Council's anonymity lifted after PA application

A local authority strongly criticised by the Court of Protection can now be named after an application by the Press Association requested the judge lifted an order which granted it anonymity.

Justice Baker had slated Manchester City Council over its handling of the case of a teenager who suffered severe physical disability as well as serious learning difficulties.

He had criticised the authority for its “grave and serious” errors, the responsibility for which “clearly lies higher up the line of management”.

He held that the council had breached the young man’s right to privacy and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and his right not to be deprived of his liberty without proper legal authority under Article 5.

The council had removed the 19-year-old man from the care of a foster-mother who had looked after him since 1995, putting him first in a respite unit then in a care home.

The teenager – who has been referred to only as E throughout the case – has since been returned to the foster-mother’s care.

His criticisms came in a decision handed down in March this year – but the judgment was subject to reporting restrictions which meant that none of the parties, including the council, could be identified.

But last week the judge partially lifted the reporting restrictions, saying that while virtually everyone else involved in the case had to remain anonymous, the authority itself could be named.

The move followed an application by Press Association legal editor Mike Dodd, after publication of an anonymised judgment on website of Bailii, the British and Irish Legal Information Institution.

He was given permission to make representations at any hearing at which the reporting restrictions issue was to be considered, and submitted a written representation arguing for the anonymity to be lifted.

Justice Baker said the general rule was that hearings in the Court of Protection were to be in private, but that there was provision for the court to allow publication of such information about the proceedings as it might specify, or the publication of the text of the whole or part of a judgment or order made by the court.

The judge said the Press Association had argued that it was in the public interest for the local authority, as well as social workers, a company involved in the case and its director, to be named.

It was, PA had said, only right that a local authority which had behaved as this one had should be held to account for its actions – the judge’s criticisms would be pointless if the council remained anonymous.

In addition, the council’s actions represented a major intrusion by the state into family life.

The argument, Justice Baker said, was “incontrovertible”, and had been supported by the teenager’s sister, foster-mother and by the teenager’s representative, the Official Solicitor.

“I therefore name Manchester City Council as the local authority because the arguments in favour of publicity – openness and public accountability – are truly compelling,” Justice Baker said.

“These arguments manifestly amount to a ‘good reason’ for taking this step and, considering the various factors for and against, the balance manifestly comes down in favour of publication in this case.

“It would, of course, be a different matter if there was any significant risk that E and other members of the family might be identified as a result of the naming of the local authority. Manchester, however, is a large city and I am satisfied that no such risk arises.

“It is important that the residents and council tax payers of the city of Manchester know what has happened so that the local authority can be held accountable.”

He declined to relax the restrictions so that social workers and a company and its director could be identified.

It would be “inappropriate and unfair in this case” to identify the social workers, he said.

Justice Baker said he had “formed the very clear view that the responsibility for what had gone wrong rested at a much higher level within the local authority, and that one of the most damning criticisms of Manchester City Council in this case was it had seemingly failed to provide any or any adequate training to its staff”.

As for the company which ran the care home and its director, they had not been represented at the hearing at which they were criticised, nor at the hearing at which the question of identification was discussed.

But finally, and most important, there was a serious risk that identifying them would lead to the identification of the teenager, his foster-mother and his sister.

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