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Y (A Minor: Wardship) [2015] EWHC 2098 (Fam)

Wardship proceedings to protect a child who may be vulnerable to family influences to wage jihad in Syria

An application was made by a local authority for a 16 year old male, Y, to be made a ward of the court. He had grown up in a family in Britain in which the male members had been committed to waging jihad in Syria. Y's brothers were both killed in 2014 whilst fighting in Syria. A friend who had lived in the family home was also killed in Syria and his brother was seriously injured but later returned to continue fighting. Y's uncle was detained in the Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre which had attracted attention nationally and internationally, and in particular in Y's home town.

The local authority was concerned that Y may wish to follow his brothers' behaviour and that his mother would be unable to put in place protective measures to prevent Y travelling abroad.

It was clear at the time of the hearing that Y's mother was depressed. Y was regularly leaving school and nobody knew where he was going or who he saw. It was also accepted that there was a plan for Y to go to Dubai on 4th April.
Mr Justice Hayden was concerned about the plan to travel to Dubai on the basis that Y was on police bail and the family's assumption that this bail would be changed on 2nd April was without supporting evidence. Hayden J was also concerned by the lack of evidence as to where the funds to travel had come from and that travel to Syria was easier from Dubai than it was from the UK.

Hayden J was referred to "Channel: Vulnerability assessment framework" used by the Sussex Police to guide decisions about whether an individual needs support to address their vulnerability to radicalisation. He commented that many of the features identified in the framework applied to Y. He considered that Y was susceptible to indoctrination and that there was real concern that he would be influenced by family and friends involved in extremism. Y was extremely vulnerable due to his family's radicalisation.

Hayden J found that the proportionality of making Y a ward of the court was clear.

Summary by Laura McMullen, barrister, Coram Chambers


Neutral Citation Number: [2015] EWHC 2098 (Fam)
Case No: FD 15 P 00121


Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: Tuesday, 17th March 2015



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(1) MOTHER Respondents
(3) Y (A Minor)
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MR. MARTIN DOWNS (instructed by Brighton & Hove Legal Services) for the Applicant
(instructed by Messrs. Harney & Wells) for the Respondent Mother
of Messrs. Stephen Rimmer for the Guardian ad Litem
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1. This is an application brought by the Brighton & Hove City Council.   It concerns a young man who is 16 years of age.  The Authority seeks permission to bring an application for wardship or, alternatively and/or in addition, to seek protection under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court.   The second application is that Y himself be joined as a respondent to these proceedings.   I grant that application unhesitatingly.   There is a further raft of specific protective measures in a draft order.

2. Y is a vulnerable young person.   He has grown up in modern Britain in an extraordinary family, a family where the male members are plainly committed to waging jihad in worn-torn Syria.   In that commitment three family members, Y's brothers and one close friend, have paid the ultimate price.  Y's brother, A, was killed in 2014 fighting in the Syrian Civil War.  B was also killed later in the same year, his younger brother, aged 17 years.  A family friend, C, also a teenager, who had lived in Y's home with this family, was killed in September 2014.   His brother, D, was in the same battle that A was killed in, seriously injured, though such is his determination and his commitment to jihad that he has returned to fighting.  

3. Y's uncle is Z.  He was a detainee in the Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre in Cuba.  His circumstance and his case attracted a great deal of attention nationally and internationally but the epicentre of that publicity was undoubtedly in Brighton where his face, I am told by counsel, was so much publicised that virtually anybody living in Brighton would recognise it.

4. The Local Authority's anxiety here is that Y may wish to follow the path that his brothers have walked.  They are concerned that Y's mother has simply become so exhausted by grief that she is unable to put in place any kind of protective measures or appropriate boundaries to prevent Y going abroad.  

5. On the ground certain things have become clear.  (1) It would seem that Y's mother is very depressed.   She and Y live together.  (2) Y is regularly leaving school and I am told that despite the vigilance of the Local Authority nobody knows where he is going or with whom he is mixing.  (3) I have been told that there is a plan for Y to go to Dubai in Easter.  

6. In the context of this case, that plan is disturbing.  First of all, I understand that arrangements have been made for Y to travel on the 4th April and that notwithstanding that Y is presently on police bail in relation to an allegation of causing grievous bodily harm which provides that he must, in accordance with that bail, live and sleep at home, be the subject of a curfew and respond to reporting conditions at the local police station as and when directed.   There are two very troubling aspects to these arrangements: first, it would appear to have assumed that the police bail conditions would be changed when they fall to be renewed on the 2nd April.  There is no evidence to suggest that this might happen.   Secondly, it is entirely unclear from where the funds have materialised for the flight, save that it is asserted that an uncle living in Dubai has forwarded the cash.   Of course the options to travel to Libya and Syria from Dubai are greater than from the United Kingdom.

