Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council (20 000 800)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 08 Dec 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We cannot investigate Mr X’s complaint about how the Council handled events around court proceedings related to his child. The substantive parts of his complaint are out of our jurisdiction because they are about decisions made by the court and the Council’s reports to court. We cannot achieve the outcomes Mr X seeks.

The complaint

  1. Mr X makes several complaints about how the Council handled court proceedings related to where his son should live and who he should have contact with. The complaints include the Council:
    • Gave the court a negative report about him.
    • Did not tell him a court hearing would go ahead virtually after the COVID-19 lockdown began.
    • Did not respond to emails, bullied him, put the phone down on him, was rude and unprofessional and threatened to call the police about him.
  2. His complaint also includes that the court granted special guardianship to his child’s grandparents and a supervision order to the Council.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. 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 we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Mr X provided when he complained to us.
  2. I considered information the Council provided.
  3. I considered Mr X’s comments on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Court proceedings finished in April 2020 relating to Mr X’s son. The court agreed with the Council’s view that the child’s best interests would be served by living with his maternal grandparents and not having contact with his father. As part of those proceedings, the Council had completed an assessment of Mr X’s ability to care for, and have contact with, his son. Mr X was not happy with the content of the report the Council provided to the court. He also says he was not told a hearing would be going ahead virtually and so he was unable to contribute to the hearing.
  2. We cannot consider the substantive parts of Mr X’s complaint as they relate to what happened as part of the court proceedings. Decisions made by the court are not within our jurisdiction. The outcomes Mr X seeks from complaining are not ones we could achieve. He asks us to return the case to court and he seeks contact with his son. These are not within the Ombudsman’s powers.
  3. Mr X says we need to investigate this complaint because his son is at risk. I am satisfied his son’s welfare has been considered by the court. Mr X indicates information about his concerns is present in a report that the court saw. It was the court’s decision to accommodate his son with his grandparents. It is open to Mr X to seek legal advice to take the matter back to the courts, and it is reasonable for him to do so because that is the only route via which he could achieve the outcomes he seeks.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman cannot investigate this complaint. This is because the substantive parts of Mr X’s complaint are out of our jurisdiction as they relate to decisions made by the court, and the Council’s reports to court. We cannot achieve the outcomes Mr X seeks.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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