The Supreme Court rules that there was a lawful basis for the children’s continued accommodation under section 20

18 July 2018

The Supreme Court has today handed down judgment in the case of Williams v Hackney ; a case in which the local authority had accommodated 8 children under s. 20 of the Children Act 1989 in circumstances which the parents argued had infringed their rights under Article 8 of the ECHR. The Supreme Court has overturned the court of Appeal’s finding that a parent’s right to object to such accommodation was dependent upon the suitability of the accommodation that the parent had to offer the child. The Supreme Court also clarifies that the local authority must seek an order from the court to exercise any power of compulsion.

Whilst the Supreme Court did not find that there was a requirement for informed consent to be obtained in every case where a child is accommodated under s. 20, it held that the parents’ agreement had to real and genuinely voluntary and made the point that the best evidence of this would be to obtain informed consent before the child is accommodated.

The court also stated that parents retained the right to remove their child at any time but found that Mr and Mrs Williams had not made an unequivocal request for their children to be returned. This may present difficulties for those representing both parents and local authorities as to what amounts to a request for the return of the child.