West Sussex council fails to turn up to sex abuse appeal hearing to 'save money'

First published in News

Local authority bosses have come under fire from two of England's most senior judges after deciding not to participate in a Court of Appeal hearing relating to the welfare of two children in an attempt to save taxpayers' money.

One judge said West Sussex County Council had "failed to grasp" what the proper roles of a local authority and the appeal court were.

Another said the council's decision not to instruct lawyers or provide written submissions to the court was "quite astonishing".

Lord Justice McCombe and Sir James Munby - President of the Family Division of the High Court and the most senior family judge in England and Wales - have made their complaints in a written ruling published after an appeal court hearing in London.

Appeal judges said West Sussex council had begun care proceedings after becoming concerned about the welfare of the two children - a four-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl.

The council said a teenage girl alleged that the children's mother and father had sexually abused her - and the authority asked a judge for a ruling on the allegations.

A judge sitting in Brighton County Court found the allegations proved.

The mother and father then asked appeal judges to allow them to challenge that decision.

Sir James, Lord Justice Lewison and Lord Justice McCombe refused to grant the couple permission to appeal at a hearing in April.

And appeal judges were unhappy because the council had not participated in the appeal hearing.

Bosses had provided a "position statement" to the court saying they took a neutral stance and were trying to save public money by not participating.

But Lord Justice McCombe said it was obvious that the presence of the local authority was required and he said the council's approach "fundamentally fails to grasp what were the proper roles of the local authority and of the court".

He said: "Having taken the decision to present these allegations to the judge and having secured findings of fact broadly along the lines that it was seeking below, the least the local authority could have done would have been to attend before the court to ensure that the findings were not disturbed to the potential prejudice of the children in this case, who the authority had been contending were at risk from what they said had happened to another young girl at the hands of these parents.

"Non-participation was not an option."

Sir James said the council had shown a "quite astonishing attitude to the appeal".

He said: "It was neither present nor represented before us. Even more surprisingly it filed a remarkably perfunctory position statement which, without condescending to particulars, simply announced that 'it maintains a neutral stance in relation to the appeal'.

"I do not understand what the local authority thinks 'neutrality' means."

He added: "The local authority... had commenced the proceedings, had decided to make a number of allegations - as it happens very serious allegations - and had succeeded in persuading the judge that most of them were proved. How in the circumstances could the local authority be neutral?

"Had it suddenly become indifferent to the outcome? Surely not. The consequence is that the court was deprived of any assistance by way of response.

"Even if, in order to conserve taxpayers' money (as the position statement said), it was appropriate not to send an advocate to attend the hearing, written submissions resisting the appeal and setting out, even if fairly briefly, why it was being said that the appeal should be rejected would surely have been of assistance."

Comments (2)

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8:04pm Tue 27 May 14

Mr chock says...

a very interesting story " i am wondering how much its saving ? not turning up to court cases saved them money , wow how much ..
a very interesting story " i am wondering how much its saving ? not turning up to court cases saved them money , wow how much .. Mr chock
  • Score: 1

7:42pm Fri 30 May 14

garry99 says...

So finally judges are waking up to the fact that they are merely the end to justify the means to a local authority application, that once the LA have what they want the judiciary are a waste of their space and time. LA's like to interpret the law as to what they choose it to be unless it does not fit and then need a judge to agree with them, which most do just not to be vilified from office "in case they got it wrong", who wrote the laws on child protection, not the LA's and yet they try to bully everyone into having it all their way, if it doesn't fit such then they do all they can to make it. LA's are and have been acting like THEY made the laws not the Govt or judiciary in case law for some years, and so judges MUST listen to them at will or else. Once the order is signed Judges have NO say in what occurs to the child afterwards unless someone takes it back to court, and it is NEVER the LA who does, children are signed sealed and delivered as they say into a system of abuse and neglect that people just do not wish to see or hear about.
So finally judges are waking up to the fact that they are merely the end to justify the means to a local authority application, that once the LA have what they want the judiciary are a waste of their space and time. LA's like to interpret the law as to what they choose it to be unless it does not fit and then need a judge to agree with them, which most do just not to be vilified from office "in case they got it wrong", who wrote the laws on child protection, not the LA's and yet they try to bully everyone into having it all their way, if it doesn't fit such then they do all they can to make it. LA's are and have been acting like THEY made the laws not the Govt or judiciary in case law for some years, and so judges MUST listen to them at will or else. Once the order is signed Judges have NO say in what occurs to the child afterwards unless someone takes it back to court, and it is NEVER the LA who does, children are signed sealed and delivered as they say into a system of abuse and neglect that people just do not wish to see or hear about. garry99
  • Score: 0

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