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Category Archives: adoption

FGM – an important authority

The President has given judgment in care proceedings where alleged Female Genital Mutilation was the sole issue

Re B and G  (Children ) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/3.html

Being the first reported case on this issue, it is significant anyway, but I think the President really comes into his own when he is giving a judgment of this kind  (I’m less keen on Views and Practice Directions and model orders, but this sort of thing he excels at)

It is going to be worth holding in mind that B was male, and G female. This will become important later on.

Firstly, and importantly, one should note that the Court found that the allegation that G had been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation was not proven, and thus did not happen. This despite two experts who examined G reaching that conclusion.

A lay person might well think that the factual issue of whether or not a procedure to remove a part of the body happened would be fairly straightforward, it turned out not to be.

The medical professionals in the case were criticised by both the parents advocates and ultimately by the Court.

  1. Mr Myers and Mr Ekaney invited me to accept Professor Creighton’s evidence. Mr Myers suggested that Dr Share’s evidence demonstrated the lack of awareness and training within the medical profession on the issue of FGM. Despite being a respected and experienced consultant community paediatrician with expertise and extensive experience in conducting child protection investigations, she openly and honestly admitted to having made significant errors in her reports. Mr Ekaney made similar points, questioning her expertise, whether clinical or forensic, in FGM cases. In relation to Dr Momoh neither pulled their punches. Mr Myers submitted that both her report and her oral evidence were “well below the standard required of an expert witness”. He described her evidence as “confused, contradictory and wholly unreliable” and submitted that I should attach no weight at all to her evidence on scarring. Mr Ekaney characterised her oral evidence as “unclear, dogmatic and unreliable”.
  2. It is unavoidable that I make findings about the expertise and reliability of the three experts.
  3. Dr Share is an experienced and highly regarded consultant community paediatrician but did not put herself forward as having particular expertise in FGM. She very candidly admitted that her initial findings were wrong and that she had changed her mind even after the second examination. In giving oral evidence she was an entirely honest, open and frank witness. The critical question is how reliable a witness she was in terms of what she thought she had seen when examining G.
  4. I regret to have to say that Dr Momoh merited all the harsh criticism expressed by Mr Myers and Mr Ekaney. Whatever her expertise in relation to FGM in pregnant women, in relation to young children it was extremely limited. Her inability in the witness box to provide explanations for matters that cried out for explanation was striking. Her report dated 23 April 2014 was a remarkably shoddy piece of work. A report that says, without further explanation or elaboration, and this is all it said, “It appears that [G] has been subjected to some form of FGM as her vulva does not appear normal”, is worse than useless. In my judgment her report and her oral evidence were well below the standard required of an expert witness. She was not a reliable witness. Her oral evidence was exceedingly unsatisfactory.
  5. In contrast, Professor Creighton merited all the encomiums she received from Mr Hayes, Mr Myers and Mr Ekaney. She was the only one of the three with real experience of FGM in a paediatric context. Her evidence, both written and oral, was clear and measured; it did not change; it was delivered with authority; it carried conviction.
  6. I make every allowance for the fact that Dr Share and Dr Momoh examined G with the naked eye, Dr Share twice, whilst Professor Creighton did not, but I nonetheless find it quite impossible to rely upon their evidence as reliably establishing, even on a balance of probabilities, that G had been subjected to FGM.
  7. The fundamental problem is that, on their own evidence, neither Dr Share nor Dr Momoh has been able to give a clear, accurate or consistent account of what it is they thought they were seeing when examining G:

    i) Dr Share began off thinking that what she had seen was the removal of tissue, that is, FGM WHO Type I and possibly Type II; she ended up thinking that what she had seen was a scar, FGM WHO Type IV.

    ii) Dr Momoh recorded missing tissue; she also ended up thinking that what she had seen was a scar.

  8. An equally significant problem is presented by the fact that Dr Share and Dr Momoh disagree about the features of the scar they both say they saw. Dr Share described it as “curved” and “raised”, Dr Momoh as “straight” and not raised. As Mr Ekaney observed, they cannot both be right.
  9. Another significant problem is presented by the difficulties both Dr Share and, in much greater measure, Dr Momoh had in explaining the content of Dr Momoh’s notes of their joint examination.
  10. For all these reasons, and having regard also to all the other troubling aspects of their evidence to which I have drawn attention, I find it quite impossible to rely upon Dr Share’s and Dr Momoh’s evidence as establishing the local authority’s case. I am not persuaded of the presence of the scar which is now the only feature relied upon by the local authority in support of its allegation of FGM.

