Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 20 Jan 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman cannot investigate Mr X’s complaint about the Council’s preparation, service and content of a Court ordered report. The report forms part of legal proceedings and the law prevents us from investigating legal proceedings.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, complains about the preparation, service and content of a Court report prepared for Court proceedings. And an email an officer sent to his children’s mother.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We cannot investigate a complaint about the start of court action or what happened in court. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5/5A, paragraph 1/3, as amended)
- We have the power to start or discontinue an investigation into a complaint within our jurisdiction. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we think the issues could reasonably be, or have been, raised within a court of law. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 24A(6) and 34B(8), as amended)
- The Courts have said that we cannot investigate a complaint about any action by a council, concerning a matter which is itself out of our jurisdiction. (R (on the application of M) v Commissioner for Local Administration  EHWCC 2847 (Admin))
- We normally expect someone to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner if they have a complaint about data protection. However, we may decide to investigate if we think there are good reasons. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word 'fault' to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe there is another body better placed to consider this complaint. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information Mr X provided with his complaint which included the Council’s responses. I considered Mr X’s comments on a draft version of this decision including during a telephone conversation.
What I found
- Mr X has four children. In April 2018 he applied to Court for an order to enforce a previous Court order which set out his contact with his children. The Court ordered the Council to provide a report on the children’s welfare and circumstances. This is called a section seven report.
- Mr X complained to the Council in July 2018. He said the Council had not provided the report within the Court named times. He said the Council prepared the report poorly and its contents were inaccurate and unfair.
- The Council replied to Mr X’s complaint in September 2018. Mr X asked the Council to escalate his complaint. It did and considered it within its Children Act required complaints procedure.
- The law sets out a three stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services. At stage 2 of this procedure, the Council appoints an Investigating Officer and an Independent Person (who is responsible for overseeing the investigation). If a complainant is unhappy with the result of the stage 2 investigation, they can ask for a stage 3 review. If a council has investigated something under this procedure, the Ombudsman would not normally re-investigate it unless he considers that investigation was flawed. However, he may look at whether a council properly considered the findings and recommendations of the independent investigation.
- The Council held the stage 3 review in September 2019.
- Mr X says his complaint should have not been necessary, partly because he had a previous complaint about events in 2007-09. He feels the Council has carried out the same errors.
- Mr X also says his complaint is about an email a Council officer sent the children’s mother in April 2018. He says it contains inaccurate information about him.
- We cannot investigate the preparation, service or content of a report the Court ordered the Council provide it. We also cannot investigate how the Council replied to a complaint about that report.
- Parliament set up the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to consider if bodies have breached the Data Protection Act. Providing inaccurate information to a third party can be a Data Protection Act breach. It is reasonable to expect Mr X to complain to the ICO who are better placed to decide this part of his complaint.
- Subject to any comments Mr X might make, my view is the Ombudsman cannot investigate this complaint. This is because we cannot investigate reports ordered by a Court.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman