Ed Balls’ statement in response to today’s Supreme Court decision

Ed Balls MP, the former Children’s Secretary, said in response to today’s Supreme Court decision:

“I am very surprised and concerned by the Supreme Court’s decision to refuse to hear this appeal.

“I fear that the Appeal Court judgment will now make it very difficult for Ministers to act swiftly in the public interest to use their statutory powers when children are at risk, as I did in this case. This judgment creates a serious and worrying constitutional ambiguity which now requires urgent action from the government to resolve.

“My clear responsibility and duty as Secretary of State was to do everything in my power to keep children safe in Haringey and across the country.

“The independent inspectors’ report, which I commissioned, catalogued catastrophic management failures on such a devastating scale that the leader of the Council and the lead member for children’s services felt the need to resign. I judged on the basis of that independent report – and on the advice of departmental officials and lawyers – that the right and responsible course of action was for me to use my statutory powers to remove the Director of Children’s Services from her position with immediate effect.

“It was my judgement as Secretary of State, on the basis of that report alone, that this was essential to maintain public confidence in children’s services in Haringey and across the country.

“At every stage I acted fully on the advice of the civil service and government lawyers and within my obligations and responsibilities in statute. In so doing I used powers granted to the Secretary of State in the Education Act which Parliament intended ministers to exercise in circumstances where child protection required the immediate removal and replacement of a Director of Children’s Services.

“The decision about whether or not to employ Sharon Shoesmith was a matter for Haringey Council and them alone. And because this was not an issue about Ms Shoesmith’s employment, which was a matter for Haringey Council, I was advised by the Department that it would not be appropriate for me to have a meeting with her.

“Ministers need to be able to exercise their legal duties and make judgements in the public interest based on independent analysis and advice. That is what I did – and I am concerned that this judgment will make it harder for ministers to do so in future.

“It is the view of the Appeal Court that I should have had a personal meeting with Sharon Shoesmith – after I received the report from the independent inspectors and before making my decision. That is not the process which the law set out or what the Department’s lawyers and experts advised at the time.

“I believe it is now essential that the government acts swiftly to resolve this ambiguity, through primary legislation if necessary, to ensure that Ministers can act swiftly and within the law when children are at risk.

“But no amount of legal debate can bring back a little boy, Baby Peter, who was cruelly abused by his mother and her partner and died after great suffering. He was badly let down by all those who were responsible for his safety. His death shocked and appalled millions of people across the country who could not believe he suffered for so long without help from the services that were supposed to keep him safe.”

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Posted August 2nd, 2011 by Ed's team