Disputed respite care for Ultra-Orthodox Jewish boys: A and B

In A and B (Minors: placement, faith) [2021] EWHC 455 (Admin), two brothers of a family of Charedi Jews in north Manchester, acting through their uncle and litigation friend M, challenged Manchester City Council’s decision to offer them respite placement in Birtenshaw, a secular residential home in Greater Manchester, instead of in Bayis Sheli, an exclusively Orthodox Jewish residential home in London. A was 15, turning 16 in June 2021; B was 11 years, turning 12 in September 2021 [11]: they both had medical and behavioural conditions that required a very high level of supervision [12, 13 & 14].

The claimants contended that if placed in Birtenshaw, the boys would be unable to manifest their strict Orthodox Jewish faith by complying with kashrut and fully observing Shabbat and the festivals. The issues were whether or not the decision was public law unreasonable, in the context of the statutory background of Part III Children Act 1989 (CA) and whether or not it contravened Articles 8, 9 and/or 14 ECHR and/or relevant provisions of the Equality Act 2010 [2]. Manchester City Council did not challenge the boys’ right to manifest their strict Orthodox Judaism and had worked closely with Birtenshaw to prepare a care plan that would enable them to manifest their faith at Birtenshaw as far as practicable [4].

There had been close dialogue and co-operation between all parties, assisted by the family’s Rabbi, with a view to seeking agreement. The claimants and their Rabbi were not opposed in principle to placement at Birtenshaw and the Council was not opposed in principle to placement at Bayis Sheli [4].  Nor did the Council have any objection to Bayis Sheli on grounds of comparative cost [5]. The issues dividing them were whether a placement at Birtenshaw would sufficiently allow the boys to manifest their faith and whether the advantages of placement near the family home and schools outweighed the advantages of placement at Bayis Sheli, where they would be fully able to manifest their faith [5]. The primary problem with Birtenshaw was that it could not secure the regular attendance of a mashgiach who would ensure that food was prepared in compliance with the strict observance of kashrut required by Charedim [21-23].

HHJ Stephen Davies said that there were important differences between the position of the two boys. It was agreed that A should have a 12-week placement for assessment with some weekend home-stays or visits: ‘The only two issues are whether the placement should be at Bayis Sheli or at Birtenshaw and whether it should be under s.20(1)(c) or s.20(4) CA 1989’ [8]. It was now agreed that B should remain at home pro tem, though the Council proposed a fortnightly overnight respite stay at Birtenshaw and the claimants proposed a fortnightly full weekend stay at Bayis Sheli, together with respite placement at Bayis Sheli during school holidays, and there was also a disagreement as to whether B’s placement should be under s.20(1)(c) or s.17(6) CA 1989.

He concluded:

(a) that the Council’s decision in relation to A, to offer a 12-week assessment placement at Birtenshaw, was public law unlawful and in breach of his ECHR rights, and

(b) that the Council’s decision in relation to B, to offer a once a fortnight overnight stay at Birtenshaw, was neither public law unlawful nor in breach of his ECHR rights nor contrary to the terms of the Equality Act 2010 [9].

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Disputed respite care for Ultra-Orthodox Jewish boys: A and B" in Law & Religion UK, 4 March 2021, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2021/03/04/disputed-respite-care-for-ultra-orthodox-jewish-boys-a-and-b/

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