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Category Archives: case law

A heartbreaking case of staggering genius

 

It isn’t really heartbreaking – when you read about how two people are arguing about how to divide a fortune of £144 million it stirs up the expression ‘my heart bleeds’, but it is a case where Holman J tackles the word ‘genius’   – and his approach interested me.

Gray v Work 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/834.html

 

It so happens that I agree with Holman J that the word is massively overused.  Just as a quick random sampling – 458,000 hits for “wayne rooney genius” and 35 million for ‘george north genius’  – both of whom are exceptionally talented and gifted sportsmen, but they aren’t geniuses  (geni-ii?)

  1. Paragraph 80 of Charman, excerpted in paragraph (vi) above, is one of several authorities that employ the word “genius”. It appears also in Lambert, and very recently in Cooper-Hohn, and in other authorities in which the court has debated whether the person claiming a special contribution possesses the quality of “genius.” I personally find that a difficult, and perhaps unhelpful, word in this context. To my mind, the word “genius” tends to be over-used and is properly reserved for Leonardo Da Vinci, Mozart, Einstein, and others like them. It may lead, as it did in this case, to the rather crude question to (in this case) the husband: “You don’t describe yourself as a genius, do you?” Not surprisingly, the husband, like any person with a modicum of modesty, was rather nonplussed by the question. Oscar Wilde is famously said to have declared that he had nothing to declare but his genius. More modest, even if exceptionally talented, people may be slow to make such a claim.
  2. What I understand is meant by the word “genius” in this context, and what is required for a claim to a special contribution to succeed, is some “exceptional and individual quality which deserves special treatment.” See Charman at paragraph 80. But the fact that judges have used the word “genius” in this context does tend to underline how exceptional, individual and special the quality has to be.
  3. It is clear from the above propositions and the outcome in other cases that hard work alone is not enough. Many people work extremely hard at every level of society and employment. Hard work alone lacks the necessary quality of exceptionality. Further, to attach special weight to hard work in employment risks undervaluing in a highly discriminatory way the hard work involved in running a home and rearing children.
  4. It is clear also that a successful claim to a special contribution requires some exceptional and individual quality in the spouse concerned. Being in the right place at the right time, or benefiting from a period of boom is not enough. It may one day fall for consideration whether a very highly paid footballer, who is very good at his job but may be no more skilful that past greats, such as Stanley Matthews or Bobby Charlton, makes a special contribution or is merely the lucky beneficiary of the colossal payments now made possible by the sale of television rights.

 

[I think personally I would go with Da Vinci, Mozart, Darwin and Einstein, and I don’t tend to use genius for anyone else – I know that my definition is narrow. {I wrestled with including Orwell, but had to finally conclude that this would open the door to too many others. If Sherlock Holmes had been a real person, would he have been a genius? Just short, I think.}  It would be a definition which means that the special contribution ancillary relief test would not be met for anyone, were I deciding it, since those four men are long gone. And actually it conflicts with the second definition in the dictionary

an exceptionally intelligent person or one with exceptional skill in a particular area of activity.  So in the unlikely event that I was sitting on the Court of Appeal, I would overrule my own definition as being wrong…]
The other issue of general application relates to the ever popular (and I use ‘popular’ here to mean ‘hatefully recurring and more difficult to ignore than one would ideally like’ as in “One Direction are a very popular band”) theme of excessively large bundles
  1. The parties have spent approaching £3,000,000 on legal fees and associated expenditure. For that, you get very high quality legal teams, and each of them has been very well represented, but it does not appear to have facilitated a conciliatory outcome to this case.
  2. Further, some of the spending has been, in my view, profligate and unnecessary. Ordinary people litigating in the family courts about very serious issues, such as whether their children should be adopted or returned from care or whether life support of a child should be maintained or ended, do not have the luxury of, nor, frankly, the need for, two shorthand writers in court throughout the hearing, producing overnight transcripts to which negligible reference was later made. It is an extravagance. Whilst it was a privilege to hear from two Texan matrimonial lawyers, I do not think the cost of their travel and attendance was justifiable or necessary.
  3. The bundles were excessive and proved inconvenient for me, for witnesses who struggled with them in the witness box, and at least at one stage for Mr Howard QC. At one point we had the absurdity of going to one bundle for a letter and another bundle for the reply. There was a pre-trial hearing before a circuit judge on 3rd December 2014. He had no other involvement in the case either before or after that day. Amongst many other directions, he did formally give “permission for the trial bundle to be extended to six lever arch files…” I asked Mr Tim Bishop QC, who appeared on behalf of the wife, and who was present on 3rd December 2014, whether the circuit judge had exercised his own independent discretion in agreeing to six bundles, or whether he had been seduced by counsel. Mr Bishop immediately and frankly said that the judge had been seduced by counsel and that it was not an independent assessment by the judge. It was rubber stamped. This is not how the very important Practice Direction 27A is intended to be applied. Further, the cardinal and over arching words of the practice direction are the opening words of paragraph 4.1: “The bundle shall contain copies of only those documents which are relevant to the hearing and which it is necessary for the court to read or which will actually be referred to during the hearing …” However many bundles the court may authorise, there should be no document within them which does not fall within that rubric in paragraph 4.1. I have not kept a tally in the present case, but I am confident that the total number of documents read or referred to is less than half the total of well over two thousand pages assembled in the bundles.
  4. In his judgment in L (a child) [2015] EWFC 15, handed down last week, the President of the Family Division has given due and crystal clear warning that these excesses will no longer be tolerated. What I wish to emphasise is that although that judgment related to care proceedings, every single word of the relevant part of it applies no less, and arguably more, to financial remedy proceedings.

I did rather like the language of whether in agreeing that there should be six bundles in the case, the Judge had been ‘seduced by counsel’.

I’m not sure that seduction efforts that involve allowing a Judge to permit additional lever arch files into evidence is going to be a subject matter that would particularly tempt Hollywood into incorporating it into Rom-coms, and probably it will be a while before my huge rollercoaster of a script “Pride and Pagination” gets picked up by Hugh Grant, but a man can dream.    [My action-ancillary-adventure movie starring Matt Damon  “The Besterman Cushion” is in post-production, so there’s that]

[I would have to say that having a letter in one bundle and the reply to that letter in a different one is fairly illustrative of things having gotten completely out of hand]

It is different counsel who later on posits that in the list of assets that the wife has suggested should be transferred to her contains some ‘duffs’ as well as ‘plums’  – I don’t think I am anywhere near well-bred enough to ever get away with using it; but I still liked it.

  1. The wife and her legal team have attempted to avoid the dispute as to discounts by proposing what they call Wells v Wells sharing. They have identified about 24 assets in the asset schedule which they suggest should be transferred in whole or in part to the wife, inclusive of any inherent discount. Whilst I welcome and appreciate their desire to minimise costs and potential further litigation, I am unable to accept that proposal. The present hearing has been largely occupied with the evidence and argument as to the two issues of the agreement and of special contribution. There simply has not been time, in the time estimated and allotted for this hearing, to hear either evidence or argument as to discounts.
  2. Mr Bishop says that their proposed Wells v Wells sharing list contains “duffs” as well as “plums”. But that is mere assertion. I am simply unable to engage judicially in consideration of discounts, save on an item by item basis, upon which the court would need to hear both evidence and argument.

