R (on the application of T) v Legal Aid Agency (formerly Legal Services Commission)  EWHC 960 (Admin) Collins J, 26 April 2013 read judgment This successful challenge to a decision by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) arose from an expert assessor in family proceedings – not unnaturally – refusing to begin work unless funding was in place. If the LAA are asked to fund an assessment on behalf of a party with legal aid, then it is common for lawyers to obtain prior authority from the LAA to ensure that the expert will be paid for their work. If not, then the lawyers themselves can be liable for an expert’s costs. In this case, prior authority to pay for the expert assessment had been refused by the LAA thus resulting in further court hearings and delay in the resolution of the case for the children.
The application for judicial review of the LAA came before Collins J. He concluded that:
For the reasons given the decision of the defendant was wrong in law. Reasons have not been given. This might not have led to any relief beyond a declaration if I were persuaded that the only result could be that the decision was confirmed. Not only am I not so persuaded but I find it difficult to see that it would be reasonable, at least without engaging with the judge whether in writing or orally, to fail to comply with what she has decided is necessary. Continue reading
MP, R(on the application of) v the Secretary of State for Justice  EWHC 214 (Admin) – read judgment
The prison authorities had acted unlawfully in restricting childcare resettlement leave to prisoners who were within two years of their release date and had been allocated to “open” conditions.
Two female prisoners applied for judicial review of decisions of the defendant secretary of state and prison governors to refuse them childcare resettlement leave (CRL). CRL is a type of temporary licence available to prisoners who have sole caring responsibility for a child under 16. CRL enables prisoners to spend up to three days at home (including nights), provided certain conditions are met. The principal issue in the claim was whether the secretary of state was acting lawfully in restricting CRL to female prisoners who have less than 2 years until their earliest release date. Continue reading
H and L v A City Council  EWCA Civ 403 – Read judgment
In a decision bound to stir up strong feelings, the Court of Appeal has found that disclosures made by a local authority to other organisations of a person’s conviction for a sex offence against a child and future disclosures proposed by the authority were unlawful. The Court considered that the “blanket” approach to disclosure, even though the person with the conviction and his partner did not work directly with children, was not proportionate to the risk posed. Further, making disclosures without first giving the persons concerned the opportunity to make representations on the matter was unfair. Continue reading
Coventry City Council v X, Y and Z (Care Proceedings: Costs: Identification of Local Authority)  EWHC B22 (Fam) – Read judgment
Coventry City Council has been ordered to pay £100,000 in costs and has been severely criticised by the High Court for child protection failures. What is particularly interesting about the case is the unusual decision of the High Court to disclose the name of the offending council at the request of the BBC.
Judge Bellamy decided the main case in February, ruling that the council, which had accused the children’s parents of faking their illnesses, had “fallen below acceptable standards”. The council had attempted to withdraw care orders for three children at the last moment after it admitted to not having enough evidence to back up its claims. The judge was so unimpressed with the council’s conduct of the case that he ordered them to pay the parents’ costs of £100,000.
A leading children’s charity has said that vulnerable children are trapped in an unnecessary limbo of court delays, with courts taking up to 65 weeks to decide whether it is safe for a child to remain with its parents.
Barnardo’s has based its research (see press release) on ‘court data’ although the data itself is not published on their website. On the face of it, the figures are worrying:
Vulnerable children are waiting on average more than a year (57 weeks) in unstable family homes or emergency foster placements before a county court decides if they will be taken into care. In the family proceedings (magistrates) court the average time is 45 weeks – more than 10 months.
A v (1) East Sussex County Council (2) Chief Constable of Sussex (2010) – Read judgment
The Administrative Court has held that the removal of a baby from her mother due to fears that she was fabricating symptoms was not a breach of human rights. The court did, however, identify ways in which the situation could have been handled less heavy-handedly.
Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC, who appeared in the case for the Appellant, analyses the judgment
This case involved a claim under the Human Rights Act 1998
for damages for breach of Article 8
of the European Convention. The Claimant was a young mother who had taken her baby into hospital when she was worried he appeared to have episodes when he stopped breathing. The baby was admitted to hospital and the medical assessment was there was nothing wrong with the baby. The paediatrician was concerned that the mother, having reported incidents that were not observed by medical staff, might be suffering from factitious illness, i.e. that she was deliberately fabricating the symptoms. He alerted social services who held a meeting on 29 December.
The Government has commissioned an independent review of children’s social work and frontline child protection practice. Child protection services have been widely derided as a result of a series of scandals such as that involving baby Peter Connelly (Baby P), and many lawyers feel the court system is at breaking point.
