Monitoring and supervision of children and vulnerable adults is normal and good practice in a range of
circumstances where failure to monitor and supervise them would be negligent. It therefore logically
follows that deprivation of liberty must sometimes be reasonable, proportionate, and necessary, even
outside of secure provision. The key issue is that it must be authorised. That already becomes a
statutory requirement once a young person reaches their 16th birthday, under the Mental Health Act
This caused considerable confusion after the 2014 Supreme Court defined deprivation of liberty as
1. Anyone who is subject to continuous supervision and control.
2. Anyone who is not free to leave.
The Supreme Court definition has become known as the ‘Acid Test’ for deprivation of liberty. The
definition was deliberately broad, as it was intended to encompass the liberty safeguards of as many
adults as possible. The implications for children and young people were not recognised immediately.
Aspects of the school or home’s physical environment could also mean that individuals are deprived of
It means, in effect, that all children are deprived of their liberty at some time in their lives. They all
begin life under constant supervision and control, unable to leave home and entirely depended on
adults. As they grow and develop, the supervision and control is relaxed and becomes fluctuating and
intermittent. They are allowed certain freedoms, including the freedom to leave at times. Some children
are only allowed out under supervision. Some are allowed out at certain times of the day without
supervision. Others are allowed to come and go as they please and stay out all night. Whether or not
such restrictions are reasonable and proportionate depends on the age and understanding of the
In the case of those young people who are 16 or 17 years of age, currently only the Court of
Protection can authorise deprivations of liberty, under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. For people aged
18+, applications can be made to the relevant local authority under Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards
The best interests of children and young people are best protected by open, honest and transparent
guidance and practice. The Lords Select Committee told the government this system was not working
and was not fit for purpose in 2014. Between 2014 and 2016 children’s services lobbied the government
and Ofsted, pointing out that the current system was unworkable and that local authorities were not
even seeking authorisation for young people aged between 16 and 18 years. In March 2017 the Law
Liberty Safeguards Planning April 1 2017
Commission called for changes in the law to reduced pointless bureaucracy and emphasise liberty
It is not good practice, nor is it necessary, to wait until a Deprivation of Liberty has taken place before
requesting formal authorisation. Instead, it remains good practice to ensure that liberty is safeguarded
by planning ahead whenever there are arrangements in place which might foreseeably result in a
deprivation of liberty - even a temporary one. Those arrangements should be set out in detail in
Education Health and Care plans (EHCPs) and reviewed annually.
The Law Commission has recommended that the government should legislate to allow such
arrangements to be formally authorised, normally by the Responsible Local Authority, before the young
person’s 16th birthday. This means that Liberty Safeguarding Arrangements should already be detailed
in Education Health and Care plans in the years approaching the legal transition at 16.
For children and young people under the age of 16 years, the term Gillick Competence is used in place
of Mental Capacity, to describe their age and stage of development. Both terms can be used in plans
which set out liberty safeguarding arrangements.
Fluctuating Competence/Capacity & The Doctrine of Emergency
Even when people have fluctuating competence/capacity, and do not require constant deprivations of
liberty, as defined in the Acid Test, arrangements which could result in any temporary deprivations of
liberty should be clearly set out in Education Health and Care plans.
The Law Commission recommends the use of the term “of unsound mind”, as it is used in the
European Convention on Human Rights (EHCR), to describe intermittent or fluctuating capabilities/
capacity. The arrangements need to be planned, set out in detail, and authorised by the relevant
authority, even if they are rarely called upon.
There may be a range of circumstances, in which a dynamic risk assessment determines that older
children, or younger adults, lack capacity in the short term. For example, somebody under the influence
of alcohol or drugs, suffering from hypothermia, a head injury or a blood sugar imbalance, or suffering
extreme emotional distress, may lack capacity in the short term. In such an emergency there is a
positive duty to do whatever is immediately necessary to prevent a serious deterioration in the physical
or mental well being of the child or adult concerned.