When care stops, does assistance begin?

An application for judicial review seeks to define a council's responsibility for adults formerly in its care, says Roger Pearson. Justice Connell of the Family Division is currently considering an application for judicial review which could have wide-ranging implications for local authority care.

The case of R v London Borough of Lambeth ex parte Caddell focuses on the legal obligations of local authorities towards youngsters they have cared for during their minority but who have subsequently reached the age of 18.

The judicial review is being sought of Lambeth Council's decision not to accept responsibility for the applicant.

As a child the applicant was in the council's care but it took the view that under the provisions of s.24 of the Children Act 1989 the responsibility for his care, once he reached the age of 18, passed to Kent County Council in whose area he has lived since 1992.

The case could have important implications for both local authorities and for youngsters in a similar situation.

Stephen Cobb, instructed by Harman and Harman of Canterbury, for the teenager, argued that there is not intended to be an age cut-off point and that this area of local authority responsibility is intended to be a continuing one. Lambeth is accused of failing to accept its statutory responsibility towards the applicant.

Lambeth acknowledged that it had a duty to advise, assist and befriend the applicant with a view to promoting his continued welfare after he left the council's care, but it argued that if he did not live in its area he did not qualify for the on-going assistance he sought from the London council.

The case, as well as raising the question of where responsibility for care lies, also calls for an analysis by the judge of what would be regarded as a reasonable level of provision.