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The nation will have ‘blood on our hands’: Sir James Munby speaks out in Re X (A Child) (No 3)

Date:7 AUG 2017
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Tim Baldwin
Garden Court Chambers

In his judgment in Re X (A Child) (No 3) [2017] EWHC 2036 (Fam), Sir James Munby explains that the girl, named only as X, has made a large number of ‘determined attempts’ on her life. X, who has acute mental health issues, is due to be released from a secure unit, referred to as ZX for legal reasons, and doctors believe she needs to be placed in further care for her own protection. However, none has been found.

Sir James said:

‘If, when in 11 days’ time she is released from ZX, we, the system, society, the state, are unable to provide X with the supportive and safe placement she so desperately needs, and if, in consequence, she is enabled to make another attempt on her life, then I can only say, with bleak emphasis: we will have blood on our hands.’

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He added:

‘We are, even in these times of austerity, one of the richest countries in the world. Our children and young people are our future. X is part of our future. It is a disgrace to any country with pretensions to civilisation, compassion and, dare one say it, basic human decency, that a judge in 2017 should be faced with the problems thrown up by this case and should have to express himself in such terms.’

Sir James went on to say he felt ‘ashamed and embarrassed’ that no hospital place had been found that could take proper care of the 17-year-old.


This judicial intervention draws attention to the appalling state of mental health provision in the UK as Sir James said it demonstrated the ‘disgraceful and utterly shaming lack of proper provision in this country of the clinical, residential and other support services’ and described the shortage of specialist accommodation for the teenager, and others like her, as ‘an outrage’. He said that despite all the efforts made to find specialist care where she could be monitored safely and he said, ‘I might as well have been talking to myself in the middle of the Sahara’.

This judgment identifies the perilous state of mental health services in England and Wales and the failure by the Secretary of State for Health and the Government to grapple with this issue and provide funding and necessary resources.

The original version of this article was originally published by Garden Court Chambers