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In the recent case of Herefordshire Council v AB [2018] EWFC 10 Mr Justice Keehan heavily criticised Herefordshire Council for what he described as “two of the most egregious abuses of section 20 accommodation by a Local Authority.”

In this single Judgment, Mr Justice Keehan considered two separate matters of two young people being accommodated under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 for a period of eight years and nine years respectively. In each case, the Local Authority took years and years, until September 2017, to bring care proceedings.

During this judgment Keehan J further discussed the misuse of Section 20. He said that the authority had failed both children “so very badly.” Failings that were wholly accepted by the Director of Children’s Services at the Local Authority.

In relation to both children, he found several instances when care proceedings could, but were not, started and where legal advice should have been sought but was not. He described this as “fundamentally misconceived and fundamentally wrong.”

In one of the cases, the mother had effectively been side-lined from his life. She was just 14 when she had given birth to the child and needed the “greatest possible” advice, support and consideration which she had not been given. Furthermore, the Local Authority did not give consideration to her age and the impact this may have had on her ability to consent to her child’s accommodation.

In the case of CD, the Local Authority failed to return him to her care after the mother had, lawfully, given notice to seek that he be returned to her care. Again, the Local Authority acted unlawfully in this regard.

Keehan J further opined that “serious and long lasting damage has resulted.” Contact between child CD and his mother has never properly been promoted to such an extent that the mother did not recognise her son when she passed him in public.

The above examples represent two of the most extreme forms of Section 20 accommodation abuse by a Local Authority. However, it is understood that Section 20s are often misused and parents are ill-informed by the Local Authorities of their rights. Such abuses by Local Authorities constitute clear breaches of both parent’s and children’s Article 8 rights to a family life.

For persons who feel that they have been wrongly treated in such situations, they are able to seek legal recourse through a claim under the Human Rights Act. For further advice in complete confidence please contact our Ramsdens Abuse team, led by Natalie Marrison on 0113 8871 834.