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Northern Health Trust’s decision to remove a child from her mother was unlawful

The High Court of Northern Ireland has allowed a Judicial Review action by a mother against a decision of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust (“the Trust”) to remove her child and place her into foster care. 
In April 2013 the Trust exercised its powers under Article 52 of the Children (NI) Order 1995 to remove the child (“X”) from her mother’s care placing her with foster carers. 

The Trust was granted an Interim Care Order in respect of X in January 2013 following concerns about her mother’s alcohol abuse.  A care plan was agreed whereby X would stay with her mother provided her mother maintain(ed) sobriety’ and did not have any alcohol in her home.

In April 2013 the Trust became aware that the mother had taken alcohol when X was staying overnight with her father.  The mother admitted this, and that she had taken alcohol on other occasions when X was staying with her father, to the Trust on 24th April 2013.  The Trust deemed this a breach of the care plan and removed X from her mother the following day.
Solicitors for the mother judicially reviewed the Trust’s decision arguing that it was unlawful, unreasonable and in breach of natural justice.

The judge noted that the Trust had recorded that X had been “…thriving in her mother’s care”.  He also commented that while the Trust had discovered that the mother had taken alcohol when X was not in her care, it was difficult to see how this information alone could be sufficient to persuade the Trust that it was necessary to immediately remove the “thriving” child.  In addition, The Trust did not consider the effect that such an abrupt removal would have on X’s welfare.  The Judge held that for these reasons the removal of X was unlawful and was a breach of Article 8 rights. 

Lawyers for the mother claimed the verdict will act as a safeguard for the rights of parents.

Family Law