Supreme Court to determine role of local councils in protecting vulnerable children
A landmark case that will decide whether a local authority has a duty of care to investigate and take action to protect children at risk of possible sexual, physical or emotional abuse and neglect in its geographical area will be heard on Monday, July 16th at the UK Supreme Court.
The case is being brought against Poole Borough Council for failing to protect two children from the antisocial behaviour of neighbours whilst in the care of their mother. The abuse was so severe that at one point one of the victims - who has severe physical and learning difficulties, and was classed as a ‘child in need’ under the Children Act 1989 — attempted suicide.
Charities Article 39, which fights for the rights of children and young people who live in children’s homes, prisons and other institutions, as well as The Care Leavers’ Association, which supports care leavers of all ages, have been given permission to intervene in the case amidst concerns about ‘justice being denied’ to the people they serve.
Represented by Simpson Millar’s specialist public law and abuse law teams, the charities hope the hearing will draw attention to the ‘terrible impact’ that abuse can have on children; claiming that it is ‘incomprehensible that a local authority would not face the legal consequences for not doing enough to prevent abuse and neglect to young people in care’.
The appeal hearing, which will start at 11am on Monday July 16th at the Supreme Court, is expected to last for one and a half days.
Simpson Millar Partner and abuse law expert Peter Garsden, who is representing the charities, said: ”This appeal raises issues of very great public importance, concerning whether a local authority is responsible for protecting young people and children who may not be in a care institution, but are known to be at risk — either from sexual, physical or emotional abuse”.
“It affects some of the most vulnerable members of our society and will have far reaching ramifications, and it is absolutely vital that the law is clarified so that abuse survivors can get the answers and access to justice that they deserve, and that will allow them to start to move forward with their lives”.
Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said: “We are delighted to have been given permission to intervene in this very significant case. With The Care Leavers’ Association, we want to help the court consider local authorities’ obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and to understand the terrible impact that abuse can have on children, especially when they have tried to seek help but are ignored and left to cope alone with profound psychological pain, isolation and confusion. We appreciate that local authorities are under great financial strain but children’s rights to safety and recovery must be robustly defended”.
David Graham, National Director of The Care Leavers’ Association, said: “It is incomprehensible that a local authority would not face the legal consequences for not doing enough to prevent abuse and neglect to young people in care. But the important thing to remember is this is not just about blame, or legal outcomes. It is about the lives of many young people and adults affected by abuse and neglect experienced as children. It is essential that they have legal recourse to challenge the decisions and omissions that facilitated those damaging experiences. We are determined to work with Article 39 and our legal team to right this wrong”.
Oliver Studdert, children’s rights specialist and Partner at Simpson Millar, said “The impact that the outcome of this appeal will have on victims of abuse and children’s rights cannot be underestimated. Having been granted permission to intervene, Article 39 and The Care Leavers’ Association are making sure that the Court understands this and ensures that the rights of the child are a primary consideration in this appeal”.
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