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Court of Appeal say no judicial power to order Court to pay for legal costs

 

Very grateful to Noel Arnold of Coram Legal Child’s Centre for alerting me to this.  You may be aware that post LASPO, there will be parents who will have to represent themselves in court proceedings who would previously have got free legal representation.

The Courts have been concerned for some time about cases in which it would seem to be a breach of article 6 to make a parent represent themselves, and particularly where that would involve a parent cross-examining a child or their former partner about abuse.  The provision in LASPO SHOULD capture those cases and grant exceptional funding where there’s a potential breach of human rights, but in practice it just isn’t happening.

The President has done a few of these cases and pushed the Legal Aid Agency to the brink, by saying that if they didn’t provide funding, he would order that the costs of legal representation should be paid by the Court. Up until now, the Legal Aid Agency have folded (but only in the cases before the President, which is not ideal)

Well now, in Re K-H (children) 2015, they didn’t fold, the Court made an order that a lawyer be provided and paid for by the Court service. The Lord Chancellor appealed it. And the Court of Appeal agreed that there was NO POWER to do that.

 

That leaves us all in a mess. The only thing that the Court can really do now is give a judgment that it would be a breach of article 6 to proceed – but where does that leave the case?  Can the Court make a decision that the Court itself has breached father’s article 6 rights and make an order that the Court pay compensation?  (allowing the money to then be used by the father to pay a lawyer?)   Almost certainly not.

I can’t get the link to the judgment to work at present to chew over the detail, but here is the Children’s Legal Centre summary.

 

http://www.childrenslegalcentre.com/index.php?page=judgment_in_court_of_appeal_case_in_which_cclc_intervened

 

Incapacity of the Monarch (but really about Lasting Power of Attorney)

 

A quirky Court of Protection case from Senior Judge Lush, who seems to have the most interesting life – all of the cases are intricate and involving, and often with rich little details. I am quite envious.

Re XZ 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2015/35.html

The nub of it is that XZ, who is in his seventies and is a high net worth individual, instructed solicitors to draw up a Lasting Power of Attorney. He wanted to ensure that if he lost capacity, that his affairs would be managed, but he was also wanting to ensure that if it was a temporary blip that he would recover from, that decisions would not be made in that interregnum period that he might later regret having been made on his behalf.

There were thus some unusual and very carefully crafted clauses (the fact that the Lasting Power of Attorney makes express provision for decisions involving more than $25 million indicates that there are some significant affairs under consideration here)

 

  1. Dominic Lawrance, the solicitor who drafted these provisions, described their purpose as follows:

    “The purpose of these safeguards is to ensure that the attorneys do not act (other than in limited emergency situations) until XZ’s incapacity has:

    (a) been unequivocally confirmed by psychiatric evidence that is subject to review by the Protector; and

    (b) has endured for a minimum period of 60 days.

    This has been designed to prevent:

    (a) the attorneys taking hasty actions with which XZ might disagree if his lack of capacity were to prove temporary; and

    (b) the attorneys acting when there remained genuine scope for doubt as to whether XZ indeed lacked capacity.”

  2. At the hearing on 7 May 2015, Mr Lawrance added that these provisions were:

    “… the product of XZ’s specific instructions. He is generally loath to confer discretions and powers on other people. He likes to be ‘in the driving seat’ and was only willing to sign the LPA if these safeguards were in place.”

 

 

When the LPA was lodged with the Public Guardian’s office, the Public Guardian refused to register it, meaning that it would have no effect. The Public Guardian took the view that these restrictions meant that it was not a properly formed LPA.  That then led to the Court being invited to decide it.

 

And here is where the bit about incapacity of the monarch comes in.  I had not previously encountered this bit of legislation, and I like it.

XZ’s counsel, David Rees, compared these provisions with those in the Regency Act 1937. Both include a requirement that a third party, who is not medically qualified, should agree with the medical evidence before the powers conferred on the delegate become exercisable. Section 2 of the Regency Act prescribes the following procedure in the event of the total incapacity of the Sovereign:

“If the following persons or any three or more of them, that is to say, the wife or husband of the Sovereign, the Lord Chancellor, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chief Justice of England, and the Master of the Rolls, declare in writing that they are satisfied by evidence which shall include the evidence of physicians that the Sovereign is by reason of infirmity of mind or body incapable for the time being of performing the royal functions or that they are satisfied by evidence that the Sovereign is for some definite cause not available for the performance of those functions, then, until it is declared in like manner that His Majesty has so far recovered His health as to warrant His resumption of the royal functions or has become available for the performance thereof, as the case may be, those functions shall be performed in the name and on behalf of the Sovereign by a Regent.”

 

It is always nice to be able to say “My client asked for these clauses to be in place, because he wanted similar protection to that provided to the Queen”  –  I don’t imagine the chance to say it arises that often, but if you can deploy it, why not?

So, if the Queen (or any future Monarch) lost their capacity to make decisions, the procedure would mean that on advice of physicians, three or more of the following would need to make a declaration of incapacity – currently Prince Philip, Michael Gove (!), John Bercow (!), the Right Honourable Sir John Thomas, the Right Honourable Lord Dyson. And if three or more of them do that, then the Queen’s functions would be removed from her and given to a Regent.  And she’d only get the powers and functions back if three or more of them agreed.

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s a statutory recipe for a coup in Great Britain. If you wanted to have a coup, that’s your legal route map.

[I’m a bit scared that Michael Gove is one third of the way to being able to seize all power from the Queen, if he can just talk two of the others into becoming ultimate rulers of the UK by his side.  At least it isn’t Grayling I suppose. Given that the Lord Chancellor  could sack the Master of the Rolls and Lord Chief Justice and appoint his own people…I should stop thinking about this]

I am scratching my head as to whether the Mental Capacity Act 2005 with its presumption of capacity disintegrates the Regency Act. The Regency Act is not in the list of repeals. But the Mental Capacity Act 2005 is said to cover people, and there’s no clause that says “people other than a reigning monarch”

 

So I already like the case for raising that bit of constitutional intrigue.

Senior Judge Lush had this to say in relation to why the judgment was published

I can’t imagine that the general public would have the slightest interest in this judgment, but its publication may be of interest to professionals who specialise in this area of the law and draft LPAs on a regular basis, and also to people who are considering making an LPA themselves, and for this reason I shall permit its publication.

