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Booker

 

I have just read the latest scandal piece about the family justice system by Christoper Booker.  Now, Mr Booker has quite a bit of previous viz a viz accuracy of reporting despite being well-meaning and committed, so I will come back to this once the judgment is published.  [I have read all of the published judgments by Mrs Justice Simler up on Bailii, and it isn't any of those - so will keep an eye out]

As ever with Mr Booker, if the facts are as he reports them, it would be right to be completely appalled and troubled, and this decision (if it turns out to be precisely as he reports it) would be very worrying for McKenzie Friends up and down the country.

Even the boy who cried wolf was of course, eventually right about the wolf, so Mr Booker may be an accurate reporter of facts here. Let’s see.

Here is his story

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/10775631/Costs-ruling-in-family-court-penalises-those-helping-wronged-parents.html

 

Let’s break it down into the core allegations that are made

 

1. That a child was placed in foster care because social workers felt he needed speech therapy and mother disagreed.

 

2. Mother removed him from foster care

3. Mother was sent to prison for removing him from foster care

4. Whilst in prison, she was assaulted by prison staff and crippled

 

5. That she was then deported to America

 

6. That some people in the UK, having heard about her case, offered to help her, and a judicial review was brought

 

7. At a hearing in April, at which her McKenzie Friends “could not be present”,  Mrs Justice Simler decided that the case was entirely without merit  (the unspoken inference here is that the Judge was wrong to dismiss an application for judicial review at which the applicant did not show up. )

 

7a  That Mrs Justice Simler is “the latest recruit to the High Court team”   [well, this is theoretically possible, but I find her name as one of three Judges sitting in the Court of Appeal doing criminal cases, so it seems somewhat unlikely.  EDIT  - it does appear that she became a High Court Judge in October 2013, so I stand corrected.]

 

8. An order for costs was made, with the McKenzie Friends being considered to be “parties in the case” and liable for a cost order of £4,000

 

9. In effect, the judge was sending a warning to all such lay advisers that, by offering help to litigants, they now risk severe financial penalties if their case is lost.

 

 

I am fairly sure that points 6, 7 and 8 ARE true.  We will probably never know about 1-5, because they weren’t argued before the Judge (because the applicants didn’t attend the hearing).  You might think that for a McKenzie Friend, 8 is the most serious, and if that’s likely to be true, then point 9 is also true.

 

Well, not quite.

The article seems to confuse family courts and a court dealing with judicial review, but that’s an understandable mistake. In judicial review, it is not at all uncommon for a costs order to be made against the losing party, that’s how it works. You win the case, you get your costs from the other side. In family courts it is a very rare occurrance. It happens, but only where the conduct has been reprehensible.  One would assume that the McKenzie Friends bringing the judicial review understood the costs risks, and also understood that the costs position would have them personally on the hook for the costs order.  It doesn’t mean at all that a McKenzie Friend helping a parent with a FAMILY LAW case would be at risk of a costs order, unless their behaviour was extremely bad.   That’s a very important distinction – I can understand a journalist, even one who ostensibly writes about family law, not getting it but it is important if you are trying to imply that Justice Simler’s decision means that being a McKenzie Friend in care proceedings carries a personal costs risk

 

Here is the deal

 

If you bring a judicial review application and you lose, you are likely to have to pay the other side’s costs. Even if you brought the case in good faith and thought you were going to win.

The costs order can cover those who are funding the litigation on the loser’s behalf or conducting it

In a family case, it is extremely rare for a “loser pays costs” decision – the law is very very different, and is more on the basis that everyone covers their own costs unless costs were wasted by egregiously bad behaviour by one of the parties.

You therefore TAKE A RISK about costs in issuing judicial review that you DO NOT in a family case.  You can end up paying costs in judicial review even if you behaved impeccably, if you end up losing. You don’t pay costs in a family case if you lose, unless your behaviour is really bad.

 

So even the headline of this article “Costs ruling in family court penalises those helping wronged parents” is wrong by the fourth word, judicial review is not a family court.  Judicial review is far less forgiving than the family court – if someone doesn’t show up for a family court hearing or files a document late, the Court CAN be forgiving, in judicial review that’s going to be game over. A McKenzie Friend is at very little risk of a costs order in helping a parent in a family Court. I would hope that Booker’s take on this case is not going to put any of the people who do really important work helping parents off doing so.

 

[Is that fair? Was it the right thing to do in these circumstances, to these McKenzie Friends who were just helping a parent who they thought had been mistreated? Well, that's probably a wider public debate, but if you know enough about the law to know how to bring a judicial review, then the expectation would reasonably be that you also know that costs are a risk in such an application. ]

 

 

ADDENDUM

It is very hard to be sure – but it appears that the family case might be this one – which I have written about before – London Borough of Barnet v M1 2012  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCC/Fam/2012/5.html.

 

There are enough echoes within it to make it a possible match and the timelines fit with Mr Booker’s earlier article.

 

My previous piece  http://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/11/01/it-aint-me-babe-it-aint-me-youre-looking-for/   .

 

Mr Booker’s previous column about this woman   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/children_shealth/10308803/Deported-imprisoned-and-beaten-for-being-a-parent.html ]

Bundles

 

Has any comparable body of reform ever been introduced so quickly, so smoothly and so effectively? – The President, view 11

 

Well, perhaps having hit practitioners with 18 new statutory instruments containing the rules for how things are to be done on Tuesday 22nd April, many of which we got on Wednesday (two working days before) might not be classed by some churlish curmudgeons as smooth and efficient.

[As you may have picked up over the last two years, I READ. I quite like reading law. I even quite like reading statutory instruments. But I draw the line at reading 18. If even I'm not reading them, I have to ponder "Who is?"]

 

Perhaps also having changed the rules about bundles from next Tuesday, and doing so two working days before, after most of them would have already been sent out, could have been smoother and more efficient, but you’d be a fool and a communist to say so.

 

Anyway, here are the President’s new rules about bundles.

 

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/system/uploads/attachments/0008/5165/FPR_PD_27A__Bundles_.pdf

 

I think on the whole, I rather prefer Sedley J’s rules

 

http://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/judire1&div=8&id=&page=

  1. First Law: Documents may be assembled in any order, provided it is not chronological, numerical or alphabetical.
  2. Second Law: Documents shall in no circumstances be paginated continuously.
  3. Third Law: No 2 copies of any bundle shall have the same pagination.
  4. Fourth Law: Every document shall carry at least 3 numbers in different places.
  5. Fifth Law: Any important documents shall be omitted.
  6. Sixth Law: At least 10 per cent of the documents shall appear more than once in the bundle.
  7. Seventh Law: As many photocopies as practicable shall be illegible, truncated or cropped.
  8. Eighth Law: At least 80 per cent of the documents shall be irrelevant. Counsel shall refer in Court to no more than 10 per cent of the documents, but these may include as many irrelevant ones as counsel or solicitor deems appropriate.
  9. Ninth Law: Only one side of any double-sided document shall be reproduced.
  10. Tenth Law: Transcriptions of manuscript documents shall bear as little relation as reasonably practicable to the original.
  11. Eleventh Law: Documents shall be held together, in the absolute discretion of the solicitor assembling them, by: a steel pin sharp enough to injure the reader; a staple too short to penetrate the full thickness of the bundle; tape binding so stitched that the bundle cannot be fully opened; or a ring or arch-binder, so damaged that the 2 arches do not meet.

 

 

In any event, changes are afoot on bundles. People need to be aware that none of the source material will be in a bundle read by the Court UNLESS the Court has specifically directed its insertion. If you want to rely on contact notes, foster care records, police disclosure, medical records, school reports, then you are going to need to apply for them to be added to the bundle – and expect to have to justify exactly why they are proportionate and necessary.

 

That is going to be particularly important if you have picked up a final hearing brief for which someone else did the IRH – if they got the contact notes in, you’re going to be expected to make some use of them or annoy the Judge who agreed to their insertion, or worse – if counsel at IRH didn’t ask for them and you want them, you’re going to have to make an application. (And those notes won’t be available at a moments notice, so I suspect you will need to put everyone on notice in good time that you intend to do so)

 

Everyone is to file a position statement, limited to 2 pages, for each hearing. And they are expected to set out the orders they seek both at that hearing and final hearing.  (Expect to see a lot of bland “We seek Care / Supervision Orders at final hearing, depending on the outcome of assessments” because anything else from the LA or Guardian is a hostage to fortune / evidence of prejudgment)

 

Case summaries are limited to 4 pages – bad news for any existing pro-formas in courts around the country  which would run much longer than that.

 

Case summaries for cases done before justices are to be anonymised.  (I know, they are sent to the justices along with a bundle of papers that are not anonymised, I have no idea what ill this is intended to remedy or what sense it is intended to make)

 

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

 

 

You will also note that in cases before the justices, we need to count the pages for them. DJ’s and circuit judges are expected to be able to count for themselves, one surmises.

 

This bit is going to be loved by Local Authorities who are dealing with the RCJ  (thank God, it only applies to  the RCJ. The people who wrote this have CLEARLY never tried to have a productive telephone call with the RCJ)

8.2 Upon learning before which judge a hearing is to take place, the clerk to counsel, or other advocate, representing the party in the position of applicant shall no later than 3 pm the day before the hearing:

(a) in a case where the hearing is before a judge of the High Court,

telephone the clerk of the judge hearing the case;

(b) in a case where the hearing is before any other judge email the Clerk of the Rules at RCJ.familyhighcourt@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk;

to ascertain whether the judge has received the bundle (including the preliminary documents) and, if not, shall organise prompt delivery by the applicant’s solicitor.

 

The bundles are to be limited to 350 pages or less – unless the Court orders otherwise. In case you were thinking of being a wise-guy loophole sort of person, they have already anticipated that you might just use REALLY HUGE pieces of paper

 

5.1 Unless the court has specifically directed otherwise, being satisfied that such direction is necessary to enable the proceedings to be disposed of justly, the bundle shall be contained in one A4 size ring binder or lever arch file limited to no more than 350 sheets of A4 paper and 350 sides of text.

 

 

Okay, so if I can’t use REALLY HUGE pieces of paper, I’ll just write really small. Nope, already got that covered

 

 

5.2 All documents in the bundle shall (a) be copied on one side of paper only,unless the court has specifically directed otherwise, and (b) be typed or printed in a font no smaller than 12 point and with 1½ or double spacing.

 My last loophole is that there is not a requirement that the bundles be written in English, so I can lodge everything in shorthand and still comply with the practice direction.

[By the way, all of my bundles are currently double-sided, which means that everyone now has to photocopy them all again single-sided and confidentially shred the ones that were perfectly fine yesterday.  Approximately 11,000 cases across the country, each shredding 200 pieces of paper purely for the benefit of this practice direction. I hope Sting doesn’t read my blog. Also, 350 pages of single sided paper don’t actually fit into a single lever arch folder… 350 pages of double-sided can be a bit of a tight squeeze]

 

5.3 The ring binder or lever arch file shall have clearly marked on the front and the spine:

(a) the title and number of the case;

(b) the place where the case has been listed;

(c) the hearing date and time;

(d) if known, the name of the judge hearing the case; and

(e) where in accordance with a direction of the court there is more than one ring binder or lever arch file, a distinguishing letter (A, B, C etc).

 

[As has been pointed out, as nobody any longer knows how to distinguish between two separate buildings – Trumpton Family Proceedings Court and Trumpton County Court, since on Tuesday they are both just Trumpton Family Court, that’s not that easy any more]

 
All numbering is to be “Arabic”  

Well, if that will help…

  • 1 – Wahid
  • 2 – Ithnaan
  • 3 -Thalaatha
  • 4 – Arba’a
  • 5 – Khamsa
  • 6 – Sitta
  • 7 – Sab’a
  • 8 – Thamania
  • 9 – Tiss’a
  • 10 – ‘Ashra

If you need to go up into the hundreds, here’s the link http://blogs.transparent.com/arabic/arabic-numbers-1-100/

And of course, there’s a stick for any breach of the practice direction – you can be kicked out of the list, kept back to the end of the list or be hit for costs.

 

Penalties for failure to comply with the practice direction

12.1 Failure to comply with any part of this practice direction may result in the judge removing the case from the list or putting the case further back in the list and may also result in a “wasted costs” order or some other adverse costs order.

 Remember, this applies from Tuesday next week. Happy Easter.

 We ask again…

Has any comparable body of reform ever been introduced so quickly, so smoothly and so effectively? – The President, view 11 

To end on a happier note – this being Easter, and it being a piece about bundles AND my blog title being inspired by Dr Seuss  – this is an actual genuine US judgment refusing to allow a party to exhibit a hard boiled egg to his statement

http://kevinunderhill.typepad.com/Documents/Court_Orders/Hard_Boiled_Egg.pdf

 

 

The President’s decision in Re S (26 weeks and extensions) Part 2

 

The judgment is on the previous blog (I’m sure it will be on Bailii shortly)

This case really turns on the provisions of the Children and Family Act 2014 that come into force on Tuesday 22nd April. What we have here, somewhat unusually, is a leading Judge giving authority as to the interpretation of an Act which has not yet come into force.  Sentence first, verdict later, as it were.

At least it avoids any other Judge giving a judgment on Tuesday or afterwards which doesn’t accord with the President’s view of the test, so we all know where we stand.    [In fairness, because the decision that was being sought was to adjourn the case well beyond 22nd April, the future provisions would have kicked in by the time that the case fell to be determined, so it might have been hard to simply ignore them]

 

On the facts of the particular case, this was about a mother with a history of substance misuse problems, on child number four, with the previous three having been removed. There had been drug tests within the proceedings showing  “at worst very low levels of drugs in the mother’s hair”

The proceedings began in October, and we are now April. The mother’s application was for a residential assessment, that would last for a period of six to twelve weeks and if successful that would be followed by an assessment in the community. That would obviously take the case beyond the 26 week target of the PLO (and of course, given that the Children and Families Act provisions about timescales come into force next week, by the time of any final hearing, that would go beyond the new statutory requirement of 26 weeks). There were, however, three expert reports suggesting that the mother was making progress and that such an assessment might bear fruit.

The President was therefore considering whether to grant the adjournment and application for residential assessment, and doing so against the backdrop of the 26 week statutory position and the new provisions of the Children and Families Act as to exceptional circumstances that justify an adjournment of 8 weeks beyond that.

What was also in his mind was the new statutory provisions about expert evidence (which in effect incorporates into section 38 of the Children Act the current Rule 25 Family Procedure Rules tests and guidance)

 

21. For present purposes the key point is the use in common in section 38(7A) of the 1989 Act, section 13(6) of the 2014 Act and FPR 25.1 of the qualifying requirement that the court may direct the assessment or expert evidence only if it is “necessary” to assist the court to resolve the proceedings. This phrase must have the same meaning in both contexts. The addition of the word “justly” only makes explicit what was necessarily implicit, for it goes without saying that any court must always act justly rather than unjustly. So “necessary” in section 38(7A) has the same meaning as the same word in section 13(6), as to which see Re TG (Care Proceedings: Case Management: Expert Evidence) [2013] EWCA Civ 5, [2013] 1 FLR 1250, para 30, and In re H-L (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Expert Evidence) [2013] EWCA Civ 655, [2014] 1 WLR 1160, [2013] 2 FLR 1434, para 3.

