asking for permission to appeal. Open or download this table which explains what these are.
What if permission to appeal is not needed or permission has already been given?
An appellant’s notice (notice of appeal) still needs to be completed in order to bring an appeal. The notice must:
- Include the grounds of appeal
- Be sent within strict time limits
- Be on the correct form.
What can the appeal court do if an appeal is successful?
If the appeal is successful, the appeal court can do one of the following:
- Vary (change) the order that was made at the final hearing
- Discharge (end) the order that was made at the final hearing
- Send the case back to a lower court for a re-hearing. This will most likely be in front of a different judge. They will hearing the whole case again and decide what order to make.
What if the decision being appealed is not a final decision?
If the decision is an ‘interim’ one, then the process and deadlines are different. An interim decision is one that is made whilst the care proceedings are still ongoing and not at the end.
Examples of interim decisions are:
- Decisions to grant or refuse an assessment
- Decision to make an interim care order to allow a child to removed from their parents care.
The deadline for appealing an interim decision is shorter. It is 7 days. The day on which the decision was made counts as the first day (see Family Procedure Rule 30.4(3)(a) and (b)).
Where can someone get guidance and advice about bringing an appeal?
- If you had a barrister or solicitor representing you then ask for their help. They will be able to explain whether legal aid is available to help you with the appeal
- This court information leaflet may be helpful – EX340 – Appealing against a court decision in civil and family cases
- Some further guidance from the court service about appealing to the Court of Appeal is available in this leaflet
- Rights of Women have some useful materials on their website here about appealing Family Court decisions.