 

That rather dampens my spirits, the Judge telling me that the general public won’t be interested, but it interested me.   [And yes, I should get out more]

So, what’s the decision?

  1. XZ acknowledges that his LPA will be less effective because of these provisions but, nevertheless, he wishes them to remain as an integral part of the registered instrument for his own reassurance and peace of mind. Some people may think that this is unwise, but it is his will and preference and it should be treated with respect. The Public Guardian has no right to make a paternalistic judgment on his behalf and decide that it would be in his best interests for these provisions to be severed.
  2. I agree with Mr Rees’s submission that:

    With respect to the Public Guardian, it is no part of his statutory duties to police the practicality or utility of individual aspects of an LPA. In the context of section 23 and Schedule 1, paragraph 11 of the MCA 2005 the phrase “ineffective as part of a lasting power of attorney” clearly means “not capable of taking effect, according to its legal terms as part of an LPA.” Examples of provisions which would be ineffective as part of a power of attorney would include:

    (a) a provision which purported to permit the attorney to make gifts which go beyond the statutory restrictions found at section 12 MCA 2005.

    (b) a provision which purported to go beyond what a person can do by an attorney (such as make a will or vote).

    (c) a provision which purported to permit the attorney to consent to a marriage on behalf of the donor (see MCA section 27(1)(a).

    Neither the court nor the Public Guardian are concerned with whether a restriction that does not contravene the terms of the MCA 2005 may pose practical difficulties in its operation.”

  3. The Public Guardian’s function under paragraph 11 of Schedule 1 to the Act is limited to considering whether the conditions and restrictions are (a) ineffective as part of an LPA or (b) would prevent the instrument from operating as a valid LPA.
  4. If he concludes that they cannot be given legal effect, then he is under a duty to apply to the court for a determination of the point under section 23(1). Otherwise he has a duty to register the power.
  5. Neither Miss Chandoo’s witness statement nor Miss Davidson’s submissions have identified any specific provision in the Mental Capacity Act 2005, or the LPA, EPA and PG Regulations, or the common law of agency that has been infringed by the provisions in XZ’s LPA.
  6. For these reasons, and pursuant to section 23(1) of the Act, I declare that XZ’s LPA does not contain any provisions which: (a) would be ineffective as part of an LPA; or

    (b) would prevent the instrument from operating as a valid power of attorney.

  7. I also order the Public Guardian to register the LPA.

ISIS and children being taken to Syria

I have to say, even after years and years of doing child protection law, I never actually thought I’d see cases in Court where parents were trying to get their children to become terrorists and fight in a war. But we are seeing these cases, and as I understand it, the reported cases are the tip of an iceberg.

If you are advising someone in this situation, or advising a Local Authority where such a thing is suspected, the President’s decision in Re M (Children) 2015 is going to be mandatory reading. It is particularly useful since it sets out in detail the orders made to protect the children and to recover them, and is an excellent route-map for future cases. Rather than drafting from scratch and having to invent what needs to be done  (and I’ve an inkling of just how hard that is in such cases), there’s now a source for how to assemble a workable order that will do the job.

 

https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/re_m_20_5_152.pdf

There is one final point I must emphasise in this connection. It is the point made by Hayden J in the Tower Hamlets case (para 18(iv)):
“All involved must recognise that in this particular process it is the interest of the individual child that is paramount. This cannot be eclipsed by wider considerations of counter terrorism policy or operations, but it must be recognised that the decision the court is being asked to take can only be arrived at against an informed understanding of that wider canvas.”

There’s a very good summary by Marilyn Stowe here, and I recommend that also  http://www.marilynstowe.co.uk/2015/05/21/high-court-considers-family-who-vanished-with-their-children/

 

All agencies worked amazingly quickly and creatively to get these children back into the UK and save them from what would really be unthinkable, that they be pushed by their parents into taking up arms in a war zone.

An argument about publication of a judgment

 

Wigan Borough Council v Fisher and Others 2015

Again, Mr Justice Peter Jackson

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/34.html

I think this is the first reported authority on how to deal with transparency and publication of a judgment where one party objects, following the President’s transparency guidelines. The first and most important thing to say is that the High Court held this:-The question of whether a judgment should be published is an integral part of the proceedings from which it arises and I consider that where a party is legally aided, any work that is necessary to contribute to the court’s decision on publication should normally be covered by the party’s legal aid certificate.There were care proceedings about a little girl named A, who was in foster care but eventually went back to live with her mother. The central theme of those proceedings was the very tragic death of A’s sister Evie.

  • The proceedings arose because of the death of A’s sister Evie at the age of sixteen weeks on 21 February 2013. During her short life, she had sustained a number of serious injuries.
  • My fact-finding judgment was given on 6 December 2013 at the end of a hearing lasting eight days, during which each parent blamed the other for Evie’s injuries. My conclusion was that they had been caused by the father and that the mother should be exonerated. There was no appeal and the proceedings ended.
  • Mr Thomas was then prosecuted for causing grievous bodily harm to Evie. On 29 October 2014, he was acquitted by a jury at Liverpool Crown Court. The trial was reported in the press.
  • On the day of his acquittal, Mr Thomas gave an interview to a journalist in which he said “All I ever wanted to do … was to prove my innocence and now I have done that.” This interview, illustrated with a photograph of Mr Thomas holding a photograph of Evie, was published in the Wigan Observer and in the Daily Mail.
  • On 9 December 2014, a Coroner’s inquest reached an open conclusion, formerly known as an open verdict

 

The issue of whether the fact-finding judgment should be published was therefore an important and live one. Firstly, the name and face of the father was known to the media, as was Evie. Secondly, there was public interest in what had happened to Evie. Thirdly, the combination of the care proceedings (which remained confidential), a criminal trial (which was in the newspapers) and an inquest (which had been reported) might lead people to erroneously conclude that if the father had not hurt Evie then mother must have done.  Equally, however, father who had put himself in the public domain after having been found Not Guilty in a jury trial would obviously not want a finding of fact judgment which held that he was responsible for Evie’s death coming into the public domain.

