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Somerset v MK – conduct of a Local Authority and deprivation of liberty

 

 

This is a Court of Protection case, involving a 19 year old “P”.

 

Somerset v MK – Court of Protection,Deprivation of Liberty ,Best Interests Decisions ,Conduct of a Local Authority 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/B25.html

 

P is aged 19, she was born on 10/10/1994 and has severe learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorder. She has almost no verbal capacity and communicates through gestures and via PECS

 

In May 2013, P presented with bruising on her chest and was examined by a paediatrician

 

His report (G25) said: “the bruising is felt to be comparable with a blow / blows to P’s anterior chest with a significant force or fall onto an object… this would be an unusual injury pattern to have been self-inflicted but if this was the case then it would be expected that such self-harm, which would have been demonstrably significant and painful, would have been witnessed”.

 

 

Sadly, when considering how those bruises came about, nobody seemed to have grasped the significance of the report from the school two days earlier of P being observed to hit herself hard and repeatedly on the chest.

 

The Judge notes,with a degree of acidity, that it seemed to only be when the papers in the case were sent by the Local Authority to leading counsel that the two matters were linked and the Local Authority ceased to seek a finding that P had been injured by her parents.

 

The belief that P was not safe with her parents was what had led the LA to remove her and deprive her of her liberty, and hence to make the application authorising that deprivation of liberty. Initially it had been for two weeks respite, but that stretched on and on, to over a year.

 

16. In addition the LA changed its position on the factual issues so that it was unlikely to pursue factual findings with regard to the injuries sustained by P. Previously the chest bruising seemed to form a vital part of the LA case and one might, for instance, have expected findings being sought about a perpetrator or perpetrators and failure to protect but now it was clear that no such findings were being sought. It is also clear from the document that the significance of the reported hitting by P of herself in the chest on 21/5/13 had been realised (the class trip evidence had not yet been identified). I suspect the realisation of the significance of this evidence in any Finding of Fact hearing and the instruction of very experienced leading and junior counsel just prior to this document being filed are not entirely coincidental.

 

Given that the reason for keeping P apart from her family had been the suspicion that they had injured her, when the truth is that the bruising was explained by the school’s observations of her hitting herself in the very same place, the LA were in a very tough spot.

 

14. On the 26th March the LA filed its position statement dated 25/3/14 to be found at A12 to 15. In this document the LA conceded that P had been deprived of her liberty (it contended that there may have been some doubt about that before but not after the Supreme Court ruling in the Cheshire West case).

 

15. In addition the LA accepted that there had been a period when they had unlawfully deprived P of her liberty contrary to Article 5 ECHR. It had not been authorised by the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and was not therefore “a procedure prescribed by law”. This it accepted continued from 8th June 2013 (the date when the respite care was supposed to have ended and 28th November 2013 when the first authorisation was obtained. It goes on to concede that P’s deprivation of liberty and the loss of her society to her family was a breach of both P and M’s Article 8 rights and not in accordance with the law.

 

 

If they had stuck with the apology and worked up a rehab plan without delay, things probably would have gone better for them, but instead they decided that it was in P’s best interests for her NOT to return to the family home but to be in a long term placement at a care home.

 

17. The LA make it clear that the best interests decision as to what should happen from now on to P is one to be considered purely in terms of her present and future welfare needs. The document indicates that the LA wish to apologise to the family for its “procedurally inappropriate and unlawful” actions. It still proposes that the best solution is for P to be in LA care and accommodation (up to April 2014 it had suggested a long term placement at a care home in Bournemouth was appropriate). Now it accepts a new social worker should be involved and make another best interests assessment and the case should be returned to court for an interim consideration of where P should be.

 

 

As part of that, the LA had drawn up a schedule of findings of fact on other matters. It is significant to read what the Official Solicitor had to say about that schedule

“…the reliance on this long and historical schedule to paint a damaging picture of this family is unnecessary and disproportionate. It does not build bridges.”

 

 

The Judge agreed with that, and also in conclusion said this:-

 

the adversarial nature of the argument and cross-examination needed to advance the schedule robbed the LA’s apology for its conduct of at least some of it credibility, no matter how carefully and dextrously leading counsel for the LA put the case.

 

 

{It is rather difficult to look sincere in your apology when you’re also trying to stick the boot in at the same time}

 

25. The siren song behind the argument is if I make the findings of fact and apply them and all the other relevant considerations to the case I will be driven to find that P’s best interests will be served by her not returning home but as far as the LA are concerned that is a matter for the judge. An outside observer might ask himself the question if everyone including the independent social worker and the OS for P are agreed on a return home and the LA are neutral why has it taken 9 days to litigate the case? However the reality is that the past conduct of the family and the LA are the context for the best interests decision and also the components of the breach of the ECHR application and thus needed to be carefully examined.

 

 

The Court did not make the findings that the LA sought, including one that the Judge said was “unprovable and irrelevant at the same time”   (a difficult combination to achieve)

 

What makes this case potentially important is the evidence of the senior manager of the LA, who the Judge remarked a number of times had the principal role of being there to fall on his sword.

 

 

The senior social work manager is a highly intelligent and senior social worker but he is essentially there to fall on his sword for the LA failings and on the best interests issue does not add anything to the LA case

 

However,

 

 

57…He was in my view a highly intelligent, experienced and well-intentioned manager and social worker who was, having observed him not just when he was giving evidence but when he was listening to evidence, genuinely shocked at some points by what he heard. At the start of his evidence he said: “I think the crucial aspect relying on what I have heard in court is a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of adult social care and how to go about their jobs“.

 

[Oh. My. God]

 

58.  He (and I) did not question the motivation of LA to do the right thing, as they saw it, for P but he described the conduct of social workers on the ground as misguided. There was no understanding of the law in this area and that extended to the LA lawyers as well as social workers. He accepted when I asked him that not only were individual actions wrong but the philosophy behind those actions was wrong as well. In particular he said that practice was inadequate when consulting with the family: “I have to ensure the staff who work in this area understand their role and I clearly failed in my responsibilities, failure as team manager, they failed to seek or take advice given the complex nature of the case. The beliefs and intentions of what people did was misguided in its approach”. He was very critical of the delay from September when the police indicated they were not taking their investigation of bruising any further to issuing proceedings which seemed to him to be time taken to, “put a good case together, which was not what we got”. He also highlighted the failure of the LA in not having a lawyer who specialised in adult social care.

 

[Oh. My. Flipping. God]

 

He was not wrong. The Judge analysed the conduct of the LA very carefully.

 

67. The police finally finished their investigation in September 2013, it was inconclusive. The LA were now in a position where prior to May they had not taken any action and the bruising in May could not be used to substantiate a retention of P. At the same time they had a very distressed young woman on their hands to whom medication was now being or about to be administered.

 

 68. Around about the time of the move to SASS people at last start to show alarm at the legal position. Why had they not appointed an IMCA (e-mails at O1169): “I am really not clear how we are holding P at Selwyn”, a colleague to Mr M 22/11/13, later that day in another e-mail should they not have gone to the CoP? Mr M on the same day: “P is still under safeguarding procedures”. One asks the questions why does he think that now the investigation has been over for two months and how does he think that justifies holding her?

 

 69. There had been other meetings the family should have been invited to but were not on 5/9/13 and on 12/11/13. The first of these meetings comprises of a massive amount of criticism being levelled at M and Mr E in particular most of which is either hearsay or from an anonymous source who is quoted at length but seems to be highly unreliable and possibly had some kind of personal agenda.

 

 70. At the meeting of 17/12/13 it was explained according to the minutes at J35 that the family were invited to discuss plans about P’s future and express their views. In fact it is clear that was not the reason they were invited at all. Far from a change of heart and an attempt to communicate the reason is clear. It was felt by Mr M on advice from the LA lawyers that: “The COP might pick up that no ’round table’ meeting has been held and this might disadvantage us during the hearing” (see the bundle at part O page1086).

 

[Oh. My. Martha. Flipping. God]

 

 

The Judge concludes

 

74. This is already a very long judgment and so I do not propose to go on reviewing the LA’s conduct further. The overall summing up by the senior social work manager was: “There has been a corporate failure and a failure of those on the ground to realise that they are out of their depth, most worrying was that they looked more sure about what they were doing than they ought, … it’s going to be difficult to re-establish that trust (with the family) if it’s rebuilt it is going to be with good practice”.” Mr Justice Ryder (as he then was) in a leading authority on FII cautioned social workers in child care cases not to decide what the picture was and then make the facts fit the picture, it seems to me that is what happened here.

 

 

Undertaking the best interests analysis, it is a demolition and as one-sided as a Harlem Globetrotters match

 

The balance sheet therefore shows the following –

 

 

In favour of P returning home

 

i Her wishes

 ii The wishes of her family

 

iii.             The right to a family life of P and her family

 iv The fact that at home she may not be subject to any deprivation of liberty and therefore this will be the least restrictive option

 v Concerns about the bruising have been abandoned as a reason for her not going home

 vi The OS supports return

 

vii.           The independent social work reporter supports return

 

viii.         I have found nothing in the Schedule of Facts to prevent return

 ix I have found there will be a degree of co-operation between the principal family members and the LA.

 

 

For a placement in a specialist home

 

 i The view of the LA that P will best reach her full potential in terms of her development, social life, communication skills and so on in a specialist home.