The case is well worth a read if you do ancillary relief, or enjoy watching very well paid lawyers squabble about millionaire’s money. The husband clearly had cojones that would have been setting off the security metal detector given that they began with an offer that was 2% to the wife, 98% to the husband and over the course of the hearing shifted that.

Very sensible, to shift.

But probably not from 2% to 0%.

The wife ended up with 50%  – which one might have thought was a result that one could have guessed at without spending three million on lawyers, but I suppose if you thought you could get away with 98% of the assets it was worth a punt.

 

Yet another of those big money cases that ate up precious High Court time, for a very small fee. I do wonder if the time has come for the Court to get a percentage of the assets in dispute where one is dealing with sums over twenty five million. The ancillary relief Court fee of £255 is not touching the sides of what these cases are actually costing the taxpayer.

Crime and care

 

This was an appeal decision, which really arose from the Court in care proceedings making findings that sexual abuse allegations against a father were proven (and then making Care Orders and Placement Orders) and the criminal trial then going down the route that the allegations were concocted and the jury unanimously acquitting the father.

The father applied for a re-hearing of the care proceedings.  As part of that re-hearing, it was vital to see exactly what the Judge in the criminal proceedings had said as part of his summing up to the jury before their acquittal. That information was very slow in coming forward and the Judge in the care proceedings refused father’s application for an adjournment to get that evidence.

 

Thus resulting in the summary of this case being :-

Appeal against refusal of an application for an adjournment of an application made by the appellant father for a re-hearing of care proceedings. Appeal dismissed.   {via Family Lore}

John Bolch at Family Lore managed to compress the nub of the appeal into a very short space, with remarkable economy.

Re U (Children) 2015  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/334.html

 

[I have to say that I don’t entirely agree with the Court of Appeal on this one. I’m not saying that I would necessarily have overturned the original findings, but I would have wanted to see exactly what the Judge in the criminal Court directed the jury, and probably the transcripts of evidence in the criminal case before deciding whether this was important fresh evidence]

In the care proceedings, there had been a number of allegations including of physical abuse, but the allegation in question was of a sexual nature.  The parents case was that these allegations were false and had been put into the child’s mind by a community worker named Raj.

 

  1. The final category of allegation made by ZU alone, was that she had been sexually abused by her father. The judge made findings set out in the schedule in relation to 4 occasions of attempted rape or sexual abuse. In addition to evidence of ZU and the parents, the court also heard evidence in relation to the sexual abuse allegations from a Miss Y and also from a community worker known as Raj.
  2. Raj was a community worker who became involved with the family around the 25 May 2013. It was a short lived connection as Raj and the parents fell out and he was no longer welcome in the family home by the 7 June 2013. It was to Raj that ZU made her first allegation on the 11 June 2013 and it was Raj who supported ZU when she reported the matter to the Social Services and thereafter to the police on the 21 June 2013. This was the extent of his involvement, he gave no evidence in relation to the events surrounding the physical abuse, nor could he.
  3. The focus in both the care proceedings (in relation to ZU’s allegations of sexual abuse) and the subsequent criminal proceedings, was as to whether Raj was a malign and dishonest influence, who encouraged a vulnerable girl to make false allegations against her father in revenge for his having been slighted by them. The reason it was said that ZU would have been susceptible to such influence, was her own desire to see her parents separate and to punish her father for being too strict and not allowing her enough freedom.
  4. In the care proceedings the judge concluded that Raj was an honest and hardworking member of the Tamil community. He regarded Raj’s evidence as much more reliable than that of the parents in relation to the circumstances in which their relationship broke down. In this, he said, he was supported by the evidence of the social worker in relation to issues of timing and ZU in relation to the influence that he exerted over her. The judge found as a fact that Raj did not use his position, such as it was, to persuade ZU to tell lies because the family had slighted him.
  1. Evidence was given by Miss Y on behalf of the parents; Miss Y alleged that Raj had shown photos of young girls of a sexual nature, and that she had heard that Raj had acted towards the mother in a sexual way. The judge regarded Miss Y as “utterly unconvincing witness” clearly “partial and biased”. He did not accept her evidence and believed it likely that she had been “put up to it by the father or someone on the father’s behalf”.
  2. Accordingly the judge, having analysed various inconsistencies that he had identified in the girls’ evidence and considered reasons why ZU might have made up the allegations, concluded that they were true and accordingly made the findings.

The Judge in the care proceedings thus went on to make findings of fact that ZU had been sexually abused by the father.

There were, as I said earlier, other issues that went to threshold, including a finding that the children had been hit

 

The judge heard extensive oral evidence including (via video-link), evidence from ZU and AU. At the conclusion of the trial the judge made findings of physical and emotional abuse, and domestic violence. The findings of physical abuse made by the judge are summarised in a schedule presented to the court for the purposes of this hearing and include ZU and BU being assaulted by their father, he having beaten them with a wooden implement on 23 April 2013. This beating left ZU with, amongst other injuries, an area of severe bruising of 17 cm x 8 cm on her left forearm. Overall the judge concluded:

“Prior to the incident on the 23 April 2013, all members of the household (including all of the children, the mother and the paternal grandmother) had frequently been subjected to physical abuse by the father. The abuse against ZU, AU, the mother and the paternal grandmother was sometimes very serious. The abuse against ZU, AU and the grandmother included the use of implements at times. The physical abuse against BU was less serious and not very often, the abuse against the twins including them being smacked on their bottoms and on a few occasions they were hit when the father was hitting the mother or other members of the family who were then holding the children.”

The judge also found that the mother would on occasion, physically chastise the children, sometimes on the father’s instruction. The judge made the inevitable finding that the mother had failed to protect the children.

 

But, staying with ZU’s allegations of sexual abuse, the Judge in the care proceedings had concluded that the parents explanation that Raj had concocted these allegations and put them in ZU’s mind was not correct.

 

By the time the criminal proceedings took place, two months later, the mother, father, ZU and Raj all gave evidence and the father was acquitted of the sexual abuse allegations.

He then made an application for a re-hearing of the care proceedings, on the basis of what had happened during the criminal proceedings.

“5. It is understood that at the criminal trial of the father before HHJ Saggerson sitting with the jury ZU admitted under cross examination that she had only made allegations of sexual abuse against her father after she had met Raj and commenced a relationship with him. It is understood that she accepted her motivation had been to take revenge on her father as she desired that her parents separate. HHJ Saggerson directed the jury on the basis that there were many inconsistencies in the evidence given by ZU and that further the evidence of Raj could not be relied upon. The jury returned a unanimous verdict of “not guilty” and the father was acquitted.”

Remember that the criminal court is applying a higher standard of proof   [What most people still think of as ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ but is actually now to convict the juror must be persuaded ‘so that they are sure’ in percentage terms probably high 80s, if not 90s]  rather than the civil standard of proof in care proceedings [more likely than not – i.e 50.01% or more]

 

But this seemed to be more than a Judge just indicating that it was impossible to be sure, and verging towards an indication that the evidence of Raj and ZU was such that it would be unsafe to rely on it due to the flaws in it.

When considering the father’s application for re-hearing then, the substance of what the criminal Judge had said was vital.

  1. The local authority did not accept the accuracy of this summary in the absence of a transcript of the evidence or summing up. Accordingly when the matter came back before HHJ Wilding on the 27 October 2014, the application was adjourned by consent until 12 December 2014 to allow a transcript to be obtained. The order made by the judge on the 27 October 2014 contained a number of recitals including:

    And the court expresses the view that a transcript of the summing up by HHJ Saggerson in the trial of R v KU would assist the court in determining the issues.

