The House of Lords has overturned a
controversial ruling that had opened the way for greater
intervention by the courts in the way local authorities carry out
Last year the Court of Appeal proposed the
introduction of a system of “starred” milestones in care plans
which meant that the court could intervene if they felt that the
welfare of the child was being undermined when significant
milestones were not achieved within a reasonable time.
That decision followed serious concerns that
local authorities were failing to follow through with the care
plans that had been agreed for the youngsters in their care and
children were suffering as a result.
But Bedfordshire Council who appealed against
last year’s decision argued in court that, if implemented, the new
system would leave vulnerable children at greater risk, that the
system would be unworkable in practice and there was no basis in
law for its introduction.
Brian Piggott, portfolio holder for children’s
social services at Bedfordshire Council, said: “The key issue for
us is the protection of children at risk, and there was a real
possibility that had we lost this case, care proceedings could be
unduly prolonged and the ability of local authorities to respond to
the changing circumstances of children in care could have been
subject to time consuming, expensive and unnecessary court
He added: “The appeal court’s proposal to
‘star’ plans would have delayed significantly the process of
implementing those plans and diverted scarce resources from other
pressing demands.” But while agreeing that the judges had gone too
far by reinterpreting the Children Act 1989 to accommodate the
proposed system, the law lords stressed that the government needed
to take action on the practical and legal problems in the child
care system that the decision had highlighted.
Judges said one question that required urgent
consideration was whether some degree of court supervision over
care packages would bring about an overall improvement in the
quality of care provided by local authorities.
“The view, widespread among family judges, is
that all too often local authorities’ discharge of their parental
responsibilities falls short of an acceptable standard,” said Lord
Nicholls, one of the three law lords who heard the appeal.