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serious case review versus judicial review – a (cough) review

Who ‘owns’ a Serious Case Review, and what rights or  powers do the Courts have over its disclosure?

 

X (A child) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2014/2522.html

 

I do complain about the President quite a bit, but the one thing you could never accuse him of is being work-shy. This is yet another very tricky judgment that he has taken on – whilst still having two insanely difficult judgments still to produce -  Q v Q (how to fund litigants whose article 6 rights would be breached by them being unrepresented) and the fallout judgment from Cheshire West (how are the Court of Protection going to deal with the HUGE volume of additional cases that arise from the Supreme Court’s decision on deprivation of liberty).

 

This one relates to a child, X, whose mother stabbed him when he was about ten years old. He is now thirteen. Those care proceedings ended with the making of a Care order, hotly contested by the father, who has been in one form of litigation or another about this perceived injustice over the last three years.

Outside of the Court case itself, the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) – which is a group of senior representatives from all the relevant agencies in each local authority area (police, schools, health, social services etc), held a Serious Case Review.  These Serious Case Reviews are intended to be a scrutiny of what happened in the case and specifically whether agencies made mistakes, could have predicted what would happen, could learn lessons for the future, might need to change some policies and perhaps even whether someone professional is badly at fault and to blame.

 

The general rule and principle these days are that these Serious Case Reviews are to be published, although with names of children and parents anonymised. This in part, emerged from the public disgust at Baby P and the desire that these exercises were available for all to see. There’s a debate for another day about whether that transparency is a good thing, or whether it inhibits the ability of each agency to properly lay out their shortcomings.

 

The father contributed to this exercise and saw the report, but didn’t have a copy of it, and it was not made public.

 

The LSCB rationale for that was this :-

 

  • The LSCB received the overview report and executive summary on 15 July 2011. The LSCB considered the issue of publication of the reports, taking account of the letter of 10 June 2010, decided that there were such compelling reasons in this case and concluded that any decision on publication should be underpinned by the impact it was likely to have in relation to X’s current and future well-being and that the basis for this decision should be informed by advice from the psychiatric practitioners involved in his care. After careful deliberation the LCSB concluded that the overview report should not be published; that it would consider whether to publish the executive summary following a psychiatric assessment of the potential impact on X of so doing; and that the local authority would make the overview report and executive summary available to the court as part of the current care proceedings in relation to X so that all parties might have access to the relevant background information and that this be communicated to X’s parents.

 

 

 

  • Following a further psychiatric assessment of the situation in relation to X, the independent chair of the LSCB, Mr D, wrote to OFSTED on 26 October 2011:

 

 

“The Board has now been advised by the psychiatrist treating X that it continues to be her considered opinion that the publication of any document relating to the Serious Case Review which would cause comment or discussion in the media or local community would be seriously detrimental to X’s recovery. She has advised that although X is making progress his recovery is likely to be protracted and he is about to begin a course of psychotherapy that is likely initially to be unsettling for him. It is her opinion therefore that the Executive Summary should not be published.”

 

Two competing factors are being balanced – the interests of transparency and open public debate versus the impact on the child.  That underpins most of the transparency debate (and given the President’s well-known views on transparency, the LSCB must have been slightly fearing the worst when the case was listed before the President. That might be why they shelled out for a QC to represent them…)

 

The father’s application was a free-standing one under the Children Act 1989, but on analysis, the President found that this could not be right in law, and that the proper legal mechanism (indeed the only one) would be a judicial review of whether the LSCB had behaved in an unreasonable way (specifically a way that no reasonable body in their position could have behaved) in making the decision not to publish this Serious Case Review

 

 

  • In the final analysis the father’s application turns on quite a narrow point.

 

 

 

  • The first thing to appreciate is that the LSCB is a public body, juridically distinct from and wholly independent of the local authority. It exercises public functions in accordance with the statutory scheme to which I have already referred. In accordance with that statutory scheme it is for the LSCB, not the local authority and not the court, to decide whether or not to publish the overview report and the executive summary: see Re X and Y (Executive Summary of Serious Case Review: Reporting Restrictions) [2012] EWCA Civ 1500, [2013] 2 FLR 628, paras 7, 58.

 

 

 

  • The second thing to appreciate is that this is, as Judge Wildblood correctly said, a free-standing application. It is not an application made in pending proceedings for disclosure of documents into those proceedings. It is not a case (as Re X and Y (Executive Summary of Serious Case Review: Reporting Restrictions) [2012] EWCA Civ 1500, [2013] 2 FLR 628, was) of an application for a reporting restriction order to restrain publication of a document. It is an application by the father for an order requiring the LSCB to disclose to him a document which the LSCB in exercise of its statutory functions has decided should not be disclosed to him except upon terms that he is not willing to accept. It is, in other words, an application challenging the LSCB’s decision, a matter therefore, as Judge Wildblood said, of administrative law.

 

 

 

  • Such a challenge, in circumstances such as this, can in my judgment be made only by means of an application for judicial review in accordance with CPR Part 54. It cannot be made in the Family Court, nor in the High Court except in accordance with CPR Part 54. On that short ground, and irrespective of the factual merits, this application is misconceived.

 

On that basis, the President looked at the father’s arguments

 

  • The father has set out, both in his written statements and in his oral submissions, the various reasons why he wants a copy of the overview report. He says it should be published in the interests of transparency and so that public officials can be made accountable. He says that he should be allowed to study it with more time and scope for careful analysis and understanding than if he is merely allowed to read it at the local authority’s offices. He believes it contains material errors which should be corrected; he wants to ‘set the record straight’. He believes it contains material that will enable him to reopen the care proceedings by way of a further appeal or a renewed application to discharge the care order (thus correcting what he believes to have been a miscarriage of justice) and which may assist him in bringing a civil claim. He says that as X’s father he should be allowed to have a copy.

 

 

 

  • Those are all very understandable reasons why the father should be seeking the relief he is, but none of them demonstrates any proper basis of challenge to the decisions of the LSCB, whether the original decision not to publish or the decision explained in Mr D’s letter of 19 September 2012. As Mr Tolson put it, and I can only agree, the father does not identify, still less demonstrate, any flaw in the LSCB’s decisions or decision-making process.

 

 

With that in mind, the father’s application for judicial review was refused – the only crumb of comfort being that one of the arguments deployed by the LSCB was crushed from a great height by the President

 

  • I have set out the reasons given at the time by the LSCB for its decision not to publish (see paragraphs 6-7 above) and for its later decision not to allow the father a copy (paragraph 10). Those reasons are clear and readily understandable. They disclose, in my judgment, no arguable error of law. They set out matters, including in particular the advice of X’s treating psychiatrist, which plainly entitled the LSCB to conclude, as it did, that there were indeed the “compelling reasons” which had to be demonstrated if there was not to be publication. The LSCB plainly applied its mind carefully to all the relevant material and to the key issue it had to decide. Its process cannot, in my judgment, be faulted. It is impossible to contend that its decisions were irrational. Nor is there any arguable basis for saying that it wrongly struck the balance as between the various competing demands it had to evaluate: the right of the public to know; the quite separate right of the father to demand not merely access to but also to be supplied with a copy; and, most important of all, though not of itself determinative, the compelling demands of X’s welfare.

 

 

 

  • Mr Tolson also submits that permission to apply for judicial review should be refused because the father’s claim lacks any practical substance, because he cannot demonstrate, so it is said, how any flaw in decision-making might materially affect him, nor can he demonstrate why he needs a copy of a document which he has been able to read on three occasions. With all respect to Mr Tolson I find this most unconvincing. I would not have been prepared to refuse permission on this ground. But this does not, of course, affect the ultimate outcome given my conclusions in relation to Mr Tolson’s first two arguments.