 

 

 

P therefore returned home and the Court found that there had been breaches by the Local Authority of her article 8 right to private and family life

 

76. There is no question here that P was removed unlawfully from her family, she went into Selwyn for respite care and it is from the date of her mother’s return from holiday that the breach flows. I further accept that the LA had a duty to investigate the bruising but I find that a competently conducted investigation would have swiftly come to the conclusion that no or no sufficient evidence existed to be able to conclude P’s safety was at risk by returning her home. This conclusion should have been reached within a week or so after the family asked for her back. If the LA came to a different conclusion, as they did, they should have applied to the CoP by early June for a hearing. Not doing so is a further breach. Having not done so they should have told the family they could make an application, not doing that is a further breach. After the Police investigation ended in September P should again have been returned but was not nor was an application made to CoP as it should have been. The limitations and conditions placed on contact between the family and P constitute another breach.

               

 

I make that five breaches

 

78. These findings illustrate a blatant disregard of the process of the MCA and a failure to respect the rights of both P and her family under the ECHR. In fact it seems to me that it is worse than that, because here the workers on the ground did not just disregard the process of the MCA they did not know what the process was and no one higher up the structure seems to have advised them correctly about it.

 

 

 

 

 

the interaction between Children Act and Mental Health Act

This reported case is a County Court one (which means that it is not legally binding precedent) but it raises some unusual issues.

 

The “Too Long; Didn’t read” version – don’t treat a s20 child as no longer s20 just because they get detained under Mental Health Act; and if you enjoy judicial dressing downs, there’s plenty in here worth reading.

 

Re T (Children) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B116.html

 

The application itself was by a child, St, now 16, for contact with her siblings. There were five children  (plus St herself, plus another sister older than St). I note that the Judge identifies birth dates for all of the children.  I won’t in this piece, because I think that there are a limited number of families in the Preston area with seven children and the specific dates of birth is probably all that is needed for them to be inadvertently identified by people in that area reading the judgment.  (The “jigsaw identification” issue)

St had had many difficulties in her life and at the time of the application was detained under section 3 of the Mental Health Act for treatment in a hospital. Her parents had had difficulties in caring for her and from around June 2012 had really delegated her care to the Local Authority.

 

For all practical purposes, the Local Authority had been caring for St and meeting her needs and looking after her from June 2012 until she was detained under s3 of the Mental Health Act.

 

The case was not care proceedings, but rather St’s application under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 for contact with her siblings (or as I must now describe it through gritted teeth “for a Child Arrangement Order to spend time with her siblings”  (or in my own rebranding of the rebranding  “Shiny Happy People order”)  )

The Judge had been concerned about the impact on these five children of contact with St, given her predicament and health. He directed the Local Authority to file a section 37 report advising about these matters.

On 7th January 2014 it emerged that St’s status had been changed by the Local Authority and that she was no longer deemed by them to be a child looked after within the meaning of the Children Act, with to s.20 status, but was deemed by them to be a child in need under s.17 of the Children Act. That was extremely concerning because the change of status was reported already to have had a direct impact upon St’s circumstances for the worse. It therefore seemed to me to be appropriate to make a s.37 direction in relation to St and to make her brothers and sisters parties to the proceedings. I recorded, the Local Authority being represented, what the Local Authority had to say about the change of status at that hearing and the order I made includes this recording:-

“The Local Authority contends that under internal policy, St is not ‘looked after’ by them and has not been since she was sectioned under s.3 of the Mental Health Act 1983.”

 

 

[I will confess very quickly that I don't know, off the top of my head whether a looked after child ceases to be looked after once they become detained under the Mental Health Act. There are two possibilities - a common sense literal one that says that it isn't the LA looking after her any more, it is Health, so she is not. And a technical one that suggests to me that there were a raft of statutory instruments that said that children in prisons were looked after so maybe there's one kicking around that I can't yet find that says the same thing about mental health]

 

But more to the point, the Judge’s issue was that this decision had actually detrimentally affected St.

Once again, I made recordings about St’s circumstances, setting out what was being relayed to me by the Local Authority through their counsel; this is recorded on the face of that order:-

“Lancashire County Council informed the court that they deemed the applicant, having ceased to be accommodated under s.20 of the Children Act 1989 when she became detained under the Mental Health Act in September 2013”.

And also;-

“Lancashire County Council further suggests that from the point of such detention, primary parental responsibility which was not being exercised by the respondents was to be exercised by the hospital”.

 

That doesn’t sit right with me – the hospital were looking after St and meeting her physical needs and mental health needs, but they weren’t exercising parental responsibility for her. Suppose for the sake of argument, she had needed an operation that would not have been authorised without parental consent and does not come within the treatment powers of s3? This suggests that the hospital could consent in loco parentis, and that just does not feel right to me.

I was sufficiently concerned that this decision making and approach deprived St of anybody to exercise parental responsibility for her was likely to cause her significant harm given her particular vulnerabilities and circumstances. I therefore made interim care orders in respect of her in accordance with the section pending the preparation of a further s.37 report the need for which was conceded by the Local Authority,.

 

[As readers of the blog may have picked up, I'm not a huge fan of ICOs made under s37 of the Children Act by a Judge of their own motion, but that seems to me to have been the right call here.  I dread to think of how the LA resolved the placement provisions under s22C with a placement in a mental health hospital. For what it's worth, my attempt would be s22C (6) (d)   - I'm not going to set all of that out, because there are limits to even my law geekiness]

 

The LA decided not to issue care proceedings at the conclusion of that Interim Care Order.

 

The Judge was disappointed

 I should explain why I consider three separate aspects of the Local Authority’s decision making in respect of this child are in error and represent a failure to promote her welfare.

I have three purposes in delivering the judgment. Firstly, I very much hope that after receipt of the judgment the Local Authority will review again their approach to this case. It seems to me that it is always a professional strength and not a weakness to be able to change decisions previously taken if it is right to do so.

Secondly, this seems to me to be an important opportunity to publish a judgment which highlights what has happened to a child who ought to have benefitted from two statutory schemes of protection, both under the Mental Health Act as a person suffering from a mental disorder and under the Children Act as a child who a has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm. St, in any event, is a child whose welfare overwhelmingly deserves scrutiny and promotion within proceedings.

Thirdly, and this is not my primary purpose, it is the intention of those who act on behalf of St to pursue either or both a complaint and/or other remedies in respect of her against the Local Authority and it may very well be that there are matters covered in this judgment that they consider to be of use in pursuing such courses of action. Providing assistance for those proposed actions is certainly not my primary objective and neither would it be proper for that to be a primary objective. The judgment is therefore mainly given in the hope that the Local Authority might reconsider and to highlight the difficulties that have beset this child who has unfortunately fallen between two statutory umbrellas of protection.

 

As nobody was “looking after” St, and her parents had effectively stepped away from her, when she was in the hospital nobody had provided her with funds or the wherewithal to even have basic funds to buy toiletries or christmas presents for her siblings.

 

The hospital were firmly of the view that the Local Authority ought to be looking after St

I therefore have a full letter dated 21st May 2014 written by Dr K, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at the hospital, the responsible clinician for St. The letter sets out his perspective upon what he regards as the necessity of ongoing looked after status during admission. I am very grateful to him for providing that. He says at paragraph 3 of that:

“I find this to be an unusual position and not one which is taken by other local authorities who have responsibility for looked after children who are placed on [name of hospital given] unit.”

He goes on to say:

“I am not aware of any hospital ward that would take parental responsibility upon themselves. Provision of care in loco parentis is much the same as is provided by schools or residential homes and specific decisions regarding treatment require the hospital to seek consent from the individual with parental responsibility in a similar manner as would be the case in the community.”

He also goes onto say that St, for the most part, may have the ability to give her own views but that there will be times when that may not be the case given her illness. He says this:

It may also be worth clarifying limitations of the Mental Health Act in regard to consent to treatment. Section 3 allows for the provision of treatment for a mental disorder to be provided within a hospital setting and as such it allows for treatment to be given under certain circumstances against a patient’s wishes or where they lack mental capacity to give their valid consent. However, the MHA only relates for treatment of the mental disorder, it does not make provision for physical health conditions to be provided against a patient’s wishes, nor does it allow for any other decisions to be made about wider aspects of a patient’s affairs and lifestyle. In the case of a minor, such a decision is either required to be made by taking valid consent from the patient or where this is not possibly by seeking consent from the individual with parental responsibility. There is no legal provision within the Mental Health Act, or any other statute of which I am aware, that allows for a hospital to take parental responsibility upon themselves. In fact I would argue that is strongly in the interests of the young person that a party independent of a hospital hold this role, particularly when the young person is detained by the hospital against their will.”

He goes on:

Moreover, the benefits of continued looked after status whilst a minor is placed within a hospital setting go beyond the provision of valid consent for decisions that do not relate to the mental disorder. Given the complexity of St’s case and the nature of her social care needs it appears essential to me that she has the benefit of a social worker taking a parental role so as to provide her with continuity and stability of care as well as advice and support around the many challenging issues that she is currently facing.”

Equally that was the view of both Mr Jackson and Mrs. Walwin-Holm, the children’s guardians who have at different times represented St within these proceedings. Dr K’s perspective is that of an experienced clinician working within an acute setting to alleviate the distress and improve the situation of young people in the very distressing circumstances that St finds herself. Any person in hospital, whether a young person or a child or not, seems to me to need – and I apologise for being intensely practical – moral support, social support and financial support. My focus here is upon this child during this admission.

 

By the time of the hearing, the Local Authority had wisely reconsidered their decision to treat St as no longer being a looked after child. That of course does not prevent St or her representatives from satellite litigation about whether that decision was unreasonable and whether it had a deleterious effect on her.

 

I don’t think that the Judge really warmed to Mr McHale, the senior manager who had made the original decision to stop treating St as a looked after child.

