ZB and DB Judgement
The High Court has awarded damages to our clients, ZB and DB to compensate them for breaches of their right to education under Article 2 Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”) in the case of R (ZB & DB) (by their mother and litigation friend, Princess Bell) v London Borough of Croydon  EWHC 489 (Admin). As part of the case, the children (who are both profoundly disabled) had also been placed in a residential setting that meets their needs, where they have remained since.
ZB and DB had been living in the borough of Croydon since October 2020 with their mother and younger sibling, in woefully inadequate accommodation provided by the London Borough of Lambeth. Neither child had been to school for a number of years, but despite the fact that Croydon bore responsibility for both educating our clients and providing them with social care support, it did not secure any effective education for them or support that met their needs until after we issued judicial review proceedings.
Shortly after we issued judicial review proceedings, we obtained urgent interim relief from the Court on 28 July 2022, resulting in both ZB and DB being placed in The Children’s Trust School (“TCT”). ZB’s placement had to be compelled by way of interim Court order, while in the case of DB, Croydon agreed shortly before the permission hearing to place him in TCT, but crucially not ZB, a seemingly arbitrary decision which would have resulted in unnecessary separation of two siblings who were very close to each other.
Handing down judgment on 7 March 2023, Jason Coppel KC noted both children “have had excellent care and some education, which had been lacking for some considerable time before they moved to TCT”.
In finding that Croydon breached our clients’ right to education by neglecting to make effective arrangements for them to attend school, including failing to provide suitable transport, the judge noted that they had not had any education for over 16 months, which “would be a lengthy period for any child to be out of education but would have had a particularly significant impact on DB and ZB given their lack of social contact in their day to day lives. It is little short of heart-breaking to contemplate the plight of the children during this period, when they were housebound… for weeks if not months on end”.
While the court did not agree to make declarations that Croydon had been in continuing breach of its duty to secure lawful arrangements for the education of, and social care support for, the children, it appears the judge’s reasoning was based on the fact that any such breaches had “been superseded, as a result of the placement of the children at TCT”, which the judge acknowledged was “a principal objective of the present claim”.
As TCT is an educational placement, it will be a matter for the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability) to decide whether they will be able to attend TCT as residential pupils in the long term. However, we are delighted to have secured their placement in the first place, putting an end to the chronic situation in which our clients had found themselves in manifestly inadequate housing with no proper social care support or meaningful education, and to have secured a clear ruling that Croydon’s conduct violated their human right to education. Damages for breach of Article 2 Protocol 1 ECHR are unusual and rarely reported, so we hope this judgment will provide useful guidance on what constitutes a violation.
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