 

 

 

 

 

secure accommodation bed shortage

 

Re A (Secure Accommodation) 2014 is a County Court decision and contains nothing of earth-shattering importance in terms of law or precedent, but raises a very real problem.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B90.html

Secure accommodation applications are relatively rare and reserved for drastic situations, where a child is either running away and putting themselves at significant harm, or that they would cause themselves or others harm if they weren’t kept in accommodation that was entitled to restrict their liberty.  (I have to say that I personally am never keen on doing them, but there are times when there is literally nothing else that can be done to keep that child, or others, safe)

 

In this case, there was little doubt that the boy needed that sort of accommodation

 

Nevertheless the chronology establishes a terrifying history of A behaving both violently and in an assaultive sexual manner to women.  He has three convictions for indecent assault perpetrated upon women in addition to convictions for violence outside a sexual context.  A’s victims of his non sexual violence and of his sexual assaults include both his peers, the staff who look after him, or try to look after him, and strangers who he encounters.  A’s history, as set out in this document, is terrifying.  It seems to me proper on the evidence before me to conclude that A is a young man who presents a danger to the public and, indeed, to himself by reason of his behaviour.

 

The Court made the order and the Local Authority tried to find a bed for this troubled young boy in accommodation that would meet his needs. They had no success and went back to Court to let the Judge know.

 

When this matter came before me on Thursday last week, Lancashire County Council informed the Court that although there are 17 secure units in the country, none appeared then to have the facilities to accept A.  That is because, in those 17 secure units in the country, whilst there are 1,200 places for children or young people who have been subject to a criminal conviction and a custodial sentence there are only 60 allocated as welfare places. A, upon his release, from his custodial sentence, was to become a child in respect of whom a welfare place and not a criminal place was required.

 

Since last Thursday I know that Lancashire County Council have been unstinting in their efforts to find a safe and proper placement for A both in his own interests and in the interests of the public and other people generally.  The senior manager, the team manager and the social worker allocated to him have been working around the clock and through last weekend to try and identify a placement for A.  They have also approached agencies with whom they should be able to work in partnership, including the Youth Offending Team, the Probation Service, the Department of Education and also the Ministry of Justice but they have not been able to identify a placement for A. This is despite approaches, in some cases repeatedly, to all of the 17 agencies with secure placements.  In some cases, that is simply because there are no welfare beds available.  In some cases, that is because the risks that A presents of sexual offending mean that the institutions concerned are not able to accommodate him.  In one case, for example, this is because they have a number of young women in placement.  In other cases, it is difficult to fathom what the issue is other than the high risk this young man presents might suggest that he is too much for them.

I do not consider it appropriate to name those units who have declined to take A but simply to outline the facts which amount to a terrible national shortage of secure placements for children and young people who are a danger to themselves and others.  I have already said that there are 1,200 beds for young people who are convicted of criminal offences but only 60 for those who are subject to section 25 orders, referred to as “welfare beds”.  The Local Authority, during discussions with the Department of Education over the weekend about A was told that there were three other young people who were in the same position at the time of their enquiries.

I was faced last Thursday with a young man who was to be released from custody on Friday for whom there was no secure placement available. This was despite him abundantly satisfying the criteria for a secure accommodation order.  I, therefore, adjourned the matter until today.  The Local Authority wished to seek from Rainsbrook Secure Unit, where he has been detained during his custodial sentence, information about any assessment or therapeutic work that has been done with him whilst he has been detained.  That information was not forthcoming from that unit. I do now have, in addition to the evidence filed with the application a helpful chronology prepared by the Local Authority of the exhaustive efforts that they have made to secure secure accommodation for him.

 

Thus, despite the Local Authority wanting to place the boy in secure accommodation, and the Court approving that, a lack of beds meant it didn’t happen.

Thus it was that, at two o’clock on Friday afternoon 6th June 2014, A was released from custody and transported back to Lancashire, his home area. He had to be placed in a children’s home: a children’s home with six other children also in the placement.  The Local Authority seconded three additional staff into the home to look after A specifically having regard for the risks I have outlined in this judgment.  Notwithstanding that, A, having initially said that he was going to comply with the regime at the children’s home and having had a meal with a social worker and having spoken to his mother over the telephone, left that unit with another young person and stayed out until five o’clock in the morning.  Furthermore A does not dispute that, whilst he was out, he used cannabis, to which I have omitted to say he appears to have been addicted since before the age of 10 years.  Those events are extremely concerning in the circumstances of the chronology and the risks that I have outlined and those events strongly support the urgent need for A to be placed in a secure unit.

The efforts so far made by the Local Authority have produced only a possibility of him going to a unit in south Wales.  Neither A nor his mother want him to be placed so far away from home but if that is the only placement available, then it seems to me it would be a proper placement, although, of course, my jurisdiction is simply to permit the Local Authority to place in secure accommodation.  The alternative to South Wales is a unit in Leeds where the Department of Education may be able to release a criminal bed to become a welfare bed.  That unit could still decline to take A because of the risks that he presents.

The reason I have delivered this judgment and propose to authorise its publication is because this case demonstrates a gross shortage of resource.  The shortage necessarily creates a lack of protection for the public and for the dangerous young person/child unless and until a criminal offence, sufficiently serious to attract  a custodial sentence, is committed. Neither the Local Authority nor this court would want to see anything else happening in this case having regard for the already frightening chronology. Another incident would have every potential to be a serious incident having regard for the history I have read in respect of A.  The fact that I was told there were three other children in the same situation over last weekend means that it is only right for the circumstances in this case to be made public

 

This is a real worry – there need to be beds available for children in this position, and a provision of 60 nationally is well short of what is needed  (particularly since in the light of the Rochdale ‘grooming and sexual exploitation’ cases, Local Authorities and police forces are alive to the possibility of secure accommodation being the only real option to protect victims and get them away from sexual exploitation if the police aren’t able to press charges (because the girls won’t make a complaint due to fear, bribery or manipulation).

 

Also, although nobody has really got stuck into this yet, Baroness Hale’s judgment in Cheshire West means that an awful lot of children with disabilities/cognitive issues are actually being deprived of liberty than were previously thought, and many of them might end up coming into the Secure Accommodation system.

Children giving evidence

 

This is a Court of Appeal decision, arising from a private law case in which there was an issue as to whether a child should give evidence as part of the forensic exercise of determining the truth of what happened.

Re B (Child Evidence) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1015.html

 

John Bolch does an excellent summary here

http://www.familylore.co.uk/2014/07/re-b-children-giving-evidence.html

 

The case builds on, but doesn’t change the principles set down by the Supreme Court in Re W  http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKSC/2010/12.html

 

The fundamental difference is that in Re W, the potential child witness was the subject of proceedings (thus the welfare of the child was a legitimate component of judicial decision-making, though not the paramount consideration), whereas this was a sibling/half-sibling of the child in question and thus wasn’t covered by that umbrella of welfare.  Other than in the broader philosophical sense that a Court dealing with the welfare of a particular child ought not to cause harm to another child in that pursuit of a decision. Also, in Re W, the child had given a video interview to the police and that could potentially stand as evidence, in this one, the child had not given any interview and the issue was whether and how the child’s evidence ought to be placed before the Court if at all

 

The original trial Judge had decided that a series of questions ought to be drawn up and the CAFCASS adviser ask them of the child and record the answers, deciding to leave the issue of live evidence to one side until that information was available.

I’m not quite sure why the appeal was brought before that decision was made, or how the Court of Appeal dealt with it so quickly (it feels a bit premature to me, but nonetheless they did)

 

The Court of Appeal backed the decision of the trial judge to proceed in that way, but were keen to stress that this was not sanctioning an opening of the floodgates (as Jack of Kent has pointed out, floodgates opening is actually a good thing contrary to the metaphor – they are SUPPOSED to open).

 

  • I would not expect our endorsement of Judge Cameron’s decision to open the floodgates, leading to a widespread practice of calling children as witnesses in cases such as this one. The Supreme Court did not consider that their decision would lead to children routinely giving evidence, predicting that the outcome of the court’s balancing exercise, if it was called upon to adjudicate upon such matters, would be the conclusion that the additional benefits in calling the child would not outweigh the additional harm it would cause him or her. I am sure that the natural sensitivity and caution of the family courts, which originally generated the now defunct presumption, can be relied upon to ensure that matters are approached in a way which properly safeguards all the interests involved.