   I should, in passing, take some comfort from Mr McHale’s approach to the views of the clinicians. This paragraph I read from his statement, of 23rd July 2014 also reflects his oral evidence when he was challenged. He says:

“While I respect the views of my health colleagues, they do not have a full understanding of the roles and responsibility of CSC in relation to children and young people and although we would always listen to their opinion, ultimately it is our responsibility to decide how we deal with individual children and their legal status.”

So I should perhaps take some comfort that the Local Authority are no more prepared to defer to the clinical view than the court’s view.

 

Ouch.

 

On discussing how that decision was made, and why, the Judge had this to say  (underlining mine for emphasis)

 

I am not going to attempt to make a finding of fact as to what the reasoning actually was or what was actually decided. Mr.McHale claims that it was a child specific welfare focused decision. If it was, it seems to me that it worked very badly indeed because it had an immediate impact upon the service that St was receiving for the worse. She ceased to receive any financial support from the Local Authority and the level of moral and social support given to her also decreased in the wake of that decision. There was a CPA (Care Programme Approach) meeting at the hospital in December 2013 which the Local Authority did not attend. St therefore lost her Looked after Child status and the review system, she lost her independent reviewing officer, she lost the duty of the Local Authority to promote contact between her and relevant people and she was left with no money for basic necessities. She is said to have felt abandoned, a feeling that she has been reported as having to have felt on a number of occasions during the proceedings.

Mr McHale asserted that this was never his intention and that in fact what he intended was for all those services St had been receiving under s.20 to be continued by way of an exercise of discretion under s.17. The Local Authority have not brought any contemporaneous documentary evidence to support this assertion. Mr. McHale was apologetic for particularly the loss of money for St which had an intensely distressing effect upon her in circumstances I will come to describe. In general however it seems to me overall that the impact of the decision, whether specifically child focused or a matter of policy, was deleterious to the welfare of the child. It seems to me as a matter of common sense and experience that if somebody is admitted to hospital they do not change their usual home or their residence. They go to hospital to be treated for the duration of an illness. It seems to me highly unlikely that a Local Authority would even contemplate changing a child’s status from s.20 to s.17 if that child were to be admitted to hospital for treatment for any serious or long-term physical illness. It therefore seems to me quite inappropriate that this child, who was subject to s.3 of the Mental Health Act and detained for treatment in hospital for a mental disorder should have lost a status which conveyed rights upon her which would have continued had the illness requiring treatment not been a mental disorder

It seems to me that the care programme approach of the Mental Health Acts should work hand-in-hand with the Looked after Child processes of the Children Act. These schemes should not be alternatives but should be complementary. That would seem to be the view also of the clinicians. The Local Authority and other parties to these family law proceedings have concentrated on St’s right to services upon discharge from hospital, whether as a Looked after Child entitled to a Pathway plan and services for leaving care or otherwise. That is not the focus of this judgment not only because it should not be the focus of this judgment but also because upon discharge from hospital under the Mental Health Act St will be entitled to extensive services both from the health authority and the Local Authority under s.117 of the Mental Health Act.

My concern is that St’s circumstances on the ground were acutely and deleteriously affected by her change of status and this was also the view of the clinicians at the hospital which was expressed during the CPA meeting to which I have referred on 13th December 2013. I have the record of the meeting in which the following is recorded:

“On admission to [name of residence given] St was under a looked after child s.20. Whilst in hospital her case has been closed and she is no longer considered to be looked after. A senior support worker has not been allocated to ensure that St continues to have involvement with services whilst she remains in hospital.”

Later, the meeting, minutes record this:

“Members of the meeting expressed frustrations and difficulties associated with the removal of St’s LAC status due to her being in hospital. Difficulties arise in particular around St’s physical health and the need for parental consent for certain forms of treatment, despite the current lack of contact and care from St’s parents. There is also a lack of money for St now. Kayley I, advocate, also expressed St’s views and distress at the lack of monies. Options were discussed as to how this could be managed. Funding agreed from social care that St to receive £20 a month for toiletries, all agreed that this is not enough. The meeting discussed making a complaint to the Local Authority about the removal of a young person’s looked after care status when a young person becomes an inpatient and all agreed this would be a good idea.”

 

[I think the Judge's analysis that if this child had been in hospital for a broken leg there would have been no suggestion that she was no longer looked after by the Local Authority is a very good one, and it is a good way of looking at it. It may be, and it would require a delve into the Regs that is beyond my current level of enthusiasm and curiousity that this child is not technically s20 but it must be manifestly better for her to have treated her in all ways as though she were]

 

In case you think that the Judge was social-work bashing in this judgment, she clears this up.

 

Mr McHale in his evidence, having read what was trenchant criticism of the Local Authority written by Mr Jackson the then child’s guardian, repeatedly asserted that he considered that the Local Authority had delivered an excellent service to St. In that sense he seemed to me to be understandably taking up cudgels on behalf of his staff. I hope he understood, and I hope that anybody reading this judgment understands, that this judgment is intended to be critical, indeed trenchantly critical of the decisions of the Local Authority. However it is by no means intended to be a criticism of the staff who have been working the case on the ground. It is my impression that those staff, that is Mrs S and her manager, have delivered, as Mr McHale asserts, an excellent service to St within and despite the parameters of the decisions of their senior management. This judgment is not intended in any way to undermine that impression. This court, the social workers on the ground, their managers, the clinical team and the children’s guardian are all motivated by having come across a child in St’s situation to improve her situation. My focus has been on how the realisation of that aspiration has been marred by the decisions of senior management. I therefore agree with Mr McHale that his staff have delivered an excellent service to this child. This is despite the decisions that have been made by their senior management.

 

 

This isn’t social work bashing – this is manager bashing. Short of Mr McHale writing to the younger children to tell them that there was no such thing as Father Christmas, there was not much lower for the Judge’s opinion of him to go.  The overriding judicial impression I was left with was (to borrow from Mark Twain) that the moment had arrived for Mr McHale to leave this world and to declare to the Court which of the two possible destinations he was heading for, so that the Judge could make arrangements to head to the Other Place.

I don’t know Mr McHale, let us be charitable and say that this was one where his actions were out of character (and to be fair, it is legally tricky as to whether s20 technically applies here).  It is never fair to butcher someone based on one case alone, particularly a tricky one.

 

The LA, in the light of all this made the submission that the case should now come to a close and the Court bow out and let the LA get on with it.

 

The word on the tip of your tongue is ‘bold’  – that’s a ‘bold’ submission.

 

That doesn’t really go far enough – that’s a submission for which an advocate is entitled to have a stuntman for.

 

Do we think the Judge agreed with their Stuntman submission?

The Local Authority case, put with admirable clarity by Miss Grundy in her written submissions, is that now is the time for the court to bow out completely not only in relation to St but in relation to all of the children and that the proceedings are ready to be concluded. There are cases when that is entirely right and the court should take a focused and issue specific approach to dive in and dive out of children’s lives and not exercise a more surveying role. In this case I decline to do so. It seems to me necessary that the proceedings continue and the court will bow out when the court is assured that that contact is set to continue appropriately and that all of the necessary services are going in. I flagged up to the parties the possibility of a family assistance order at the final hearing. No party considered this to be a good idea. This court’s scrutiny is going to be upon all of the professionals involved in any event, whether they remain in via s.37 or merely as witnesses. I note that the Local Authority decline to accept a family assistance order as well.

I would very much hope that the Local Authority will consider what I have said in this judgment. It is to be transcribed and published. It seems to me right that the plight of children who are subject to both the Mental Health Act because they are ill and need to be detained for treatment and to the Children Act because they are likely to suffer significant harm attributable to being out of control or by reason of parental default is one that should be brought to the public attention.

 

 

 

 

Reversing the burden of proof – injury to a child

 

There have been a few reported cases where the higher Courts have said or hinted that a fairly traditional medical formulation “that in the absence of the parent providing a benign explanation, this injury was caused deliberately” is a reversal of the burden of proof and not acceptable in law.

 

The decision of the Court of Appeal in Re M (a Child) 2012 comes out very badly and explicitly says it, and the decision is exactly on this point, and for that reason I think it is the best authority for the principle.

 

[In fact, looking at this again, I think this is the exact very same case that established the point that I had come across in summaries, and we have waited 2 years for the actual transcript of judgment. That’s pretty shocking, given the importance of it as a principle for other cases. I had momentarily forgotten that we were STILL waiting for this judgment, because the original summaries came out 2 years ago.   This might be a big deal, because if it had been reported earlier other families might have made use of the principle]

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2012/1580.html

 

The appeal begins with Ward LJ identifying that as ever, there was not an order produced following the finding of fact which was strictly capable of being appealed

 

 

As is so typical with fact-finding matters coming from the Family Division, no order has been drawn which is strictly capable of being appealed, because nobody bothers to formulate preliminary issues which the judge can then decide and encapsulate in an order which is the proper subject of the appeal. Instead, what frequently happens, and has happened, the order simply recites:

 

 

“And upon HHJ Hammerton handing down a written judgment following a fact finding hearing, in which the court found that the child had suffered non-accidental injuries and that the parents are both possible perpetrators of those injuries

The Court Orders…”

 

And then there were a series of directions being made. But I have said that before; nobody takes any notice. The rantings of an old man are simply passing into the ether

 

 

People do always seem to forget this, and Ward LJ is right to remind practitioners. What is appealed is the ORDER, not the judgment. The thrust and focus of the appeal might well be on why the analysis of the judgment shows that the Judge was wrong to make that order (or in these post Re B-S days does not show sufficiently clearly why the Judge was RIGHT to make the order, which itself is sufficient to make the order wrong)

 

There ought to be a draft order produced to the Judge (ideally one prepared by the LA at the outset of the hearing, but probably adjusted post judgment to reflect the findings that were made) setting out each of the discrete issues on which the Court was asked to make a determination and the determination that was reached. The findings need to be on the face of an order   (or more accurately in our new standard template order regime somewhere on page 6 of the order) not just tucked away in a judgment.

