Local authorities have been told to stop running to the High Court every time a child vaccination dispute arises as the court's time could be better spent dealing with urgent family matters.
The Court of Appeal said the case in Re H (A Child) (Parental Responsibility: Vaccination), handed down this week, provided an opportunity to ensure further delay and public expense in similar cases could be avoided.
The appeal court was asked to identify the proper procedural route that local authorities should adopt when vaccination disputes arise with parents of a child in care.
Giving the lead judgment, Lady Justice King said it was ‘axiomatic’ that local authorities must involve parents in decision-making and take their views into account. The Children Act 1989, she said, ‘is not an invitation to local authorities to ride roughshod over the wishes of parents whose children are in care’. However, a parent's application to seek an injunction with a view to preventing a child being vaccinated ‘is unlikely to succeed unless there is put before the court in support of that application cogent, objective medical and/or welfare evidence demonstrating a genuine contra-indication to the administration of one or all of the routine vaccinations’.
The administration of standard or routine vaccinations is not a ‘serious’ or ‘grave’ matter, Lady Justice King said. ‘Except where there are significant features which suggest that, unusually, it may not be in the best interests of a child to be vaccinated, it is neither necessary nor appropriate for a local authority to refer the matter to the High Court in every case where a parent opposes the proposed vaccination of their child. To do so involves the expenditure of scarce time and resources by the local authority, the unnecessary instruction of expert medical evidence and the use of High Court time which could be better spent dealing with one of the urgent and serious matters which are always awaiting determination in the Family Division.’
Lady Justice King ruled that the declaration that the local authority has lawful authority to make arrangements for vaccinating the child stands, notwithstanding the parents’ objections. Lord Justice McCombe and Lord Justice Peter Jackson agreed.