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North Yorkshire County Council (22 002 767)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 09 Jun 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We cannot investigate this complaint about what the Council disclosed and evidence it withheld negatively affecting a court case. The matters complained of are not separable from the court process and either were or could have been raised in court.

The complaint

  1. Ms X said the Council submitted unredacted data about her to court, which her abuser then used against her and shared with others. She said the Council used information to negatively characterise her in court, and knew the data was not accurate or correct. She said the Council hid information from the court that showed her mental health was no of concern, but that she needed practical support. She said social workers carried out illegal unannounced visits and called her by ‘phone when there was no open case. She said she was wrongly placed on a child in need plan, and she was encouraged to find alternative care for her children when she was physically unwell. She said the Council failed to deal with her complaint properly.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We cannot investigate a complaint if someone has started court action about the matter. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)
  2. The courts have said that where someone has used their right of appeal, reference or review or remedy by way of proceedings in any court of law, the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction to investigate. This is the case even if the appeal did not or could not provide a complete remedy for all the injustice claimed. (R v The Commissioner for Local Administration ex parte PH (1999) EHCA Civ 916)
  3. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)
  4. 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 [2006] EHWCC 2847 (Admin))

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information provided by the complainant.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.

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My assessment

  1. It is clear from Ms X’s complaint that there has been court action. Some of the points relate directly to the court process, such as submitting documents to court or withholding information from the court, as well as how the Council characterised Ms X in court. The other matters are also related to the decisions of the Council about Ms X and her children, which either were or could have been raised in court. Only a court could deal with matters left out of a previous court process.

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Final decision

  1. We cannot investigate Ms X’s complaint because:
  • The matters she complains of are not separable from matters that either were of could have been raised during a court process;
  • It would be reasonable for Ms X to return to court regarding any matters outstanding after the previous process; and
  • We cannot investigate the Council’s handling of a complaint about matters outside our jurisdiction.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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