Friday 26 February 2010

The Khyra Ishaq case: yet another avoidable tragedy

Khyra Ishaq was aged 7 when she starved to death in squalid conditions in Birmingham.  Khyra's siblings have been the subject of care proceedings and the judge, Mrs Justice King, concluded that, in all probability, Khyra would not have died had there been an adequate initial assessment by social services and proper adherence by educational welfare services to their own guidance.  The Birmingham Local Safeguarding Children Board have yet to complete a Serious Case review.  The Department for Children, Schools and Families has made this statement.

Khyra's mother (Angela Gordon) and her partner (Junaid Abuhamza) stand convicted of manslaughter.  Pleas of guilty to manslaughter based on diminished responsibility were accepted - (during the sixth week of a re-trial) -  after psychiatric reports were presented.  They are to be sentenced in the near future.

The reality is that we have a good legal structure for protecting children and yet these tragedies continue to occur.  How to prevent them appears to be the elusive issue and, no doubt, the reviews will lead to yet more recommendations.

Key elements in the cases often seem to be that concerns were not thoroughly investigated or that legal proceedings were not commenced soon enough.  The child at risk of "significant harm" can be protected by the obtaining of an interim care order.  It is not necessary to wait for actual harm to occur since "likelihood" of significant harm suffices.  Whilst local authorities have (as public bodies) to consider the Right to Respect for Private Family Life (Article 8 European Convention on Human Rights), initiation of proceedings is sometimes delayed until there is a considerable amount of evidence available and, sometimes, much more evidence than  would justify a finding of likelihood of significant harm under the Children Act 1989 s.31.

See Daily Telegraph 26th February 2010.  One side-effect of this case might turn out to be restrictions imposed on home-schooling - Daily Telegraph.


  1. Thank you for your clear outline of the fact that *under current legislation* the local authorities had enough powers to prevent this tragedy.
    As a parent, my heart bleeds for Khyra and other children in potentially similar situations.
    As a home educator I am shocked at the way this case is used to try and force draconian measures onto us. If Balls cs get their way with the CSF Bill it would reverse the "innocent until proven guilty" principle, and it would make the state - instead of parents - responsible for the education of children.
    I fear poor Khyra has not only been failed and abused while alive, but even after her tragic death.

  2. It is not possible to prevent all such incidents. So preventing all such crimes cannot be a legitimate goal, and pursuing it can only lead to tragedy, like all hubris.

    Increasing the power of the state, either explicitly with legislation, by increasing bureaucratic intervention, or by encouraging courts to favour the state's ambitions in this area, will only lead to terrible abuses by the state, to little or no benefit to any child.

    How will tragedy manifest itself? Perhaps the neglect of so many children who are allowed go grow up in children's homes with no discipline or guidance as to right and wrong, or adult care workers actively abusing children in care, or horrendous bureaucratic blunders of social workers who have only the children in mind.

    Before asking for any extension of powers to remove children, or any more activity in using existing powers, we should consider the terrible events of Cleveland and Orkney.

    The undue deference shown to state agencies in those cases had a real and terrible impact on both children and adults. Yet I doubt that the relatively free hand they had saved a single child from any serious harm.

  3. It amazes me that the government continues to assert that they need more powers to intervene in HE families when they have so clearly failed to use the powers already granted them in such cases. It appears that they believe it is possible to better identify the guilty if they oppress the innocent. That never works. As a home educator who has used autonomous methods since the year after I withdrew my children from school, I can honestly say that my life would have been very difficult if I were compelled to give access to the inspectors. As it was, I allowed one inspection and then insisted on providing reports. What's saddest is that the people who would have most to gain from autonomous methods - those with a poor level of education themelves - are the ones most likely to be persuaded to drop it.

    It will be interesting to see how case law develops once substantial numbers of Home educators are prosecuted, which seems very likely if large numbers pursue the course of civil disobedience if the new measures become law.

  4. Many thanks for the interesting comments. The legal powers to intervene in family life are there but there are problems in the investigative stages (fact-finding) and in the processes leading up to initiation of proceedings. Also, some recent case law has made it rather more difficult for local authorities (and other applicants) to obtain emergency protection orders. There is now a greater emphasis on the Article 8 rights of the family (including parents) and more EPO applications are now contested hearings. We seem to need not so much more power but more effective use of what power there is.

    Fee - I suspect that the review into HE will not make it unlawful but it is likely to make it much harder and probably a lot more expensive.

  5. Thanks for your info. Increasing the power of the state, either explicitly with legislation, by increasing bureaucratic intervention, or by encouraging courts to favour the state's ambitions in this area, will only lead to terrible abuses by the state, to little or no benefit to any child.

    Best Attorney