Most of the case of Birmingham City Council v LC 2016 is fact specific, but there are two matters of broader interest
The first is that the mother in the case had made threats to kill the social worker and was in fact arrested for doing so.
- The matter was listed for final hearing before a District Judge sitting in Birmingham on 13 January 2016. Shortly prior thereto the mother was arrested for threatening to kill the current social worker. Ultimately the police did not proceed to charge her with any offence. At the hearing on 13 January the mother was extremely volatile and making threats of harm to the extent that the social workers and the advocates felt very vulnerable. The District Judge made contact with me and she allocated the case to me.
- On 19 January 2016 I gave the mother due warning that her conduct would not be tolerated. I made injunctive orders against her and warned her of the consequences if she were found to have breached the same.
- During the initial final hearing of this matter before me in February 2016 the mother made no threats to anyone but she was clearly agitated. On occasions she could not control her emotions, despite the best endeavours of her brother, G, who had moved to sit next to her in court. She left court in temper on a number of occasions.
- Without my permission, the mother chose not to attend any of the three days of this hearing. I am satisfied that she did so because she would not have been able to contain her anger or her emotions or would have been likely to threaten people involved in this hearing.
- I note when Mr Eyles visited the mother and X on 24 February 2016 the mother accepted she had threatened to kill the social worker but claimed she had not meant it. In the same conversation the mother said about the current social worker ‘I am going to get her’.
The second was that the Local Authority involved had conducted an assessment of family members, the child’s uncle and aunt. The Judge criticised that assessment and directed a fresh one
- At the hearing before me on 4 February 2016 I heard evidence from the social worker, Claire Ashby and from a social worker who had undertaken an assessment of G and K. It quickly became apparent in the course of the evidence of the latter that that assessment was seriously and fundamentally flawed. It could not support the exclusion of G and K as potential carers for the children and most especially when the local authority’s plan was to place the children for adoption.
- One of the most glaring omissions was that none of the identified criticisms, which led to a negative assessment, had been discussed with G and K. It followed that their responses or accounts in answer to the same were neither recorded nor taken into account when coming to a conclusion on the merits of their request to be considered as carers.
- In light of the foregoing the parties agreed, and I approved, the instruction of Mr Gary Eyles to undertake an independent social work assessment of G and K. Mr Eyles is an immensely experienced and well qualified former social worker and children’s guardian. His report, dated 21 March 2016, is a thorough and comprehensive assessment.
As it turned out, the independent assessment reached the same conclusion, but had been done in a way that allowed the uncle and aunt to respond to the criticisms about them before reaching a conclusion. This may be a useful authority in other cases for that principle, which is simple fairness. Of course, from time to time, the time-constraints put upon the filing of an assessment might not allow this step to happen – in those case, this authority may also be useful for Local Authorities to explain why there are solid article 6 reasons for the report to be filed late, rather than filing it on time but without the potential carers having the chance to respond to any worries, criticisms or fears about them as carers. The same also applies to viability assessments.