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Social workers slammed for lying on oath

 

I know the title seems pure clickbait, since it is the sort of thing that is alleged quite often, but this is a case where the Judge did actually make that conclusion.  It involves social workers and managers who set out to change the parenting assessment conducted by another worker (who the Judge found to be blameless) so that it reached different conclusions and painted a wholly different and negative picture and then lied to the Court about it. This is social workers interfering with the parents right to a fair trial. It really is deeply shocking stuff.

 

A, B, C, D and E (Final Hearing) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B186.html

 

The case was decided by His Honour Judge Horton, and involved Hampshire County Council. Some of the workers involved no longer work at Hampshire and they are not spared.

 

 

12. This is I hope an unusual case. I certainly have not previously come across one quite like it either at the Bar or as a judge.

 

13. My previous judgments explain these comments but in my experience it is exceptional to find a case in which there has been deliberate and calculated alteration of a report prepared by one social worker in order to make that assessment seem less favourable, by another social worker and the Team Manager; the withholding of the original report when it was ordered to be disclosed and the parties to the alterations lying on oath one of them twice, in order to try to cover up the existence of the original report. Those people are referred to and named in my December judgment but given the enormity of what they did and the fact they still work as social workers it is right that I should name them again so that practitioners and members of the public coming across them are aware of their shortcomings in this case.

  1. Sarah Walker Smart the children’s Social Worker lied twice to me on oath. I was told during this hearing that she has been promoted to Team Manager within this authority.
  2. Kim Goode, Sarah Walker Smart’s then Manager, was the person who initiated the wholesale alteration of the original report and who attempted to keep the truth from the parties and me. At the time of the last hearing she was District Manager for the Isle of Wight. I was told during this hearing that she is still in post.
  3. Lisa Humphreys was Kim Goode’s Manager. Her evidence was deeply unimpressive. She made a ‘hollow’ apology to the parents during her evidence; she regarded a social worker lying on oath as “foolish” and she failed to accept any personal responsibility for what had gone on under her management. At the date of the last hearing she was Assistant Director of Children’s Social Care with Lambeth Borough Council.
  4. In my December judgment I concluded that the parents’ and children’s Article 6 and 8 Rights had been breached. The children had been removed illegally and the parents had not had a fair parenting assessment carried out due amongst other things to all professionals both childcare and legal, failing to identify M’s communication difficulties and the need for a psychological assessment. I therefore at the parents’ suggestion, directed that Symbol a parenting assessment organisation which specialises in people with learning and communication difficulties, should carry out a full parenting assessment. This was to be coupled with individual therapy for both parents. This ‘dual’ approach had been suggested by Dr Halari a highly qualified adult clinical psychologist who had seen each parent, prepared reports and who gave evidence. The plan was for the therapists and assessors to work together in order to give the parents the best possible chance of making the agreed and much needed changes to their parenting.

 

 

 

The December judgment had escaped my attention, so here it is

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B227.html

 

The portions setting out the failings of the Local Authority are long, but because they are so powerful, I will set them down in full   (I really can’t believe that I missed this judgment first time around).  Underlining, as ever, mine for emphasis (though I could almost underline every word). Apologies that the paragraph numbering goes all over the place.

 

  1. The factual matrix underpinning the breaches
  2. Removal
  3. Social worker Ms X was allocated to these children on 27 October 2011 and remained their social worker until Sarah Walker Smart was allocated the case in June 2013. During this time she formed a working relationship with the family.
  4. She was clearly concerned at A and B’s lack of schooling, failure to engage fully with health professionals and issues of basic neglect. Such was her concern that she initiated the PLO process on 12 April 2012. The PLO letter was clear and Ms X spelt out what was required. See Mrs Randall’s comments at D131.
  5. As early as 11 May 2012 Ms X had identified that the parents were unsure how to work with professionals and that the parents become aggressive and hostile.
  6. By April 2013 Mrs Randall’s opinion based on the recordings of Ms X was that little had really been achieved during 18 months of PLO process. D133
  7. In late Spring early summer 2013 Ms X obtained a new post within the authority. She made her last visit to the family on 4 June 2013. By this time Ms X had begun compiling information for Core Assessments on all the children and it was made a condition of her leaving that she completed Comprehensive Core Assessments. I heard evidence that I accept that Lisa Humphreys and Kim Goode were exasperated by Ms X’s failure to complete them.
  8. The new social worker allocated to the children was Sarah Walker Smart. She was new to this team and relatively inexperienced in child protection work. Her manager remained Kim Goode who was and is extremely experienced in such work having been in it for 18 years.
  9. Kim Goode and Sarah Walker Smart carried out an introductory joint visit on 20 June 2013. I am satisfied that Kim Goode and Sarah Walker Smart found a situation that they had not been fully prepared for by Ms X’s case recordings. This was not only in relation to the condition of the home and children but also the attitude of the parents. The mother in particular was difficult and hostile. I pause there to record that whilst I make criticism of the parents it must be seen in the context of their then unidentified difficulties and the attitude of Kim Goode who I am quite sure did nothing to calm the situation. I have seen and heard Ms Goode. She is a strong willed, forceful, opinionated person who it would be difficult to challenge effectively or at all. Her manner of answering during cross examination amply demonstrated this.
  10. As a result of what they saw and as a result of there having been 18 months without sustained change Ms Goode and Ms Walker Smart decided that the case should be taken to a legal strategy meeting. This took place on 24 June 2013. see K136.
  11. It was decided that the Comprehensive Core Assessment “with concerns” should be concluded as soon as possible, that care proceedings should be instigated and that a new PLO letter would be written. This was delivered to the parents on 27 June which was the same date as Sarah Walker Smart’s first statement.
  12. On 11 July Ms Walker Smart visited the home and found things largely the same as before but that the children’s presentation was “Ok”.
  13. On 12 July Care Proceedings were issued and on the 15 July directions given including a direction for the LA to file and serve the “current assessments to which the Social Work statement refers”. A21
  14. Also on this date the Housing Officer visited the home. He was clearly concerned by the condition of the property; a number of problems with the condition of the property that had not been reported and the overcrowding but I am satisfied he does not “condemn” it or say that it is dangerous. He did believe that the family should be temporarily or permanently re-housed.
  15. On 15 July the court made directions including giving a hearing date for a contested ICO.
  16. On 16 July Ms Walker Smart spoke to the Housing Officer. She purportedly interpreted what he said as the house was condemned, dangerous and unfit for the family to remain in. It is clear from Ms Walker Smart’s e mail of the same date that she was trying to get Mr Sibley to say that the property was unsafe and dilapidated due to the parents’ neglect and makes it clear that “we are planning to remove the children” and “need as much evidence as possible based on the home conditions being unsafe”.
  17. I am satisfied that by this date Kim Goode and Sarah Walker Smart had decided that the children should be removed from their parents care and that they intended to bolster their case by involving the housing department. This is clear from the wording of the e mail and I interpret the e mail as pressure being put on the Housing Officer. It was clear from his evidence to me that he was not prepared to do so.
  18. Lisa Humphreys told me that she had approved the cost of B&B and that she had not approved the removal of the children from their parents. This does not fit in with the content of the e mail and I have trouble believing that Kim Goode would construct a plan for removal without the approval of her DSM.
  19. On 17 July at 09:00 Sarah Walker Smart made a visit to the home. It was she said her view that the children were “no longer safe in the home and that if they remained they could experience significant harm”. In reality I doubt that anything was very much different from before and I am certain that the grounds for immediate separation were not there. She reported on what she saw to Kim Goode.
  20. At 11:17 that day Kim Goode set out an action plan. That action plan clearly expected the police to use their administrative powers to remove the children. She does record that if the police won’t agree to do so then the mother is to be asked to go to B&B with the children. Ms Walker Smart never offered this option to the mother and I am satisfied from the video footage and her evidence that this option was never in her mind. It is probable that Kim Goode never discussed this option with her.
  21. At 15:30 that day a joint police and social services visit took place. The LA accepts that the visit and removal was unlawful and breached the family’s Human Rights. The details of the breaches are set out later in this judgment.
  22. I have viewed the Body Worn Camera footage. I can well see why the LA makes the admissions it does. The removal was a flagrant breach of this family’s Human Rights. There were insufficient grounds for such action and it is clear the police felt that too as they did not try to use their administrative powers; the correct procedure was not followed; no true consent was obtained, and that which was obtained came from F under duress. Further he did not have power to give consent for the older two children as he did not have parental responsibility a fact Ms Walker Smart should have known.
  23. I am asked by F to find that the use of the police was a manipulation to coerce the parents. I am not satisfied that the social workers were deliberately trying to manipulate the police although I am satisfied that the effect on the parents was to coerce them. The parents, mother in particular could be verbally aggressive and had been so to Ms Goode. In circumstances where it had been decided to remove the children from their parents and it could reasonably be anticipated that the parents could be hostile, it would be appropriate to involve the police to avoid there being a breach of the peace. However, the video footage shows that the situation was badly handled with 8 police officers and two social workers descending on the parents and presenting them with no choice but to relinquish their children. There were no grounds for such removal, there was no discussion, no alternatives offered and it was clearly the intention of Ms Walker Smart to remove the children from their parents’ care come what may by asking for consent to s20 accommodation if the police did not act.