 

  • To avoid the risk of prejudice to the criminal proceedings, I had deferred a decision on the publication of the fact-finding judgment. In November 2014, when those proceedings had ended, the parties referred the matter back to me. They initially suggested that an anonymised version of the judgment could be published, edited in such a way as to protect A’s identity.
  • I did not consider that this was realistic. The criminal trial and the Coroner’s inquest had taken place in public and substantial information about the family and the surrounding events had appeared in the press. This information was to all intents and purposes the same as that considered in greater detail in the family proceedings, except that this court’s conclusions were not reported. It would therefore be impossible for an anonymised fact-finding judgment to be published without it immediately being linked with this family. I therefore asked the parties for further written submissions by 13 January on the following possibilities:

 

(a) That the judgment should not be published at all.(b) That it should be published in an un-anonymised form.

(c)  That it should be published in an un-anonymised form, accompanied by a reporting restriction order preventing the identification of A (in which case an application would have to be made and the media notified in accordance with the Practice Direction).

(d) That it should be published in an anonymised form with workable accompanying directions that could be understood by the media. 

 

The Judge discussed the transparency guidance and the purpose of it

 

  • A salient purpose of the guidance is to promote understanding of and confidence in the proceedings of the Family Court. But beneficial though that goal is, it is not an end in itself. Rather, it is part of a necessary process to ensure that the rights of individuals and the public, referred to above, are properly balanced. That cannot happen if confidentiality in the proceedings of the Family Court, a public body, is allowed to trump all other considerations. A balance has to be struck in each case, using the guidance as a valuable aid. There will still be cases where, notwithstanding the guidance, publication is not permitted, and other cases where the judge will authorise wider publication than that contemplated by the guidance.
  • The guidance has had a marked effect. In 2014, its first year, over 300 judgments at High Court level were posted on the Bailii website, together with 160 judgments by other judges. These numbers are a very substantial increase on previous levels of publication, particularly in relation to judgments in local family courts. As a result, there is a very considerable body of material available to anyone who wants to better understand the way in which our proceedings are conducted.

 

 

I will set out the parties respective positions – the LA wanted the judgment to be published, as did mother. The father opposed publication. The Guardian supported publication but sought safeguards.

 

  • The local authority supports the publication of the judgment in an un-anonymised form, except that the surviving children A and B should not be named. It submits that there is good reason to publish the judgment and no compelling reason to the contrary:
  • The fact that an infant has been seriously injured and has died in unusual circumstances is shocking and rightly becomes a matter of public concern. Questions are asked – Why? Who? How? Could the death have been prevented? If so, is someone to blame?
  • The mass of publicly available information is noted. It includes Evie’s name, details of her injuries and death, the names of both parents, their locations, ages and photographs. Any privacy and confidentiality has long since been breached. The only remaining confidentiality attaches to A, who has not been publicly identified.
  • Conclusions have now been reached in the criminal court, the Coroner’s court and the Family Court about the events surrounding Evie’s death. The outcome of two of the three is now known, but not the third.
  • Neither A nor her mother are likely to be unduly affected or destabilised by further publicity.
  • Knowledge that the mother has been exonerated could assist her and A.
  • A’s identity is not likely to become more widely known. There is no evidence that the press has done other than respect her privacy, and a reporting restriction order is not necessary.
  • Publication would show the rigour with which the Family Court investigates the death of and injuries to a child and how it arrives at its conclusions.
  • Where, as here, there is criticism to be made of professionals, it is in the public interest to know of this in the hope that lessons will be learned.
  • Anonymisation of the judgment would be utterly pointless, except insofar as the surviving children’s names are concerned. It would lead to confusion and questions as to why the Family Court was seeking to withhold information that is already public knowledge.
  • The mother supports publication of the judgment and does not seek any other protection beyond that suggested by the local authority, namely the withholding of the children’s names. She contends that there is a clear public interest in publication for these reasons:
  • The information already in the public domain is very extensive, as demonstrated by a collection of press clippings from the Internet.
  • She has been placed in a difficult position by the father’s acquittal and the publicity he subsequently sought. Given that Evie was undoubtedly assaulted, the result has been to cast suspicion on her. She has been approached by the media to tell her side of the story, but has refused. Following the Coroner’s proceedings, the Daily Mail report posed the question in the title to its coverage: “Father with battered baby daughter’s handprint tattooed over his heart was cleared of beating her. So how did Evie die?” The article goes on to state that the father sought to blame the mother during his criminal trial.
  • The Family Court proceedings are the missing piece from a jigsaw of information. The other processes have been reported. The mother feels strongly that somewhere within the public domain there should be an accurate report of what happened to Evie. In time it will be of value to A that the truth is known. She also feels that the publication of the judgment would help to bring matters to a close for the family.
  • The father opposes publication, for these reasons:
  • The guidance states that the names of family members will not normally be used. The metaphorical opening of the doors to the Family Court is aimed at exposing the family justice system, not the families who pass through it, to the light of publicity.
  • Identification of the perpetrators of crime is the purpose of the criminal courts, not the Family Court.
  • The reasons for care proceedings to be conducted in private continue to be sound. The care with which the courts protect the rights to privacy, even of those who are found guilty in the criminal courts, is shown in a number of authorities, to which detailed reference is made. A careful balancing exercise must always be conducted.
  • Any attempt to publish the judgment in an anonymous form is doomed to fail, as the family would inevitably be identified. Since an anonymised judgment cannot be published, there should be no publication at all.
  • Identification of the family would breach its right to respect for private and family life and would be fundamentally wrong. Naming the father would be an unwarranted interference with his rights. Publication may destabilise A’s placement with her mother.
  • Just because the father involved himself in media coverage is not a reason to stir matters up again. Republication can be as harmful as publication.
  • There is no wider public interest, such as may exist in cases of failures by statutory agencies.
  • The Children’s Guardian does not argue that there are compelling reasons for publication not to occur. She notes that
  • There has already been a great deal of publicity but that A has not been named, though reference has been made to “another child”.
  • Her primary concern is that the mother and A may be exposed to unwelcome scrutiny and distress as a result of publication that reveals the disparity between the outcomes in the criminal and the family proceedings.
  • She supports as many safeguards as possible being implemented to reduce interest in this matter. She would oppose publication that identifies A or further identifies Ms Fisher, or refers to the inherited condition Treacher Collins syndrome. Any reference to the Wigan area and the local authority should be removed , and the names of solicitors deleted.