 

The President went on to give some specific guidance for the medical assessment process

i) There is a dearth of medical experts in this area, particularly in relation to FGM in young children. Specific training and education is highly desirable. As Professor Creighton explained (Transcript pages 23, 27-28), there is an awareness problem and a need for more education and training of medical professionals, including paediatricians. In answer to my question, “presumably we need more paediatric expertise than we have at present?” (Transcript page 29), she said “Yes, definitely”. She told me (Transcript pages 28-29) that there are at present only 12 specialist FGM clinics throughout the country, of which six are in London, and that her clinic at University College Hospital is the only specialist paediatric FGM clinic in the country.

ii) Knowledge and understanding of the classification and categorisation of the various types of FGM is vital. The WHO classification is the one widely used. For forensic purposes, the WHO classification, as recommended by Professor Creighton (Transcript page 2), is the one that should be used.

iii) Careful planning of the process of examination is required to ensure that an expert with the appropriate level of relevant expertise is instructed at the earliest opportunity. Wherever feasible, referrals should be made as early as possible to one of the specialist FGM clinics referred to by Professor Creighton. If that is not possible, consideration should be given to arranging for a suitably qualified safeguarding consultant paediatrician to carry out an examination recorded with the use of a colposcope so that the images can be reviewed subsequently by an appropriate expert.

iv) Whoever is conducting the examination, the colposcope should be used wherever possible.

v) Whoever is conducting the examination, it is vital that clear and detailed notes are made, recording (with the use of appropriate drawings or diagrams) exactly what is observed. If an opinion is expressed in relation to FGM, it is vital that (a) the opinion is expressed by reference to the precise type of FGM that has been diagnosed, which must be identified clearly and precisely and (b) that the diagnosis is explained, clearly and precisely, by reference to what is recorded as having been observed.

I heard on the radio this morning criticism that despite many reported cases of FGM there had not yet been a criminal prosecution – this case perhaps illustrates that it isn’t going to be as easy to prove to a criminal standard whether it occurred as the press and public might think.

The Local Authority having not proved their central allegation (that G had been subjected to FGM) they were also not able to prove that there was a likelihood of this in the future, and thus threshold was not proved and no orders were made. Although the family had probably spent 6 months or so under suspicion with substantial impact upon them.

Of wider impact, however, are the President’s observations on two points.

Firstly, does FGM if proven, amount to significant harm?  (One might think that this is a no-brainer, but the President had to consider the cultural issues and the fact that male circumcision is something that does not routinely trouble anyone, let alone the Courts; and thus if FGM was the sole issue how would significant harm for the male child B be established IF G had been subject to FGM? Also, remember that the significant harm test includes a component of “not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to provide”  – so if FGM is part of the parents cultural matrix, are they being unreasonable?)

It is quite a long analysis, paras 54-73, so I’ll skip to the conclusion (but it is worth reading in full)

  1. Moving on to the second limb of the statutory test, Mr Hayes submits that in assessing whether the infliction of any form of FGM can ever be an aspect of “reasonable” parenting, it is vital to bear in mind that FGM involves physical harm which, it is common ground, has (except in the very narrow circumstances defined in section 1(2)(a) of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, not relevant in a case such as this) no medical justification and confers no health benefits. The fact that it may be a “cultural” practice does not make FGM reasonable; indeed, the proposition is specifically negatived by section 1(5) of the 2003 Act. And, as I have already pointed out, FGM has no religious justification. So, he submits, it can never be reasonable parenting to inflict any form of FGM on a child. I agree.
  2. It is at this point in the analysis, as it seems to me, that the clear distinction between FGM and male circumcision appears. Whereas it can never be reasonable parenting to inflict any form of FGM on a child, the position is quite different with male circumcision. Society and the law, including family law, are prepared to tolerate non-therapeutic male circumcision performed for religious or even for purely cultural or conventional reasons, while no longer being willing to tolerate FGM in any of its forms. There are, after all, at least two important distinctions between the two.[2] FGM has no basis in any religion; male circumcision is often performed for religious reasons. FGM has no medical justification and confers no health benefits; male circumcision is seen by some (although opinions are divided) as providing hygienic or prophylactic benefits. Be that as it may, “reasonable” parenting is treated as permitting male circumcision.
  3. I conclude therefore that although both involve significant harm, there is a very clear distinction in family law between FGM and male circumcision. FGM in any form will suffice to establish ‘threshold’ in accordance with section 31 of the Children Act 1989; male circumcision without more will not

 

The next key proposition was that the LA involved had been saying that if the allegation that the parents had been involved in FGM relating to G, the appropriate care plan would be adoption of both B and G.  The Judge expressed doubts as to that as a general proposition. But one can see the real problem – it might be justification to adopt the female child but it obviously can’t be justification to adopt the male sibling, and that leads to splitting the siblings.  And the obvious point that once the FGM has been carried out, the horse has bolted – the parents can’t carry out that form of abuse on the child in the future, so future harm is non-existent.  [In the absence of evidence about harsh treatment or neglect in other regards]

 

