A mother who won her appeal against a ruling that her daughter should be taken into care must pay her own legal costs, the Court of Appeal has ruled.
In M (A Child), she had taken her young daughter to hospital on two separate occasions after administering an epi-pen, a device used to administer adrenaline in the event of a severe allergic reaction. Doctors believed neither use was necessary. After the second occasion, she was arrested on suspicion of child neglect and her daughter taken into foster care.
No charges were filed and experts eventually concluded that the mother had been motivated by excessive anxiety about her daughter’s health.
A placement order was made, making the little girl available for adoption, but the mother appealed, arguing that the judge had not made sufficiently clear findings on the potential for future harm if the five year-old was returned to her mother’s care. In addition he had not, the mother’s legal team claimed, not properly set out his reasons for believing permanent separation from her mother via adoption would be in the girl’s best interests.
The Court of Appeal accepted these arguments, concluding that the original judge had indeed “fallen into error”. She ordered that the case be reheard.
The mother then applied for her appeal costs of approximately £20,000 to paid by the authority on the grounds that they had chosen to oppose her successful appeal. She and her husband could “ill afford expenditure on this scale” she said.
But Lady Justice King agreed with the local authority that it had not been unreasonable for them to oppose the appeal and that “it too has many calls on its stretched resources”.
“I have considerable sympathy with the position of MR, who is not eligible for legal aid and who has incurred such substantial costs in seeking to have her child returned to her. However, it is not possible to say that the local authority has been unreasonable in defending the judge’s decision, it being a decision that was in line with all professional advice and was supported by the children’s guardian.”
The Judge continued:
“Unfortunately… justice cannot demand that any deficiency in legal aid funding should be made up out of the funds of the local authority.”
The ruling is available here.
Photo by Horia Varlan via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence