High Court Addresses Welfare and Liberty of Minor in Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards Case

Citation: [2023] EWHC 3361 (Fam)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the significant case of Lancashire County Council v Claire X [2023] EWHC 3361 (Fam), the High Court of Justice in the Family Division dealt with a complex case concerning the welfare and liberty of a minor, CX. This case analysis elucidates on the key topics discussed in the judgment delivered by His Honour Judge Burrows, sitting as a High Court Judge, which centers around safeguarding the welfare of the child while balancing her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Key Facts

The judgment under review concerns CX, a young woman whose precarious and self-destructive behaviour necessitated numerous hearings—31 in total—to manage her care and psychological treatment. Despite CX’s consistent attempts at self-harm, the authorities endeavoured to keep her safe, imposing substantial restraints on her freedom as part of a care plan. The crucial issue at play was not solely the immediate safety of CX but also the long-term ramifications of a care plan devoid of substantial mental health treatment, which was finally being addressed, albeit at an unsatisfactory pace.

Several legal principles come to the forefront in the judgment:

Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS)

The court considered the test set out in Cheshire West for determining whether the situation constitutes a deprivation of liberty. Judge Burrows notes that CX’s conditions clearly satisfy this test and addresses Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the right to liberty and security.

Article 5 Rights

Judge Burrows emphasizes the significance of ensuring that any deprivation of liberty aligns with Article 5 of the European Convention. The judgment references the requirement that detention for unsoundness of mind must be accompanied by appropriate treatment (as seen in Rooman v. Belgium [2019] ECHR 105), stressing that mere physical safety is insufficient if treatment for mental health issues is neglected.

State’s Role and Accountability

The judgment underscores the state’s role in providing appropriate mental health care for those detained under its care. It suggests that, while immediate actions by the local authority were starting to address CX’s needs, there was still a glaring lack of strategic, long-term care planning that is necessary for her rehabilitation.

Educational Considerations

The judgment also touches upon the importance of education for CX, recognizing her intelligence and the need for continued education through the existing arrangement, or an alternative, should circumstances change.

Outcomes

The court appears cautious yet satisfied that the current direction, despite being slow, warrants further deprivation of CX’s liberty as it transitionally aligns with her best interests and complies with Article 5 (1)(e) of the European Convention. Nonetheless, there are notable reservations regarding the speed and quality of care planning and delivery. The court’s immediate outcome is the approval of the ongoing care plan and arrangement, with contingencies for rapid recourse to the court if necessary.

Conclusion

The judgment of Lancashire County Council v Claire X is a clear reflection of the court’s delicate balance in ensuring the welfare and safety of a young individual and her rights as enshrined in law. The court demonstrates an acute awareness of the implications of its decisions, particularly the ramifications of sustained deprivation of liberty without appropriate mental health care. The case stands as a poignant reminder of the complexity of cases involving minors at the intersection of mental health care and liberty, emphasizing the critical nature of the state’s responsibility to provide suitable care and treatment under the European Convention on Human Rights.

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