The High Court has rejected a claim that a local authority should have obtained an ‘emergency protection order’ before taking a child into care.
Emergency Protection Orders (EPOs) allow children to be taken to a place of safety or kept in their current location if they are thought to be in need of short term protection. They are issued under Section 44 of the Children Act 1989, but only when children are thought to be facing immediate risk. Courts must consider whether they are necessary and proportionate to the situation.
In R (K) v Crown Prosecution Service, a nine year-old child was taken into care after the courts decided she was at risk of being trafficked abroad after a family wedding. The police attended. Having concluded that there was insufficient time to obtain an EPO, they proceeded on the basis of Section 46 of the Act.
This states that:
“Where a constable has reasonable cause to believe that a child would otherwise be likely to suffer significant harm, he may—
(a)remove the child to suitable accommodation and keep him there; or
(b)take such steps as are reasonable to ensure that the child’s removal from any hospital, or other place, in which he is then being accommodated is prevented.”
During the police visit, an unnamed individual obstructed one officer when they attempted to remove the child and the person was later convicted of this. During the course of their subsequent appeal, the courts were asked to consider whether an EPO should have been obtained before the police visit, rather than making use of their powers under Section 46 of the Children Act.
Sitting in the Queen’s Bench Division, Lord Justice Beatson and Judge Bean said Section 46 was only available in circumstances where an EPO was impractical but a child was at risk of significant harm. However this had been clearly established, they concluded, by the previous police enquiries.
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