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Council criticised for ‘extraordinary delays’ in care case

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A High Court Judge has criticised a local council for their “extraordinary delays” in a care case.

In Northamptonshire County Council v AS & Ors, Mr Justice Keehan heard a Latvian mother’s application for damages from the local authority. She alleged that they had breached her human rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). These cover the right to fair trial and for respect for family life.

Her son was identified as ‘DS’ in the judgment. He was taken into care by Northamptonshire County Council when he was 15 days old. The council had determined that he was “at a real risk of physical harm” from his mother’s partner, who was a heroin addict.

The mother claimed that her partner was aggressive and threatening towards her. She also alleged that he left used needles throughout the house. The council obtained her consent to take DS into care. However, the judge questioned if the mother fully understood what she was consenting to as she did not have “the benefit of an interpreter”.

Although DS was taken into care quickly, the council did not launch official care proceedings for nine months. Mr Justice Keehan said he had been offered “no satisfactory explanation” for the delays.

Additionally, the social worker allocated to the case by the council was described as “inexperienced” by the Director of Children’s Services, and did not receive support for several months.

When the case reached the High Court it was determined that DS should live with his maternal grandparents in Latvia. However, there were further delays as the council failed to promptly supply a support plan for the child.

Mr Justice Keehan demanded answers from Northamptonshire County Council about these failings, but the response he received was inadequate. He described it as an attempt “to defend the wholly indefensible”.

The care proceedings were concluded when the judge made an order placing DS in the care of his grandparents. He said it was a “wholly satisfactory” outcome, despite the delays.

Mr Justice Keehan said that despite the “appalling conduct” of the council, it did concede that it had breached the mother’s human rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the ECHR. It subsequently agreed to pay damages of £12,000 to DS, £4,000 to the mother and £1,000 to the maternal grandparents.

To read the full judgment, click here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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