 

 

 

  • In addition to the argument that G’s evidence was peripheral, it was also argued on F’s behalf that it was wrong to have embarked upon the Family Court Adviser path because it would (or should) lead nowhere as the shortcomings in G’s evidence rendered that evidence of little value. The shortcomings were said to arise from matters such as G’s age, the lack of a contemporaneous statement from her, the passage of time since the incidents, and the likely influence upon her account of having lived in the meanwhile with M who was negative to F.

 

 

 

  • I recognise the logic in the submission that the court should not involve a child in steps designed to explore the possibility of him or her giving evidence unless satisfied that the evidence is likely to be of value. However I would not take such an absolute position. It can be difficult to take a reliable decision in a vacuum and there can sometimes be merit in a step by step approach which enables more information to be gathered before deciding irrevocably. In deciding what steps to take, the apparent nature, quality and relevance of the evidence are obviously material but the court may not know enough in the early stages to form a concluded view about matters such as this.

 

 

 

In the light of the Court of Appeal’s decision to nuke fact finding hearings in public law from orbit, a decision I respectfully think is something one could happily eat with cheese, I thought these remarks from the Court of Appeal were interesting

The pursuit, in public and private children proceedings, of “the truth” about past events is not an abstract endeavour. What happened in the past is the foundation for informed decisions about the future, including decisions as to what, if any, risk of harm a particular course of action may present to the child who is the subject of the proceedings. The more reliable the court’s findings as to what happened in the past, the more reliable should be the prognosis for the future and the better the court should be able to judge where the welfare of the subject child lies.

 

Quite so.

Suggested improvements to case management orders

 

Look, we know what you’re up to. They are intended to be soul-destroyingly tedious – perhaps you have some sort of vested interest in treatment of aneurysms, perhaps you just hate lawyers, perhaps you want to make us all quit.  Or you read Catch 22 but completely missed that the bits where the bureacracy intended to serve people in their jobs ends up hampering them or took those as a call to arms rather than a satirical barb. Who knows?

 

Every time I open up a blank one, I feel like this

 

 

But form designers, you can strive even harder to ruin the day of anyone who has to complete the things.  Here are just five suggested additions

 

1.  Code numbers.  To protect anonymity, from now on, the name of any individual or party, including Judges, social workers, experts, lawyers, will have its own unique 26 number code. That code will not be consistent with that used for that person in any other case, and will be changed every 27 days for security purposes.  This will result in clauses like this   97233861182418618690207116900  shall file and serve their assessment of 18y790393700122 and 10089279972291772  as carers for 11909078667672291 and 492280661512982 . Much better for everyone

 

2.  Section 2 of the order will now require that the author complete in handwriting (to prevent cutting and pasting) every section of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act that does not apply to the case, even where the case involves a perfectly routine pregnancy.

 

3. Section 9 of the order requires the author to give two examples of irony in literature (such examples must not have been replicated in any other order lodged in that Court. The Court will not divulge in advance whether the example has been previously used)

 

4. In the event that any of the parties has ever been on holiday to a foreign country, indicate whether you have written to that country to see whether they have any intention to intervene in these proceedings.

 

5. Again for security purposes, a code system like those Captcha things on websites is introduced when lodging the form. The computer system will give fourteen words and the advocate lodging the form must identify which View from the President the words are a quotation from.

 

 

[I might, perhaps, just perhaps, have drafted too many Case Management Orders this month]

 

Being late to the party (turns out Auntie Beryl was Grandma Beryl…)

 

KS v Neath Port Talbot 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/941.html

 

This was an appeal by the grandmother who was refused her application to be joined as a party to care proceedings, which resulted in Placement Orders. She put herself forward in a formal application five days before the final hearing.

 

The Judge arrived at a sort of half-way house, refusing party status for the grandmother, but allowing her to be in Court, to give evidence and to ask the father’s representatives to put questions on her behalf. This unusual position was not helped by the Judge believing when judgment was delivered that the grandmother’s primary application had been dismissed by the Judge on day one of the final hearing (it hadn’t, it had been adjourned for decision until the end of the case)

 

 

 

  • Some five days before, on 9 October 2013, the child’s paternal grandmother had made a formal application to be made a party to the proceedings and for an expert assessment concerning her capability to care for the child. The application was adjourned at the beginning of the hearing and refused at the end. The effect of the adjournment was, however, to refuse the grandmother party status for the hearing that was taking place. Despite this, the judge permitted the grandmother to remain in court during the hearing and to give oral evidence. He records in his judgment that the grandmother:

 

 

“… opposes the applications and has played a part in these proceedings in as much as she has given evidence and has put herself forward as a potential carer for her grandchild”

 

  • There was a real issue before this court about what the judge intended to decide by his case management ruling. Although it is clear from the words he used that he adjourned the grandmother’s application until the end of the hearing on the merits, when he refused it, he later recollected (erroneously) that he had refused her application at the beginning of the hearing. Furthermore, although he failed to grant to the grandmother some important due process protections that a party would have, in particular notice of the issues in the case and knowledge of the evidence filed relating to those issues, he afforded the grandmother a partial opportunity to participate in a hearing which decided those issues.

 

 

The trial judge’s determination of the grandmother’s case was fairly short, and viewed criticially by the Court of Appeal

 

 

  • The terms in which the judge dealt with the grandmother’s application at the beginning of the hearing are as follows:

 

 

“This is an application for leave to make an application under section 8 of the Children Act. I bear in mind that this is a very late application and I bear in mind the Family Proceedings (sic) Rules and the overriding principle that I have just referred to. Although this is a late application, it has the potential for disruption not only of these proceedings but the interests of this child.

I am not going to shut the grandmother out of these proceedings at this stage. She can stay and hear the evidence, she can stay during all the proceedings, she can find her seat comfortably with other parties and she will be able to give evidence and through the solicitor for the father she can cross examine the author of the assessment that was made of her which was negative. I, therefore, adjourn her application to a stage in the proceedings after all the evidence has been completed. I do so in balancing the fairness to all the parties here and to the child.

There will be no ostensible delay of these proceedings by doing this, I allow her interests at least to be considered and for her to hear all the evidence as it potentially may interest the third party.”

 

  • At the end of the hearing the judge refused the application for five reasons that involved no analysis of the evidence, no analysis of the content of the assessment of the grandmother or the potential merits of her case, as follows:

 

 

i) the late nature of the application and the delay that an additional expert would occasion;

ii) the nature of the grandmother’s proposed application, namely for a residence order which the judge described as lacking in detail;

iii) the limited connection with the child: the judge accepted that there was an emotional attachment but erroneously described the continuous and significant contact arrangements as being “some ad hoc inter-familial arrangement for contact”;

iv) the real disruption that the application would cause to decision making about the child’s immediate future; and

v) the fact that the grandmother did “not fall within the remit of the local authority’s plans”.

 

  • As to the merits of the grandmother’s case, the judge was brief. The analysis in his full judgment was limited to the following words:

 

 

“The original assessment of the grandmother on 12th July of 2012 was negative. There is scope to believe that things have not so fundamentally changed that that report should stand to be considered as being valid. Any contribution as sought by the grandmother would require considerable analysis of the family dynamics, including of course an exploration of the father’s upbringing which itself has been the subject of various explanations, and also the management of contact. That was the view of the Guardian and I accept it. There is no merit in the application for the grandmother to care for the child. I appreciate that she may well have a kind heart and show commendable maturity as a grandparent herself in conceding that the time is now right for a decision to be made in respect of [the child].”

 

 

On the other side of the coin was the grandmother’s case, and the Court of Appeal felt that she had a better case than the Judge had recognised

 

 

  • The grandmother’s case was that she has a meaningful connection with the child who had regular contact including staying contact with her. That contact had existed before the child’s placement with the great grandparents, had continued after that placement had ended and was still taking place during the proceedings on a twice weekly basis. In addition, the July 2012 assessment acknowledged that the paternal grandmother and her husband displayed genuine emotion for and were clearly concerned about the child’s future. They were assessed as being fully aware of the local authority’s concerns about the parents and the child’s care needs. There was a significant attachment between the child and her grandparents that would be severed by the adoptive plan. By the time of the final hearing, the child’s parents supported the grandmother’s application.

