Bringing public bodies to account

What are my remedies if a public body doesn’t do its job properly?

What happens if you suffer harm because a professional involved in your family life hasn’t done his or her job properly? This can be a very thorny issue because such professionals often have very significant powers to interfer in your private and family life. If they fail to do their job properly – either by failing to act when they should have done, or acting carelessly or irresponsibly – this can result in a lot of emotional distress or harm.

This is clearly relevant in the child protection system – the statutes and accompanying guidance and regulations give individuals who work in the system significant powers and duties to act in certain ways that would be unlawful if attempted by a private individual; for example getting information about your child or removing your child from home.

These laws which give professionals such power, have been passed for the benefit of society as a whole and therefore it is not considered in the public good to curtail or limit their operations in individual cases unless really necessary.  People are expected to carry out their statutory duties ‘in good faith’, i.e not doing anything deliberately malicious or harmful.

However, even if you are not the victim of deliberate malice, the consequences of carelessness from public officials can be very serious. For example, take a botched investigation into abuse of a child; if an innocent parent is wrongly labelled an abuser this can cause enormous harm both emotionally and through loss of reputation or even the ability to look after your child whilst investigations are carried out or the matter comes to court. Equally, if guilty abusive parents aren’t detected, their children remain unprotected and at continuing risk.

If professionals cause harm to parents or children because of the way they have carried out or failed to carry out their statutory responsibilities, what are the legal remedies?

We will look at what are the current options to bring public bodies to account for their actions in the child protection system which  have caused harm to parents or children.


Making a formal complaint.

You can complain about the activities of public bodies. For example, see section 26(3) of the Children Act and our post about making a complaint about a professional.

This may be an appropriate remedy if you want acknowledgement that mistakes have been made which could be put right,  or at least procedures could change so the same mistakes are less likely to occur in the future. However, you are highly unlikely to be entitled to claim for any compensation under a statutory complaints scheme.


Other remedies

If you are not satisfied with the response under the formal complaints procedure or you need a more urgent remedy and/or compensation for loss you have suffered you will need to consider other remedies. We will consider these remedies in more detail in other posts.

The remedies are:

For information on how to obtain information from public bodies, either generally or about yourself, please see our post on data protection and freedom of information requests.


One thought on “Bringing public bodies to account

  1. angelo granda


    The popular general perception of the child-protection system and the ideological perception that it is in some way advantageous to children to be taken into care has set, over a long period of time, into a gigantic, false belief. A monolith.

    Since Dickensian days when destitute or sick parents were put into workhouses and asylums by the courts, the system has spoken in terms of the salvation of helpless children.

    The doctrine is that the parish, borough or city council has, by necessity, taken on a fatherly role on behalf of the state. On the grounds that the state is the ultimate parent and that a father will always act only in a child’s interests, courts consistently rule that its procedures and methods should not be scrutinised carefully if at all.(Parens Patriae)

    Social justice and better living opportunities for children-in- care has always been illusory. In real terms, homeless, poor, disturbed, neglected and orphan children have been removed from natural families into institutional care to be stigmatised psychically for life and to suffer alienation under the indifferent eyes of the community and the highest courts alike. They have been moved about at will and often mingled with the mentally ill, juvenile delinquents and other outcasts from society.

    The nature of public care puts the interests of children secondary to the penchants and financial interests of those within the system responsible for organising it and those charged with fostering and raising them.

    Although it is a fact that some of the more blatant indignities softened in the twentieth century, the basic system of care at the lowest cost persisted. It is also a fact that the system has been guilty of many, many excesses.

    Institutional Inhumanity and Corruption.

    The inalienable natural right of a family to rehabilitation was eroded. Profiteering from public resources by officials is not a new phenomenon. For example, children were used as a resource and shipped to Australia for exploitation on labour camps and farms. This crime was perpetrated on a grand scale by Authorities ostensibly responsible for their rehabilitation home to families. Children were often lied to, being told their parents were dead and mothers and fathers were kept in the dark.

    During the nineteen seventies and eighties, social and personal dislocations resulted in a rise in problems in the community. Faced with mounting public pressure for the prevention of child abuse; ‘quickie’ hearings and rubber-stamp commitments of a long-term nature for ever more trivial reasons became the practice.

    Consistent with a growing trend towards ‘care in the community’ agencies were created by social workers to organise the placement of children and to guide paid carers. Foster –care developed into an industry with its own self-perpetuating instincts and commercial inclinations towards growth.

    A pattern of injustice emerged which came to a head when Social workers and their consultant ‘experts’ instigated widespread witchcraft and sex-abuse cases across the country which resulted in the wrongful, mass removal of children from their family homes.

    The violation of constitutional and human rights by the legal process and the system of expert assessment had become unacceptable to the Public. It has to be said that the sometimes criminal culture of child-abuse existing in care was also one of the driving forces for change. For the protection of innocent children and their families, legislature was rewritten and strict procedures relating to the fairness of social work enquiries and court protocol was set down by statute (The Children Act 1989).

