Learning Difficulties

BOTH PARENTS HAVE LEARNING DIFFICULTIES BUT…………………………

Council pays £12,000 damages for removal of child

Parents’ Articles 6 and 8 rights breached

In Re H (A Child: Breach of Convention Rights: Damages) [2014] EWFC 38 HHJ Clifford Bellamy, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, has awarded damages of £12,000 against Leicester City Council for breaches of the ECHR Articles 6 and 8 rights of the parents whose only child was taken into care.

The breaches arose in care proceedings brought by the local authority in April, 2014 in respect of a little girl, H.  H is now aged 17 months.  Both parents have learning disabilities. At the final hearing before HHJ Bellamy all parties agreed that the appropriate welfare outcome was that there should be a supervision order for a period of 12 months.

The parents asserted that the way the local authority had dealt with the case before proceedings were issued gave rise to a breach of their rights under Articles 6 and 8. They sought relief in the form of declarations and damages. The local authority accepted that by its conduct it had breached the parents Article 6 and Article 8 rights. It agreed to most of the declarations sought by the parents but did not agree that the parents were entitled to damages and submitted that if they were an appropriate amount would be £1,000 for each parent.

HHJ Bellamy found:

“H is these parents’ first child. Whilst it may be the case that had the local authority issued care proceedings soon after H was born an interim care order would have been made, the fact is that proceedings were not commenced promptly. They were not issued until shortly before H’s first birthday. It was not until June 2014 that these parents eventually managed to secure the return of their daughter to their care, exactly a year after she was placed with Mr and Mrs B. Whilst it is true that during that year the parents were having regular contact, supervised contact at a local authority contact centre is far removed from the joys of full time, unsupervised care of one’s own child. The residential assessment which began in June 2014 could have begun a year earlier. The cognitive assessment of the parents, not finally obtained until May 2014, could have been obtained months earlier. Unlike the parents in Coventry City Council v C, B, C and CH [2013] 2 FLR 987 these parents’ have suffered a loss of time with their daughter which was both unnecessarily lengthy and deeply distressing.”

He added:

“In my judgment the nature and extent of the poor practice admitted by the local authority is such that an adverse impact on these parents was inevitable. They would have needed great fortitude to be able to take such an experience in their stride. Far from having great fortitude it is clear that these are vulnerable learning disabled parents who had no-one to speak up for them.”

Having considered a number of authorities as examples of awards made in other cases, the judge determined that there were too few to be able to be confident that they indicate the broad parameters for making an assessment. He concluded that “an award of damages of £6,000 for each parent would achieve ‘just satisfaction’ in all the circumstances of this case.”