 

 

 

  • The assessment also described the manifestly good care that was provided by the grandparents for a 14 year old boy and a 12 year old girl within what was evidently a long term stable relationship. There were no concerns about their parenting abilities in respect of these children and there had been no involvement of children’s services.

 

 

 

  • The local authority response to this court about the merits of the grandmother’s case was that the positives in the assessment were outweighed by the negatives which included the paternal grandmother’s partner having significant mobility problems such that he might not be able to assist with his granddaughter’s care. There were also fears about the impact the parents might have in undermining a placement with the grandparents, the appropriateness of the grandparents’ accommodation and the grandparents’ commitment to the children already cared for by them and whether that would be compromised by another child in the household.

 

 

 

  • In my judgment, the analysis of the negatives in the local authority’s evidence and by the guardian did not exclude the grandparents as a realistic option. To put it another way, the grandparents’ prima facie case on paper was stronger than that of the local authority relating to them. It is difficult to conclude other than that the grandparents’ case was arguable on any basis. It went to the critical proportionality evaluation of whether ‘nothing else would do’ than adoption. The grandmother’s application accordingly demanded rigorous scrutiny of the factors set out in section 10(9) of the Children Act 1989 in the context of the reasons for the late application.

 

 

Decision

 

  • The paternal grandmother submits and I agree that the case management decision that the judge made was plainly wrong because it was procedurally unfair. If, by his case management decision, it was the judge’s intention to exclude the grandparents from the care of the child, then he did not have regard to evidence relating to the section 10(9) factors or to the potential merits of her case which he would have found in the content of the assessment to which I have referred. His reasons lacked sufficient or any analysis. Case management decisions that have the character of deciding a substantive issue must be treated with particular care: hence the nature and extent of the enquiry that is made necessary by section 10(9) of the Act and its associated case law.

 

 

 

 

 

  • The purpose of section 10(9) of the 1989 Act and the case law that supports it is defeated if there is no analysis of the benefits and detriments inherent in the application and the arguability of the case. The section provides a framework for decisions of this kind to be made so that there is an appropriate balance between case management principles and the substantive issues in the proceedings. Furthermore, the lack of attention to detail and in particular the lack of analysis of what had been happening during the proceedings in particular as between the local authority and the grandmother and the child, including the timetable for the child and for the proceedings, deprived the decision of the character of individual and collective proportionality that application of the overriding objective would have provided. In simple terms, the decision was too superficial and un-reasoned to stand scrutiny.

 

 

 

  • If it was the judge’s intention to consider or re-consider the grandmother’s case at the end of the evidence, in what would then have been an holistic overview of the options to which a welfare analysis and proportionality evaluation were applied, then he failed to put in place any procedural protections for a person whose case was distinct from the other parties. In particular, his decision at the beginning of the hearing had the effect of refusing to make the grandmother a party, thereby denying her access to the documents so that she could challenge matters relating to her own case and condemned her to giving evidence without knowledge of the relevant evidence in the case. The essential due process protections of notice of the issues and an opportunity to challenge evidence relating to those issues was missing and in my judgment that was also procedurally unfair.

 

 

 

  • By reason of the manner in which the case management decision was made, the evidence relating to whether grandmother was a realistic option was not identified and tested. It was neither tested by reference to applicable case management principles nor substantively as one of the options in the case about which the court was hearing evidence with the usual due process protections. The judge allowed the issues raised by the grandmother to fall between two stools. That was plainly wrong and as a consequence the process was procedurally unfair.

 

 

 

  • At the end of the hearing, the case management decision made by the judge was re-iterated as a substantive decision to exclude the grandparents from the care of their granddaughter. Whether or not the grandmother as a non-party to that decision has the locus to challenge that aspect of the case, the mother does. She submits that as an exercise of value judgment it was wrong and in any event the judge failed to conduct a non linear, holistic welfare analysis and proportionality evaluation of all of the care and placement options and that was an error of law. The judge did not reason why the grandparents were to be excluded, there is no comparative welfare analysis of the benefits and detriments of each option and a proportionality evaluation is entirely missing from the judgment. Further and better reasons of the judgment were requested but they do not assist in any of these respects. That has the effect that there is no consideration in judgment of the effect on the child of breaking family ties, in particular her attachment to her grandparents and whether nothing else would do other than adoption.

 

 

 

  • In summary, the grandmother supported by the mother submit that the judge failed to address that which is required by the Supreme Court in Re B (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Threshold Criteria) [2013] UKSC 33, [2013] 1 WLR 1911 in analysing whether ‘nothing else will do’ and the subsequent Court of Appeal cases of Re P (A Child) (Care and Placement: Evidential Basis of Local Authority Case) [2013] EWCA Civ 963, Re G (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Welfare Evaluation) [2013] EWCA Civ 965 and Re B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146. I agree. There was no overt analysis of the child’s welfare throughout her life nor the likely effect on her of having ceased to be a member of her original family in accordance with section 1(2) and 1(4)(c) of the 2002 Act. The distinctions between the factors in the welfare checklists in the 1989 Act and the 2002 Act were not explored. The essence of the recent case law and of the statutory tests was not sufficiently demonstrated.

 

 

 

  • The local authority concede that the judge’s approach to the welfare analysis and proportionality evaluation was not in accordance with the authorities. Their case rests on the ability to exclude the grandmother from that exercise. That would have involved an analysis by the judge of the timetable for the child and the timetable for the proceedings as part of the overriding objective, the section 10(9) factors and the arguability of the grandmother’s case. That analysis was missing with the consequence that neither the grandmother’s case nor the local authority’s case was properly considered during case management and the grandmother’s case was not considered on the merits. It is fortunate that the child’s interests can be protected by an expedited re-hearing before the Designated Family Judge for Swansea.

 

This does seem to be the right decision for the child, but it raises real questions about the 26 week timetable.  It has been a long-standing question as to what the Court of Appeal would do with a Judge that refused in an adoption case to allow a delay to assess a relative who came forward last minute, and now we know. If the Judge is robust and looking at the new wording of the Act and the principles of the Act in relation to delay and achieving finality, they run the risk of being successfully appealed.

 

There’s another Court of Appeal decision forthcoming which does much the same in relation to giving a parent more time to demonstrate the ability to provide good enough care (even when the proceedings had reached 64 weeks http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/991.html  ), so the message here is somewhat muddled.

In speeches, it is 26 weeks can happen, it must happen, it will happen.

 

In the cases that hit the Court of Appeal it seems to me more – 26 weeks can happen, it must happen, it will happen – but to those other cases, not the ones we’re looking at.

So can a Judge who delivers that sort of robust judgment, refusing delay, be confident that the Court of Appeal will back them?  That’s exactly what happened with the ‘robust case management’ that was supposed to be the underpinning of the Protocol and PLO Mark One.  If the Court of Appeal aren’t really behind the 26 weeks, and the appeal process takes forever (as presently), then won’ t Judges cut out the middle man, save time and just allow the adjournment requested knowing that the Court of Appeal will probably grant it eventually anyway?

 

 

*To be scrupulously fair, this Court of Appeal decision, though only now released, was decided in March BEFORE the Children and Families Act 2014 came into force. But hardly in ignorance of the culture, and the main judgment was delivered by Ryder LJ, a major architect of the revised PLO.

 

Capacity to live with your husband

 

The Court of Protection case of Re PB (2014)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/14.html

 

The case involved a 72 year old woman PB, whom Norfolk CC considered to lack capacity and also felt that she could not safely live in her own home with her husband TB who was 50 and also said to lack capacity.

As ever with the Court of Protection, the first step is to establish whether  a person lacks capacity to make decisions on their own behalf, with the starting point of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 being that they DO unless proved otherwise. A person with capacity is entitled to make poor or foolish decisions, decisions that nobody around them thinks are right. We have autonomy to make our own mistakes, as long as we understand the nature of our decision and what the pros and cons are.