 

This is what the President says about the statutory provision that care proceedings should be concluded within 26 weeks

24. Section 32(1)(a)(ii) does not describe some mere aspiration or target, nor does it prescribe an average. It defines, subject only to the qualification in section 32(5) and compliance with the requirements of sections 32(6) and (7), a mandatory limit which applies to all cases. It follows that there will be many cases that can, and therefore should, be concluded well within the 26 week limit. I repeat what I said in my first ‘View from the President’s Chambers: The process of reform’, [2013] Fam Law 548:

“My message is clear and uncompromising: this deadline can be met, it must be met, it will be met. And remember, 26 weeks is a deadline, not a target; it is a maximum, not an average or a mean. So many cases will need to be finished in less than 26 weeks.”

 

The issue then was the statutory provision in s32(5)

 

            A court in which an application under this Part is proceeding may extend the period that is for the time being allowed under subsection (1)(a)(ii) in the case of the application, but may do so only if the court considers that the extension is necessary to enable the court to resolve the proceedings justly.

and what factors the Court should consider when determining whether to grant such an adjournment.

One might think that those factors are already set out in the Act

s32 (6)        When deciding whether to grant an extension under subsection (5), a court must in particular have regard to –

(a)        the impact which any ensuing timetable revision would have on the welfare of the child to whom the application relates, and

(b)        the impact which any ensuing timetable revision would have on the duration and conduct of the proceedings;

and here “ensuing timetable revision” means any revision, of the timetable under subsection (1)(a) for the proceedings, which the court considers may ensue from the extension.

(7)        When deciding whether to grant an extension under subsection (5), a court is to take account of the following guidance: extensions are not to be granted routinely and are to be seen as requiring specific justification.

The President cites various authorities  (Re B-S and Re NL notably, as authorities for the principle that there will be cases where an extension of time IS necessary to resolve the proceedings justly)

31. In what circumstances may the qualification in section 32(5) apply?

32. This is not the occasion for any elaborate discussion of a question which, in the final analysis, can be determined only on a case by case basis. But some preliminary and necessarily tentative observations are appropriate

Let’s look at those preliminary and tentative observations

34. There will, as it seems to me, be three different forensic contexts in which an extension of the 26 week time limit in accordance with section 32(5) may be “necessary”:

i)                    The first is where the case can be identified from the outset, or at least very early on, as one which it may not be possible to resolve justly within 26 weeks. Experience will no doubt identify the kind of cases that may fall within this category. Four examples which readily spring to mind (no doubt others will emerge) are (a) very heavy cases involving the most complex medical evidence where a separate fact finding hearing is directed in accordance with Re S (Split Hearing) [2014] EWCA Civ 25, [2014] 2 FLR (forthcoming), para 29, (b) FDAC type cases (see further below), (c) cases with an international element where investigations or assessments have to be carried out abroad and (d) cases where the parent’s disabilities require recourse to special assessments or measures (as to which see Re C (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 128, para 34).

ii)                   The second is where, despite appropriately robust and vigorous judicial case management, something unexpectedly emerges to change the nature of the proceedings too late in the day to enable the case to be concluded justly within 26 weeks. Examples which come to mind are (a) cases proceeding on allegations of neglect or emotional harm where allegations of sexual abuse subsequently surface, (b) cases which are unexpectedly ‘derailed’ because of the death, serious illness or imprisonment of the proposed carer, and (c) cases where a realistic alternative family carer emerges late in the day.

iii)                 The third is where litigation failure on the part of one or more of the parties makes it impossible to complete the case justly within 26 weeks (the type of situation addressed in In re B-S, para 49).

34. I repeat, because the point is so important, that in no case can an extension beyond 26 weeks be authorised unless it is “necessary” to enable the court to resolve the proceedings “justly”. Only the imperative demands of justice – fair process – or of the child’s welfare will suffice.

 

So, to skip to the chorus  – three categories of case where an extension might be warranted  (forgive my short-hand mnemonic prompts, which Malcolm Tucker has helped me devise)

 

1. The case was always going to be super-complicated from the outset (heavy duty fact-finding, FDAC cases, heavy duty international element, parents with disabilities such that specialised assessments are necessary)

“This case was fucked from the beginning”

2.  Something massive emerges during the proceedings – (fresh allegations that need to be resolved, death or imprisonment of a key player, a realistic family member comes forward late in the day  – “Auntie Beryl alert! Finally an answer – adjournment is going to be permissable for an Auntie Beryl situation!”)

“This case got fucked in the middle”

 3. Litigation failure on the part of one of the parties means that it would not be fair to conclude the proceedings

“Some fucker has fucked up”

 

The Judge then goes on to praise FDAC but delivers this guidance (which probably has wider applicability)

 

38. Viewed from a judicial perspective a vital component of the FDAC approach has to be a robust and realistic appraisal at the outset of what is possible within the child’s timescale and an equally robust and realistic ongoing appraisal throughout of whether what is needed is indeed being achieved (or not) within the child’s timescale. These appraisals must be evidence based, with a solid foundation, not driven by sentiment or a hope that ‘something may turn up’.

Typically three questions will have to be addressed. First, is there some solid, evidence based, reason to believe that the parent is committed to making the necessary changes? If so, secondly, is there some solid, evidence based, reason to believe that the parent will be able to maintain that commitment? If so, thirdly, is there some solid, evidence based, reason to believe that the parent will be able to make the necessary changes within the child’s timescale

 

I think those principles have wider applicability, because the President goes on to use them in this case, which although the background is drugs and alcohol, is NOT a FDAC case.

For this particular case, this is what the President says (bear in mind that this is NOT a final hearing, but an application to adjourn the final hearing and seek a residential assessment. As far as I can tell from the judgment, no live evidence was heard.  The remarks don’t leave much room for manoeuvre at final hearing…)

44. there is no adequate justification, let alone the necessity which section 32(5) of the 1989 Act will shortly require, for an extension of the case so significantly beyond 26 weeks. Again, there are two aspects to this. Looking to the mother, there is, sadly, at present no solid, evidence based, reason to believe that she will be able to make the necessary changes within S’s timescale. Even assuming that there is some solid, evidence based, reason to believe that she is committed to making the necessary changes, there is, sadly, not enough reason to believe that she will be able to maintain that commitment. In the light of her history, and all the evidence to hand, the assertion that she will seems to me to be founded more on hope than solid expectation, just as does any assertion that she will be able to make the necessary changes within S’s timescale. Secondly, I have to have regard to the detrimental effects on S of further delay. Far from this being a case where the child’s welfare demands an extension of the 26 weeks time limit, S’s needs point if anything in the other direction. I accept the guardian’s analysis.

 

If you were thinking that this was all very peculiar, I haven’t even got to the best bit

 

I have been sitting at Bournemouth in the Bournemouth and Poole County Court hearing a care case. It is a very typical County Court case

[There is nothing in the history of the litigation set out in the judgment that ever shows that the case was transferred from the County Court to the High Court. So is this binding authority about provisions of an Act which weren't in force at the time the judgment was given, actually a County Court judgment? ]

 

 

 

President’s judgment Re S (26 week and time extensions) Part One

 

 

This has come my way but is not yet on Bailii – so blog on it to follow, but first things first, the judgment, which the President himself has circulated to interested persons  (I’ve put it on here in full, as it is going to impact on all cases from our next working day)

Case No: DO13C00782

IN THE BOURNEMOUTH AND POOLE COUNTY COURT

(In Private)

 

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

 

Date: 16 April 2014

 

Before :

 

SIR JAMES MUNBY PRESIDENT OF THE FAMILY DIVISION

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

In the matter of S (A Child)

 

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

 

Mr Anthony Hand (instructed byTanya Hall, Bournemouth Borough Council legal services) for the local authority

Mr Andy Pitt (of Aldridge Brownlee Solicitors LLP) for the mother

Ms Nicola Preston (of Dutton Gregory) for the father

Mr Steven Howard (instructed by Pengillys) for the children’s guardian

 

Hearing date: 25 March 2014

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

Approved Judgment

I direct that pursuant to CPR PD 39A para 6.1 no official shorthand note shall be taken of this Judgment and that copies of this version as handed down may be treated as authentic.

 

 

………………………..

 

SIR JAMES MUNBY PRESIDENT OF THE FAMILY DIVISION

 

This judgment was delivered in private.   The judge has given leave for this version of the judgment to be published on condition that (irrespective of what is contained in the judgment) in any published version of the judgment the anonymity of the children and members of their family must be strictly preserved.   All persons, including representatives of the media, must ensure that this condition is strictly complied with.   Failure to do so will be a contempt of court.

 

 

 

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division :

 

  1. I have been sitting at Bournemouth in the Bournemouth and Poole County Court hearing a care case. It is a very typical County Court case but, as it happens, it raises a point on which it is desirable that I should give a judgment directed to a wider audience.

The background facts

  1. S, the child with whom I am concerned, was born in October 2013. She is the youngest of her mother’s four children. The three older children have all been taken into care. The mother, as is common ground, has a history of street prostitution and drug taking. Her third child was born with drug withdrawal symptoms.
  2. The proceedings in relation to S began in October 2013. An emergency protection order was granted on 21 October 2013, followed by an interim care order on 28 October 2013. The case was transferred to the County Court. It came before His Honour Judge Bond on 14 January 2014 for a further case management hearing. There was a formal application by the local authority for permission to instruct an expert, a psychiatrist, and an informal application by the mother for an assessment in accordance with section 38(6) of the Children Act 1989. Amongst the papers before Judge Bond was a parenting assessment by the local authority dated 20 December 2013, a further report from the local authority dated 6 January 2014, and reports dated 3, 4 and 30 December 2013 from Dr Menzies Schrader, a specialist psychiatrist with the local Mental Health Team who had been treating the mother. Judge Bond directed the filing by 14 February 2014 of a report by a consultant forensic psychiatrist, Dr Jane Ewbank. He adjourned the mother’s application pending receipt of Dr Ewbank’s report.
  3. The mother’s adjourned application came before me on 25 March 2014. By then Dr Ewbank had reported. Her report is dated 18 February 2014. Mr Andy Pitt on behalf of the mother renewed her application for an assessment under section 38(6). As refined before me, the proposal was that I should direct a residential assessment of S and her mother at Orchard House, a Family Assessment and Intervention Centre in Taunton, initially for a weekend and, if that proved successful, for a period of between six and twelve weeks. This residential assessment might then (see below) be followed by a further period of assessment in the community. The application was opposed both by Mr Anthony Hand on behalf of the local authority and by Mr Steven Howard appearing for S’s guardian, as well as by Ms Nicola Preston representing S’s father. There were reports from Orchard House dated 15 December 2013 and 20 March 2014 setting out what they could offer. There was also a report dated 20 March 2014 from the Dorset Working Women’s Project, a sexual health project working with women who sell sex, particularly those who misuse drugs and/or alcohol.
  4. I also had the results of various hair-strand drug tests which the mother had recently undergone. These results were not easy to interpret, though they showed at worst very low levels of drugs in the mother’s hair. Mr Pitt did not invite me to hear evidence from the mother, so on this point I cannot come to any conclusion. Nor do I express any views. There is in the event no need for me to do so. I am content for present purposes to proceed on the assumption, though without deciding, that the mother was ‘clean’ during the periods covered by the tests.
  5. Having reflected on the matter overnight, I informed the parties the following day that I had decided, for reasons which would be given in due course in a written judgment, to refuse the application. It was accordingly dismissed.  

The mother’s problems

  1. There are various strands to the mother’s problems. For present purposes they can be summarised as follows. The mother is a vulnerable woman who struggles to care for herself. She has mental health problems, an anxiety disorder (exemplified by fears of travelling on public transport and at times elective mutism) with intermittent depressive episodes and borderline low IQ. She has a long history of polysubstance drug misuse and street prostitution.
  2. In relation to this, Mr Howard took me to the notes of the mother’s supervised contact sessions with S. Two themes emerge. The first relates to the mother’s personal appearance and presentation. There is frequent reference to the mother arriving for contact unkempt, with dirty clothes and smelling of tobacco smoke and unpleasant body odour. She is recorded as being shaky, swaying and shuffling (though apparently not smelling of alcohol). The relevance of this, I assume, is that the mother’s inability to look after herself throws light on her ability to look after S. More important are the recordings of the interaction between S and her mother. There is quite frequent reference to the fact that S rarely makes eye contact with her mother but does with the workers, that the mother “has her vacant expression throughout contact” – what on one occasion is described as her “dreamy frozen stare” – and that there is very little interaction between S and her mother. The note of contact on 3 March 2014 comments that S “does not get much stimulation during her contacts.” The note of contact the following day records that when her foster carer arrived to collect her, S was “very happy and smiled at the foster carer.” The comment is added that “S is a very different child when she is with the foster carer S is a happy laughing child.”

The expert evidence

  1. The local authority’s parenting assessment dated 20 December 2013 contains an analysis of which the following are the most significant passages:

“[A report] evidenced some positives in the basic case of S provided by [the mother] during the parenting assessment sessions. [She] has also evidenced a high level of motivation during the assessment, and has engaged to a high level

[She] has remained stable on her methadone prescription as proven by her hair strand test. This is a positive step forward and indicates a desire and ability to remain clean even at times of stress such as current proceedings

The child protection risks are of concern and there are still considerable risks potentially posed to S.

However [the mother] has showed some positive insight into parenting and has showed potential for further growth and change.

[Her] mental health difficulties are complex and difficult to understand and I feel we require in depth support from her mental health professionals, to ascertain if there is further support that could be provided with regards to her mental health that may improve [her] position as good parent.

There is a possibility that a short term mother and baby placement tailored to [her] additional needs may be appropriate dependent on other professionals reports and professional opinions. This would be to further determine if she can parent in the whole when responsible for her child, or whether or not, she can merely manage basic parenting in a controlled environment such as FRC for 1½ hours.

It should be noted that since completion of the report, I have had access to case recordings from recent contacts from the start of December and there has been deterioration in [her] parenting skills and presentation.

There have been concerns raised by the contact worker regarding her physical support of S, her hygiene and nappy changing. It is unclear why this change in [her] skills has changed.

[She] has also expressed to contact workers she is experiencing panic attacks and cannot cope with the short journey by taxi to FRC. This contradicts the information she provided to me, and is concerning she is mentioning this now the assessment is complete.

The fundamental concern this raises is that since completion of the parenting assessment, [she] has been unable to sustain the level of parenting she previously was providing S. This could be due to instability in her mental health or an inability to maintain good level of parenting.

S requires a safe, nurturing and consistent upbringing to ensure she has the best possible opportunity for a health and happy life.

If [the mother] is unable to provide this in the confines of the FRC, it is questionable whether or not she could long term.”

  1. The further report dated 6 January 2014, which records a visit to the mother’s home on 4 December 2013, contains this comment:

“It was very evident during my visit that [the mother] is fully dependent on her sister … to fulfil her day to day needs which concerns me in respect of [her] ability to parent S independently.”

  1. The mother’s key worker at the Dorset Working Women’s Project describes working with the mother from 2001 until 2008, when “she appeared to have settled down and was stable.” She next saw the mother in December 2012, describing her then as being “clearly mentally unwell and extremely vulnerable.” She continues:

“[She] appeared to be making progress until she was befriended by a known perpetrator who has a history of violence and abuse towards vulnerable women … Unfortunately once the relationship began [he] had complete control over [her] … and she appeared to be working more.”