 

Note that the Local Authority was in favour of publication even though professionals were criticised in the judgment.

 

The Judge decided that the judgment would be published, and will appear in 28 days (thus allowing the parties time to prepare themselves, and for any appeal).  I think that it must be right that where a father has gone to the Press and insinuated that mother was responsible for the death of a child, that the judgment showing why she was fully exonerated from blame ought to be out there. I suspect it won’t get the same exposure in the Mail as the previous story, I hope to be proven wrong.

 

Determination

 

  • Having given due consideration to all of these matters, I am in no doubt that the fact-finding judgment should be published and that the only restriction that is necessary is that the actual names of the children referred to as A and B (another child associated with the family) are not to be revealed. The rubric attached to the judgment is sufficient to achieve this restriction. There is no need for a reporting restriction order. The media can be relied upon not to identify young children gratuitously in circumstances of this kind.
  • I find that the relevant considerations point very much in the same direction.
  • The first consideration is that it is generally in the public interest for accurate information to be made available in such a serious case. The need is particularly pressing when the information now in the public domain is incomplete and distorted.
  • The second consideration is that the mother supports publication and it is only fair that she should be able to rely on the judgment to show that she was not responsible for Evie’s injuries. Non-publication would be an injustice to her.
  • The third consideration is that publication is unlikely to destabilise A and her mother. On the contrary, it is likely to improve their situation in the long run. It is clearly in A’s interests to grow up on a true footing, knowing that her mother was not responsible for her sister’s death and that her relationship with her father is as it is because of what he did. Any short-term disturbance that might possibly arise from publicity is greatly outweighed by the long-term benefits of the truth being known.
  • The final consideration is that the rights of the father carry little weight in the overall balancing exercise, given his conduct and his attempts to misrepresent the position to the mother’s detriment. If his submissions were correct, the law would be a screen to hide the truth. There is instead a public interest in the findings about the father being made known. The fact that they have been reached according to the civil standard in the Family Court as opposed to the criminal standard in the Crown Court makes no difference in this case. to prevent the truth being seen.
  • These conclusions are, as it happens, in keeping with the guidance. Paragraphs 16 (public interest) and 17 (serious fact-finding) are both engaged. Insofar as the naming of the family members departs from the normal approach, this is warranted under both limbs of paragraph 9 (party’s wish to refer to exoneration and public interest in identification of a person against who findings have been made).
  • I agree with the local authority that it would be futile to seek to remove identifying information in an effort to dissociate the Family Court’s conclusions from information already on the public record. The court should not stultify itself and any attempt to publish anonymously could only lead to bewilderment about what could and could not be reported. The Guardian’s submissions were made before the mother’s position was known, but were they to remain unchanged, I would prefer the positions of the local authority and the mother.
  • I do not agree with the father’s analysis of the purpose of the guidance. As I have explained, it is not narrowly concerned with the image of the Family Court but with the wider goal of achieving a proper balancing of all the rights that arise in these cases.
  • The fact-finding judgment, and this judgment, will be placed on the Bailii website 28 days from now, to allow time for all interested parties to prepare themselves and for any rights of appeal to be exercised.

 

 

Proof of facts – High Court guidance on disputed injuries

This is a very short judgment, with not a single word wasted, and it sets out not only a helpful summary of the state of the law on resolution of disputed injuries but clarifies some areas where there has been doubt and confusion.

It does not really need my ham-fisted attempt to summarise it, so I will simply alert you to its existence, and recommend heartily that you read it. [I am inferring that this judgment is setting out points of general principle arising from the Poppy Worthington case – that particular judgment of the facts in the case is not going to be published until the Autumn, when the re-hearing is underway]

 

BR (Proof of Facts) 2015

Mr Justice Peter Jackson

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/41.html

Mr Justice Peter Jackson:

 

  • A fact-finding hearing into how a baby came to have a very large number of fractures took place in March and in April I gave a judgment that cannot be published at this stage. This short published judgment touches on three topics of more general relevance, described below.
  • The context is that the local authority alleged that the injuries were inflicted by the parents. They denied this and relied on expert medical opinion that the injuries may have been the manifestation of a condition as yet unknown to medical science that caused transient fragility in the baby’s bones. Other expert medical opinion considered it more probable that the fractures and other appearances were the result of assaults. It was common ground that there is no known medical condition that might explain the fractures, but that the radiological appearances were highly unusual.
  • The topics that I extract from the fact-finding judgment are these:

 

(1) Proof of facts.(2) Evidence about a child’s likely pain response, discussed in a recent decision of HH Judge Bellamy: Re FM (A Child: fractures: bone density) [2015] EWFC B26 (12 March 2015).

(3) An analysis of generic risk factors and protective factors.

Proof of facts

 

  • The court acts on evidence, not speculation or assumption. It acts on facts, not worries or concerns.
  • Evidence comes in many forms. It can be live, written, direct, hearsay, electronic, photographic, circumstantial, factual, or by way of expert opinion. It can concern major topics and small details, things that are important and things that are trivial.
  • The burden of proving a fact rests on the person who asserts it.
  • The standard of proof is the balance of probabilities: Is it more likely than not that the event occurred? Neither the seriousness of the allegation, nor the seriousness of the consequences, nor the inherent probabilities alters this.

 

(1) Where an allegation is a serious one, there is no requirement that the evidence must be of a special quality. The court will consider grave allegations with proper care, but evidence is evidence and the approach to analysing it remains the same in every case. In my view, statements of principle (some relied on in this case) that suggest that an enhanced level of evidential cogency or clarity is required in order to prove a very serious allegation do not assist and may lead a fact-finder into error. Despite all disclaimers, reference to qualitative concepts such as cogency and clarity may wrongly be taken to imply that some elevated standard of proof is called for.(2) Nor does the seriousness of the consequences of a finding of fact affect the standard to which it must be proved. Whether a man was in a London street at a particular time might be of no great consequence if the issue is whether he was rightly issued with a parking ticket, but it might be of huge consequence if he has been charged with a murder that occurred that day in Paris. The evidential standard to which his presence in the street must be proved is nonetheless the same.

