The London Borough of Croydon wasted court costs in a drawn-out child welfare case, a High Court judge has ruled.
HB v PB, OB and LB of Croydon concerned the parents of a six year old boy, called OB in case reports. The parents had separated and the boy lived with his mother, but one one occasion the father failed to return him after a visit. Both parents subsequently applied to be the resident parent, under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989. The father made serious allegations against the mother, claiming that she misled him into believing that she and the child has serious health conditions.
As a result, the judge a made a Section 37 order. Section 37 of the Children Act 1989 gives family courts the power to order an investigation into the circumstances of children whose welfare is in doubt.
The local authority gave responsibility for this report to a social worker, referred to as Mrs O. But during a hearing in December last year, it emerged that she had not considered a range of relevant guidance on the issue of fabricated illness.
Her team leader told the court that the authority wished to reconsider the report and the hearing was adjourned. The following morning the Council told the court that it wished to review the case and it was agreed that the case could not proceed at that stage.
The Council was ordered to prepare a new Section 37 report on the case. This eventually appeared in February, several weeks late like the first report.
The authority was also ordered to “to show cause why they should not pay the costs of the December hearings.”
At a hearing into the latter issue, the London Borough of Croydon admitted that its initial report had been “inadequate”, claiming that it had been the result of “hard pressed allocated social workers and team managers who have a very considerable case load to manage”.
Mr Justice Cobb declared that the authority’s “failures” had had:
“…a profound effect on the conduct of the proceedings. The Local Authority…failed fundamentally to investigate, address, or analyse the serious issues in the case raised by the father’s allegations when it prepared its section 37 report filed in July 2012 or at any time in the period which followed prior to the December 2012 hearing.”
The judge made a wasted costs order against the council. The father of OB was awarded the costs he had incurred at the wasted December hearings.