County Lines is the name that the police have given to the involvement of young adolescents in Organised Crime Gangs (OCG), usually transporting drugs from an urban centre where supply is readily available to rural areas where there is less supply and hence the price can be more lucrative for the OCG. Often there are competing OCGs in these areas, and hence there’s a degree of physical risk to the young adolescents as well as the criminal behaviour itself as the gangs compete for territory and access to those markets.
Magical sparkle powers is the pejorative nickname I have given to the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court, largely arising from the frequently cited quotation that the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court is theoretically limitless.
A City Council v LS & Ors (Secure Accommodation Inherent Jurisdiction)  EWHC 1384 (Fam) (04 June 2019)
6.The background can be shortly stated and is derived in the main from intelligence reports that have been communicated by the police to the local authority. KS lives with his mother in the south of the city. Since 2017 KS has been considered to be at risk of criminal exploitation. The police assessment is that KS is an active member of a named OCG. That OCG is believed to be involved in violent feuds grounded in attempts to take control of drug trafficking activity in identified areas of the city, further exaggerated by racial tensions. Police intelligence indicates that KS is presently in dispute with other members of the criminal community in the south of the city. The police consider that those ‘nominals’ he is in dispute with have the ability to use firearms and display a willingness to conduct retaliatory attacks and to seek violent acts of retribution.
7.In August 2017, KS was found in the company of an OCG drug dealer and was deemed to be a victim of criminal exploitation. Police exercised their powers of protection pursuant to s 46 of the Children Act 1989. In September 2017 KS was said to have witnessed a gang related stabbing in the south of the city that took place that month when a young male was stabbed in the neck. Also in September 2017 KS was found to be carrying a baseball bat and a brick and was arrested for a racially aggravated assault having allegedly threatened a female with a baseball bat and thrown a brick at her. In October 2017, KS was made the subject of a child protection plan by the City Council.
8.In May 2018 KS was found in possession of a quantity of heroin and offensive weapons were found in the property in which he was arrested for conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. No charges were brought on that occasion. In July 2018 KS was arrested at a festival in possession of a quantity of cocaine on suspicion of selling drugs. Later in July police received intelligence that KS had been involved in a street altercation in which he wounded a person with a knife. In October 2018 KS was convicted of possessing an offensive weapon and assault occasioning actual bodily harm arising out of the incident in September 2017 and was made the subject of a Youth Rehabilitation Order for 18 months.
9.In late 2018 KS was attacked in the street by males wielding a machete and a knife. He was stabbed five times. He stated he did not know his attackers and would not make a complaint. A month later a male from a rival OCG suffered severe knife injuries following a window being broken at KS’s home address whilst his younger siblings were present. No complaints were made by any of the parties involved.
10.In February 2019 police intelligence suggested that KS had been involved in the discharge of a firearm. In March 2019 KS was arrested following a knife attack that Police intelligence indicated was a targeted attack by members of the named OCG. A search of the family home revealed two large knives, one under KS’s bed and one under the sofa. Following a strategy meeting, it was agreed that KS could return home on condition that the mother work openly with the local authority. In April 2019 KS was served with a ‘Gun Crime Nominal Notice’. This is a ‘disruption notice’ designed to alert a person that their activities have generated Police attention and that advice and support is available should they choose. The Police identified KS as a “Gold” gun crime nominal and as being one of “top six gun crime nominals in the police force area”.
11.Thereafter, KS was identified by Police as a suspect in the shooting of an adult male who had been shot in the leg in broad daylight in the presence of members of the public. KS was arrested on that date on suspicion of attempted murder and bailed. A search of his property recovered an axe. Within this context, the police considered that KS’s life was under threat from reprisals following the shooting. However, KS rejected advice that he leave the area and reside in alternate accommodation, and refused to accept that he was at risk. As the result of a Strategy Meeting, the mother was advised to leave the family home with KS’s two younger siblings and to stay outside the area. She has done so. A secure panel meeting concluded that the risks to KS and to other’s from KS were so high as to warrant an application for an order authorising his secure accommodation.