  1. Since in the circumstances the point was only briefly explored in submissions, I propose to say very little about it. No generalisations are possible. Much will obviously depend upon the particular type of FGM in question, upon the nature and significance of any other ‘threshold’ findings, and, more generally, upon a very wide range of welfare issues as they arise in the particular circumstances of the specific case. Arriving at an overall welfare evaluation and identifying the appropriately proportionate outcome is likely to be especially difficult in many FGM cases.
  2. There are two particular problems. The first is that once a girl has been subjected to FGM, the damage has been done but, on the evidence I have heard, she is unlikely to be subjected to further FGM (though of course female siblings who have not yet been subjected to it are likely to be at risk of FGM). How does that reality feed through into an overall welfare evaluation? The other problem is that, by definition, FGM is practised only on girls and not on boys. In a case where FGM is the only ‘threshold’ factor in play, there will be no statutory basis for care proceedings in relation to any male sibling(s). Suppose, for example, that the FGM is so severe and the circumstances so far as concerns the girl are such that, were she an only child, adoption would be the appropriate outcome: what is the appropriate outcome if she has a brother who cannot be made the subject of proceedings? Is her welfare best served by separating her permanently from her parents at the price of severing the sibling bond? Or is it best served by preserving the family unit? I do not hazard an answer. I merely identify the very real difficulties than can arise in such a case. In cases where there are other threshold factors in play, balancing the welfare arguments as between the girl(s) and the boy(s) may be more than usually complex, particularly if FGM is a factor of magnetic importance.
  3. The only further comment I would hazard is that local authorities and judges are probably well advised not to jump too readily to the conclusion that proven FGM should lead to adoption.
  4. I add a final observation. Plainly, given the nature of the evil, prevention is infinitely better than ‘cure’. Local authorities need to be pro-active and vigilant in taking appropriate protective measures to prevent girls being subjected to FGM. And, as I have already said, the court must not hesitate to use every weapon in its protective arsenal if faced with a case of actual or anticipated FGM. An important tool which lies readily to hand for use by local authorities is that provided by section 100 of the 1989 Act. The inherent jurisdiction, as well as all the other jurisdictions of the High Court and the Family Court, must be as vigorously mobilised in the prevention of FGM as they have hitherto been in relation to forced marriage. Given what we now know is the distressingly great prevalence of FGM in this country even today, some thirty years after FGM was first criminalised, it is sobering to reflect that this is not merely the first care case where FGM has featured but also, I suspect, if not the first one of only a handful of FGM cases that have yet found their way to the family courts. The courts alone, whether the family courts or the criminal courts, cannot eradicate this great evil but they have an important role to play and a very much greater role than they have hitherto been able to play.

I’ll repeat para 77, because it is key

The only further comment I would hazard is that local authorities and judges are probably well advised not to jump too readily to the conclusion that proven FGM should lead to adoption.

I’ve never had an FGM case so I haven’t had cause to think about it in this amount of detail, but being honest with myself, I think I would have considered that (a) it would be easy to prove (b) I wouldn’t even have questioned whether it crossed threshold and (c) adoption would have been in my mind. So, this case is helpful in getting practitioners (and even Judges) to look at the situation in more detail.

Nothing else will do – Scotland

I’ve had to look up Scottish adoption law today, and found this little piece from the 1995 legislation  (Children Act Scotland Act 1995)

 

 

96 Duty of adoption agency to consider alternatives to adoption.

After section 6 of the 1978 Act there shall be inserted—
“6A Duty to consider alternatives to adoption.

In complying with its duties under section 6 of this Act, an adoption agency shall, before making any arrangements for the adoption of a child, consider whether adoption is likely best to meet the needs of that child or whether for him there is some better, practicable, alternative; and if it concludes that there is such an alternative it shall not proceed to make those arrangements.

 

If you just added “And the Court” each time that this says “adoption agency”, it is a pretty workable solution to the whole “nothing else will do” debacle that has had everyone tied up in knots.

I know that in English family Courts, “the Scottish system” is whispered with an air of dread and menace much like actors referring to “the Scottish play”  but I’ll point out that this was in their legislation nearly twenty years ago AND three years before the Human Rights Act was adopted. It looks pretty progressive to me.

 

[We don’t have anything like that in our English or Welsh adoption statutes – this principle of adoption being last resort is purely as a result of judicial interpretation. Be quite nice to have this principle set out in statute, and particularly in such a clear way.]

 

Re D (part 2) a damp squid

 

 

The President’s judgment in Re D  (part 2) is up.  The blog post about part 1 is here:-

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/11/03/everyone-really-ought-to-read-re-d/

Re D is the case in which parents had a care order at home, the LA removed under the Care order, there was no legal aid to challenge that decision despite father lacking capacity to instruct a solicitor. Then the LA lodged an application for a Placement Order, and as it was not joined up with care proceedings, there was no legal aid for THAT either.

Father’s legal team were not only acting for free, but they had to write the Official Solicitor an indemnity that if a costs order was made against the O/S they would pay it. Which is above and beyond.

