March 2, 2023
Family Associate Solicitor Felicity Jones considers the case of Manchester City Council v P where the local authority held parental responsibility for the child (P) as they had an care order in respect of her. P has ADHD and although aged 16, she had been assessed to have the working level of a 7 year old.
The Local Authority had already been given permission to deprive her of her liberty to the extent that she was subject to a high level of supervision and the use of restraint, due to the risk of her self-harming.
The local authority made a further application to restrict the child's access to her phone and social media as they were concerned that she was accessing inappropriate content which may encourage her to self-harm or expose her to risk of child sexual exploitation.
This raised the question of whether removing P’s phone was a deprivation of her liberty or an exercise of parental responsibility.
The Judge found that whilst a child may consider the removal of their phone to be a deprivation of their liberty, liberty should be defined in the classic sense of physical liberty and therefore removal of a phone was not in fact deprivation of liberty in accordance with Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Right to Liberty). The Court therefore did not grant the Order.
This did not mean that the child’s phone could not be removed as the Court confirmed that the Local Authority could remove the child's phone as an exercise of their parental responsibility that they held as a result of the final care order that had been made.
MacDonald J concluded that each case will fall to be determined on its facts but that an application for Deprivation of Liberty to remove a child’s phone would only be necessary in a small number of cases.
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