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Bad character evidence

 

There are all sorts of rules and guidance in criminal proceedings as to when you can, or can’t adduce or cross examine on ‘bad character’ evidence. We don’t have those rules and guidance in care proceedings (yet).

 

If you are a parent in care proceedings, every bit of your life is pored over. There will be a life history, assessments, questioning, examination of records relating to school, health visitor and sometimes your medical records. You will find yourself scrutinised – if you are foolish enough to have an open Facebook page, you might see that produced – you might end up with your text messages being obtained and released into the proceedings, maybe your emails too.

So in a sense, a lot of the proceedings can be (or at least seem to be) about bad character.

There’s a new development though, which is that judgments in care proceedings are being published. Those can (and generally should) contain the names of the social worker and Guardian.

 

Now, what happens if in one of those cases, the Judge says that Steve Pink (your social worker) has done a bad assessment, hasn’t been fair, didn’t keep proper records and fell short of the standards required of a social worker conducting an assessment. (Or the Guardian, the same principle works for both)

 

(Or if you want a real example, read the last blog post – I don’t want to pick on those professionals specificallly, but I can see that there are things in that judgment that they wouldn’t want to be cross examined on in other cases)

 

If the parent’s case is that the worker has done the same thing again with THEM, are they entitled to cross-examine the social worker or Guardian about those matters?  Is it material evidence that could undermine their credibility and bolster the parent’s case?

 

It would seem to be so. It probably feels uncomfortable and worrying for professionals that things they got wrong in one case could come back to bite them in another.  But think for a minute – if the judgment was about the father instead, it would be relied on and used in care proceedings. Is what’s sauce for the goose sauce for the gander?  Or is it on the parent who is ‘on trial?’

 

I will be interested to see when this issue arises, and how the Court’s deal with it. There’s a risk of article 6 unfairness if something material isn’t admitted   (I think it has to have relevance to the case – i.e the complaint the parent is making has similarities, not just being done to make a witness squirm  – there are some strictures against that in the Bar Council Code of Conduct   (g) must not make statements or ask questions which are merely scandalous or intended or calculated only to vilify insult or annoy either a witness or some other person     – I’ve seen plenty of people sail pretty close to that though)

 

Once the genie is out of the bottle though, it has implications – suddenly everyone has to search case law for any references to the social worker, Guardian or other professional witnesses to see if there’s any dirt there, the Court has to slog through an entire judgment on another case to ensure that the criticisms are not being cherry-picked out against a more positive overall view. And a Court might feel fettered in naming, or shaming a social worker if they know it might be brought up time and again. Also, it places even more pressure on social work evidence, particularly for the inexperienced ones who might have a blunder in one case dog them for the next year.

 

 

Machetes, body armour and social work bashing

 

Oh, that’s a clickbait title if ever there was one. The case in question does contain all of that stuff though.
Re IMA (care proceedings :no threshold) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B110.html

This is a set of care proceedings heard in Manchester County Court, but it raises some important issues of wider importance.

It was a case in which the Local Authority obtained an Emergency Protection Order removing IMA in August 2013, and after that Interim Care Orders sanctioning IMA remaining in foster care, up until the final hearing, which took place in August 2014 a year after the initial removal.

The Local Authority had been seeking a plan of adoption, supported by the Guardian, but this had changed to permanent placement with a relative. It is of note that the plan of adoption had been supported by the Agency Decision Makers (whose job it is to assess separately to social workers whether the circumstances of an individual case mean that adoption is the right plan)

The Judge at final hearing found that the threshold criteria were not made out, and thus the child would be going home and no statutory orders would be made.

The threshold criteria was based on the risk of the child being exposed to domestic violence (which is, on the revised wording of the Children Act 1989 a matter which on its own is capable of meeting threshold). That had two aspects really (i) Was father a risk of violence or violent behaviour and (ii) was the child in mother’s care going to be exposed to the father.

The fact that the Judge found that threshold was not met therefore was significant. This wasn’t a case with a suspicious injury which on full investigation was found to be an accident or a peculiar medical condition, but rather that the child ought never really to have been removed. The Judge was not saying that the threshold HAD been met but due to changes the risks had dissipated or become manageable, but that the situation of this family had NEVER crossed the section 31 threshold.

And the Judge had advised the Local Authority in a number of hearings that he was concerned that the section 31 threshold was not made out on the evidence that they had presented and was giving them the opportunity to flesh out their evidence if they had more information which was not before the Court. He told them that on 17th February 2014, 14th April 2014 and 23rd June, before making it official at the final hearing by ruling that threshold was not met.
The Judge starts off scathing and continues in that vein

These proceedings concern a new born baby who has never suffered any harm in his parents’ care. If he has suffered any harm to date, it is the loss of the relationship with his mother during the first year of his life due to the fact that he was removed from her care when he was a week old.
The Court did say that the LA were not wrong to have brought the case, but hints strongly that they were wrong not to have taken stock after any of those hearings where the Court indicated that they considered satisfying s31 threshold to be an issue.

133. There is no suggestion that the local authority has not acted in good faith in seeking to bring the proceedings relating to IMA before the court. The court accepts that the local authority was bound to consider and act on the information provided by the police. The question, however, arises as to whether a more experienced social worker would have acted with greater circumspection and sought to clarify the factual basis for the “intelligence” he was given and its accuracy. This should have been apparent when the father was released from custody and bailed for further enquiry on the 19th August and should have resulted in the social worker re-evaluating the Children’s Services position. None of the information provided by the police as disclosed to this court and the parties appeared to establish that he was a direct risk to a child or children and, it seems to me, on my analysis of the evidence available open to question as to what the “emergency” was that justified the application for the Emergency Protection Order.

A major part of the Local Authority’s case was that the father’s convictions established that first part of their threshold – that he presented a risk. [In large part, that was because there was no evidence of any domestic violence in the relationship between mother and father – no injuries, no police call outs, no referrals from neighbours, no allegations from either of them] They were relying on two things – firstly the father’s convictions and secondly the history of domestic violence in his previous relationship
The Judge took a very different view as to whether the criminal convictions in themselves established that father was a risk. A major part of that was that offences which looked on paper very serious received such light sentences that the Judge (who sits as a criminal Judge) brought his experience to bear in saying that one had to treat the offences on paper in the light of the very light sentences – they cannot have been at the high end of the spectrum of those offences.
51. In reviewing the evidence, it is I think pertinent to remind myself that both the mother and the father have criminal records. The records for the mother appear at F6-12 and F131-137 in the bundle and for the father at F13-19 and F124-130. The mother has convictions for robbery and racially threatening and abusive behaviour in December 2007 in respect of which she received a custodial sentence of a 12 month Detention and Training Order. She was then aged 15. She is now 22. Her subsequent convictions are for what might be property described as minor offences and failing to comply with the requirements of community orders imposed as sentences. It is self-evident from the nature of the convictions, that she is not likely to respond well when attempts are made by those in authority to impose on her. It is unclear to me whether the social worker ever appreciated that.

