Williamson acted unlawfully in relaxing care safeguards for children, court rules
Written by Rother Radio News on 24/11/2020
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson acted unlawfully by failing to consult children’s rights bodies before watering down safeguards for children in care, a court has ruled.
Judges at the Court of Appeal found against Mr Williamson over his actions in relaxing some of the obligations on local councils over the 78,000 children in care in England during the coronavirus pandemic.
Among the safeguards relaxed by the government were timescales for social worker visits, six-monthly reviews of children’s welfare, and independent scrutiny of children’s homes.
The Court of Appeal has now ruled that there was “no good reason” why Mr Williamson excluded England’s children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, and other bodies representing children in care from his decision-making.
The case against Mr Williamson was brought by charity Article 39, whose lawyers hailed the ruling as “a huge victory for children’s rights”.
Carolyne Willow, the charity’s director, said: “I am hugely relieved and overjoyed that the Court of Appeal has confirmed that children and young people, and the organisations who represent their rights and interests, must be consulted when the government is considering changes to their legal rights and protections.
“This should draw to a close backroom, secret government consultations which exclude the rights, views and experiences of children and young people.”
She added: “The government’s actions were shameful, both in the scale of the protections they took away from very vulnerable children in England and the way they went about it.”
Earlier this year, the government said the changes to care regulations were intended to help councils to “prioritise the needs of children, whilst relaxing some administrative and procedural obligations” during the COVID-19 crisis.
Ministers have since allowed the majority of amendments to lapse, after finding “the effect of coronavirus on the children’s social care sector has not been as severe as initially feared”.
Responding to Tuesday’s ruling, Ms Longfield said: “I am delighted that the Court of Appeal has recognised the vital importance of the voice of the child in care in decisions taken that affect them – including, and I would argue especially, during a pandemic.
“We will now be seeking reassurances from the Department for Education about how this won’t be repeated in the future.”
The government is now considering what next steps it might take following the court ruling.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Protecting vulnerable children has been at the heart of or response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and our intention has always been to act in their best interests at every stage.
“We took swift action to bring in temporary changes during a national crisis, all of which have now expired.
“We will continue working with the Children’s Commissioner and children’s charities to provide the best possible support to vulnerable children.”
© Sky News 2020