 

 

Anyway, on to the real matter. This was a case involving a total of nine bruises to a child, the child being around eight weeks old at the time.

 

Ward LJ summarises the basic legal principles in the crispest way I have ever seen it done. He should patent this.

 

I have no intention of elaborating on the law, because the essential propositions are self-evident. The burden of proof lies on the local authority to prove the case against the parents. The standard of proof is the balance of probabilities, and that means the same in this kind of case as in every other, a simply balance of probability. Suspicion is not proof, and the burden must always remain on the local authority and should not be reversed. Whilst it is necessary to establish that the injuries are, as has been described in this case, non-accidental, it is not necessary to identify the perpetrator, and it is permissible for the court to say that those who are within the pool of possible perpetrators remain possible perpetrators, and the local authority must then manage the case as best it can in the light of those findings.

 

 

The Court of Appeal summarise the medical evidence given by two experts in the case

 

 

  1. The injuries to the left forearm were really divided into three. There was, firstly, the circumferential mark around nearly all of the forearm, with two small, almost parallel marks perpendicular to it. Dr Essex said of that mark in his written report that it was:

 

 

“…consistent with some restriction or pressure effect from something causing pressure on the skin of the forearm. I cannot explain the two additional marks perpendicular to the circumferential mark. The linear and angular nature of the marks on the forearm looks like the effect of something ‘mechanical’. In other words, an object having pressed on the skin.” (His emphasis)

 

In an addendum to the report, he spoke of the child coming into contact with a firm/hard inanimate object. I interpose by stating the obvious: these are not marks consistent with finger pressure or the use of the hand, save perhaps for holding the object pressed against the child’s left arm.

 

 

  1. The second category of injury to the left forearm was the red, circular bruise below the elbow. Dr Essex did not know how that was caused. The third injury was the bruise to the left wrist, which again Dr Essex could not explain, save that he observed it was a very unusual place for a baby of that age to get a bruise. The judge recorded in paragraph 34 that Dr Rouse agreed with Dr Essex about the mark on the left forearm. He, too, was unable to explain the marks. He agreed they seemed to have some mechanical cause. Dr Rouse stressed these were an imprint type of injury. He agreed it was impossible to say how the bruise below the elbow had been caused. He agreed the bruise on the inside of the left wrist was a very unusual place for a bruise given that it is a naturally protected area, and that the underlying tissues are tightly bound down with little space for a bruise to develop. The judge noted that there was agreement in respect of the linear bruises to the right arm, and Dr Rouse emphasised that, where the general impact is with a body, a round or oval-shaped bruise will develop; where there is a pronounced V-shape, it implies something with an angled edge which must be mechanical, in other words man-made. In respect of the bruise on the inside of the left thigh, both experts agreed this was an unusual case for a bruise. Dr Rouse regarded it as a different type of bruise to the ones on the arm; he described it as being a more diffuse injury. He described it as having a pronounced rhomboidal outline; the straight line suggested more of an impact which is associated with a traditional bruise.

 

 10. Various explanations were proffered for those bruises, and the judge went through each and every one of them. First, it was suggested that M’s arms may have been trapped under the straps of the baby seat; for reasons given, that was rejected. It was suggested that swaddling may have been responsible; that, too, did not find favour. Although Dr Rouse felt that possibly the bars of the cot may have been responsible, Dr Essex did not. Both dismissed the baby bath as the object which could have caused the injury; it had been suggested that the baby had been thrashing around in the bath, which was highly unlikely. There was a suggestion that perhaps the family dog had jumped on poor little M, but nothing in the injuries was compatible with that. The judge’s conclusion was that, insofar as Dr Essex and Dr Rouse held different views, she preferred the evidence of Dr Essex. The possibility of some cotton thread explaining the injury around the child’s arm was raised; Dr Essex thought it unlikely and he did not agree about the cot being a possible instrument for harm.

 

 

11 So the judge came to the conclusion, which she expressed in paragraph 51 in these terms:

 

 

“Apart from the two issues identified above [that is the cotton thread and the cot], there was a consensus between the experts. In their view the injuries were unexplained. Dr Rouse described the injuries as being unusual for non-accidental injury [but] he confirmed to counsel for the guardian that they were unusual for accidental injuries.”

 

The judge recited Dr Essex’s view when asked for his overall conclusion. She said at paragraph 56:

 

 

“He said he reached this having looked at ‘all reasonable and unreasonable possibilities and explanations. It was against the overall picture, the age of the child, the number of injuries and the site of the injuries. Putting all these together he could not find a benign explanation.’ I found that his opinion was a considered opinion. I reject the submission that his conclusion was predicated on the fact that if there was no explanation, the injury must be non accidental.

 

57. The suggestion that Dr Essex has overstepped the line which demarcates the field of responsibility of the expert from that of the court is not in my judgment made out. Dr Essex was asked in specific terms whether the marks shown in the photographs are likely to be accidental or non accidental. He provided an answer that in his professional opinion they were non accidental.

58. I did not form the impression that there was a great difference between the evidence of the experts, it seems to me there was broad consensus. I am not persuaded that the evidence of Dr Essex was in any way unreliable, to the contrary I found his evidence compelling.”

 

 

 

[The underlining here is mine for emphasis – you will note that the trial Judge specifically considered whether Dr Essex had reversed the burden of proof in his evidence and concluded that he had not. This had obviously been an argument run by parents counsel at the time, and the trap had been set ]

 

 

Having then heard the parents evidence, the Judge reached the following conclusions about the injuries (again, underlining is mine for emphasis)

 

“86. Weighing all the evidence in the balance I return to the fact that the medical evidence is clear, the distribution and number of bruises could not have been caused by the baby himself and there was no medical explanation. It was submitted that unless the doctors can provide an explanation of the precise mechanism of injury, it is impermissible to infer that the injury must have been non accidental. I find that statement to be too sweeping. The doctors are agreed that pressure has been applied to the skin which has been sufficient to cause bruising. Whilst these are described by Dr Rouse as being towards the lower end of the scale for the amount of force used, the marks are to be distinguished from the superficial marks caused by, for example, the elasticated edge of a sock. The marks were described as vivid red; they remained clearly visible for 3-4 days. Further and importantly, the marks were unusual in their number, in their distribution and position.

 

87. In the face of medical evidence where there is no substantive disagreement between the experts, this is a case where I am satisfied that the injuries sustained by M were non accidental. I am not persuaded by the evidence of the parents. The impression I gained was that I was not being told the entire truth as to the events of Friday evening and Saturday morning.

 88. In terms of identifying the perpetrator I am unable to do so. There is evidence that the mother was the principal carer for M. She did the lion’s share of the tasks of feeding and changing and clearly took the lead in decision making. The father did some of the tasks, he would make up bottles and comfort M while bottles were being made up. He was responsible for swaddling. It was clearly the mother’s decision to delay taking M to the doctor until the Monday, having said that it was she who was proactive in asking questions and significantly providing photographs which showed the bruises as being more serious than their presentation on Monday. During the material time frame when the injury must have been sustained, both parents were present in the home. Save for the period during Saturday morning when M was downstairs in his baby chair, he was in the bedroom with his parents. The father emphasised there were no carpets upstairs and accordingly it was possible to hear what was happening downstairs. This is a case where if one parent injured M the other parent would be aware. Both deny there was any incident. In the circumstances both must remain in the pool of potential perpetrators.”

 

 

This is what the Court of Appeal had to say about the Judge’s reasoning (Ms Scriven QC was representing the Local Authority)

 

 

14…The harm must be attributable to the care given to the child not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to him. That is the language of section 31 of the Children Act. So Ms Scriven mounts a very persuasive argument that the constellation of injury, and site of the injury, the mechanism for the injury, and the narrow timeframe of perhaps up to 18 hours or less during which these injuries were inflicted, all lead ineluctably to the conclusion that this was non-accidental injury.

 

 

15. The elements I have outlined do give establish a case to answer that the care given to this baby was not reasonable care, but outside the ordinary course of events, and that justified the inference that the threshold had been crossed unless the parents could discharge the evidential burden which would have shifted to them. It was a persuasive argument, but the difficulty I find in accepting it is that that was not the case the court was required to consider. The judge was not considering, as might have been the case, whether there was some general failure to provide proper care. She was being invited to find, and she did find, that these injuries were deliberately inflicted by one or other, or both, of the parents.

 

 

16. On the medical evidence, at least some of those marks were imprint or pressure marks made by some inanimate object coming into contact with the child’s arm. But what object, or even what sort of object, remains unexplained. Also unexplained is how that pressure was exerted. Was it a hard jab, causing the momentary infliction of pain, which might have caused the baby to cry, or was it more sustained and consistent pressure, which may not have been as painful to M? The truth, as acknowledged by the experts, is that we simply do not know. This is not a case like a child with a broken leg, or a shaken baby, or a cigarette burn, or finger pressure marks. We simply do not know what happened to M and we do not know how it happened. The conclusion that it must have been non-accidental injury was formulated by Dr Essex, and it was that which was accepted by the judge and formed the basis of her judgment. Dr Essex put his case, it seems to me, at its best under cross-examination of Miss Topping for the guardian, and this exchange seems to me to encapsulate what this case is about, at page 25 of the transcript of his evidence:

 

 

“Question: You conclude, Dr Essex, that in the absence of any plausible explanation for the injuries you see on [M] you would have to consider them to be non accidental. You say, [and this is quoting from his addendum report] ‘As no satisfactory explanation has been put forward on the balance of probabilities I must consider these injuries non-accidental’, at E28.