(3) The court takes account of any inherent probability or improbability of an event having occurred as part of a natural process of reasoning. But the fact that an event is a very common one does not lower the standard of probability to which it must be proved. Nor does the fact that an event is very uncommon raise the standard of proof that must be satisfied before it can be said to have occurred.

(4) Similarly, the frequency or infrequency with which an event generally occurs cannot divert attention from the question of whether it actually occurred. As Mr Rowley QC and Ms Bannon felicitously observe:

“Improbable events occur all the time. Probability itself is a weak prognosticator of occurrence in any given case. Unlikely, even highly unlikely things, do happen. Somebody wins the lottery most weeks; children are struck by lightning. The individual probability of any given person enjoying or suffering either fate is extremely low.”

I agree. It is exceptionally unusual for a baby to sustain so many fractures, but this baby did. The inherent improbability of a devoted parent inflicting such widespread, serious injuries is high, but then so is the inherent improbability of this being the first example of an as yet undiscovered medical condition. Clearly, in this and every case, the answer is not to be found in the inherent probabilities but in the evidence, and it is when analysing the evidence that the court takes account of the probabilities.

 

  • Each piece of evidence must be considered in the context of the whole. The medical evidence is important, and the court must assess it carefully, but it is not the only evidence. The evidence of the parents is of the utmost importance and the court must form a clear view of their reliability and credibility.
  • When assessing alternative possible explanations for a medical finding, the court will consider each possibility on its merits. There is no hierarchy of possibilities to be taken in sequence as part of a process of elimination. If there are three possibilities, possibility C is not proved merely because possibilities A and B are unlikely, nor because C is less unlikely than A and/or B. Possibility C is only proved if, on consideration of all the evidence, it is more likely than not to be the true explanation for the medical findings. So, in a case of this kind, the court will not conclude that an injury has been inflicted merely because known or unknown medical conditions are improbable: that conclusion will only be reached if the entire evidence shows that inflicted injury is more likely than not to be the explanation for the medical findings.
  • Lastly, where there is a genuine dispute about the origin of a medical finding, the court should not assume that it is always possible to know the answer. It should give due consideration to the possibility that the cause is unknown or that the doctors have missed something or that the medical finding is the result of a condition that has not yet been discovered. These possibilities must be held in mind to whatever extent is appropriate in the individual case.

 

Evidence about pain response

 

  • In the present case, the medical experts commented upon the absence of an account by the parents of any pain response at the moments when the multiple fractures must have occurred. All the doctors stated that fractures are painful, whether bones are normal or not, and that a distinctive pain reaction would be expected from a baby when a bone breaks. The nature of the acute reaction might vary depending upon the bone. The nature of the chronic reaction in the hours and days afterwards might be confused with other childhood ailments.
  • The cause of the fractures was undoubtedly the application of force to the baby by an adult, who must have been touching the baby at the moments when the bones broke. The fractures did not occur spontaneously and the baby did not cause the injuries to itself. The question was whether the bones could have been weakened so that they fractured on normal handling.
  • On behalf of the parents, reference was made to an aspect of the judgment of HHJ Bellamy in Re FM (above). In that case, the allegation was that a mother was responsible for causing bilateral leg fractures to a child of just under a year of age. Accepting the evidence of Dr Allgrove, who was also a witness in this case, the judge found it possible that excessive use of a mid-strength topical eczema cream might have led to bone demineralisation and a propensity to fracture in a child with some degree of hypotonia and hypermobility of her joints. He concluded that the local authority had not proved its case and dismissed the proceedings.
  • The relevant part of the judgment concerns the judge’s observations on the medical evidence about a child’s likely reaction to a fracture at the moment that it occurs. A paediatrician had given evidence that it must have been “a memorable event”. At paragraph 115, the learned judge said this:

 

“As I have noted, that opinion is frequently given by paediatricians in cases such as this. In my judgment the contention that there must have been a ‘memorable event’ is unhelpful and potentially prejudicial to carers. Not only is it a formulation which invites an inference as to the veracity of any carer unable to describe a ‘memorable event’ [but] in my judgment it also comes perilously close to reversing the burden of proof, suggesting that a carer should be able to describe a ‘memorable event’ if the injury really does have an innocent explanation.”

 

  • Since this passage has been cited to me, and may be cited elsewhere, I will say something about it. It would of course be wrong to apply a hard and fast rule that the carer of a young child who suffers an injury must invariably be able to explain when and how it happened if they are not to be found responsible for it. This would indeed be to reverse the burden of proof. However, if the judge’s observations are understood to mean that account should not be taken, to whatever extent is appropriate in the individual case, of the lack of a history of injury from the carer of a young child, then I respectfully consider that they go too far.
  • Doctors, social workers and courts are in my view fully entitled to take into account the nature of the history given by a carer. The absence of any history of a memorable event where such a history might be expected in the individual case may be very significant. Perpetrators of child abuse often seek to cover up what they have done. The reason why paediatricians may refer to the lack of a history is because individual and collective clinical experience teaches them that it is one of a number of indicators of how the injury may have occurred. Medical and other professionals are entitled to rely upon such knowledge and experience in forming an opinion about the likely response of the individual child to the particular injury, and the court should not deter them from doing so. The weight that is then given to any such opinion is of course a matter for the judge.
  • In the present case, an adult was undoubtedly in the closest proximity to the baby whenever the injuries occurred and the absence of any account of a pain reaction on the baby’s part on any such occasion was therefore one of the matters requiring careful assessment.

 

Risk factors and protective factors

 

  • On behalf of the Children’s Guardian, Mr Clive Baker has assembled the following analysis from material produced by the NSPCC, the Common Assessment Framework and the Patient UK Guidance for Health Professionals.