That man is S’s father. He has been in prison again since July 2013. Of the mother’s subsequent re-engagement with the Project and more recent presentation the key worker says that the mother’s presentation has “improved greatly” and that she “continues to make good progress”.

  1. Dr Schrader was supportive of a residential assessment to assess the mother’s parenting abilities. In his report dated 30 December 2013 he said that “Her presentation currently is vastly improved from how she presented in 2012 and in January of this year and I believe is primarily as she is having input and been abstinent from substances. This is the first time she has engaged to this extent”. On the other hand, he noted that she “continues to have difficulties with anxiety” and described her as “a complex lady who desperately would like to raise her daughter, but who has numerous issues which could impede this process.” He added, “Improvement in these areas of difficulty is going to take time.”
  2. Dr Ewbank accepted that the mother “appears to be demonstrating an increased capacity to engage in treatment with both the drug services and the CMHT”. Commenting that “Historically she has been a very poor engager, missing multiple mental health appointments and repeatedly disengaging from drugs services either by not attending or by using illicit drugs on top of her Methadone prescription,” Dr Ewbank continued, “There does appear to be evidence over recent months of sustained engagement with both services and she has clearly benefited from the support of … the Dorset Working Women’s Project.” Asked to indicate the prognosis for change, Dr Ewbank said:

“Given [her] long standing drug problems, dating back almost 20 years, it is likely that achieving and sustaining first stability and subsequently abstinence from illicit drugs may take some time and is likely to require on-going treatment and support for many years.”

She added, “there is still a very real risk that she may resort to buying other medication to help her sleep … and thus exacerbate her problems again.”

Orchard House

  1. Having reviewed the papers in the case, Dr Freda Gardner, a consultant clinical psychologist and the clinical director of Orchard House, expressed the view in her report dated 15 December 2013 that a residential assessment was appropriate and indicated. She described the regime:

“The high level of monitoring, 24-hours a day, afforded by a residential assessment would allow a thorough assessment of parenting to be undertaken whilst concurrently ensuring the safeguarding of S. This would include [the mother’s] parenting ability, and capacity for further change, and a consistent period of assessment regarding her current drug use.”

She continued:

“During assessment at Orchard House [she] would be provided with a tailored package of support and intervention to develop her capacity / potential capacity to meet the full range of S’s needs, including ‘Keep Safe’ work around prostitution, appropriate adults, and ongoing drug use.

The Social Work led Assessment Team and the Family Support Workers at Orchard House are highly experienced in working with a wide range of parents, and benefit from full integration of Clinical Psychologists experienced in a wide range of clinical presentations including personality disorder presentations and selective mutism. The staff support parents in developing skills and provide immediate verbal feedback, as well as written / pictorial feedback to improve parenting skills, which are based on research evidence. All staff at Orchard House aim to ensure that each family receives appropriate and consistent information The staff use a variety of techniques and specialist materials designed to help parents learn new skills, which may include formal instruction, modeling, breaking tasks down into small chunks, and giving lots of opportunities for rehearsal and repetition.

I am aware that any assessment will need to be within S’s timescales, and would therefore recommend that the residential assessment be kept as brief as possible, with regular reviews held to ensure the progression of the assessment. Typically, residential assessments are 6-12 weeks in length, though this depends on the specific needs of the family and the key issues of the assessment. Following a successful period of residential assessment, it may be appropriate for the assessment to move to the community or to the Orchard House community base. Orchard House are able and willing to provide carefully considered plans for transition.”

  1. In her further report dated 20 March 2014 Dr Gardner confirmed her opinion that Dr Ewbank’s report did not change her view.

Section 38(6) – the legal framework

  1. Section 38(6) of the Children Act 1989 provides so far as material that:

“Where the court makes an interim care order … , it may give such directions (if any) as it considers appropriate with regard to the medical or psychiatric examination or other assessment of the child …”

  1. The meaning of this provision is authoritatively explained by the House of Lords in two cases: In re C (A Minor) (Interim Care Order: Residential Assessment) [1997] AC 489, [1997] 1 FLR 1, and In re G (A Minor) (Interim Care Order: Residential Assessment) [2005] UKHL 68, [2006] 1 AC 576, [2006] 1 FLR 601. It suffices for present purposes to cite two brief passages from the speech of Baroness Hale of Richmond in In re G. In the first (para 69) she said:

“In short, what is directed under section 38(6) must clearly be an examination or assessment of the child, including where appropriate her relationship with her parents, the risk that her parents may present to her, and the ways in which those risks may be avoided or managed, all with a view to enabling the court to make the decisions which it has to make under the Act with the minimum of delay. Any services which are provided for the child and his family must be ancillary to that end. They must not be an end in themselves.”

Referring to the Protocol for Judicial Case Management in Public Law Children Act Cases [2003] 2 FLR 719, the precursor to the revised Public Law Outline (PLO), due to come into force in its final form later this month, she added (para 71):

“if the aims of the protocol are to be realised, it will always be necessary to think early and clearly about what assessments are indeed necessary to decide the case. In many cases, the local authority should be able to make its own core assessment and the child’s guardian to make an independent assessment in the interests of the child. Further or other assessments should only be commissioned if they can bring something important to the case which neither the local authority nor the guardian is able to bring.”

I draw attention to Lady Hale’s use of the word “necessary”.

  1. Two other authorities cited to me require brief mention. In Re J (Residential Assessment: Rights of Audience) [2009] EWCA Civ 1210, [2010] 1 FLR 1290, para 10, Wall LJ, as he then was, said:

“I think it important to remember when one is looking either at the independent assessments by social workers or at applications under section 38(6) of the Act that one needs to be child focused. It is not a question of the mother’s right to have a further assessment, it is: would the assessment assist the judge in reaching a conclusion or the right conclusion in relation to the child in question?”

Referring to this in Re T (Residential Parenting Assessment) [2011] EWCA Civ 812, [2012] 2 FLR 308, para 93, Black LJ rejected the proposition that “a parent facing the permanent removal of their child has a right in all cases to an assessment of their choice rather than one carried out or commissioned by the local authority.” She continued:

“Still less is there a principle such as that for which [counsel] contends, namely that parents must be given the chance to put forward a positive case to the judge determining the issue of whether a care order should be made’.”

Sir Nicholas Wall P, para 53, identified the “critical questions” as being:

“(1) does this child’s welfare warrant an assessment under section 38(6) of the Act? And (2) in looking at the timetable for the child, is there evidence that this mother will be able to care adequately for the child within the child’s timetable?”

  1. Later this month, the amendments to section 38 of the 1989 Act effected by the Children and Families Act 2014 will be brought into force. Sections 38(7A) and (7B), inserted by section 13(11) of the 2014 Act, provide as follows:

“(7A)   A direction under subsection (6) to the effect that there is to be a medical or psychiatric examination or other assessment of the child may be given only if the court is of the opinion that the examination or other assessment is necessary to assist the court to resolve the proceedings justly.

(7B)     When deciding whether to give a direction under subsection (6) to that effect the court is to have regard in particular to –

(a)        any impact which any examination or other assessment would be likely to have on the welfare of the child, and any other impact which giving the direction would be likely to have on the welfare of the child,

(b)        the issues with which the examination or other assessment would assist the court,

(c)        the questions which the examination or other assessment would enable the court to answer,

(d)        the evidence otherwise available,

(e)        the impact which the direction would be likely to have on the timetable, duration and conduct of the proceedings,

(f)         the cost of the examination or other assessment, and

(g)        any matters prescribed by Family Procedure Rules.”

  1. The language of section 38(7A) replicates, in all material respects verbatim, the more general provision in section 13(6) of the 2014 Act which applies to the calling of expert evidence (and which in turn replicates, with the addition of the word “justly”, the language of FPR 25.1). Likewise, the language of section 38(7B) is very similar to that of section 13(7) of the 2014 Act.
  2. For present purposes the key point is the use in common in section 38(7A) of the 1989 Act, section 13(6) of the 2014 Act and FPR 25.1 of the qualifying requirement that the court may direct the assessment or expert evidence only if it is “necessary” to assist the court to resolve the proceedings. This phrase must have the same meaning in both contexts. The addition of the word “justly” only makes explicit what was necessarily implicit, for it goes without saying that any court must always act justly rather than unjustly. So “necessary” in section 38(7A) has the same meaning as the same word in section 13(6), as to which see Re TG (Care Proceedings: Case Management: Expert Evidence) [2013] EWCA Civ 5, [2013] 1 FLR 1250, para 30, and In re H-L (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Expert Evidence) [2013] EWCA Civ 655, [2014] 1 WLR 1160, [2013] 2 FLR 1434, para 3.

The wider context

  1. By the time the case came before me on 25 March 2014, the proceedings had already been on foot for a little over five months. What was being proposed by Orchard House envisaged a process that might extend the proceedings well beyond six months, indeed possibly for as long as eight months or even longer. This requires consideration of the principle set out in the interim PLO – which applies to this case – and shortly to be reinforced by section 14 of the 2014 Act.
  2. Section 14 of the 2014 Act amends section 32 of the Children Act 1989 so that from later this month section 32 will in material part read as follows:

“(1)      A court hearing an application for an order under this Part shall …

(a)        draw up a timetable with a view to disposing of the application –

(i)     without delay, and

(ii)    in any event within twenty-six weeks beginning with the day on which the application was issued; and

(b)        give such directions as it considers appropriate for the purpose of ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, that that timetable is adhered to.

(5)        A court in which an application under this Part is proceeding may extend the period that is for the time being allowed under subsection (1)(a)(ii) in the case of the application, but may do so only if the court considers that the extension is necessary to enable the court to resolve the proceedings justly.

(6)        When deciding whether to grant an extension under subsection (5), a court must in particular have regard to –

(a)        the impact which any ensuing timetable revision would have on the welfare of the child to whom the application relates, and

(b)        the impact which any ensuing timetable revision would have on the duration and conduct of the proceedings;

and here “ensuing timetable revision” means any revision, of the timetable under subsection (1)(a) for the proceedings, which the court considers may ensue from the extension.

(7)        When deciding whether to grant an extension under subsection (5), a court is to take account of the following guidance: extensions are not to be granted routinely and are to be seen as requiring specific justification.

(10)      Rules of court may provide that a court –

(a)        when deciding whether to exercise the power under subsection (5), or

(b)        when deciding how to exercise that power,

must, or may or may not, have regard to matters specified in the rules, or must take account of any guidance set out in the rules.”

No rules have been made pursuant to section 32(10) and none are proposed to be made for the time being.

  1. Section 32(1)(a)(ii) does not describe some mere aspiration or target, nor does it prescribe an average. It defines, subject only to the qualification in section 32(5) and compliance with the requirements of sections 32(6) and (7), a mandatory limit which applies to all cases. It follows that there will be many cases that can, and therefore should, be concluded well within the 26 week limit. I repeat what I said in my first ‘View from the President’s Chambers: The process of reform’, [2013] Fam Law 548:

“My message is clear and uncompromising: this deadline can be met, it must be met, it will be met. And remember, 26 weeks is a deadline, not a target; it is a maximum, not an average or a mean. So many cases will need to be finished in less than 26 weeks.”

  1. What then of the qualification in section 32(5)?
  2. In In re B-S (Children) (Adoption Order: Leave to Oppose) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, [2014] 1 WLR 563, paras 32-46, the Court of Appeal spelt out the essentials which the law and good practice demand in all cases when the court is being asked to approve a care plan for adoption or being asked to make a non-consensual placement order or adoption order. Giving the judgment of the court, I said this (para 49):

“We do not envisage that proper compliance with what we are demanding, which may well impose a more onerous burden on practitioners and judges, will conflict with the requirement, soon to be imposed by statute, that care cases are to be concluded within a maximum of 26 weeks. Critical to the success of the reforms is robust judicial case management from the outset of every care case. Case management judges must be astute to ensure that the directions they give are apt to the task and also to ensure that their directions are complied with. Never is this more important than in cases where the local authority’s plan envisages adoption.”

I continued:

“If, despite all, the court does not have the kind of evidence we have identified, and is therefore not properly equipped to decide these issues, then an adjournment must be directed, even if this takes the case over 26 weeks. Where the proposal before the court is for non-consensual adoption, the issues are too grave, the stakes for all are too high, for the outcome to be determined by rigorous adherence to an inflexible timetable and justice thereby potentially denied.”

  1. That approach, which is entirely compatible with the requirements of section 32, applies not just in the particular context under consideration in In re B-S but more generally.
  2. In my seventh ‘View’, [2013] Fam Law 1394, I described the remarkable work being done by the Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) under the inspirational leadership of District Judge (Magistrates’ Court) Nicholas Crichton. I touched on the question of how the FDAC model was to meet the challenge of the 26 week time limit and fit with the PLO. I said:

“ … we must see how best the PLO can accommodate the FDAC model (I put it this way, rather than the other way round). We must always remember that the PLO is a means of achieving justice and the best outcomes for children and, wherever possible, their families. It is not, and must never be allowed to become, a straightjacket, least of all if rigorous adherence to an inflexible timetable risks putting justice in jeopardy.”

  1. More recently, in Re NL (A child) (Appeal: Interim Care Order: Facts and Reasons) [2014] EWHC 270 (Fam), para 40, Pauffley J has expressed the point in words which I cannot improve upon and which I wholeheartedly endorse:

“Justice must never be sacrificed upon the altar of speed.”

  1. So despite the imperative demand of section 32(1)(a)(ii), there can be exceptions. But before going further it is vital to recall the equally imperative language of sections 32(5) and 32(7). An extension beyond 26 weeks is to be permitted only if it is “necessary to enable the court to resolve the proceedings justly”. This is precisely the same language as appears in section 38(7A) of the 1989 Act and section 13(6) of the 2014 Act, so it must mean the same. Specifically, the learning in Re TG and in In re H-L must, in my judgment, apply as much to section 32(5) of the 1989 Act as it does to section 38(7A) of the 1989 Act and section 13(6) of the 2014 Act. Moreover, extensions are “not to be granted routinely” and require “specific justification.”
  2. In what circumstances may the qualification in section 32(5) apply?
  3. This is not the occasion for any elaborate discussion of a question which, in the final analysis, can be determined only on a case by case basis. But some preliminary and necessarily tentative observations are appropriate.
  4. There will, as it seems to me, be three different forensic contexts in which an extension of the 26 week time limit in accordance with section 32(5) may be “necessary”:

i)                    The first is where the case can be identified from the outset, or at least very early on, as one which it may not be possible to resolve justly within 26 weeks. Experience will no doubt identify the kind of cases that may fall within this category. Four examples which readily spring to mind (no doubt others will emerge) are (a) very heavy cases involving the most complex medical evidence where a separate fact finding hearing is directed in accordance with Re S (Split Hearing) [2014] EWCA Civ 25, [2014] 2 FLR (forthcoming), para 29, (b) FDAC type cases (see further below), (c) cases with an international element where investigations or assessments have to be carried out abroad and (d) cases where the parent’s disabilities require recourse to special assessments or measures (as to which see Re C (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 128, para 34).

ii)                   The second is where, despite appropriately robust and vigorous judicial case management, something unexpectedly emerges to change the nature of the proceedings too late in the day to enable the case to be concluded justly within 26 weeks. Examples which come to mind are (a) cases proceeding on allegations of neglect or emotional harm where allegations of sexual abuse subsequently surface, (b) cases which are unexpectedly ‘derailed’ because of the death, serious illness or imprisonment of the proposed carer, and (c) cases where a realistic alternative family carer emerges late in the day.

iii)                 The third is where litigation failure on the part of one or more of the parties makes it impossible to complete the case justly within 26 weeks (the type of situation addressed in In re B-S, para 49).