52. The father has 3 convictions between 2000 and 2006 for offences involving possession of offensive weapons for which he has received sentences of a fine and community orders. None of those could properly be described by anyone who has a knowledge and understanding of criminal justice as serious offences. He has other convictions for disorderly behaviour and driving offences which demonstrate that he is something of a social nuisance. In 2010 he was sentenced to two separate terms of suspended imprisonment for dangerous driving and benefit fraud. In May 2011 he was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for offences of possession of class B controlled drugs – cannabis – with intent to supply. Finally, there is a conviction for an offence of harassment on the 10th December 2013 in respect of which he was made the subject of a community order with an unpaid work requirement and a restraining order. This conviction relates to his former partner, RK. I will say more about this later. These convictions are of course a matter of record and are not disputed by either the mother or the father. The issue, as will become apparent, is how they have been interpreted and relied on by the local authority to substantiate the ‘threshold criteria’ it contends for.
By the time of the final hearing, the Local Authority’s threshold document was as follows (I commend the Judge for including it in full, it is extremely helpful when this is done, as one can then see the basis on which the case is put)

MAA is the father, JG the mother.
142 “The nature of the likelihood of harm alleged is expressed as “(i) Impairment to the child’s physical, intellectual, emotional, social and behavioural development; (ii) Impairment to the child’s physical and mental health; and (ii) Impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another.
(1) The father, MAA, has an extensive criminal history. This includes:-

(a) Possession of a machete in 2001;
(b) Arrested 8 February 2006 in possession of a knuckle duster, wearing body armour and in a car with 4 other men similarly equipped; drugs found at his home
(c) Drugs offences including possession, intent to supply and cultivation of cannabis for which he served a 13 month prison sentence in 2011
(2) On 19 August 2013, the day of IMA’s birth, MAA was arrested at the hospital in relation to an offence which took place on 29 November 2012 when he and two other males were alleged to have attacked an acquaintance and driven off in his car with the victim’s legs hanging out of the open door; a considerable quantity of cannabis was found in the boot. The case was not proceeded with by the CPS

(3) In 2013, MAA pursued a campaign of harassment against his ex-wife, involving regularly attending at her home threatening her, threatening violence to any new boyfriend, and stating he would persuade Children’s Services to remove her children from her
(4) She was so frightened that she moved into a women’s refuge with her children for 4 weeks in August 2013. (On a further 10 occasions recorded between 2 September and 8 October 2013 he visited her home and made similar threats)
(5) MAA was arrested on 13 October 2013 and charged with harassment. MAA’s ex-wife gave a police statement in which she stated that he had been violent towards her during their relationship as well as extremely controlling and she had been “terrified” by him.
(6) Following a strategy meeting on 13 August 2013, when JG was identified as a vulnerable person who may be at risk from MAA, a joint police and social work visit caused further concern when MAA would not provide his name, and refused to accept any concerns or co-operate with any form of assessment. JG took the same position. It was therefore not possible to obtain a clear assessment of any risk posed by MAA due to the failure of the parents to engage with Children’s Services either during the first visit or thereafter. This attitude of complete non-co-operation continued.
(7) JG failed to allow social workers into her home to discuss the issues, minimised the seriousness of previous domestic violence incidents and criminal drugs history involving MAA and refused to sign a working agreement.
(8) Although she agreed to reside at her parents’ home following her discharge from hospital with IMA in August 2013, neither JG nor IMA were at home when agencies visited on 3 consecutive days between 9am and 10am.
(9) JG’s refusal to engage in assessment or to accept any possibility of risk, despite information provided to her, demonstrated that she was unable and/or unwilling to prioritise IMA’s safety and protect him.
(10) Following the making of an emergency protection order on 23 August 2013, JG and MAA evaded the attention of police and Children’s Services until 25 August 2013 when they were eventually found at a property in Prestwich. Both their families colluded in the family hiding from agencies.

(11) There is evidence that the parents were involved in drug dealing activity at least up until IMA’s birth, as also found at the property in Prestwich were a further quantity of cannabis, drug paraphernalia and paperwork implicating the couple in fraud and money laundering offences. Although the CPS have not proceeded against MAA, JG faces criminal charges in relation to intent to supply cannabis, 165g having been found at the property.
Whilst that looks, on the face of it like a pretty decent threshold to establish that MAA (the father) posed a risk of harm -there’s a recent offence, offences including weapons, violent and controlling behaviour towards a former partner and that being recent, we already know that threshold was not found. So we need to see why.

The Judge deals with those matters in the following way (that is, in short, to reject all of them as being made out)

143. In respect of this amended threshold document I make the following observations and findings based on my assessment of all the evidence which has been put before the court –
(1) The father’s convictions are a matter of record which, absent specific offences involving harm to children or violence to women with whom he is or was in a relationship, have no relevance for the purpose of threshold and relate only to the character and personality of the father and not to parental care. This paragraph should be struck out.
(2) Given that the police took no further action against the father in respect of these allegations and did not prosecute him, none of what is alleged in this paragraph can be established as a fact. This paragraph should be struck out.
(3) So far as paragraphs (3), (4) and (5) are concerned, the issues cited post date the local authority intervention in respect of IMA. The issues raised relate to the father’s character and personality and not directly to any aspect of parental care relevant to IMA. These paragraphs should be struck out.
(4) A refusal to co-operate with Children’s Services (or the police) as identified at paragraphs (6), (7), (8) (9) and (10) does not go to threshold as there is no legal duty to co-operate unless the threshold is crossed. See Lady Hale at paragraph 207 of In the matter of B (A Child). These five paragraphs should be struck out.

(5) In respect of paragraph (11), any evidence of alleged drug dealing cannot go to threshold unless there is clearly established factual link to demonstrate that there is likelihood that a child will suffer harm resulting from a failing in parental care arising from such activity. There is no such evidence against either parent it being noted that, in any event, the father has not been charged with any offences arising from the circumstances related. This paragraph should be struck out.
If you are keeping count, the Judge struck out every paragraph of the Local Authority’s final threshold document. The whole lot, gone.