So Part 2 is all about whether Legal Aid would be granted for the father under s10 LASPO (exceptional circumstances) and if not, what would happen.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/2.html

 

Annoyingly, as keeps happening before the President, the Legal Aid Agency eventually blinked and granted funding, thus avoiding a judgment that might declare that s10 LASPO as being practiced is incompatible with article 6.  So we don’t get a valuable precedent because there was no live issue to try. Grrrr.

 

However, note that the public funding granted here is still subject to an ongoing merits review  (that’s NOT what happens in care proceedings – even if your case looks hopeless you are still entitled to have a lawyer fight it for you)

 

The next hearing took place on 2 December 2014. As can be seen from the Annex, the final piece of the legal aid jigsaw had fallen into place the day before. My order recited the position as follows:

“The Father has a substantive funding certificate to cover all work undertaken to date and up to a final hearing in both the s.39 CA 1989 and s.21 ACA 2002 applications. The Official Solicitor will, in the usual manner, conduct an ongoing review as to the merits of the case and this may effect whether the funding certificate will remain in place.

The Mother has a substantive certificate to cover the period up to the exchange of final evidence in respect of both the s.39 CA 1989 and s.21 ACA 2002 applications, whereupon it will be subject to a merits review and report to the LAA which will determine whether the certificate will be extended to cover the final hearing.”

 

So it could be that if all of the professional evidence is against the parents, they will have no legal aid to have lawyers to challenge and test that evidence at a final hearing, although what is at stake is adoption.

 

The President has strong views about this (though note that parents routinely don’t get lawyers to help them on applications for leave to oppose the making of adoption orders, which also feels pretty shabby to me)

I have set out the parents’ legal aid position in paragraph 14 above. It will be noticed that there is, as yet, no assurance that legal aid will be in place for the final hearing. This causes me some disquiet. Whatever view may be taken as to their prospects of success at the final hearing, a matter on which I express no views whatever, though recognising, as I have earlier noted (Re D, para 9), that the report of the independent social worker is unfavourable to the parents, I would view with the very gravest concern any suggestion that they should be denied legal aid on ‘merits’ grounds. Given the extreme gravity of the issues at stake and their various problems and difficulties, it is, as I said before (Re D, paras 3, 31), unthinkable that the parents should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation. I repeat what I said in my earlier judgment:

“To require them to do so would be unconscionable; it would be unjust; it would involve a breach of their rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the Convention; it would be a denial of justice.”

A parent facing the permanent removal of their child must be entitled to put their case to the court, however seemingly forlorn, and that must surely be as much the right of a parent with learning disabilities (as in the case of the mother) or a parent who lacks capacity (as in the case of the father) as of any other parent. It is one of the oldest principles of our law – it goes back over 400 centuries to the earliest years of the seventeenth century – that no-one is to be condemned unheard. I trust that all involved will bear this in mind.

 

The really sad thing about this case is encapsulated by the mother

  1. This is a case about three human beings. It is a case which raises the most profound issues for each of these three people. The outcome will affect each of them for the rest of their lives. Even those of us who spend our lives in the family courts can have but a dim awareness of the agony these parents must be going through as they wait, and wait, and wait, and wait, to learn whether or not their child is to be returned to them. Yet for much of the time since their son was taken from them – for far too much of that time – the focus of the proceedings has had to be on the issue of funding, which has indeed been the primary focus of the last three hearings. The parents can be forgiven for thinking that they are trapped in a system which is neither compassionate nor even humane.
  2. I leave the last word to the mother, who, together with her husband, was present at the hearing on 2 December 2014 as at previous hearings. In an up-dating note dated 8 December 2014, her counsel, Ms Sarah Morgan QC and Ms Lucy Sprinz, said this:

    “The mother was distressed following the last hearing that the child had not, as far as she had heard it, even been mentioned during the course of the submissions and discussions between Counsel (including her own) and the Court. It doesn’t, she remarked afterwards, seem right that so much time has to be taken up about the legal aid when it should be about D.”

    They added, “Clearly she is right about that.” For my own part I merely pose this question: Is this really the best we can do?

 

Hear hear.

Equally, it can’t be a decent solution to this situation that we have to get a case before the President before the Legal Aid Agency will blink and see sense. He can’t hear all of them.

The annexe is shocking- it has taken nine months of wrangling to sort out legal aid for something that most people would assume was automatic.

I completely agree with the position of the ALC (Association of Lawyers for Children) and ADCS  (Association of Directors of Childrens Services)  – parents facing an application for a placement order should get non-means, non-merits public funding regardless of when the application takes place.

 

…the ALC makes these two assertions:

    1. “Section 10 of LASPO is not being implemented so as to provide the safety net for the most vulnerable.
    1. Placement orders in particular should be included in those proceedings for which non-means-tested and non-merits-tested public funding is provided.”
  1. I draw attention to two of the points made by the ADCS. The first is that:

    “From the perspective of a child on a journey to a permanent placement, ADCS would argue that the impact of a care order and a placement order are effectively equivalent; the same is true of their impact on the child’s parents. ADCS would therefore argue that equivalent checks and balances are required before either order is made. There appears to be no logic to support treating the orders differently simply because they have become decoupled in complex proceedings

    In this case it would appear to ADCS that the application of the current legal aid rules has led to an injustice and could create a detrimental impact on the child in question. We would agree with the court that the State has created a problem by introducing these rules and should therefore find a means of resolving the problem.”