 

  1. Factual matrix underpinning the failure to disclose material evidence
  2. This relates to the Comprehensive Core Assessment that Ms X completed and sent to Kim Goode for what has been described “Quality Assurance”.
  3. Ms X completed writing her CCA on 18 June 2013. See P125. The Assessment contained both positives and negatives. It was therefore a balanced report. She e mailed it to Kim Goode.
  4. On 27 June 2013 Sarah Walker Smart swore her first statement asking the Court to read her statement along with the ” Core Assessment (July 2013) completed by Ms X” (my emphasis).
  5. On 10 July Ms Melanie Kingsley asked Kim Goode to forward Ms X’s core Assessment. Kim Goode replied saying she just wanted to “pad out the conclusion before it goes off”.
  6. On 15 July the court directed the LA to file and serve the “current assessments to which the Social Work statement refers”.
  7. On 16 July Kim Goode made substantial changes to Ms X’s Comprehensive Core Assessment (CCA) which are recorded by the word processing programme by way of tracked changes. All the substantive changes made are negative. The changes change the tenor and conclusions of the report completely. The picture painted by it is now wholly negative and would if accepted, have the effect of substantially improving the LA’s case for removal of the children, probably permanently. In my judgment these changes amounted to a wholesale rewrite and were not a proper use of the Quality Assurance system.
  8. Ms X never approved the changes.
  9. Kim Goode sent the track changed document to Sarah Walker Smart on 17 July at 13:02 who made few if any and no substantial changes. She could not make many changes as she had little knowledge of the family due to her brief involvement. She signed the assessment as if it were her own and it was served on 6 August.
  10. Ms X’s CCA was not filed in accordance with the court order.
  11. An order was made for the CCA to be filed by 30 July. Ms X’s version was never filed.
  12. Solicitors for the parents asked on numerous occasions for the disclosure of the document referred to in Ms Walker Smart’s statement and for any documents prepared by Ms X.
  13. On 22 August 2013 Melanie Kingsley in response stated in an e mail: “an assessment was started by Ms X but not concluded. The decision was taken that because Ms X no longer works for the department, the new social worker SW would compile an entirely new assessment, as it would not be appropriate for her to complete another person’s partially completed piece of work. Accordingly Sarah Walker-Smart wrote and filed a new Core Assessment which is in this bundle. There is nothing outstanding from Ms X which may be filed with the parties”
  14. I am satisfied that this e mail gave a deliberate and entirely false impression. Kim Goode and Sarah Walker Smart knew that Ms X had completed her assessment. The problem was that Kim Goode did not like it. In her opinion it did not fit in with her assessment of the family’s circumstances. Kim Goode knew Ms X had completed it because she had changed it. Ms Walker Smart knew Ms X had completed it as she had seen the tracked changed document which was obviously based on Ms X’s completed work.
  15. I am also satisfied that the legal department knew of the existence of the Ms X piece of work as Ms Kingsley had referred to it in her e mail of 10 July.

 

[A quick break here to say “Holy F**ing s**t!”]

 

  1. Twice more did Ms Coates ask for Ms X’s “draft” to be filed and served. Ms Kingsley replied on 13 November 2013 “there is nothing that can be filed”. Again this was patently untrue.
  2. On 31 March 2014 Sarah Walker Smart commenced giving evidence before me. A transcript of her evidence is at 72.1 of the transcript section.
  3. She was asked in chief: “Have you ever seen a core assessment completed by Ms X? “No” “Can you explain the reference to one in your statement?” “.. there was an assumption that Ms X had completed a Core Assessment..so I relied upon an assessment that did not exist. That’s completely my error.” I then asked: “You have given the date of July 2013 which rather implies that you had some basis to believe that there had been a Core Assessment carried out. What was your factual basis for that?” Answer:” The team manager” Kim Goode, “assumed that Ms X had written one”.
  4. I asked whether Kim Goode had checked for the Core Assessment. I was told that she had and that she could not find it.
  5. Sarah Walker Smart went onto to say that she had not checked. She said: “I’ve never seen a Core Assessment in Ms X’s name.”
  6. I have considered this evidence very carefully and been mindful of the two fold test in the R v Lucas direction that I must give myself when encountering lies.
  7. I am satisfied that her evidence that she had never seen a completed Core Assessment by Ms X was a lie. Sarah Walker Smart had seen a completed Core Assessment by Ms X. She had seen the tracked changed version e mailed to her by Kim Goode. I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that this was a deliberate lie to try to deflect attention from the existence of that document. I do not make this finding lightly or willingly but the evidence drives me to it. This lie was repeated in her evidence given to me on 25 November 2014.
  8. I am also satisfied that she lied when she said that the reference to such an assessment in her statement was a “mistake” based on an “assumption”. I am satisfied that the reason she mentioned it was because she had seen Ms X’s Core Assessment and she did not think there was anything wrong in referring to it. It was only afterwards that the import of what she had done became clear. In my judgment this is the only logical reason why she would have mentioned it. Her attempts to say it was a wrong “assumption” on the part of herself and Kim Goode was a fabrication. Again I do not reach this conclusion lightly but it is an inevitable one. Again she repeated this lie in evidence in November.
  9. Ms Walker Smart had the opportunity to disclose the existence of the Ms X assessment during the April part of this final hearing but did not take it. She chose to try to get away with the deception she had practised. I made it clear at the end of that hearing that I was worried about this issue and that I required full enquiries to be made to see if such a document existed. See 72.45 line 30 of the transcript of Ms Walker Smart’s evidence.
  10. Lisa Humphreys was also at court during the April hearing. She knew that the parents’ advocates wanted Ms X’s assessment disclosed and she knew of its existence yet she did not then or afterwards bring its existence to the attention of the court, the new social work team or the legal department. She could have accessed it easily as it was located in her ‘Outlook’ programme on her computer.
  11. The completed Ms X Comprehensive Core Assessment was eventually disclosed inadvertently as part of the disciplinary proceedings’ file in relation to Ms X in early August 2014. Kim Goode had initiated disciplinary proceedings against Ms X as a result of what she saw were serious failings in her work. As a result Ms X was dismissed from her employment. Her health is now so poor that she was unable to give evidence. I do not know whether her poor health and the disciplinary proceedings are linked but they cannot have helped her. This is not the place to comment on the appropriateness of that investigation, its fairness or its conclusions but I do ask the LA to robustly review their conclusions and decision in the light of this judgment and all that is now known about this case.
  12. Kim Goode’s involvement in this deception was examined in the November hearing.
  13. I am satisfied she knew of Ms X’s completed CCA as she had changed it. I am also satisfied she knew that the parties and court wanted it disclosed and she had decided that she would not.
  14. At one point I asked her: “So it was a deliberate decision by yourself not to let the court and the parents have” the Ms X Comprehensive Core Assessment and the guardian. Is that right?” “Yes” she answered.

 

A second break to say again “Holy f**ing s**t!”

 

 

  1. Whilst she tried to persuade me that she did this out of concern for the children as she felt the assessment was not accurate, I find this suggestion breathtaking. This is a manager with 18 years experience deliberately flouting the lawful request of the parents for disclosure of information and more to the point flouting court orders for such disclosure. At one point she tried to suggest that she was unaware of the duty to disclose, which I find as Mr Ker-Reid put it “incredible” in both senses of the word.
  2. There was a particularly telling piece of cross examination by Mr Ker-Reid when he put this question to her: “You were overtly, determinedly, seeking to deceive courts of justice, put your head together with other professionals in your department, whether legal or social workers, to tell judges of the Family Court that there was not an assessment by Ms X which you knew there was? That is right is it not?” Answer: “It is but I..” Q: “It is”. Answer: … “gave the explanation”. Q: “We have your answer, done”.
  3. I am satisfied that this question and answer perfectly sums up the thinking of Kim Goode and her approach to this case. I heard Kim Goode’s “explanation” and I am not satisfied by it. Her perception of whether the assessment was correct or not was not a reason for non-disclosure particularly in the face of a Court order. It was as she conceded dishonest to have said that there was no assessment from Ms X. I am satisfied that this “explanation” was in fact an attempt to deflect blame away from herself.
  4. I have already commented on my impression of Ms Kim Goode from my observation of her in the witness box and from her work on this case. She is a strong personality and I am satisfied that those subordinate to her would find it hard to challenge her. This atmosphere is probably what led Ms Walker Smart into such grave error. Whilst this may be an isolated incident in her career I have very grave concerns as to Kim Goode’s working practises in this case and in my judgment a thorough review of her work and management style should be undertaken by the LA.
  5. I have made some comments about the involvement of Lisa Humphreys in this case. I found her to be a very strong and forceful personality. Whether her management style fed into or off Kim Goode I cannot say but I am clear that they are similar in management style. Subordinates would find it hard to say no to or challenge her.
  6. Her response to hearing of Ms Walker Smart’s lies to me was astounding. She thought it was “foolish”. I am afraid that is not the way I see it and it is not the way she should have seen it. Such a comment makes the lies seem like minor misdemeanours which they are not.
  7. I also found her failure to accept personal responsibility for what has happened in this case depressing. Whilst of course managers cannot be responsible for rogue employees and their decisions are only as good as the information they are given by their subordinates, they should at least sound as if they mean any apologies they give. The one she gave the parents during her evidence did not sound heartfelt and I noted that there was no apology to the Court for the lies that had been told or the unnecessary delay that had occurred by those under her. It is probable that she saw no harm in withholding the Ms X CCA as she seemed to me to be fully in support of withholding it, because in her view it was not an accurate piece of work.

 

 

Wow. Just wow.

 

 

