A local council who took a newborn baby boy from his parents violated their human right to family life and a fair trial, a judge has ruled.
Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire applied to a court for permission to take the baby away from his parents when he was just 7 days old – the same day the family were due to take him home from hospital.
The council said they were concerned about the baby’s long-term care needs, in particular the father’s “unorthodox” views on formula milk and bottle sterilisation.
The baby was returned to his parents over two months later after the Local Authority accepted that taking him from his parents was not justified.
The parents took the Local Authority back to court, asking for compensation for breach of their human rights. Judge Cobb said in the High Court there was “no doubt” their human rights to a family life and fair trial had been violated, adding the council has even “misled” court.
Kirklees Council repeatedly claimed they had told the parents they were attempting to take their baby away – in fact, they hadn’t told the parents at all.
They received £11,250 in damages to compensate for their ordeal.
So what actually happened?
The boy, referred to as CZ, was born by emergency caesarean section on 6th November, 2015.
CZ was briefly placed in a Special Care Baby Unit after his birth, because he was losing weight and slow to feed. According to the hospital’s health visitor, CZ’s loss of weight was due to the circumstances of his birth and his hard start to life – and in no way the parents’ fault.
However, the maternity ward raised concerns over the couple’s ability to look after the child in the longer term. They claimed the father had “unorthodox views” on parenting: he believed in the benefits of formula milk and bottle sterilisation. These views were particularly concerning to the maternity ward, so they referred the parents to Kirklees Council.
Acting on the hospital’s concerns, Kirklees Council applied for CZ to be taken away from his parents on the day they were due to take him home from hospital.
That day, the Council told a court repeatedly that the parents had given their consent for CZ to be taken into his grandparents’ care. In actual fact, it later emerged that the parents had never even been told about this. When they later found out, they were “understandably very upset”.
CZ was separated from his parents, and lived with his grandparents for several months before a court decided he could return home.
How did human rights help this family?
In the UK, the rights to a fair trial and respect for private and family life are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (Articles 6 and 8), which can be used in British courts because of the Human Rights Act 1998.
The right to respect for family life is especially important in cases involving newborn children. Local Authorities have a legal duty to ensure children’s safety when their usual guardians – in this case, CZ’s parents – are unable to look after them, for whatever reason.
But despite Kirklees Council’s concerns, the family’s “unorthodox views” on issues like formula milk and bottle sterilisation did not make them unable to care for their baby. In the High Court, Judge Cobb said
It is questionable whether there was a proper case for asserting that CZ’s immediate safety demanded separation from his parents at all.
Judge Cobb went on to describe the Council’s failure to tell the parents about their attempts to take CZ away from them as “particularly egregious”, and condemned the way the Council repeatedly misled courts.
This case illustrates why human rights are needed to protect children and families from unnecessary and unlawful distress. Thankfully, since these troubling events CZ has “continued to thrive” in his parents’ care, and the damages they receive from Kirklees Council will hopefully help the family to recover.
For more information, follow these links:
- A link to the full judgment in CZ’s case;
- RightsInfo’s archive on Human Rights and the Family;
- RightsInfo’s archive on how Human Rights protect Children.