  2. The matter came on before the judge on 12 December 2014, when unhappily, but perhaps predictably, the transcript remained unavailable notwithstanding that the requisite application form had been sent to the Crown Court by the proposed appellant’s solicitors some weeks previously.

 

On 12th December then, the father asked for an adjourment to get this evidence. The Court refused the adjournment and went on to consider the father’s application for a re-hearing in the absence of that evidence.

  1. The inevitable application for a further adjournment was made on behalf of the appellant in order for the transcript to be obtained. The application was opposed by both the local authority and the guardian, although supported by the mother. The judge refused the application for a further adjournment and set out his reasons in an extempore judgment. He then went on to hear the substantive application for a rehearing, which he refused for reasons to be given at a later date.

    The Refusal of the Adjournment

  2. The judge, as he identified in his extempore judgement, was faced with balancing two rival issues saying:

    “[8] Clearly there are a number of competing issues here. There is the need to ensure justice to the father and the mother and the children. There is a need to have finality in respect of the proceedings generally, but in relation to children particularly and to avoid delay. It is not I confess, an easy decision to make weighing up each of those factors.”

  3. The judge then weighed up, on the one hand the detriment to the welfare of the children in the event of further delay and on the other, the prejudice to the father if his ability to make an effective application for a rehearing was undermined by the denial of a further adjournment.

 

Of course, in a practical sense, the delay for the children still occurred, since the decision was appealed, and the appeal Court didn’t hear the case until mid March. It might have been a far less disruptive delay to have waited until mid January to actually get the transcript of the Judge’s summing up…

 

The Court of Appeal accepted that any decision made by the Judge hearing that application would be imperfect.

  1. When the judge heard the application for an adjournment on 12 December 2014, it was already 19 months since proceedings had been issued and over 5 months since the placement orders had been made. Had the judge allowed the adjournment, it was anticipated that it would be something in the region of 5 months from the date of the making of the application, until the next case management hearing, (just a little under the statutory time limit for the whole of a care case from beginning to end). It was accepted by Counsel that if he were to succeed in his ultimate goal to set aside the findings of sexual abuse, there would thereafter be further substantial delay for these children; the summing up when obtained would not be evidence in itself but would provide a pointer as to which, if any, transcripts of evidence from the criminal proceedings should be obtained for consideration by the court in determining the father’s application.
  2. In the event that the judge, having examined the transcripts of evidence ultimately allowed the case to be reopened, further delay would ensue as many months would inevitably pass before a retrial of the sexual abuse allegations could be accommodated. The judge was only too well aware that the two younger children, settled in their adoptive placement, were developing the attachments vital to their future well being, and that their prospective adoptive parents would be living with the near intolerable strain brought about by the protracted uncertainty as to the children’s future; strain which would necessarily impact on the family environment to the detriment of the children.
  3. The older children too were, and would be, further affected by delay. They were in foster care, still connected to their family and living with the uncertainty of whether the case had come to an end or whether, in AU’s case, she might have to give evidence again.
  4. If delay sat heavily on one side of the scales, on the other side was the prejudice to the father if he were unable to draw upon what he asserted to be the evidence in the criminal proceedings; evidence which it was submitted on his behalf, had led to an acquittal and which notwithstanding the differing standard of proof applicable in the two jurisdictions, significantly undermined the findings made in the care proceedings. The care judge recognised that there was little the father could do to further his application without more than the assertions he was putting forward as to the content of the summing up.
  5. The judge frankly recognised the difficulties inherent in whichever decision he reached, but a decision had to be made. This was a classic example of a case where any decision made by the judge would be “imperfect”.

 

With that in mind, the Court of Appeal considered that there had been a proper balancing exercise about the pros and cons of the father’s application for an adjournment and the Judge was right to refuse it

  1. In my judgment the judge was entitled to conclude that the balance lay in favour of refusing the application for a further adjournment. He properly identified the competing arguments and weighed each one up briefly but with care. He clearly had at the forefront of his mind the importance of the application and the potential prejudice to the father’s case which would result from a refusal. The judge had had the advantage of conducting a lengthy trial and of making his own assessment of the parties prior to making the findings of fact to the civil standard of proof. He appropriately considered the father’s case at its highest and properly bore in mind the other extensive findings, which were unaffected by the criminal trial and which were in themselves serious, before concluding that the further substantial delay which would be occasioned by a further adjournment could not be countenanced in the interests of the children.
  2. In my judgment the judge conducted the appropriate balancing exercise and reached a conclusion which cannot be categorised as wrong and accordingly I would dismiss Grounds 1–3 of the Grounds of Appeal which relate to the refusal to adjourn.

 

[It is really hard for me to put out of my mind that the reason father’s case was prejudiced here was not due to any inaction on his part or those acting for him, but on the delays in the Court process of obtaining a transcript that was so vitally important. The Court of Appeal have remarked many times on how slow the transcription of judgments for appeals has been and how the system gets bogged down. Here, that transcript was not just an informative document but a piece of evidence that the father was deprived of making use of, because the system is so unfit for purpose. That leaves a very bad taste in my mouth]

 

Having lost the argument that the application for an adjournment should have been granted rather than refused, the father was inevitably going to lose the second part of his appeal that the re-hearing should have been ordered.

  1. Application for a rehearing
  2. By Ground 5 the father seeks to appeal the judge’s dismissal of the substantive application for a rehearing pursuant to s31F(6) Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984.
  3. In considering this application the judge made his decision by reference to the test found in Re ZZ, (Children)(Care Proceedings: Review of Findings) [2014] EWFC 9;[2015] 1WLR 95, an approach which was not resisted by any of the parties. Re ZZ adopts a three part test first propounded by Charles J in Birmingham City Council v H and Others and adopted by the President in Re ZZ at [12] as:

    …Firstly the court considers whether it will permit any reconsideration or review of or challenge to the earlier finding…If it does the second and third stages relate to its approach to the exercise. The second stage relates to, and determines, the extent of the investigations and evidence concerning the review. The third stage is the hearing of the review and thus it is at this stage that the court decides the extent to which the earlier finding stands by applying the relevant tests to the circumstances then found to exist

  4. In considering the first stage the President said [33]

    ……one does not get beyond the first stage unless there is some real reason to believe that the earlier findings require revisiting. Mere speculation and hope are not enough. There must be solid grounds for challenge. But for my part I would be disinclined to set the test any higher.

  5. The judge explained that there was no evidence to support the father’s submission other than his own assertions about what had happened at the trial The judge’s decision to refuse to permit a reconsideration of the findings of sexual abuse did not rely exclusively on the absence of the availability of the summary of evidence that the father had hoped would be found within the summing up. The judge concluded there were no grounds, let alone solid grounds, for revisiting his findings. The judge pointed to the fact that he had seen and heard all the witnesses and that he was alert to the father’s case that ZU had ulterior motives for making the allegations. In relation to the criminal trial, the judge observed that even had the judge conducting the criminal trial said that which the father alleged he had in the summing up, care proceedings are conducted to a different standard of proof. The judge alluded also to the likelihood there was significantly more surrounding evidence available to the him as the judge in the care proceedings than that put before the jury in the criminal proceedings; an observation accepted on behalf of the father.
  6. Not only did the judge unequivocally conclude that the first limb of the test was not satisfied, but he referred to the other serious findings of physical and emotional abuse and domestic violence saying There is no suggestion… that those findings would not stand against the father, and indeed the mother. Finally the judge concluded that even had the father passed the first test in Re ZZ, there would be no reason for further investigation as there was more than adequate material which is unchallenged, to found the making of the orders that have been made in respect of each of the children.
  7. I agree with the analysis of the judge, who was well aware that his decision meant that the father would be unable to challenge the findings of sexual abuse. Given the totality of the unimpeachable findings and the need for finality in the interest of these four damaged children, I cannot see upon what basis the court could conclude that the earlier findings need revisiting in order for a court to reach the right decision in the interests of the children.
  8. I would accordingly dismiss the father’s appeal in relation to the substantive application for a rehearing of the finding of fact hearing.

