D (A Child)

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeLady Hale,Lady Black,Lady Arden,Lord Carnwath,Lord Lloyd-Jones
Judgment Date26 September 2019
Neutral Citation[2019] UKSC 42
CourtSupreme Court
Date26 September 2019
In the matter of D (A Child)

[2019] UKSC 42


Lady Hale, President

Lord Carnwath

Lady Black

Lord Lloyd-Jones

Lady Arden

Supreme Court

On appeal from: [2017] EWCA Civ 1695


Henry Setright QC

Alexander Ruck Keene

Michael Gration

Annabel Lee

(Instructed by Cartwright King (Nottingham))


Richard Gordon QC

Jonathan Cowen

Anita Rao

Eleanor Sibley

(Instructed by Birmingham City Council Legal & Democratic Services)

Intervener (Equality and Human Rights Commission)

David Wolfe QC

Victoria Butler-Cole

(Instructed by Equality and Human Rights Commission)

Intervener (Secretary of State for Justice)

Sir James Eadie QC

Joanne Clement

Jonathan Auburn

(Instructed by The Government Legal Department)

Heard on 3 and 4 October 2018

Lady Hale

The common law has long protected the liberty of the subject, through the machinery of habeas corpus and the tort of false imprisonment. Likewise, article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights begins: “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law”. In Storck v Germany (2005) 43 EHRR 6, paras 74 and 89, confirmed by the Grand Chamber in Stanev v Bulgaria (2012) 55 EHRR 22, paras 117 and 120, and adopted by this court in Surrey County Council v P; Cheshire West and Chester Council v P [2014] UKSC 19; [2014] AC 896 (commonly known as Cheshire West), para 37, the European Court of Human Rights held that there were three components in a deprivation of liberty for the purpose of article 5: (a) the objective component of confinement in a particular restricted place for a not negligible length of time; (b) the subjective component of lack of valid consent; and (c) the attribution of responsibility to the State.


At the same time, the common law and equity have long recognised the authority of parents over their minor children, now encapsulated in the concept of “parental responsibility” in the Children Act 1989. Likewise, article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights begins “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence”; and, as this court recognised in Christian Institute v Lord Advocate [2016] UKSC 51; 2017 SC (UKSC) 29, paras 71 to 74, the responsibility of parents to bring up their children as they see fit, within limits, is an essential part of respect for family life in a western democracy.


This case is about the interplay between the liberty of the subject and the responsibilities of parents, between the rights and values protected by article 5 and the rights and values protected by article 8, and between the relationship of parent and child at common law and the Convention rights. The principal issue can be simply stated: is it within the scope of parental responsibility to consent to living arrangements for a 16 or 17-year-old child which would otherwise amount to a deprivation of liberty within the meaning of article 5? But this principal issue cannot sensibly be addressed without also considering further issues. What difference, if any, does it make that the child lacks the mental capacity to make the decision for himself? What difference, if any, does it make that the holder of parental responsibility is a public authority rather than an individual? Furthermore, although the concentration in this case is upon 16 and 17-year-old children, similar issues would arise in a case concerning a child under 16.


A further issue was raised by the court after the hearing: do the restrictions on placing children in accommodation provided for the purpose of restricting liberty, arising from section 25 of the Children Act 1989, apply to the sort of living arrangements in question here? We are grateful to the parties for their written submissions on this complicated issue. It is addressed by Lady Black at paras 91 to 115 of her judgment, with which I agree.

The history

The child in question, D, was born on 23 April 1999, and so is now aged 20 and an adult. Nevertheless, the importance of the issues is such that this court gave the Official Solicitor, who acts for him as his litigation friend, permission to appeal from the decision of the Court of Appeal.