 

We end up with, in the Mental Capacity Act 2005, a clear bright line between someone who has capacity (in which case the Court of Protection have to let them make their own decisions) and someone who does not (in which case the Court of Protection can be asked to make a decision on their behalf striving to do so in their best interests)

Is capaciy really such a clear bright line? This case throws up some doubts for me.

 

Let’s look at what PB herself said to Parker J

 

 

  • PB wrote to me before the hearing. In particular she wrote that “I should like to point out that it is the right of every individual to choose for himself or herself whom to live with and where to live and not to live under the shadow of regimentation and have to live in an institution”.

 

 

 

  • I was asked prior to the hearing, and when I had had no opportunity to assess the background, whether I would see PB at the hearing. I reserved that decision for the trial. At court I was also asked to see TB. I was happy to do so, but stressed that care has to be taken as to how a meeting shall be treated. The protected party does not give an sworn/affirmed account, and in particular if the meeting takes place only in the presence of the judge, with no opportunity to test the evidence, then in my view no factual conclusions save those which relate to the meeting itself should be drawn, in particular with regard to capacity (see YLA v PM and Another [2013] EWHC 4020 (COP) at [35].

 

 

 

  • As it turned out, neither wished to give evidence. They each asked to speak to me in the courtroom with all representatives present. This took place on day three. PB spoke to me first, followed by TB. Each sat close to the bench and was at liberty, as I told them, to talk about what they felt and wanted, and any other topic. They were not cross examined, and I did not ask any questions. I did speak to PB about the medical procedure which she was reluctant to undergo.

 

 

 

  • PB is likeable, highly intelligent, sophisticated and articulate, well-read and knowledgeable. She writes poetry. With regard to marriage she told me “Let no man put asunder” and “once a couple are married – meant to be together”. She denied that she had been ill for 50 years. She stated “I haven’t lived with my siblings for 50 years”.

 

 

 

  • It is obvious to me from all that I have read and heard as well as from the meeting that PB’s intellectual understanding is at a high level. She stated “I understand that this Act only came in in 2005. I wonder whether it’s working out as it should be”.

 

 

 

  • She told me, when asked what she wanted to happen, “I’d like to be free to wander the universe without being told to sit down and be quiet”, “I’d like to get my poetry published”, “I’d like [TB] to be always at my side”, and “I’ve never hit a carer” (the evidence is that she has).

 

 

 

  • TB is also likeable, and he was articulate and sincere. He said “How do you take decisions” “we have a lot of confidence in one another, we should be living together as man and wife”, “The social worker has done a good job”. He wants to go back to F House to be with PB. He volunteered that he had “tapped the manager on the nose”.

 

 

 

  • I accept that whatever their respective problems this couple has a long standing and committed relationship and that they love one another dearly. There is no issue as to their capacity to marry: the marriage was celebrated many decades ago

 

 

 

PB here comes across as intelligent and articulate – the Judge saying that her intellectul understanding is at a high level  (her critique of the Mental Capacity Act is one which is put very well, and which many people share)

 

What did the medical experts say about her capacity?

 

 

  • Particularly since PB presents in a sophisticated manner, as Dr Khalifa told me, it has been an advantage for me to have had the treating physician with long term knowledge to give evidence on the issues. Dr Khalifa stems from Sudan but has worked in Ireland before coming to practice in England as a consultant in old age psychiatry. English is not her first language and her idiomatic understanding has some gaps. That gave rise to a misunderstanding in writing, as will be seen. Her reports were also not clear, taken in conjunction with the joint statement (appended hereto).

 

 

 

  • There is a considerable degree of consensus between the experts:

 

 

i) Dr Barker thinks that the diagnosis is schizo-affective disorder. Dr Khalifa thinks it is residual schizophrenia. I agree, as the doctors agreed, that this makes no difference to their overall views.

ii) Both agree that PB has cognitive problems. Dr Khalifa says that she has compromised executive function stemming from her frontal lobe. This is a known problem in schizophrenia. Dr Barker accepts that she has frontal lobe damage, which he described as “mild brain damage”. Dr Barker also thinks that she has an “ageing brain”.

 

  • Dr Khalifa explained in oral evidence (which she gave the day after Dr Barker) that:

 

 

i) Executive dysfunction is progressive.

ii) It is implicated in planning, judgment, and decision making.

iii) PB has problems with working memory, keeping information “on line”, and manipulating the information to make a decision.

iv) She suffers from “poverty of thought” (a global reduction in her quality of thought where the person keeps returning to the same limited ideas).

v) She shows “negative thinking” and lack of initiative.

vi) She is unable to judge situations.

vii) She has problems in “set shifting”: that is in shifting her choice to a new one in the face of negative feedback, and the ability to stick to a new choice.

viii) She has problems in doing more than one thing simultaneously.

ix) Other problems are of selecting appropriate responses and inhibiting inappropriate ones, of generating plans and resolving problems.

x) She cannot compare the risks and the benefits.

 

  • This formulation had not been put forward by Dr Barker and he was not asked about it, since Dr Khalifa’s formulation was not elicited until she gave evidence. But the upshot is that it was not challenged. Nothing that Dr Barker said was inconsistent with it.

 

 

 

  • Dr Khalifa states that PB suffers from intense anxiety which can reach clinical levels and which prevents her from making a decision. She “gets stuck”, as described by Ms Thompson. Dr Barker thinks that many people without mental health problems have problems making difficult decisions. But he agrees that PB’s anxiety can reach clinical levels so that it constitutes impairment/ disturbance.

 

 

 

  • Broadly, Dr Barker is not certain about the extent to which PB’s decisions may be based on her beliefs about marriage, and to what extent TB’s influence leads her to be incapacitous all the time.

 

 

 

  • Dr Barker states that PB is heavily influenced by her husband. When not with TB she has capacity (in his original report he wrote “has considerable capacity”) but may be incapacitous when with him. He does not know to what extent influence may be taken into account in deciding that she is incapacitous.

 

 

 

  • In his report and evidence he suggested that PB may simply be making a decision based on her commitment to marriage over her own wellbeing which is unwise but which is not caused by her mental impairment. “If she has preferred to ally herself with her husband she may accept the level of squalor”. In cross–examination he said that in his view her decisions “are not solely driven by mental impairment” and “it is difficult to judge whether it is cognitive impairment, or other factors which lead her to make unwise, or incapacitous, decisions when with TB”.

 

 

 

  • He said that assessment of whether she was unable to use and weigh might be skewed if PB had chosen to withhold information. She might have different thought processes but was choosing not to disclose that to him. There is evidence that she understands the issue but she may not want to give evidence which may “damage her cause”. This may be a natural denial.

 

 

 

  • That is the best summary of Dr Barker’s views which I can provide. His views were in fact set out in a number of different formulations. Mr Reeder has set them out in his closing document. I need not review that in detail. Dr Barkers’ final position in evidence was that the issue of PB’s capacity is finely balanced and should be decided by the court. He ‘leans’ to the conclusion that she has capacity to make decisions about residence, care and contact in optimal conditions He wavered somewhat as to whether he thought that PB lacked capacity when not with TB, and eventually concluded that he thought that she might do. “I agree that PB lacks capacity in certain situations, for example because of anxiety, mental disorder or influence. I don’t know if she has capacity in optimal circumstances, but I have not seen sufficient evidence that she lacks capacity then”. Ms Street says that the Official Solicitor “interprets” Dr Barker to have said that he thought that the presumption of capacity had not been rebutted.

 

 

 

  • Dr Khalifa’s consistent position in oral evidence was that PB’s mental illness, anxiety and influence from TB all contribute to her inability to weigh information. She lacks capacity at all times, sometimes at a greater level that at others.

 

 

 

  • Dr Barker had drafted the joint statement after their joint meeting. Dr Khalifa told me, and I accept, that he sent it to her and she signed it without further discussion. They recorded agreement that capacity was “finely balanced”. Dr Khalifa told me that she had misunderstood. She did not consider capacity to be finely balanced. She regarded PB and always has as clearly lacking capacity. Furthermore, although they agreed that PB had “considerable capacity” when not subject to TB’s direct influence (adopting Dr Barker’s phrase, by which he seems to have meant something different) both in her report and the joint statement, she did not mean that PB ever had capacity. She “would not separate influence and major psychiatric disorder.” In any event TB’s influence is pervasive. Whenever PB has to consider decisions about living with him or spending time with him she either cannot recall or use and weight the information or is paralysed by anxiety, or both.