    Post -1989

    In the wake of the Act, several crosscurrents have become apparent. Deep-seated public apathy, the cornerstone of false dogma mentioned above and the resistance of the ‘child savers’ has not extended the reforms beyond label changing. Despite the ambitious rhetoric of the law and because of the idealism of family court judges, actual changes have been limited by Social Services mismanagement.

    Systemic failures including departmental mind-sets, the training of personnel, staff shortages, lack of sufficient finance and the facilities available to mend families predominate over aspirations.

    Despite the constant repetition of fatherly platitudes, rather than working with the new law to improve matters and lessen problems by keeping children with families, Local Authorities deceptively sought to increase them.

    New categories, criteria and ‘concerns’ were devised to deny families not guilty of specific crimes their rights and instances of child removal have rocketed.

    In a supposedly more enlightened era, social work professionals have changed little in essence ethically. Many parents, if ever called upon to do so, will testify that they give unlawful evidence in court and still lie to children; parents; foster-carers and other professionals.

    Since 1989, it has been necessary to oust several paedophiles from positions of influence within the department in some areas. The erosion of generally accepted family rights continues.

    Children are still moved around at will, often parted from siblings and too often placed long distances away from their roots. Whilst casting aspersions all around them and sending their own false messages, the CS allow only minimal contact provisions and deliberately discourage secure attachments to natural parents on the grounds that these would jeopardise placements by giving a child false hopes. Care-plans for long- term fostering are wrongly changed to ones of permanence despite the legal duty to plan for rehabilitation when it becomes possible; indeed the CS is charged with assisting such a natural process. Without any discussion of rehabilitation, schemes are even hatched to keep families separated when children reach 18.

    The inalienable human right of children to follow their own religious and cultural heritage are regularly compromised. The courts follow the advice of the CS which is that placements take first place.

    It appears certain children (e.g. ASD) are being targeted for long-term foster care. Any child or parent not ‘squeaky-clean’ mentally or physically can easily become subject to the clichés used by ‘concerned’ social workers.

    The institutional abuse of children continues by all reports, particularly in care homes apparently, and general neglect of ‘Looked After Children’ abounds.

    Because, protection is not seen as punishment, normal rules of ‘reasonable doubt’ are invalid. Often the court bases its decisions on psychological, social work and CAFFCASS reports made without enforcement of guidelines.These cannot be disputed. Hearsay statements signed or not, also help to determine the court’s final order.

    The final and perhaps most vital part of the family court proceedings , the disposition or care-plan phase has not been permeated by the strict rules laid out in the Children’s Act. The lower courts cling to the label of a civil proceeding to be decided on the ‘balance of probabilities’ supplied to them by the CS in its role of ‘child saviours’. The ‘due process’ rights of families are not rigorously enforced by lawyers and courts accustomed to a paternalistic role.

    Informal procedures common to informal, undisputed family proceedings are transposed into infinitely more serious, disputed cases. To fulfil the role of state patriarch, the judges are so eager to assist the Local Authority, they will even take on the mantle of its advocate and arrange themselves for evidence in its favour. The Judges will put social workers into the witness box and ask them specific questions in order to satisfy points of law with more haste and justify seemingly extreme findings. No transcripts are ever issued.

    In other words, the Courts look to Local Authorities to act correctly and absolutism thrives as a result.
    Owing to all this, the protections extended to families are not yet included in family courts thus the Children’s Act has failed thus far.

    Interestingly, however, it has been established in Common Law by the High Court that the removal of a child from family should never be ordered without the procedures having been adhered to meticulously.

    A child’s right to substantive due process, the promise of fairness and their right to home rehabilitation implicit in The Children’s Act presents a great challenge and the biggest legal problem of all. Whether higher courts- by refusing to grant applications for leave to appeal, will continue to refrain from interfering with local judgments –or whether they will assert the family rights granted by Statute and reaffirmed in Common Law is a disquieting question. The answer is probably no, unless parents can get more influential backing for appeals by organisations by lawyers and the Legal Funding Commission.

    I have described a ‘monolithic dogma’. Unfortunately, family support groups, schools, doctors and extended family members who actually witness malpractices are prone to it too and will give the benefit of any doubts they hold to the Authorities. Even witnesses who support a family, having given their evidence, if it goes against their views, will assume that a court made a decision based on fair procedure.

    It is a massive task to overturn a pillar of such proportions but, after public outrage and demonstration, the Children’s Act 1989 went a long way towards achieving justice for children. Procedural rights are written into the Law. The responsibility for enforcing it lies with lawyers in the courtroom.

    The Public need to understand exactly why injustices happen and I hope this potted history helps. The answer is the Courts over- reliance on the integrity of the CS and Local Authorities. On the historical evidence, Public demonstration and outrage are required before any real changes will come about.

    ‘Dirty tricks’ and illegitimate aims are different questions. Institutional corruption must be directed at a high level and only a Police enquiry will get to the bottom of those issues.

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