This briefing describes the laying of the Statutory Instrument, its content, reaction from the sector, and the consultation on extending some its regulations.

The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 came into force on 24 April 2020. The regulations temporarily amend 10 sets of regulations relating to children’s social care in England. The Government in the associated Explanatory Memorandum said the changes are intended to help local authorities to “prioritise the needs of children, whilst relaxing some administrative and procedural obligations…but maintaining appropriate safeguards” during the coronavirus outbreak.

A debate was held in the House of Commons on Wednesday 10 June 2020. The Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, had tabled a prayer to annul the Negative Statutory Instrument as an early day motion (Number 445) on 4 May 2020. Upon being put to a vote at the conclusion of the debate, the motion that a humble address praying the Statutory Instrument be annulled, was defeated.

The regulations provide for the amendments to be in place until 25 September 2020. In a written statement of 14 July 2020, the Minister, Vicky Ford, said that, subject to a short consultation, “the overwhelming majority of these regulations will expire as planned on 25 September”. The statement also noted that the regulations had been “rarely used and only in response to coronavirus”.

The Government has, however, said it seeks, subject to consultation, to extend the temporary regulations in certain areas (in relation to virtual visits, the frequency of Ofsted inspections, and medical reports during the adoptions process). The Government has said that any extensions would be made via a new Statutory Instrument which will be laid before the House 21 days before it comes into effect.

The High Court is due to consider a judicial review brought by the charity Article 39 against the Regulations on 27 and 28 July 2020 on grounds including that they are contrary to the objects and purpose of primary legislation, and against the Education Secretary’s general duty to promote the well-being of children in England.

This briefing describes the laying of the Statutory Instrument, its content, and reaction from the sector. It includes commentary from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, the Children’s Commissioner for England, and charity organisations.

The briefing also references reports from the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Committee and the Joint Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. The Joint Committee sought to draw “the special attention of both Houses to these Regulations on the grounds that they require elucidation in three respects and are defectively drafted in one respect” and the House of Lords Committee expressed “regrets that the Children’s Commissioner, amongst others, was not consulted and that guidance was not published earlier” on the regulations.