D was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at the age of four, Asperger's syndrome at seven, and Tourette's syndrome at eight. He also has a mild learning disability. His parents struggled for many years to look after him in the family home, despite the many difficulties presented by his challenging behaviour. Eventually, in October 2013 when he was 14, he was informally admitted to Hospital B for multi-disciplinary assessment and treatment. Hospital B provided mental health services for children between the ages of 12 and 18. He lived in a unit in the hospital grounds and attended a school which was integral to the unit. The external door to the unit was locked and D was checked on by staff every half hour. If he left the site, he was accompanied by staff on a one to one basis. His visits home were supervised at all times.


In 2014, the Hospital Trust issued an application under the inherent jurisdiction of the Family Division of the High Court relating to children, seeking a declaration that it was lawful for the Trust to deprive D of his liberty and that this was in his best interests. In March 2015, Keehan J held: first, that the conditions under which D lived amounted to depriving him of his liberty (by which he meant confinement under limb (a) of Storck v Germany, para 1 above); the fact that he enjoyed living in the unit made no difference; second, that it was “within the zone of parental responsibility” for his parents to agree to what would otherwise be a deprivation of liberty; it was a proper exercise of parental responsibility to keep an autistic 15-year-old boy who had erratic, challenging and potentially harmful behaviours under constant supervision and control; but third, once he reached 16 he would come under the jurisdiction of the Court of Protection and the different regime there, largely contained in the Mental Capacity Act 2005: In re D (A Child) (Deprivation of Liberty) [2015] EWHC 922 (Fam); [2016] 1 FLR 142.


By then, the clinical team had agreed that D should be discharged from Hospital B to a residential placement. Birmingham City Council took the lead in making the arrangements for D to move to Placement B. His parents agreed to the move. On 23 April 2015, his 16th birthday, proceedings were issued in the Court of Protection. Birmingham sought a declaration that D would not be deprived of his liberty at Placement B because his parents could consent to it. On 20 May 2015, Keehan J made an order for D's transfer from Hospital B to Placement B. This took place on 2 June 2015. D was accommodated there under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 and thus became a “looked after child” within the meaning of section 22(1) of that Act.


It has always been common ground between the parties to this case that the arrangements under which D lived at Placement B would have amounted to a deprivation of liberty were it not for his parents' consent to them. Placement B was a large house set in its own grounds, with 12 residential units in the grounds, each with its own fenced garden. D lived with three other young people in House A. The external doors were locked. If he wanted to go out into the garden, he had to ask for the door to be unlocked. He was not allowed to leave the premises except for a planned activity, such as attending his school, which was also on the site, swimming and leisure activities. He received one to one support during waking hours and staff were in constant attendance overnight.


The application was heard by Keehan J in the Court of Protection in November 2015. In January 2016, he held: first, that the parents could no longer consent to what would otherwise be a deprivation of liberty now that D had reached 16; his principal reasons for doing so were that Parliament had, on numerous occasions, distinguished the legal status of those who had reached the age of 16 from that of those who had not; and that the Mental Capacity Act 2005 applied to people who had reached the age of 16. He also held that this deprivation of liberty was attributable to the state, a matter which is no longer in dispute: Birmingham City Council v D (by his litigation friend, the Official Solicitor) [2016] EWCOP 8; [2016] PTSR 1129.


Birmingham City Council appealed to the Court of Appeal. Before the hearing, D was transferred to Placement C, where the arrangements were not materially different from those in Placement B. Once again, his parents agreed to his being accommodated under section 20 of the 1989 Act, to the arrangements themselves and to the restrictions on D's liberty which they entailed. On 23 November 2016, Keehan J authorised the placement and the deprivation of liberty. There has never been any doubt that both placements were in D's best interests but that D himself did not have the capacity to consent to them.


The appeal was heard in February 2017, but judgment was not given until 31 October 2017. In the meantime, D had reached the age of 18 and parental responsibility for him ceased. However, by virtue of his age, it was now possible for a deprivation of liberty in a hospital or care home to be authorised under the deprivation of liberty safeguards in Schedule A1 to the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (which applied only to those aged 18 or over),...

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