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Court of Appeal considers secure accommodation order for young woman of 17 years 8 months

Order was ‘justified, necessary and proportionate’

In W (A Child) [2016] EWCA Civ 804, the Court of Appeal has considered an appeal against the making of a secure accommodation order pursuant to s 25 of the Children Act 1989 in relation to W, aged 17 years 8 months at the time of the application. It was argued on her behalf that the court has no jurisdiction to make such an order without her consent to being accommodated by the local authority and/or consent to being securely accommodated. In the alternative it was argued that the judge wrongly interpreted the term "absconded" and, in any event, was wrong to make a secure accommodation order for a term of three months, since the deprivation of her liberty was a disproportionate response to the unruly, but not unusual, behaviour of a rebellious teenager and there were other options, short of secure accommodation, which would adequately safeguard W's wellbeing.

The secure accommodation order was made on 14 April 2016 and ceased to have effect on 14 July 2016, unless extended on the intended application of the local authority until W's 18th birthday on 7 August 2016. However, the Court was of the firm view that this appeal should not be regarded as 'academic' since the liberty of W was in issue.

The Court heard that W was the victim of child sex exploitation.  She had been beyond her mother's control, probably since the age of 9, but certainly from the age of 14. However, despite the significant risks to her emotional welfare and physical safety, she remained living in the family home until the age of 15 when she was "accommodated" by the local authority. The Court noted that Parliament has provided for the local authority to make an application of this kind and to keep W, a 'looked after', albeit 17-year-old, child safe from significant harm in the circumstances pertinent to her and not by comparison to others. 

The Court accepted submissions that the behaviour of W was beyond that of normal teenage rebellion. The harm to which she exposed herself exceeded experimental sexual activity and unsuitable partner choices, as indicated by the judge's finding that she was a victim of child sex exploitation.

In such circumstances the making of the order was justified, necessary and proportionate. The appeal was dismissed.

For the judgment, please click here.

Alex Laing of Coram Chambers has written several secure accommodation orders and section 25 of the Children Act 1989. For a step-by-step guide through the secure accommodation labyrinth, see Ariadne's Golden Thread: Placing Children in Secure Accommodation. For an article which examines whether, and if so on what basis, the court can place in secure accommodation a child who has celebrated his 16th birthday, see Daedalus's Twist? Secure Accommodation after a Child's 16th Birthday. For consideration of the interrelationship of secure accommodation and the inherent jurisdiction, see And There Lurks the Minotaur: The Interrelationship Between the Inherent Jurisdiction and Section 25, CA 1989, Part I and Part II.

22/8/16