An article in Local Government Lawyer outlines the principles around giving children in care immunisations whilst the local authority shares parental responsibility.

The piece, which is very well explained, was written by barrister Sarah Fahy, and offers the backdrop behind immunisations for children in care, as well as the correct approach to them as set out in Re SL (Permission to Vaccinate) [2017] EWHC 125 (Fam).  

As Sarah explains, immunisations in England are not compulsory, and every parent has the right to refuse having their child immunised. Difficulties around consent and refusal come into play once a local authority shares parental responsibility with a parent, over a child inside the care system.

The underlying principle in cases like these is that where a parent objects to the council giving their child a vaccination, the council may not go ahead and immunise that child whilst the objection exists. 

The correct approach in this instance is set down below:

  • The local authority may not apply for a specific issue order as of right.
  • First, the council must apply for declaratory relief as to whether it is in the best interest of the child to receive the immunisation/s in question.
  • When applying, the local authority has to apply for leave to do so and the court must consider the criteria under s.100(4) Children Act 1989.
  • Expert opinion must be brought in over the immunisation/s, the risks they pose, possible side effects to any child in question and their circumstances and the benefits of the immunisations being sought.
  • The court has to give proper weight to the views of the parents.
  • The child’s welfare and what is in their best interests must be the court’s paramount consideration.
  • The court has to be convinced that the benefits of the immunisation(s) outweighs the risks to the specific circumstances and/or health history of the child in question. Any alleged harm and/or risks need to be evidenced by the party alleging them, for example, where there is a family history of bad reactions to immunisations.
  • A decision by the court to authorise immunisation where there is parental objection is an interference with their Article 8 rights. As a result, the court has to be satisfied that the interference is lawful, necessary and proportionate to protect the child’s best interests.
  • Any order that the court makes should set out the list of immunisations that the court has determined are in the child’s best interests to receive.

Many thanks to Dana for alerting us to this article.

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