 

Risk factors

  • Physical or mental disability in children that may increase caregiver burden
  • Social isolation of families
  • Parents’ lack of understanding of children’s needs and child development
  • Parents’ history of domestic abuse
  • History of physical or sexual abuse (as a child)
  • Past physical or sexual abuse of a child
  • Poverty and other socioeconomic disadvantage
  • Family disorganization, dissolution, and violence, including intimate partner violence
  • Lack of family cohesion
  • Substance abuse in family
  • Parental immaturity
  • Single or non-biological parents
  • Poor parent-child relationships and negative interactions
  • Parental thoughts and emotions supporting maltreatment behaviours
  • Parental stress and distress, including depression or other mental health conditions
  • Community violence

Protective factors

  • Supportive family environment
  • Nurturing parenting skills
  • Stable family relationships
  • Household rules and monitoring of the child
  • Adequate parental finances
  • Adequate housing
  • Access to health care and social services
  • Caring adults who can serve as role models or mentors
  • Community support

 

  • In itself, the presence or absence of a particular factor proves nothing. Children can of course be well cared for in disadvantaged homes and abused in otherwise fortunate ones. As emphasised above, each case turns on its facts. The above analysis may nonetheless provide a helpful framework within which the evidence can be assessed and the facts established.

 

Your Honour, I am afraid that I have not done a position statement, but may I just hand this up?

I think this summarises our position

I think this summarises our position

 

 

I thought of that gag this morning, and kudos to Cobb J for giving me the opportunity to deploy it.

 

Newcastle City Council v WM and Others 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/42.html

 

When a High Court Judge asks why you haven’t filed and served a position statement, don’t do THIS

 

 

  • I return to consider some of the matters outlined at the beginning of this judgment.
  • At the outset of this hearing not one of the respondents’ advocates had troubled to prepare a Position Statement. Counsel addressed me on the first morning of the hearing to explain the absence of these documents addressing me as if the requirement for such a document were a personal idiosyncrasy of mine. It is not. May I, for the record, remind counsel again of the following points: PD27A para.4.3:

 

At the commencement of the bundle there shall be inserted the following documents (the preliminary documents) –

(a) an up to date case summary of the background to the hearing confined to those matters which are relevant to the hearing and the management of the case and limited, if practicable, to four A4 pages;

(b) a statement of the issue or issues to be determined (1) at that hearing and (2) at the final hearing;

(c) a position statement by each party including a summary of the order or directions sought by that party (1) at that hearing and (2) at the final hearing;

(d) an up to date chronology, if it is a final hearing or if the summary under (i) is insufficient;

(e) skeleton arguments, if appropriate;

(f) a list of essential reading for that hearing; and

(g) the time estimate (see paragraph 10.1).

 

  • May I draw to their further attention PD27A, §4.4:

 

Each of the preliminary documents shall be as short and succinct as possible and shall state on the front page immediately below the heading the date when it was prepared and the date of the hearing for which it was prepared. Where proceedings relating to a child are being heard by magistrates the summary of the background shall be prepared in anonymised form, omitting the names and identifying information of every person referred to other than the parties’ legal representatives, and stating the number of pages contained in the bundle. Identifying information can be contained in all other preliminary documents

And PD27A para 6.4:

The preliminary documents shall be lodged with the court no later than 11 am on the day before the hearing and, where the hearing is before a judge of the High Court and the name of the judge is known, shall (with the exception of the authorities, which are to be lodged in hard copy and not sent by email) at the same time be sent by email to the judge’s clerk

Sadly, this is once again one of those cases where poor planning and preparation had led to massive delays for the children,  and unfairness in the process, and once again, the misuse of section 20 played a part

  • The burden of judicial decision-making has regrettably been made significantly more complex by the failures of the professionals and child care systems involved with this family. To give prominence to those failures, I highlight some of them at the outset of this judgment:

i) At the time of the final hearing, the children have been in foster care for 93 weeks awaiting a decision about them;ii) The children were accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 (“CA 1989″) from July 2013 until March 2015, when interim care orders were made (under section 38 of the CA 1989) at the Issues Resolution Hearing;

iii) The ‘letter before proceedings’ (prepared pursuant to PD12A FPR 2010) was sent to the parents in January 2013, 73 weeks before the proceedings were ultimately issued (July 2014);

iv) The final hearing is taking place in the 43rd week, not the 26th week following issue (see section 14(2)(ii) of the Children and Families Act 2014);

v) The mother has significant learning disability; she has an assessed IQ of 61. She is assessed to lack capacity to litigate in these proceedings. There is a significant question whether she ever had capacity to consent to the accommodation of her children (it is said, per Dr. Thorpe, consultant psychiatrist, that “she did not appear to understand the reasons why her children had been placed in foster care”), and whether, in the circumstances, the children were for the extended period referred to above lawfully accommodated;

vi) On any of the outcomes proposed for the children, they will have to be separated; as indicated above, the family placement on offer is for the two older children only. The Local Authority does not contemplate an adoptive placement for all three siblings together;

vii) The youngest child has spent more than half his life waiting for a decision about his long-term future, which is, and has been for some time, essentially undisputed;

viii) The Children’s Guardian and Local Authority propose radically different outcomes for the older children. The Social Worker and the parties were only made aware of the final recommendation of the Guardian on the first morning of the hearing.

ix) The maternal aunt, who wishes to care for the children, suffers a serious and debilitating eye condition; it is identified and briefly described in the independent social work assessment of her capacity to care for the children. The aunt’s lawyers did not apparently explore the implications of this condition before the hearing began. The extent of her significant visual disability was astonishingly only revealed at the conclusion of her oral evidence, and only when I asked to describe it (she had obviously been struggling to read from the documents presented to her while giving evidence); this led to a short adjournment during the hearing to obtain necessary expert medical evidence;

x) In a case which generates a range of possible outcomes, and in which some of the key parties have vacillated about their preferences during the proceedings, none of the respondent advocates had prepared position statements prior to the final hearing (I exonerate Ms Moulder as she stepped in on day 2 of the final hearing to replace counsel who had unavoidably had to relinquish the brief at short notice, and for entirely legitimate reasons), leaving me, when reading into the case, to speculate about their final preferred outcomes;

xi) There was no attempt by the Local Authority to provide one pared-down trial bundle of the relevant material; I was provided with four lever arch files; no reading list and no reading time.

  • Lessons are obviously to be learned from the sorry state of affairs described in paragraph [3] above. I suspect that the facts outlined above speak for themselves. Lest they don’t, I expand more about them in the judgment which follows, and (in relation to (x) and (xi)) in the post-script which follows the judgment (see [105-111]).

