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(Family Division; Munby J; 1 February 2008)
Whatever the impression a casual reader might gain from reading some newspaper reports, no local authority and no social worker had the power to remove a child from its parent, or, without the agreement of the parent, to take a child into care, unless they had first obtained an order from a family court authorising that step: an emergency protection order under Children Act 1989, s 44; an interim care order under s 38, or, in an exceptional case (and subject to s 100), a wardship order. Section 46 permitted a police constable to remove a child without prior judicial authority if the constable had reasonable cause to believe that the child would otherwise be likely to suffer significant harm, but neither local authorities nor social workers possessed that power. Of course, like anyone else, a social worker or nurse was entitled to intervene if that was necessary to protect a baby from immediate violence at the hands of a parent. Further, a hospital might be able to rely upon s 3(5), under which a person with care of the child, but without parental responsibility could take action necessary to safeguard or promote the child's welfare, to justify action taken in relation to a child in its care, but only if there was a medical justification for such intervention. Otherwise, local authorities, hospitals and medical staff had no power to remove a child from parents unless they had first obtained judicial sanction.
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