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Hillingdon Borough Council in London, Leeds City Council, Liverpool City Council and Norfolk County Council have lost a judicial review against the Government over the increase in child care proceedings fee.
The Family Proceedings Fees Order came into force on 1 May 2008 and increased court fees in public law family proceedings, meaning local authorities' fees for care orders increased from £150 to £5,225 for a fully contested court case.
The local authorities brought the judicial review arguing that the government failed to adequately consult them on the fee increases, that the 'full cost recovery' principle should not be extended to child-care cases, and that the reallocated cash is insufficient.
In refusing the application, Lord Justice Dyson concluded that the local authorities had been and would continue to be compensated by the government for the loss of the subsidy previously enjoyed in public family law proceedings and that compensation was sufficient to avoid any real risk that the new fee regime might lead to the interests of vulnerable children being harmed.
Prior to the judicial review, Councillor Stewart Golton, executive board member for Childrens Services at Leeds City Council, told Newswatch that he "did not feel the Government consulted adequately enough with local authorities before taking the decision to increase the court fees".
However, Lord Justice Dyson concluded that there was no authority for the proposition that, where Parliament had prescribed the nature and extent of consultation, a wider duty of consultation might exist at common law (in the absence of a clear promise or an established practice of wider consultation by the decision-maker). He added that it was not the law that authorities must necessarily consult those who were liable to be disadvantaged by a proposed decision before they could make the decision.
In a joint statement the councils said: "We felt we had a strong case, supported by the NSPCC and the Law Society, as by increasing the cost of these court proceedings, and not putting into place what we believe to be a fair allocation system for local authorities to meet these costs, some local authorities will be out of pocket and the extra costs will ultimately be met by local tax payers.
"We are all committed to ensuring the safety of the children and young people of our boroughs and will not shy away from challenging central Government to meet the costs they impose on our residents.
"This is a disappointing result although we stand by our decision to take this action as it highlights our concerns about the way in which these costs were imposed on local authorities and ultimately the local tax payers."
The NSPCC, who supported the judicial review, are also disappointed with the decision. Wes Cuell, the NSPCC acting chief executive, said: "We remain certain that taking this matter to judicial review was the right course of action. We were pleased to be able to draw our concerns to the attention of the court and we support the local councils' decision to apply for the review.
"The NPSCC is committed to highlighting any concerns we have on behalf of children. We will continue to monitor the outcomes for children and young people as best we can."