12.Within the foregoing context, in her statement dated 15 May 2019, the social worker summarises the risks to KS arising out of the circumstances outlined above as follows:
“The Local Authority feel that it is necessary for a continuation of deprivation of liberty in respect of KS. KS remains at risk of significant harm or harming someone else if he is to remain in the care of [the mother] and remain in [the south of the city] and immediate surrounding areas. It is known from police information that KS is in possession of a firearm and there is information to suggest that he has used this on more than one occasion. The risks to KS’s personal safety have been escalating since the beginning of the year and the police have indicated that there is a significant risk to his own safety and life due to potential reprisals as a consequence of the shooting incident…”
(KS disputed that any of those things were true)
In this case, the young person KS was 17. (Too old for a Care Order to be made). His mother objected to him being accommodated in secure accommodation, so he could not be accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act, therefore there was no mechanism under the Children Act 1989 for him to be accommodated at all. And therefore, there was no legal basis for the LA to seek a section 25 Secure Accommodation Order
The Local Authority therefore asked the Court to authorise under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court for authority to deprive KS of his liberty.
(There is talk in the judgment of it being a DOLS application – deprivation of liberty application, but it clearly can’t be, because there’s no medical evidence that KS met the test in the Mental Capacity Act 2005 for not having capacity to make decisions for himself. Many would say that he was making very BAD decisions, but people are allowed to make BAD decisions, as long as they have capacity)
Cutting to the chase of the decision
1.Does the High Court have power under its inherent jurisdiction, upon the application of a local authority, to authorise the placement in secure accommodation of a 17 year old child who is not looked after by that local authority within the meaning of s 22(1) of the Children Act 1989, whose parent objects to that course of action, but who is demonstrably at grave risk of serious, and possibly fatal harm. I am satisfied that the answer is ‘no’.
The judgment sets it out in more detail, of course, but that’s the nub of it. So this is a case which adds a limit to those theoretically limitless powers, and the cases that do that are always significant.
45.Having considered carefully the evidence and submissions in this case, and accepting that the evidence presently before the court justifies the concerns of the professionals in this case who are endeavouring to keep KS safe, I am satisfied that this court is not permitted to use its inherent jurisdiction to authorise KS’s the placement in secure accommodation in the manner requested by the local authority. My reasons for so deciding are as follows.
46.There is no care order in force in respect of KS and an application for such an order cannot be made by virtue of his age (Children Act 1989 s 31(7)). KS has not been accommodated by the local authority for the purposes of the Children Act 1989 (whilst the order of HHJ Sharpe did result, briefly, in KS’s placement at the non-secure unit, in light of the conclusions set out in this judgment, that order was not capable of causing KS to be “accommodated” by the local authority for the purposes of the Children Act 1989). KS’s mother retains exclusive parental responsibility for him. She did not and does not consent to his accommodation and, accordingly, KS cannot be accommodated by the local authority for the purposes of the 1989 Act (Children Act 1989 s 20(7)). In the circumstances, KS is a child who is neither “in the care of” the local authority or “provided with accommodation” by the local authority. I am satisfied that this position has two key consequences.
47.First, KS is not a “looked after” child for the purposes of s 25 of the Children Act 1989 and does not therefore fall within the terms of that section. In the circumstances, this is not a case where a declaration under the inherent jurisdiction is sought by the local authority in order to render lawful a non-secure placement for a looked after child that amounts to a deprivation of liberty due to a lack of suitable secure beds preventing an application under s 25 of the Children Act 1989. Rather, in this case, the local authority seeks an order under the inherent jurisdiction because s 25 of the Children Act 1989 cannot apply to KS.
