Council billed £40,000 for mother and child human rights breaches

Ref. Medway Council v M & T (By Her Children’s Guardian) [2015] EWFC B164

Following established breaches under the Human Rights Act 1998, Medway Council have been ordered to pay damages of £20,000 to mother and child respectively. Her Honour Judge Lazarus commented that there had been an ‘alarming history’ of the unlawful accommodation of the girl by the authority for a period exceeding two years.

The breaches began after the mother was taken ill with a serious bout of depression with psychotic features, leading to her detention within the hospital. She was so unwell that the council were unable to communicate with her with regards to housing her daughter (referred to as ‘T’ in the judgement and below).

Two years later, the mother claimed that the daughter’s accommodation had been unlawful, being that it was not sanctioned by the mother or an order of the court. The council should have pursued a court order as soon as they had established that they could not speak with the mother.

Although the council argued that this was “a different kind of lawful accommodation under s20 (Children Act 1989), until she [the mother] was well enough to consider T’s accommodation by Medway Council”, Judge Lazarus disagreed. She stated:

“In this case, given how very gravely ill Mother was and therefore the unlikelihood of her returning to care for T within a very short period, which information would have been readily available to Medway Council, there should have been the minimum period of delay before the issue of proceedings.

“I do not consider that Medway Council was at any time acting in bad faith. I accept that they considered they were taking necessary and beneficial steps for T. It is clear that if an EPO or ICO had been sought it would have been granted.

“However, that is not the point. What is betrayed is the most shocking misunderstanding of the law by both social work and legal teams at Medway Council, and of the proper limitations of their exercise of power over this family, compounded by an ignorant or arrogant disregard for the advice and recommendations being provided by the LAC review process and the permanency panel.”

Ultimately, the following declarations were established and formed the basis of the judgement made:

a. The local authority breached their rights under Article 8 ECHR in that they:

  1. Unlawfully removed T from Mother’s care on 11.2.13;
  2. Failed to obtain properly informed capacitous consent for T to be accommodated, or to consider/assess adequately the question of the Mother’s capacity to consent, at that date or subsequently;
  3. Accommodated T without Mother’s consent between 11.2.13 and 7.5.15;
  4. Failed to inform Mother adequately or involve her sufficiently in the decision-making process in relation to T;
  5. Failed to address the issues relating to their relationship and contact between them adequately;
  6. Permitted unacceptable delay in addressing all of the above.

b. The local authority breached the rights of T and Mother under Article 6 ECHR in that they failed to issue proceedings in a timely manner.

More information on this case is available on the Family Court record here.

SRJ    04.11.15