  1. Conclusions and Findings on Human Rights breaches
  2. It follows from my conclusions above that this family’s Human Rights have been breached. The parties have produced one combined document for me to consider covering the breaches that the parents, A, B and the Guardian allege have occurred and the LA’s response to each of them. In short the LA has albeit late in the day, conceded all of the general breaches alleged and most of the specific facts that go towards those general conclusions. I have amalgamated the various breaches from this composite document and my findings and condensed them into a manageable form. My findings are as follows.
  3. Removal of the children on 17 July 2013
  4. The LA accepts and I find that it acted unlawfully and disproportionately by removing the children from the care of the parents on 17.7.13 purportedly pursuant to section 20 of the Children Act 1989. I am satisfied that it did this by:
  1. a) Taking a decision to pursue police protection in preference to the provision of alternative accommodation;
  2. b) Failing to consider making an application for an EPO or short notice ICO;
  3. c) Failing to consider whether any family placements were available;
  4. d) Failing to inform the parents of the available options such as B&B
  5. e) Failing to encourage the parents to seek legal advice or the advice of family or friends;
  6. f) Acting without the Father’s informed consent to the removal;
  7. g) Acting without the consent (informed or otherwise) of the Mother;
  8. h) Acting without the consent of any person with parental responsibility for A and B;
  9. i) Purporting to act under section 20 of the Children Act by seeking the consent of the parents in the presence of 8 uniformed police officers presenting an overt threat of police protection;
  10. j) Acting in knowledge of the Father’s expressed belief that the police would act to remove the children in any event;
  11. k) Removing the children in circumstances which did not reach the test for an emergency removal;
  12. l) Purportedly justifying the removal at the time and subsequently by way of reasons which were incorrect and/or known to be untrue by the Social Worker namely that the home had been condemned; and
  13. m) Failing to obtain the wishes and feelings of the children contrary to section 20(6) of the Children Act 1989.
  14. n) Failing to have in place a policy document guiding procedures when social workers attend a family with police, such document having been directed by HHJ Levey DFJ to be produced in or about January 2013;
  15. o) Upon it becoming known to the Team Manager and/or District Service Manager that the Social Worker had acted disproportionately by removing the children from the care of the parents on 17.7.13 the LA should have taken steps to rectify matters by offering to reunite the children and parents in alternative accommodation but failed to do so.
  1. Failure to disclose material evidence
  1. The LA accepts and I find that it acted unlawfully by materially failing to comply with its duty to disclose documents which modified and/or cast doubt on its case and/or supported the case of the parents by:
  2. Failing to disclose the Comprehensive Core Assessment of Ms X as directed as early as 15 July 2013 or at all prior to its inadvertent disclosure pursuant to a court order on 11.8.14 relating to disclosure of disciplinary proceedings concerning Ms X;
  3. Failing to disclose the ICS Core Assessments of Ms X as directed or prior to 1.4.14;
  4. Failing to disclose ICS notes with the District Service Manager’s comments due to inconsistent practices in recording information by her;
  5. Failing to disclose case recordings until directed to do so by the court on 3.3.14; and
  6. Failing to inform the parties of the existence of the video of the children’s removal and/or disclose the video itself until directed to do so by the court in May 2014. This video was in the possession of Kim Goode and viewed by her within weeks of the unlawful removal. She knew that the removal was unlawful but failed to do anything about it.
  7. The non-disclosure of the Comprehensive Core Assessment of Ms X in the face of repeated requests from the parties and directions of the court was deliberate and the decision not to disclose the document was known to Sarah Walker-Smart, Kim Goode, Lisa Humphreys and the Legal Department.
  8. The LA misled the court and the parties as to the existence of a Comprehensive Core Assessment undertaken by Ms X.
  9. In particular the LA does not dispute and I find that Sarah Walker Smart lied on oath on 31 March 2014 when she said she had never seen a core assessment completed by Ms X; that Kim Goode had looked for one and had not found one and that the reference in her first statement to such an assessment was therefore an error.
  10. Further, Sarah Walker-Smart repeated the lies on oath on 25 November 2014.
  11. The LA’s failure to comply with its duty of disclosure caused an incomplete picture to be presented to the Guardian and to the court within the LA’s evidence filed before 7.4.14.

 

  1. Denial of fair opportunity to participate in decision making
  2. I make the following findings in relation to this head.
  3. The parents were not consulted about the removal of the children.
  4. Neither the Court nor the parents were provided with the investigations and recordings which precipitated the applications to separate C from A and B or to apply for a section 34 order to “terminate” contact;
  5. In respect of the application to terminate contact, Hampshire County Council relied upon reports from foster carers upon which they did not seek the parents’ instructions. The foster carers’ reports were inconsistent with Hampshire’s own evidence such as contact supervisor recordings;
  6. Hampshire County Council undertook sibling assessments without discussing the children and their attachments with their parents, or indeed observing the children together;
  7. Hampshire County Council failed to convene a Family Group Conference or take any steps to explore potential family support, which led to their overlooking the Gs and issuing placement applications although the parents did not bring the existence of the Gs or their willingness to offer care to the attention of HCC until August 2014;
  8. It is alleged that the parents have been excluded from LAC and PEP reviews and all medical appointments for all of the children. I have not been addressed in submissions on this point and so can make no findings. If it is thought significant I will hear further submissions on this point;
  9. Hampshire County Council failed to provide the parents with contact notes and foster carer records in accordance with the Court’s direction or on a regular basis. This has deprived the parents of the ability to address any identified issues and effect change.
  10. Hampshire County Council had been “put on notice” of their Human Rights breaches by the order of 07.04.14 (A121); further order on 08.05.14 and Mother’s detailed skeleton argument setting out both limbs of her argument which was filed and served on 17.06.14. However, they continued to deny any wrongdoing until:
    1. On or about 10.11.14 in respect of the unlawful removal;
    2. On or about 14.11.14 in respect of the material non-disclosure. Indeed this was described by Hampshire on 29.07.14 as a ” last minute fishing expedition speculatively raised” [135].
  11. Failure to promote family life
  12. The LA breached the children’s right to family life by failing to set up or maintain regular family or inter-sibling contact during proceedings up until 31 March 2014.
  1. I am also satisfied that FC2 particularly Mrs FC2 became inappropriately attached to the children she was looking after. She allowed herself to become emotionally involved so that she tried to “claim” them for herself. This was not picked up upon by the social workers quickly enough. They were getting reports from FC2 that conflicted with the reports of their own contact supervisors yet this was not properly or timeously investigated. It was this failure to control FC2 that led to no proper inter-sibling contact taking place and E not seeing his parents for a considerable period of time.
  2. As a result of the failures of Hampshire County Council to provide all relevant material and to conduct the matter in an open and fair way, the care plans for A and B as presented to the court for the hearing commencing 31 st March 2014 were particularly distressing in that they provided not only for separation of the siblings but that for B he was to have very restricted contact with his parents and siblings; such care plans were wholly unjustified and were changed by the then Service Manager Lisa Humphreys on or about 1 st April 2014 it being noted that this was without the court or any party having heard any evidence on this issue.
  1. Other failures
  1. The evidence presented to the court in the statement of Sarah Walker-Smart dated 27.6.13 upon issue of the LA’s application and in support of its application for interim care orders was unfair in that it was unbalanced and in parts inaccurate.
  2. As conceded immediately in evidence by Ms Gibson the LA purported to but failed to undertake a full and fair assessment of the parents’ ability to care for the children by way of the assessment by the family centre worker and the social work assessment of Sarah Walker-Smart.
  3. The LA purported to but failed to undertake a full and fair sibling assessment in particular because they were undertaken without sibling contact being observed.

 

 

I have read law reports where Local Authorities have got things wrong. I have read law reports where Local Authorities have got things badly wrong. I have read law reports where they have been unfair, or stupid, or failed to act promptly, or acted in a knee-jerk way. I have read law reports where the Court disagreed with their recommendation and told them that they had badly misunderstood the law. But I’ve never read anything like this. It is utterly astonishing.  It is every conspiracy theory about what social workers do, come to life.

It is shocking, it is appalling. It is a damn scandal. It brings the profession into disrepute. The only tiny crumb of saving grace in the whole affair is that those involved were caught and that His Honour Judge Horton has shone a light into this scandal. I can only do my small part by telling my readers about it.

