Challenging coronavirus regulations to protect the rights of children in care

The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 were laid before Parliament by the Children’s Minister Vicky Ford MP on 23 April 2020, and came into force the very next day. There was no public consultation or time given for Parliamentary scrutiny. The 65 safeguards which were taken away or weakened affected social worker visits to England’s 78,000 children in care, six-monthly reviews of the care of looked after children, independent scrutiny of children’s homes and senior officer oversight for babies and children being considered for adoption. Disabled children having short breaks and children placed outside their home areas were also affected.

In November 2020, following legal action by Article 39, the Court of Appeal unanimously declared that the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, acted unlawfully in failing to consult the Children’s Commissioner for England and other children’s rights organisations before making “substantial and wide-ranging” [79] changes to legal protections for England’s 78,000 children in care. Giving the leading judgment, Lord Justice Baker, with whom Lord Justice Henderson and Lord Justice Underhill agreed, found: 

It was manifestly in the interests of the vulnerable children who would be most affected by the proposed amendments that those agencies and organisations representing the rights and interests of children in care should be consulted. [86]

Allowing the appeal, the judges granted a declaration “that the Secretary of State acted unlawfully by failing to consult the Children’s Commissioner and other bodies representing the rights of children in care before introducing the [legal changes]” [90].

Read the full Court of Appeal judgment here.

Today (23 April 2021), marking one year since the regulations were laid before Parliament, we publish two of Article 39 Director’s witness statements for the courts. They show why we took the legal action, and what was at stake for children in care.

Article 39’s Director first witness statement, June 2020
Article 39’s Director third witness statement, July 2020