 

I personally think that if the father had been able to obtain a transcript from the criminal trial showing that an experienced Judge had seen ZU and Raj crumble under forensic examination and shown themselves to be unreliable witnesses who had concocted this story and more importantly that ZU had accepted in her evidence that she HAD fabricated the allegations, that would have been enough to meet the test.

Of course, it might be that the transcript would, if obtained, fall substantially short of that. Perhaps father was over-stating it. Perhaps he was completely right. We will never know. It doesn’t seem that it even materialised for the Court of Appeal hearing.

Have the Courts here really upheld the father’s article 6 right to fair trial? Given that father was deprived of the key piece of evidence not because he was dilatory or hapless, but because the Court system for getting a vital transcript was so hopeless.

Well, they have upheld his Article 6 rights , because the Court of Appeal say so. But I haven’t read many Court of Appeal decisions that made me feel so squirmy and uncomfortable  (Cheshire West in Court of Appeal  was the last one I felt like this about)

section 20 and Brussels II

 

If section 20 voluntary accommodation has been the Wild West for most of the 25 year duration of the Children Act 1989, then in the last few years the Courts have been polishing up the sheriff badges and bringing law and order to the Wild West.  As a result, the territory that remains wild and lawless is shrinking, and may in a few years be limited to a bare patch of land with tumbleweed and old-timers chewing tobacco and relaying curious yarns of how things used to be, way back when.

[If you want to sing that every cowboy has a sad sad song, just as every rose has its thorns, now would be the time]

 

We have had:-

 

Re CA (A baby) 2012  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2012/2190.html

  1. However, the use of Section 20 is not unrestricted and must not be compulsion in disguise. In order for such an agreement to be lawful, the parent must have the requisite capacity to make that agreement. All consents given under Section 20 must be considered in the light of Sections 1-3 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
  2. Moreover, even where there is capacity, it is essential that any consent so obtained is properly informed and, at least where it results in detriment to the giver’s personal interest, is fairly obtained. That is implicit in a due regard for the giver’s rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
  3. Having made those observations, it is necessary specifically to consider how that may operate in respect of the separation of mother and child at the time of birth. The balance of this judgment is essentially limited to that situation, the one that arose in this case, though some observations will have a more general application.
  4. It is to be assumed (as was the fact in this case) that there were reasonable grounds for believing that the child and mother should be separated and that the officers

Re C (a child) 2014  – dealing with parents who were deaf and had cognitive issues  http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed128597

there was no provision for interpretation when the father made the important step of agreeing to his baby daughter being accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act. To rely upon the mother who, even if she did not have the unfortunate cognitive disability she has, to interpret complicated matters such as section 20 of the Children Act and the authority being given to the local authority to the father was to put an undue burden on her. Once one understands that she does have these disabilities, it seems to have been wholly inadequate for her to act as an interpreter for him at that crucial meeting

Re P (A child: Use of section 20) 2014 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2014/775.html

It goes without saying that it is totally inappropriate for a local authority to hold a child in s. 20 accommodation for 2 years without a plan. That is what happened here. The local authority has “disabled” these parents from being able to parent their child with every day of inactivity that has passed. The driver for the issue of proceedings was the parents’ lawyers making clear that they did not give their consent. To its credit LBR, during the hearings before me, has accepted its errors in this regard and has tried to make good but there needs to be a careful examination internally of how it was this family was treated in this way.

Northamptonshire and DS 2014 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/199.html   :- The use of the provisions of s.20 Children Act 1989 to accommodate was, in my judgment, seriously abused by the local authority in this case. I cannot conceive of circumstances where it would be appropriate to use those provisions to remove a very young baby from the care of its mother, save in the most exceptional of circumstances and where the removal is intended to be for a matter of days at most.

 

We can add to that now, this important passage from Hayden J in  RE SR (A child) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/742.html

I must emphasise that where there is, as here, obvious potential for a jurisdictional issue, protracted periods under section 20 voluntary arrangements are highly undesirable. For my part, I simply cannot see how it was ever thought that such an arrangement was appropriate in this case. It has led to avoidable delay and has proved to be inimical to SR’s welfare. Moreover, the objective within care proceedings must always be to consider any conflict of jurisdiction at the earliest stages and, if the matter needs to be tried, it should be so expeditiously.

 

In this case, there had been a very difficult argument about whether the child was habitually resident in England or Morocco. As you can see, the view of Hayden J was that section 20 was inappropriate in a case where there was a real issue about whether the English legal system had jurisdiction.

If you do Brussels II work, there is some very helpful advice about the Moroccan legal system as it relates to children, that would save hours of painful research.

I was persuaded, on the 12th January 2015, to permit instruction of an expert in Islamic and Middle Eastern Law to address key legal and cultural features of the Moroccan care system. Mr Andrew Allen was instructed, an expert in Islamic and Middle Eastern law, a practising barrister, formerly a Deputy Director of the Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law at the University of |London. The child’s solicitor took the lead in Mr Allen’s instruction. Nine questions were identified which were answered succinctly in summary following, a more detailed exegesis of the law. They were ultimately non contentious. To complete my summary of the competing jurisdictional frameworks I set them out in full:

1. What are the principles that determine an application under Moroccan law for the following orders in relation to a child:

(i) Parental responsibility or rights;

(ii) Custody; and

(iii) Access.

Both parents have parental responsibility. No application is required.

The basic principle applied in custody and access applications is the interests of the child.

2. Does Moroccan law provide as a matter of right or custom for custody changing from one parent to another or to another person during the course of a child’s childhood?

There is no shift from mother to father at a certain age, as is the case in some Muslim countries (unless the mother re-marries)Article 171 of the Mudawana provides that priority in terms of child custody goes first to the mother, then the father, then the maternal grandmother, unless a judge determines otherwise “in view of what would serve the interests of the child”. Applications can be made during a child’s minority and custody can shift. Article 170 states that “The right of custody shall be restored to the person entitled to it when the grounds for its withdrawal no longer exist. The court may reconsider custody when it is in the interests of the child.” Once a child is 15, the child may chose which parent to live with under Article 166.

3. Is there any form of public funding or legal aid available for making any application for orders identified in (1) above?

Public funding is theoretically available. I would tentatively suggest that the practicalities of finding a sufficiently informed lawyer to take on a case for a foreigner, under the Moroccan legal aid system are probably insurmountable.

4. Do the Moroccan courts have experience of recognising and enforcing orders between the UK and Morocco under the 1996 Hague Convention?