  1. I repeat, because the point is so important, that in no case can an extension beyond 26 weeks be authorised unless it is “necessary” to enable the court to resolve the proceedings “justly”. Only the imperative demands of justice – fair process – or of the child’s welfare will suffice.
  2. I referred above to FDAC type cases. I have in mind cases of the type that might benefit from what I will call the FDAC approach. The approach (see the description in my seventh View, [2013] Fam Law 1394) is based on problem solving by a specialist, multi-disciplinary team supporting the parents in overcoming their problems where children have been put at risk, for example by parental substance misuse. The aim is to help to keep the family together, where possible. The team formulates an intervention plan to test whether the parents can overcome their problems and meet their child’s needs within the child’s timescale. Expectations are clear. The progress made by the parents is monitored regularly. If the parents cannot maintain the necessary progress the process is brought to an end.
  3. Originally, the FDAC approach was pioneered in the FDAC court created by DJ(MC) Crichton at Wells Street in London. Another FDAC is now running at Gloucester and others are planned elsewhere. But the FDAC approach does not necessarily require a FDAC. Similar principles are being applied, for example, in Plymouth, pre-proceedings in a community based model pioneered by Bath and North East Somerset Council, in Liverpool by the use of a pre-proceedings protocol and in a small number of specialist domestic abuse survivors’ projects. No doubt other models will emerge. Typically, a multi-disciplinary team approach is agreed with the designated family judge or judge in charge of the specialist court, so that the support network and assessment team are available and funded in accordance with an agreed model. Decisions in principle about the capability of the parents to care for their child are usually made within 26 weeks, leaving such longer implementation as may be within the child’s timescale to be achieved within an extended timetable for the proceedings.
  4. The FDAC approach is crucially important. The simple reality is that FDAC works. DJ(MC) Crichton has shown what can be achieved for children and their parents even in the most unpromising circumstances. FDAC is, it must be, a vital component in the new Family Court.
  5. Viewed from a judicial perspective a vital component of the FDAC approach has to be a robust and realistic appraisal at the outset of what is possible within the child’s timescale and an equally robust and realistic ongoing appraisal throughout of whether what is needed is indeed being achieved (or not) within the child’s timescale. These appraisals must be evidence based, with a solid foundation, not driven by sentiment or a hope that ‘something may turn up’. Typically three questions will have to be addressed. First, is there some solid, evidence based, reason to believe that the parent is committed to making the necessary changes? If so, secondly, is there some solid, evidence based, reason to believe that the parent will be able to maintain that commitment? If so, thirdly, is there some solid, evidence based, reason to believe that the parent will be able to make the necessary changes within the child’s timescale?

Discussion

  1. On behalf of the mother, Mr Pitt submits that she has complied with everything asked of her, is no longer taking drugs, has made progress in relation to her mental health – she is now talking freely – and continues to engage with the agencies and professionals who are in place to support and assist her.
  2. Mr Hand on behalf of the local authority accepts that, to her credit, the mother has been making improvements. But, he submits, she has a long way to go. There is, he says, no realistic way in which she could care, or be supported long term to care, for S. Given the range of expert material already before the court, further assessment will not, he submits, assist the court in discharging its responsibilities. The combined effect of all the material is, he says, that the mother will not be able to care for S long term. Moreover, given the poor quality of the mother’s contact with S he questions whether it is compatible with S’s welfare to expose her to a residential assessment with the mother in the absence of it having a good chance of success. On top of all that, he questions whether the inevitable delay can be justified unless there is a good chance of success.
  3. Mr Howard, for S, makes much the same points as Mr Hand. While the mother has made improvements they are insufficient and too late to indicate that she would be able to care for S within the child’s timescale. The assessment is not necessary. The guardian, moreover, is particularly concerned about the impact on S of the proposed assessment. The mother’s parenting of S during the assessment could undermine the secure attachment S currently has. Given the extensive assessments already undertaken, the mother’s poor prospects of success do not justify the “experiment” she is proposing, nor is it within the child’s timescale.
  4. After careful reflection I concluded that Mr Hand and Mr Howard were right, and essentially for the reasons they gave. I can summarise my conclusions quite shortly.
  5. In the first place I agree with them that the proposed assessment is not necessary, either in the sense described by Lady Hale in In re G or in the sense (the same sense) in which the word is used in FPR 25.1 and in section 38(7A) of the 1989 Act. There are two aspects to this. Further assessment is not going to add significantly to what the court already knows. Moreover, the kind of assessment proposed by Orchard House, although it may tell us something about the mother’s ability to parent S in a practical sense (though nothing important we do not already know) is not going to be able to tell us very much about the mother’s ability to address her many other difficulties, let alone her ability to sustain in the long term in the community whatever improvements may be noted in the short term in the supportive and controlled environment of Orchard House.
  6. Secondly, there is no adequate justification, let alone the necessity which section 32(5) of the 1989 Act will shortly require, for an extension of the case so significantly beyond 26 weeks. Again, there are two aspects to this. Looking to the mother, there is, sadly, at present no solid, evidence based, reason to believe that she will be able to make the necessary changes within S’s timescale. Even assuming that there is some solid, evidence based, reason to believe that she is committed to making the necessary changes, there is, sadly, not enough reason to believe that she will be able to maintain that commitment. In the light of her history, and all the evidence to hand, the assertion that she will seems to me to be founded more on hope than solid expectation, just as does any assertion that she will be able to make the necessary changes within S’s timescale. Secondly, I have to have regard to the detrimental effects on S of further delay. Far from this being a case where the child’s welfare demands an extension of the 26 weeks time limit, S’s needs point if anything in the other direction. I accept the guardian’s analysis.

 

Withdrawing care proceedings

 

Re J, A, M and X (Children) 2013

Cobb J gave a judgment in this case which would now be your go-to place to see the law on a Local Authority’s application to withdraw care proceedings.  [There's a potentially important bit at para 63 of the judgment, where the Judge gives a view as to whether an injury deliberately caused by a sibling could be capable of crossing the threshold even if the parents had done nothing wrong]

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/4648.html

The long and the short of the case was that it involved a head injury to X, who was 18 months old. This head injury presented with subdural haematoma and retinal haemorrhages.  That, ten years ago, would have had shaking injury written all over it. The Courts and experts are a bit more cautious these days, but it is still a concerning set of injuries and the possibility of deliberate harm is one that is explored by the Court.

The parents explanation is that they were in an adjacent room, J (their 16 year old) was in a room with the other children, and M who was 3 1/2 had pushed X, who had fallen over.

The medical opinion:

 

 

  • In this case, the parties have been fortunate to garner the expertise of some of the finest medical experts currently available to the family courts. I have read their reports with care, and the transcript of the meeting at which they were able to share their views. There is some measure of professional consensus about the medical evidence, and I attempt to do no more than to distil some of the key aspects of their evidence as follows.

 

 

 

 

  • Mr. E, Consultant Ophthalmologist, has opined that, taken with the other findings in the case, the retinal haemorrhages provide strong evidence that X was subjected to a shaking injury. He describes him fulfilling the “characteristic profile” and refers to the triad of features which includes encephalopathy and subdural haemorrhage; he considers that unilateral retinal haemorrhage is not unusual in NAHI. He concludes that by reference to his expertise on ophthalmological features alone, the fall described cannot be considered a plausible explanation for the retinal findings. I remind myself that I do not consider one aspect of the medical evidence in isolation from other aspects.

 

 

 

 

  • Mr. R Consultant neurosurgeon, suggests that on current medical understanding a low level fall of the type described would not be expected to cause an acute subdural bleed and that developing a subdural haematoma from such a fall would therefore be a very unusual event. The account of X being pushed over and hitting his head could explain the acute subdural haematoma although it would be an unusual event in these circumstances. The appearances of the bleeding do not assist in determining the explanation, and can be explained by a single localised impact to the top of the left cerebral hemisphere. He opines that the accidental event described causing this haemorrhage is a possibility although it would be unusual. Another event involving greater force that has not been reported remains a possibility but this cannot be definitively stated on the appearance of the subdural haematoma alone.

 

 

 

 

  • Dr. SA, Consultant Paediatrician, reminded the Court that there are exceptions to the rules that generally short falls do not give rise to significant cranial or intracranial injury whereas large falls and severe impacts will do. He considers that X did not simply fall to the ground, he was pushed and although this was by a small child this will have increased his velocity and impact. He concludes that the injuries found are consistent with the fall and that this is consistent with an accidental event. The injuries are more likely due to the reported fall.

 

 

 

 

  • Dr. ST, Consultant Neuroradiologist, concluded that on imaging grounds alone he could not exclude shaking as a cause for the subdural bleeding. The inter-hemispheric component and the bleeding in the posterior fossa are somewhat unusual in the context of being secondary to head trauma. However, because of the unusual nature of the fall in his view it is possible to explain the imaging features as having occurred as a result of that event. He does not exclude the event as a reasonable possible cause.

 

 

 

 

  • The experts have met, and I have a transcript of their discussions; this reflects the expert view that the constellation of injuries was caused by the same event which occurred shortly before X’s collapse; that there are a whole series of atypical features in this case; that the experts cannot from their respective areas of expertise reasonably exclude any of the possibilities that were debated, and that it is a matter for the Court to “put all the pieces of the jigsaw together”.

 

 

 

 

  • A Schedule of Concurrence (of expert views) has been helpfully prepared by Mr Rothery arising from the meeting. The Local Authority relies upon this analysis and summary of the expert medical evidence. The document summarises the nature of the injuries; there is agreement that the injuries are a result of trauma on a single occasion, and more likely to be impact than shaking alone.

 

 

 

 

  • The doctors conclude (para.4.1) that it is not possible on the medical evidence alone to determine whether the injuries were accidental or non-accidental. The summary discloses that the experts considered a range of possible mechanisms which may account for X’s injuries (para.2.4). Paragraph 4.2 reads:

 

 

 

“the explanation given by J that X fell over having been pushed by M is a possible explanation of all Xs injuries“.

What that means is that medically speaking, the experts considered that the accidental explanation could account for the injuries. What of course they could not say, is whether this explanation happened. That would be ultimately a matter for the Judge.  The Local Authority COULD have pressed on with the finding of fact hearing, and asked the Judge to hear the evidence and reach a decision. They decided instead that they would accept that the injury had been caused accidentally by M pushing X over.

The application for leave to withdraw

 

  • The Local Authority, upon whom the burden of proof falls at this essentially adversarial stage of these proceedings, does not seek to prove that the injury sustained by X was non-accidental.

 

 

  • It takes as its starting point the unanimous expert medical opinion that the accident described by J “is a possible explanation of all X’s injuries“.

 

 

  • The Local Authority has then weighed into the reckoning what the parents and J have said about the incident. Ms Cross and Ms Hobson have rightly in my view formed the view that where the medical evidence is poised so evenly on the fulcrum of possibility, it is necessary critically to evaluate the other aspects of the case and, in particular, what it is that the parents and J say about the events which may tilt the balance. Only, say the Local Authority, where the forensic process could significantly damage the credibility of the parents or J would the Local Authority be able to contend that the balance tilted against this being an accident. But, Ms Cross continues, there is little in the relevant lay accounts which gives cause for such a conclusion

 

 

  • Even the inconsistencies in the accounts, such as they are, lend weight to (rather than detract from) the conclusion that an essentially honest account has been given: there has been sufficient consistency about the incident: It occurred when X was trying to negotiate the sofa; X was not confident or steady on his feet; M ran at him and collided with him; M pushed him over and he fell to the ground; X hit his head and it ‘bounced’; X reacted adversely and immediately, developing symptoms consistent with a seizure; J shouted for her mother; all the children were together in the room; the parents were in an adjacent room; J alerted the parents immediately, indicating her distress and concern for X; upon arriving at the scene the parents witnessed X in a state of collapse.

 

 

  • Moreover I note as context to the key events that:

 

(a) No-one gives any hint that there had been any stress or tension within the home immediately prior to the incident

(b) J has never shown any aggressive behaviour towards her younger siblings;

(c) There been no particular health or behavioural issues relating to the children

 

  • If I were to embark upon a fact-finding enquiry, it seems to me that I would probably need to reach a position in which I was satisfied that J had been able to maintain quite a sophisticated lie in inventing an account which coincided in some important respects with the expert medical opinion as to key elements of causation of the injuries. I would further need to satisfy myself that J was prepared to blame her little half-sister M for injuring X to protect herself, and that the younger children were able to maintain a consistent and impenetrable wall of silence in relation to a different type of event causing the injury. While I cannot form a concluded view on this point on the papers, the indicators point the other way: I have noted the comments in Ms LM’s report, and note the comments of J’s guardian who (in her recent Analysis document) describes her as a “lovely young person”.

There is an issue of relevance here – the existing case law is that if the Judge is satisfied that the threshold could not be crossed, they can deal with the Local Authority’s application to withdraw on that basis alone (the statutory test for making orders not being met, the proceedings ought to end), whereas if the Judge considers that the threshold COULD be crossed, the Judge then has to consider whether the withdrawal of the proceedings is in the children’s best interests

28.  The Local Authority submitted – per paragraph 44 to 46 of its skeleton argument – that as this is an application to withdraw proceedings at the pre-threshold stage (because it says, it does not believe that it can cross the threshold), then I would be required to “evaluate the application” by reference to that “fact alone” (i.e. that the threshold cannot be crossed), without engaging any consideration of welfare; it is said that my compass of enquiry on this application is accordingly is a narrow one.

 

 

Reliance for this proposition was placed on a decision of Hedley J in Redbridge London Borough Council v B C & A [2011] 2 FLR 117 in which he said (at para.9 of the judgment) that:

 

 

If the local authority could not prove the threshold criteria, then of course, their application would succeed without more as otherwise I would have no alternative but to dismiss the proceedings. If, however, the threshold could be established, then the application would really depend upon the court concluding under s 1(5) of the Children Act 1989 that no order was necessary; that is to say on the basis that withdrawal was consistent with the welfare needs of A – see London Borough of Southwark v B  [1993] 2 FLR 559 and WSCC v M, F, W, X, Y and Z [2010] EWHC 1914 (Fam), [2011] 1 FLR 188.”

(emphasis by underlining added for emphasis).

 In this case, as it is presented before me, I am not in fact being asked to conclude (and indeed I do not conclude) that the Local Authority could not on any view prove the threshold. Plainly on one or more than one construction of events, the threshold could be crossed. To fall into the category of case envisaged by Hedley J in para.9 of his judgment, wherein the court would have no alternative but to permit the withdrawal, it seems to me that the inability of the Local Authority to demonstrate facts to cross threshold ought to be obvious.

 

 

  • The Local Authority here invites me to adopt their likely construction of the evidence, and on that basis they invite me to say that they will not be likely to cross the threshold. They further maintain that it is not in the interests of the children concerned that an enquiry is embarked upon to establish whether that construction or another construction should be preferred.