Update 13/06/10 – The Court of Protection has issued its first annual report, which can be accessed here. The forward to the Report says “The court has had to endure more than its fair share of setbacks, which were caused in the main by a failure to anticipate, prior to the implementation of the Act, the volume of work that would inundate the court during the initial transitional period, and the overall burden it would place on the judges and staff.“
According to a Department for Education (DoE) press release, Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, has asked Professor Eileen Munro, a professor of social policy at the London School of Economics, to lead the a “fundamental” review of child protection services. Professor Munro has written widely on child protection and the regulation of child care.
According to the DoE, the Government intends to
EH v London Borough of Greenwich and AA and REA and RHA (through their guardian), A (children)  EWCA Civ 344
This was an appeal against the decision of the judge at first instance granting the local authority a full care order and placement order in respect of the appellant mother’s children. One of the children had been admitted to hospital as a baby with a fracture injury that was diagnosed as being non-accidental, following which both children were immediately taken from their parents’ care and placed with their maternal grandmother.
A later fact finding hearing determined that the baby’s injury had probably been caused by her father and that the mother had failed to protect the baby, although the judge did find that the mother had very many good qualities and her parenting abilities, per se, were not in issue, and that apart from the fracture injury there was no evidence that the children had suffered any harm.
We posted last week on issues of breach of duty in cases involving child protection, and mentioned the MAGA case as an important decision in extending the duty of care to priests in the Catholic church. The lawyers in the case have now written up the judgment.
Case comment by Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC and Justin Levinson
(Barristers for the Claimant, MAGA)
MAGA v The Trustees of the Birmingham Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church  EWCA Civ 256, Court of Appeal (Lord Neuberger MR, Lord Justice Longmore and Lady Justice Smith) (read judgment)
This appeal was brought with permission from the trial Judge Mr Justice Jack. The claim arose out of sexual abuse suffered by the Claimant whilst a child living in the area of the Church of Christ the King in Coundon, Coventry. This was a Catholic church under the control of the the Trustees of the Birmingham Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church. The priests appointed to work at that church in the 1970s included a senior priest father McTernan and a younger priest Father Clonan. The Claimant was seriously and repeatedly sexually assaulted over a number of months by the younger priest known as Father Clonan. The abuse took place after Father Clonan befriended the Claimant, invited him to the church youth club and then to the Presbytery where Father Clonan and other priests including the senior Priest Father McTernan lived.
Sir Nicholas Wall, the new head of the Family Division, is being sworn in today. The Times reports this morning on comments he made in a recent judgment in the case of EH v London Borough of Greenwich & Ors  EWCA Civ 344.
He said of social workers:
What social workers do not appear to understand is that the public perception of their role in care proceedings is not a happy one. They are perceived by many as the arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents into an unsatisfactory care system, and as trampling on the rights of parents and children in the process. This case will do little to dispel that perception. (paragraph 109)
A profile of Sir Nicholas in The Times suggests that he arrives at his new post with a reputation as a forthright critic of social services, local council, social workers and politicians. Indeed, it has been suggested that the Justice Minister Jack Straw may have been trying to block the appointment of Sir Nicholas for that very reason.
We posted earlier this week on the issues regarding child protection and the duty of care of local authorities. The courts are often finding themselves having to balance the competing rights of children, who must be protected against abuse, and parents, who are sometimes themselves the victims of overzealous prosecutions by local authorities. It would appear that the pressure on public authorities will only increase once the new Family Division head is in post.
Sharon Shoesmith’s court action over her sacking by Haringey Council has once more brought to the fore the sorry account of neglect and mismanagement by police and local authorities of that led to the death of baby Peter Connelly (‘Baby P’). It has also, however, highlighted the increasingly significant role of courts in the UK and Europe in holding public and private authorities to account in claims involving allegations of child abuse.
It is not just local authorities that are under pressure. Allegations of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic church rumble on, occasionally erupting into well publicised court dramas. For example, the recent groundbreaking claim brought against a Catholic priest, Father Clonan, relating to events in Coventry in around 1976 (MAGA v The Trustees Of The Birmingham Archdiocese Of The Roman Catholic Church  EWCA Civ 256).
The claimant (MAGA) was at the time a child of 12 with learning disabilities. The High Court had ruled that the Church was not liable for the abuse as MAGA was not a Roman Catholic, and as such Father Clonan had no business having any dealings with him and was not doing so in his capacity as a priest. MAGA succeeded on appeal because the Court of Appeal accepted that a priest’s duties are very wide, and involve him befriending non-Catholics, such as in the course of his evangelising role.