     

    [For the benefit of pedants, yes, I know it is ‘squib’, but I like that particular eggcorn. Actually, this case isn’t quite as damp as it appeared when I first read it, because there’s a rap over the knuckles for LASPO here, although it doesn’t end up being the declaration of incompatibility that many were hoping for]

Why Tolkien never made it as a Court reporter

 
Amidst the jottings, pipes, story fragments, maps, papers and footnotes recovered from J.R.R Tolkien’s study, this, his sole attempt at a law report has been found. It gives a glimpse into why he did not follow that profession further.  He was far better at lore than law   (I’m SO sorry)
Re B (A child) 2013 or “Heroes walk 2000 miles to reach a volcano, and then get a lift home from giant eagles* who could have pitched up much earlier on and saved everyone the bother”

In a hole in the ground there lived an appellant. The appellant had great cause to be vexed, and the burden of this vexation lay heavy upon their brow and their heart. They sought counsel from a wizard, Feehan the Frank, who is sometimes named Mithrandil, and from his apprentice McKenna, who is sometimes named Anna. Together, they embarked upon a Quest, such as was sung of in the days of yore, when dragons were uncracked eggs and the fire had not yet been lit in Mount Doom.

After many perils, and walks across this map

[Editor’s note – there were then inserted fifteen hand-drawn maps and labourious detail about what the party ate at every stop they made]

And after these trials, it came to pass, there in the lands of London, where the mists swirled and the streets were busy with trade, that the Council of the Wise, sometimes named the Supreme Court met, to decide what was to be done with adoption.

The Council of the Wise was divided on many things concerned with adoption – some felt that it was a good thing, a weapon to be used to tackle great evil, some feared even the mention of it, and still others felt that it was a thing that would corrupt all who attempted it.

Finally, after, much quarrelsome trouble, loaves of lambas bread and many flagons of warm foaming ale, the Council were able to agree upon this much at least.

“One does not simply walk into adoption”

Lady Hale, daughter of the evening star, she who has so often been the carrier of a Minority judgment, spoke with iron in her voice and fire in her eyes. She reminded all those who saw her of Cate Blanchett **

“it is the statute and the statute alone that the courts have to apply, and that judicial explanation or expansion is at best an imperfect guide”

It is said by the sons of men that Feehan the Frank, had brought this precious document before the Council, and he had presented his case to them, declaiming that the forces of adoption were rallying, as they had done long ago, when the Children of Men were young to this world and the halls of the Dwarven Kings still rang with the sound of gold being mined and metal being forged. Feehan, keeper of Counsel to the Queen, had urged the Council to act, and to act now, and to act decisively.

He gave them a small scroll, on which was inscribed the word “require” – said to have been made by the Parliaments of yore. It was, said the wizard, for the Council of the Wise to decide what was meant by the word “require” on this scroll.

For if they did not, he said, it might be that the Halls of Strasbourg would take their own action and destroy adoption, fearing that it might be used for ill.

Lady Hale, she that would later take up against the Deprivation of the Liberty and do her own blood-soaked battle against the Cheshire of the West, rallied to his cause.

She spoke of the decisions made by the Council of Europe, who are not well-loved by all who sit upon the Council of the Wise, for the Europans have their own ways and thoughts and the Ways of Europans cannot always be fathomed by the Children of Albion. Nonetheless, she said, the Council of Europe know of the old things, they know of adoption, and they know of the evil that can stir in the hearts of the Children of Men.

“Nevertheless, it is quite clear that the test for severing the relationship between parent and child is very strict: only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short, where nothing else will do,” she cried, and she took the ceremonial mace that had been gifted to the Council of the Wise by Lord Denning, son of Benning and cleft in two the Table of the Astute, which had been seized from the goblin halls of Berwick-upon-the-Tweed by the early rangers. The Table cracked and the sound rang out in the grand hall of the Council.

“A Fellowship!” she declared, “A Fellowship must be formed, to take this powerful tool – the word “requires” and to keep it safe and protect it. A Fellowship who will hear our words and take adoption to a place where only Nothing Else Will Do!”

At this critical and dramatic moment, Lord Wilson, son of Milson, grandson of Zilson, took it upon himself to sing a song. It was a grand song, a song that would be much remarked upon in the Shires and would be sung by the Children of Men when dark times later came.
[Editor’s note – the song is recounted here in full, and lasts for nine pages. The most meaningful portion of the lyric is quoted here to give the flavour and indicate that you are not missing out by not seeing the full thing “Adoption, bedoption, it is surely the only option, it is the only thing that is viable, that is not deniable, there is no half-way house, there is no half-way mouse. Lo-Billy-Bonny, Show a brave leg, Lo-Bonny-Billy! Ho! Ho! Rack a grim jinty! Ho! Ho!”]
At the end of the Council meeting, wise soldiers from the Court of Appeal spoke out.