The Mudawana is drafted with express reference to Morocco’s international treaty obligations. I am unaware of any Moroccan case applying the 1996 Hague Convention in relation to the UK but the convention does apply as between Morocco and the UK. The existence of the Convention is not known by all Moroccan family judges. Its application is not uniform.

5. How long would it take for a Moroccan court to recognise and enforce an order made in England and Wales?

A Moroccan court would not simply ‘recognise and enforce’ a UK court order. It would give it due weight (in particular if the order is provided in Arabic translation). If Morocco became the habitual residence of SR, then the Moroccan Courts would have jurisdiction and will apply Moroccan law, taking into account UK law (or a UK court order) if appropriate. I do not have knowledge of how long any Moroccan family court process would typically take.

6. Can proceedings be initiated, and if they can which body would initiate them, in respect of a child who is suffering or may suffer significant harm in Morocco?

There is a child protection system in Morocco and the government of Morocco operates a child protection policy. However most child custody issues are sorted out within the family. There have been criticisms of the Moroccan child protection system as it has been applied to returned asylum seekers from mainland Europe (specifically Spain).[1] Under Article 177, the Office of the Public Prosecutor (which despite its name is a part of the judiciary and deals with civil, family and criminal matters) would initiate any court action necessary. Article 172 of the Mudawana states that “The court may resort to the assistance of a social worker to prepare a report on the custodian’s home and the extent to which it meets the material and moral needs of the child.”

7. In what circumstances would the proceedings contemplated in (6) be initiated?

In any of the situations covered by Article 54 of the Mudawana (as set out above).

8. Prior to the mother’s removal of SR from the jurisdiction of Morocco what rights did the father have under Moroccan law in relation to SR?

The father had obligations towards SR as a parent rather than rights. Custody would have gone to the mother under Article 171 of the Mudawana. The father would have had the right to contact under Article 180 and the right referred to in the question below.

9. Did the father have any right, without applying to court, to object to the removal of SR from Morocco by the mother?

Article 179 of the Mudawana gives the court the ability to impose restrictions. In the absence of a court order, the commentary that I have read appears consistently to state that a father must approve a child’s departure from Morocco. I have been unable to locate a specific statute or other piece of legislation confirming this point.

Your laws do not apply to me

I have written before about the Freeman of the Land phenomenon, last time using a Tom Jones lyric, this time it is Billy Bragg.

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/12/18/now-you-found-the-secret-code-i-use/

It doesn’t tend to work, when you try to use legal gibberish to persuade a Court that they have no power to deal with your case or make decisions.

Her Honour Judge Lynch dealt with this sort of thing very well in Re A Child 2015   (none of this is binding precedent but it is illuminating nonetheless)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B34.html

 

The backdrop to this was that very serious findings of sexual assault against the children were made against the step-father, and mother was found to have failed to protect. Criminal charges for these matters are pending against the step-father.

The mother and step-father in this case refused to participate in a social work assessment. An independent social work asssessment was arranged and they refused to participate in that too. They also made various applications in the High Court about the Judge.

Sadly, given how things turned out as a result of this, the mother had started off the proceedings in a much better way:-

At the very beginning of these proceedings the mother filed a statement acknowledging she could not put her head in the sand and needed to engage with the court process. She said that she realised she could not remain in a relationship with her husband due to the findings made against him and she said she was prepared to separate from him and put her daughter’s needs above her own. She said her husband accepted that and indeed he confirmed that in his own first statement.

That would have made her prospects of success at final hearing much better if she could have seen that through.

 

However, by final hearing, they were refusing to accept that the Court had any jurisdiction over them and the child and – this is a new one on me – they put their Child in Trust. They also refused to name the child. (presumably on the basis that if the child had no name then she did not exist as a legal entity. Wrong)

 

  1. Turning to the parents case, I should say at the outset it is very clear to me from the documentation they have filed that they do not accept the authority of this court to make decisions regarding their daughter. The father’s first statement from last July, prepared when he was represented by solicitors, exhibit a document setting out his principles and beliefs, relying on for example ‘Canons from the Canonum de Ius Positivum’. In the final documentation filed by the parents on 23 February they have provided a number of documents written in a quasi-legal fashion and which are not always easy to follow. It is maybe simplest to give a sense of this by quoting from the front page these words : “This skeleton argument is valid assertion of divine, inalienable and natural rights, and all right here asserted and reserved are subject to accepted law through justice as preserved by the Holy Bible, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, European Convention on Human Rights, Human Rights Act 1988, Bill of Rights, Lex Mercatoria, Treaty of International Law, Apostolic Letters issued motu proprio by the Pontiff Francis II”. I confess I have found it hard to make sense of their view of authority, their philosophical stance.
  2. The parents have also, as I understand their documentation, placed their child within family trust – as they put it, “we have settled her entire Legal Estate into a Private Trust”. As I understand it they take the view that disclosing information pertaining to the existence of the child would be a breach of that private trust, which to them includes the registration of their child’s birth.
  3. I am not going to address these issues in any detail but I am clear that this court operates within the legal structure of this country, is a lawful body, and has power to make decisions regarding this child. I do not accept that purporting to place her within a family trust precludes this court from making orders in respect of her.

 

The mother concludes in her final document : “Failure of the judge to consider that the Applicant has proven NO valid cause of action against 1st Respondent and the Applicant holds NO LEGAL TITLE and that 1st Respondent gives NO CONSENT to adoption will result in a clear breach of COMMON LAW, CONVENTION RIGHTS, FRAUD ACT, COURT RULES and all necessary laws that prohibit forced adoption and the judge will unfortunately be held personally liable for abuse of public office and the said breaches of any court order authorizing the abduction of 1st Respondent progeny.” [E183] She therefore requires that the child should be immediately returned to the care of both parents or alternatively the case should be transferred to a High Court judge to determine the case.

The Canons stuff is very peculiar if you look it up. http://one-heaven.org/canons/positive_law/    This is not some cobbled together “Property is theft and down with The Man” nonsense – this is something that somebody has put a LOT of effort into.  It might very well represent a different and better version of law than that used by sovereign states – I haven’t time to do the analysis.

But it is no more binding law than it would be binding for me to write down on a piece of paper  “George Osborne must pay Suesspicious Minds ten million pounds and Suesspicious Minds must be allowed to be in the next series of Game of Thrones and he must be allowed to be tougher than Bronn,  Ned Stark, the Hound and Oberyn Martell put together” and expect a Court to enforce it.

 

The parents declined to give evidence during the hearing. The local authority wished to cross-examine them and invited me to compel the parents to give evidence. I did so direct, warning them of the consequences, but each of the parents refused to give evidence. I have therefore had to look at their written evidence in the light of that refusal.

 

The judgment is very thoughtful, very careful and very fair. Sadly for this mother, her belief that this mumbo-jumbo would save her prevented her from the reality of her situation, that what she had said at the outset would probably have resulted in the child being with her, if she had stuck to it.

This mumbo-jumbo is dangerous.

You can rail against the law, argue that the law is unfair, campaign to change the law, try to change the law via appeals or lobbying your MP, but you can’t just put your fingers in your ears and say “This law doesn’t apply to me, la la la”

Children travelling to join ISIS

The Tower Hamlets case attracted quite a bit of media attention, and the judgment is now out. It contains quite a bit of practical guidance for all agencies where there is a concern that a child is going to be sent or going under their own volition to a country such as Syria with an intention that they join a terrorist organisation such as ISIS.

