Father’s rights breached by local authority

Children|January 21st 2016

An unnamed local authority breached a father’s human rights when it took his four year-old daughter into care without consulting him.

In Re C (A Child), the child’s mother had struggled to raise C’s older half siblings on her own after separating from their father. Eventually they went to live with him. She subsequently formed a new relationship, with C’s father, but this also ended.

Social workers intervened. The mother was assessed by a psychiatrist who concluded that she was once again struggling and that it was unlikely she would be able to provide C with adequate care. The girl’s language skills were poor and the mother’s current relationship was a turbulent one in which she had been forced to spend time in a homeless shelter.

During 2014 health visitors and nursery staff raised concerns about the girl’s delayed speech skills and social workers grew increasingly concerned that the mother was neglecting C. When she developed bruising, they launched a Section 47 investigation, under the Children Act 1989, examining her circumstance in detail because she was thought be at risk of “significant harm”.

The mother gave contradictory accounts of how the bruising had occurred. She eventually agreed to the C being placed with foster carers under section 20 of the Children Act. This states that local authorities must provide accommodation to vulnerable children. However, as Her Judge Anderson noted:

“[The father], who had regular contact with C, was not consulted. He was not asked if he could provide suitable accommodation. He was not asked if he could suggest someone who might be able to do so.”

The father was named on the child’s birth certificate and so held parental responsibility for the girl. He did however have a learning disability and was unable to read. As a result he lacked the ‘capacity’ (ability) to participate in legal proceedings himself.

The family’s local authority applied to have C taken into care and placed for adoption. Acting on behalf of the father meanwhile, the Official Solicitor invited to the courts to find that, by failing to consult him, the authority had breached his rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the European Court of Human Rights. These govern the rights to a fair trial and to respect for family life.

Judge Anderson granted the care and placement orders but reserved her ruling on the human rights issues for a supplemental judgement.

In this, she accepted the Official Solicitor’s arguments, ruling that the man’s human rights had indeed been breached. But she declined to blame – or name – the local authority, saying:

“I wish to make it clear that there is no suggestion of any bad faith on the part of any of the professionals in this case. An early error was not noticed by a variety of professionals who are all working under a great deal of pressure. It is unlikely that this pressure will lessen. Therefore it is crucial that where rights and obligations derive from parental responsibility clear simple procedures are put in place as early as possible to establish who has it.”

The judgement is available here.

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