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Hedley J rebukes the local authorities in O v L, I and Orkney Island Council

Mr Justice Hedley criticises Orkney Island Council and Cambridgeshire County Council for disowning the welfare of a severely ill child.

Mr Justice Hedley has said that he was left with a sense of disbelief that the two local authorities involved in the O v Orkney Island Council [2009] EWHC 3173 – the other authority was Cambridgeshire County Council – had distanced themselves from the boy to avoid the cost of his care. The judgment has been sent to Secretary of State at the Department of Children, Schools and Families and the Secretary of State for Scotland to draw attention to the conduct of the two local authorities.

When the parents of I, who was born with a congenital heart condition, were unable to care for him, the child was made the subject of a supervision requirement and became a child ‘looked after’ by OIC.  The Applicants, Mr and Mrs O, who live in Cambridgeshire, became kinship foster carers for I who moved to live with them in 2005. The arrangement was that a fostering allowance should be paid by OIC.  When the supervision requirement upon OIC was removed by the Children’s Panel earlier this year, OIC declared that they had no further responsibility to pay a fostering allowance. However, under some pressure they agreed to do so until the conclusion of the proceedings.  They asserted that all responsibility had now passed to CCC.  Cambridgeshire County Council declined to supervise the placement on behalf of OIC because of lack of resources. OIC have stated: 'It is the view of OIC that I has been habitually resident in England since 2005.  The responsibility and rights of his parents are likely to be governed by English law.'

Mr Justice Hedley commented:

‘If this position is justifiable legally (as to which I am not convinced) it is of course a huge triumph for OIC’s budget manager but a complete catastrophe for any foster parent unwise enough to rely on the word of this local authority.'

With regard to Cambridgeshire’s stance, he continued:

‘CCC have throughout adamantly refused to become involved, maintaining that the legal obligations are those of OIC and not theirs and that Mr. and Mrs.O should expend their energies in the pursuit of OIC. ......

I confess that as I listened to these matters, disbelief was not the only thought or emotion that I experienced.  Indeed I found it necessary to adjourn briefly so as to ensure that no wholly improper judicial observations escaped my lips.  This judgment has been reserved not because the issues are difficult (they are not) but because I did not trust myself to express my views in a temperate manner.' 

He concluded his judgment by saying: 'I wish to pay tribute to Mr and Mrs O for their care for the boy and for their steadfastness through all these difficulties not of their making.'

He ruled that the submission made by the OIC that the duty to prepare the report under Section 14A(8) for a special guardianship order lay with Cambridgeshire. 

The full judgment can be read here.