An unnamed local authority breached a mother’s human rights when it took her youngest child into police protection shortly after her birth.
In A-W & C (Children) the 18 year-old mother’s two older children had already been taken into police protection, and later into interim (temporary) care. Their fathers had both been deported. The mother had a history of antisocial and criminal behaviour, as well as self-harming.
When she fell pregnant for the third time, the local authority announced that it planned to take the new child into care as well, but the mother opposed this. The third child, referred to as ‘A’, was born in February last year. Her father was involved and had expressed a desire to look after her.
Shortly after A was born, a social worker and two police offers visited the mother in hospital to discuss ‘section 20’ accommodation. Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 sets out the duty of local authorities to provide accommodation for children living in their area under various circumstances. The mother refused this, and A was promptly taken into police protection, under Section 46 of the same act. Meanwhile, her solicitor sought an urgent court hearing opposing the interim care order planned for A.
The mother sought a declaration that her rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights had been breached when A had been taken into police protection. Article 6 governs the right to a fair trial and Article 8 the right to respect for “private and family life”.
At the District Registry of the High Court in Lancaster, Judge Singleton QC noted that the hospital wished to discharge A, but even in emergency situations, case law made it clear that local authorities should attempt to reach an agreement with parents about care arrangements whenever possible. The mother had refused section 20 accommodation after taking legal advice.
The judge criticised the attendance of police officers at the meeting held to discuss section 20 accommodation, saying:
“To use the section 20 procedure in circumstances where there was the overt threat of a police protection order if they did not agree, reinforced by the physical presence of uniformed police officers, was wholly inappropriate.”
Police protection orders, also issued under the Children Act 1989, allow the police to intervene when children are thought to be at risk.
“The use of police protection was seen by [the local authority] as necessary by reason of the mother’s lack of co-operation and failure to agree to section 20. That was referred to.…in evidence repeatedly as a mother refusing to work with or engage with the local authority. References were made in the written evidence of both witnesses to the mother’s solicitor’s demands as if those demands were in some way obstructive. That did not seem to me to be a proper approach to a young and vulnerable parent who was merely following her own legal advice properly given. In any event the social worker and two policewomen – I think there was also a student social worker there as well – met up at the hospital that morning.”
The judge added:
“The approach of the local authority here seems to have been one of an unwillingness to seek to implement arrangements which held the balance between their preferred care plan and that of the mother unless and until they were obliged to do so by the court.”
The local authority admitted breaching the mother’s rights and apologised to her. Judge Singleton granted the declarations sought by the mother.
To read the judgement, please click here.
Photo of Lancaster Old Town Hall by Robin Madge via Wikipedia under a Creative Commons licence