Damages awarded for mishandled care proceedings
Both a mother and a child had their human rights breached by a local authority and were awarded damages – even though, as yet, there is no evidence of harm to the child. The case is believed to be the first reported case of compensation being awarded to a child in care proceedings.
In the case, Northamptonshire County Council v AS and Ors (Rev 1) (2015) Mr Keehan J ordered the award for damages because of mishandled care proceedings.
The local authority, Northamptonshire, had made a series of “egregious failures” in its handling of care proceedings of DS a baby boy, according to the judge. The council failed to use an appropriate interpreter when obtaining s20 consent. The Council also waited nine months after the new born baby had been removed from his mother before issuing care proceedings.
The judge noted the many errors and delays with filing of evidence and court papers. The local authority admitted to breaches of the Articles 6 and 8 rights of the mother and child. The judged observed that the child was now living happily with his grandparents in Latvia.
The child and mother received £12,000 and £4,000 respectively. The court agreed a payment of £1,000 to the maternal grandparents for assisting in the care of the child.
It has been noted that this order for damages was significantly higher than others, such as H (A Child) (2014), but Keehan J, after thoroughly reviewing a number of cases where courts had awarded damages against local authorities which had breached the fundamental human rights of parents and the child was satisfied that the amount of damages was appropriate. In particular the judge endorsed the decision of Munby J in the case of In re L (2003) as he considered the mechanism by which a parent involved in care proceedings under Part IV of the Children Act 1989 can seek relief in respect of human rights breaches arising under EU law.
This case is unusual in awarding damages without actual harm being established. The judge made the award saying that the existence of any harm to the child, caused by the first 23 months of his life, was something which would only become known in the future.