Removal of safeguards for children in care – judicial review given go ahead

Article 39 children’s rights charity has been granted permission for a judicial review of the Department for Education’s removal and dilution of children’s legal protections pushed through overnight in April, under the guise of COVID-19. Given the seriousness of the legal changes, and the vulnerability of the affected children, Article 39 asked the court for the case to be expedited; this has also been agreed and the High Court hearing will take place on 27 and 28 July.

The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 – also known as Statutory Instrument 445 – were laid before Parliament on 23 April and came into force the very next day. They make around 100 changes to 10 sets of children’s social care regulations, supposedly because of COVID-19 though none of the amendments specifically state that safeguards can be relaxed only due to the effects of the pandemic.

Article 39 counts 65 losses or dilutions of safeguards for children in care, and children who could come into care – affecting many thousands of the most vulnerable children in our country. The safeguards affected include: social worker visits; reviews of children’s welfare in care; independent scrutiny of children’s homes, prospective adoptive parents and foster carers; and the process for placing children in care away from their home areas, including outside of England.

The High Court has granted permission for judicial review on three separate grounds:

  • That the Department for Education failed to consult before making the changes to children’s legal protections;
  • That the Regulations are contrary to the objects and purpose of primary legislation, particularly the Children Act 1989;
  • That the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson MP, breached his general duty to promote the well-being of children in England.

Permission was not granted on the fourth ground, relating to Parliamentary procedure and failure of the government to make time for Members of Parliament and Peers to scrutinise the changes prior to them coming into force.