A family judge has awarded a 10-year-old boy £5,000 in damages for breaches of his human rights while he was in local authority care.
Judge Richard Rundell ruled that a three year delay in Worcestershire council revoking a placement order stopped child B from making contact with his extended family and having his case reconsidered by the court.
The judge said the award was “just and appropriate” compensation for B’s “loss of access to justice, and the lost opportunity over three years to develop a relationship with at least one of his half siblings”.
He also ordered the local authority and the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) service to cover the total cost of the care proceedings.
Both the local authority and the IRO service apologised and assured the court there would be “no repetition” of the failure, the judge said.
Background to the case
Care proceedings for B started in 2010. A care order was made in February 2011 and the local authority was authorised to withhold contact with his mother after concerns it could have a “harmful impact” on him.
The man thought to be the boy’s father refused to take a DNA test and played no part in the case.
B, who has serious behavioural difficulties, was placed in foster care during the care proceedings. After the care order, the council initially tried to find the boy an adopted family. When no suitable adopters could be found it was agreed to change B’s plan to long-term foster care.
In February 2012 the local authority officially changed the plan and B’s mother was informed of his changed status.
The judge said the local authority should have revoked the original placement order at this point. This would have seen the case return to court, a guardian appointed to protect B’s interests, and members of his family given a fresh chance to seek contact with him.
Those steps were not followed. Instead seven looked-after-children reviews took place before, in February 2015, the local authority applied to revoke the order. The IRO handling the case also took “no adequate action to progress the matter” over the three-year period, the judge found.
When the case returned to court, B’s mother did not seek to become actively involved in the proceedings and did not oppose the local authority’s application. The man thought to be his father did not engage.
Human rights breaches
B’s guardian did not oppose the local authority’s application but claimed the council had breached the boy’s right to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time under article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). B’s right to respect for his private and family life under article 8 of the ECHR had also been breached, the guardian said.
The judge found the local authority and IRO had failed to properly review the question of contact between B and his mother and father, and the possibility of contact with six half siblings.
The judge acknowledged that the case was “unusual” given the 2011 order stopped B from seeing his mother and his presumed father did not engage with any proceedings.
He said this meant it “could easily be said” that, in 2011, it was not in B’s best interests to have contact with either adult but it was important to consider whether that remained the case throughout the three-year delay in revoking the order.
The judge said B was “thriving” in his foster placement, but concluded: “In my judgment there has been here a lost opportunity for this child to make contact with members of his extended family; the passage of time is likely now to make this more difficult”.