(The Local Authority did not appeal this decision. I think that they COULD have done on points 3, 4 and 5 – these are surely ‘risks that cannot sensibly be ignored’ and they go to the heart of ‘is the father a risk of domestic violence’)

I have reviewed the evidence in this case and have borne in mind all the guidance for the Supreme Court set out above in arriving at my conclusion which is that I do not find the ‘threshold criteria’ established for the purposes of section 31.
I am acutely aware of the consequences of any finding that the ‘threshold criteria’ is not made out and especially in proceedings which have been ongoing for as long as these because of the impact and implications such a finding has for the child and parents. On any view, a finding that the ‘threshold criteria’ is not made out self evidently means that not only has a considerable disservice been suffered by the parents and the child but also an injustice given the way in which these proceedings have been conducted and the length of time the proceedings have been ongoing. That, however, is no basis to shrink from doing what I consider to be right for the child, IMA, on the basis of the evidence before me which I can properly accept.
The Judge did identify that there were issues and concerns, but that these fell short of satisfying the threshold

47. Both the local authority and the children’s guardian rightly have criticisms in relation to the parents’ failure to co-operate and their lack of openness and honesty in their dealings with professionals. In fairness to the mother it has to be said that she did engage with the proceedings and the assessment undertaken by the psychologist and co-operated with the children’s guardian in his enquiries. She engaged with the local authority assessment and attended al the sessions as required despite her apparently limited understanding of what the assessment was for. She has made a very strong commitment to contact with IMA albeit there have sometimes been issues around her timeliness. She has been available at contact if the social worker has ever wanted to contact her and I have some difficulties now reflecting on the evidence as to why the social worker did not on occasions make more effort to go to see her at the contact venue if he needed to discuss issues with her. It is, I think, very clear that the mother has had issues around her relationship with the social worker and communication. However, these are not issues which go to threshold and, as Ms Kilvington observed in her submissions the mother’s lack of honesty on occasions or the lies she admits to having told do not denote harm.

48. The social worker and the children’s guardian were both clearly very troubled by having no clear understanding of how the mother and the father might conduct their relationship in the future. Let me say that I entirely agree that the father as demonstrated by him in his evidence is a very unprepossessing, and unappealing character based on what he said about the conduct of his relationships with women and the children he has. Having said that there is no reliable evidence before this court to indicate that he has ever harmed any child or posed any risk of significant harm to a child. I accept the submission made by Ms Kilvington that it is a matter for the mother and the father how they might conduct their relationship and whether they should be part of the same household or not. It is not for this court or others to judge or interfere with parental relationships unless it can be properly established that there is an identifiable risk of harm for the child or children.

 

The Judge was very critical of the written and oral evidence of both the social worker and the Guardian

 

61. [The social worker] gave evidence over nearly one and half days. He was subjected to lengthy and challenging cross-examination around many issues including his assessment of the mother. He was also questioned about his understanding of the police intelligence and information upon which he had acted and formed his views about the parents and the risk he considered they posed to IMA. He was uncertain about some specific dates and unable to demonstrate from the written records available some of what he was saying. His lack of experience as a social worker was evident.

69. He became very defensive in reply to Ms Kilvington asserting in very strong terms that it was a “very thorough assessment” when she sought to explore some of the issues in respect of it. That was a worrying response which smacked of the over confidence of someone who did not have the knowledge and experience to demonstrate a degree of circumspection and humility since it was clear, to me at any rate, that the thoroughness of the assessment was not evidenced in what has been produced to the court. [The social worker’s] response on the issues raised in connection with the conduct of the assessment and the confirmation of the unreliability of his evidence in respect of the assessment process was profoundly worrying.

155. I have real concerns about how the local authority responded to the initial referral and subsequent information given by the police. I do not understand why the PLO pre-proceedings procedures were apparently never initiated when dealing with a young, first time mother who should have been encouraged to seek early legal advice which might, and I cannot put it any higher, have resulted in a different direction being taken in respect of the removal of IMA from her care under the Emergency Protection Order when he was a week old. The social worker was not able to give an adequate explanation for not implementing the relevant procedures.

156. I was also troubled by the Child and Family Assessment record and the process of the assessment undertaken by the social worker. I have commented above on the timing of the relevant sessions with the mother which demonstrates what I would consider a real training issue which needs to be addressed with the social worker. However, I was also troubled by the electronic record of the assessment which appears to make no provision to actually describe what questions were actually asked of or explored with the mother in circumstances where this social worker failed to keep any contemporaneous notes which he was able to produce when being challenged about it. This is a practice issue which the local authority and its managers need to consider and address since it is likely to arise as an issue in many cases which are brought before the courts.

157. There are I think real issues about this social worker and his role in these proceedings which largely emanate from his lack of experience. The view I formed of him was that he was an inexperienced but highly intelligent and articulate young man who was committed to trying to promote and safeguard the welfare of IMA in circumstances which he found to be extremely challenging. He unfortunately appeared to me to have a lack of understanding and awareness of how to communicate with the mother in particular at a level which was basic enough to enable her to engage effectively. There were times in his evidence where he became very confused and resorted to saying things he was unable to properly substantiate. That was regrettable since it undermined his reliability so far as this court was concerned.
The social worker’s manager also takes some flak

158. I should also add that I am troubled by the role of the social worker’s manager in relation to steps taken within the proceedings. It was clear from the social worker’s evidence that many of the decisions made had not been his but those of his manager. The clearest example being in relation to the decision not to continue with any rehabilitation proposal or plan in or around the 7th May 2014. I found it surprising that the local authority did not consider it either appropriate or necessary to ask her to provide a statement or indeed to invite her to attend at court to provide an explanation.
And in relation to the Guardian

106. The guardian also premised his conclusions in respect of the mother on the basis of an acceptance of the risks that the father may pose to the child as if that had an established factual basis which is not evident in the evidence before the court at that time. This is evident at E37 where he asserts that
“the father in my view presents serious risk to IMA”.
107. However, he later goes on to say at E39

“In view of the father’s lack of engagement in the local authority’s assessment, the risks that the father presents to IMA remain unassessed. His criminal history and his relationship history raise understandable concerns. He appears to play a peripheral role in the lives of his other children. It is unclear what role he would play in IMAs life if he was placed in his mother’s care……. I share the local authority’s view that the potential risks presented by the father to IMA remain as relevant as at the outset of these proceedings”.

108. His report proliferates with references to the risk the father presents to IMA as being “unassessed”.

113. At paragraphs 106 to 114 of his report the guardian purports to address the ‘threshold criteria’ and refers to having considered the judgment in Re B. His approach has been to ask three questions – (i) what is the risk of harm? (ii) is it significant?; and (iii) how likely is it to happen? The answers he purports to give are both unsatisfactory and confusing, in my judgement. The suggestion that the risk of harm is that IMA will be a member of a household in which his emotional and social development is impaired is not evidence based on any factual foundation before the court. The suggestion that the father’s circumstances provide a “potential for disagreement and tension” with the mother that does not provide “a sound basis for a stable and harmonious household” does not appear to be factually founded. It is speculative and ignores the fact that there is no evidence of any domestic violence between the mother and the father

114. At paragraph 110 he says he “finds it difficult to assess whether the risk of harm is significant or not” and that “it may be significant or it may not.” He then asserts that he is satisfied that the “risk may be significant” but he then goes on to consider that the parents’ ability to work openly and honestly is relevant to the assessment of whether the risk, as opposed to the harm, is significant which misses the point. His conclusion at paragraph 113 that