 

 

 

  • The joint statement does not clearly address the capacity issue and Dr Khalifa’s clear view only emerged at court. Dr Khalifa told me also that she had wanted to “harmonise” their views. I accept this. Dr Barker’s view was never clearly enough expressed and it seems to me that she thought that this was the best they could do since there was no prospect of getting any clearer formulation. She was wrong to sign up to an accord when in fact there was none. But I am sure she did not appreciate that this would prolong the debate and the enquiry.

 

 

 

  • Both agree that “whether or not the Court finds that she lacks capacity, she is a vulnerable adult and as such requires protection in the context of her relationship with TB.”

 

 

[I don't personally care much for the last sentence - if PB has capacity, then she has the same autonomy as any of us to make choices and decisions without the State interfering.  I come across this patrician attitude quite a lot, and I'm afraid it is something that makes me bristle. It isn't the job of the State to make decisions for people who are capable of doing that themselves]

 

There are some problems in this – it appears that Dr Barker felt that PB had capacity to make decisions about where she wanted to live ‘in optimal conditions’ and that PB had ‘considerable capacity’ when not subject to TB’s influence.

 

We’ve all come across people who act foolishly in relation to a love affair  (this might be described as the ‘Gail Tilsley effect’ – a person who is normally sensible, cautious and fairly dull, has all of their common sense go out of the window when their head is turned by love.  Is that a lack of capacity?  Sometimes when this is happening to you, you might describe it as not being able to think straight, you might come out of it saying ‘what was I thinking?’  ‘what possessed me to do that?’  – but is it a lack of capacity?

 

The Judge was asked to prefer the evidence of Dr Barker to Dr Khalifa (who had put things on a much more medical footing regarding decision making, as opposed to Dr Barker, who felt that PB’s judgment was clouded when it came to making decisions about her relationship with TB – which would NOT be a lack of capacity for the purposes of the Act). The Judge instead preferred the evidence of Dr Khalifa.

 

 

  • Ms Street and Mr Reeder asked me to prefer the opinion of Dr Barker to Dr Khalifa. I decline to do so.

 

 

i) I do not agree that Dr Khalifa was approaching the task of assessment from a Mental Health Act “diagnostic” standpoint or safeguarding perspective.

ii) Dr Barker’s evidence was speculative, approached more as a philosophical or academic debate than an opinion. As I have commented above he was reluctant himself to factor a consistent body of information from reliable sources as to PB’s thought processes. He focused on his own assessment rather than looking at the history, in particular the stark picture presented by Ms Thompson’s evidence.

iii) His emphasis on PB’s sophisticated, dextrous use of language, which was not in dispute, caused him to lose focus on the issue of using and weighing the information and the inability to take any decision at all: getting “stuck”, “going along with it”, “acquiescent” (a word which struck him by its “sophistication”).

iv) He had no evidence that PB was deliberately concealing information from him, or her motivation if she was. What she said to him was consistent with “sliding away” from the issues.

v) Dr Barker took the individual elements but did not put them together. He did not address the matters in issue. As I have said, the question was not the wish to be with her husband. The issue was not whether she was wise or unwise to regard their trips together as “romantic” or to regard the bonds of marriage as sacred; but whether she is able to decide where and with whom she is to live and how her care is to be managed.

vi) Dr Khalifa broke down the elements then approached capacity on a holistic basis. I found her oral evidence clear and focussed, well argued, cogent and compelling.

vii) I am satisfied that PB suffers from impairment/disturbance which directly results from the psychiatric disorders identified by Dr Khalifa.

viii) I do not accept Dr Barker’s opinion that PB is only under TB’s influence when she is actually with him. I agree with Dr Khalifa that TB’s influence remains effective even when not she is not with him. This is apparent from the conversations recorded above with Ms Nicholas, Ms Masters, and Dr Khalifa.

ix) And finally key issues on which he focussed are, as he accepted, matters of law or of judgment for the court.

 

Because this issue arose as to whether PB’s mental condition and disorder of the mind was causing her lack of capacity, or whether it was a contributing factor together with her feelings towards her husband and her inability to process logical decisions when considering him, there was a legal issue to be resolved

 

 

  • capacity in this context must mean with regard to the “matter in issue”. Furthermore, “for the Court to have jurisdiction to make a best interests determination, the statute requires there to be a clear causative nexus between mental impairment and any lack of capacity that may be found to exist (s 2(1)).” The key words “because of” should not be replaced by “referable to” or “significantly relates to”: PC v City of York Council [2013] EWCA Civ 478.

 

 

 

  • Ms Street submits that “because of” in Section 2 MCA 2005 means “is the sole cause of”. Mr Reeder submits that it means “is the effective cause of“. Ms Burnham suggests that it means “is an effective cause of” and submits that there is no material distinction between “the sole cause” and “the effective cause“.

 

 

 

  • Ms Burnham refers by way of analogy to the Equality Act 2010, where the words “because of” have been construed as meaning “a substantial reason”: it need not be the main reason so long as it “an effective cause”. She cites pre- EA 2010 authority: Owen v Briggs and James, 1982 ICR 618 (CA) and O’Neill v Governors of St Thomas More Roman Catholic Voluntary Aided Upper School [1997] 1CR 33. I note other analogous areas of statutory interpretation where a purposive construction has been adopted. Under s 423 Insolvency Act 1996, in order to set aside an impugned transaction its “purpose” must have been to defraud creditors. Purpose does not mean sole purpose: substantial purpose or intention is sufficient (Inland Revenue Commissioners v Hashmi) [2000] 2 BCLC 489, 504, [2000] BPIR 974. Under s 37 Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 there is power to set aside a transaction made with the intention to defeat a claim for a financial remedy. The intention to defeat the claim does not have to be the dominant motive in the transaction; if it is a subsidiary (but material) motive then that will suffice: Kemmis v Kemmis (Welland and Others Intervening), Lazard Brothers and Co (Jersey) Ltd v Norah Holdings Ltd and Others [1988] 1 WLR 1307, [1988] 2 FLR 223.

 

 

 

  • I agree with Ms Burnham that where there are several causes it is logically impossible for one of them to be “the effective cause”. I agree that to hold otherwise would lead to an absurd conclusion because even if impairment or disturbance were the most important factor, wherever there were other factors (however little part they might play) the s 2 MCA 2005 test would not apply.

 

 

 

  • There is nothing Convention incompatible in the concept that multiple factors may affect a decision. Otherwise a person with impaired capacity whose disturbance/impairment of mind operates to disable her from weighing and using information would not fall within the protection of the Act.

 

 

 

  • It seems to me that the true question is whether the impairment/disturbance of mind is an effective, material or operative cause. Does it cause the incapacity, even if other factors come into play? This is a purposive construction.

 

 

 

  • The issue is not, as Mr Reeder puts it, whether “the effect of PB’s views about her marriage is itself an impairment or disturbance or results from an impairment or disturbance”.

 

 

 

  • The question is whether PB lacks capacity in respect of the matter in issue by reason of a disturbance or impairment in the mind or brain so that she cannot use and weigh her choices (which may include choices impelled to whatever extent by such beliefs of feelings) so that he/she is unable to understand, retain, or use and weigh them.

 

 

 

  • Ms Street and Mr Reeder also submit that Dr Khalifa approached the test the wrong way round. They submit that the Code of Practice stipulates that the first step is to decide whether there is a disturbance of mind, and the second to decide on capacity whereas McFarlane LJ in PC v City of York [2013] EWCA Civ 478 stated that this should be considered in reverse order. In my view MacFarlane LJ did not purport to lay down a different test: nor did he take the questions in the reverse order, but simply stressed that there must be a causative nexus between the impairment and the incapacity.

 

 

 

  • I do not consider that it matters what order the expert addressed the issues so long as she or he observes the causative nexus. Dr Khalifa identified the impairment or disturbance, which she described compellingly and in detail, and then clearly advised that this caused the inability to use and weigh.