 

Back to this November 2015 judgment.  (I haven’t read the end of it yet, but I hope it ends in a whacking big cheque being written, or indeed the judgment being sent to the Attorney General)

The Judge had sent everyone away in December to conduct fresh assessments and also for the parents to be given therapy – there were problems with their parenting, but clearly in light of everything above, they had not been given a fair assessment.

There is a bit in the judgment about the mother clandestinely recording meetings with professionals (it is rather hard to blame her for doing that)

 

During the mother’s evidence she mentioned that she and F had covertly recorded a meeting with the Guardian and some contacts. The M had used her phone and F a digital recorder that looked like a slightly fat pen. He produced the pen recorder and 4 recordings. As the Court security staff had not come across such a device before I took steps to inform HMCTS of the existence of such devices. The recordings provided by F were not listened to by me and no one sought to rely on their contents.

 

 

Sadly, the assessment work with Symbol – an independent specialist assessment service had not gone as well as one might have hoped.  Against the backdrop of everything above, it is perhaps no surprise that the parents found it difficult to trust professionals.

 

         She [The Symbol worker] told me that it became clear that the parents have an absolute antipathy towards the LA and social workers to the extent that they even objected to Ms Hinton being involved in the assessment. In her and Symbol’s opinion it was an impossible task for the parents to work with or trust any professional which was a significant barrier to moving on. She said that whilst professionals were not challenging or agreeing goals, things went fine but when they tried to work with the parents the situation broke down “sharply, remarkably and quickly”. Anyone who attempted to monitor or change their parenting behaviour would she opined, meet great hostility.

116. She was criticised by the parents for not acknowledging properly or at all the enormity of the emotional toll and distress on the parents and the children caused by the events of the summer of 2013. In particular Symbol were criticised for not going through the judgment with the parents and not recording any discussion about these topics. If they had it was submitted, the parents could have ‘moved on’ and the assessment would not have stopped

The Judge spends several pages discussing the assessments and the evidence, and that I’m afraid would make an already long article too long. Sadly, he reaches this conclusion

 In my judgment it has not been evidenced that the parents have made the necessary changes that could allow them to make sustained improvements to their parenting styles or allow them to co-operate with professionals. Whilst they have demonstrated some ability to engage with therapy and have attended a parenting course they have not demonstrated that their fundamental attitude towards professionals has changed. Indeed I saw evidence during their oral evidence of their continued, deep seated mistrust and their tendency to accuse professionals of lying when challenged or disagreed with. Furthermore, I am satisfied that the failure of the Symbol assessment has reinforced in their minds that professionals cannot be trusted and this will make it even more difficult than before for professionals to work with them.

One can quite see how it would be extremely difficult for any parent to trust professionals after that December hearing – even with wholly fresh professionals to work with and therapeutic help, there was just too much damage done for the relationship to be repaired.

406. I am therefore satisfied that I must make care orders with respect to all five children to Hampshire County Council. I approve the plans for their placements as they are the plans that will promote the children’s welfare throughout their minority and protect them from significant harm. I am satisfied that no lesser intervention or order can achieve this aim due to the parents’ inability to work with professionals, in particular the LA.

It is very hard to feel comfortable about this. The Judge was clearly a Judge who was prepared to take on the Local Authority when they had been unfair and dishonest and who set up fresh and independent assessments and ensured that the parents got therapeutic help. So the parents got a fair hearing from the Court. But weren’t they just screwed by a system that says “you’ve got to work with professionals” and condemned them for not being able to, even though almost anyone in the same position would not have been able to trust again after the most shocking breaches of trust?  Very hard.

Even though I’ve had nothing at all to do with this case, or any of the sort of things that have happened in it and I never would, today is one of those days where I feel ashamed to even be part of the Family Justice system.

The damages bit hasn’t yet been dealt with. When I see the report of that, I will share it.

I was reminded by the parties that the parents and children have outstanding damages claims for the breaches of their Human Rights. As I indicated at the beginning of the hearing I have agreed with Hampshire’s DFJ that he should hear this part of the case. I will direct as part of the order arising from my judgment that a directions hearing be listed before him at his convenience.

417. I was concerned to learn that the three social workers who I previously criticised had not apparently been subject to disciplinary proceedings. I direct that my December judgment and this one be sent by the Director for Children’s Services to the Director of Social Services, Ofsted and those social workers’ supervisory bodies with a view to them considering whether further action against them is required.

I know that my commenters will want to talk about this case, and will probably be very cross about it. Please try to stay away from defamatory remarks (what the workers did in this case and what you think about it is fair game, what you think of them as people is for somewhere else, not here)

I also know that some of you will be wondering about perjury.  It is true that lying under oath is a criminal offence.  The police aren’t able to investigate perjury unless directed to do so by a Judge and a prosecution for perjury can only take place if the Attorney General authorises it

The Perjury Act 1911

1 (1)If any person lawfully sworn as a witness or as an interpreter in a judicial proceeding wilfully makes a statement material in that proceeding, which he knows to be false or does not believe to be true, he shall be guilty of perjury, and shall, on conviction thereof on indictment, be liable to penal servitude for a term not exceeding seven years, or to imprisonment . . . F1 for a term not exceeding two years, or to a fine or to both such penal servitude or imprisonment and fine

section 13 of the Perjury Act 1911, which sets out the corroboration needed to prove perjury can sometimes be difficult

A person shall not be liable to be convicted of any offence against this Act, or of any offence declared by any other Act to be perjury or subornation of perjury, or to be punishable as perjury or subornation of perjury, solely upon the evidence of one witness as to the falsity of any statement alleged to be false.

 

[I.e Victoria saying that Colin is lying is not sufficient, there needs to be something more. Here of course, there were the computer records and emails in addition. The criminal standard of proof is high, and perjury prosecutions are very rare. And I am no expert in criminal law, so the furthest I can go is to say that it is a possible case where the Atttorney General might have a decision to make if asked]

 

Misfeasance in a public office is the other one that comes up from time to time. Not a criminal offence, but a civil tort.  That’s probably not much use because the compensation for that would be something that could be awarded under the Human Rights Act for the breaches already found in any event.  Though it is possible that the damages would be higher.

[Watkins v Home Office 2006

There is great force in the respondent’s submission that if a public officer knowingly and deliberately acts in breach of his lawful duty he should be amenable to civil action at the suit of anyone who suffers at his hands. There is an obvious public interest in bringing public servants guilty of outrageous conduct to book. Those who act in such a way should not be free to do so with impunity.[1]

[1] [2006] UKHL 17, paragraph 8.  ]

 

And there’s the social work regulatory bodies who could be asked to take action. Social workers can and have been disciplined for bad conduct.

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Unlawful removal of a child, compensation paid

 

Her Honour Rowe QC considered this case, where a Local Authority removed a child and placed the child in foster care when at the time, the mother knew nothing about it.  It is a decision by a Circuit Judge and thus not any new binding law, but it is interesting and potentially important nonetheless.