Answer: Yes. I am afraid, having looked at the possibilities, at the explanations, and at the reasonable possibilities, and even the unreasonable possibilities, I cannot find a satisfactory explanation, your Honour.

Question: Are you fortified in that by the fact that there were so many suddenly presenting bruises?

Answer: Well, it is always the overall picture: the age of the child, the number of injuries, the site of the injuries, and so on, and the developmental stage of the child. Putting all those pieces together, I do not find a satisfactory benign explanation.”

 

That, too, was the effect of the judge’s view of the case: that absent a parental explanation, there was no satisfactory benign explanation, ergo there must be a malevolent explanation. And it is that leap which troubles me. It does not seem to me that the conclusion necessarily follows unless, wrongly, the burden of proof has been reversed, and the parents are being required to satisfy the court that this is not a non-accidental injury.

 

 

Poor Miss Topping, who was present at the Court of Appeal hearing must have been mortified that what seemed at the time to be solid sound questions ended up destroying the case that she had been building up. I feel for her, there can be no worse moment for an advocate than that.

 

 

With that paragraph ringing in people’s ears, Ward LJ went on to put the nail into the coffin

17. I fear therefore that in this case, despite her careful analysis of the evidence, the judge did fall into that error. The judgment on the lack of protection by the parties is so short of reasoning and in fact, with respect to her, here so difficult to understand that the local authority do not seek to uphold it. We do not know whether the child cried, whether loudly and at length, or whether this was a sustained injury which caused discomfort not noticeable to anybody else. So that part of the finding is, as Ms Morgan submitted, flawed, but in finding as she did that this was a non-accidental injury, I fear the judge has not properly respected the burden which is on the local authority to demonstrate that these parents had deliberately gone about in some unknown way, with some unknown implement, to inflict these injuries on the baby

 

 

This is not, bear in mind, a case being resubmitted for a re-hearing, but the findings just being overturned. That would effectively be the end of the case.

 

It is for the Local Authority to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that it is more likely than not that the parent injured the child and how; and that evidential burden is not satisfied by the absence of evidence of a benign explanation.

 

 

 

The Ashya King wardship judgment

We have all been eagerly awaiting this, and it is now out.

 

This is the judgment given by Mr Justice Baker in the wardship proceedings, setting out the reasons why on Friday of last week a solution was reached that Ashya would be able to receive proton-beam therapy treatment in Prague. Ashya is no longer a ward of Court, and all decisions about him will be made by his parents.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/2964.html

 

It is not one of those rambling long judgment that would be incomprehensible to non lawyers – it runs about four pages and most of it is in plain English. I don’t often suggest that normal human beings read a judgment, but in this case, I would. It is a very good piece of work by Baker J  (not surprisingly, he writes a good judgment)

 

[It doesn't answer my law geek question of whether the parents received free legal representation - I hope that they did. They were certainly represented, and the firm they used does do legal aid work. And there's no debate at the end about costs, so I hope they got legal aid. One suspects that even the Legal Aid Agency had enough common sense to not want to be seen to be saying that the family should spend their treatment fund on lawyers]

The judgment focuses rather more on treatment and the future than a forensic delve into the past and what has gone wrong (understandably, because a solution had been arrived at that would please everyone, and also because if there is to be any suing going on about what happened it is likely to focus on the issue of the European arrest warrant and the arrest and detention of the parents, which is outside of the scope of the family Court)

 

What the Judge does say about the application for wardship itself is this :-

 

32 When Mr and Mrs King took Ashya from hospital on 28th August, the medical staff were understandably very concerned that the boy would suffer significant harm by being removed from the specialist care they were providing. When the local authority was informed about what had happened, and that it was believed that the parents had left the country, the social workers understandably concluded that there were reasonable grounds for believing that Ashya was at risk of suffering significant harm by being driven across Europe without medical assistance at a time when he urgently required post-operative therapy. I therefore conclude that the local authority acted entirely correctly in applying to the High Court, and further that Judge Arthur was right, on the evidence before him, to make Ashya a ward of court. My comments are confined to the matters within the family jurisdiction. I make no comment as to whether or not it was appropriate to seek a European Arrest Warrant. I merely observe that one consequence of this course was that Ashya was separated from his parents and left alone for several days in the Spanish hospital. As I observed at the hearing on 2nd September, whatever the rights and wrongs of his parents’ actions, it was not in Ashya’s best interests to be separated from them in such circumstances.

  1. The steps taken by the local authority and Judge Arthur on 29th August were entirely justified on the evidence then available. As at that date, there were reasonable grounds for believing that Ashya was at risk of suffering significant harm. A week later, the picture had changed and the court was faced with a completely different decision.

 

 

I’m sure that there will be many who think otherwise, but this judgment is very helpful in setting out the facts of the case when there has been so much speculation.

 

I am pleased that Ashya is back with his parents and that he is receiving treatment, and whatever else we might feel about this case, I’m sure that all of us wish him and his parents all the very best for the future.

 

 

 

Court deciding of its own motion to remove a child into care

 

I’ve been writing more or less since I started this blog about my concerns regarding the power in section 37 of the Children Act 1989 for a Court to place a child in foster care of their own motion. (for non-lawyers, ‘of the Court’s own motion’ means that the Judge decides to do this himself or herself, rather than there being a formal application by the Local Authority.   There has been a lot of press attention on one young boy over the last week, but the Court of Appeal’s decision in Re K may have a considerable impact on a number of families. There’s a story here, if the Press care to tell it.

 

That power exists, that is beyond doubt. It is set out in section 37 of the Children Act 1989 that where a Court is dealing with a private law case (i.e two parents arguing about where a child should live or how much time the child should spend with either) they can direct that the Local Authority (social services) carry out an investigation and the Court can make an Interim Care Order for up to 8 weeks whilst waiting for that report.

 

Why does that matter?

 

Well, an Interim Care Order allows the child to be taken away from a parent and placed with another parent, or a relative or in care.

 

And why does it matter that the Court do it of its own motion rather than with the Local Authority applying?

 

Well, here are the protections you get if you are a parent, when the Local Authority apply for an Interim Care Order :-

 

(a) You get a period of notice – three days

(b) You get to see the Local Authority evidence – why should there be an Interim Care Order,

(c) Sometimes more importantly,what do they plan to do with it – the interim care plan

(d) You get FREE legal advice and representation

(e) The Court has to find that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the child has been harmed or would be likely to be harmed (the threshold criteria) and the reasons for this have to be set out in a 2 page document, that the parent can challenged

(f) There will be an independent Guardian, appointed to advise the Court on what is best for the child. They may challenge the social work view and have an alternative plan to put forward

(g) Finally and most importantly, the person who is asking for the application is NOT THE SAME PERSON as the one deciding whether to make the order.

 

With an Interim Care Order made under section 37 of the Children Act, these things do not necessarily happen. It might be that the parents have lawyers, but these days they probably don’t.  There might be a Guardian (but as we’re about to see, the wrong type of Guardian can be worse than not having one at all)

 

Re K (Children) 2014

 

This case, just decided in the Court of Appeal, doesn’t set out all of these concerns, but it is dealing with a case in which the making of Interim Care Orders under section 37 of the Act went badly wrong.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1195.html

 

I will put the killer line in first, because I don’t want this point to get lost

 

33. The judge had in her mind from the beginning of the hearing the jurisdiction of the family court to make an interim care order under section 38(1) CA 1989 where a section 37 report has been directed. The procedural protections of notice and an opportunity to be heard apply to a jurisdiction that is available to the court of its own motion just as much as they do to a jurisdiction invoked on a party’s application.

 

That is a big deal – the Court of Appeal have never said that before. Within the last couple of years, the Court of Appeal take on ICOs made under s37 has included:-

 

If the Local Authority report says no need for a further order, the Court can just tell them to write another one, and another one, and keep making Interim Care Orders until the Local Authority writes a report that the Judge agrees with

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/11/30/it-is-lawful-to-make-icos-under-repeated-s37-i-say-it-is-lawful-to-make-icos/

 

And that it was okay for the Local Authority to turn up at Court, pop in to see the Judge on their own and suggest this route and for the Judge to make an Interim Care Order under s37 even though the mother and her lawyer were AT Court and knew nothing about it

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/03/14/ex-parte-removal-by-the-back-door/

 

The Court of Appeal in this case also added that the law on removal is the same under s37 as when the Local Authority apply for it (again, the Court of Appeal have been weak on this in recent years)

 

35. The tests to be applied where a removal into public care is being considered by this route are: a) whether the court ‘is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that circumstances with respect to the child are as mentioned in section 31(2)’ (the interim threshold as set out in section 38(2) CA 1989); b) whether the court is satisfied that the child’s safety demands immediate separation (see the authorities reviewed in Re L-A (Care: Chronic neglect) [2010] 1 FLR 80 CA); c) whether the court is satisfied that removal is in the best interests of the child (the welfare analysis required by sections 1 and 1(3) CA 1989; and d) having regard to a comparative welfare analysis of the options, whether the court is satisfied that removal is a proportionate interference with the child’s and other relevant persons’ article 8 ECHR rights

36.The interim threshold was satisfied by the determination made by the Recorder in his May judgment but that was not enough in itself to demonstrate an application of the other tests. The safety question described by Thorpe LJ in Re L-A was neither asked nor answered. It could not be because of the poor quality of the evidence before the court. In the absence of quality evidence on the point, not only was the safety issue not identified with sufficient clarity or particularity, but of necessity there could be no analysis of the evidence relating to it in order to conclude that a removal was justified.
 