 

I think that we are really close to the judiciary making human rights compensation orders in these cases – these children had on that reading been unlawfully accommodated for around 21 months, as the mother did not have capacity to consent to such accommodation.

 

Even more wretched than that, is that when the case was finally litigated, the Judge concluded that two of the children should be placed with a family member, their aunt. That could have been done much much earlier, and the children spent more time in care than was necessary. That’s a tragedy.

 

The judicial analysis and approach is excellent, and the judgment as a whole is worth reading.

 

Lest you think the whole thing is critical, the Judge was more than willing to lavish praise on those who deserved it.

 

 

  • Having identified some of the failures in the case, I turn next, and briefly, to one of its significant redeeming features. The role of the intermediary service.
  • I wish to pay particular tribute to Clare Jones and Rebecca Fletcher from Communicourt Limited who offered an excellent intermediary service to the Court for the mother in this case. The mother has significant communication difficulties, both with understanding and using language; this is likely to be attributable in part to her learning disability, and in part to acquiring English as a second language.
  • Ms Jones’ report, dated 20 February 2015, was clear and practical, providing guidance about how best to manage the case in a way which would optimise the mother’s participation. Ms Jones was regrettably unable to attend the final hearing, and the intermediary service was therefore provided by Ms Fletcher, who performed her role with great skill and discretion. Ground rules had been set by HHJ Hudson at the IRH; these were re-visited at the outset of the hearing. Specific ground rules were set for the mother’s evidence, which we all endeavoured conscientiously to observe.
  • Overall, I was satisfied that the mother had been enabled to participate in the process as fully and effectively as could possibly be achieved. I am indebted to the intermediary service for its assistance

 

 

Adoption rates in freefall

I’ve been asked if I would write about the story in the newspapers this week about adoption rates going down and the blame being placed on some high profile case law decisions. This is the first time that I have ever received a request, so I should oblige.  [If anyone’s future request is that I write about my love of Jaime Lannister, or that Joe Hill’s Locke and Key is the best comic series since Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol, then for those, it’s on like Donkey Kong]

 

The Painting that Ate Paris (Doom Patrol)

The Painting that Ate Paris (Doom Patrol)

 

Locke and Key - this is what happens when you use the Head key to look inside your own mind

Locke and Key – this is what happens when you use the Head key to look inside your own mind

 

 

So, here is the Independent piece – there’s a startlingly similar one in the The Times, but you need to pay Rupert Murdoch money to look at it. The choice is yours.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/adoption-rates-in-freefall-after-court-ruling-leaves-children-languishing-in-unsuitable-homes-10245614.html

 

This piece is very knowledgeable about family law and case law – more than you’d expect from a journalist. The fact that two newspaper articles with the same cases turned up this week makes me suspect a press release was involved.  The same piece appears on the BBC website.

 

Let’s have a look at it bit by bit.

The number of children being put forward for adoption has plummeted over the past year following a series of court rulings that have left local authorities frightened of removing them from birth families.

Child welfare experts are worried the decline will mean more children suffering in unsuitable and unsafe homes. It also means agonising delays for parents approved for adoption who now find no children are available.

The number of children signed off for adoption fell from 1,550 in the summer quarter of 2013 to 780 in the same period last year, down almost 50 per cent.  

 

Okay, well firstly, whilst one feels for an adopter who is waiting for a child, the family justice system isn’t, and shouldn’t be, prioritised to deliver children to adopters. The idea is that the family justice system tests fairly whether a parent can be helped to care for their child, with adoption being the last resort. Secondly, “Signed off for adoption” is not only a very ugly expression, it is hard to put a proper meaning on it. Does it mean “The Agency Decision maker decides that adoption is the plan the social worker should recommend to the Court”?  or does it mean “A Placement Order is made”?

As the Department for Education hasn’t published (yet) the statistics that is getting all of these newspapers up in arms, it is a bit difficult to tell. The thrust of the article suggests that the drop in figures is that Local Authorities are too scared to ask for adoption, so the assumption is that the drop here is in the number of APPLICATIONS for Placement Orders (i.e a social worker recommending to the Agency Decision Maker that adoption should be the plan and the ADM agreeing) – that in itself could be that social workers are asking the Agency Decision Maker less often, or that the Agency Decision Maker is saying no more often, or both.

That in turn could be because the thrust of the Re B, Re B-S et al decisions made social workers look harder and more carefully at whether adoption really was the right plan for a child – could more be done to support a parent, could those grandparents who are not ideal be good enough? Really hard to guage that from statistics – you’d need to have a look at a pile of actual cases and compare the sort of cases that were ending up with adoption in 2013 that are now ending up with parents or grandparents.  It is also difficult to know whether that’s a bad thing anyway. If the trend is to be more willing to work with parents or grandparents who are not perfect, but could be helped to be good enough, that could be a perfectly laudable aim. We might not know whether that greater willingness to give things a try was a long overdue adjustment or a bad mistake for a few years – the real test will be whether those attempts broke down.  At the moment, we can’t even tell if that’s what happened.

Certainly Local Authorities aren’t taking any less care proceedings than they used to. The latest CAFCASS statistics show that the number of applications is continuing to go up – 18% up on this time last year.

I honestly don’t think, and the recent clarifications from the Court of Appeal make this clear, that the caselaw ever meant that children should be “suffering in unsuitable and unsafe homes”. If the Court considers that the alternatives to adoption are unsuitable and unsafe, then adoption is going to be the outcome. Nothing has changed there. I also don’t think that social workers have decided to leave children “suffering in unsuitable and unsafe homes” as a result of Re B, Re B-S et al, rather than asking for adoption as the plan. What might have changed is that it is no longer enough to just assert that an alternative is ‘unsuitable’, but you have to evidence it. I don’t consider that a bad thing.

 

Next

But in November 2013 the President of the Family Court, Sir James Munby, made a ruling that left many local authorities convinced they must try every extended family member before putting a child up for adoption. The judge said that six-month targets for adoptions should not be allowed to break up families unnecessarily and that grandparents and other extended family members should be considered before placing children for adoption.