Tower Hamlets v M and Others 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/869.html

The case was heard, alongside another one mentioned in paragraph 6, by Mr Justice Hayden.

The Judge recognised that the seizure of the children’s passports did not require any evolution or extension of the law, but could be done under existing provisions, but did set out some practical recommendations to be followed.

 

  1. This course, though it arises in circumstances which do not have recent precedent, did not in any way require an evolution in the law itself. For example, the jurisdiction was recognised in Re A-K (Foreign Passport: Jurisdiction) [1997] 2 FLR 569.
  2. Both cases came before me last week on ex parte application. I was satisfied, on the evidence presented to me, both that the measures sought were proportionate and that there were strong grounds for believing the situation was urgent. I remain convinced of both.
  3. The removal of an individual’s passport, even on a temporary basis, be that of an adult or child, is a very significant incursion into the individual’s freedom and personal autonomy. It is never an order that can be made lightly. Where only the State, in this case through the arm of the local authority, appears in court, it must never be forgotten that the court requires a very high degree of candour on the part of all of those involved.

 

The Judge went on to explain that by candour, he did not just mean honesty and that this was a given, but that the evidence presented to the Court for such an application must be the fullest possible, and that even evidence that would seem to be harmful or hinder the application must be shared with the Court.

  1. Rather, I wish to emphasise that the fullest possible information must be placed before the court in an entirely unpartisan way. Both the evidence which supports the application and that which runs counter to its objectives. Nothing less than that will suffice.
  2. This duty, in such an application, extends not merely to counsel and solicitors but to all involved: police; social services; whichever professional capacity.
  3. Moreover, the lawyers involved must take great care to emphasise and reinforce this obligation to their lay and professional clients in clear and unambiguous terms. This very high degree of candour must also be accompanied by careful consideration as to whether the facts present a real degree of urgency, which of themselves necessitate an application being made on an ex parte basis.

There were a couple of points in the Tower Hamlets case that prompted that – the first being that the orders made necessarily required the police to take a number of actions – the Court had understood that the police were aware and supportive, only to learn at a later stage that the police were unhappy about some of the things they had been asked to do.

This was very serious. Counsel for the Local Authority had specifically addressed the Court on this, and his instructions had been plain that the police supported the Local Authority applications and said so unequivocally to the Court twice. [I will make it really plain that the Judge was satisfied that Counsel had been sold a pup, rather than was intentionally misleading the Court]

 

  1. I had been told by Mr Barnes, counsel who appears on behalf of Tower Hamlets, at the first hearing, on 20 March, when the Local Authority appeared alone, that the police supported the Local Authority’s actions. In fact, I twice asked whether that was the case, and twice Mr Barnes reassured me, unequivocally, that it was. I have no doubt at all that those were his instructions.

Hoerver, after the orders were made, it had become obvious that the police had not been as involved in the process as the Court had been led to understand. To the point that the police had been liaising with the High Court tipstaff about wanting to see if the passports could be handed over voluntarily by the families, and the Judge suspended his orders.

 

  1. However, on Saturday afternoon, I received a telephone call from the High Court Tipstaff to inform me that the police considered that they had not had proper chance to evaluate the risk identified in the Local Authority’s application. And insofar as they had, they considered that enforcement of the orders might not be required.
  2. In essence, I was told, they wished to see if it might be possible to secure the surrender of the passports, as contemplated by the orders, by cooperation with the families.
  3. In view of the fact that this information, given to the High Court Tipstaff, came from a team specialist in counter terrorism, and I have been told authorised at very senior level, I ordered the immediate suspension of my earlier order.

 

That is obviously extremely serious, and the Judge rightly explored it further on the return date.

  1. However, during the course of that hearing, Mr Barnes confirmed that a misleading impression had indeed been given by the Local Authority to the court on 20 March.
  2. Whilst it is correct to say that the police had been informed of the applications, as I was told, investigation of how and when they were told, undertaken at my insistence, revealed that they had only been notified of the application at around 2 o’clock on 20 March by email and had, therefore, no real chance to consider their response.
  3. I pause to say that by 3.30 that afternoon the Local Authority were already before me.
  4. I regret to say that I have concluded that the Local Authority consciously misrepresented the extent of the police awareness of this application. I do not reach that conclusion lightly. It is for this reason that I have felt it necessary to restate that which, to my mind, ought properly to be instinctive to every professional in this field, that is to say the very high degree of candour required in applications of this kind.

Very serious indeed.

 

The second was that there had been an issue over whether one of the children’s passports was (a) missing and (b) whether it was expired in any event. This was obviously a very critical point, given that what was being sought was orders to prevent the children leaving the country. The Court had been given information about this, in good faith, that later turned out not to be accurate. (It is all set out at the end of the judgment if you want to know more)

 

I should like to take this opportunity to distil a number of core principles.

(i) The lawyers should take care to draft, at very least in outline, the scope and ambit of the orders they seek and in respect of whom they seek it. This should be undertaken before coming to court. That will not only expedite the subsequent service of the orders on those concerned, it is also a crucial forensic discipline, compelling the lawyers to think in a properly focused manner about the specific orders they seek;

(ii) Thought should be given, from the very outset, as to how quickly the case can be restored on notice. This is the essential requisite of fairness in the process, now buttressed by article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights;

(iii) Even though these cases will, of necessity, be brought before the court in circumstances of urgency, they nonetheless require the instruction of senior and experienced lawyers. The issues have profound consequences, not limited to the individuals concerned, and will frequently require a delicate balancing of competing and potentially conflicting rights and interests;

(iv) All involved must recognise that in this particular process it is the interest of the individual child that is paramount. This cannot be eclipsed by wider considerations of counter terrorism policy or operations, but it must be recognised that the decision the court is being asked to take can only be arrived at against an informed understanding of that wider canvas. It is essential that the court be provided with that material in appropriate detail;

(v) It will never be satisfactory, in applications of this kind, merely to offer verbal assurance, through counsel or any other individual, that the police, security forces or those involved in counter terrorism, are aware of and support the application. There must in future always be ‘hard’ evidence, i.e evidence which is cogent and coherent, placed before the court and capable of being subject to appropriate scrutiny. The format of the evidence may vary from case to case. It may require a police presence in court. There may be the need for police/counter terrorism officers to be represented, written and sworn statements may sometimes suffice. On occasion evidence may be received by secure telephone or video link;

(vi) Justified interference with the article 8 rights of a minor will always require public scrutiny at some stage in the process. In both cases this week, the press attended. It was only necessary for them to withdraw on one occasion, at the request of a very senior police officer present in court, supported by the local authority. The request was made because sensitive issues of policy and national security arose. Transparency, that is to say the attendance of accredited press officials in court, remains the presumption here, as it now is in all aspects of the work of the family justice system;

(vii) Recognising that there will be an urgency to these applications, careful attention, in advance of the hearing, should be given to the framework of reporting restrictions required to protect the child from publicity. In this exercise, it should be remembered that some of the families involved may already have excited a degree of press coverage. Indeed, they may, on occasion, have sought it out. There is a risk that identification of the children might be revealed by piecing together information already in the public domain, i.e. the ‘jigsaw effect’. As, in paragraph 1 above, and for similar reasons, the restrictions contended for should be drafted before coming to court;

(viii) Though it may appear trite to say so, an evaluation of the reporting restrictions, as I have been reminded by the press this morning, should always have at the forefront of the exercise the reality that publicity is not confined to the conventional or recognised media outlets, but extends, with inevitably greater challenges, to the wide range of social media likely to be the primary sources of information for these children, their peers and those with whom they interact more generally;

(ix) The importance of coordinated strategy, predicated on open and respectful cooperation between all the safeguarding agencies involved, simply cannot be overstated. An ongoing dialogue in which each party respects, and I make no apology for repeating the word respect, the contribution of the other, is most likely to achieve good and informed decision making.

