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Article 39’s application for reinstatement of ‘legal protections for children’ to be heard on 27 July

Article 39, the children's rights charity, will ask the High Court to reinstate legal protections for children in care when its case is heard on 27 and 28 July. Article 39's request for the final hearing to be expedited was successful, recognising the vulnerability of children in care and the scale of the changes forced through overnight.

By the Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, the Department for Education reduced 65 safeguards for children in care in England by laying a statutory instrument on 23 April. The changes took effect the next day. The legislation had not been preceded by a consultation exercise.

An expiry date of 25 September was set but an Explanatory Memorandum published alongside the regulatory changes said this end-date would be revoked in the event of the public emergency continuing. Similarly, the government's child's rights impact assessment said the time-period would be extended "should the public health emergency or its impact last longer". On 16 July the Government issued a consultation document proposing that certain regulations should be extended until 31 March 2021.

When giving evidence before Parliament's Education Select Committee, the Children's Minister further indicated that deregulation during COVID-19 could be a testing ground for permanent 'relaxations' of legal duties. This led Article 39 and others to suspect the government was reviving earlier failed attempts to deregulate children's social care – most notably in 2016/17 when it tried to pass legislation which would have allowed councils to opt out of their statutory duties for up to six years as trials for countrywide deregulation, although the government has denied this.

Over 50 organisations and several hundred care experienced people, social workers and others within the children's social care sector have been pressing for children's rights to be immediately reinstated, as has the Children's Commissioner for England.

It was against this background that a statement from Children's Minister Vicky Ford MP was published on Parliament's website last night, which states that the majority of the changes will expire at the end of September. The Minister is due to "immediately" amend non-statutory guidance urging local authorities not to implement the majority of the regulatory changes introduced through Statutory Instrument 445.

Article 39's claim has three separate grounds:

For more details of Article 39's claim, click here.