It had been hoped that a second ruling last December from the same judge, clarifying he had not changed the law in the original judgment, would curb the freefall in adoption numbers. But instead further rulings from Sir James and other judges have exacerbated the problem.

 

The first case is Re B-S  – and you can read my post about that case here http://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/09/17/this-is-some-serious-b-s/    – it was undoubtedly a big case, telling social workers, Guardians AND Judges that decision-making on adoption cases had gotten very sloppy and that the argument to justify making such a serious order needed to be clearer, stronger and more analytical. It was no longer enough to parrot stock phrases about why a child needed to be adopted – a proper comparison of the pros and cons of EACH option tailored for the individual child needed to take place. It is really hard to see much wrong with Re B-S. If anything, it should have been said years earlier. There’s nothing in it to suggest that a Court should leave a child ‘suffering in an unsafe and unsuitable home’

 

The scond case is Re R – and you can read my post about that case here http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/12/18/re-r-is-b-s-dead/  – that clarifies that some of the more outlandish claims that lawyers had pushed to extremes about Re B-S – that it was a “climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every river – before you make a Placement Order” case was not right, but that everything I just said above was still right, and the Supreme Court’s formulation that “the test for severing the relationship between parent and child is very strict: only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short, where nothing else will do.”  was still bang on right.

 

Next – let’s have a look at these further confusing rulings

In January Sir James granted an appeal in a case in Liverpool where three children were taken away from a mother with a history of drug and alcohol abuse who was given no opportunity to prepare a case.

The President of the Family Court ruled that the “ruthlessly truncated process” employed by the earlier judge in the case – who had admitted he was motivated by a desire to embrace family justice reforms designed to encourage adoption – was “unprincipled and unfair”.

 

Well, that’s the His Honour Judge Dodds case, where he made Care Orders at the very first hearing (i.e in week one) in order to beat the week 26 target, even though nobody in the case had asked him to do that and there was no final evidence filed by anyone. That’s not a warning to Judges not to make adoption orders – that’s basic common sense that a Judge who behaves in a way that is utterly unfair is going to get overruled. Nobody with any common sense looked at that case and felt that it had worrying implications for adoption cases, or that it meant that children should be ‘suffering in unsuitable and unsafe homes” –  If you read this piece and think “Well, I don’t know why the Court of Appeal had any problem with what the Judge did” then I’m not sure I can help you. http://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/02/02/sentence-first-verdict-afterwards/

 

What’s the next ‘confusing’ ruling?  (I wasn’t in any way confused by the last one) – this one apparently had a “similar chilling effect on Local Authorities desire to expedite adoption cases” as the His Honour Judge Dodds one did.  (not that it should have done – the Dodds one wasn’t even about adoption)

 

Another case decided in January is understood to have had a similar chilling effect on local authorities’ desire to expedite adoption cases. Mr Justice Keehan ruled that Northamptonshire County Council had made “egregious failures” in its handling of the case of a baby taken into care without proper assessments of the mother or the maternal grandparents in Latvia. The baby was eventually placed with his maternal grandparents.

I wrote about that one too – you may pick up a slightly different tone from the title of the piece http://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/02/03/unfortunate-and-woeful-local-authority-failings/

This was just an old-fashioned Local Authority f**k-up. Sorry to anyone involved, but that’s what it was. This wasn’t a case where Local Authorities read it and it had a chilling effect on them, making them think “gosh, if social workers are getting told off for this exemplary work, then we may as well pack it in and let children suffer in unsuitable and unsafe homes” – it was one that you read and thought “If you f**ked up as royally as that, you are going to get the judicial ass-whupping that they got”.   There’s nothing in that case that would make anyone think “well, I really think in my heart of hearts that this child should be adopted, but because the law has done something weird and stupid, I guess I’ll have to leave the child to suffer in an unsuitable and unsafe home”

[Yes, I’m hammering home that phrase, because I think it is seriously misleading]

If there are Local Authorities, or social workers (and I really doubt it) that took the His Honour Judge Dodds decision and the Northamptonshire decision and interpreted them as ‘adoption is even harder to get now’  rather than ‘if you really screw something up, expect not to get away with it” then these articles are doing a great public service in correcting that total misapprehension and interpretation of the law.

Anything else?

 

No, there are no other “chilling” or “confusing” cases cited.  That’s a shame, because one could make a case for the President’s decision in Re A fits the bill far better than the two examples they have chosen.  http://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/02/17/a-tottering-edifice-built-on-inadequate-foundations/

 

For a start, it is a case where a Local Authority asked for adoption and didn’t get it – and walked away with nothing but a flea in their ear. More than that, it is a case where what looked like perfectly decent threshold criteria (the concerns that a Local Authority have to prove exist in order to get an order) was torn to bits by the Judge. And finally, it had principles and issues which affected all cases, not just the particular one being decided (unlike the two examples that were used), and there is a distinct possibility that that bar was raised, making Care Orders (and hence indirectly Placement Orders and hence adoptions) more difficult to obtain, since it is now harder to prove that the threshold is met.

But once again, the law is not saying that children ought to suffer in unsuitable and unsafe homes. It is saying that where a Local Authority says that a child should live somewhere else, they need to produce proper evidence and analysis to show WHY their home would be unsuitable and unsafe. Re B-S and Re A are not saying that adoption isn’t the right outcome for some children, but they are saying that where the State (whether that be a social worker or a Judge) is taking a child permanently away from a parent, the least that society can expect is that they both work very hard and have proper evidence and reasons for why that has to happen.

Perhaps when the stats do come out, the adoption figures really will have ‘fallen off a cliff’, just as the article claims.  Perhaps that is because social workers, lawyers, Agency Decision Makers and Judges are paralysed by chilling and confusing case law. But it might be that the numbers were too high before, and proper scrutiny of the evidence and proper analysis of what is really involved has meant that we aren’t placing children for adoption unless the proper tests are met.

 

Sometimes, an initial look at something can make you chilled and scared, and even want to throw stones. But a longer more detailed careful consideration can make you realise that Jaime Lannister kicks ass y’all, and that a Lannister always pays his debts.

 

Plus, he has a gold hand. A hand made of gold. What's not to like?

Plus, he has a gold hand. A hand made of gold. What’s not to like?

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