Judge backs council in children in need challenge

In A v London Borough of Lambeth the court was asked to consider
the important issue of the nature of the duty to provide services
to children in need pursuant to section 17 of the Children Act

The claimant was the mother of two disabled children, and the
assessment of the family pursuant to section 17 was that the
accommodation occupied was unsuitable and that there was a need for
the family to be re-housed. However, the social services department
had done nothing to provide the accommodation other than
(unsuccessfully) liaising with the housing department.

The claimant argued that once there had been an assessment of
need for services (including accommodation) for children in need
under section 17, a duty to provide those services crystallised
which was enforceable in the courts. The council argued that the
duty under section 17 was only a general duty for the council to
strive and meet the needs of children in need as a group, and that
no particular child had an enforceable right to any services.

The judge, Mr Justice Scott Baker, agreed with the council
stating that it would be a Herculean task to expect the council to
provide for all assessed needs, that the language of section 17
clearly indicated that the duty thereunder was a “target duty”, and
that a failure to provide a service to meet individual needs was
not justifiable by judicial review.

However, the judge granted permission to appeal and the case
will be heard by the court of appeal in the next few months.

Stephen Cragg

Doughty Street Chambers

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