 

 

  • In a case where there is argument whether the threshold could be crossed, I have to remind myself that answers to the questions relating to threshold may also inform the answer on welfare. The crossing of the ‘threshold’ is simply one part of a two-stage process (and the court has two questions to ask i.e. has the threshold been crossed? If so, what will be best for the child?) The same factual issues are often relevant to each question. Just because a hearing is split, does not mean that the evidence relevant to stage 1 may not be just as relevant to stage 2: “the finding of those facts is merely part of the whole process of trying the case. It is not a separate exercise” (see Baroness Hale in Re B (supra) at para.74).

 

 

  • After oral argument before me, all counsel agreed that this was not such an ‘obvious’ case that the Local Authority could not prove the threshold; it was acknowledged by all that on the evidence there were plainly significant difficulties in them achieving this.

{i.e it is POSSIBLE that the Judge could have heard all of the evidence and found the parents and J’s account of the accident implausible, and made the finding. Well, actually, it goes even further than that, because of paragraph 63, which I think might come up again}

  • The Local Authority has further maintained (para.47 and 48 of the Skeleton Argument) that at its highest, the threshold may not have been capable of being crossed even if I were to be satisfied that J injured X (i.e. non-accidentally). I respectfully disagree with the analysis of the law set out in these paragraphs of the skeleton argument. If I were to have found that X had sustained non-accidental injuries, these injuries would unquestioningly have represented ‘significant harm’, and that harm would have been “attributable to the care given to X” not being what it “would be reasonable to expect a parent to give him”. The fact that X was at the critical point being cared for by J does not mean that the threshold is not crossed. I do not consider that there are grounds for distinguishing the situation relating to X (as the injured child) from the situation relating to the parents (as opposed to the childminder) of the parents’ child in the Lancashire v B case in respect; and given that the mother/father and J would all form part of the family unit hereafter, there is no proper basis for considering the other children differently either.

You need to read that carefully – what the Judge is saying is that EVEN if the finding was that it had been J who harmed X (rather than the parents, or the 3 1/2 year old M) the threshold could have been crossed, the Local Authority were saying that it would not have been.

If you do care proceedings regularly, you will come across the explanation that the injuries were caused by a sibling very often, and I think that this paragraph offers a suggestion that if the injuries were caused deliberately rather than accidentally, threshold might still be crossed  – even though the parents had done nothing wrong.   (It isn’t unreasonable, to leave a 16 year old in charge of younger siblings for a short period whilst the parents are in an adjacent room – if it was, there would be an intolerable number of care proceedings)

I’m not sure how I feel about this – my gut feeling was that I agreed with the Local Authority and that I wouldn’t have been saying that threshold was met if the Judge had decided that J (16 year old sibling) had caused the injury and lied about it. But having mulled for a few days, I can see what the Judge is getting at – if  J had injured the infant deliberately and was still going to be a member of the household, then the risk of future injuries isn’t one that could sensibly be ignored.  My suspicion is that if a Judge were to make a finding in relation to threshold on that basis, we would be finding out what the Court of Appeal think.

That’s all something of an academic sidetrack, since there wasn’t evidence that anyone sought to rely on that J had done anything of the kind.

But, having decided that this was a case where threshold COULD have been made out, the Judge had to then consider the application to withdraw on welfare grounds.

  • Given that this case does not fall into the realms of what I call the ‘obvious case’ (where I would have no option but to give leave to withdraw), the question of whether or not a particular fact-finding exercise is to be conducted within care proceedings is a question which requires me to look at the whole application. In this respect I have been particularly guided by the judgment of McFarlane J as he then was in A County Council V DP, RS, BS (By The Children’s Guardian) [2005] EWHC 1593 (Fam) [2005] 2FLR 1031 . He set out (in rather different factual circumstances) the factors which should weigh in the evaluation of whether it was right for proceedings to be pursued (see [24]):

 

(a) the interests of the child (relevant not paramount);

(b) the time the investigation would take;

(c) the likely cost to public funds;

(d) the evidential result;

(e) the necessity of the investigation;

(f) the relevance of the potential result to the future care plans for the child;

(g) the impact of any fact finding process upon the other parties;

(h) the prospects of a fair trial on the issue;

(i) the justice of the case

 

(a) The interests of the child (relevant not paramount) I have to consider whether it is in the interests of the children that the application is pursued. There is, I can acknowledge, nothing in the material which actively supports the contention that it is in the interests of any of the children for the fact-finding hearing to go ahead; I can say with reasonable confidence that it be contrary to J’s interests for it to do so;
(b) The time the investigation would take This fact-finding hearing is listed for 12 days – 10 further court days from now. If the threshold were established, there would be likely to be a second stage hearing some way down the line IF I were to find that the threshold were crossed
(c) The likely cost to public funds The cost to public funds would be highly significant given the estimate for the length of the hearing (above) and the fact that the parties are rightly (given the issues involved) represented by leading and junior counsel
(d) The evidential result It is difficult to assess the evidential result were I to conduct a factual enquiry; I have attempted no more than a rough forecast on the information available, and cannot say with any confidence at all that the picture at the end of a long enquiry would be any clearer from what appears now.
The key components of the account of the incident have been maintained by the protagonists up to now, and are broadly consistent; I would need to be satisfied that there was a real chance of a clearer evidential outcome.
(e) The necessity of the investigation I am not convinced that the investigation is necessary, given that it appears to be the intention of the Local Authority to reconstitute this family sooner rather than later;
(f) The relevance of the potential result to the future care plans for the child; The enquiry is unlikely to have any effect on the future care plans for the child; in this respect the situation can be distinguished from the decision of McFarlane J in A County Council V DP, RS, BS (By The Children’s Guardian)
(g) The impact of any fact finding process upon the other parties I am particularly concerned about the impact of the fact finding process on J. I am aware that only J can provide a direct account of the alleged events. The accounts of the Mother and the Father are, necessarily, secondary, rehearsing what J told them of the event itself and describing only the aftermath directly. The pressure on her of the process would be not inconsiderable.
J’s ability to give a clear and coherent account of the events may be affected not only by her own limitations – such as they are – but also by the shock and panic associated by being in the vicinity of the events.
I have been told that J has already been advised that she may well not have to give evidence; whether that was sensible is a moot point given that this decision was not yet available, but I nonetheless note that she was described as “buoyant” to discover that she may well be spared the process of recounting her events to the court, however sympathetically we were to arrange that for her
(h) The prospects of a fair trial on the issue; I believe that a fair trial is possible; arrangements have been discussed and agreed for J to give evidence
(i) The justice of the case The justice of the case lies in reaching a swift, reliable, welfare-based conclusion for the children.

Conclusion:

 

 

  • Having reviewed the material carefully, listened to the views of the parties, their submission as to outcome and their reasons, I have concluded that the Local Authority should indeed be given leave to withdraw the application for a care order.

 

 

 

  • I have paid close regard to the checklist of factors set out above. Those factors, many taken individually but certainly taken cumulatively, point firmly against a fact-finding enquiry.

 

 

 

  • I have applied an overall welfare test to my decision, and have satisfied myself that it is not in the interests of any of the children to subject the family, the parents and J in particular, to this enquiry. Such a process would be neither proportionate nor in the children’s interests, it is a course which no party wishes, and which the guardians on behalf of the children discourage me from embarking upon.

 

 

 

 

  • Where does that leave the allegations of Non Accidental Injury? And how does that leave the parties?

 

 

 

 

  • I can do no better than to apply the principles most clearly set out in the speech of Lord Hoffman in Re B [2008] UKHL 35, [2009] AC 11:

 

 

If a legal rule requires a fact to be proved (a ‘fact in issue’), a judge or jury must decide whether or not it happened. There is no room for a finding that it might have happened. The law operates a binary system in which the only values are zero and 1. The fact either happened or it did not. If the tribunal is left in doubt, the doubt is resolved by a rule that one party or the other carries the burden of proof. If the party who bears the burden of proof fails to discharge it, a value of zero is returned and the fact is treated as not having happened. If he does discharge it, a value of 1 is returned and the fact is treated as having happened.”

 

  • By reason of the withdrawal of the proceedings, the allegation of non-accidental injury now scores a zero.

 

 

 

 

  • It follows that the lives of this family should now proceed on the basis that the injuries to X were no more or less than a terrible, fluke, accident. There is not even room for a suspicion that the injuries were caused in any other way. The family, and the professionals around them, should proceed now on the basis that no-one (and I include in this of course M) is to blame for X’s injuries.

 

 

 

 

  • For the avoidance of doubt, I wish to add that the application for care order was entirely appropriately made in this case on the basis of (a) the presenting features of X at hospital in April 2012 when viewed against (b) the backcloth of concerns about this family, and (c) the medical opinions early expressed about the aetiology of the serious injuries. It is apparent from all that I have read that the social workers have worked conscientiously, not always in the easiest of circumstances, in the interests of the children. The court is, and the family should be, indebted to them for that.

 

Italian C-section case – the final chapter

 

I don’t know that this one needs a lot of introduction – it was national, if not international, news in December (although the facts were rather different to the media reports).

This is the judgment from the adoption hearing, which was the last stage left.  It was allocated to the President of the Family Division, a judge who has not been afraid to grant leave to oppose  (indeed his lead judgment in Re B-S on that very point was the decision that led to such changes)

 

Re P (A child) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/1146.html

You may remember from all of the press reports at the time that mother now had solicitors and was going to fight for her child back. That has not materialised. As the President says :-

 

 

  • As of 1 April 2014 the position remained as it had been on 17 December 2013. Despite what had been said in the correspondence from Brendan Fleming and Dawson Cornwell in December 2013, no application of any kind had been made on behalf of either the mother or the Italian authorities, whether to the Court of Protection, the Chelmsford County Court or the Family Division, nor had any application been made to the Court of Appeal. In particular, it is to be noted, neither the mother, nor for that matter the father, had made any application in accordance with section 47(5) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 for leave to oppose the making of an adoption order.

 

To be fair to them, getting public funding for a leave to oppose adoption application isn’t easy (though I have seen determined solicitors get it on a much less contentious case than this one, and of course if one is deeply committed to the cause there is always pro bono option – for example, the mother in the Re B-S case didn’t have legal aid and her lawyers did the work for free)

The Judge sets out quite a lot of the email and correspondence between the Local Authority and the mother about this hearing and the chance to express her views

 

  • The email notifying the mother of the hearing was sent to her on 7 March 2014. A follow up email was sent on 12 March 2014. The mother responded by email later the same day:

 

 

“Dear Lynne thank you for your email I don’t have an advocate and unfortunately I will not able to attend Court, I received all the paperwork that you mailed to the adresse. Thank you very much”

Essex County Council replied by email on 13 March 2014:

“Many thanks Allesandra.

Would you wish to express your view via an email which we can present to the Court on your behalf?

Lynne”

There was no response, so Essex County Council emailed again on 27 March 2014:

“Alessandra – I just wish to remind you that the hearing in respect of [P] will be on Tuesday 1st April.

I know that you are unable to attend the hearing, but as previously stated, if there is anything that you wish the Court to know about your views on the proposed adoption then please email me by Monday 3 p.m. so I can ensure your views are available to the Court.””

The final email from the mother arrived on 28 March 2014:

“Dear Lynne

I wish for my daughter the best. Me personally I am trying to forget this bad experience I had in England. I love my daughter with all my heart and I pray to see her one day again.”

 

With that in mind, it is not a surprise that the President went on to make the adoption order, as there was no challenge to it. Obviously this is a sad case, as all adoptions are. Perhaps the mother had given up hope, perhaps she thought that she would have no chance of success, perhaps she just wasn’t in a place where a fight was something she could manage. I feel for her. Less for some of the journalists who high-jacked her tragedy to make cheap and inaccurate points.

I suspect that this judgment won’t get the publicity that the shrill allegations got back in December.

 

 

 

 

Surrey seems to be the hardest word

 
The High Court decision in Surrey County Council v AB and Others 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/1115.html

This is a judgment which might be pertinent for an elephant in the room issue since the Family Justice Review started moving us away from independent experts. Once you take that expertise out of court rooms and decisions about families, what is filling that gap? Is it sufficient to treat all social workers as experts without considering the huge differences between an experienced and analytical social worker and a relative newcomer?

The writer is aware of a pending article for Family Law Week prepared by Miss Battie of counsel, which touches on this very issue.

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed128671

In this case, the Local Authority ended up apologising, in writing, to the parents and grandparents because the social worker they had been allocated was “at the bottom of her learning curve”

[Just like any profession, newcomers start out new and have to gain experience by doing it. Every social worker has to have a first case, a first contested case, a first adoption case. The significance of course is that adoption(or separation of a child from birth parents permanently) is, as the Supreme Court reminded us last year, the most dramatic order that can be made in family Courts and it requires a robustness and rigour in the analysis and decision-making if it is to be done fairly. I don’t mean to suggest that all experienced social workers get everything right, nor that all new social workers get everything wrong, rather that when you are looking at a social worker having the entireity of the assessment process on their shoulders rather than having experts to consult with, the individual ability of that social worker comes into play far more than it did two years ago.]

“That document repeats the apology given to the parents and paternal grandmother for them being at the bottom of the “learning curve” for the allocated social worker.”

[Any underlining is mine, for emphasis]

The child in this case was 2 ½ years old. He had significant needs

X has complex health needs. He was born with hypertonia, suffers from a visual impairment Peters Anomaly Type 1/Anterior Dysgenesis Anomoly, has significant motor delay, scoliosis of the spine and suffers from digestive difficulties. As a result of these health difficulties he requires a standard of care that enables his particular health needs to be met. Such care includes 24 hour postural support, careful monitoring of his diet and significant care when feeding and essential auditory and tactile stimulation to ensure his emotional needs are met and to compensate for his loss of other senses. He has been placed with foster carers since May 2012 under a section 20 agreement.
The parents also had significant needs

10. His parents have their own health difficulties. His mother has cerebral palsy involving weakness in one arm and both legs and a possible mild learning disability. The father was diagnosed as a child with ADHD and is said to have Asperger-like symptoms, although there is no formal diagnosis.

The quality of the assessment and interventions that the parents received were a critical part of the case (and given that the Local Authority apologised in writing, you can make an informed guess that there was some judicial criticism of them)

11. One of the central issues in this case has been the adequacy of the assessments of the parents as to their capacity to care for X. Put simply the parent’s case was that the local authority comprehensively failed in their duties to support X’s continued placement with his parents. It is submitted there has been an unfair process resulting in a catalogue of missed opportunities and inadequate assessments, which have resulted in the parents now being at a significant disadvantage in putting themselves forward to care for X.
12. The local authority acknowledges some of their procedures and assessments have been inadequate, but submit the basic factual background has not changed. This is a young boy who needs exceptional care due to his particular needs and the combination of the parent’s volatile relationship and the father’s inability to provide emotional care for this young boy mean his parents were unable to provide the care he needed.

