Hertfordshire County Council (17 020 100)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 16 Apr 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about a report produced by the Council. This is because the report was produced for court proceedings and has been used in court. The matter complained about is therefore outside the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction with no discretion to investigate.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, complains about a Section 7 report produced by the Council which has been used in court.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  2. 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)
  3. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered Mr X’s complaint to the Ombudsman and spoke with him on the telephone. I gave Mr X the opportunity to comment on my draft decision and considered his response.

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What I found

  1. Under Section 7 of the Children Act 1989, a court may ask a council to provide a report about the welfare of any child who is the subject of court proceedings.
  2. Mr X complains about a Section 7 report produced by the Council following allegations made by his wife. The report was used during court proceedings. Mr X represented himself in court. He says he did not have the opportunity to challenge the report’s contents because he was intimidated by the process. Mr X is worried his wife will use the report in future court proceedings.
  3. The law prevents the Ombudsman from considering what happens in court. A Section 7 report is produced at the request of a court and for use in court. It is not the property of the Council and the Ombudsman cannot consider its content or any potential fault in how it was produced. It was open to Mr X to challenge the report and the testimony of council officers as part of the court proceedings. If the report is used in future legal proceedings, Mr X will need to challenge its contents in court. The Ombudsman has no jurisdiction to consider this mater.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman cannot investigate Mr X’s complaint. This is because we have no powers to look at matters which have been considered in court.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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