7. I have been referred to a framework for assessment of risk by the Sussex Police.  That is called "Channel: Vulnerability assessment framework".  That document provides a outline of the vulnerability assessment framework used to guide decisions about whether an individual needs support to address their vulnerability to radicalisation and the kind of support that they need.   This Framework, used by Channel, is a key element in the "Prevent strategy".  At its core lies the important reasoning that if there is to be effective prevention of radicalisation, it requires a multi-agency approach.   It emphasises the use of existing collaboration between local authorities, education, health, social services, children and youth services, the police and the local community.   I repeat that objective because it seems to me that its core premises have to be re-visited here by those involved in this family's life.  That is not to imply criticism; it is just to underscore that protection, whether it is of the old, of the disabled, of children or of those at risk of radicalisation, as we are here dealing with, is always more effective when it is predicated on a multi-agency basis.

8. The framework, to my mind, bears scrutiny because so many of the features identified there seem so apposite to Y's own life.    "Engagement factors", the document tells me, "are sometimes referred to as 'psychological hooks'" by which is meant that they include "needs, susceptibilities, motivations and contextual influences" and they "together map" a potential "pathway into terrorism".    They can include, it is said, 'feelings of grievance and injustice."   It is not difficult to see how Y could feel aggrieved and a sense of injustice.   This entire family believes that their uncle at Guantanamo Bay was brutalised by the American Forces.  Why, understandably,  grieves the death of his brothers and his friend.

9. The Framework encourages the agencies of protection to look at whether the young person has "a need for identity, meaning and belonging; a desire for status; a desire for excitement and adventure; a need to dominate and control others".   The little I have already said about Y shows at the very least that some of those features are part of his own personality.  That he is susceptible to indoctrination, to my mind, is self evident.   That he has family or friends involved in extremism is another marker and is so obvious that it is redundant of comment.   That he is "influenced or controlled by a group" to my mind is also a real consideration.

10. Not all those who become engaged by group, cause or ideology go on to develop an intention to cause harm, but it is clear that Y is a confused, unhappy, disaffected young man.   He is extremely vulnerable, because of his family's history, to radicalisation.  Having seen his two brothers killed, one injured and his friend killed, it is all too clear that for him and his family the human tragedy involved is occluded by some kind of moral crusade; in other words he is more susceptible to such radicalisation because he has inevitably come to dehumanise those involved in the conflict.   That renders him particularly susceptible.

11. The Local Authority do not wish to remove Y from his mother.  At the moment I suspect she probably needs him as much as he needs her, though whether each is capable of responding to the emotional needs of the other remains to be seen.  In the case of 16 year olds generally it has to be recognised that there is limit to the scope of a care order and so the Local Authority have contended that in this case I should use the wardship jurisdiction.  

12. This case, like all family cases now, is open to the Accredited Press.   I have noted that when reference is made to "wardship" the public have little understanding of it.  Why should they?  For the most part it belonged to the past.   It is rooted in feudal history and ultimately it is derived from the delegated performances of the duties of the Crown to protect its subjects.   That does not sound, obviously, applicable to modern child protection but it has proved to be particularly useful in extreme circumstances, for example, when urgent medical treatment is required or when forced marriage is anticipated or, more commonly, where there has been threatened child abduction.  A child who is a ward of court may not be removed from England and Wales without the court's permission and where permission has not been given, police assistance to prevent removal will be obtained. 

13. The proportionality of such a measure here seems to me to be clear because it is ideally fitted to the very specific nature of the risk contemplated.  There are no foolproof measures of stopping travel out of the UK as the Sussex Police Prevent Lead, Inspector Dommett, has reminded me but, the most effective is to remove the passport.   In the case of a minor the protective obligation to the minor himself weighs in the balance in a way that simply does not apply when considering an adult.   When balancing the competing rights and interest required under the Human Rights Act, to my mind the balance falls down clearly in protecting this young man, ultimately from himself.  That said, the scope of the intervention has to be monitored and reviewed.  I propose that it will be reviewed at regular intervals in order that if the balance were to change in any way then Y's rights would be further protected.

Mr. Downs, that is an extempore judgment in a busy applications list.   Is there anything that I have not covered that I ought to have done?

MR. DOWNS:  No, my Lord, that would appear to be an exact exposition of the issues.

(Discussion followed)