By Local Democracy Reporter Simon Finlay
The county’s top legal counsel has struck a defiant tone despite the High Court finding Kent County Council’s cessation of care for children who are seeking asylum is not lawful.
Mr Justice Chamberlain said on Thursday KCC is acting unlawfully by ceasing to accept responsibility for some lone asylum seeking children while continuing to accept other youngsters into its care.
But KCC’s General Counsel Ben Watts lashed out at the “wholly disproportionate strain” currently being placed on Kent.
However, the judge did press the urgency for “negotiation” between the Home Office and KCC, adding: “At the forefront of my mind are the interests of the children in Kent’s care.”
KCC has consistently stated it has been placed in an “impossible position” by shouldering the burden of young people arriving on Kent’s shores, many by small boats, without adequate resources to care for them.
The authority has also argued that the National Transfer Scheme (NTS), which is meant to disperse the children to other local councils, does not work as it should.
Mr Watts, in a confidential email to county councillors and seen by LDRS, wrote: “The wholly disproportionate strain on Kent’s Children’s Services without a properly functioning NTS continues to be unresolved and this was recognised by the High Court.
“The High Court also recognised that Kent should not be criticised for refusing to operate an unsafe service.”
Mr Watts said the court had used the “strict interpretation” of the Children Act because KCC had ceased to provide services to all children.
The email added: “In addition, the High Court has made clear that it expects the Home Office to work with Kent to resolve issues relating to the NTS and expects parties to return to court with a resolution very soon.
“This is an important step for the council in getting some oversight on the Home Office to utilise powers open to them in designing a scheme that will operate properly.”
LDRS revealed earlier this month that KCC was taking the Home Secretary Suella Braverman to court to seek a judicial review on the NTS scheme.
Mr Watts also stated: “The council is clear that we are in an impossible position choosing between competing statutory duties. We have also been consistent that a fully effective and mandated NTS would allow the council to be fully compliant with our statutory duties once more.
“The (NTS) scheme needs to work properly in order for Kent to be able to support all new arrivals from Dover whilst at the same time make sure that those already in Kent’s care are safe.”
At the High Court on July 27, Mr Justice Chamberlain also ruled that the Home Office’s use of hotels to house lone asylum seeking children has been unlawful.
The charity Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT) took legal action against the Home Office over its use of hotels, claiming the arrangements are not fit for purpose.
The judge ruled: “It cannot be used systematically or routinely in circumstances where it is intended, or functions in practice, as a substitute for local authority care.”
According to reports, the Home Office has agreed to “continue” to work with KCC and other local authorities in the UK to ensure suitable placements for asylum seeking children.