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Care Proceedings - Damages Awarded for Misuse and or Abuse of Section 20
Following on from the  introduction to misuse and or abuse of Section 20 agreements the law has been holding local authorities liable and awarding both parents and children damages for this wrongdoing. The circumstances vary on a case by case basis.  However, if your child has been wrongfully accommodated under Section 20 contact our experienced panel of childcare lawyers who will advise you on the best course of action.  
 
To give an example, Williams & Anon v London Borough of Hackney is a landmark case and one of the first where damages have been awarded under the Human Rights Act in childcare proceedings.
 
According to the judgment the child told police that he had been beaten by his father with a belt after one of the children was arrested on suspicion of shoplifting 8 years ago and this subsequently led to all 8 children being wrongfully removed from their parents care.
 
Deputy High Court Judge Sir Robert Francis QC said:
If ever there was a case illustrating the challenges that face children, parents, public authorities and the court when concerns are raised about the safety and welfare of the children it is this.’
 
When police visited the home they declared it was not in a fit state for the children to live in, and took them away. The police protection powers allowed the children to be removed from their parents care for up to 72 hours and Hackney Council in London stated that the parents’ consented to their children being accommodated by the local authority under the auspices of section 20 of the Children Act 1989. The judge disagreed stating that no valid consent was obtained as there was no evidence the parents were told to seek legal advice and because their distressed state led them to believe they would never see their children again unless they signed the agreement. Francis said that although the initial 72 was lawful, it was unlawful for the local authority to keep the children beyond 72 hours.
 
Francis said:
A swift consideration of the welfare issues concluded that if some simple improvements were made to their home, the children could return home. Yet it was two months before the children returned to their parents after experiencing a variety of foster placements, some of which were of dubious quality.’
 
He further added:
This was undoubtedly a close family presided over by loving parents. They were extremely distressed by the continued separation from their children and constantly voiced their anxieties in that regard to the defendants. They witnessed the adverse effects of foster care on more than one of their children, one of whom was a baby who was just being breast fed.’
 
The parents whose children were unlawfully removed by a local authority have been awarded £10,000 each in damages for a breach of their right to a family life.
 
If you are a parent unfortunate enough to be going through the process of care proceedings, our panel of experienced childcare lawyers will be more than willing to assist you and make their best endeavours to ensure the safe return of your children to your care.
 
By Vyonne Manuel, April 2018