The Roll-Master said “You have my sword”

And the President pledged his bow

And Lady Black,declared that they could have her axe as well.

[They were later joined by StRyder]    (again, I’m SO sorry)

So the Fellowship of Nothing Else Will Do was formed, there in the Holistic Chambers of Bs. The Holistic Chambers of Bs were a formal place and all of the architecture was in perfect proportion, and there were weighing scales in every direction that one could look upon. No linear corridors were there at any point during the magnificent building, making it treacherous and difficult to travel from one place to another in any straight line and instead one reached ones final destination by visiting every other realistic place in the Chambers seemingly at once.

It was said that not even the architects themselves of the Holistic Chambers of Bs would be capable of navigating its passages and hallways without faltering or stumbling, yet others hold that this is a myth and a lie and that the architects would always walk a true path.

[Editors note – Insert many many more songs and inconsequential characters who seem to exist for the twin purposes of being firstly a deus ex machine and secondly to sing the interminable songs. One of them, Chris Grayladill, appears time and time again, singing comedic songs about how his attempts to cut a piece of wood end up with him injuring himself and looking foolish]

Would the Fellowship of Nothing Else Will Do hold? Would the corrupting power of adoption drive a wedge between them? And what of the creature that watched them from afar, muttering “Adoption, my precious…” and occasionally saying his name “Gove-um”?

Michael Gove

Michael Gove

Gollum

Gollum

 

[* seriously, the damn giant eagles turn up at the end of both stories to save the day, with no explanation as to why they didn’t rock up much sooner. If Tolkein had written Apollo 13, bloody eagles would have flown Tom Hanks & Co home from space. Casablanca  – giant eagles come and take Rick to Ilsa.  Murder on the Orient Express – giant eagles did it]
[** Do not confuse the Cate Blanchett in this piece with the Cate Blanchett of other blog posts meaning “free reign” or “unlimited budget”.  And if you are a fan of Cate Blanchett who has come to the site because of a google search, I apologise for wasting your time. In fact, I’ll extend that apology to all of my readers. Sorry!]

 

The new logo for the Legal Aid Agency

The new logo for the Legal Aid Agency

Another day, another appeal against Placement Orders refused

 

I know…  it is like autumn 2013 but in reverse.  It would be nice, once in a while if the Court of Appeal would grant some appeals and refuse others, rather than having six months of granting them all and then six months of refusing them all.

At the moment, these appeals are like turning up to play 5-a-side football with your mates, and Christiano Ronaldo turns up as one of the ten.

It isn’t that hard to predict the outcome and if you are on the other side, it is a lot of hard work for not much reward.  Even worse if you turn up thinking he’s going to be on your team, only to find out that the rules changed to put him on the other side whilst you were travelling to the match.

 

Re P (A child) 2014 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1648.html

 

Nothing much in this one about the legal test and the ongoing debate about whether when the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal say “You’ve got to do A, B, C and D if you are going to make a Placement Order” that amounts to a change in law or not.

But some things of interest.

 

The difficulty for a real human being  (we lawyers call them “lay persons”, but “person” is also an acceptable term to use for a person) in understanding the appeal process and what to do, what form to fill out, where to send papers, who to send them to

 

This case yet again puts into sharp relief the difficulties which arise for the courts, the litigants and most of all the children, where unrepresented parents seek to navigate their way through a system which necessarily operates on the basis of detailed procedural rules, without which there would be chaos but which inevitably present the layman with significant difficulties. Had the father been represented, the mistakes that followed, would have been picked up by his solicitors.

 

The Court of Appeal explain that in this case, the father had thought he could appeal to the County Court, and the County Court had also thought that for quite a while because the Recorder who heard the case had also been sitting at that Court as a District Judge. Their explanation for this is so complicated, I had to read it three times to grasp it, so I feel for all involved.

 

Then the age old difficulty of getting a transcript

Meanwhile, notwithstanding that the county court had asserted that a transcript of judgment had been sent to the parties in December 2013, it was not until the 11 July 2014 that the local authority received a copy, and even then they obtained it only because counsel for the father sent it to them. Unhappily, whatever defect in the system for the obtaining and distribution of transcripts had been responsible for the delay in the onward transmission of the Recorder’s judgment did not lead to a revision of those systems as there were further significant difficulties with regard to obtaining transcripts. It is not being suggested that the resulting delays were the result of indifference on the part of the court staff. No doubt the problems stem from a lack resources leading to a shortage of appropriately trained and experienced court staff able to identify the problem and put in place a system for ensuring the prompt and efficient ordering and distribution of transcripts of judgments and evidence.

