United Kingdom Supreme Court: The 6-Judge Bench comprising of Lady Hale, President, Lord Kerr, Lord Wilson, Lord Carnwath and Lady Black addressed an appeal that concerns the limits of a local authority’s powers and duties to provide accommodation for children in need under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 (CA).

The facts of the case state that the appellants are the parents of eight children and their 12 year old son was caught shop-lifting. The reasons stated by the child were that he had no money for lunch and that his father used to beat him. On visiting the child’s home, police found the conditions of his home to be unfit for habitation by children. Police exercised powers under Section 46 of the Children Act, 1989 in order to provide foster replacements to the children for a better environment to them. Further, the parents were arrested and interrogated but later released on bail with the condition that they could not have unsupervised contact with any of their children.

The Supreme Court observed in the present case that, the parents had signed a ‘Safeguarding Agreement’, by which they had agreed to let the children remain with their foster replacements and in order of the stated fact, and no objection or request been made by the parents for the return of children it was a lawful basis for the children’s continued accommodation under Section 20.

Therefore, the point of concern raised in the said appeal about the powers and limits of local authorities was answered in the following manner: “Section 20 gives local authorities no compulsory powers over parents or their children and must not be used in such a way as to give the impression that it does”. Also, the parents should be given full information in regard to the said provision, as in the present case the parents were not provided with the same that they should have been. The Court dismissed the appeal for reasons which differ from those of the Court of Appeal. [William v. Borough of Hackney, [2018] 3 WLR 503, dated 18-07-2018]

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