This was an application by a Local Authority in relation to a young boy; the Protected Party, who is now 13. He previously lived with his grandmother under a Special Guardianship Order, but became the subject of a full care Order in December 2015. The Protected Party had displayed a desperate history and a catalogue of very seriously uncontrolled behaviour, damaging to both himself and others. As a result, he had been placed in no less than six different residential settings. Each setting ultimately broke down, sometimes very rapidly, as the staff there were simply unable to manage his behaviour and keep him safe.
The Local Authority would have wished by June 2017 to place the Protected Party in an approved secure accommodation placement. Such placements are very scarce and they were unable to find one. So, they hoped to place him in a unit which was not an approved secure accommodation at X. Their plan was, however, that within X he should, if necessary, be subject to considerable restraint, including physical restraint, in order to keep him safe and prevent him from absconding, as he had done on occasions in the past.
Section 25 of the Children Act 1989 makes express and detailed provision for the making of what are known as Secure Accommodation Orders. Such Orders may be made and, indeed, frequently are made by Courts, including Courts composed of lay magistrates. It is not necessary to apply to the High Court for a Secure Accommodation Order, however, as no approved secure accommodation was available, the Local Authority required the authorisation of a Court for the inevitable Deprivation of Liberty of the Protected Party. Mr Justice Holman expressed his concern over the way in which Applications of this sort were handled, saying that “the device of resort to the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court is operating to by-pass the important safeguard under the regulations of approval by the Secretary of State of establishments used as secure accommodation. There is a grave risk that the safeguard of approval by the Secretary of State is being denied to some of the most damaged and vulnerable children. This is a situation which cannot go on, and I intend to draw it to the attention of the President of the Family Division.” The Judge Ordered that the child now be joined as a party to these proceedings and Cafcass must allocate a Guardian to act on his behalf. A further hearing was ordered to be fixed in one month. It was stated that the Guardian must file and serve an interim report shortly before that hearing. Further, in view of the gravity of the subject matter and the age of the child, the Judge Ordered that he must be enabled to attend the hearing if he expresses a wish to do so unless the Guardian thought it would be damaging to the health, wellbeing or emotional stability of the child to do so. In his view it was very important that in these situations, which in plain language involve a child being ‘locked up’, the child concerned should, if he wishes, have an opportunity to attend a court hearing. The exception to that is clearly if the child is so troubled that it would be damaging to his health, wellbeing or emotional stability to do so.
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