The Royal Borough of Greenwich recently successfully defended a Children Act judicial review. Tony Harrop-Griffiths explains how.
The case of C v. Royal Borough of Greenwich concerned accommodation provided to the claimant, C, for over 13 weeks between December 2015 and March 2016 when she was 16/17. The principal issue considered was whether it was provided under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 or under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996. The case turned on the interpretation of section 20(6) of the Children Act, concerning C’s wishes and feelings; she had said before the local authority began to accommodate her that she did not want to be accommodated under section 20 and a subsidiary issue was whether Greenwich had given her adequate information about this, in particular as regards its duties towards care-leavers under section 23C of the Act.
C also claimed that the effect of the decision of the Court of Appeal in R (Liverpool) v. Hillingdon  EWCA Civ 43 and statutory guidance issued in the wake of R (G) v. Southwark  UKHL 26, ‘Prevention of homelessness and provision of accommodation for 16 and 17 year old young people who may be homeless and/or require accommodation’, was that Greenwich could not make a final decision about section 20 until it had completed its Child and Family Assessment, which it did not do until more than 13 weeks after it had begun to accommodate C.
The court found that in the circumstances C had made an informed decision to refuse section 20 accommodation, as she did not want to be a ‘looked after child’ for the purposes of the Children Act and that Greenwich had provided supported accommodation under the Housing Act and C’s claim instead. Accordingly, her claim was dismissed.
In answer to the point about Liverpool v. Hillingdon and the guidance, David Pittaway QC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, agreed with the council's submission, based on G v. Southwark, that section 20 of the Children Act is not coercive and, therefore, that if an informed, capacitous 16 or 17-year old child refuses to be accommodated under it this cannot be forced on them, whether or not an assessment of their needs has by then been completed.