48.Second, and within this context, in circumstances where KS is not and (in circumstances where his mother objects to his accommodation and where KS cannot be made the subject of a care order by reason of his age) cannot be a looked after child, the order the local authority seeks under the inherent jurisdiction is one which would not only authorise the accommodation of KS in a secure placement, but would, a priori, have the effect of authorising his removal from his mother’s care without her consent for this purpose in circumstances where his mother, who retains exclusive parental responsibility for him, objects to this course of action. In the circumstances, I am satisfied that the effect of the order sought by the local authority under the inherent jurisdiction would be to require KS to be removed from his mother’s care and be accommodated by the local authority. This course of action is prohibited by s 100(2)(b) of the Children Act 1989.
49.The intention and effect of Section 100(2)(b) is to prevent the court in wardship or under the residual inherent jurisdiction making any order which has the effect of requiring a child to be accommodated by a local authority. That end can only be achieved by satisfying the requirements of the statutory regime for accommodating children provided by (amongst other provisions) s 20 of the Children Act 1989. For the reasons I have given that outcome cannot be achieved in this case under the statutory regime. In such circumstances, it is clearly established that the High Court cannot exercise its inherent jurisdiction to grant authority to the local authority to accommodate a child where the local authority would not otherwise be able to do so under the statutory scheme (Re E (A Child)  EWCA Civ 1773 at  and Re M (Jurisdiction: Wardship)  EWCA Civ 937 at ).
50.I am, of course, acutely conscious of the nature and extent of the risks to KS identified in the evidence before the court and of the duty of this court to act in a manner that is compatible with KS’s rights under Art 2, which duty includes a positive obligation on the court to protect the right to life. However, the authorities that articulate this positive obligation make clear that it is to be discharged by the relevant public authority through taking “measures within the scope of its power” (see Osman v United Kingdom). For the reasons I have given, the orders sought by the local authority lie outside the scope of the court’s power under the inherent jurisdiction.
51.Given my conclusions with respect to the determinative effect in this case of s 100(2)(b) of the 1989 Act, I do not consider it necessary to address the arguments advanced by Mr Bagchi regarding the existence of a statutory lacuna in respect of children in KS’s position and Mr Spencer’s competing submission that the use of the inherent jurisdiction to place KS in secure accommodation would be to cut across a statutory regime that excludes children in KS’s situation from the statutory scheme.
52.As Mr Spencer points out in his careful and comprehensive Skeleton Argument, any reader of the local authority documentation in this case would be struck by the immense seriousness of this case, involving as it does references to attempted murder, criminal gangs, firearms and ‘County lines’ drug dealing. Whilst this court has made no findings in respect of these matters, on its face it is a situation that embodies the seemingly increasing tragedy of vulnerable young people for whom involvement in Organised Criminal Groups is perceived as a means of protection, of belonging, of mattering to an apparently indifferent world and who, in consequence, grasp for these things on a path that ultimately offers nothing but futility, pain and sometimes even death. As I noted at the conclusion of the hearing, in these circumstances the local authority cannot be criticised for seeking to explore the outer boundaries of the court’s jurisdiction in an effort to protect KS from the risks it has identified.
53.Within this context, it may also be considered by some to be surprising that the High Court cannot simply invoke its inherent jurisdiction in the manner requested by the local authority to address KS’s situation. However, as Hayden J observed in London Borough of Redbridge v SA  3 WLR 1617 at :
“The High Court’s inherent powers are limited both by the constitutional role of the court and by its institutional capacity. The principle of separation of powers confers the remit of economic and social policy on the legislature and on the executive, not on the judiciary. It follows that the inherent jurisdiction cannot be regarded as a lawless void permitting judges to do whatever we consider to be right for children or the vulnerable, be that in a particular case or more generally (as contended for here) towards unspecified categories of children or vulnerable adults.”
Therefore, if the adolescent is over 17, not subject to a Care Order, and the parent objects to section 20, there isn’t a family law solution to the problem. It would have to be a criminal remand to a secure unit. That’s quite an unusual set of circumstances, because with an adolescent under 17, the LA could have sought an Interim Care Order and then secured.