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First reported domestic award of damages for a child in care proceedings

Local authority pays damages of £12,000 to child

 Mr Justice Keehan's judgment in Northamptonshire County Council v AS and Ors (Rev 1) [2015] EWHC 199 (Fam) has highlighted the increasing willingness of the court to award damages where care proceedings have involved a breach of any of the parties' human rights.  

In this case the local authority had made what Keehan J called "egregious failures" at just about every turn of the case. They obtained a s20 consent without the assistance of a interpreter, did not issue care proceedings until nine months after the child (a newborn) had been accommodated, and delayed at every conceivable juncture with the filing of documents. At the conclusion of proceedings the child was living with his grandparents in Latvia and was thriving. The local authority conceded breaches of the Article 6 and 8 rights of the mother and of the child. 

The parties agreed damages totalling £16,000. These comprised £12,000 for the child and £4,000 for the mother. In addition a payment of £1,000 was approved for the maternal grandparents to assist them in their care of the child.

Having reviewed a number of authorities in which damages had been awarded against local authorities who had acted in breach of a child's and/or a parent's human rights, Keehan J was satisfied that the damages offered by the local authority were appropriate.

The awarded damages were higher than previous domestic awards; see, for example, H (A Child - Breach of Convention Rights - Damages) [2014] EWHC 38.

The judgment also approved an award of damages without any reasoning as to causation. Indeed Keehan J's closing remarks state quite clearly that the existence of harm to the child, who received the bulk of the damages, was something which was not known now and would only become known in the future: 

"I trust that the events of the first 23 months of DS's life will not have a detrimental impact on his future development and his emotional and psychological well being. There is a real risk they will do so."

Interestingly, this is the first reported domestic award of damages for a child in care proceedings. It is perhaps surprising that no such claim was made in the earlier cases, but this is clearly an area of law which is developing very quickly and no doubt many more such claims will soon be before our courts. 

Julie Stather, barrister, Westgate Chambers

An article by Julie Stather - The Rise and Rise of Damages in Human Rights Act Claims - will be published by Family Law Week during this week.