June 08 2022
Christian J Howells successfully represented the Claimant in a judicial review against the Assistant Coroner for Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire’s decision that the procedural duty to investigate deaths under article 2 ECHR did not arise in an inquest.
The Claimant was the mother of a 16 year old girl who was found hanging in October 2019. Her daughter had left the family home and was living with a friend. However, she had very significant mental health problems and was under the care of Specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. She was using recreational drugs. The Claimant had made contact with both the police and social services asking for help with her daughter. The Council did not consider whether to provide accommodation under section 76 of the Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014.
The Claimant argued before the Coroner that there were systemic failures by the Council which led to the failure to treat her daughter as a looked after child. Had they done so, they would have had to carry out a health assessment and provide suitable accommodation.
The Coroner found that the duties in section 76 where not engaged because the Claimant’s daughter was living with a friend, whatever the Claimant thought about the suitability of that accommodation.
Hill J  EWHC 1377 (Admin) found that the Coroner’s approach to the section 76 duties was wrong in law in that: (i) he did not consider whether the alternative accommodation was suitable so as to negate the duty to accommodate under s76(1)(c); and (ii) did not provide adequate reasons why the Claimant’s daughter’s well-being would not be seriously prejudiced unless accommodation was provided by the Council pursuant to section 76(3).
The Coroner’s decision that article 2 ECHR was not engaged was quashed. Hill J did not go on to remake the article 2 decision, instead remitting it to the Coroner for a full reasoned decision on whether there were arguable systemic failures.
The case is legally compelling for two reasons. Firstly, Hill J held that the systemic duty was owed to everyone and was not limited to those in vulnerable positions where the state had assumed responsibility for them. Secondly, it is the first reported decision on section 76 of the Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014.
Christian J Howells was instructed by Eleri Griffiths at Watkins & Gunn.