A local authority and its legal team have been hauled over the coals for the failure to produce key documents until after a hearing had begun.
In KI, R (On the Application Of) v London Borough of Brent, it was revealed that the council was forced to provide around 400 unredacted documents to the claimant’s legal team during a lunchtime adjournment of the one-day hearing.
The case was an application for judicial review of the decision to refuse to recognise the claimant as a child in need requiring accommodation.
David Elvin QC, sitting as a deputy judge of the High Court, said it was clear Brent Council had not given an accurate picture of the material facts. Procedures ensuring lawyers complied with a duty of candour were absent, and he recorded ‘inadequate supervision’ of the drafting of a statement from a related child’s allocated social worker.
The judge said the council’s legal department was dependent on the provision of information through its data protection team, and documents were only requested by council lawyers two weeks after the social worker’s statement was filed.
The council advised the court that staff had been ‘overly cautious’ about redactions and a full investigation was underway as to why information was not disclosed for so long.
But Elvin said these difficulties could not justify the failure of the legal department to properly review the material disclosed in the four months between the making of the claim and the hearing.
The judge said there was ‘no excuse’ for disclosure failings and that a duty of candour should apply to public authorities who are defendants as much as to any claimant.
He said: ‘It is the responsibility of the lawyers involved in such cases to ensure that all those involved in the authority are aware of the duty of candour and comply with it.’
Elvin ruled the claim succeeded on two grounds. The council stated in its written submissions on the candour issues it would address the court after a meeting this week to consider the issue of disclosure between the various local authority departments, to identify procedures ‘that will ensure that effective and timely disclosure is given in judicial review cases’.
Felicity Williams, instructed by G T Stewart Solicitors and Advocates, represented the claimant. David Carter, instructed by the London Borough of Brent, appeared on behalf of the defendant.