Commentary on the legality of confinement of children and young persons in the light of Birmingham’s case for a 16 year old

Last week, in BIRMINGHAM CITY COUNCIL v (1) D (BY HIS LITIGATION FRIEND, THE OFFICIAL SOLICITOR) (2) W (2016) [2016] EWCOP 8, the judge who has been making waves in the children’s social care world, Mr Justice Keehan, gave a judgement that was the inevitable sequel to his consideration of the same facts last year, when the young man in question was just short of 16 years old – he then reached his 16th birthday, at which point the Mental Capacity Act became a regime which could be applied to his situation.

The following bullets are the important principles that I believe can be derived from the case, which are of importance to the world of special schools and homes for children, whether through s17 Children Act service provision for children in need, s20 agreed accommodation arrangements, (where parental responsibility remains with the parents) or s25 secure accommodation orders or Care Orders under the Children Act (where PR is shared with parents, at the discretion of the council in question).

  • It is settled law that parental responsibility continues up to and until a child’s 18th birthday; Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority [1986] AC 112. The principle that parental responsibility extends to children aged 16 or 17 was accepted by the Court of Appeal in Re W (A Minor) (Medical Treatment: Court’s Jurisdiction) [1992] 4 All ER 627 but that doesn’t mean it extends in all regards.
  • “[T]he legal right of a parent to the custody of a child ends at the 18th birthday; and even up till then, it is a dwindling right which the Courts will hesitate to enforce against the wishes of the child, the older he is. It starts with a right of control and ends with little more than advice.”
  • Neither Nielsen nor Re K are actual authority for the proposition set out in the final sentence in paragraph 14 of [the first] RK [case] namely, “a parent may not lawfully detain or authorise the deprivation of liberty of a child”. There is no decision of the ECtHR or domestic authority directly and explicitly on the issue of parental consent to the confinement of a child in circumstances which would otherwise amount to a deprivation of liberty and in particular asserting that a parent cannot consent to the same.
  • A Local Authority v D and others sets out the limitations of the circumstances in which a parent could give a valid consent, especially where the child was accommodated by a local authority pursuant to s 20 CA 1989 or was the subject of an interim, or final care order. The possibility of parental consent, now, sanctioning objective confinement based on agreement as to best interests would have to be limited to a child under 16, now, because of this later analysis in the instant case: Keehan J said this: “I am not persuaded that a parent can consent to the confinement of a child who has attained the age of 16. Such a consent falls outside the zone or scope of parental responsibility.“
  • In respect of the provisions of s8(1) Family Law Reform Act 1969 and s 20 Children Act 1989, giving any capacitated 16 or 17 year old rights to consent to treatment, or to accommodation by the local authority, the young person who still counts as a child cannot override the consent of a person with parental responsibility relating to treatment or accommodation.
  • However, the implication of this case is that if a capacitated child of 16 or 17 does not agree with the s20 confinement regime, and the regime or treatment amounts to, (or the proposed treatment would require) objective confinement amounting to deprivation of liberty, the arrangement would have to be authorised by the court as well. Putting this another way – the regime proposed under a s20 accommodation care plan needs to be consented to by any 16 or 17 year old if it satisfies the acid test: the parents cannot agree to the regime, as part and parcel of agreeing to the accommodation, obviating the need for an application to the Court – the CoP, or via reliance on the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court if it is unclear if the person retains the presumption of capacity for this specific issue. 
  • It is already decided that a local authority who had parental responsibility for a child, by virtue of an interim care order or a care order, could not consent to the confinement of a child (under 16) which would otherwise amount to a deprivation of liberty: see A Local Authority v D and others [2015] EWHC 3125 (Fam) at paragraphs 26-29.
  • Although normal parental control over the movements of a child may be exercised by the local authority over a child in its care, the implementation of a secure accommodation order under s25 of the CA does not represent normal parental control. But a secure accommodation order will have been granted after a judicial process, and hence will not be a breach of human rights.
  • In all cases, the local authorities responsible for care planning, commissioning and best interests decision making, as well as funding, need to be the ones getting the cases to Court.

 

Summary for schools and children’s homes:

Under 15s in any setting, capacitated or incapacitated: parental consent can suffice to legitimise a benign regime that amounts to confinement or the use of the inherent jurisdiction is possible for the council, if the legitimacy of the regime is disputed by parents.

16+ – accommodated or under a care order of a full or interim nature, in all cases for other than a capacitated young person, positively consenting to the regime – in schools and OFSTED homes or supported living: Court of Protection even if the parents are in agreement, or an application under the inherent jurisdiction, if unsure about the child’s capacity (UNLESS the placement in the setting has been authorised under s25 Children Act or the MHA)

18+ and lacking in capacity in a CQC registered care home or hospital: DoLS and ultimately an appeal in the CoP

18+ and lacking in capacity and not in a care home or hospital: a Single Order application in the CoP

If, in either of the last two situations, the person is confined against own wishes, and does not lack capacity, then the person’s supporters need to make a referral to safeguarding, and seek advice about seeking habeas corpus or using the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court.

Belinda Schwehr

About Belinda Schwehr

Belinda has been a lawyer (both a barrister and then a solicitor advocate), a law lecturer at a university, and a trainer and consultant specialising in Adults' Social Care legal framework issues. She first became interested in social care law when the Gloucestershire case was running between 1995 and 1997, never having met a real live social worker, before that point! She regards social care as the most interesting field of law she has ever been associated with, combining aspects of public law, the regulation of power, economics, management skills, EU law, procurement, criminal law, incapacity law, land law and contract, and doesn't expect ever to tire of the stuff. If the Care Act is going to be the last word on it, however, she would like to think it was worth all that sitting there and getting fatter whilst thinking about how it should all hang together! She does glass craftwork and house renovations for a hobby, has one son in his twenties, and about 5000 online friends... soon to be 50,000, with any luck!

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