“there is a real possibility of IMA suffering significant harm. There is a real possibility of him living in a household characterised by instability, disharmony and the use of intimidating or threatening behaviour. There is a risk of his emotional and social development being impaired if he is living in such an environment”

appears to lack any factual basis evidenced in the information available to the court to satisfy the ‘threshold criteria’ at the time the local authority implemented it protective measures for the child.
[The scattering of the  ‘unassessed risk’ phrase is quite reminiscent of the case that Ryder LJ recently granted permission to appeal on - Ryder LJ's remark there was "We are ALL unassessed risks". Is there an issue with professionals confusing absence of an assessment due to non-engagement with evidence of risk?]
The Judge was also very critical of the ‘chinese whispers’ and assertions being repeated and reported as fact, particularly around the police intelligence
150. There are real issues in this case about the Children’s Services reliance on police “intelligence” as a basis for the actions taken by the social worker and others. The “intelligence” referred to has never been produced to this court or the parties and it is unclear as to exactly what information has been given by the police to the social worker or others within Children’s Services. There are two written documents before the court from the police which I found to be worrying within the context of these proceedings. There is an e-mail which appears at C1 in the bundle dated the 28th August 2013 which follows some meeting with the police on the previous day after the recovery of IMA and the arrest of his parents on the 25th August. I can understand how a social worker as inexperienced as Mr Baker reacted the way he did to this. However, I question the validity of the police risk assessment in relation to contact made by this police officer which, as I understand it, was put before the court when it was considering the extension to the Emergency Protection Order and the court was invited by the local authority to refuse contact between the mother and IMA until after a risk assessment had been undertaken. Fortunately, the court refused the local authority application.

151. Perhaps more worrying though is a statement from a CD Acton at F208 dated the 24th March 2014 which was written in response to a request for clarification as to why it was thought that the father was a risk to women and children. She describes that the case was deemed as high risk according to a DASH assessment. DASH assessments are based on a victim’s self report in answer to set questions. They are not objectively evidence based. That is an issue in this case given that the father has never been prosecuted for any offences of actual violence against his former wife, RK. This statement is I think very much open to question in respect of much of its content but for the present purposes I simply make the final observation that the assertion that the father “has been arrested in regards to sexual offences against females as well as violent offences against this victim” is not evidenced on the basis of any information before this court and appears demonstrably unreliable. It calls into question the reliability of any of the “intelligence” given to this social worker and how he responded to it.

 

Parents deciding not to go ahead with cancer treatment

The parents of Ayesha King have been in the news this weekend (see here, for example  http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/aug/31/ashya-king-found-spain-parents-arrested   ) and the parents removed their child from hospital against medical advice and took their child out of the country.   The Kings were wanting a form of therapy for their son’s cancer that is not available on the NHS, and found themselves in a quarrel with the medical professionals in England, leading them to take their son out of the country.  That led to a European arrest warrant being issued and the King’s being found and arrested.

 

I don’t want to write too much about the individual case, because it is all very real and raw and painful for this family, and we don’t have the facts that would allow us to make a proper decision about what they were doing was right or wrong.

 

This piece is more about the general principle of whether a parent has the right to decide what is best for their child, or whether the doctors have the final say?   For an adult, they can listen to medical advice and if they are capable of understanding it are entitled to decline to follow it. The State can’t enforce medical treatment on anyone who is able to understand the consequences and who says “no thanks”.  For a child, the same thing doesn’t seem to apply. A parent who understands the advice but disagrees with it, can still find themselves in Court and with an order being made authorising the doctors to carry out the treatment.

That’s a body of jurisprudence which began with the thorny issue of children of Jehovah’s Witnesses who needed blood transfusions. Their religion forbids blood transfusions, and the parents in these cases were refusing the treatment. Without the treatment, the child would die, and that led to a number of applications to the High Court, finally arriving at the accommodation that there would be no adverse religious consequences for the parent IF the transfusion happened because the Court ordered it, and that’s the way those are dealt with now. Of course, when balancing a child’s life against parental wishes, there’s likely to only be one winner.

 

Things got more difficult in the case of conjoined twins. The medical conclusion was that together, both would die, but if they were separated one would live and one would die. The parents for moral and religious reasons were not prepared to sanction the treatment.  The case went up to the Supreme Court and is probably one of the most difficult decisions ever made. The Court were particularly in difficulty with article 2, the right to life. The Court is bound by article 2 and has to uphold it, but a determination that the operation would go ahead would kill one of the twins where a refusal of the operation would probably kill both.

Re A (children) 2000

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2000/254.html

The Court sanctioned the operation and overrode the parents objections, although they were intelligent, rational people who understood the risks and consequences but were of the view that every day of life for their children was precious and they did not want to shorten that, even if it might save one of the twins.  There are some commentators (myself included) who consider that the Court here got into tricky waters – if a parent is the person who are capable of exercising decisions for their child and they are choosing between two dreadful outcomes  (as opposed to blood transfusion or die) then shouldn’t the State respect their decision?

Difficult cases make bad law, so they say. But these two cases were clearly about where failure to act would result in death, and perhaps the Court is entitled to intervene. The problem for me is that once you start down a road of the State being in charge in situation X, along comes situation Y, not as bad but still one where the State wants to intervene, and a slippery slope begins.

If there’s a life-saving treatment and the parents are refusing it, then Re A (children) 2000 is probably authority for the State taking over the decision. But what about where the treatment is not going to save life or cure the illness, but instead prolong life, perhaps with reduced quality of life?

 

In 2012 there were a couple of cases where parents did not want their child to undergo chemo-therapy and sought alternative treatments.  This is not an easy thing to contemplate, and people’s views on it tend to be very polarised – between the parents are parents and they can do what they think is right, to any parent would follow medical advice and get their child the help they need.

 

There were a spate of these cases in 2012, and I wrote about one where the High Court dealt with this issue extensively (the mother wanted to pursue alternative treatment and the father originally agreed but by the time of the Court hearing had come round to supporting the medical professionals)

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/01/15/the-role-of-the-court-in-assessing-alternative-medical-treatment/

 

NHS Trust v SR 2012

 

It is worth noting in that case that the Court was effectively resolving a dispute between mother and father as to type of treatment, which is a pure Children Act 1989 decision – specific issue order, the Court’s jurisdiction and authority to make a decision is because there are two parents asking the Court to settle a dispute.  With the King’s, that might become more complex, as both parents are in unity. If they don’t want Ayesha treated in England, it might well be that the Court is invited to borrow from Re A and NHS Trust v SR to set up that in these matters the State can intervene even though the parents understand the medical advice and choose not to follow it.

I hope that all of this gets sorted out without the need for the Court to get involved.  Whatever treatment this sick boy has, he will benefit from having his parents around and their blessing.

 

Go directly to the Ninth Circle of Hell, do not pass Go

 

Dante, in his travel guide to hell, sets out the various circles of hell and those within them. Within the ninth and final circle reside for all eternity four sorry individuals, exemplars of the worst that the world has ever had to offer (Dante’s work was written prior to certain unpleasant world leaders of the 20th century, and our current Lord Chancellor, so it may be in need of an update)

Those individuals are Cain, Athenor of Troy [betrayed his city to the Greeks], Ptolemy son of Antabus [invited people to a banquet and killed them] and finally Judas Iscariot.