 

The County Court actually wrote a letter of apology to the father in this case for all of the things that had gone wrong. That’s a fairly rare occurance  (in twenty years of practice, I’ve never heard of the Court apologising to anyone)

As I understand it the father has received two letters of apology from the County Court for the mistakes which led to the wholly unacceptable delay in this matter coming before the court; a delay unacceptable for the father, but also for the prospective adopters. Whilst the father was obviously distressed during the course of the hearing, he behaved with dignity and composure throughout. It will inevitably be hard for him to accept that the outcome of this appeal, and the making of the adoption order which will in due course be made in respect of S, are not a direct result of an inadequate judgment and delay within the family justice system. I can only assure him that it is not so; Mr Hayes put forward every possible argument to convince the court that the case should be remitted, but even his skill and tenacity could not undermine the fact that upon close analysis of the findings and assessments available to the court at the time of the hearing, the making of a care order and placement order in respect of S was the inevitable outcome.

 

In this case, the appeal was based on the judgment not being sufficiently clear about what basis various options had been discounted to arrive at adoption – one might think from reading Re B-S that when they said THIS

 

41. The second thing that is essential, and again we emphasise that word, is an adequately reasoned judgment by the judge. We have already referred to Ryder LJ’s criticism of the judge in Re S, K v The London Borough of Brent [2013] EWCA Civ 926. That was on 29 July 2013. The very next day, in Re P (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 963, appeals against the making of care and placement orders likewise succeeded because, as Black LJ put it (para 107):

“the judge … failed to carry out a proper balancing exercise in order to determine whether it was necessary to make a care order with a care plan of adoption and then a placement order or, if she did carry out that analysis, it is not apparent from her judgments. Putting it another way, she did not carry out a proportionality analysis.”

She added (para 124): “there is little acknowledgment in the judge’s judgments of the fact that adoption is a last resort and little consideration of what it was that justified it in this case.”

42. The judge must grapple with the factors at play in the particular case and, to use Black LJ’s phrase (para 126), give “proper focussed attention to the specifics”.

that they meant that a judgment ought to grapple with the factors at play and give proper focussed attention for the specifics.

The Court of Appeal had been taking a very hard line on this, but seem to have softened their approach and are prepared to look at the totality of the judgment and the evidence heard by the Judge  (which was not the case in the low-watermark case where the parents had both been in prison at the time of the Placement Order and the appeal was granted)

  1. One of the difficulties where a judgment lacks structure and fails to present the reader with a clear analysis of the evidence, its application to the law and thereafter of its cross check with Convention rights, is that a reviewing court is not only presented with a formidable task in determining whether the decision reached by the judge was wrong, but it potentially leaves a litigant, (often a parent destined as a consequence of that judgment to have their parental tie severed), with a sense of unfairness, even where there is no question of his or her Article 6 rights having been compromised.
  2. At first blush it appeared that the deficiencies in the judgment with which this court is concerned were such that, no matter what further delay was occasioned in determining S’s future, the appeal must be allowed and the matter remitted for rehearing. The process of determining whether the essentials can in fact be found within the judgment and the evidence has been immeasurably assisted by the careful analysis of Miss Morgan QC, through which it has become clear to the court that notwithstanding the difficulties inherent in the judgment:

    i) All the material necessary for a proper determination of the case was before the judge and tested in cross examination.ii) That, whilst the finding in relation to developmental delay cannot stand, there were nevertheless more than adequate findings to allow the threshold criteria to be satisfied and therefore the court to proceed to consider what, if any order, should be made.

    iii) The father was assessed by both the Guardian and the social worker as to his ability to care for S. The judge was entitled, having heard the evidence, which included oral evidence from the father, to accept the recommendation of the Guardian and indeed, if a court decides not to follow the recommendation of the Guardian, it should give its reasons for failing to do so. (Re J [2001] 2 FCR 44)

    iv) The evidence before the judge addressed the available options and the judge took into account the father’s strengths as well as weaknesses. The Recorder gave his reasons for concluding that it was not in the best interests of S to be rehabilitated to her father.

    v) Whilst the judge failed to state in terms that he made a care order before moving on to consider the placement order application, it was implicit that, having determined that the child could not return to the only parent who was a realistic option, a care order would follow. The conditions necessary for the making of a care order were undoubtedly made out.

    vi) The care plan was for adoption. The necessary information was available to the judge for the welfare analysis within the extended assessment of the Children’s Guardian. The Recorder noted the exceptionality of the order sought and said that the making of such an order was ‘necessary’. Even though the case was heard before Re B-S the Recorder took into account the importance of the order for adoption being ‘proportionate’ and importantly, that it is not enough to say that “it would be better for the child to be adopted than to live with his natural parents”

    vii) This was a little girl who had just turned 2 at the time the orders were made in circumstances where there was no one within the extended family who could appropriately offer her a home. Once the court had concluded that it was not in her best interests to be returned to the care of either parent then, given her age and need for a secure, stable and permanent home, it could not be regarded as wrong for the judge who had heard the case to conclude that her welfare required an adoption order to be made.