 

Re AS (unlawful removal of a child) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B150.html

In this case, both the mother and father had mental health problems. On the 9th October 2014, the mother suffered a significant episode of mental ill-health. She arranged for a neighbour to look after her son who was aged 9, and to take him to school. She called an ambulance to take her to hospital.

She was admitted to hospital and was detained under section 2 of the Mental Health Act.  She was not told until 16th October by letter (!) that Brent had removed her son from the care of the neighbour, whom they considered unsuitable on 9th October, using section 20 of the Children Act 1989.

Brent issued care proceedings on 11th November, and an ICO was made on 13th November 2014.  The child was thus in foster care on “section 20” from 9th October to 13th November, although mother had not consented, had not been asked to consent, and for at least some part of that time would not have had the capacity to consent.

It was not really in dispute that if Brent had sought an EPO or ICO at that time that the Court would have made one, the dispute was whether they had the legal authority to keep the child in foster care without an informed and capacitous consent from mother.

 

The argument from Brent hinged around the wording of section 20 (1) (c)

 

20 Provision of accommodation for children: general.

(1)Every local authority shall provide accommodation for any child in need within their area who appears to them to require accommodation as a result of—

(a)there being no person who has parental responsibility for him;

(b)his being lost or having been abandoned; or

(c)the person who has been caring for him being prevented (whether or not permanently, and for whatever reason) from providing him with suitable accommodation or care.

And on a technical basis, they might be said to be right. The Act itself never mentions a parent consenting to section 20.  The latter passages of section 20 make it plain that the LA cannot provide a child with section 20 accommodation if a parent with Parental Responsibility OBJECTS.  In practice therefore, most Local Authorities would seek the parents consent and for the parent to sign a consent form.  Brent’s argument here was that they didn’t need a consent, they just needed the absence of an objection. There was no objection, therefore the child was validly accommodated under s20(1)(c)

 And on the bare words of the statute, they are right.  However,  it would be a really technical defence to run, and it is not very surprising to me that it did not succeed.  If mum wasn’t asked or told, how could she object? She didn’t know it was happening. And if she HAD objected, Brent could have argued that she didn’t have capacity to object.

There’s quite a big difference between getting someone’s consent, and saying that something is okay because they didn’t object. Especially if they didn’t know.  It is a bit like being ten and saying “Well, mum didn’t tell me that I COULDN’T eat nine Penguin bisuits whilst she was upstairs”

OR

If for example, I have the opportunity for a canoodle with Keira Knightley, I would not expect to be able to tell Mrs Suesspicious Minds that it was perfectly fine because she had not explictly objected to my doing it.  Particularly if I didn’t tell her in advance that it was a possibility, thus giving her the chance to object.  I think that Mrs Suesspicious Minds would be absolutely entitled to take the view that this is the sort of thing that I’d need to raise in advance and that only with her explicit consent (which would not be forthcoming) would it be okay.  [I’d best make it plain that this is an illustrative hypothetical example only, and that I would never put myself in this situation. Not with Keira Knightley.  With Rachel Weisz?  No, I still wouldn’t. Honestly. ]

24. …I accept that the removal of AS took place in good faith and that removal would almost certainly have been sanctioned by the court had the local authority applied for an EPO, however for the reasons that follow I conclude that the removal was unlawful.

  1. The removal of a child from his parents by a local authority is a fundamental interference with the right of the parents and child to family life, and can only be carried out if the removal is “in accordance with the law”. The framework for the removal of a child is set out in the CA 1989, and with apologies as the principles are so well established I have set them out above.
  2. Both Hedley J and Munby J, as he then was, said clearly in the cases cited above that in the absence of consent, a child can be removed only in the circumstances set out in s38, s44 or s46 CA 1989. These provisions appear under Part IV and Part V, CA 1989. Each provision contains stringent safeguards intended to ensure that a removal is lawful. In particular: a. Each section refers to the s31 threshold criteria, requiring either that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold criteria are met or, in relation to emergency provisions, that there is reasonable cause to so believe;b. Whilst removal under s46 (police protection) does not require prior judicial approval, the power to remove is strictly time limited to a maximum period of 72 hours. The police are under a duty to notify both the relevant local authority and the parents as soon as practicable of the steps taken;c. Removal under either s38 or s44 requires prior judicial approval;d. Even with prior judicial approval, an emergency protection order is strictly time limited so that any longer term sanction for continued removal follows an application for a care order and a further appearance before the court where all parties can be represented, where a Children’s Guardian will have had time to make initial enquiries and where all parties will have had an opportunity to consider the relevant evidence and will be able to make full submissions to the court, which can hear evidence if necessary.
  3. The provision of accommodation for children by the local authority is dealt with in Part III which, as Hedley J confirmed, addresses “Support for Children and Families”. As already cited above, Hedley J made clear that the emphasis in this Part is on partnership and “involves no compulsory curtailment of parental rights“. Self evidently the whole of s20 falls within Part III, and Hedley J made no distinction between the provision of accommodation under s20(1) and the provision of accommodation under s20(4). His judgment referred throughout to s20 as a whole.
  4. In the case of R(G) v Nottingham City Council referred to above, the President re-emphasised the clear principle that save perhaps in exceptional wardship cases (where in any event a High Court Judge would need to give prior judicial authority) in the absence of the agreement of the parent, removal of a child could only be achieved by the statutory routes in ss38, 44 or 46. On the facts of the Nottingham case, the local authority plainly considered that the mother was prevented from providing her baby with suitable care, just as the London Borough of Brent considered that this mother was prevented from providing AS with suitable care. If Mr Poole were correct in his analysis of s20(1)(c), then Nottingham City Council would have been entitled lawfully to remove the baby under the same provision. The President concluded without hesitation that the removal was unlawful.
  5. s20(1)(c) contains no requirement for the threshold criteria under s31(2) CA 1989 to be satisfied on any basis, even reasonable cause. If Mr Poole were correct, then a local authority could, on its own assessment of whether a parent was prevented from “providing a child with suitable care”, remove that child without any reference at all to the threshold criteria. The parents would have no forum in which to contest that assessment, and there is no application open to them under the provisions of the 1989 Act to challenge the local authority and seek the return of their child. The child would have no Children’s Guardian. There would be no parameters for the position after removal, there would be no requirement for the local authority to apply to court and there would be no time limit on the duration of the removal. In short there would be no safeguards to mirror those that are expressly included in ss38, 44 and 46. It would seem perverse if a local authority could more easily remove children from their parents in cases where the threshold criteria were not necessarily met than in cases where there were reasonable grounds to conclude that they were met.
  6. There is no authority supporting the proposition advanced by the local authority in this case and, as I have already indicated, that proposition appears to be in direct contravention to the principles established in the cases relied on by the mother.
  7. Finally, the structure of s20 itself is, I conclude, inconsistent with the proposition that parental consent is required where a local authority is acting under s20(4) but is not required where the local authority is acting under s20(1)(c). s20(7) prevents a local authority from accommodating a child if a parent objects and s20(8) permits anyone with parental responsibility to remove a child from accommodation. The important point is that both of these provisions apply to accommodation under “this section” ie s20 as a whole; they do not distinguish between accommodation under s20(1)(c) and s20(4).
  8. For all of these reasons I find that the removal of AS from his mother was unlawful. I therefore do not need to go on to consider whether the removal was “necessary” and therefore in accordance with Article 8(2) ECHR].