 

 

 

  • When Dr Khalifa was asked whether PB’s inability to use and weigh the information was “due to” her constantly and clearly communicated views about marriage and her role within that marriage as TB’s wife, Dr Khalifa rightly rejected this as the relevant question and repeated her opinion as to PB’s condition and its effect on the ability to use and weigh. I do not agree that this was “ducking the question”. Dr Khalifa said and repeated that it is difficult to separate PB’s impairment or disturbance of functioning of mind and brain from the question of influence.

 

 

 

  • I regard PB’s condition as the cause of her inability to use and weigh. Her inability to challenge TB may at one time have stemmed from a belief in the ties of marriage: I do not know. But now she is unable to use and weigh the information because of the compromise in her executive functioning and her anxiety.

 

 

and the Judge specifically looked at the issue of Overbearing of the Will

 

Influence/overbearing of the will

 

  • In R v Cooper [2009] UKHL 42, [2009] 1 WLR 1786 at [13] the Supreme Court noted that “The commission therefore recommended the functional approach: this asked whether, at the time the decision had to be made, the person could understand its nature and effects…”. However, the commission went on to accept that understanding might not be enough. There were cases where people could understand the nature and effects of the decision to be made but the effects of their mental disability prevented them from using that information in the decision-making process. The examples given were an anorexic who always decides not to eat or a person whose mental disability meant that he or she was “unable to exert their will against some stronger person who wishes to influence their decisions or against some force majeure of circumstances”: para 3.17. (underlining added for emphasis).

 

 

 

  • I do not accept as Ms Street submits that the underlined passage supports the proposition that the impairment or disturbance must be the sole cause of the inability to make a decision. It does support Ms Burnham’s submission that inability to exert the will against influence because of the impairment or disturbance is relevant.

 

 

 

  • I do not accept that pre MCA authority is irrelevant. It has been held that the jurisdiction of the High Court is not usurped where capacity has been lost because of the influence of another or the impact of external circumstances, and only regained because the court has regulated exposure to such influences which if subsequently reasserted will cause capacity to be lost once more Re G (an adult) (Mental capacity: Court’s Jurisdiction) [2004] EWHC 222 (Fam) and a Local Authority v SA and others.

 

 

 

  • In Re A (Capacity: Refusal of Contraception) [2011] Fam 61 at [73] Bodey J specifically found that Mrs A’s inability to use and weigh was the consequence of the influence of a husband to whom she was fiercely loyal. Ms Street says that this decision is not relevant in the instant case since the words “because of” were not the subject of argument. In my view the issue of influence is a general one, and not limited to the causal nexus between impairment or disturbance of functioning of mind and brain and inability to make a decision. In that case the legal focus was the capacity to use and weigh information in order to make the decision. I do not accept that Bodey J was approaching the case on the wrong “inherent jurisdiction” test.

 

 

 

  • In IM v LM the Court of Appeal recorded Peter Jackson J’s observation that the threshold for those who wish to establish that a person cannot make a decision because they are overborne by influences from others must be a high one “in relation to an act which is so very hard to rationalise.” The Court did not further comment on this formulation. I assume that they approved it. There is no suggestion that influence is not a relevant consideration. They specifically approved Bodey J in Re A (Refusal of Contraception).

 

 

 

  • As I have commented the type of decision to be made in this case is quite different from a decision to engage in sexual relations. It requires consideration of quite complicated choices and an assessment of past and future. In any event the influence/pressure of TB is common ground and is overwhelmingly demonstrated.

 

 

 

  • PB is under TB’s influence whether he is physically present or not. Every time she is asked to make a decision about him his influence, in conjunction with her psychiatric condition, cognitive deficits and anxiety, prevents her from using and weighing the information.

 

 

 

  • But in any event by reason of her condition alone, even without the influence of TB, in my view PB lacks capacity to use and weigh. The history over March and April 2013 in particular demonstrates that PB was not able in reality to make any decision at all which related to TB, or to her care needs. And what she has said during the course of these proceedings demonstrates the same process. Her impairment /disturbance is the effective cause, the primary cause of her inability to make a decision.

 

 

 

  • I have had the advantage, which the experts have not, of surveying all the material in this case and in particular the oral evidence of Ms Thompson. PB, notwithstanding her high intellectual capacity and verbal dexterity, and in spite of her superficial and partial acknowledgement of the risks, is simply unable to factor into her thought processes (i.e. use and weigh) the realities of the harm that she will suffer if she resumes living with TB or has uncontrolled contact with him. And perhaps, even more importantly, she is unable to weigh up the risks to her of being in an unsupported environment, with or without him, without a package of care. This is not to be paternalistic, or to fail to allow her to experience an acceptable degree of risk. It is not a question of allowing her “to make the same mistakes as all other human beings are at liberty to make and not infrequently do.”

 

The Judge decided that PB did lack capacity for the purposes of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and made the declarations sought by Norfolk, which were in effect that PB could be detained in a home against her wishes and that this deprivation of liberty was authorised.

 

An important point to arise was that Parker J had indicated that IF she had decided that PB DID have capacity, she would still have authorised the same actions (keeping PB in a home and apart from her husband) under the inherent jurisdiction. This is a big deal, because if this became law, it would mean that Local Authorities could ask Courts to make decision about ‘vulnerable’ adults who had capacity to make their own decisions. And as we keep hearing ‘the inherent jurisdiction theoretically has no limits”.  I believe that the Official Solicitor intended to appeal on this point of law, and I wish them all the luck in the world – this would be a major development in the law and a major erosion of the principle that people have autonomy to make bad decisions as long as they have capacity.  It would be a bad day for personal liberties in this country if the inherent jurisdiction were to be extended in this way   (on the flip-side, if you believe that the State is there to protect vulnerable people from making mistakes, then it would be a good day. We can agree to disagree on that)

 

 

 

  • I expressed the view at the conclusion of the hearing that if I did not find that PB lacks capacity I would have made an order in the same terms pursuant to the inherent jurisdiction. This is not strictly necessary, but I understand that the Official Solicitor will consider whether to appeal the decision following receipt of the judgment.

 

 

 

  • Miss Street submits that if PB has capacity that the court cannot impose a residence regime. She submits that the authorities only sanction, in essence, an adjunctive, supportive regime to restrain and protect from others.

 

 

 

  • All accept that the inherent jurisdiction can be invoked where capacity is vitiated by constraint, coercion, undue influence and other disabling circumstances which prevent her from forming and expressing a real and genuine consent: see Munby J (as he then was) in Re SA [2006] EWHC 2942 (a forced marriage case). I accept that this can result from improper influence of another person (indeed this is what is asserted here). Vulnerability, I accept, is a description rather than a precise legal formulation.

 

 

 

  • The reported cases are all fact specific. But I do not read them restrictively, as I am urged. In Re G (an adult) (Mental Capacity: Court’s Jurisdiction) [2004] All ER (d) 33 (Oct) Bennett J determined the place of residence of a vulnerable adult who had regained capacity. He held that he could not ignore the consequences if the court withdrew its protection. If the declarations were in her best interests, the court was not depriving G of her right to make decisions but ensuring that her stable and improved mental health was maintained.

 

 

 

  • Macur J, as she then was, in LBL and (1) RYJ and (2) VJ stated that the court has the ability via the inherent jurisdiction “to facilitate the process of unencumbered decision making by those they have determined free of external pressure or physical restraint in making those decisions”. I do not see that formulation as restricting the exercise of the inherent jurisdiction to prevent placement in a care home, subject to deprivation of liberty issues. In Re L (Vulnerable Adults with Capacity: Court’s Jurisdiction) No 2 [2012] WLR 1439, the Court of Appeal confirmed the inherent jurisdiction as a safety net to protect vulnerable adults subject to coercion or undue influence. The inherent jurisdiction exists to protect, liberate and enhance personal autonomy, but any orders must be both necessary and proportionate. Miss Burnham submits that what is proposed is protective and necessary and proportionate and is not a coercive restricting regime. I am inclined to the view that a regime could be imposed on PB if that is the only way in which her interests can be safeguarded. To be maintained in optimum health, safe, warm, free from physical indignity and cared for is in itself an enhancement of autonomy. In Re L injunctive relief was granted against the parties’ adult son. That in itself was an interference with autonomy in one sense (freedom of association) and an enhancement of autonomy in another (protection against coercion).

