Williams v Hackney: Real and Voluntary Delegation of Parental Responsibility

To say that interpreting the meaning of the words of section 20 of the Children Act 1989 has been problematic is an understatement. Problematic for social workers and social services departments who want to act quickly to protect children at risk of harm. Problematic for parents who, when faced with the might of the state and threat of proceedings, volunteer, agree or acquiesce to their child being placed in local authority accommodation, often in the most difficult of circumstances. Problematic for lawyers who advise their lay and professional clients as to their rights and options. More problematic still when judges have interpreted the law in subtly different ways, adding a gloss to the black letter of the law.

In Williams and another (Appellants) v London Borough of Hackney (Respondent) [2018] UKSC 37, giving the judgment of the court, Lady Hale PSC clarified the correct interpretation and application of section 20 in different circumstances. There is a re-emphasis, too, on best practice guidance for social workers and a hint for those representing parents as how to best protect their clients’ interests.

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