[I think that I’d probably distinguish the Nottingham case – in that case, mum DID know that the baby was being removed and she DID object. So clearly the social workers in the Nottingham case couldn’t have been using s20(1) (c) as a legal basis for removal. Nevertheless, THIS Court has found that s20(1) (c) requres active capacitious parental consent, not mertely the absence of an objection]

The question then arises about delay in issuing proceedings

If I find, as I have, that the removal of AS was unlawful, I am then asked to find that the local authority failed to issue proceedings in a timely manner, in breach of the mother’s Article 6 ECHR rights. Since the initial removal of AS was unlawful, it follows that until the local authority issued proceedings on 11 November 2014 and secured judicial approval for continued separation on 13 November 2014, AS was being kept separate from his mother unlawfully. The local authority did not issue proceedings in a timely manner. I was unable to understand the reason for this delay, especially given that at the legal planning meeting held on 13 October 2014 the local authority decided to issue care proceedings and the application itself, though issued only on 11 November 2014 was actually dated 7 October 2014.

The LA were ordered to pay £3,000 in compensation and £750 in costs.

The LA did try to escape compensation by saying that the declaration that they had breached mother’s human rights and their apology was sufficient. Sadly for them, they had tried one of those “modern” apologies, where the person says “I’m sorry that X made you feel bad” rather than “I’m sorry that I did X, that was wrong of me”

  1. The local authority reassured the court that it had at all times acted and will continue to act in good faith and with AS’s best interests at heart; no party suggested otherwise. Further the local authority submits that if I do find a breach, then the making of declarations together with the local authority’s apology to the mother together amount to just satisfaction. The local authority resists any award of damages or costs.
  2. For the mother, Miss James points to the terms of the apology and submits that it is not really an apology. The local authority, in counsel’s position statement, says “the Local Authority does not accept that its actions breached the mother or AS’s article 6 or 8 rights…The Local Authority offers a sincere apology to the mother for any upset that she feels LB Brent has caused her.” Miss James makes, I find, a good point. Miss James further makes clear the fact that the mother did not bring these proceedings for financial reasons; she was and has throughout remained upset and distressed about the manner of AS’s removal and she wants to make sure that this could not happen again to another child.

 

 

I think I might have tried another line – I’m not sure it would have worked either, but I would have considered it. On 9th October, the LA or any other LA, could have had no idea whether mum might be suffering from a really short episode of ill-health and be home the next day, or whether she might be ill for six weeks or more.  As they wouldn’t be able to rely on mum having capacity to sign a s20 consent  (pace Hedley J’s decision) and they can’t rely on s20 (1) (c) if the Judge is right here, that puts any LA where a mother has an episode of mental ill-health which might mean them being hospitalised in a position where they HAVE to seek an EPO / ICO.  That might in itself not be a terribly healthy thing for mum to hear at a time when she is getting treatment, and might wildly escalate a situation which could, after all, have been resolved the very next day with mum getting discharged with a change in medication.

 

The ultimate thrust of this judicial decision is to drive LA’s to issue care proceedings the moment that a mother or father providing care for a child is taken to hospital or has an episode of florid behaviour.  That might led to a number of care proceedings being issued prematurely, and also to a situation where mothers feel undermined and criticised by professionals just at a time when they need support and a working relationship.

You might say that making use of s20(1) (c) as a very short term holding position so that the child can be cared for whilst it is established whether the episode of mental ill-health is very short-lived and can be stabilised in a day or two, might be much more illustrative of working in partnership than dashing off to Court at a time when mother is unwell, stressed and anxious and where she won’t have capacity to instruct someone to fight the case, won’t have an Official Solicitor to represent her, may not actually be allowed by the hospital to be present and will be told that a Court are ruling that she presents a risk to her child EVEN THOUGH she has recognised that she is unwell and asked for help.

 

(I’d have to concede that in this particular case there are some major problems with that argument…firstly taking the child away from a neighbour who mum has asked to care for the child and who is willing to do it doesn’t really help my argument here, and secondly that NOT TELLING mum for a week doesn’t help in the slightest.  I’d mean more in cases where no alternative care provision has been made and mum is told immediately or as soon as practicable. )

 

But ultimately the Court interpreting that s20 (1) (c) requires active parental consent also puts LA’s in a position where they’d have to go to Court for a parent who is in a road-traffic accident and who is in a coma. The child can’t be accommodated under s20 (1) (c), the parent can’t consent. If the parent hasn’t got someone else who steps in to look after the child, how does this work?   You couldn’t conceivably argue that the child is at risk of harm from the parent, but what are you going to do?   [Accommodate, and take the chance of being sued afterwards is probably the answer]

Definition of chutzpah

An analysis of the High Court decision in A, S and Others v Lancashire County Council 2012, and the human rights breaches identified therein.

I remember that Chutzpah was explained to me many years ago as being the quality that enables a person on trial for murdering both of his parents to plead in mitigation that he is an orphan. And this High Court decision is very much about orphans, or at least “statutory orphans”

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2012/1689.html

This is a category of children, who the Court initially decided should be adopted, but didn’t get adopted and end up being long term fostered, but with that significant change in care plan never having been ventilated in the Court.

There have been grumblings about this group of ‘statutory orphans’ for some time, but this is the first time that a Court has ruled that it is incumbent on both LAs and Independent Reviewing Officers to take these children out of ‘statutory orphanage’ and have the case back before the Court.

It emerges from litigation involving multiple children against Lancashire County Council. I do not pick on Lancashire in this analysis, save that they were unlucky enough to be the authority who ended up with this issue before the High Court.

It deals with the not entirely unusual, though sad, situation where a child having been made the subject of a Freeing Order (or now, a Placement Order) does not go on to have the adoptive placement that the Court felt was right for them, being found. This is not necessarily as a result of a lack of effort or desire or commitment.

It is the sad reality that all of the adoption scorecards and media rhetoric ignores – there are some children who need to have adoptive families found for them who simply won’t get that family. They are the wrong age, the wrong gender, the wrong ethnicity, or the damage that they have endured has simply been too much for any adoptive carer to countenance. Sometimes children with all of these ‘anchors’ weighing them down still manage to get an adoptive family – it is impossible to say what might strike a chord on a particular day with a particular set of adopters willing to take on a child when they see a range of details of possible children. Sometimes those children you thought impossible to place just find a set of carers who just fit. Sometimes, they don’t.

