No Duty to Review Institutional Abuse or Neglect R (Deeqa Mohammed) V Local Safeguarding Board for Islington
In an important test case Cobb J has found that public bodies offering safeguarding services to children are not obliged to investigate alleged institutional abuse or neglect. Rather, the court has provided much needed clarity that the essential function of LSCBs is to help learn lessons from parental abuse and neglect. Accordingly the Defendant Board was not obliged to conduct a Serious Case Review into alleged abuse and neglect by the local authority said to have led to the death of a child. Permission to move for Judicial Review was refused on the basis that the case was unarguable.
Cobb J found:
•Section 14(1) of the Children Act 2004 sets the objective of coordinating what is done by those who safeguard and promote the welfare of children, and ensuring its effectiveness. The Learned Judge explained “This contemplates, specifically, public bodies offering safeguarding services to children who are being provided with care by others; this does not in my judgment contemplate ‘review’ of its own alleged ‘neglect and abuse'”
•The situation may be different where the child is in the actual care of the authority.
•As a matter of construction the duty is triggered by suspicion of abuse or neglect; on that duty being triggered the question then arises as to whether the authority has worked with its associated agencies to safeguard the child. The words which follow “there is cause…” would be unnecessary if ‘abuse or neglect’ were intended to include the failings (i.e. neglect) of the authority to safeguard the child.
•In any event since permission was first refused the Board had referred the case to the independent panel of experts for an opinion on whether a Serious Case Review was appropriate, and thereafter had decided to hold one. The claim was academic. The Review should now run its course, and thereafter if there was a dispute it should be referred in the first instance to the Secretary of State for Education and only thereafter to court. Any such claim was premature. So far as was material, the claim was also out of time.
This is a rare but helpful judicial analysis of when an LSCB should conduct a Serious Case Review. The essential focus is on what lessons are to be learnt which arise from suspected parental abuse or neglect.
Link to the full case report on Bailii: click here
Bryan McGuire QC of Cornerstone Barristers acted for the Board, instructed by Shadia Ousta- Doerfel of Islington Legal Services.