37. Re L-A is the domestic legal test for the justification of removal that takes note of the Strasbourg jurisprudence i.e. the interference of the state in the article 8 rights of those involved in circumstances where there is an issue of safety. In order to identify the nature and extent of an alleged risk to the physical or emotional (psychological) safety of a child the court needs evidence relating to the prima facie facts. As has been explained by the President in Re G (Interim Care Order) [2011] 2 FLR 955, it is also necessary for the court to undertake a broad proportionality evaluation of the comparative welfare analysis of the options for each of the boys on the facts of the case to cross check whether a ‘more proportionate’ option than separation is available. That did not happen, but in fairness it could not happen, because those options were not identified and analysed in the evidence. The absence of this reasoning is fatal to the decision made in respect of A in this case.

 

So, yes, I think this is long, long overdue. If I were for a parent in private law proceedings and got a sniff of the Judge contemplating the atom-bomb answer of “If you two can’t sort it out, maybe the child should be put in care” you are going to want this authority to hand, and you are going to want to argue for three days notice.

 

Back to Re K

 

There were two children, one nearly 15 and one aged 12. The private law proceedings, as so often happens, had been emotionally fraught and acriminious. It was one of those cases where the children were saying that they didn’t want to see their father and there were doubts about whether that was a genuine belief or one instilled in them by their mother. The original Judge heard what was no doubt a very difficult case and decided to separate the children, one going to father, one going into care under an Interim Care Order made under s37 of the Act. The children had never been separated before.

 

No doubt because there was no agreement about how the removal and separation was to occur, a recovery order had to be made in accordance with section 34 of the Family Law Act 1986 and the removal happened late at night with the police in attendance. The circumstances were distressing to all involved, including at least one professional. B was so distressed that he evacuated his bladder and had to change his clothes. The removal was described by mother’s representatives as ‘violent’.

 

[This was not the first time, and sadly probably will not be the last time, that removal of children from a parent following a private law hearing has gone badly wrong]

The Court of Appeal upheld the appeal and decided that the Judge’s decision had been wrong. They were sympathetic as to how this had happened – the pressure of time to make a decision had caused everyone to rush into a decision without really taking everything into account that needed to be dealt with. It is a salutary lesson and the Court of Appeal treat it as such, that sometimes Judges need to step back from the time limits and pressures and say “This needs more time to consider”

The decision taken by the judge was an exercise by her of the ultimate protective functions that are available to the family court when it is exercising its private law children jurisdiction. Those functions have rightly been the subject of anxious and rigorous scrutiny in this court but it should not be forgotten that this decision, like others that have to be taken every day in the family court, was made in the context of asserted urgency of the most immediate nature relating to the safety of the boys concerned, poor quality evidence and little or no time to reflect upon the judgment that was to be made. Although, as I shall describe, this court allowed the appeal in part and set aside the orders made, we did so without criticism of anyone. If there is any lesson to be learned by everyone involved, it is that a judge has to give him or herself time regardless of what anyone else wants that judge to do. I would suggest that the decision that was made in this case would not have been made in the way that it was had time been taken to reflect on the history, the implications for the boys, the options available and the patent need for further and better evidence.
 

This is one of those family cases that a family court judge instinctively knows will cause harm to the children involved whatever decision is made. With that in mind, the analysis that has to be undertaken must bring to bear an acute focus on the balance of welfare factors given the facts of the case. The children are highly enmeshed in their parents’ conflict and the order that Judge Marshall came to have to re-consider was expressly made with the words in mind of Wilson J. (as he then was) in Re M (Contact: Welfare Test) [1995] 1 FLR 274:
 

“Whether the fundamental emotional need of every child to have an enduring relationship with both his parents (s 1(3)(b) of the CA 1989) is outweighed by the depth of harm, which, in the light inter alia of his wishes and feelings (s 1(3)(a)), this child would be at risk of suffering (s 1(3)(e)) by virtue of a contact order.”
An enduring solution to the problem that exists in a case like this depends upon a comprehensive welfare analysis derived out of specialist case management which identifies the problem with clarity, a well informed judicial strategy based on good practice and good quality evidence and a measure of good fortune. The building blocks for such a solution are rarely available in the context of an urgent safety enquiry i.e. in the heat of conflict and, as will appear from the circumstances of this case, it is not a dereliction of duty to stand back and take time to consider whether the building blocks exist. In this case, they did not.

 

As hinted earlier, the situation was compounded because being a private law case, the CAFCASS officer involved was very familiar with private law cases but had little or no experience in public law cases (i.e children being taken into care).  They also had an expert who proposed a strategy, but had no suggestions as to what to try when that strategy went wrong. There had been no Plan B

 

It might have been thought that the solution to the problem that had occurred would have been within the skill and expertise of the guardian and the expert who had recommended the strategy to date: sadly, it was not. As I have described, the expert had written to the court and the parties some time before the summer placement had broken down to say that the circumstances were beyond anything with which his clinical guidance could assist. That was surprising but in fairness there was also the issue of trust that had arisen because of the dual function that the expert had been expected to perform. The result was that the court lost the expert that it had previously decided was necessary. To add to that unfortunate circumstance, the guardian conceded during questions put by this court that she had no public law experience and that the good practice, research based options and/or evidential materials which should be the meat and drink of any public law Cafcass practitioner were not part of her skill and expertise.
 

The consequence has been, as she informed this court, that she has asked the family court for her functions to be transferred to another more experienced public law guardian i.e., as I understand it, an application for the termination of her appointment and her substitution by another guardian will be made before the next hearing. With the benefit of hindsight, the children’s guardian should have asked Cafcass management for assistance and that should of course have been disclosed to the court, leading to an application to the court to add another guardian (which is possible under the rules) or substitute guardians for the hearing before Judge Marshall.
 

It is not at all clear how much of this the judge knew. Some of it she could not have known because it was revealed to this court when it asked questions which had the benefit of hindsight. In any event, it would have needed a more detailed and nuanced hearing to establish that which is now known or identified as respects the problem to be solved.

 

The failure to properly plan was compounded because of course when the Judge makes their own decision to grant an Interim Care Order without an application, there is no interim care plan

 

38.It is almost an aside in this case to remark that even where the court has rightly decided to make an interim care order, it should as part of the process consider what in practice will happen to a child if the order is made i.e. the local authority’s proposals or their care plan if by then it exists. That is not the statutory obligation imposed on a family court by section 31(3A) CA 1989 because the requirements relating to a section 31A care plan do not by section 31A(5) apply to interim care orders. It is simply essential good practice to ascertain how the local authority that finds itself in this position is going to exercise its statutory responsibilities. That evidence is bound to be relevant to the welfare analysis and proportionality evaluation. I do not believe that in this case the divergence of professional view between the children’s guardian and the local authority social worker on the point was sufficiently investigated in evidence. It is perhaps sufficient to record that this court was told that if one includes respite, A has experienced three foster care placements already.
 

39. There were no formed proposals in this case because the local authority did not at the stage the order was made accept that an order should be made. This was not a case of a local authority being difficult. The only time available to the local authority to put together their proposals was the time during which the hearing was taking place where the local authority was not a party and its witness was not its decision maker. What was needed was more time for mature consideration. A plan, using that word in its non-technical sense, would of necessity have been skeletal and would probably not have extended beyond describing the means of recovery, the immediate placement into which A would go and the assessment or other planning process to decide what to do next. At the very least the court should have found time to give consideration to this question.

 

The fact that the Local Authority were present and were saying that there shouldn’t be an order ought to have given someone pause for thought. This course of action was always likely to go wrong.

 

The Court’s failure to consider the effect on the children of being separated from each other was also damning

 

I need not do more than state the obvious in a case of this nature. As young people who have experienced family courts, public care and relationship breakdown make very clear in, for example, the proceedings of the Young Peoples Board of the Family Justice Board, the separation of siblings can be one of the most traumatic elements of their experience, particularly where no provision is made for the sibling relationship to be maintained so as to safeguard their long term welfare into adulthood. Generalisations are dangerous, the intensity of sibling relationships can be very different and this court has not been taken to any of the research studies that consider this issue. However, it is sufficient to say that a sibling relationship is central to both the article 8 respect for family life which is engaged in a decision to make a public law order such as an interim care order and welfare, which by section 1 CA 1989 is the court’s paramount consideration when it ‘determines any question with respect to the upbringing of a child’. It will be a relevant factor in all or nearly all of the section 1(3) factors to which the court is required to have regard.
 

The absence of a value judgment soundly based in evidence about the effects on each of them of the separation of the boys was, in my judgment, almost as fundamental a flaw on the facts of this case as the failure to consider the safety issue and the proportionality of interference in relation to A. It went directly to the quality of the outcome of the court’s intervention for each of the boys.

 

The Judge met with the boys (in the proper way) but unfortunately her impression and observation of the boys leaked into her judgment  (Non-lawyers note, it is acceptable for a Judge to meet children for the purposes of explaining  who she is and what the Judge’s role is, and possibly for very very general chat, but not for the purpose of gaining evidence. We wait to see whether the Ministry of Justices proposal that children should routinely be able to meet Judges will change this, but that’s the current law)

 

The boys saw the judge but were told this was not an opportunity to discuss any issues in the case including their wishes and feelings. It is plain from the transcript of the discussion that they could not believe what they were hearing and the judge observed that ‘they were very concerned and very disappointed’. The judge in seeking to avoid a discussion about the evidence clearly felt unable to listen to them. She entered into a discussion about the inadvisability of the boys’ written communications that it is difficult to characterise as being other than an admonition. They boys left the process distressed and apparently even more convinced in their view that no-one was prepared to listen to them.
 

