Senior judge latest to bemoan ‘scandalous’ lack of secure accommodation for vulnerable children
One of Britain’s most senior judges has described a lack of “proper provision” for children who require approved secure accommodation as “scandalous”.
Supreme Court justice Lord Stephens said the problem was a scandal which contained “all the ingredients for a tragedy”.
He outlined his thoughts in a Supreme Court ruling on a case concerning a vulnerable teenager on Friday.
A series of less senior judges have in recent years raised similar concerns about the shortage of secure accommodation for troubled teenagers in England and Wales.
Five Supreme Court justices had considered the teenage girl’s case.
They said the shortage of secure accommodation had forced councils with responsibility for children to ask High Court judges to authorise “alternative restrictive placements” using the “inherent jurisdiction of the High Court”.
Caerphilly County Borough Council, which has responsibility for the teenager’s welfare, had planned to place the youngster in a unit which was not a registered children’s home, or approved for use as secure accommodation, and deprive her of her liberty.
A judge had authorised the plan at a High Court hearing. Lawyers representing the teenager had argued that such use of the High Court’s inherent jurisdiction was wrong and contrary to her human right to “liberty and security of person”.
Lady Black, Lord Lloyd-Jones, Lady Arden, Lord Hamblen and Lord Stephens ruled against her. The five justices concluded that the use of the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court to authorise the deprivation of liberty in cases like the teenager’s case was “permissible”.
But they expressed “grave concern” about its use to “fill a gap in the child-care system caused by inadequate resources”.
Lord Stephens said there was an “enduring well-known scandal of the disgraceful and utterly shaming lack of proper provision for children who require approved secure accommodation”.
He added: “… recourse to the inherent jurisdiction in the face of this scandalous lack of provision should be a temporary measure.
“The appropriate permanent solution is the provision of appropriate accommodation.
“I add my name to the list of judges who have called attention to this issue which is a scandal containing all the ingredients for a tragedy.”
Lady Black said she had “deep anxiety” that the childcare system was “struggling to provide for the needs of children without the resources that are required”.
She added: “It is fortunate that the inherent jurisdiction is there to fill the gaps in the present provision, but it cannot be doubted that it is only an imperfect stop gap, and not a long-term solution.”
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