The Judge follows through the chain of mistakes and missed opportunities
Core assessment
17. A core assessment was started on 23 March 2012 and completed on 25 April 2012. Curiously the core assessment under “Agencies contributing to core assessment” records “No Key Agencies identified”. Under the section asking whether there were any disability or communication issues for the child or parents are to be recorded the box is left blank. This is despite it then being known about some of X’s health difficulties and the body of the assessment refers to his ‘global delay’, the mother having cerebral palsy and learning difficulties and the father Aspergers. The assessment also records in relation to the mother that she was ‘unable to use public transport due her physical disability’. The assessment goes on to record under parents’ views ‘[the parents] do not believe that their difficulties will impede on their capacity to care for or meet their son’s needs and their wish for him to be returned to their care in the very near future’. The parents are recorded as not agreeing with the local authority’s recommendation that X be made the subject of a child protection plan, however it goes on to record that both parents ‘are keen to work with all agencies so that they will be able to care for their son’. In the decision section the ‘No further action’ box was ticked.
18. This was not a promising start. On the face of the document it seems incomprehensible that the core assessment failed to identify the disabilities and communication difficulties that were obvious on the face of the assessment. Of the ‘tick box’ decision options there was included ‘specialist assessment’ and ‘referral to other agency’ yet despite identifying difficulties which required further assessment and the parents expressing their willingness to work with agencies no further action was taken. It is suggested that this was one of the first lost opportunities to support the parents in their wish to care for X. I agree.
Core group meeting
19. There was a core group meeting on 27 April 2012 attended by the parents, maternal grandparents, allocated social worker Ms Perrin, the ATM Mr Taljaard, Ms Livingstone the health visitor and Ms Murdoch (described as other social care staff). The minutes dated 8 June 2012 (some six weeks later) record ‘a residential unit for AB and X was discussed with AB stating that she is not keen for this to happen as this would put further stress on [the parents] as a couple’.
20. At this time X remained in the care of the mother in the maternal grandparents’ home. After the parents reported the mother’s brother’s use of pornographic sites X was placed with foster carers pursuant to section 20. There is no evidence of what, if any, other options within the wider family were explored to enable X to remain being cared for by his mother.
Allocation of new social worker

21. Ms Kim Horrox became the allocated social worker on 29 June 2012. She took over from Claire Stevens. Garth Taljaard was the ATM and remained so until Ms Grindon took over in January 2013, she remains the ATM to date. Ms Horrox qualified in 2011 although she had some previous social work related experience. This was her first case that resulted in care proceedings. By this stage X had been with the foster carers for six weeks.
22. Ms Horrox was clear in oral evidence that at the handover meeting in June 2012 she was informed that a residential assessment had been refused by the mother and was not being further explored. However, this is not consistent with other documents at the same time which seemed to indicate this issue was being actively pursued. There is a record of a discussion with the mother on 15 May 2012 in which she says she would rather go to a mother and baby foster home or residential unit than go back to her parents’ home for further assessment. A letter from the paediatric dietician to the consultant paediatrician on 24 May records that the mother was ‘awaiting a mother and baby placement in foster care for her and X’, it was mentioned as being the preferred plan in a meeting with the safeguarding nurse Mel Baxendale on 29 May 2012 and on 22 June 2012 there is an email from Mr Taljaard ATM after the review CP conference stating that the team manager and area manager have agreed a care plan that allows mother and baby to be placed in an appropriate residential unit for further assessment. This is said to be a further lost opportunity, I agree.
Assessment by the new social worker

24. Ms Horrox stated that on taking the case over she wished to conduct her own assessment of the parents and make her own judgment. She met with the parents on 3 July and on 17 July a youth support worker informed Ms Horrox that the mother was declining support from adult services. Ms Horrox accepted in oral evidence that she should have been more creative in helping the mother access appropriate support.
Assessment of the parents

29. In February/March 2013 there was a referral by Ms Horrox to the adult services team for an assessment to be conducted as the parents were said now to be consenting to such an assessment. It is accepted by Ms Horrox that this referral was not accepted by the relevant team until 23 September 2013 some 7 months later. Ms Horrox said in evidence that having made the referral she chased it three times and on the third time was told it needed to be sent to the ‘transition team’, that required a different referral form which she completed and sent. That was apparently deleted by mistake, once that was discovered a further referral was sent and then, finally, it was ‘actioned’. I agree this was another lost opportunity.

 

Delay in issuing / drift in section 20
30. The care proceedings were issued on 25 March 2013, 10 months after X had been placed with foster carers and over 4 ½ months after the local authority issued letters of intent to the parents informing them of their intention to issue proceedings. Ms Horrox frankly accepted in evidence this delay was unacceptable, she acknowledged it was her first case where care proceedings had been issued and had been a ‘steep learning curve for her’. She agreed with Ms Jenkins on behalf of the father that it was not fair the parents were at the bottom of this learning curve she said ‘I apologise for it being at the expense of this family’.
Lack of supervision of the social worker
31. Despite the volume of material in this case and the length of the social work statements there is little, if any, evidence of effective supervision of Ms Horrox between June 2012 and September 2013. If there had been it would have been expected such unacceptable delays would have been picked up and effectively managed.

 

Failure to consider of all of the options
32. The local authority care plan at the time the proceedings were started was, in reality, adoption, although Ms Horrox said she kept an open mind. The discussions she had had with the mother at the PLO meeting in November was in the context of long term placement with Mr and Mrs SG, either under a care order, adoption or SGO. In her evidence Ms Horrox kept talking about ‘parallel planning’ but there was no evidence of any effective parallel assessment of the parents’ ability to care for X at the same time as investigating alternatives in the care of the local authority. That is what parallel planning means. It is right the mother is recorded at the meeting in November as effectively supporting the long term placement of X with Mr and Mrs SG but that was without legal advice and in circumstances where there was no evidence of any alternative involving X being cared for by his family being actively discussed at that time.

The social work assessment in proceedings being flawed

33. Following transfer of the proceedings to the County Court the first effective hearing was not until 13 August. HHJ Cushing case managed the four significant hearings between then and 17 October 2013 when the deficits in the assessments undertaken by the local authority became clear. In essence a parenting assessment had been undertaken by Ms Horrox without the benefit of any assessment from adult services, and the subsequent assessment by adult services was accepted by the local authority to be inadequate. The care plan filed by the local authority on 6 September sought care orders and placement orders with contact with the birth family 4 times a year and made no mention of any outstanding assessments
The failure of the professionals meeting to answer the agreed questions
34. The Professionals Meeting convened on 2 October 2013 was, unfortunately, not a good example of how such a meeting should be structured. The minutes record at the beginning the 8 questions that were described as the purpose of the meeting, which included such matters as what are the identified needs of the Mother and Father, now and in the foreseeable future? What services are required to meet those needs? How can those serves be provided? What services are therefore required to allow the parents to meet X’s needs? This is followed by 9 pages of typed notes of the discussion with a record at the end as follows:
Meeting confirmed that
1) X’s needs are such that he needs consistent care
2) CWD will not offer a service
3) SSD to arrange another TAC meeting (team around the child)
35. In her evidence Ms Horrox agreed with Ms Wiley, on behalf of the mother, that this meeting did not answer the questions at the beginning, although it is clear from the record of the meeting that both the CWD team and the AWD team informed the meeting that they could only do assessments of the parents if X returned home, which seemed an unnecessarily unhelpful and rigid position to take. This was another lost opportunity.

 

 
The failure of the community based assessment

 

37. The matter came before Mostyn J on 22 October 2013. He transferred the case to the High Court and the order provides for further comprehensive community assessments to be conducted with a recital recording that ‘the court indicating that there should be an independent element to the assessment and that if a different person from both the Children with Disability Team and the Adult Team undertake the assessment, this would constitute that independent element’.
38. A 6 week community based assessment plan was devised at the end of October which included the children with CWD and AWD teams. The assessments were completed in early December 2013 and involved nearly 100 hours of observed assessment by the various teams. The matter came before me on 18 December. I made directions leading to the final hearing on 12 March 2014. It transpired that Ms Gomesz carried out one of the assessments. She had been part of the earlier assessments, this was not made clear by the local authority in the evidence they filed. When the Children’s Guardian made enquiries she was informed there was no one else available and, in any event, it was too late to do anything about it. Whilst there is no criticism of the work undertaken by Ms Gomesz it was not what was intended by the order made by Mostyn J.
By the end of all of this (and a further independent social work assessment) consensus had been reached between the parties that the current foster carers who wanted to permanently care for X were the best people to do this.
This must be one of the most damning paragraphs I have ever read in a family court judgment. It is heart-breaking. We should NEVER be in this position.
48. I am satisfied the agreement reached in this case does meet X’s welfare needs. Whilst it will never be known if the correct assessments of the parents had been undertaken earlier, as they should have been, whether the parents would have been in a position to care for X the reality is now the comprehensive assessments undertaken since are united in their conclusions that the parents would not be able to care full time for X, even with extensive support being provided. Those assessments have been subject to the critical eyes of two independent people.

 
If all of that were not enough, the Court went on to make four particular findings about the failings of the Local Authority
(1) Delay generally and, in particular, in issuing proceedings
72. Some of the delays in this case have been wholly unacceptable. There are three specific examples that illustrate the point:
1) X was placed with foster carers in May 2012, care proceedings were not issued until March 2013 some 10 months later. The fact of that delay put the parents in an increasingly difficult position to seek to restore X to their care, as there was no structure to the period of time prior to the issue of proceedings and they did not have effective access to legal advice. To rely, as Ms Horrox did in her evidence, on the fact that they did not take up the offer of legal advice at the PLO meetings misses the point;
2) The decision to take care proceedings appears to have been made prior to November 2012 yet the proceedings were not issued until some 5 months later. Again leaving the parents in limbo with the local authority, in effect, recommending permanent removal of X from his parents care by way of adoption but the parents not being within the structure of legal proceedings to challenge that was unfair. I appreciate the mother at the November PLO meeting appeared to be endorsing the plan of the local authority, but that was without the benefit of independent legal advice and was perhaps illustrative of the internal struggle she has had about where X’s best interests lay.
3) The delay in the referral to adult services from February/March to September 2013 was unacceptable. It was caused by a catalogue of errors, a lack of effective co-ordination and structure between teams that should be effectively working together. There appeared to be no system in place to chase up referrals.
(2) Ineffective supervision, planning or co-ordination
73. This concern applies in almost every aspect of this case up until late October 2013. There appears to have been a chronic lack of effective supervision of the allocated social worker who was inexperienced and dealing with a complex case. I agree with the observations made by Ms Dove about the lack of effective multi agency planning which should have been in place immediately after the initial core assessment in April 2012. Again three examples well illustrate this area of concern:
1) The initial core assessment dated 25 April 2012 is on the face of it flawed. It details the disabilities both X and the parents have, yet fails to record that in the relevant box which specifically addresses that issue. It records the parents willingness to work with all agencies so that they will be able to care for their son and then in the decision section ignores the options that would flag up further assessment or referral to other agencies and just ticks the ‘no further action box’. There is no evidence these inconsistencies were picked up in any subsequent discussions with the ATM or in any of the meetings.
2) When Ms Horrox took over the case she was clear in her evidence that at the handover a residential assessment was no longer being pursued as the mother did not agree. However other contemporaneous documents, one just a few days before she took over from the ATM is reported to state ‘the team manager and area manager have agreed a care plan that allows the mother and baby to be placed in an appropriate residential unit for further assessment’ and a letter in May refers to the mother waiting to hear about a residential assessment. It is deeply concerning that there appeared to be such a deep level of miscommunication on such a fundamental issue by two of the key social work professionals managing the case.
3) The failure to pick up in supervision (i) there had been no referral to adult services or when there was the delay of six months; (ii) to consider getting advice about how to more effectively communicate with the father; (iii) what further steps could be taken to engage the parents with support services; (iv) filing a care plan seeking adoption when a key referral to the adult disability team was still outstanding (which is not referred to in the Care Plan dated 6 September 2013 or the parenting assessment dated 17 July 2013)

(3) Not keeping an open mind about placement
74. There is a thread of evidence which points towards the local authority making up their mind at a very early stage that X could not be restored to his parent’s care and that, in reality, the options were either adoption or an SGO with his current carers. Whilst Ms Horrox said she retained an open mind, from the parent’s perspective that may not have been readily apparent to them. There is no evidence of a structure as to how that position was reached and an analysis of the options, with the advantages and disadvantages being properly weighed up and considering what support could be available for the parents. From the parent’s perspective it may have seemed an unfair process.
(4) Content of the statements filed on behalf of the local authority
75. The social work statements were far too long and, in part, unfocussed and there was a lack of balance regarding their content. For example, it was extremely difficult to find the core relevant material that underpinned the threshold criteria. There were pages of generalisations which lacked any real evidential value. The lack of balance in the way some of the information in the statement was presented is illustrated by the reference in Ms Horrox’s statement referring to the police being called by the neighbours in early December as the parents were reported to be arguing. The statement records the mother being ‘dishevelled’ is not in the referral from the police, which is the only source of the information. Also, what the statement does not record, which is in the referral document sent by the police to the local authority, is the particular neighbours who alerted the police had been previously arrested for wasting police time for making such calls. That could have been an important context that should have been set out and addressed, not just left out.
76. Another matter that arose in the oral evidence was comments made by the mother in July 2013 regarding her concerns about the paternal grandmother. Whilst those comments were referred to in general terms in the written material the detail only came out under cross examination by Ms Stone on behalf of the Children’s Guardian. Ms Horrox’s instincts were correct that information should have been recorded and disclosed. She was understandably concerned about the management of when it was disclosed, but appeared to be awaiting authorisation from some unspecified person to disclose it. It is right to record that the Court has made no findings about the concerns raised by the mother and no party has suggested that those concerns affect the paternal grandmother’s ability to care for X in the future during periods of contact.
To be fair to the social worker, the Judge outlined that these were not faults that lay entirely with her, but systemic failings
81. The court is acutely aware hard choices have to be made about limited resources but the structural failures in this case, particularly at the early stages, to properly assess the parent’s ability to be able to care for X has caused enormous delay in decisions being made about X’s future care.
82. I should make it clear whilst Ms Horrox has been the person giving evidence and been at the front line, I am satisfied on the information I have seen that the faults appear to be primarily systemic faults within the structure of the local authority. It was Ms Horrox first case where proceedings had been issued. She accepted there were delays in the disability assessments, delays in completing the relevant documentation for care proceedings. Those and other delays should have been picked up by those with responsibility for supervising her much earlier.

 

The Local Authority did take on board those failings and presented the Judge, after the judgment was delivered, with a blueprint for how they proposed to remedy those failings in the future. That doesn’t help this family, who were badly let down.

 

Having reached a broad consensus that X should live with his foster carers and under Special Guardianship Orders, there was also agreement that the Court should review the case in six months time.

62. What is being sought by the parties is for the court to retain a welfare oversight for a short period of time to assist the parties, if required, to deal with issues concerning the welfare of X. In particular to provide a legal framework which kept all parties on equal terms and did not undermine the morale of the parents and made both the parents and the local authority accountable to the court for the maintenance of a proper working relationship.

