See procedure Directions hearing for tasks that must be undertaken.
A directions hearing:
- will be held approximately two weeks before a contested hearing
- deals primarily with administrative issues of the contested hearing
- all witnesses to be called by the department must be confirmed.
At a directions hearing the Court makes enquiries of the parties to inform itself of:
- the issues in dispute and to establish if those issues are able to be resolved
- the number and names of witnesses being called by all parties and the availability of the witnesses
- confirmation that parents have a grant of aid or not (has Legal Aid approved funding for the contest?)
- confirmation that all relevant reports have been obtained and make a direction about their submission if this has not occurred
- establish the appropriate amount of time to be set aside for the contested hearing
- any other matters relevant to the contest.
A directions hearing is held approximately two weeks prior to a contest hearing. If, at the directions hearing, the case can be settled, the Court will make an appropriate order regarding the child and the case may be finalised that day. The contest hearing will then be vacated. However, the case will be adjourned to a contested hearing if it is unable to be resolved at the directions hearing.
The magistrate or judge hearing the directions hearing will have read all written material provided to the Court before the hearing.
In some instances pressure will be placed on the department to settle matters or withdraw applications on the basis that to proceed may result in costs being awarded against the department if they are unsuccessful.
If practitioners and managers believe on reasonable grounds, taking account of all relevant factors, including:
- the availability of relevant evidence in support of the application
- the advice of their legal representative
- that it is in the child's best interests, being mindful of the need to protect a child from harm, protect their rights and to promote their development, and other relevant factors within the best interests principles,
then the matter should proceed. The risk of costs being incurred by the department is a secondary consideration. The primary responsibility of the department is the protection from harm, protection of rights and promotion of development and other relevant factors.
If child protection practitioners are aware of a possible cost application, they should notify their management of this development whilst at court.
Practitioners should raise with their legal representative prior to the direction hearing the need for the Children's Court clinician to attend as a witness. At the directions hearing a s. 41 order by which the Court requests and arranges the attendance of the clinician to give evidence will be sought.