This case deals with the ones who don’t. Where the care plan of adoption can’t be delivered, and the child remains subject to a Freeing Order or Placement Order, they are in a peculiar sort of limbo, which this Judge describes as being a ‘statutory orphan’. The parents PR is circumscribed far more than it would be if the child were merely subject to a Care Order, and the primary body who exercise PR is the Adoption Agency, rather than the Local Authority. Now, for all practical purposes, the Adoption Agency and the LA are the same thing, but the demands on them where a child is subject to a Placement Order and where the child is merely subject to a Care Order are different, subtly so, but significantly so.

In this case, the Judge made the following declarations that the LA and the Independent Reviewing Officer had behaved in a way that breached the children and parents human rights.

[Some of these may be purely case-specific, but there are more important general principles, which I have put in italics]

1. Lancashire County Council has acted incompatibly with the rights of A and S, as guaranteed by Articles 8, 6 and 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950, in that it:

(1) Failed to provide A and S with a proper opportunity of securing a permanent adoptive placement and a settled and secure home life. (Art. 8)

(2) Failed to seek revocation of the orders freeing A and S for adoption, made on the 19 March 2001 pursuant to Section 18(1) Adoption Act 1976, which effectively deprived them of: (a) The protection afforded to children under the Children Act 1989; (b) Contact with their mother and/or other members of their family; (c) Access to the Court and the procedural protection of a Guardian. (Arts. 6 & 8)

(3) Permitted A and S to be subjected to degrading treatment and physical assault and failed adequately to protect their physical and sexual safety and their psychological health (Arts. 3 and 8).

(4) Failed to provide accurate information concerning A and S’s legal status to the Independent Reviewing Officers. (Art. 8)

(5) Failed to ensure that there were sufficient procedures in place to give effect to the recommendations of the Looked After Child Reviews. (Art 8.)

(6) Failed to promote the rights of A and S to independent legal advice. (Art. 6)

(7) Specifically, failed to act as the ‘responsible body’ to enable A and S to pursue any potential claims for criminal injuries compensation, tortious liability and/or breach of Human Rights arising from their treatment by their mother, or by the Hs or by Mrs B. (Art. 6)

2. Mr H, the Independent Reviewing Officer for A and S, has acted incompatibly with the rights of A and S, as guaranteed by Articles 8 and 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950, in that he:

 (1) Failed to identify that A and S’s Human Rights had been and were being infringed. (Arts. 6 & 8) (2) Failed to take effective action to ensure that LCC acted upon the recommendations of Looked After Child Reviews. (Art. 8) (3) Failed to refer the circumstances of A and S to CAFCASS Legal. (Art. 8)

It must, as a result of this case, be at the very least arguable, that any child who is the subject of a Placement Order, but for whom the adoption agency have now ceased searching for an adoptive placement, has a potential claim for breach of human rights against the LA (if they don’t act to change their legal status and revoke the Placement Order, or at the very least, ensure that the practical differences that exist between a child subject to a Placement Order and Care Order in terms of LA obligations towards them disappear in this situation) and the IRO (if the IRO does not push the LA towards remedying the situation, or failing that, notify CAFCASS of the problem)

Now, it is important to note that whilst this Judge made it plain that children remaining on Freeing Orders should have that remedied, he did draw a distinction between Freeing Orders and Placement Orders and it is at least arguable that this judgment does not go so far as to say that a Local Authority or IRO is in breach of human rights by not applying to revoke Placement Orders where it is clear that the plan is no longer adoption. But the door is at the very least, ajar on that point for a future claim.

 

There are relatively few Freeing Order cases now  (since they stopped being made in 2002, and most of the children who were made subject to them will have been placed, or reached adulthood by now), but there are substantially more cases of children subject to Placement Orders who will never be placed.  I would not be surprised if the national total was somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 such children.  Are revocation applications to be made on each?

 

And are each of those going to be swiftly resolved – with the parents and Guardian simply accepting that the Placement Order be revoked and the Care Order (made at the time, but simply ‘frozen’ whilst the Placement Order is in effect) revived? Or are some of them / most of them going to result in a root and branch review of placement, contact, the possibility of rehabilitation, fresh assessments etc?

Without saying too much, I suspect that most authorities will slavishly follow this judgment in exactly the same way as they slavishly follow the Supreme Court’s judgment about the provision of section 20 accommodation to teenagers. Or, as always, Shakespeare puts it best “A custom more honoured in the breach, than the observance”

*Cautious note – I in no way speak for my own or any LA here, this is just my own personal cynicism.

The IRO point is an interesting one, and I would be interested to know where (if orders for damages/costs orders are made) any costs arising from such a claim would be funded.

The Court have not yet dealt with that aspect at all, but I suspect some financial penalties will ensue. Is the IRO at any personal risk from this, or are any damages ordered against them falling on them as part of their profession and met by the LA? (This would be quite straightforward in relation to the social workers on the case, as the LA would have to fund the costs, but IROs occupy a peculiar position both being simultaneously inside and outside of the LA)

The Judge in this case helpfully recounts exactly why the IRO role was beefed up following the House of Lords (as it then was) politely thanking the Court of Appeal for their creativity in inventing ‘starred care plans’ but saying the legal equivalent of ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ and ending that ‘ill-starred’ relationship at an early stage.

I have spoken before on this blog about how rarely the IRO provision to legally whistle-blow to CAFCASS about failure of a Local Authority to implement a care plan is used, and how the power for CAFCASS to actually make an application to Court in that event has never been used. (If you want to know the numbers – 8 total referrals to CAFCASS, 0 total applications arising from them)

CAFCASS weren’t dragged into this one, but I can’t see why, in a theoretical situation where the LA hadn’t revoked, the IRO had made the referral and CAFCASS had not made an application, that CAFCASS would not be added to the list of breaches.

(Of course, Parliament could have addressed this all very simply by ensuring that a Placement Order had a “Mission Impossible” clause, where it would self-destruct after two years – unless an adoption application had been placed before a Court and not yet resolved.)

 

 I don’t think that the Judge was asked to address whether the law itself was incompatible with Human Rights, and I think it would not be, because there is provision for the LA to make an application to revoke; but the law could easily have placed on the LA a duty to make such an application to revoke where the plan is no longer adoption and the order no longer appropriate – which is effectively the position now following this case)

I suspect the attitude of LA’s and the volume of revocation of Placement Order applications will be informed once the level of costs and damages Lancashire endured are known and more to the point, whether the principles in this case are confined to Freeing Orders or have that broader construction.

 (And if I were a journalist, an FOIA request to HMCS for the numbers of revocation applications over say the last 3 years and the next 18 months would be interesting – if it isn’t spiking considerably, then statutory orphans are still in the position that the High Court felt was wholly unacceptable and causing them irreparable harm)