High Court Rules Against Authority in Case of Teenager's Desire to Leave Foster Care: Limits of Inherent Jurisdiction Examined

Citation: [2024] EWHC 133 (Fam)
Judgment on

Introduction

The High Court of Justice case Re V (A Child) (Limits of Exercise of Inherent Jurisdiction) [2024] EWHC 133 (Fam) addresses the limits of the court’s inherent jurisdiction concerning a child who has reached the age of majority at 17 and expresses a desire to leave foster care. The court assessed whether it could use its inherent jurisdiction to make a wardship order where the child, formerly subject to an interim care order, wished to return home against the local authority’s application to maintain the status quo. This article analyses the legal principles and decision reached by Mr. Justice Cusworth.

Key Facts

The case involves V, a 17-year-old previously placed under interim care order alongside her younger siblings due to serious allegations against the parents, including sexual abuse and neglect. At the lapse of the care order, V expressed her desire to leave her current foster placement and return home—a stance supported by her parents.

The local authority, represented by William Dean, applied under the inherent jurisdiction of the court seeking wardship of V to maintain the foster arrangement despite the care order’s expiration. The application did not intend for V to be placed in care or accommodated but rather sought to continue V’s existing arrangements with adjustments.

V, represented by Susan Stamford, contested the application, arguing that the jurisdiction to make such an order did not exist post-lapse of the interim care order, and asserting her desire to return home.

The case scrutinizes the application of s.100 of the Children Act 1989, which imposes strict limitations on the court’s inherent jurisdiction to protect children. Particularly relevant is s.100(2)(b), which prohibits the court from making any order under inherent jurisdiction with the effect of requiring a child to be accommodated by a local authority if doing so conflicts with their and their parents’ wishes.

In this matter, the court recognized two conditions under s.100(4) that must be satisfied for leave to be granted to use inherent jurisdiction: there must be no other way to achieve the result desired by the local authority, and there must be reasonable cause to believe the child is likely to suffer significant harm if the court does not intervene.

Mr. Justice Cusworth also cited previous case law, including Re E (a child) [2012] EWCA Civ 1773, which draws a distinction between situations where a child is required to be accommodated and when the accommodation is voluntary, underlining the principle that any use of inherent jurisdiction must not conflict with statutory protections.

Outcomes

Mr. Justice Cusworth refused the local authority’s application for leave to use inherent jurisdiction to make V a ward of the court. The key determining factors were V’s expressed desire to return home and the inherent jurisdiction’s limits prescribed by s.100(2)(b) of the Children Act 1989. The effect of granting the application would transform voluntary accommodation into involuntary provision, directly contravening the Act. The upcoming care proceedings for V’s younger siblings would address the allegations against the parents and not necessitate intervention under inherent jurisdiction for V.

Conclusion

In Re V (A Child) [2024] EWHC 133 (Fam), the Family Division of the High Court confirmed the tight constraints on using the court’s inherent jurisdiction concerning children. The case underscores the need for a child’s autonomy to be respected upon reaching an age where they can make informed decisions about their living arrangements. This decision highlights the judiciary’s deference to legislative safeguards designed to protect children’s and families’ rights, enforcing the constitutional principle that inherent jurisdiction cannot be used where it would conflict with stated statutory provisions.

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