That posed a problem – how to legally structure that review?
One can easily understand that simply adjourning the care proceedings was not a palatable one, with the LA being in the driving seat, given the raft of criticisms made of them.
The eventual solution settled upon was to give the Local Authority leave to withdraw their application for care proceedings, and for the Court to use its inherent jurisdiction (if one of the parties asked them to)

64. Having considered the position I have reached the clear conclusion that in the very unusual circumstances of this case, and particularly because of the history, the court should accede to the request by the local authority to withdraw the care proceedings and invite one of the parties to issue proceedings under the inherent jurisdiction with the other parties to the care proceedings being joined as parties.
65. I have reached this conclusion for the following reasons:
1) The agreement reached by the parties was on the basis that the local authority does not pursue its findings regarding the threshold criteria and seeks leave to withdraw the care proceedings. It would be inconsistent with the letter and the spirit of that agreement, if the court went on to make findings, albeit on the lower level necessary to found an interim supervision order. The risk with that course is that it may hinder the future good working relationship between the parties which is not in X’s best interests. Particularly as there is going to be a change of team.
2) I am satisfied that the withdrawal of the care proceedings is consistent with X’s welfare. In the light of the agreement reached between the parties it would be wrong to require a trial on the threshold issues in this case. The parents accept X will be cared long term by Mr and Mrs SG under an SGO and they accept the revised care plan put forward by the LA regarding their contact. There would be no demonstrable welfare purpose in such a contested hearing. On the contrary I consider such a trial would seriously risk the positive steps made by the parties in reaching agreement. Having said that I am certainly not prepared to say on a summary basis that threshold could not have been made out in this case. As I indicated in argument, Ms Wiley’s submission at the start of this hearing that the proceedings were unlawful was ambitious and was wisely not pursued. I did not hear all the evidence and whilst it looked like the issues concerning missed medical appointments and failure to provide breakfast on one occasion during the assessment did not stand up to forensic scrutiny there were other issues, such as the parents’ relationship and the emotional care of X that would, if necessary, have required detailed consideration by the court as to whether the threshold criteria was met.
3) X’s welfare requires the parties in this case to look forward. I consider that has the best chance of succeeding if the care proceedings are withdrawn at this stage, rather than lingering on in the way suggested which may hamper the parties on the ground being able to move forward with a proper working relationship, which is what X’s welfare demands.
4) I have been informed by the parties that there are no procedural or funding obstacles in the way of the same parties being re-constituted within different proceedings. This step will not cause delay.
I am not sure that I share the same degree of confidence about funding obstacles, but no doubt some assurances had been obtained from the Legal Aid Agency. Care proceedings receive no questions asked free legal advice for parents (or at least “non means, no merits” funding within tight fiscal limits) whereas representation within the inherent jurisdiction sounds to me like it will be entirely discretionary for the Legal Aid Agency.

 

Ethical dilemmas and blood transfusions

 

This is part one of a Court of Protection decision about a very difficult case, throwing up ethical dilemmas.

Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust and J

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/COP/2014/1136.html

The features are so complex that it almost reads like an exam question designed to push the law to its breaking point, but tragically involves a real person.

J is a 23 year old, detained under the Mental Health Act – he has a personality disorder.

. A symptom of his disorder is that “he engages in significant self-harm through self-laceration and bloodletting, most recently by opening his brachial artery”. As I understand it, it is not the opinion of the treating psychiatrist that he suffers from any kind of delusions or delusional disorder. His intelligence is within the range of normal and he appears (although this may require further exploration) to have capacity both to make decisions with regard to his medical treatment and also to instruct lawyers to conduct litigation on his behalf.
he “has a long history of significant and repeated self-harming behaviour. His self-harm includes self-strangulation with ligatures and plastic bags, burning himself, and self-injury, including head-butting and self-laceration. He frequently re-opens wounds to aggravate an existing injury and cause further damage and blood loss.”

J signed an advance directive, specifying that he did not want to accept blood transfusions. His parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses and it seems that he had regained that faith.

4. Another aspect of this case is that, because of some history of thrombosis, he is prescribed the anti-coagulant, Warfarin, which has the effect that when he does bleed, he bleeds more profusely than he might otherwise do. Another aspect of the case is that his parents are of the Jehovah’s Witness faith. I understand (although this may later be corrected) that for an appreciable period of time he did not himself profess that faith, but in the last few months he has apparently embraced it and now professes and adheres to the tenets of that particular faith. I have been told in counsel’s case summary that “He has stated that he now practises his religion by praying, reading the bible and reading The Watch Tower magazine. He reports that his religion is important in his life. He remains in contact with his father, who supports him in his faith.” As is widely known, a tenet of the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a prohibition on receiving by transfusion blood or blood products.
5. According to counsel’s case summary, “On 1 February 2014 when in prison he seriously cut his right arm, opening his brachial artery at the antecubital fossa with a razor blade. He had significant blood loss and his haemoglobin fell to an extremely life-threatening level. He was admitted to intensive care and a blood transfusion was advised. He refused blood products on the basis of his Jehovah’s Witness faith. The treating hospital abided by his expressed wish, believing it to be capably stated.” Happily, he in fact survived that event without any blood being transfused.
The Judge looked at the advance directive and circumstances in which it was signed and concluded this

it appears to me that this is clearly an advance decision which was made with capacity and is valid within the meaning of, and for the purposes of, those provisions, and is also one which is applicable to the treatment described in the advance decision, namely a treatment which is transfusions into him of blood or primary blood components (red cells, white cells, plasma or platelets). I am therefore willing to declare on an interim basis that that written advance decision is valid and is applicable to that treatment, not withstanding that (a) his life may be at risk from the refusal of treatment, and (b) he is a patient detained under the Mental Health Acts.
I.e that J had capacity to make the decision that he did not want blood transfusions. Ordinarily, that would be that.

But, when the Mental Health Act comes into play, things become more difficult. There is the power under the MHA s63 for a hospital to provide medical treatment even where the patient does not consent – in effect overriding that objection; IF the medical treatment is for the mental disorder from which he is suffering

“The consent of a patient shall not be required for any medical treatment given to him for the mental disorder from which he is suffering…if the treatment is given by or under the direction of the approved clinician in charge of the treatment.”
The narrowness or otherwise of s63 has been litigated before (most notably in Ian Brady’s case, where feeding him with tubes was held to be a s63 treatment, even though he rationally understood that his hunger strike would result in his death)

There appears to be clear authority, and in particular the decision of the Court of Appeal in B v Croydon Health Authority [1995] Fam 133, to the effect that the expression “medical treatment given to him for the mental disorder from which he is suffering” is wide enough to extend to medical treatment for physical conditions caused or arising as a result of the underlying mental disorder. Thus if a detained patient suffers from the mental disorder of anorexia, it may be lawful to force-feed that patient as part of “medical treatment given to him for the mental disorder from which he is suffering.” If a detained patient cuts himself as a result of a self-harming mental disorder, then it may be lawful under that section to treat and stitch up the cuts. It is little or no extension of that approach that if, as a result of the mental disorder from which he is suffering, a patient cuts himself and bleeds so profusely that he needs a blood transfusion, it is part of the “medical treatment…for the mental disorder from which he is suffering” to give a medically necessary blood transfusion. So the question arises in this tragic situation, on the particular facts of this case (he being a detained mental patient), as to the interrelation between the provisions of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 in relation to advance decisions and the power under section 63 of the Mental Health Act 1983 to give medical treatment notwithstanding the absence of a consent.
So, it appears that the hospital could legally authorise blood transfusions even though J was objecting to them and had capacity to make that decision.

But, the hospital (I think very properly) felt uncomfortable about doing that, and wanted to place the issues before the Court
13. The dilemma is very well expressed in the statement by the treating psychiatrist, who says,
“I am…aware…that because [the patient] is a detained patient under section 63 of the Mental Health Act I have a power, as his responsible clinician, to override even a capable refusal of medical treatment [viz the advance decision] where that treatment is for the consequences of his mental disorder. It is my opinion that his self-harming behaviour that gives rise to the need for blood products is a direct consequence of his mental disorder and that hence I could use section 63 powers to enforce treatment with blood products upon him despite his capacitous refusal. I have some ethical difficulty in using the Mental Health Act to override a capacitous patient’s wishes based on religious wishes and I would not choose to use my Mental Health Act powers to override his advance decision.”
14. Pausing there, it can at once be seen why I said earlier in this judgment that this case raises ethical issues, for there is the treating doctor herself saying that she professionally feels “some ethical difficulty” in overriding his advance decision even though she has a power to do so under section 63 of the Mental Health Act 1983 and even though he might otherwise die. She continues in her statement:
“However, because of the significant consequences of abiding by his advance decision, which could result in his death, I seek a declaration from the Court as to (1) whether the advance decision is valid and applicable (on taking account of the context that he is refusing life-saving treatment for self-harm which is medicated through his mental disorder) and, if so, (2) whether in coming to my view that blood products should not be enforced upon him in the light of a valid and applicable advance decision, I have correctly struck the balance between the right to freedom of religion and the Article 2 right to life of a detained patient.”

 

The hospital were therefore of the view that although they COULD exercise their power under s63 MHA to compel blood transfusions, they did not feel that they SHOULD.

Pausing there, a question arises as to whether the Court is the right place to make decisions about medical ethics. As Holman J points out (though in neater language than I use) – If you want law, Courts are the right place, if you want ethics you may be in the wrong place.

I must stress at once that it is never the business of a court in these sorts of situations to make any kind of ethical decision. That is a matter for doctors alone, applying such guidance, if any, as they can obtain from their professional medical bodies. All the court can do is state the applicable law and, where appropriate, apply it in the form of a legal, though not necessarily an ethical, decision.

 

The Court felt uncomfortable about trying to resolve this dilemma without someone speaking on behalf of J, and decided that J’s voice had to be heard before any decision could properly be made

16. The passage that I have just quoted from the statement of the psychiatrist very clearly highlights the terrible dilemma in this case. On the one hand, this young adult has made a clear advance decision, whilst apparently having capacity to do so, that, because of his religious beliefs, he utterly refuses consent and positively directs that he should not be transfused with blood or blood products. On the other hand, he is compulsorily detained, both as a prisoner and now in a psychiatric hospital, where, so far as possible and lawful, the state is under obvious duties to protect him, as the consultant psychiatrist identified in the above passage. He has a right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights; but, under other articles of that Convention, he has a right to freedom of religion and a right to respect for his private life, which includes his own bodily integrity.
17. I have been asked today to make an interim declaration that “it is lawful for those responsible for the medical care of the respondent to act in accordance with his written advance decision and withhold treatment by blood transfusion or with blood products in accordance with his expressed wishes notwithstanding the existence of powers under section 63 of the Mental Health Act 1983.” That is not a declaration which I feel equipped or am willing to make after a hearing of this kind in which I have heard representations from only one side and which is not on notice to the patient or any other person. It is of the essence of the application to the court that this is an issue of very considerable difficulty. Precisely because it is one of such difficulty, it is not one upon which the court can judicially and responsibly rule without hearing and considering so far as possible the arguments on both sides of the issue.
It will be interesting to know how part two develops.

The continuing dilemma for the court is that, unless somebody such as the Official Solicitor engages in this case, there may be no contrary argument. The present position of the patient seems to be that he utterly refuses to consent to a transfusion even if that has the effect of his dying as a result of his self-harming acts (even if those acts are not themselves done with suicidal intent). The position at the moment of the consulting psychiatrist, and therefore of the Trust, is that, notwithstanding the power under section 63, they should not in fact exercise it. Thus, the present position seems to be that if the physical restraints are removed and he is able again to cause profuse bleeding, he may die, whether he intends to bring about his death or not. If there is a contrary argument that the power under section 63 should be positively exercised in circumstances such as this, then it will be very important indeed for the court to hear it.

 

If I were making a prediction, it would be that the Court will decide that the hospital COULD use s63, but fall short of saying that they SHOULD. I think that the Court will probably make the declaration that the Trust seek

“it is lawful for those responsible for the medical care of the respondent to act in accordance with his written advance decision and withhold treatment by blood transfusion or with blood products in accordance with his expressed wishes notwithstanding the existence of powers under section 63 of the Mental Health Act 1983”

But Article 2, and the authorities on the article 2 right to life are probably going to play a significant role in the decision, and I think it could go the other way.

To be clear, the Court cannot MAKE the hospital perform the blood transfusions, but declining to make the declaration that they seek that they SHOULD NOT do it and honour J’s advance directive makes life very uncomfortable for them if they decide not to.

Adoption proceedings – member of extended family wishing to challenge

The Court of Appeal dealt with the appeal of a non-parent who was not given permission to oppose the making of an adoption order.

 

(The relationship here is a tricky one – the appellant was the mother of mum’s partner, so had no biological or familial relationship to the child, but had been caring for the child for most of the child’s life before care proceedings were issued. “Extended family” is probably as close as we are going to get in terms of an umbrella term for someone like this)

 Re G (A child) 2014

 

It throws up what the Court of Appeal describe as a “technical novelty” (which is a phrase I may pinch for my tombstone in years to come  – assuming that I don’t imitate Woody Allen’s assertion  “I intend to live forever – or die trying”)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/432.html

 The appellant could not seek to revoke the Placement Order, since an application for adoption was already lodged.  

The appellant could not seek leave to oppose the making of the adoption order, since she was not a parent     (an application for leave is limited to “parent” under s47, and importantly “parent” is defined in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 as someone who holds parental responsibility – so a father without PR could not apply for leave to oppose the making of an adoption order)

 

She could apply for party status, or the Court could, knowing of her interest, make her a party of its own motion   FPR 2010, r 14.3(3) provides that:

“the court may at any time direct that (a) any other person or body be made a respondent to the proceedings; or (b) a party be removed.”

 

But what she really wanted was to be able to challenge the making of an order.

 Some digging and clever work by the lawyers involved reveals the answer

 

Adoption and Children Act 2002   (underlining mine)

 

S 29(3) and (4) which provide:

“(3) Where a placement order is in force—

(a) no prohibited steps order, residence order or specific issue order, and

(b) no supervision order or child assessment order,

may be made in respect of the child.

(4) Subsection (3)(a) does not apply in respect of a residence order if—

(a) an application for an adoption order has been made in respect of the child, and

(b) the residence order is applied for by a parent or guardian who has obtained the court’s leave under subsection (3) or (5) of section 47 or by any other person who has obtained the court’s leave under this subsection.

 

 

So, someone who is NOT a parent (i.e has PR) can apply for leave to make a residence order, and the Court can consider that application. Obviously the successful application for a residence order has the effect of resisting the adoption order, since the child moves from adopters to the applicant.

 

 The question then arises – what is the test for obtaining the Court’s leave under s29(4) to apply for a residence order ?

 

Unlike the statutory provisions governing an application for leave to apply to revoke a placement order (s 24) or leave to apply to oppose an adoption (s 47), s 29(4)(b) does not contain an express statutory requirement for the court to be satisfied that there has been a “change in circumstances”. Miss Meyer submits that, nevertheless, such a requirement should be read in to the statutory provision on the basis that it would seem inappropriate for a person who is neither a parent nor a guardian to face a lower requirement than the one facing a parent or guardian on the question of whether or not they are allowed back in before a court to contest either the continued existence of the placement order or any subsequent adoption application.