  3. Pieced together in this way, I conclude that the Recorder did engage with the essence of the case and that his judgment contained the essential ingredients necessary for there to be a proper determination of the issues which determination also respected the Convention rights of all the parties

Re R – is B-S dead?

 

That’s the Court of Appeal case that we’ve been talking about all week.  It happened to come in time for my deadline for my Family Law column, so my analysis of it is over there.

 

I know not all of you read Family Law, so here is the link.

 

In very short terms, the Court of Appeal layeth the smackdown on those people who were pushing, stretching and exagerrating Re B-S to be an authority for “leave no stone unturned, climb every mountain, ford every stream – till you avoid adoption, that’s B-S’s dream”.   BUT  Re B, and Hale’s formulation stands – the President specifically says that Courts can’t make a Placement Order unless satisfied that Lady Hale’s formulation applies, and every single bit of content in Re B-S still applies.  In a nutshell, Re R says to advocates, don’t take bad points and don’t appeal on flimsy technicalities based on your notion of what a post Re B-S judgment looks like.

 

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/view-from-the-foot-of-the-tower-two-steps-forward-two-steps-back#.VJLA_3vzOud

Forthcoming Court of Appeal judgment on adoption

We know that there is one coming, because the President told The Times (sadly behind a paywall) that there would be one coming out this week in which the Court of Appeal would clarify Re B-S. The Times article is in the context of the “crisis” in the lower adoption figures – that “crisis” is itself in the context of adoption figures having gone up 26%.

The Times, you may be aware has moved from the Camilla Cavendish line of secret oppressive family Courts into pro-adoption.

 

We will have to wait and see what the President says. I suspect the direction of travel can be read from recent Court of Appeal judgments – my guess would be that all of the rigorous demands on social work evidence and a comparison of all of the various options will remain.  But that there will be clarification that Re B-S never intended to raise the bar or heighten the legal test.

 

The language in the Times piece talks about Courts being satisified that adoption is “the best option”  which is quite a distance from “last resort” never mind “nothing else will do”

 

If Re B-S was being misunderstood, it seems odd that it has taken a year and a half for the President to speak out. He sits in the Court of Appeal, he has brother and sister Judges routinely hearing appeals, he gives speeches and judgments all the time, he has his View from the President’s Office, all of which have been silent.

 

The closest we have come until now, was this Press Conference in April 2014

http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/munby-press-conference-290420141.pdf

Philip Hoult from Local Government Lawyer. The question I have is recent rulings on adoption from the judiciary implies that what’s said, from the steer, that adoption should be a last resort where nothing else will do. The government is saying to councils, “We want you to place more children for adoption,” and they’re threatening to remove local authority powers if they fail to do so. Do you have any advice for councils in that situation?

JM: Well, I stopped giving advice when I left the bar 14 years ago. All I would say is that it is the Supreme Court, very recently in a case called “Re: B” which used the phrases which you’ve just mentioned. Last resort and so on and so forth. Under our system Parliament makes the law in passing a statute. Parliament, I emphasise; not the Government. It’s Parliament that legislates. It is for the  judges to decide what the statute means. The Supreme Court has ruled what it believes the statute means and under our system that is the definitive judicial view but of course under our system the relevant statutes can be changed as Parliament wishes to do so. I’d be foolish not to acknowledge as I do that there is a clear tension between what the Supreme Court said in “Re: B” in I think the summer of last year and what the Government had said in guidance which it issued only a few months before in the spring of last year, the tension being that whereas the Supreme Court said that adoption is the last resort, the Government, as I recall in the guidance it gave, said that local authorities should get away from the idea that adoption is the last resort. So there is a tension there but under our system Parliament makes the law; the judges interpret the law and if the Parliament does not agree with the judges’ interpretation of the statute they passed, then the remedy is for Parliament to change the law. In saying that I think I’ve acknowledged that there is that tension there. But I appreciate that on the ground, as it were, for the directors of social services; for the social workers dealing with adoption cases; it must be slightly difficult to know exactly what they should be doing given that tension.

 

It does seem to me that the President is explicit there – there was a tension between what the Courts were saying in Re B and Re B-S and the pro-adoption policies of the Government. And the President was explicit – if the Government disagree with the judicial line, they must change the law.

 

So will the President hold firm, or is there a change coming?  (I know where my money is going. I suspect we are about to learn that we have always been at war with Eurasia)

 

I can’t cut and paste in the entireity of the Times piece, due to copyright issues, but if this bit is accurate, it really troubles me

 

Officials in the Department for Education made a series of pleading phone calls to heads of local authority children’s services departments telling them that the judge’s intervention had been misinterpreted.

Perhaps that isn’t right. But if it is, is that the way for judgments to be interpreted? Is that the way for Government to approach judgments that they don’t like? *

 

 

*( well, given that the Lord Chancellor just lost the book ban judicial review, but isn’t reversing the policy until after Christmas to stop prisoners getting books as presents for Christmas, maybe it is)

 

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