 

Gilded cage – junior edition

 

Those of you who follow deprivation of liberty cases will be aware that the landscape is markedly different after the Supreme Court in Cheshire West.  Just how different remains to be seen, as individual cases come before the Courts and are tackled.

 

Keehan J was faced with a difficult concrete example of the uncertainty following Cheshire West in

 

Re D (A Child :Deprivation of liberty) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/922.html

 

This case involved a boy, not quite sixteen, with considerable difficulties.

D was born on 23 April 1999 and is 15 years of age. He was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder at the age of 4, with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 7 and with Tourette’s syndrome at the age of 8.

 

He had been admitted to hospital for psychiatric treatment as a result and is just about to be discharged into a residential care setting. He had been on a locked psychiatric ward for 15 months. This is obviously a very high-end example.

 

In this case, as a result of the Cheshire West decision, there was considerable dispute about whether D was being deprived of his liberty and whether his parents consent to this was sufficient to allow this or whether a DoLs authorisation was required.

The hospital trust considered that DoLS authorisation was required and that to conclude that D’s parents had the right to consent to D being deprived of his liberty was too broad a view of PR.

The Local Authority considered that D’s parents were consenting, and thus this was not a deprivation of liberty in the DoLS sense.

  1. The Applicant Trust submits that the circumstances in which D lives at Hospital B satisfy the first limb of the Cheshire West test namely:

    “the objective component of the confinement in a particular restricted place for a not negligible length of time.”

  2. Further the Trust submits that D’s parents cannot consent to his placement at Hospital B because such a decision, to consent to what would otherwise amount to a deprivation of liberty, falls outside the ‘zone of parental responsibility’.
  3. Accordingly, the Trust submits the appropriate course is to seek the court’s approval of D’s placement under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court.
  4. The local authority adopts a diametrically opposed stance. It submits that the circumstances of D’s placement do not amount to a deprivation of liberty. Further, it submits that the decision of D’s parents to consent to his placement at Hospital B falls within the proper exercise of parental responsibility. Accordingly what might otherwise constitute a deprivation of liberty does not do so because the second and third limbs of the test in Cheshire West are not satisfied namely:

    ” (b) the subjective component of lack of valid consent; and

    (c) the attribution of responsibility to the state”.

This has substantial implications – all disabled children who are receiving care from the State and whose liberty is being restricted (in order to keep them safe) on the Trust’s interpretation of Cheshire West would need to have that deprivation of liberty authorised – even if the parents were consenting. The real bad news there is that for people under 16, the Mental Capacity Act 2005 doesn’t cover them and such deprivation of liberty would have to be authorised under the Children Act 1989.  Which means, to spell it out, placing all of those disabled children in Secure Accommodation.

 

Which also means making Court applications. Which also means the residential homes that are caring for these disabled children needing to go through the registration process to qualify as Secure Units.

 

It is an interpretation of Cheshire West which does make logical sense from the judgment, but which has immensely worrying consequences. Not least that the Secure Accommodation provisions might well not be met for these children and the alternative would be that carers at the residential units would thus have no power to restrict the children’s movements  (for example, not being able to stop them from running into the road)

 

[I note that Keehan J in this case specifically rules that the High Court can authorise deprivation of liberty for children under the inherent jurisdiction. I’m really rather dubious about that. I know the inherent jurisdiction is a magic bullet for every situation with almost limitless powers, but to use it to sidestep s25 Secure Accommodation provisions seems to me to have real difficulties with s100 – particularly s100 (4) (a) which bars granting leave to a Local Authority to make an application under the inherent jurisdiction if there is a statutory order the LA could apply for instead, and s100 (4) (b) which says that leave can’t be granted unless the Court is satisfied that significant harm would result to the child otherwise. Would anyone ever appeal it? probably not. ]

 

Any Local Authority lawyer dealing with deprivation of liberty or disabled / disturbed children is really really nervous about how this case is going to turn out. It is a big test case.

Here’s the practical arrangements for D, to consider whether they amount to a deprivation of liberty

Dr K describes D’s life at Hospital B as follows:

“D is residing on X one of the two buildings which make up the adolescent service. Each building is a six-bedded unit. Each young person has their own bedroom, and shares bathroom and living areas with the other patients. There is a school room attached to each building, and all the students receive full time education provided from a special school outreach service.”

“D’s unit is staffed 24 hours a day.

It has a locked front door. D does not leave the ward without a staff member or his family accompanying him. He has been offered opportunity to undertake small tasks by himself, such as emptying the bins, but he says he is scared. Unescorted leave would be considered as part of his treatment package to see how he fares.

D has his own bedroom, which he can access whilst he is on the unit at his leisure. He shares a bathroom and residential areas within the building.

D is on general observations. This means that he is checked on every half an hour or so. However, D seeks out contact with staff more regularly within that time and this means that he is under direct observation on a much more regular basis. I am of the view that he is under constant supervision and control.

His school is integral to the building. He goes off site for all relevant school activities such as, to music sessions on site, and to activities which take place in the community, such as shopping and cafes. He leaves the unit on a daily basis, accompanied by staff.

He is independent in his self-care, and requires minimal support for this. He eats a varied diet independently, and is able to vocalise his preferences.

Attempts to engage him in more serious conversation unnerves him, and he will try to deflect the subject, or directly challenge the person, by telling them that he is not happy. I am of the view that this is reflected in the anxiety he has shown around his discharge. My team will need to manage this carefully within the discharge process.

When out in the community, D is supported one-to-one. He has stated that he would be anxious to go out on his own, and prefers to be accompanied by staff. On occasion he has to be reminded about his behaviour when out, as he might stare and pull faces at strangers. He has been encouraged to do some tasks independently, such as emptying the bins outside, but he has stated that he was too anxious to do it by himself and so he is accompanied when doing this.”

 

That does seem, from Cheshire West, to be deprivation of liberty, and indeed Keehan J found it to be so, and all parties accepted that those circumstances did amount to a deprivation of liberty following Cheshire West.

In the ultimate analysis counsel for the Trust and counsel for the local authority accepted that the circumstances in which D was accommodated amounted to a deprivation of liberty subject to the issue of consent to the placement.

On the facts of this case I am wholly satisfied that D lives in conditions which amount to a deprivation of his liberty. He is under constant supervision and control. The fact that D enjoys residing in the unit in Hospital B, that he is comfortable there and readily seeks out and engages with members of staff are irrelevant factors when considering whether there is a deprivation of liberty. So too are the facts that the arrangements have been made in his welfare best interests and have been, and are, to his benefit. A gilded cage is still a cage.

 

The issue then, was whether the parents could consent to D’s liberty being deprived in this way.

  1. Mr Cowen, on behalf of the local authority sought to contend that:

    i) Cheshire West did not apply to those cases where the young person concerned was under the age of 16 years;

    ii) in such a case the decision in Cheshire West, that the disability or mental disorder of the young person concerned was irrelevant to the question of whether there was a deprivation of liberty, did not apply; and

    iii) the court should prefer and apply the ‘relative normality’ test propounded by the Court of Appeal in P and Q.