We can now add to that circle of hell, a further group of terrible sinners, and one will not be surprised to learn that they are going to be local authority lawyers.

This arises from the President’s decision sitting in the High Court, in Re W (Children) 2014 [2014 EWFC 22]

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2014/22.html

 

The President has not yet found a power within the Family Procedure Rules to banish local authority representatives to the deepest circle of hell, but it is only a matter of time and generous interpretation. After all Rule 4.4 of the FPR 2010 sets out that the Court has powers to o)take any other step or make any other order for the purpose of managing the case and furthering the overriding objective and that pretty much seems to cover it.

And if that unbridled power is not enough, surely the inherent jurisdiction is the answer. If only I had known during my law exams that “The Court could use the Inherent Jurisdiction” is a valid answer to 90% of questions, I could have skipped all that revision.

I will come onto the offence that has provoked such ire in a moment, but the case is yet another of the ones where the Local Authority are late filing their evidence (the social worker was off sick – how dare a human being suffer from an illness that affects the Almighty Timetable) and allows the President to use his favourite word contumelious.

(I have my own suspicion that the President once put that word down in Scrabble and was robustly challenged, and since that time has been working to revive its popularity so that this will never happen again)

Of course on a 26 week window, there is not time for slippage, and of course if the Local Authority is late, that causes a knock-on for the other parties and will mean the case not being ready for IRH at week 20. And yes, over a period of time Court orders about filing have unpleasantly become vague aspirations rather than hard deadlines. I am in agreement with the President that this is a bad thing. I also agree that something must be done.

I’m not against restoring the principle that if an order says 4th March, it means on 4th March the parties have that document in their hands, not that the author of it starts thinking about writing the document on 4th March. Court deadlines need to go back to being deadlines (and not in the Douglas Adams sense “I love deadlines, I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by”)

And of course, if there is slippage in the timetable, the Court must be told and be able to call the case back in. I think that the President’s idea that a Court order authorising the delay must be obtained for a 15 minute delay does not work in the real world.

A real world that has some Courts in England answering correspondence in June that was sent to them in February, that has Court staff so beleaguered and overworked that the remedy is to lock the doors of the Public Counters and not let the public in. Where sending an email to the Court service is akin to dropping a message in a bottle into the ocean – one hopes it will reach its destination but it would be unwise to put money on it. A real world where if every time a person was going to be 15 minutes late filing a document a Judge would have to consider an application and grant it and get an order typed and posted out to all of the parties. A real world where, you know, human beings get sick, and they aren’t always able to tell you the day on which they will no longer be sick and can produce their document.

In principle, one can agree that delay in filing on time is bad and the mindset needs to change. And that if there is delay, the Court must be alerted to that and given the opportunity to adjust the timetable. The President points out in Re W that there is not only no power for the parties to agree a revised timetable amongst themselves they are expressly forbidden to do so.

Indeed, such agreements are forbidden by FPR 4.5(3):

“Where a rule, practice direction or court order –
(a) requires a party to do something within a specified time; and
(b) specifies the consequence of failure to comply,
the time for doing the act in question may not be extended by agreement between the parties

In accordance with and deriving from the court’s powers under FPR 12.24, the standard form of case management order, use of which is mandatory, spells out (as did Judge Rutherford’s order in this case) the consequence of failure to comply, namely the obligation on every party to “immediately inform the Court if any party or person fails to comply with any part of this order.”

Practitioners may have found, as a result of Re W and guidance being given to CAFCASS, that there is now a semi-official policy that the parties should inform on anyone who has the temerity to be late filing a document. The reader will of course recall that one of the major planks of the Family Justice Review was that none of the professionals or agencies working in family justice trusted each other, and what could be more conducive to rebuilding that trust than encouraging the parties to inform on each other for wrong-doing?

Deep breath.

Now, the egregious offence. The “Go to Hell” offence

Compounding its earlier defaults, Bristol City Council also failed to comply with paragraph 7.4 of PD27A:

“Unless the court has given some other direction or paragraph 7.5 applies” – this relates to hearings listed before a bench of magistrates – “only one copy of the bundle shall be lodged with the court but the party who is responsible for lodging the bundle shall bring to court at each hearing at which oral evidence may be called a copy of the bundle for use by the witnesses.”

Bristol City Council had lodged a duplicate bundle, marked ‘Witness Bundle’, and moreover in relation to a hearing where there was no suggestion that oral evidence might be called.
Yes, the President was actually annoyed that the Local Authority DX-ed a witness bundle to Court rather than the advocate carrying it to Court. That is strictly verboten and the Local Authority outraged the Court by defying the Practice Direction. And the witness bundle didn’t end up being necessary, which is a double-fault.

I am perplexed that at a time when the profession is in melt-down, when public funding has been withdrawn from the most deserving, when solicitors are being laid off due to cuts, when the public are being locked out of Public Counters, when the family justice system is under siege by the Press, that anyone could find the time to be annoyed that a superfluous witness bundle had arrived at a Court.

If you have a witness bundle that you don’t need, you can just send it back, you know? It doesn’t require a bomb-disposal unit to remove it from the premises. It is just a lever arch file.

But this is now law, and the President has said in Re W that Local Authorities who breach the law can be ‘named and shamed’ in public judgments, be ordered to pay for the costs of that naming and shaming. If you DX a witness bundle to Court rather than carrying it there, then you are technically liable for those sanctions. And if you avoid them from the trial judge, you might still get hit with them if the case is appealed (one hopes that the witness bundle irregularities in and of themselves don’t amount to an appeal, but frankly, who knows any longer?)

This is symptomatic of the problem – professionals have been drowned with rules, practice directions, guidance, case law, consultations, Views. One could spend so long establishing the exact precise procedure for doing anything that the task itself takes five times as long.

If you reach the point where you are regulating everything to microscopic level, then the sensible useful rules get lost within the morass of rules and guidance for things that never needed to be regulated. Who honestly CARES how a witness bundle gets to the Court building as long as there’s a witness bundle in the Court room if one is needed?

This seems to be a climate where if one says “red tape” the response is not “well, we need to cut that down” but rather “What, precisely, is the shade of red being used?” and “What, precisely is the width of the tape? Does it comply with Practice Direction 19B Dimensions of commonly used objects?”

By way of illustration – if you are playing Monopoly, there are a few problems with the game. It takes too long, for one thing. And for another, the last part of the game is only fun for the winner and miserable for everyone else. So, let’s appoint the President to tweak the rules to fix those problems.

Well, now we have a game of Monopoly where :-

if you’re buying Bond Street you need to submit a full-blown mortgage application with supporting documents

if you’re putting a house on Mayfair you need to seek planning permission, consult the local community and submit detailed architectural plans (making sure that you are familiar with the building regulations)

if you want to buy the Waterworks there should be a privatisation fully compliant with EU procurement rules and the opportunity for shares in the Waterworks to be offered at a preferential rate to certain key stakeholders first.

There is a prescribed period of time for shaking the dice, rules about what portion of the dice has to land on the board for it to be considered a null throw and whether it is permissible to whisper “Don’t be a six” to the dice in the pre-throw procedure.

