royal courts of justice

National deprivation of liberty court: Latest data trends

The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO) has released the latest set of data trends emerging from the national deprivation of liberty (DoL) court.

Based at the Royal Courts of Justice, the national DoL court – which was launched by the President of the Family Division in July 2022 – deals with all new applications seeking authorisation to deprive children of their liberty under the inherent jurisdiction and will run for a 12-month pilot phase initially.

The NFJO’s latest briefing highlights high-level data trends during the first nine months of the court pilot. Here’s what they reported.

How many applications are there each month?

Between July 2022 and March 2023, the national DoL court issued a total of 1,035 applications, though this includes repeat applications in 64 cases – for example, to extend an existing order or to vary the current order (e.g. if the child moves placement or additional restrictions on their liberty are sought).

This means that a total of 977 children have been subject to DoL applications at the national DoL court since 4th July, with the NFJO reporting a very small number of applications for sibling groups.

On average, there have been 115 applications per month, with the highest number of applications issued in August (131 applications). In the most recent month, March 2023, there were 126 applications.

The applications were made by 149 different local authorities and 17 other applicants (usually hospital or mental health trusts). Those issued by hospital trusts are usually to authorise restrictions of children’s liberty in hospital when the child may not be in the care of the local authority, or where the local authority is also a party in the case.

How does the number of applications vary by region?

Between July 2022 and March 2023, just over a fifth (21.4%) of all applications were made by local authorities in the North West of England, followed by 17.0% of applications from local authorities in London. Local authorities in the North East have made the fewest number of applications (3.7% of the total). This pattern of regional variation has broadly remained the same since July.

There are multiple possible explanations for this variation, including variation in the number of children in care, variation in the needs of children and families, and variation in access to and the availability of residential or other specialist provision.

How old are the children?

The majority of children (58.2%) involved in applications were aged 15 and above, with a small minority relating to children under the age of 13 (9.4%).

What gender are the children?

The number of girls and boys subject to applications is almost equal (50.7% boys, 49.3% girls) – a pattern that has broadly remained consistent month-by-month during the first six months of the DoL court.

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