 

 

It proved quite problematic to resolve whether on an application under s29(4) the child’s welfare was paramount   (the Adoption and Children Act, unlike the Children Act, makes heavy weather of welfare paramountcy and this is something that the Courts have had to tackle before)

 

26It follows that a court is not required to afford paramount consideration to the welfare of the child when determining whether or not to grant leave to apply for a residence order under s 29. There is, however, no reason for departing from the approach described by Wilson LJ, as he then was, in Warwickshire CC v M at paragraph 29 when describing the second stage of an application for leave under s 24(3) once a change in circumstances has been established:

“…a discretion arises in which the welfare of the child and the prospect of success should both be weighed. My view is that the requisite analysis of the prospect of success will almost always include the requisite analysis of the welfare of the child. For, were there to be a real prospect that an applicant would persuade the court that a child’s welfare would best be served by revocation of the placement order, it would surely almost always serve the child’s welfare for the applicant to be given leave to seek to do so. Conversely, were there not to be any such real prospect, it is hard to conceive that it would serve the welfare of the child for the application for leave to be granted.”

 

 

 

 

Is there a “two-stage” test for s29(4)   (i.e change of circumstances – not welfare paramountcy, and then if that shown should the application for leave be granted balancing the welfare of the child and prospect of success)

 

27 Finally, in terms of the test to be applied, Miss Meyer’s submission that an applicant for leave under s 29(4) must establish, as a first stage, “a change in circumstances”, in like manner to the test facing those who apply under s 24 and s 47, is not accepted by Miss Henke. She submits that whether or not there has been a change in circumstances may be relevant in some cases, however, where, as here, the provision applies to “any other person” that class of individuals could include, for example, a natural father of a child who lacks parental responsibility. He, it is suggested, may emerge into the subsequent adoption proceedings late in the day, and have played no part in the “circumstances” which justified the making of the original placement order. Miss Henke therefore argues that there should be a one stage test within which the court will, naturally, look at the previous factual matrix and compare the current circumstances but without the formal structural need for a discrete first stage at which “a change in circumstances” has to be established.

28 There is, on this point, a danger of the court dancing on the head of a pin and considering a difference which, in reality, is without a distinction. In any application of this nature, where the applicant is not simply wishing to have a voice in the proceedings but is seeking leave to apply for a residence order, the underlying factual circumstances, and any change in those circumstances since the making of the original placement order, is likely to be of great relevance. Parliament has, however, held back from introducing an express statutory provision requiring the court to be satisfied about a change in circumstances where the application is for leave under s 29(4), in contrast to the approach taken in the other two provisions. I would therefore step back from holding that there is such a specific requirement where leave is sought under s 29(4). However, when considering whether to grant leave to apply under s 29(4), and when adopting the approach described by Wilson LJ in Warwickshire CC v M, I consider that any change in the underlying circumstances will be of great relevance both when the court assesses the prospects of success for the proposed residence application and when considering the welfare of the child.

 

 

So, the Court of Appeal say that a relative making an application under s29(4) for leave to make a residence order application when there’s an adoption application lodged, does not HAVE to show a change in circumstances since the making of a Placement Order (as a parent would) but whether there has would certainly be a relevant factor when considering the application.

 

That, oddly, puts the test for a father without PR wanting to challenge an adoption order as being slightly lower than for a mother or father who HAVE PR (which was Lorna Meyer QCs point earlier)

 

 

the circumstances of this appellant could have been catered for by treating her application as an application for leave to apply for a residence order under s 29(4) for the reasons I have given. If such an application were made there is no discrete requirement for the establishment of a change in circumstances, ACA 2002, s 1 does not govern the determination of the application by requiring the court to hold the child’s welfare as its paramount consideration, but the application would fall for adjudication in accordance with the approach described by Wilson LJ in Warwickshire CC v M.

 

 

Because all of this technical analysis was not available to the original judge, the Court of Appeal had to revisit the decision made not to allow the appellant to participate.

 

The Court considered that the appellant had not shown sufficient to pass the newly minted test for s29(4) applications   (note, however, what is said about a FATHER without parental responsibility, in relation to whether a person who does not have leave to make an application or leave to oppose could nonetheless be joined as a party)

 

45 Thus, when viewed from the perspective both of the prospects of success and of the child’s welfare, AR’s application for permission to apply for a residence order under ACA 2002, s 29(4) must fail.

46 In contrast to the position of a father who lacks parental responsibility, and who wishes simply to be heard as a party to a final adoption application with respect to his child, AR, as a non-relative who was, however, the primary carer for G during the first 18 months of his life, does not in my view have a sufficient interest to be joined as a respondent to the adoption application in the absence of any ability to make a substantive application in the proceedings.

47 In all the circumstances, when applying the statutory scheme to AR’s position as it is now clear the judge should have done, the outcome of the balancing exercise in respect of both s 29(4) and joinder as a party is inevitable; both applications must fail. As a result, there is no ground for overturning the outcome as determined by HHJ Edwards. I would therefore dismiss the appeal.

Step-parent adoption – telling the birth father

 

The High Court have just considered this issue in  A and B v P Council 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/1128.html

This is a step-parent adoption, i.e the child’s step-father seeking to become the child’s legal father, which would have the effect of severing the birth father’s legal relationship with the child. There are a raft of nationalities involved here, and the birth father’s name is on the birth certificate. The birth was recorded in Thailand, and thus it was not clear whether this gave him “parental responsibility”  [The High Court had initially decided to proceed on the assumption that he DID have PR]

The mother and step-father say that they do not have an address for the father, and he has had no contact with the child, who is now 9, for many years – in fact since just after his birth.

The issue for the Court was whether the adoption could go ahead without father being served with notice.

 

The Relevant Legal Framework

 

 

  • There is a measure of agreement between the parties, the Local Authority and Cafcass Legal regarding the relevant legal framework for this application.

 

 

 

 

  • A parent with parental responsibility is an automatic party to the proceedings under rule 14.1 Family Procedure Rules 2010 (FPR 2010).

 

 

 

 

  • A parent who does not have parental responsibility may be given notice of the proceedings and that person may apply to the court for party status (rule 14.3 FPR 2010).

 

 

 

  • It is agreed that if the father did hold parental responsibility under Thai law, that is not recognised in England and Wales for the purposes of English adoption law.

 

 

 

 

  • This is due to the operation of Article 4 of the Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-Operation in respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children (Concluded 19 October 1996) (hereafter referred to as the 1996 Convention).

 

 

 

 

  • Under Article 16 of the 1996 Convention parental responsibility which exists under the law of the State of the child’s habitual residence subsists after a change of that habitual residence to another State. This is even if the State of habitual residence is a non-contracting State (Article 20).

 

 

 

 

  • Under Article 17 the exercise of parental responsibility is governed by the law of the State of the child’s habitual residence and if the child’s habitual residence changes, it is governed by the law of the State of the new habitual residence.

 

 

 

 

  • However, when considering the scope of the 1996 Convention, Article 4 makes clear it does not apply to the establishment or contesting of a parent-child relationship, decisions on adoption, measures preparatory to adoption, or the annulment or revocation of adoption or the name or forenames of the child. The combination of the Explanatory Report on the 1996 Hague Convention by Paul Lagarde (in particular paragraph 28), the revised draft practical handbook on the 1996 Convention (May 2011) (in particular paragraph 3.37) and the Practice Guide on the 1996 Convention published by the Ministry of Justice (February 2013) (in particular page 6) make clear Article 4 is to be interpreted widely and includes all aspects of the adoption process, including the placement of children for adoption.

 

 

 

 

  • It is therefore agreed by the parties that even if the father did hold parental responsibility pursuant to the operation of Article 16, by operation of Article 4 he would not be treated as a parent within the context of s 52(6) ACA 2002. Within that context the father is not treated as a father who holds parental responsibility unless he has acquired it under sections 2 or 4 Children Act 1989 (CA 1989), which this father did not.

 

 

 

 

  • The consequence is that the father in this case does not hold parental responsibility for M within the meaning of the ACA 2002, his consent to the adoption under s 47(2) ACA 2002 is not necessary and would not be required to be dispensed with under s 52 ACA 2002. He is therefore not an automatic party to the adoption application under rule 14.1 FPR 2010.

 

 

 

 

  • However, notwithstanding that an unmarried father with ‘foreign parental responsibility’ is not a father with parental responsibility for the purposes of English adoption law the provisions of rule 14.4 FPR 2010 provide as follows:

 

 

 

Notice of proceedings to person with foreign parental responsibility

14.4

(1) This rule applies where a child is subject to proceedings to which this Part applies

and –

(a) a parent of the child holds or is believed to hold parental responsibility for the child under the law of another State which subsists in accordance with Article 16 of the 1996 Hague Convention following the child becoming habitually resident in a territorial unit of the United Kingdom; and

(b) that parent is not otherwise required to be joined as a respondent under rule 14.3.

(2) The applicant shall give notice of the proceedings to any parent to whom the applicant believes paragraph (1) applies in any case in which a person who was a parent with parental responsibility under the 1989 Act would be a respondent to the proceedings in accordance with rule 14.3.

(3) The applicant and every respondent to the proceedings shall provide such details as they possess as to the identity and whereabouts of any parent they believe to hold parental responsibility for the child in accordance with paragraph (1) to the court officer, upon making, or responding to the application as appropriate.

(4) Where the existence of such a parent only becomes apparent to a party at a later date during the proceedings, that party must notify the court officer of those details at the earliest opportunity.

(5) Where a parent to whom paragraph (1) applies receives notice of proceedings, that parent may apply to the court to be joined as a party using the Part 18 procedure.

With that in mind the Court went on to consider the issue of father’s PR

  • I am satisfied the mother and step-father do not believe the father has parental responsibility under Thai law and there is a rational foundation for their belief for the reasons set out in the previous paragraphs. That belief is derived from a number of different sources and there is no suggestion that the mother and step father have done other than comply with all the relevant authorities both in Thailand and here.

 

 

  • In the light of that I do not consider the mandatory requirement for notice of these proceedings to the father applies as, in accordance the provisions of rule 14.4 (1) and (2) the applicant (in this case the step-father) does not believe the father holds ‘parental responsibility for the child under the law of another State which subsists in accordance with Article 16 of the 1996 Hague Convention following the child becoming habitually resident in a territorial unit of the United Kingdom’.

 

 

  • Even if the father does not hold foreign parental responsibility the court is still required to consider whether the father should be given notice of the application.

 

 

The High Court then looked at the case law about giving fathers notice of adoption proceedings (or not giving them notice, as the case may be). Most of these arise from ‘relinquished’ babies, where the mother seeks to give the child up for adoption but does not want the father to be informed (often there’s a short-lived relationship, or an abusive one, or the pregnancy has been concealed from the mother’s own family).  There are some gray areas at present as to whether these are thus ‘consensual’ adoptions (and Re B, B-S don’t apply) or whether because father hasn’t consented they are in reality ‘non-consensual adoptions” to which Re B and Re B-S  (the Court having to be satisfied that ‘nothing else will do’) apply.

 

[The same gray area potentially arises here, since the father was not consenting, but the mother was. The High Court don't actually resolve that gray area - not sure whether that lets the conclusion be drawn that the High Court, given they don't use 'nothing else will do' wording  means that they consider a case of THIS kind to be consensual adoption. It may not be safe to draw that conclusion, since the last paragraph indicates that having dealt with the issue of service on father not being required, the Court would go on to consider the MERITS of the application on another occasion.   Frankly, if "nothing else will do" applies to step-parent adoptions, it is hard to see how they would ever be granted.  The child is in the placement, there are other legal routes to secure parental responsibility for the step-father, how could one ever consider that 'nothing else than step-parent adoption would do'?)

 

 

  • it has long been recognised that in applications for adoption the position of the natural father who did not have parental responsibility had to be considered and a decision taken in each case whether, or not, to give him notice of the proceedings. Whether to do so should be considered on the facts of each case.

 

 

 

 

  • Re H (a child)(adoption: disclosure), Re G(a child)(adoption: disclosure) [2001] 1 FCR 726 set out that as a matter of general practice, directions should be given to inform natural fathers of such proceedings unless for good reasons the court decided it was not appropriate to do so. The issue of whether or not the father had a right to respect for family life under Article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 as set out in Part 1 of Schedule 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998 was important to establish. If he did then generally Article 6(1) of the Convention is engaged and there would need to be strong countervailing factors to outweigh the father’s Article 6 rights in favour of the mother’s right to private family life. Such countervailing factors may include serious domestic violence that placed the mother at serious physical risk. As the then President, Dame Elizabeth Butler Sloss, observed in Re H (ibid) at para 48 ‘There may well be other situations in which a father should not be informed of the proceedings and my examples are, of course, not exhaustive’. If the father does not have any Article 8 rights the provisions of Article 6 are not engaged and notice does not need to be given, unless there is a real possibility that he might make an application under the CA 1989 which the court ought to entertain.

 

 

 

 

  • In the cases where the court is being asked to exercise its power to grant exception from the rules which require a father to be given notice the previous cases establish this power should only to be exercised in ‘highly exceptional circumstances’ (per Thorpe LJ Re AB (Care Proceedings: Service on Husband Ignorant of Child’s Existence) [2003] EWCA Civ 1842 para 3) or a ‘high degree of exceptionality is required’ (per Longmore LJ M v F [2011] EWCA Civ 273 para 25). This will depend on the court’s assessment of the risk of future harm. In M v F (ibid) para 3 Thorpe LJ stated ‘When evaluating the risk of future harm there can be no minimum requirement. The court’s first task is to identify the nature and extent of the harm in contemplation. The greater the harm the smaller need be the risk. Obviously, the risk of death may be very small, whereas the risk of turbulence in family relationships would need to be much higher.’ In assessing the likelihood of harm arising from notice of the proceedings the test to be applied is the test in Re H (minors)(Sexual Abuse: Standard of Proof) [1996] AC 563 namely ‘in the sense of a real possibility, a possibility that cannot sensibly be ignored having regard to the nature and gravity of the feared harm in the particular case’.

 

 

 

 

  • There may, in reality, be little difference in the principles between these two strands of cases as a critical starting point is to establish whether or not the father has any right to family life pursuant to Article 8. It is agreed this is a question of fact and there are a number of matters for the court to consider. It has been said that the threshold for establishing family life has been set at a fairly modest level.

 

Applying the broad principles to the case, the Court heard representations about allegations of previous violence from the birth father to the mother

 

 

  • I have very carefully considered the important competing considerations in this case and I am very mindful of the general practice to inform natural fathers of applications such as this which fundamentally affect the status of a child. I have considered this aspect of the case in the context of rule 14.4 and, for the purposes of this analysis assumed this father does have foreign parental responsibility. So there is a mandatory requirement under the rules for him to be given notice of the proceedings.

 

 

 

 

  • I am considering this issue in the context of my finding that the father, for the reasons I have already explained, does not have any existing Article 8 rights. He is someone who has not sought to maintain his ties with M.

 

 

 

 

  • The wish of the mother and step-father for confidentiality is, in my judgment, an exceptional circumstance, on the facts of this case, justifying the court exercising its power to grant exception from the rules requiring the father to be given notice. The evidence based fears expressed by the mother regarding the father’s behaviour is founded on the father’s previous violent behaviour to her, M and her wider family which is supported by corroborative evidence. In my judgment there is a real possibility that if the father is informed of this application he could physically harm or threaten the mother or the wider maternal family. It is a possibility that cannot be ignored having regard to the extent of the father’s alleged violent behaviour towards the mother and her wider family in the past, in the context where the maternal family remain in the same home which is known to the father. On the particular facts of this case the balance, in my judgment, comes down in favour of the father not being notified about these proceedings, even if he could be located.

 

 

I am satisfied the Local Authority in this case does not need to take any further steps regarding the father for the reasons outlined above.

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