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New Deprivation of Liberty court launch for children

A National Deprivation of Liberty Court dealing specifically with applications relating to deprive children of their liberty has been announced by Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division.

The court will deal with applications seeking authorisation to deprive children of their liberty and will be based at the Royal Courts of Justice under the leadership of Mr Justice Moor. All new applications seeking these orders will be issued in the Royal Courts of Justice from 4 July 2022

Two Family High Court or deputy high court judges will support the new court each week along with a dedicated administrative team based in the RCJ,

Cases will either be retained for hearing within the National DoLs Court or will be returned to circuit, based on agreed criteria. It is anticipated that, subject to judicial direction, cases will be heard remotely.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division said: “This is important, sensitive work and the continued growth in the number of these applications to the family courts requires the creation of a dedicated listing protocol. The national DoLs court will provide the necessary expertise in dealing with these matters.”

The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory will also regularly collect and publish data from the new National DoLs (Deprivation of Liberty) Court.

Children in England and Wales can be deprived of their liberty for welfare (risks to their safety), youth justice or mental health reasons, and placed in secure children’s homes, young offender institutions, secure training centres or mental health in-patient wards. An increasing number of children are also being deprived of their liberty in unregistered placements.

When a place for a child cannot be found in a welfare, youth justice or mental health setting, the High Court can use the powers under its inherent jurisdiction to deprive a child of their liberty in an unregulated placement.

The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory published research earlier this year that revealed that in the three years to 2020/21, these applications increased from 108 to 579 per year – a rise of 462% – and outnumbered applications under s.25 of the Children Act 1989 (for places in secure children’s homes) for the first time.

Unlike children held in other settings, children deprived of their liberty under the inherent jurisdiction do not appear in published administrative data or records.

Lisa Harker, director of Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, said: “We welcome the announcement from Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, that a National DoLs Court will be launched in July – and we greatly appreciate the opportunity we’ve been given to monitor, analyse and publish data from the applications that the court will receive will be heard there.

“The lack of information on DoLs cases – especially about children deprived of their liberty in unregistered placements – is a serious issue, which we have started to address through our research. The new court is an important first step towards improved transparency on this issue. However, we also need to understand more about why cases are rising in the first place, and about what can be done to better meet the needs of the vulnerable children involved.”

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