R (on the application of CP by her father and LitF, JP) v NE Lincolnshire Council

… is a fantastic judgment from the Court of Appeal (announced 3 October 2019) about the parallel statutory duties owed by a local authority under the Care Act 2014 and the Children and Families Act 2014, and the overlapping Tribunal and JR routes to a remedy for breach of these Acts.

Fundamentally, the Court held that if a council breaches the Care Act, then it is acting unlawfully, and must pay what it would otherwise have been obliged to pay towards the person’s care plan, if it had acted lawfully.

If that person has incurred a liability to pay, even a person lacking in capacity to have contracted, then that is the measure of what the council would have to reimburse, as a matter of public and private law principle.

Implications for anyone in a struggle with a council about the Care Act functions

For any council using a Three Conversations Model to save time with assessment and encourage so-called assets and strengths-based professional evaluations which assume that friends and family are willing to meet needs informally, that council might be wanting to make it a whole lot clearer in its public offering of advice and information, that anyone who wants a proper Care Act assessment or budget or plan is welcome to one, one that complies with the due process requirements in the Act and in the Assessment Regulations.

People should refer the council to para 10.86 of the statutory Guidance and demand the management review that it recommends, so that the council can put right any non-compliance with legislation, without further ado.

The implications for us, as a charity seeking to resolve disputes by polite reference to public law legal principle:

CASCAIDr corresponds with many councils’ senior management, legal departments and Monitoring Officers every week.

Sometimes, dealing with the responses we receive, makes us feel as if we learned our law in a parallel universe, and not just last century.

We were therefore much cheered at this judicial assessment of NE Lincolnshire’s attitude:

“The Council resisted CP’s claim at every turn and conducted what turned out to be a fruitless rear-guard action for the next 18 months.”

We are regularly told that we are wrong to say that a breach of a statutory duty gives rise to the independent mandatory duty of a council’s Monitoring Officer (under legislation promoting good governance, dating back to 1989), to report the matter to Members, if they can’t otherwise sort it out.

We use this remedy to help people avoid getting stuck in the complaints system, and avoid having to get adversarial and threaten judicial review.

But we’re often told by these lead governance officers that when a dispute arises between a citizen and the council about the discharge of Care Act duties, regarding the adequacy of a budget, care plan or the processes required by that Act (one where we’ve carefully probed and identified all the ways in which the council has not abided by the plain words of the statute or the regulations) – we are told that their own governance duties are not triggered because (in some way that is never explained), that particular sort of dispute is not about contravention of an enactment or a rule of law.

And they say this even though the Ombudsman does not himself hold back in describing this sort of misconduct as breach of the Care Act when considering councils’ allegedly unsatisfactory handling of complaints that have been made.

So some of these luckless officials will be hearing politely from us, shortly, with this excerpt from the Court of Appeal’s Lord Justice Haddon-Cave’s judgment, which sums up our ‘Old School’ understanding of public law, as WE learned it, rather nicely:

A breach of a statutory duty is a breach of statutory duty.  It is, by definition, unlawful conduct.  Unlawful conduct by a public body cannot merely be discounted or ignored. 

Moreover, s. 26 [of the Care Act] is no minor matter.  A local authority’s statutory duty under s. 26 of the Care Act 2014 to provide a personal budget to meet a person’s care and support needs is fundamental to the operation of the care and support scheme which the Care Act 2014 underpins. 

In the present case, having found the Council in breach of its statutory duties, [the judge in the High Court] should have gone on to hold that the Council had acted unlawfully and, accordingly, was liable in principle to compensate CP in respect of any monetary shortfall, in accordance with normal public law principles of legal accountability of public bodies.

That’s very cheering, isn’t it?

We’ll be doing an analysis of the case as soon as we can and will provide links to a public copy of the judgment as soon as it’s up somewhere for free.

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