This case has not been about judges seeing young people. I shall return briefly to the wealth of material on that topic. The question which arose out of the discussion with the boys was whether, despite her best intentions, the judge inappropriately relied upon her impressions of the boys and what they said to her to come to conclusions in the case. Sadly, perhaps as an inevitable consequence of the charged emotions in this case, the judge made that error. There are a number of passages in her judgment where the problem is highlighted. I shall choose three:
 

“[26] The findings that I make on this evidence need to be considered in the context of the opportunity I had to meet with the boys this morning. The parties are aware that I felt that they are at the moment presenting as being rather out of control, not subject to parental influence or indeed able to set appropriate boundaries for themselves. I also formed the view that they had perhaps rather lost touch with reality in relation to what was going on and I do have a concern that they are rather immature and may somehow view this as some sort of fantasy adventure.
[…]
[24] […] My own experience this morning is that these children could exhibit considerable distress and yet were able to calm themselves very quickly and the word ‘histrionic’ was exactly the one which I would have used in relation to their behaviour that I observed.
[…]
[47] I was particularly struck by something that the Guardian said, which is that “it is almost like the children expect someone to put their arms around them and to say ‘do not do this anymore'”. Again that exactly resonated with my own assessment after seeing the children this morning. They are out of control. “
I need go no further than the recent judgment of this court in Re KP (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 554 for a comprehensive statement of the law that takes account of the Family Justice Council’s [FJC] April 2010 ‘Guidelines for Judges Meeting Children who are Subject to Family Proceedings’ [2010] 2 FLR 1872, the FJC’s Working Party December 2011 ‘Guidelines on Children Giving Evidence in Family Proceedings’ [2012] Fam Law 79 and the recent decision of the Supreme Court in the Matter of LC (Children) (Reunite International Child Abduction Centre intervening) [2014] UKSC 1, [2014] 2 WLR 124. It remains an essential principle of the guidance and the relevant authorities that a meeting with a child is not for the purpose of gathering evidence. There is likewise an emphasis on the court hearing the voice of a child and of the court reminding itself that a child’s wishes and feelings may not be capable of being represented to the court by the adult parties. The court should ensure that the child’s access to justice is effective, whether that be through formal separate legal representation or the offices of a guardian, a family court advisor or a parent. Even where formal representation is appropriate there is a wide discretion in the court to determine the extent of a child’s participation.
 

I have regrettably come to the clear conclusion that the judge’s discussions with the boys strayed beyond reassurance, explanation and listening. It was certainly not the latter and to the extent that the boys needed it to be, the judge could and should have adopted the practice of listening, disclosing what was said and not placing reliance on it in her judgment. It is entirely possible to listen without gathering evidence. Where a process is intended to or as here inadvertently leads to evidence being gathered, including by very firm impressions and judicial assessments about the boys’ needs, wishes, feelings, behaviours and the risks which their own needs might occasion, then consideration should be given to whether that evidence should be gathered or considered by a suitable neutral person (an expert or a guardian who is not conflicted). In a case where the conflict that had arisen in this case does not exist, the children’s guardian could have been asked to sit in with the judge or read the transcript of the discussion to assess the material in context. A process needed to be agreed that permitted the evidence to be challenged without harming the boys themselves.
 

The judge’s reliance on her own assessments of the boys derived from her discussion with them was procedurally unfair and to the extent that her primary concern was that they were ‘out of control’ it dominated her thinking. That was a value judgment derived from evidence gathered by the judge in a discussion that was not intended for that purpose and which could not be effectively challenged by others.

 

 

Sadly, with a string of appeal points  being upheld, there was never any doubt that this appeal would succeed. I think the Court of Appeal were right to recognise that there are cases in which Judges are urged and feel that a decision has to be taken  (the politician’s syllogism – “Something must be done”  – “This is something” – “Therefore we must do this”   and that hard as it is to tell people that the decision needs more evidence, more analysis and more thought, with an unsatisfactory status quo remaining in the interim, sometimes that is the right thing for a Judge to do.   The Court of Appeal also remind the parents that the extent of their adult quarrel has been very damaging to their two children.

 

55.The judge in this case was not well served by the evidence or the problems created in part by the history of the case and the supposed urgency of the situation. The circumstances that dominated the hearing were not those which were the most important in the case and she was left to make a decision with poor quality material. Although articulate and intelligent, the father was a litigant in person who would have been simply unable without legal assistance to pursue the legal issues that have been pursued before this court. I question whether in the absence of legal representation he is able properly to put forward a sustainable position to the court.
56. The absence of a determination on the question of separate representation and the severe conflict that has arisen between the boys and their guardian and solicitor mean that I am persuaded that they have not been afforded access to justice. A separate representation application must be properly considered with evidence as soon as possible. I say to the boys who should be asked whether they wish to read this judgment, that the degree to which they may be harmed by being even further enmeshed in their parents’ conflict and inappropriately being involved in the decisions that have to be made by adults, will have to be balanced by the harm that is being done by their perception that no-one is listening to them. The conclusion of an application is by no means clear but whatever the conclusion is, it must provide for them to be listened to and to participate to an appropriate extent.
 

57.I return in conclusion to the boys’ parents. Mother should not and must not continue to believe that she can override the repeated conclusions of the court. It is, as the court has repeatedly said, desirable that the boys should have a close parental relationship with their father. The mother’s approach has contributed to the damage that has been caused to the boys’ emotional welfare. This cannot continue. The father must understand that the court cannot achieve the impossible. He has been responsible for at least some of the conflict that exists and the boys have suffered because of that.
 

58. The problem in this case is the maintenance of a meaningful relationship between the boys and their father. As is too frequently the case, the problem was caused by the parents of the children who are locked into a damaging, deteriorating spiral of conflict which desperately needs to be resolved. Without that resolution, whatever the court orders and no matter what steps are taken to enforce the court’s orders, harm will continue to be caused to the children. Cases of this kind are unhelpfully and generically referred to as ‘implacable hostility’ cases because of the parental conflict that exists. The label provides no insight into or assistance with the myriad of circumstances and features that such cases present.
 

59. Mothers, fathers or both are just as likely to be responsible for the precipitating circumstances in such a case which may be far removed from and are sometimes if not often, irrelevant to the conflict which endures. Such research as there is into available and workable solutions suggests either a) that there should be a careful analysis of the reasons for the conflict by fact finding to identify and assess risk to the children and sometimes to one or other of the adults and/or b) that if the reasons for the conflict do not present identifiable risks to the children or their carer and sometimes even if they do, a resolutions approach to the conflict can be adopted to try and resolve it by professional intervention such as individual or family therapy, external support from local authority children’s services or education and assistance from the various parenting programmes and activity directions that are now available under the CA 1989 or otherwise. Sometimes it is necessary to fundamentally alter a child’s arrangements by removing that child from the adverse influence and control of one parent by placing the child with the other parent and making a child arrangements order that has the effect of limiting the relationship with the harmful parent. In an extreme case (and I emphasise they are and should be rare) where the child is suffering significant harm or is likely to suffer significant harm, the court can intervene and exercise its ultimate protective function by removing the child from its parents and by placing the child into public care so that the local authority shares parental responsibility with the parents.
 

60. The removal of a child from the care of a parent whether by a transfer of living arrangements from one parent to another or by placing the child into public care is not and must never be a coercive or punitive measure. It is a protective step grounded in the best interest of the child concerned. In so far as there was a perception in this case that either the transfer of the conditional residence of the boys to their father by the Recorder or their subsequent removal from their mother was a punishment of the boys for their behaviour and for being unwilling to accept contact with their father, then that was inappropriate.
 

61, For a family to be facing the possibility of a wholesale change of living arrangements between parents because of the harm that one or both of the parents is causing is bad enough, for a family to face the removal of children into public care when they are both capable of caring for their children is, frankly, sad beyond measure. This is such a family. I say that without attributing any causative blame to one parent or the other in the sense of saying that one or other parent is responsible for the problem that now arises. That may or may not need to be determined by a fact finding exercise. This court does not yet know. Where the parents are to blame is that neither of them has facilitated a joint approach to the resolution of their conflict for the benefit of their children. It is time for this court to start saying that which is obvious. The family court is empowered to make decisions for parents who cannot make them for themselves but it cannot parent the children who are involved. When parents delegate their parental responsibility to the court to make a decision, that decision will be in the form of an order. The court cannot countenance its orders being ignored or flouted unless an appropriate and lawful agreement can otherwise be reached. That is not simply to preserve the authority of the court, it is to prevent continuing and worsening harm to the children concerned. Parents who come to court must do that which the court decides unless they agree they can do better and there is no court order that prevents that agreement.
In this case, the parents were both to have a meaningful relationship with their sons. That should have involved active practical and emotional steps to be taken by both parents to make it work. Instead the case is suffused with anger and arrogant position taking that has nothing to do with the children. There has undoubtedly been mutual denigration, true allegations, false allegations, irrelevant allegations, insults, wrongly perceived insults and the manipulation of the boys to an outrageous degree. The idea that the court can wave a magic wand and cure all of those ills is dangerously wrong. It cannot – its function is to make a decision. It does not have available to it a supply of experts, be they psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, counsellors, drug, alcohol and domestic violence rehabilitation units, social and welfare professionals or even lawyers who can be ‘allocated’ to families. Experts that the court relies upon are either forensic experts i.e. they are specifically instructed to advise upon the evidence in a case or they are experts who are fortuitously already involved with the family through one agency or another. Their role in proceedings is to advise the court. There is no budget to employ them or anyone else to implement the court’s decision save in the most limited circumstances through the local authority, Cafcass or voluntary agencies.
One can only sympathise with any family court judge who is faced with such a case. There are no right answers but inevitably there are many wrong answers. To make it worse, in this case, the proceedings had to be re-allocated because of judicial indisposition so that the new judge came to the case without the detailed knowledge of the previous ten years of litigation. The hearing was said to be urgent so that, no doubt, all other judicial work stopped and the case took priority. It was said to be a case that needed an immediate order. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and the nearest a first instance family judge can get to it is to take time for reflection.

