The legal rights of children could be under threat if local authorities are allowed to opt out of their obligations, a group of magistrates have claimed.
This warning comes in response to a section of the Children and Social Work Bill which is currently making its way through Parliament. The Magistrates Association (MA), a charity which aims to “promote the sound administration of the law” throughout England and Wales, had “considerable concerns” about the potential legislation.
The provision in question states that, if enacted, local authorities could be released from their legal responsibilities towards children in their care for a three-year period. This ‘innovation clause’ is designed to free these councils to try new ways to approach child care such as outsourcing services. However many have criticised the proposal. Human rights charity Liberty claimed the measure “would let councils opt out of 80 years of children’s care legislation”.
Although it was defeated in the House of Lords, with several peers citing this provision as the reason for their opposition, the bill returns to the House of Commons today.
Malcolm Richardson is the national chair of the MA. He was concerned that “court orders may be unenforceable” against a local authority which is allowed an exemption.
“It would be a regrettable waste of court resources if a local authority were ordered to come before the court to account for a failure to adhere to legislation which does not apply to them.”
In a statement, the MA said “nothing can be more important than the safeguarding and protection of children, especially those who are at greatest risk or are the most vulnerable”. Local authority exemptions “should only be implemented on the strongest evidence that such fundamental changes respond to an identified need and are in the best interests of children” the charity insisted.
Read the full MA statement here.
Photo by Till Westermayer via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.