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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

03 NOV 2009

CHILD PROTECTION: R (L) v Metropolitan Police Commissioner (Secretary of State for the Home Department) [2009] UKSC 3

(Supreme Court; Lord Hope, DP, Lord Saville, Lord Scott, Lord Brown and Lord Neuberger; 29 October 2009)

The child had been placed on the child protection register under the category of neglect. Concerns were recorded about the mother's lack of control over the child. Subsequently, the child was sentenced to detention in a young offender institution for robbery. Some time later, the mother was employed by an employment agency supplying staff to schools; she worked as a midday supervisor. The agency applied for an enhanced criminal record certificate in respect of the mother; the mother herself signed the application. The certificate eventually issued by the police recorded that the mother had no criminal convictions, but went on to disclose, as 'other relevant information', the fact that the child had been on the child protection register under the category of neglect, that the mother had failed to exercise the required degree of care and supervision over the child, that she had failed to cooperate with social services, and also that the child had been convicted and sentenced for robbery. The agency stopped employing the mother, who sought judicial review of the decision to disclose the 'other relevant information', arguing that the priority given by the police system to the interests of children and vulnerable adults had breached her rights under European Convention of Human Rights, Art 8. Eventually, her appeal reached the Supreme Court.

Most of the information disclosed had been private information, and concerned aspects of her private life; Art 8(1) was therefore engaged. Indeed, disclosure of information stored in files held by the police was likely to affect the private life of an applicant in virtually every case. The current police procedure in these cases gave too much priority to the social need to protect the vulnerable, as against the right to respect for the private life of the applicant. The correct approach, when competing Convention rights were in issue, was that neither consideration had precedence over the other. The current police rating table should be restructured so as to remove the precedence currently given to the risk that failure to disclose would cause to the vulnerable group. However, the decision in the mother's case would not be quashed: although insufficient weight had been given to the mother's private life when reaching the decision, the information disclosed had been true, and had born directly on the question whether the mother could safely be entrusted with job of supervising children.

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