 

 

 

What is wardship?

 

I suspect that there will be a few people, including some journalists, who want to understand what Wardship is today.  (If it is okay, I’m going to try not to say too much about Aysha King specifically today, because the case is now before the Court and hasn’t been decided – the case is now in the High Court, a wardship order has been applied for and the Judge Mr Justice Baker has adjourned the case until Monday, to give the parents time to get lawyers and put their own position before the Court. But I will touch on what these things might mean for the King family at various points)

 

What is wardship?

 

If you aren’t a family lawyer, the only time you’ll have come across someone being a Ward is Dick Grayson being Bruce Wayne’s ward. (which seemed to involve very little in the form of care and nurture and much more in the form of dressing up garishly and fighting armed goons)

Wardship is quite an old phenomenon whereby a High Court Judge makes decisions about what is best for a child and no significant steps can be taken in relation to that child without the Court approving it. They were very common pre Children Act 1989 and were at that stage a creation of common law (i.e the law about Wardship was invented and adapted by Judges, rather than having been a law invented by Parliament and set down in an Act)

 

In fact, pre Children Act 1989 they were often a route for children being taken away from parents and placed into the care of a Local Authority.  (there was a power in the Family Reform Act 1969 to let them do just that, so the power kicked around for twenty years)

 

{Edit – am grateful to David Burrows for advising me that the child becomes a ward of Court on issue of the application, though the Court can of course decide whether that continues once they hear the case}

 

What are the powers of Wardship?

Wardship is part of the High Court’s Inherent Jurisdiction, and as long-term readers will know, the High Court is very fond of using the Inherent Jurisdiction as authority for doing just about anything, and often use the phrase “the powers of Inherent Jurisdiction are theoretically limitless”

 

The Practice Direction 12 D is quite helpful in explaining Wardship

https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/family/practice_directions/pd_part_12d

1.1
It is the duty of the court under its inherent jurisdiction to ensure that a child who is the subject of proceedings is protected and properly taken care of. The court may in exercising its inherent jurisdiction make any order or determine any issue in respect of a child unless limited by case law or statute. Such proceedings should not be commenced unless it is clear that the issues concerning the child cannot be resolved under the Children Act 1989.
1.2
The court may under its inherent jurisdiction, in addition to all of the orders which can be made in family proceedings, make a wide range of injunctions for the child’s protection of which the following are the most common –

(a) orders to restrain publicity;
(b) orders to prevent an undesirable association;
(c) orders relating to medical treatment;
(d) orders to protect abducted children, or children where the case has another substantial foreign element; and
(e) orders for the return of children to and from another state.

 

[You can see that (c) and (e) are pretty relevant to Aysha's case]

Let’s look at it this way – the Children Act is like Batman – there are all sorts of powers and tools and gadgets in there, but they are all prescribed and laid out. You know if you bump into Batman that he has fighting prowess and Batarangs and Shark Repellent. But he can’t suddenly fly or shoot laser beams from his eyes or lift up a train. There are limits to Batman’s capabilities and we know what they are.  The Inherent Jurisdiction is more like Superman –  he can do pretty much anything you can think of (including, if you rely on the movies, flying around the world backwards to turn back time…  LET IT GO, Suesspicious Minds, get over it)

 

And just like Superman, Inherent Jurisdiction has huge power, but it also has Kryptonite

 

What can’t be done under wardship?

 

When the Children Act 1989 was being devised, there were people who wanted to get rid of wardship altogether, but they were finally persuaded to keep it, but to put into the Children Act 1989 a limit to its power.

 

s100 Children Act 1989 Restrictions on use of wardship jurisdiction.

(1)Section 7 of the M1Family Law Reform Act 1969 (which gives the High Court power to place a ward of court in the care, or under the supervision, of a local authority) shall cease to have effect.

(2)No court shall exercise the High Court’s inherent jurisdiction with respect to children—

(a)so as to require a child to be placed in the care, or put under the supervision, of a local authority;

(b)so as to require a child to be accommodated by or on behalf of a local authority;

(c)so as to make a child who is the subject of a care order a ward of court; or

(d)for the purpose of conferring on any local authority power to determine any question which has arisen, or which may arise, in connection with any aspect of parental responsibility for a child.

(3)No application for any exercise of the court’s inherent jurisdiction with respect to children may be made by a local authority unless the authority have obtained the leave of the court.

(4)The court may only grant leave if it is satisfied that—

(a)the result which the authority wish to achieve could not be achieved through the making of any order of a kind to which subsection (5) applies; and

(b)there is reasonable cause to believe that if the court’s inherent jurisdiction is not exercised with respect to the child he is likely to suffer significant harm.

(5)This subsection applies to any order—

(a)made otherwise than in the exercise of the court’s inherent jurisdiction; and

(b)which the local authority is entitled to apply for (assuming, in the case of any application which may only be made with leave, that leave is granted).

 

 

English please?

 

(i) The Court can’t use wardship to put a child in the care of the Local Authority.  That is important because otherwise it would let Judges put children into care even where the threshold criteria for making Care Orders wasn’t met.    [For Aysha's case, that means that even if the Court make a wardship order, that does not amount to the child coming into care]

(ii) The Court can’t make a wardship order and then say “Local Authority, you make the decisions, I’ll leave it to your discretion”  – if there’s a wardship order, the High Court have to make the individual decisions

(iii) The Court can’t use wardship to do something that could be achieved by any other power in the Children Act   (i.e if you can get the job with Batman, Superman won’t be able to show up and help even if you prefer Superman)

 

Also, although this is not spoken of very often, all of the Human Rights Act provisions apply to wardship cases – so there is the article 6 right to fair trial and the article 8 right to private and family life which means that wardship can only be made if it is PROPORTIONATE and NECESSARY.    [There's an intriguing section of the Supreme Court judgment in Re B, where Lord Neuberger is talking about article 8's "necessary" test and says that for those purposes he adopts Lady Hale's formulation of "nothing else will do"   - that doesn't seem to have been picked up on generally yet to the extent that it was picked up on for Adoption cases]

 

Who can apply for wardship?

 

As you can see from the Kryptonite section, the Local Authority can apply, but ONLY if they can satisfy the Court that there is reasonable cause to believe that failure to apply would be likely to cause significant harm to the child. That is not an easy hurdle to cross – particularly since if that test applies they would have remedies under the Children Act 1989  (Emergency Protection Order, Interim Care Order, Recovery Order)

They can also be issued by a connected person, generally a parent  – and that’s usually where there’s a fear of abduction of the child to another country or an attempt to get the child returned.

Wardship applications can, and have, been issued by hospital Trusts seeking a declaration from the Court about medical treatment for a child, and that’s probably what has happened in Aysha’s case.

It is theoretically possible that the police could apply, but I’ve never come across such a case.  They might be reluctant to do so, since making the child a ward of Court means that the child can’t be interviewed without approval of the Court.

 

When does wardship run out?

 

It runs for as long as the Court want it to last, but the longest it can last is until the child is no longer a child. There aren’t any formal applications to discharge or revoke a Wardship order, but in practice, a person would seek a hearing before the High Court to persuade the High Court that wardship was no longer needed.

 

What about getting free legal advice?

 

This is a tricky question. If there’s an application for care proceedings, then the parent automatically gets what is called “non means, non merit” public funding  – what does that mean? Well, it means that a parent gets free legal advice and representation to fight the case even if they are a millionaire  (non means) or even if someone looking at the case would think that their argument is poor (non merits)

The next tier of public funding is those matters set out in Schedule 1 of LASPO http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/10/schedule/1/enacted  which can get public funding if they meet a means and merit assessment. Wardship is NOT in there.

Eep. What now?

Well, the final tier is Exceptional funding under s10* of LASPO.  If you are a lawyer, you are already wincing. This allows the Legal Aid Agency to grant free legal advice to exceptional cases where not having free legal advice would breach a person’s human rights.  Hardly ANY of these have been granted.

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/four-family-law-applications-for-exceptional-case-funding-have-been-granted-between-april-and-june-2014#.VAXrAGOgktV

In the last year, of 821 applications, 8 were granted. And only 4 for family cases.

 

Even if you could get public funding on exceptional circumstances – well the bad news is that that is still means tested.  What does that mean? Well, it means that if you have capital over £8000, you can’t get free legal representation.

(If you are wondering, yes, the Legal Aid Agency would treat all of the King family’s savings, and any donations for the treatment fund as capital.  It is not money that they would disregard or ignore. At the moment, this case is a police/nhs scandal, but it is about to become a legal aid scandal too)

 

What are your options if you CAN’T get free legal advice?

 

You could represent yourself. Not ideal in the High Court, dealing with life-changing and complicated things.

You could arrange a McKenzie Friend. There are some good and helpful ones, but a stand-alone wardship case is really very difficult.

You could contact the bar pro bono unit  (there are lawyers who will represent you for free.  http://www.barprobono.org.uk/

Or you could instruct lawyers paying privately and hope to win the case and get a costs order against the applicant. Cost orders aren’t easy, since if the applicant made the application in good faith and has not behaved dreadfully, it isn’t as simple as just “If there’s no wardship order the other side will have to pay costs”   – having said that, in a case like this, where the parents would be spending money that they want to spend on treatment, there might well be a sympathetic consideration of any costs application.

 

 

 

*{corrected, from s11 LASPO, my mistake. Thanks to David Burrows for spotting it}

Machetes, body armour and social work bashing

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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