Law Report: Child comes first in care case: F (a minor) v Leeds City Council - Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Neill and Mr Justice Ward), 17 February 1994

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The Independent Online
When deciding whether to make a care order in favour of the local authority in respect of a new-born baby, whose mother was herself a minor whose upbringing was in question, the court's paramount concern was still the welfare of the baby, since the baby was the child most directly involved as the subject of the application.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the mother's appeal from Judge Hutchison who, at Leeds County Court on 30 April 1993, made a care order, under section 31 of the Children Act 1989, in respect of the baby and gave the local authority leave to refuse the mother, aged 17, any contact with the baby.

Stuart Brown QC and Janet Hayward (John Delaney & Co, Leeds) for the mother; RM Harrison QC and Roger Bickerdike (Leeds City Council) for the local authority; Rebecca Thornton (Blacks, Leeds) for the guardian ad litem.

MR JUSTICE WARD, having referred to Birmingham City Council v H (The Independent, 7 January 1994; (1994) 2 WLR 31), said the correct approach was to identify which child was the subject of the application and whose welfare was directly involved.

It was plain from the wording of section 31 of the Children Act 1989 that there was only one 'child with respect to whom the application is made' and that was the baby not the mother. No question relating to the mother's upbringing arose so the court was not required by section 1(1) to treat the mother's welfare as paramount.

Section 31(2) served to emphasise that conclusion. That the focus of the enquiry was on the manner in which the parent was bringing up the child was implict in section 31(2) in the requirement that the court be satisfied that the child concerned (the baby) was suffering, or was likely to suffer, significant harm and that the harm, or likelihood of harm, was attributable to the care given to the child (the baby), or likely to be given if the order was not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to provide.