IRO service & local authority Human Rights breach


Photo credit- Mataparda via : CC BY

Photo credit: Mataparda via / CC BY

A 10-year-old boy has been awarded £5,000 after His Honour Judge Rundell ruled his human rights had been breached while in local authority care:

I have found the local authority and the IRO service, both public authorities, on their own admissions, to be seriously at fault and to have breached B’s convention rights in a variety of respects and have concluded that it is appropriate that he should be awarded damages by way of just satisfaction. Another public authority has made regulations which would effectively prevent him from receiving those damages. That cannot be right, and is certainly neither just nor proportionate. The justice of the case demands that B receives his damages and that, therefore, the local authority must pay the entire costs of these proceedings, on the standard basis, to be subject to a detailed assessment if not agreed. [2016]

EWFC B10, para 33

The council removed the child from his mother’s care in early 2011 and the Family Court authorised the local authority to find a new adoptive home for the boy, however they had no success. As a result of the child’s “very serious behavioural difficulties”, they were unable to find a family willing and able to adopt him.

Judge Rundell explained that the next logical step would have been for the council to place the boy in long term foster care and to apply to revoke the placement order. Application to revoke the placement order would have given the boy’s mother the opportunity to seek contact with him but the local authority failed to make an application for three years.

When the application to revoke the previous order was finally brought to the Family Court in February 2015, the boy’s court-appointed guardian did not oppose it. The guardian argued that Worcestershire County Council had breached the boy’s Article 6 and Article 8 rights under the European Convention of Human Rights, which cover the right to a fair legal hearing and the right to a family life and therefore the local authority should pay the child damages for the excessive delay.

At Worcester court, Judge Rundell said that the local authority had “failed for three years to take the obvious step” to revoke the order. During the intervening period there were seven looked-after child reviews and a failure by the independent reviewing officer (IRO) to take adequate action. The mother had given birth to two more children since her son had been taken into care. In the three years he was in care,  he did not see her or his half-siblings. He missed the chance to “develop a fulfilling sibling relationship with at least one of them”, the judge added.

The judge said both the local authority and the IRO now conceded they had breached B’s rights under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to a fair hearing, and his Article 8 right to “private and family life”.

Both the authority and IRO have apologised for failing for three years to “take the obvious step” and say there would be “no repetition of such a lengthy failure”, Judge Rundell said.

The delay had been a breach of the boy’s rights, Judge Rundell ruled, and he was indeed entitled to damages.

I am faced with a stark choice, either I make the usual order in Children Act cases, no costs, the result of which will be that B receives not a penny and renders the entire exercise pointless (save for the making of declarations, which will be of no practical benefit to the child), or I order the local authority to pay the costs of the proceedings. Ms Temple Bone invites me to adopt the former course, arguing that the local authority ought not to be required to make good the defects in the legal aid regime. On the other hand, Ms Kushner invites me to make an order for costs, to give meaningful effect to my award of damages.

EWFC B10, para 32

Read the full judgement at source: Re B (A Child)

Revocation of Placement Orders

A Placement Order can be revoked on application to the court if at a future point adoption is no longer a likely or desirable outcome for a child. The local authority or the child (via Cafcass or another appropriate adult) can apply for revocation as of right, at any time after the Placement Order has been made.

A parent may apply to revoke at any time after the placement order has been granted if the child has not been placed for adoption and the parent has leave of court. The criteria for leave are a change in circumstances since the placement order was made.

Other relevant publications

Application, made by two brothers freed for adoption by Lancashire County Council in 2001, for a declaration that the council had breached the boys’ rights under Arts 8, 6 and 3 of the ECHR and the independent reviewing officer had breached their rights under Arts 8 and 6. Declarations granted. Read: A and S v Lancs CC [2012] EWHC 1689 (Fam)

Family Law Week (2013) “Bring it back” – Courts and care plans that are not working

IRO Handbook

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