Judge awards damages to boy, 10, for human rights breaches while in care
A family judge has taken the rare step of awarding a ten-year-old boy damages for breaches of his human rights whilst in local authority care.
Judge Richard Rundell, sitting at Worcester Family Court, has ruled that serious local authority errors and delays led to a lost opportunity for Child B "to make contact with members of his extended family".
Awarding the boy £5,000, the judge said it was "just and appropriate" compensation for his "loss of access to justice, and the lost opportunity over three years to develop a relationship with at least one of his half siblings".
Judge Rundell said he first made a care order for B in February 2011 and authorised Worcester County Council to withhold contact with his mother following concerns at that time that she could have a potentially "harmful impact" on him.
The man thought to be his father had refused to take a DNA test and had played no part in the case.
The judge said the local authority initially decided that B, who has serious behavioural difficulties, should be placed for adoption. No appropriate adopters were found and the plan was changed to allow long-term foster care.
A local authority panel agreed the change in February 2012.
The judge said the original adoption placement order should at that stage have been revoked and the matter come back to court, with members of his family given a fresh chance to contact him. But that did not happen for three years, until February 2015.
During the intervening period there were seven "looked after child" (LAC) reviews and a failure by an independent reviewing officer (IRO) to take adequate action.
The judge said both the local authority and the IRO now conceded they had breached B's rights under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to a fair hearing, and his Article 8 right to "private and family life".
The judge said both the authority and IRO had apologised for failing for three years to "take the obvious step" and had assured the court there would be "no repetition of such a lengthy failure".
The judge said: "Far more important was the local authority's failure, and a similar failure on the part of the IRO, to give proper consideration to the question of contact between B and his mother, and maybe, also, his father, together with the possibility of sibling contact".
The judge added: "It could easily be said that, in 2011, it was not in B's interests to have contact with either adult.
"The question remains however whether that situation continued through to 2015."
The judge said that, although the local authority agreed it was "a bad case" and B's rights had been breached, its lawyers argued no damages should be paid because "no loss had been proved", and B was "thriving" in his foster placement.
The judge declared: "In my judgment there has been here a lost opportunity for this child to make contact with members of his extended family; the passage of time is likely now to make this more difficult."