Local Authority co-operation

March 3rd, 2016 by James Goudie KC

A Judge recently struck out a claim brought by two dogs. He did not see how a dog could give instructions for a claim to be brought on its behalf.  Nor did he see that it could be liable for any orders made against it.  Another limitation on litigating is that you cannot sue yourself.  If there is a dispute it must be resolved without recourse to litigation when the disputants do not have separate legal personalities.  A local authority has only one legal personality. So for example the client side of the authority cannot sue the contractor side or vice versa; and the department, say the social services department, cannot sue another department of the same authority, say the housing department.  This is a somewhat anomalous situation, because it means that in the case of a unitary authority the departments have to resolve any differences without going to Court, whereas in a two-tier area, with the functions split between the tiers, the potential is there for the authorities to litigate with each other.

Section 27 of the Children Act 1989 is headed “Co-operation between authorities”. It contains a power: where it appears to a local authority that any other authority could help in the exercise of their functions with respect to the provision of services for children in need, the first authority may request the help of that other authority.  The Section also contains a duty: an authority whose help is so requested shall comply with the request (if it is compatible with their duties and obligations and does not unduly prejudice the discharge of any of their functions).

The case of M&A v Islington LBC [2016] EWHC 332 (Admin) was an application on behalf of two severely autistic children for judicial review of a failure to rehouse them, in accordance with Section 17 of the Act, where the sole authority involved was a London Borough, a unitary authority, both social services and housing authority.  Therefore Section 27 could not apply directly in the way it would as between a county council as social services authority and a district council as housing authority.

However, Collins J ruled that the requirements of Section 27 did apply indirectly. This was because the Council was statutorily required to act under the general guidance of the Secretary of State, and such guidance required the same degree of co-operation between departments in a unitary authority.

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