Cardiff City Council found in contempt of court

April 04 2022

Christian J Howells, together with Owain James, instructed by Eleri Griffiths of Watkins & Gunn, represented JS, a young adult with severe learning difficulties and a diagnosis of ASD.  He had previously attended Elidyr Communities Trust, a specialist residential college, for a number of years.  Cardiff City Council decided that they wanted to move him from the residential college into supported accommodation, but had not yet identified a placement which was suitable and/or available.  Over a period of two years, Cardiff City Council failed to draw up a lawful care plan.  In August 2020, an independent assessor upheld a complaint by JS’s mother, KS, in relation to Cardiff City Council’s care plan – stating that Cardiff City Council’s planning was “too little, too late” and “completely wrong”.

That outcome was not heeded by Cardiff City Council.  That led to a claim for judicial review being issued and settled by way on consent order in June 2021, whereby Cardiff City Council agreed to a timetable which would lead to a completion of future care planning.  Cardiff City Council breached the terms of the consent order and JS ended up living at home with his mother, KS, whilst waiting for Cardiff City Council to identify a suitable placement.  As a result, in November 2021 a further claim was issued.  HHJ Lambert granted an interim injunction on the papers, describing Cardiff City Council’s conduct as “appalling”.  At a final hearing before HHJ Keyser QC in December 2021, Cardiff City Council conceded that: (i) it was failing to meet JS’s needs; and (ii) it has failed to implement a care plan.  HHJ Keyser QC granted a final injunction which compelled Cardiff City Council to complete future placement planning by 7 January 2022 – [2021] EWHC 3720 (Admin).

Unfortunately, Cardiff City Council breached that injunction and the Claimant applied to initiate proceedings for contempt of court.  In a judgment ([2022] EWHC 707 (Admin)) which can be found here, Steyn J found to the criminal standard of proof that Cardiff City Council had breached HHJ Keyser QC’s Order and were in contempt of court.  Steyn J accepted the submission made by Christian Howells on behalf of JS that the “sole justifiable outcome” was now a mandatory order that Cardiff City Council “take all necessary steps” to ensure that JS started back at Elidyr Communities Trust at the beginning of the summer term.  Cardiff City Council were also ordered to pay indemnity costs.  Steyn J remarked that it was “quite impossible” to accept that Cardiff City Council had made every effort to obtain staff to enable JS to return to Elidyr Communities Trust at any earlier point, in circumstances where they accepted that they were not meeting JS’s needs.

This is a significant case for those practising in community care and shows that claims for judicial review for breaches of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 can be an extremely powerful tool for ensuring that the needs of vulnerable people are met and that local authorities are held to account where they do not comply with their statutory duties.