New Judgment: T (Children)  UKSC 36
25 Wednesday Jul 2012
On appeal from:  EWCA Civ 1585
The general practice of not awarding costs in care proceedings against a party, including a local authority, in the absence of reprehensible behaviour or an unreasonable stance, should not be subject to an exception in the case of discrete fact-finding hearings.
The question of whether it was just to make an award of costs against a public authority had to be distinguished from the question of whether a litigant’s costs should be publicly funded, which was a matter for Parliament. The current arrangements might lead to injustice for interveners in the position of the grandparents in the present case, but it did not follow that justice demanded that any deficiency in the provision of public funding should be made up from the funds of the local authority responsible for care proceedings. Equally, if in principle a local authority should be liable for the costs of interveners who succeed in showing that factual allegations against them are unfounded, this liability should arise whether or not the interveners were publicly funded.
A local authority has a duty to investigate reports that a child has been subjected to significant harm and, where there are reasonable grounds for believing that they may be well founded, to instigate care proceedings. In this respect the role of the local authority has much in common with that of a prosecuting authority and it is for the court to determine where the truth lies.