Four councils have lost a judicial review of the government’s decision to transfer the costs of care proceedings in England from the courts to local authorities.
Hillingdon, Leeds, Liverpool and Norfolk councils brought the action last month in opposition to ministers’ decision to increase council fees for care cases from £150 to up to £4,825, which came into force in May.
To meet the cost, the government transferred £40m from the courts’ budget to councils’ general funds, but this was not ring-fenced and authorities claimed it was not allocated according to the number of cases in each area.
The case was backed by the Law Society and the NSPCC, which warned that vulnerable children would be at risk if councils were deterred from taking out proceedings on cost grounds.
Risk to children
Rosemary Archer, director of children’s services at Leeds Council, had argued there was a “significant risk children would remain in abusive situations longer than they should”.
However, the High Court ruled that funding was sufficient and rejected claims that the policy was “irrational and unlawful”. The judges also concluded that the interests of vulnerable children would be not harmed.
“The overwhelming weight of the evidence is that local authorities do not and would not refrain from taking proceedings for financial reasons,” the judgement last week said.
NSPCC acting chief executive Wes Cuell said: “We are disappointed with the decision and hope that the court is correct in its assessment that vulnerable children will not be at risk under the new court fees regime.”
A joint statement from the four councils said: “We felt we had a strong case because, by increasing the cost of these court proceedings, and not putting into place what we believe to be a fair allocation system for local authorities to meet these costs, some local authorities will be out of pocket and the extra costs will ultimately be met by local taxpayers.”
• Full judgement available at: www.communitycare.co.uk/fees
This story was first posted on the website on 6 November. There have been a few added changes from the version below.