And heaven help anyone who wins second prize at a beauty contest.
Has all of that fixed either of the problems we set out to resolve? Or has it made the game even slower and even more miserable for everyone involved?

Sadly, although we have a choice with “Monopoly President’s Edition” simply not to get it out of the cupboard and play it, we don’t have the same choice with care proceedings.

 

 

Capacity and financial consent orders

 

MAP v RAP 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/4784.html

 

I don’t often write on the financial side of legal family disputes (I haven’t done divorce law for about ten years, and it is the sort of thing that you rapidly lose expertise in), but this particular ancillary relief case also touches on capacity, and particularly capacity to enter into agreements, so it has some broader impact.

 

The High Court were dealing here with the wife’s challenge to a financial consent order that she had signed, having dismissed her solicitors. At a later stage, she considered that she had not been in a mental frame of mind where she could properly enter into that consent order – i.e the issue was whether she had capacity to sign it at the time, not just that she signed it and later thought better of it. She had had a long-standing difficulty with bi-polar disorder, which can be a fluctuating condition.   This was thus the wife’s appeal of the Judge’s order to approve the financial consent order as final settlement of the financial claims arising from divorce.

 

The appeal was determined by Mostyn J  (back on his area of particular expertise after something of a break)

 

The permission is sought to appeal this order well out of time on a number of grounds:
 

 

1. first, it is said that at the time that the order was made and indeed in the antecedent period leading up to the making of the order, there is prima facie evidence that the proposed appellant, the wife in the divorce proceedings, did not have capacity to enter into that compromise;
2. second, it is said that the court itself had no knowledge of the appellant’s state of mental health, and therefore approved an order on a false or mis-stated basis;
3. third, it is said that – and this ground has shades of duress – that the respondent husband exploited the appellant’s vulnerable position;
4. further, it is said that he at the material time was guilty of material non-disclosure;
5. next it is said that at the relevant time the appellant had inadequate knowledge and was without legal advice; and
6. further, it is said that, looked at overall, the consent order was wrong and should not have been approved, as it was manifestly unfair. It is said – I believe this to be arguable, but it is certainly not agreed – that the effect of the order was to divide the parties’ capital about 80 per cent to the husband and 20 per cent to the wife. Moreover, within the the share that the wife was left with were monies which derived from an inheritance from her mother, and indeed a considerable part of the share that the husband was left with derived from the wife’s mother’s inheritance;
7. finally, it was said that the agreement was demonstrably wrong and unfair because it provided for a clean break leaving the husband with his earnings and pension and the wife only with a modest pension for herself.

 

On the ground that the consent order was unfair, or so demonstrably wrong that a Judge ought not to have made it, even though it was a consent order, Mostyn J rejected that utterly

 

I say immediately before I turn to the facts, that inasmuch as a claim is advanced based on non-disclosure or that the consent order was generally unfair, I am completely satisfied that the proposed appeal has no prospect of success. As to the first, the evidence advanced for non-disclosure is but faintly put, and in my view does not come anywhere near establishing the criterion of arguability. As to the complaint that the agreement was generally unfair, that is not a valid basis for seeking to challenge a consent order. (See the decision of Mr. Justice Munby (as he then was) in L v L [2008] 1 FLR 26 at para.105).

 

The appeal therefore was squarely on the basis that the Wife lacked capacity to sign the consent order at that time. Mostyn J remarks that despite people arguing about divorce (and particularly money divorce) for over a century, this is the first time that this particular issue has arisen.

 

Mostyn J, borrowing from the  civil law, and civil procedures, arrives at the conclusion that an order made by consent by a party who lacks capacity to consent is an order that would be invalid and should be set aside. The difficulty of course, is in establishing capacity or lack of it  (remember from the Mental Capacity Act 2005 that the starting point is that a person HAS capacity unless there is evidence to the contrary). The order having been made, an appeal was an appropriate route to challenge it.

 

Mostyn J points to the provisions of Practice Direction 15B (not in force at the time, but in force now)

At the relevant time, I do not believe that Practice Direction 15B was in force, but a Practice Note issued by the Family Justice Council in April 2010 which is in the same terms, more or less, was available. Practice Direction 15B makes it clear that there is a duty on solicitors if they have concerns that a party may lack capacity, that they must notify the court. Paragraph 1.3 says:
 

 

“If at any time during proceedings there is reason to believe that a party may lack capacity to conduct the proceedings, then the court must be notified and directions sought to ensure that this issue is investigated without delay”.
 

It is a surprising fact that neither solicitor at any stage thought it appropriate to notify the court that there may be question marks over the wife’s capacity. The wife’s solicitors themselves were well aware that there were question marks in this regard as a letter was written by them to their opponents on 23rd January 2012 stating:
 

 

“We remain concerned as to our client’s capacity to provide instructions, and accordingly are seeking clarity on this point”.
I should say that that letter that was written when the wife was acting for herself but when her solicitors were presumably still formally on the record. It is fair to me to record Mr. Castle’s submission that at that time the view was taken by the author of that letter only on looking at the papers, but be that as it may that question mark should have led those solicitors to have notified the court. Equally, the husband’s solicitors were well aware in September 2011 that the appellant had been admitted to hospital, there was a letter to that effect, and they must have formed views as to the capacity of the wife, but they did not notify the court. Had the court been notified then I do not believe we would be in the position we now are.

 

What the Court had was evidence about the Wife’s mental health difficulties and that before the consent order had been entered into, her mental health seemed to have deteriorated in such a way that those advising her were concerned about her capacity. But the Wife stopped instructing solicitors and by the time she signed the consent order, she was representing herself. Thus, there was no hard and fast evidence about the state of her capacity and ability to make reasoned decisions on the day she signed the consent order.

 

Capacity for the purposes of entering into a compromise was discussed by the Court of Appeal in the first Dunhill v Burgin case and in the prior case of Bailey v Warren [2006] EWCA (Civ) 51. In that latter case at para.126, Lady Justice Arden said this:
 

 

“The assessment of capacity to conduct proceedings depends to some extent on the nature of the proceedings in contemplation. I can only indicate some of the matters to be considered in accessing a client’s capacity. The client would need to understand how the proceedings were to be funded. He would need to know about the chances of not succeeding and about the risk of an adverse order as to costs. He would need to have capacity to make the sort of decisions that are likely to arise in litigation. Capacity to conduct such proceedings would include the capacity to give proper instructions for and to approve the particulars of claim, and to approve a compromise. For a client to have capacity to approve a compromise, he would need insight into the compromise, an ability to instruct his solicitors to advise him on it, and an understanding of their advice and an ability to weigh their advice”.
 

Applying this test I believe that it is arguable, indeed strongly arguable, that between the time that the consent order was said to be formed in August 2011, right through to the time that the consent order was made on 19th April 2012 the wife did not have the requisite capacity while she was in hospital. In my view the case that she had capacity at that time is unarguable. Following her return from hospital it is true that she gained some kind of an improvement although she remained heavily medicated, but as against that one has to remember that she was making the impulsive and unwise decision to represent herself. So, I am of the view that there is an issue of capacity that deserves to be tried.
 

