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Edward Bennett
Edward Bennett
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Newcastle City Council v WM and Others [2015] EWFC 42
Date:10 JUN 2015
Law Reporter
(Family Court, Cobb J, 8 May 2015)

[The judicially approved judgment and accompanying headnote has now published in Family Law Reports [2016] 2 FLR 184]

Public law children – Procedure – Failings by the local authority – Children in foster care for 93 weeks awaiting a final decision – Issue of whether mother had capacity to consent to s 20 placement had not been considered

Please see attached file below for the full judgment.

The local authority care plan would be amended to provide for long-term care of the two oldest children by the maternal aunt.

At a final hearing in care proceedings in respect of three children, the mother, who had a learning disability and an IQ of 61, was represented by the Official Solicitor after being assessed as lacking capacity to litigate. The children each had different fathers and there were allegations of domestic violence and criminality. The mother had been physically and emotionally abused by her own parents.

The local authority care plans were for adoption of all three children. The maternal grandparents initially put themselves forward as long-term carers but had withdrawn that offer. An assessment of the maternal aunt was at first negative but during the course of the hearing the independent social worker changed her mind and supported placement of the two older children with her. The guardian supported that recommendation.

Cobb J noted the procedural failings in the way the case had been run which included: by the time of the final hearing the children had been in foster care for 93 weeks awaiting a final decision; the children were accommodated pursuant to s 20 of the Children Act 1989 for 20 months; the letter before proceedings was sent to the parents 73 weeks prior to proceedings being issued; the mother's learning disability raised the question of whether she ever had capacity to consent to accommodation of the children under s 20; the youngest child had spent more than half his like waiting for a decision about his long-term future which was essentially undisputed; the guardian and the local authority proposed radically different outcomes for the older children; the social worker and parties were only made aware of the final recommendation of the guardian at the start of the hearing; the maternal aunt's significant visual disability was only revealed at the conclusion of her oral evidence when she was asked about it by the judge; there was no attempt by the local authority to provide one reduced trial bundle of the relevant material.

The local authority was invited to change its care plans for the older two children so that they could be placed with the maternal aunt. Cobb J highlighted the types of support that the local authority could and should provide to enable the children to remain in their family of origin. He concluded that adoption was the best option for the youngest child.

Cobb J reminded practitioners of the importance of complying with PD 27A.
Case No: NE14C00125
Neutral Citation Number: [2015] EWFC 42

Sitting at Newcastle Upon Tyne

The Law Courts

Date: 08/05/2015

Before :


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Between :

Newcastle City Council

- and -

(1) WM
(2) AM
(3) JR
(4)/(5) TK & MY
(6) SM
(7)/(8)/(9) HY, HA and TY (children, by their Children’s Guardian)

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Miss Lesley McKenzie (instructed by Local Authority Solicitor) for the Applicant
Miss Katherine Wood (instructed by Singleton Winn Saunders Solicitors as agents for the Official Solicitor) for the 1st Respondent Mother
Miss Lesley Monkhouse (solicitor of David Gray) for the 2nd Respondent (father of HA)
The 3rd Respondent (father of TY) was neither present nor represented
Mr Mark Styles (instructed by Duncan Lewis) for the 4th and 5th Respondent (maternal grandparents)
Miss Fiona McCrae (instructed by Co-operative Legal Services) for the 6th Respondent (maternal aunt)
Miss Pauline Moulder (instructed by Richmond Anderson Goudie) for the 7th to 9th Respondents (children)

Hearing dates: 27 April – 5 May 2015

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Newcastle City Council v WM and Others [2015] EWFC 52