 

 

 

  • I see no indication that the inherent jurisdiction is limited to injunctive relief. Each case depends on the degree of protection required and the risks involved. And the court must always consider Article 8 rights and best interests when making a substantive order.

 

 

 

  • Ms Street of course submits that any deprivation of liberty must be “in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law” and “lawful pursuant to Article 5 of the Convention”. She cites Lord Hope in R (Purdy) v DPP [2010] 1 AC 345: (i) there must be a legal basis in domestic jurisdiction (ii) The rule must be sufficiently accessible to the individual affected by the restriction and (iii) it must be sufficiently precise for the person to understand its scope and foresee the consequences of his actions so that he can regulate his conduct without breaking the law.

 

 

 

  • If I made such an order here a regime would be imposed by a court of law through a legal process of which notice had been given and it would be perfectly possible for a person of sufficient capacity to understand its effect. That fulfils the “Purdy” criteria.

 

 

 

  • However Ms Street also submits that there would be no or insufficient connection between the deprivation of liberty and “unsoundness of mind” within the meaning of Article 5. That would be the only basis upon which I could impose restraint.

 

 

 

  • A person who is incapacitous does not necessarily suffer from unsoundness of mind (see again for instance the anorexia cases). I note that deprivation of liberty is specifically authorised under the 2005 Act in cases of incapacity without reference to unsoundness of mind. It has never so far as I am aware been suggested that the DoLs provisions are in breach of Article 5.

 

 

 

  • “Unsoundness of mind” is not the same as “incapacity”. PB has a diagnosed psychiatric condition which compromises her decision making. If it is not established that she lacks capacity this would be on the narrowest interpretation of MCA 2005 (“because of”) and would not impinge upon her diagnosis or her vulnerability, which results from her psychiatric condition.

 

 

 

  • Ms Street concedes that TB’s influence would be highly relevant under the inherent jurisdiction. PB cannot litigate on her own behalf. The Official Solicitor would be entitled to make an application on her behalf for injunctive relief against TB in her best interests. I would be entitled to make an injunction of my own motion under the inherent jurisdiction preventing him from coming into contact with her, if the Official Solicitor declined to do make an application. If such an order were made she would have nowhere to go. In fact she cannot presently return to his flat in any event because of the landlord’s injunction against her.

 

 

 

  • In my view the inherent jurisdiction does extend to orders for residence at a particular place. If that constitutes a deprivation of liberty then in my view the court could authorise it pursuant to the inherent jurisdiction.

 

 

 

  • Assuming that it would not constitute an unlawful deprivation of liberty in my view I would be entitled to make an order for placement against her will pursuant to the inherent jurisdiction. There are serious risks to PB if she is not properly cared for or if she is not protected against TB. Both Dr Khalifa and Dr Barker recognise that reality.

 

 

 

 

 

Misrepresenting the views of an expert

 

 

 

X County Council v M and Others 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/2262.html

This is a High Court case, involving the application by a Local Authority for a Care Order, and more crucially an Interim Care Order sanctioning continued separation of a newborn baby from her mother.

The child had been removed under an Emergency Protection Order, and prior to birth there had been one of those unusual applications under the Inherent Jurisdiction for permission not to tell the mother that this would be the plan at birth. Those applications had been made on 20th May, and the child was born on 1st June and removed under an Emergency Protection Order.

That application arises from the President’s decision, when he was Munby J in Re D (Unborn Baby) [2009] 2 FLR 313. http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2009/446.html .

[That’s not a decision that I like – I think there were extremely peculiar circumstances of that case, but I hoped at the time that we would never see its like again, and I don’t enjoy seeing it being made use of. Frankly, I think the family courts would be better to stick to the traditional view of events that until there’s a subject of the application to litigate about, the Court should stay out of it. No child, no Children Act]

Anyway, that is just to provide the background colour that this was a newborn baby, with features so unusual that one of the most unusual applications one can make in family courts was applied for, together with a Reporting Restriction Order. And the proceedings were being done in the High Court.

None of that is straightforward stuff, so it is a bit surprising that the case ended up being allocated to a very junior and inexperienced lawyer at a time when there were no experienced lawyers around to supervise or guide.

[Of course, I have the luxury of working for a decent sized authority, where there are a lot of childcare lawyers – if this is a very small authority one can see that holidays or illness might have taken the available stock of lawyers out of the equation]

Anyway, Keehan J was not happy with the application and evidence as it appeared before him on the first hearing, and asked for it to come back.
4. The local authority’s application for a care order and for an interim care order was allocated to be heard by me on 3 June 2014. I adjourned the hearing to 6 June, in particular for the following three reasons:
i) I was not satisfied with the evidence relied on by the local authority in support of its application.

ii) Further, the local authority had not notified the mother nor the putative father of the applications. Accordingly, neither were present before the court nor represented.

iii) Before I went into court on 3 June my clerk received an email from one of the mother’s treating consultant psychiatrists Dr Z, setting out that his professional opinion and views had been mis-represented by the local authority in the application for a care order and in the social worker’s statement filed in support of the same.

5. I was dismayed by the actions of the local authority’s legal department subsequent to the hearing on 3 June. The parents were not formally notified of the hearing listed on 6 June until the very late evening of 5 June. Further, Dr Z was not notified of the direction that he prepare an addendum report on the current state of M’s mental health until the late afternoon of 4 June. The Official Solicitor was not given notice of the hearing until the late afternoon of 5 June.

6. At the hearing on 6 June the local authority and the children’s guardian were present. The putative father, F, attended in person. The mother was not present nor represented. Ms Clift of the Official Solicitor’s Office however was present in court, because the mother had been assessed as lacking capacity to litigate, although the Official Solicitor had not yet been formally appointed to act as her litigation friend.
He then asked for the Chief Executive to explain what had gone wrong.
In light of the failings identified in paragraph 4 above, I required the Chief Executive of X County Council to prepare a letter explaining these events. She did so. It appears a very junior and inexperienced member of the legal department was entrusted with preparing the case for the hearing on 6 June. She was unsupervised by a more senior colleague because of holiday commitments. I was assured such events would not occur again and that provision would be made for the supervision of junior members of staff when more senior members were away on vacation.
These are not trivial complaints – not serving the parents with the application is a big deal, particularly where the mother lacks capacity. It is unfair to them, and it leads to them not having the opportunity to put their case and to have the time to prepare their case properly.

But far worse than that is the suggestion that the LA in their application and social work evidence had misrepresented what Dr Z had to say about mother’s situation and condition. Of course everyone makes mistakes, and if you are new, it is easy to make a mistake, but these are things that would trouble most people.  It may have been an honest mistake, but it was an important mistake.

I am a little surprised that the Council is not named here, in accordance with the President’s guidance on transparency, but perhaps there are reasons for that relating to the Reporting Restriction Order or risk of jigsaw identification.
That wasn’t the only issue

When the application first came before me on 3 June, I was dismayed that the local authority had not obtained an up to date report from Dr Z. In my view when considering the local authority’s care plan to continue the separation of mother and child, it was vital to have a report from the mother’s treating consultant psychiatrist.

Further I was extremely concerned to learn that following the baby’s removal to foster care on 2 June, there had been no contact between mother and child. The local authority told me it proposed to undertake a risk assessment of whether contact could take place and in what circumstances. It was suggested the local authority would need two weeks to undertake the assessment. I made it plain that such a delay was wholly unacceptable.
It is hard, when looking at these mistakes, when dealing with a mother who was so vulnerable and when the Courts were being asked to make very important and draconian decisions, and feel anything but dismay and a sense that the parents have been badly treated.

I’m not a local authority basher – but this falls far short of what one would want to see, and a Judge would have been entitled to be less measured than this one has been.

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