 

It is a pity that the Supreme Court has not pronounced, because there is a division between the judges in the jurisprudence as to whether the capacity in question should be investigated along a prolonged timeline, or just at the point of the contract itself. But, either way, I believe that the case is distinctly arguable, and so I would grant permission to appeal in relation to that ground as well as into the ground of lack of actual consent or withdrawal of consent. But, as I have indicated, I believe that this is a matter which can properly be tried at first instance.

 

Mostyn J did not determine the appeal finally, but merely those procedural points – could the Wife apply to set aside the consent order, would the consent order be invalid if she were proven to lack capacity at the time, and what the mechanism for the appeal would be.  The appeal itself was listed for two days and a lot will turn on the evidence in relation to capacity.

 

[It is possible, particularly when one looks at detailed consent orders about contact, that the same issues could arise. It would be prudent to look at Practice Direction 15B and to alert the Court if such concerns arise]

Epilepsy and rib fractures

 

 

This is a County Court decision on a finding of fact hearing, involving a child of two Brazilian parents who sustained a rib fracture.

Because I am childish, I like to think that the Judge specifically named the case Re O because of the Brazilian connection…

Re O (Minors) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/B44.html

The case threw up a number of important issues. The parents defence had been that they had not done anything and that there had been a Vitamin D deficiency, leading to rickets, leading to weak bones. A substantial amount of expert evidence was called on this, and eventually it went nowhere.

The mother, who had been caring for the child L, during the relevant period, is someone who has epilepsy. She gave evidence about whether she had had a fit on that day
As to her epilepsy the mother said that she had five such fits during her pregnancy with F and two during her pregnancy with L. She could recall no fits between F’s birth and her pregnancy with L. Although she does not remember having such fits she usually begins to feel unwell shortly beforehand. Following a fit she feels drowsy, unwell and everything seems muddled. She did not recall any such symptoms occurring on 7th April 2013.
With that in mind, you may be surprised that the finding of His Honour Judge Bond was that the injury was caused during an epileptic seizure. I think, to be fair, that everyone else was surprised as well, and this emerged as a result of some expert evidence from a Dr Hillier
121 Attempts had been made before and during the hearing to secure the attendance of Dr. Hillier. He is a Consultant in Neurology. Unfortunately he did not give evidence until after the parents. He was the last witness to give evidence.

122. The mother’s G.P. had first referred her to Dr. Hillier in 2009. He has written a short report dated 30th September 2013 (C2199) about the mother’s possible epilepsy. He last saw the mother in November 2012. Dr Hillier found it difficult to make a clear diagnosis but thought that the mother suffered from faints which look like seizures, but perhaps has a tendency to fainting and to suffering seizures.

123. In his oral evidence Dr. Hillier went further and took everybody by surprise. He distinguished between what he described as partial epileptic fits and full epileptic fits. In his opinion it was possible that the mother could have had a partial fit, during which she injured L, but remembered nothing of it. Further he thought it possible that the mother would experience no symptoms, before or after a partial fit, that would lead her to remember that she had suffered such a fit.

124. The doctor described situations where a patient had attended his clinic and reported that he had suffered no fits since the last appointment. Not infrequently, the patient’s partner reported that he/she had observed occasions when the patient was “spaced out”, having had some form of partial fit, but which the patient could not remember.

125. It was because of this evidence that the local authority reconsidered its position and no longer sought any public law orders.
The very vivid illustration given by Dr Hillier was that he had once had a patient who had been peeling an orange, had had a partial fit, and continued peeling the orange afterwards, and that for this patient there had been no gap at all in the sequence of events, she had simply peeled an orange and nothing of any significance had occurred at all.

The suggestion therefore was that mother could have had a partial fit, injured the child completely accidentally during it and been utterly unaware of it.

The Local Authority, in the light of that evidence, threw the towel in (save for shutting the door on all of the Vitamin D debate in relation to this case)

That suggestion that a parent could injure their child during a partial fit and have NO RECOLLECTION of it at all is startling, but Dr Hillier’s evidence was clearly compelling.
The Judge had to consider whether this was capable of meeting the section 31 threshold in any event (for example was there some negligence or fault or flaw in the mother handling a child when she was prone to fits?)
In paragraph 8 of his written submissions, Mr Hand [counsel for the LA] deals with the question of whether the threshold criteria are satisfied. He referred to the case of Re D (Care Order: Evidence) [2011] 1 FLR 447 per Hughes LJ that the test under Section 31(2) of the Children Act is an objective one. As the Lord Justice said in that case:

“It is abundantly clear that a parent may unhappily fail to provide reasonable care even though he is doing his incompetent best.”

145. Mr Hand submits, and I agree, that on the facts of this case, if the court finds L’s injuries were caused by the mother during a partial fit, the threshold criteria are not met by reason of the fractures that L suffered. Mr Hand said that, had the Local Authority been aware, at the outset, of Dr Hillier’s evidence, they would not have instituted proceedings under Section 31.
[i.e so far as the LA were concerned, although it was theoretically possible for the Court to find that the s31 threshold was crossed by the child being injured whilst being held by mother who had a partial fit that she had no recollection of, they were not going to invite the Court to do so]
The next interesting point to arise is that clearly once the LA accepted the partial fit theory, and the mother and father accepted it, was it a done deal? In this case, those representing the Guardian felt uncomfortable about that.

168. Mr Tolson QC [counsel for the Guardian] submits, and I agree, that the medical evidence did not alter during the course of the hearing. The three jointly instructed experts agreed substantially, as did Dr Allgrove. The thrust of the evidence was that non-accidental injury is the only explanation, save in wholly exceptional medical circumstances which it is submitted do not exist in this case. It is submitted that the parents’ evidence was not credible and in this case the matter goes further than simply being unable to offer an explanation. It is submitted on behalf of the guardian that the omission of any recall prior to the observation of the lump is particularly striking given the obvious thoroughness with which the parent’s statements have been prepared in other respects. Further submits Mr Tolson QC it is clear that the parents were tired and under some stress on Sunday 7th April 2013.

169. In his oral submissions Mr Tolson QC accepted that he was now the only advocate who contended for a finding of non-accidental injury. Following Dr Hillier’s evidence, Mr Tolson QC had been able to take brief instructions about the Local Authority’s change of position. The guardian maintained her position, as I have just described.

170. Mr Tolson QC dealt with the point raised by Charles J in Lancashire CC v D & E, in respect of the guardian’s position in a case such as this. In the particular circumstances of this case, and particularly since the Local Authority’s change of position, the guardian felt it important that the court should have before it, on behalf of the children, arguments which supported a finding of inflicted non-accidental injury.

