Secure Accommodation Orders
Date posted: 6 February 2020
This case considers how widely section 25 of the Children Act 1989 should be applied. Section 25 of the Children Act 1989 governs when a Looked after Child can be placed in secure accommodation.
C, a minor, was a child who suffered from severe mental health issues. In autumn of 2018 her mental health led to an all edged attack on another young person with a knife. This attack was premeditated and unprovoked. There were also concerns that C was accessing the dark webs pornographic sites and talking to strangers online. C’s mother agreed to section 20 accommodation, where the Local Authority had a duty to house C.
C stayed in a residential children’s home where she was supervised on a 2-1 basis, had no access to technology and, while the house was not locked, if she had left she would have been followed by her carers and made to return.
In December 2018 Care Proceedings began and throughout the proceedings the guardian and court raised concerns that C’s accommodation amounted to deprivation of Liberty. To address this the Local Authority made an application for permission to invoke the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court, which would allow a judge to make a decision on almost any matter.
All parties in the case, except for Mother, agreed with the Local Authority’s application. C also agreed and there was lots of evidence that showed C’s deprivation of liberty helped reduce her anxiety and improve her mental wellbeing.
The main issue was whether where C‘s accommodation fell under section 25. Mr Henley, for mum, argued that whether accommodation is defined as secure accommodation and be regulated under section 25 cannot turn solely on whether or not accommodation has been approved for such purpose by the Secretary of State. Under regulation 2 of the secure accommodation regulations it states that:
“Secure accommodation means accommodation which is provided for the purpose off restricting liberty of children.”
Additionally Mr Henley argued that the use of the courts inherent jurisdiction was not in C’s best interest because it meant she fell out of the safeguards provided under a section 25 order.
The Local Authority put forward the argument that regulation 2 does not negate regulation 3 that a children’s home must be approved by the Secretary of State for use as secure accommodation. The focus must remain on the accommodation itself not the care regime.
HHJ Harris agreed with the arguments for a much narrower interpretation and added two more points.
Firstly that there must exist a juridical space outside of s 25 whereby the LA can lawfully create a care regime that amounts to deprivation of liberty without a child living in secure accommodation.
Secondly, and more practically, there are not enough secure children’s beds to meet the needs of secure children. Where a wide interpretation of section 25 to be applied then numerous secure children need rehoming in secure accommodation which does not exist.
Section 25 should only apply to children placed in accommodation which is designed for and has the primary purpose of restricting liberty. Beyond that children may lawfully be accommodated in residential children’s homes subject to various restrictions which may constitute deprivation of liberty if approved and sanctioned by the courts inherent jurisdiction.