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R (LH and MH) v London Borough of Lambeth [2006] EWHC 1190 (Admin)

Declaration, on application for judicial review, that local authority breached statutory assessment obligations.

Queen's Bench Division: Crane J (25 May 2006)

Declaration, on application for judicial review, that local authority breached statutory assessment obligations.

This case concerned a child, LH, who was born in July 1995, and lived with his mother, MH. He had autism, moderate learning difficulties, chronic long-term constipation, severe epilepsy and asthma.

Since March 2004, LH had a statement of special educational needs, and attended a day school for children with moderate or severe learning difficulties. In February 2005, the local authority was alerted to the fact that MH was having difficulty coping with LH's behaviour at home; and, in March 2005, a professionals' meeting agreed that a Core Assessment of LH was needed, and that a residential placement for LH, to be jointly funded by the Education and Social Services departments, should be seriously considered.

A Core Assessment was produced in June 2005, which stated that MH was doing her best to meet LH's needs but was getting the brunt of his challenging behaviour, and she was unable to cope with his behaviour, which was impacting on her physical and mental health. The social worker recommended that LH should be educated at a boarding school which had already assessed LH and indicated that it was able to meet his needs.

Following a meeting of the local authority's Social Services and Education Panel in November 2005, and a Carer's Assessment prepared by the social worker and her Team Manager, neither of which gave a clear indication of what should be done, a revised Core Assessment was prepared on 31 March 2006 by the same social worker who had prepared the original Assessment. In the new Core Assessment, it was asserted that the recommendation of boarding school in the June 2005 document had been influenced too much by MH's claim that she was unable to cope, and the social worker now believed that steps could be taken to help MH cope with LH at home; therefore, boarding school should be a last resort for LH.

In response to the revised Core Assessment of 31 March 2006, the solicitors for LH and MH criticised the local authority for purporting to meet evidence that MH was unable to cope with LH's behaviour 'with what seems to amount to a parenting skills programme'. Also, MH wrote to the social worker, stating that she did not believe that the social worker and others in the local authority had LH's best interests at heart, and she believed that money was the bottom line.

LH and MH applied for judicial review of the revised Core Assessment on the grounds that: (1) the local authority was in breach of its obligation to complete its care plan; (2) the conclusion that a 'parenting' programme was capable of meeting the needs of LH was irrational; (3) even if such a programme were possible, it would not be proper to pursue it unless there was evidence that it might work and unless there was close monitoring; and (4) the local authority had failed to comply with its statutory obligations to consider the case in the round, considering together the educational, health and social care interests of LH.

The Core Assessment of 31 March 2006 was open to criticism for not concentrating on LH's needs, as distinct from the production of the care plan in the light of those needs.

The judge made it clear that it was not the court's function to decide what was best for the child, but simply to decide whether the local authority had failed to fulfil its legal obligations. In this instance, there were rational arguments against a residential placement but, for the local authority to conclude that a so-called 'package of support' (much of which remained to be identified) was to be preferred to a residential placement was seriously flawed and, in the circumstances, irrational.

Accordingly, the judge granted a declaration that the local authority was in breach of its assessment obligations under Part III of the Children Act 1989, as supplemented by the Children Act 2004, the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995 and the Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000.

Digest prepared by Peter Smith

Read the full text of the judgment here