171. It is the case that the role of the guardian’s advocate in a fact-finding exercise is to be fully involved in testing, in particular the expert evidence. Generally I would expect the guardian to help the court by making submissions which alert the court to the important matters, but to remain neutral as to the court’s findings. In the unusual circumstances of this case, it was helpful for the guardian to maintain the position that she did, although I regard it as an exceptional course.
The Court therefore permitted the Guardian’s advocate to ‘test the evidence’ and to make submissions that the partial fit explanation might not be the correct answer in this case. (It would perhaps have been interesting to see if the Court would have taken a different view had the key piece of evidence, Dr Hillier, not been the very last witness in the case)

Here is what the Guardian (through leading counsel) had to say about the partial fit theory
172. As to the question of the burden of proof, and given that the Local Authority no longer pursued a finding of inflicted non-accidental injury, Mr Tolson QC pointed out that the court must still, in the circumstances of this case, consider whether such a case has been proved on the balance of probabilities.

173. As to the question of the mother’s epilepsy, Mr Tolson QC pointed out that there was no evidence that the mother had had a fit on the day in question. Further, there was no evidence that the mother had ever had a partial fit of a kind which Dr Hillier thought might have been possible. Mr Tolson QC did not accept that Dr Hillier’s evidence necessarily meant that during a partial fit the mother would drop L and not remember such an event. He submitted that a partial fit would not fill the gap to explain the vagaries of the mother’s evidence, in respect of what happened between about 13.00 and 18.00 on 7th April 2013. It is accepted, on behalf of the guardian, that if the mother had had a full epileptic seizure she might not recall dropping L.

174. Mr Tolson QC submitted that an epileptic fit does not explain L’s rib injuries. For example if L had been dropped that would not involve a squeezing mechanism, which is generally thought to be the cause of a type of rib fracture that L had suffered. Further, said Mr Tolson QC, one such fit would not explain the presence of the bruises.

The Judge said that before having heard from Dr Hillier, he had reached the tentative conclusion that he was satisfied that the injuries had occurred but was not satisfied that they had been deliberately caused by either of the parent, their overall presentation and absence of any other troubling issues weighing significantly in these deliberations.
The applications for Care Orders were dismissed and the children returned home.  [It is worth noting that the Judge indicated that even before Dr Hillier's evidence, he had been of the view that he should not make a finding of fact that either of the parents had deliberately harmed the child]

 

The Judge had this to say about epilepsy

184. The question of epilepsy and its possible implications in cases such as this has been explored. There is clearly much to learn.

 

“I need not descend into detail”

 

So said the original trial judge in Re B (Children : Long Term Foster Care ) 2014

 

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/re-b-children-long-term-foster-care-2014-ewca-civ-1172#.U_YJE2NuVjM

 

The Court of Appeal took the opposite view.

 

 

[That might be the shortest case summary I’ve ever written. Let me see if I can get it into a Tweetable format   “Re B – judge says less is more, Court of Appeal says 'fraid not”]

 

 

Some slight elaboration – there was a point in the case where the plan for the children was placement with mother probably under a Supervision Order – that was the case by the end of July 2013. But by the time of the final hearing (September 2013), the Local Authority plan was for the children to remain in long term foster care and be subject to Care Orders.

 

The Judge agreed with the LA and made Care Orders at the final hearing.

 

There are some odd nuggets in the case, not least being that the mother’s new boyfriend was using the name of his brother as an alias from time to time, only to find that his brother’s Certificate of Convictions was worse than his own, that either the children were brandishing knives at neighbours or cutting string off a tree branch, and so forth.

 

There simply wasn’t enough in the judgment to explain to the satisfaction of the Court of Appeal why that was the case (they sent it back for re-hearing, they weren’t necessarily saying that the Judge was WRONG, but that the judgment didn’t do sufficient to show whether he was right or wrong). See the underlined section in paragraph 66 for the pithy quotation that will be deployed in all cases (since in any case, one can always find at least one advocate who thinks that the case is ‘finely balanced’ and persists in saying so throughout. Sometimes, to be fair, that advocate is me…)

 

65.  Mr Hall submitted in his skeleton argument that when the new concerns arose in the summer of 2013, the case was finely balanced, and in oral submissions, he acknowledged that there was a mixed picture including extreme concern at times and at other times positive involvement and engagement by M. That is, in my view, an accurate description of the situation. Mr Hall’s submission was that the judge scrutinised the evidence sufficiently, made the required findings, took into account the positives in relation to M as well as the negatives, and carried out the necessary balancing exercise so was entitled to find that care orders should be made. Indeed, he said, proceedings could have been taken earlier. It was notable, however, that in seeking to support the judgment, Mr Hall was obliged to have regular recourse to the underlying reports and statements from which he sought to draw further material to justify the care orders. That this was necessary reinforced my overall conclusion that the judgement did not contain a sufficient review of the evidence that was available to the judge.

 

66…. The basis on which we allowed the appeal was that the judgment was flawed in its approach to the events which led to LA’s change of mind and was lacking in the detail that was required to substantiate the decision taken. The more finely balanced the decision in a case, the more exacting must be the judge’s approach to the evidence, the more precise his findings of fact on pivotal matters and the fuller the explanation of his route to his determination.

 

67…the judge’s treatment of the background history compounded the problems with his treatment of more recent events. Mr Hall submitted that the social work chronology revealed pervasive profound concerns about the children. For my part, I have no doubt that a study of the history had the capacity to contribute valuable material to the judge’s decision but, in my view, there was no alternative but to look at it in some detail because it was a mixed picture. There were significant problems but we also know that the case was periodically closed by social services following short interventions and that at times, assessments were complimentary about M and sympathetic to her as a victim of prolonged domestic violence. The threshold criteria agreed were far from detailed and could not be relied upon as sufficiently informative of the history. Accordingly, it was not sufficient for the judge to deal with that history (apart from domestic violence from F) in a single short paragraph (§7) summarising the themes and concluding with the observation, “I need not descend into detail”. In summarising things shortly in this way, the positives and negatives were lost and there was no picture of what was actually happening to the children.

 

[68] In short, this was a case which could only be resolved by a detailed and critical review of the evidence, old and new, with each step of the way meticulously charted in the judgment. I have great sympathy with the judge who was trying to reach a determination for the children with reasonable promptness, within the confines of a two day time estimate, and without much offered to him by way of direct evidence. I am conscious that he took trouble to reflect on his decision before giving judgment. However, I am afraid that, for the reasons I have set out, his determination cannot stand.

 

 

The thrust of Court of Appeal judgments over the last year, and this goes hand in hand with the transparency agenda, is that a person ought to be able to pick up and read a judgment and understand why the decisions were made, without rummaging around in the background material to try to plug the gaps. It needs to be spelled out.

 

That has consequences, not least time pressures on the judiciary. A day spent writing a judgment is a luxury in terms of workload, but a necessity now if it is to be fireproof for the Court of Appeal. Where are all these extra Judge days to be found?

[I can't leave para 67 without saying - well, of course the threshold criteria were far from detailed, that's because we're told to squish it into 2 pages. You will see more of this]

 

 

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