Disclosure of Serious Case Reviews

13 Aug

In a recent case which arose when he was sitting in Bristol. Sir James Munby P considered whether the report of a Serious Case Review should be disclosed to the father: Re X (A Child) [2014] EWHC 2522.

The history of the case is that there were care proceedings in 2010 in relation to a boy, now aged 13. The boy was stabbed by his mother. A care order was made in 2012. The Local Safeguarding Children’s Board (LSCB) undertook a Serious Case Review which was completed in 2011 and before the final order was made in the care proceedings.

Read More

12 CP Barristers Bristol Image

 

 

 

In a recent case which arose when he was sitting in Bristol. Sir James Munby P considered whether the report of a Serious Case Review should be disclosed to the father: Re X (A Child) [2014] EWHC 2522.

The history of the case is that there were care proceedings in 2010 in relation to a boy, now aged 13. The boy was stabbed by his mother. A care order was made in 2012. The Local Safeguarding Children’s Board (LSCB) undertook a Serious Case Review which was completed in 2011 and before the final order was made in the care proceedings.

At that time, the guidance on disclosure was contained in Chapter 8 of Working Together to Safeguard Children March 2010, supplemented and amended by a ministerial letter dated 10 June 2010 to the effect that LSCBs: "….should publish overview reports of all SCRs initiated on or after 10 June 2010 ……. Unless there are compelling reasons relating to the welfare of any children directly concerned in the case for this not to happen."

In this case, there was psychiatric advice to the LSCB that publication (and thus potential press and local comment) would have a seriously detrimental effect on the child. The Board decided against publication.

The Overview Report and Executive Summary were made available as part of the care proceedings and guidance from the court was sought about the extent of disclosure. The father was permitted to read the reports during the care proceedings but was not given a copy.

The father applied for disclosure. His application to the court was not made until 2014 – some three years after the report was completed.

His application failed. He should have applied for judicial review, and his application was treated as such. He was well beyond the time limit for judicial review and there was no good reason to extend it. However, and more fundamentally, he could not show that the LSCB had erred in its decision or in the procedure by which it reached that decision. A few interesting questions come out of this decision.

1) What is a LSCB? LSCBs were set up by s. 13 Children Act 2004. It is a Board constituted of the local authority for that area and partner organisations who are involved in the lives of children: CAFCASS, education, health, the police, probation, the Youth Offending Team, and others listed in the section. Its purpose is set out in s. 14: to co-ordinate the functions of the bodies and to ensure the effectiveness of the protection of children.

2) What is a Serious Case Review? A SCR is triggered by Regulation 5 (1) and (2) of the LSCB Regulations 2006 and must take place when: Abuse of a child is known or suspected; and either (i) the child has died; or (ii) the child has been seriously harmed and there is cause for concern as to the way in which the LA and the Board partners or other professionals have worked together to safeguard the child. The aim of the SCR is to help agencies to learn the lessons of what went wrong so as to ensure that does not happen again in the future. It is not an inquiry into who harmed or killed the child as that is the function of the courts, whether the family or criminal courts. It is not intended to replicate the role of the coroner. It is an inquiry conducted by an experienced professional to establish whether the procedures of any of the agencies involved with the child could be improved. Very often, the issue is about communication –whether with the child or between agencies, and then taking on board what has been seen and heard.

3) The guidance has changed and been reissued in March 2013 – Working Together to Safeguard Children- A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. It can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/policies. The guidance on publication is on p. 71 of the policy:

"All reviews of cases meeting the SCR criteria should result in a report which is published and readily accessible on the LSCB’s website for a minimum of 12 months. Thereafter the report should be made available on request. This is important to support national sharing of lessons learnt and good practice in writing and publishing SCRs. From the very start of the SCR the fact that the report will be published should be taken into consideration. SCR reports should be written in such a way that publication will not be likely to harm the welfare of any children or vulnerable adults involved in the case."

I think the situation described in Re X would be avoided today. The father would have been able to access the report on the website or ask for a copy.

However, it is hard to imagine that a report can be written in such a way that the vulnerable will be protected. There will be publicity, very often in the local press. Adults and children alike will be identified. I understand the need for transparency. Families and adults may already have been identified in the reports of inquests or the criminal courts. I should think it is a difficult line to tread.

Margaret Pine-Coffin

13th August 2014

 

 

 

 

For more information on Family Law, click here.