JC -v- Derby City Council (anonymity order)

Administrative CourtHigh CourtKing's Bench DivisionAnonymity Order

Claim number: AC-2023-BHM-000045

In the High Court of Justice
King’s Bench Division
Administrative Court

24 November 2023


Michael Ford KC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge


THE KING on the application of JC


Derby City Council


Notification of the Judge’s decision on the application for permission to apply for judicial review (CPR 54.12) Following consideration of the documents lodged by the Claimant ORDER by HHJ Tindal (sitting as a High Court Judge)

  1. An anonymity order is made. The Claimant shall be referred to in these proceedings as JC’ and his children as ‘V, W, X, Y and Z’ and pursuant to CPR 39.2 there shall be no publication of the name or address of the Claimant or his children or any particulars of the case likely to lead to the identification of them without leave of the court. Any person has liberty on three days’ written notice to the parties to apply to vary or discharge this order.
  2. The application for permission to apply for judicial review is refused.
  3. The application is certified as totally without merit.
  4. The Claimant will pay the Defendant’s costs summarily assessed at £2350 within 3 months.
  5. This is a claim for judicial review dated 24th January 2023 by the Claimant against Derby City Council who conducted a child protection investigation into allegations made by the Claimant’s child in October-November 2021. In the circumstances, I grant the application for anonymity for the welfare of the Claimant’s (‘JC’) children.
  6. The grounds of challenge refer not only to the Defendant’s initial investigation in October-November 2021 but also the Claimant’s complaints investigated by the Defendant from 2021-2022 and complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman which it rejected on 22nd November 2022. However, no challenge is made either to the decision of the Ombudsman (who is not a defendant) or indeed of the investigation by the Defendant of the Claimant’s complaint (partially upheld).
  7. Therefore, the decisions under challenge are as follows:
    (i) The decision at the Child Protection Conference on 27th October 2021 to place the Claimant’s children on the Child Protection Register.
    (ii) The alleged failure of the social care reception team to consider undertaking a professional assessment from the 6 October 2021;
    (iii) The alleged failure of the reception team on 6 of October 2021 to seek permission from the Clamant before speaking to his 6-year-old child;
    (iv) The requirement of supervised contact on JC from 6 October to 21 November 2021
  8. Notwithstanding the Defendant’s decision partially to uphold the Claimant’s complaint – on the way in which its social worker questioned one of his children (not the child making the allegation), that does not demonstrate an arguable public law ground of challenge, but rather as the Defendant found, simply a departure from professional best practice in questioning. Indeed, the Claimant’s legal challenge is fundamentally misconceived. s.47 Children Act 1989 obliges the Defendant to investigate where they have reasonable grounds to believe a child in their area was at risk of significant harm. As the Defendant found, an allegation of physical chastisement with a belt in itself indisputably amounts to an allegation of significant harm. Moreover, that allegation was made not only to the Defendant, but also the Claimant’s child’s school. In my judgment, the Defendant would have behaved unlawfully if it had not investigated the child’s allegation, even if the manner of questioning a child was inappropriate as the Defendant later accepted.
  9. In any event, in R v Harrow London Borough Council, exp D [1989] 3 WLR 1239, the Court emphasised that permission to judicially review a decision to investigate an allegation of significant harm and to place a child on the Child Protection Register would be rare and indeed only if the decision was ‘utterly unreasonable’. Far from that extremely high threshold, the Defendant’s decision to investigate pending a full assessment (one would be inappropriate without investigation first), place the children on the register and require supervised conduct for a month or so during the investigation was reasonable, even if the Claimant was later exonerated, let alone supervised contact simply withdrawn. Indeed, I am fortified in the view that the Claimant’s complaints are hopeless by the Ombudsman’s decision the Claimant’s complaint did not merit any further investigation at all.
  10. Indeed, for the reasons the Defendant gives in its Summary Grounds of Response, the Claimant’s challenges are in law totally without merit. There was no ‘illegality’ in the Defendant’s actions, indeed it complied with its legal duty to investigate. Likewise, it had reasonable grounds to believe the child may have suffered significant harm from the simple fact of an allegation of being hit with a belt, irrespective of the children’s wider development etc. Likewise, there was no unreasonableness, abuse of power (by the involvement of the Police or otherwise) or procedural impropriety, still less any breach of the Public Sector Equality Duty which is asserted on no evidence whatsoever. Aall of the challenges are not just ‘not arguable’ but bound to fail and totally without merit and I certify them as such.
  11. For good measure, the claim is hugely out of time. Under CPR 54.5, a claim for Judicial Review must be presented within 3 months of the decision complained of. These decisions were in late 2021 and the claim issued over a year later. The fact the Claimant was in the meantime pursuing various complaints both within the Defendant (which partially upheld the Claimant’s complaint) and the Ombudsman does not make any difference to that, especially as there is no challenge to that.
  12. Therefore, it is unnecessary to rely on the Defendant’s point about the claim form not being served based on R(Good Law Project) v SSHSC [2022] EWCA Civ 355. Permission to appeal has been granted by the Supreme Court in that case and so where, as here, it is unnecessary to rely on that point, it is better not to do so.
  13. I therefore refuse the Claimant’s application for permission to claim judicial review and indeed certify it totally without merit, both on the merits and on the time point. It follows the Claimant has no right to seek oral renewal of permission and the Judicial Review claim ends here.
  14. However, the claim necessitated a detailed response from the Defendant which I have accepted (save on the Good Law point) and the costs claimed for it of £2,350 are entirely reasonable, indeed quite modest. As I have no information about the Claimant’s means, I will direct he pay those costs within 3 months.