O, R (on the application of) v London Borough of Lambeth [2016] EWHC 937

Application for judicial review made by a child challenging the London Borough of Lambeth’s assessment of her as not being a ‘child in need’ under section 17 Children Act 1989.

'O' was the claimant child, supported by her mother and litigation friend, 'PO', in this application for judicial review of the decision of the London Borough of Lambeth Council to refuse to provide her with accommodation and support. O argued that the local authority's decision was irrational and unlawful.

Helen Mountfield QC sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, summarised the legal framework concerning section 17 Children Act 1989 and the general duties this imposes on local authorities at paragraphs [5] to [22] of her judgment.. In particular, the Judge highlighted that whether or not a child is 'in need' is a question for the judgement and discretion of the local authority, and appropriate respect should be given to the assessments of social workers, who have a difficult job in financially straitened circumstances [17]. Further, the Judge emphasised that the local authority is entitled to draw inferences of 'non-destitution' from the combination of (a) evidence that sources of support have existed in the past and (b) lack of satisfactory or convincing explanation as to why they will cease to exist in future [20].

Having set out the relevant law, the Court considered the two grounds of challenge made by the claimant, 'O'. O argued that the local authority's assessment of her as not being in need was irrational. O was born in the UK in 2010. Her mother, PO, was a Nigerian national and an over-stayer, having entered the UK on a six month visitor visa in 2007. It was claimed they had no recourse to public funds, minimal family support and were destitute and in need.

The Local Authority disagreed. O was not in need, and even if the Court found that she was in need, the needs of the family could be met by relocating to Nigeria [31].

The Judge found in favour of the Local Authority and dismissed O's claim. The Judge found that the family did have a reasonable level of support and that PO had been dishonest in seeking to conceal her income from the local authority [45]. Additionally, O and PO had been assisted by friends with accommodation in the past. O and PO could provide no explanation as to why such support could no longer continue [49]. As such, it was a reasonable inference for the Local Authority to conclude that O was not a child in need.

Summary by Patrick Paisley  barrister, 1 Garden Court Family Law Chambers
This first appeared on the Family Law Week Site



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