Woman And Her Lawyers Are Calling For Council To Learn And Make Changes
A mother-of-three who endured ‘five months of hell’ after Cumbria County Council placed unlawful restrictions on the level of contact she could have with her children has called on the council to make changes after it admitted its actions had been wrong.
The woman, who can only be referred to as LC for legal reasons, has a history of mental health problems and in September 2016 was seen by psychiatry experts following a deterioration in her condition.
Although it was recorded that she posed a low risk to both herself and her children, it was decided at a child protection conference a month later that LC should only have contact with two of her children under the supervision of her ex-husband. As her third child was in hospital at the time, she was also only permitted to visit in communal areas, with the restrictions continuing until further reassessments were undertaken.
Despite LC disputing the restrictions on several occasions, they remained in place until February 2017 when her case was heard in a family court and they were removed.
Following the problems, LC instructed Irwin Mitchell’s specialist public law and human rights team to investigate her experiences. The firm’s experts investigated a legal action, arguing that Cumbria County Council’s actions amount to a breach of her human rights.
The council has now apologised to the woman formally and has admitted that children’s services should not have advised that her contact with her children had to be supervised. The council also admitted that there was delay in bringing her case to court.
Stephen Cardinal, the associate solicitor at Irwin Mitchell who represents LC, said:
Expert Opinion“This was a hugely worrying situation where we believe that the council’s behaviour has significantly infringed on the human rights of our client.
“This is not only in respect of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding the obligation to respect her private and family life, but also in relation to Article 6 and her right to a fair trial. In our view, the decision to delay issuing care proceedings meant our client was simply unable to have her voice heard during this emotional situation.
“This whole experience led LC to suffer extreme distress and upset and affected her relationship with her children. It is simply unacceptable and we are delighted she has now had an apology from the council.” Stephen Cardinal - Senior Associate Solicitor
The legal challenge regarding Cumbria County Council’s actions argued that the local authority should have only made decisions regarding the children’s contact with LC by seeking an interim care order. The council did not do this until proceedings commenced in February 2017.
Irwin Mitchell also argued that the council failed to take important information into account, such as the conclusions of medical experts that LC posed little to no risk to her children. In addition, the lawyers argued that necessary assessments were not undertaken by council professionals.
Commenting on her experiences, LC said: “Whilst I am happy that the council has finally admitted it was wrong and has apologised, the truth is that the restrictions placed on my contact with my children meant that I experienced five months of absolute hell.
“It was incredibly difficult to take and the delay in applying to the family court meant there was no way for me to challenge what had been decided by the council.
“The whole ordeal was a nightmare, and whilst nothing can change what I went through, I hope the council learns the relevant lessons from this horrible experience, to try to ensure that no other parent faces the same situation. No council should be able to separate a parent from their child in this way ever again.”
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