Council under no duty to cover legal fees of ‘interveners’ in care proceedings
The Supreme Court has ruled that local authorities should not be under an obligation to pay the costs of an intervening party where there had been no “reprehensible behaviour or an unreasonable stance.”
In the case itself the application was brought by the grandparents of two children who intervened in proceedings brought by the local authority for a care order under the Children Act after allegations of abuse were levied at the children’s father and six other men. The grandparents had also been accused of colluding with the abusers. After the court hearing, the grandparents and five of the men were totally exonerated but the grandparents paid £52,000 in legal expenses.
Lord Philips said “There may be a case for saying that this results in injustice in the case of interveners in the position of the grandparents in the present case, but it does not follow that justice demands that any deficiency in the provision of legal aid funding should be made up out of the funds of the local authority responsible for the care proceedings. If the local authority receives information that a child has been subjected to or is likely to be subjected to serious harm it has a duty to investigate the report and, where there are reasonable grounds for believing that it may be well founded, to instigate care proceedings.”
He continued “In this respect the role of a local authority has much in common with the role of a prosecuting authority in criminal proceedings. It is for the court, and not the local authority, to decide whether the allegations are well founded. It is a serious misfortune to be the subject of unjustified allegations in relation to misconduct to a child, but where it is reasonable that these should be investigated by a court, justice does not demand that the local authority responsible for placing the allegations before the court should ultimately be responsible for the legal costs of the person against whom the allegations are made.”