  2. I do not accept any of those propositions. The protection of Article 5 of the Convention and the fundamental right to liberty applies to the whole of the human race; young or old and to those with disabilities just as much to those without. It may be those rights have sometimes to be limited or restricted because of the young age or disabilities of the individual but ‘the starting point should be the same as that for everyone else’, per Baroness Hale: Cheshire West at paragraph 45.
  3. The majority in Cheshire West decided that what it means to be deprived of liberty is the same for everyone, whether or not they have a physical or mental disability: per Baroness Hale in Cheshire West at paragraph 46.
  4. I accept the essential ratio of Cheshire West does not apply to the circumstances of this case. Nevertheless, in my view, the acid test definitions of a deprivation of liberty apply as much to D as they did to the subjects of the appeals in Cheshire West.
  5. In the premises I do not accept the local authority’s third submission that I should reject the approach of the Supreme Court in Cheshire West and apply the Court of Appeal’s test of ‘relative normality’. I do not understand the logic of the submission that I should hold that the decision of the Supreme Court does not apply to the facts of this case but then resurrect and apply the test propounded by the Court of Appeal which was expressly rejected by the majority of the Supreme Court.
  6. The essential issue in this case is whether D’s parents can, in the proper exercise of parental responsibility, consent to his accommodation in Hospital B and thus render what would otherwise be a deprivation of liberty not a deprivation of liberty (ie the 2nd limb in Cheshire West is not satisfied).

 

That’s quite dense, so I’ll walk you through it. The argument was that Cheshire West, being a Mental Capacity Act case, doesn’t strictly apply to minors. The Judge said that this was right, but that the Supreme Court’s acid test as to what sort of restrictions amounted to a deprivation of liberty DID apply also to children, and that the Local Authority’s argument that the restrictions in place for D were the sort of restrictions that a child like D would have (relative normality) was exactly the decision reached by the Court of Appeal in Cheshire West that had been rejected.

When considering whether D’s liberty had been deprived, his physical or mental disabilities were not a relevant factor  – they might well be relevant when later considering whether those restrictions were the right thing for him but not at the stage of considering whether they amounted to a deprivation of liberty.

The argument that children like D need these restrictions, so they aren’t a deprivation of liberty in the way that they would be for a child who didn’t have D’s issues was completely rejected by the High Court.

The sole issue was whether the parents could exercise parental responsibility to CONSENT to those restrictions, thus making the deprivation of liberty one that was effectively consented to, and thus not a breach of Article 5.  IF the parents could consent, then there would not NEED to be a court order or declaration to justify the article 5 breach, since the restrictions would be by consent and the breach would fall away.

 

Mr McKendrick for the Trust set out the arguments for why the Trust considered that the parents could NOT consent.  (I have to confess that in reading this, much as I want the LA to win this argument and so much rides on it, I was thinking that Mr McKendrick’s points were right)

48. Mr McKendrick reminds me that Dr K does not consider D to be Gillick competent to consent to his residence, treatment or care. He referred me to the provision of the new MHA Code of Practice which comes into effect on 1 April 2015. Paragraphs 19.47 – 19.48 provide:

      1. 19.47 An additional and significant factor when considering whether the proposed intervention in relation to a child or young person is a restriction of liberty or amounts to a deprivation of liberty is the role of parental control and supervision. Practitioners will need to determine whether the care regime for, and restrictions placed on, the child or young person accord with the degree of parenting control and supervision that would be expected for a child or young person of that age. For example, whereas it is usual for a child of under 12 years not to be allowed out unaccompanied without their parent’s permission, this would not usually be an acceptable restriction on a 17 year old. Account also needs to be taken of the particular experience of the child or young person. For example, a younger child who has been caring for their parent, including shopping for the household and/or accompanying their parent to medical appointments, might not be used to being prevented from going out unaccompanied.
      1. 19.48 Prior to the Supreme Court’s judgment in Cheshire West, case law had established that persons with parental responsibility cannot authorise a deprivation of liberty. Cheshire West clarified the elements establishing a deprivation of liberty, but did not expressly decide whether a person with parental responsibility could, and if so in what circumstances, consent to restrictions that would, without their consent, amount to a deprivation of liberty. In determining whether a person with parental responsibility can consent to the arrangements which would, without their consent, amount to a deprivation of liberty, practitioners will need to consider and apply developments in case law following Cheshire West. In determining the limits of parental responsibility, decision-makers must carefully consider and balance: (i) the child’s right to liberty under article 5, which should be informed by article 37 of the UNCRC, (ii) the parent’s right to respect for the right to family life under article 8, which includes the concept of parental responsibility for the care and custody of minor children, and (iii) the child’s right to autonomy which is also protected under article 8. Decision makers should seek their own legal advice in respect of cases before them. (Chapter 26 provides guidance on the use of restrictive interventions.)
  1. The Trust submitted that D’s parents cannot consent to a deprivation of his liberty in Hospital B for 11 reasons: i) D has the same Article 5 ECHR rights as an adult and the same definition of deprivation of liberty applies to him as it does to adults;

    ii) D has a mental disorder, he is deprived of his liberty pursuant to Article 5 (1) (e) – see Cheshire at paragraph 6, per Baroness Hale: “Article 5(1)(e) permits the lawful detention of persons of unsound mind, but that detention has to conform to the Convention standards of legality, and the doctrine of necessity did not provide HL with sufficient protection against arbitrary deprivation of his liberty. The court was struck by the difference between the careful machinery for authorising the detention and treatment of compulsory patients under the Mental Health Act and the complete lack of any such machinery for compliant incapacitated patients such as HL”;

    iii) D has been resident on a locked psychiatric ward for fifteen months;

    iv) D can only leave that ward with adult 1:1 supervision;

    v) whilst his parents consented to his placement, such consent much be seen in the context they could not accommodate him at their home;

    vi) he does not lead a life of relative normalcy;

    vii) D is fifteen and shortly will be afforded the protection of the MCA to authorise and review any deprivation of liberty occasioned by being deprived of his liberty at Hospital B (by way of application of s. 4A MCA, given Schedule A1 would not apply to him until he is 18);

    viii) to rely (effectively solely) on parental consent, when D’s parents cannot accommodate and care for him (and have no or other limited options for their son) is an insufficient safeguard to protect D’s Article 5 ECHR rights;

    ix) parental consent over a period of fifteen months, as means of review and safeguard, is not compliant with Article 5 (4);

    x) it is out with the reasonable zone of parental control to authorise the deprivation of liberty for such a prolonged period of time and is inconsistent with a child’s Article 5 ECHR right;

    xi) hospital clinicians remain uneasy about caring for and depriving a child of his liberty, given the length of time and given his age, with only authority provided by way of parental consent.

  2. The Trust concludes its submissions as follows:

    The applicant recognises there may be cases where parents can authorise the deprivation of liberty of a younger child for a shorter period of time, in a hospital setting. The applicants are not certain the concession approved by the court in RK is correct. Indeed it seems clear parents can authorise the first stage of the deprivation of liberty test (i.e. they can deprive, rather than just restrict, the liberty of their children, at home) but that such deprivation is not an Article 5 deprivation of liberty, because it is not attributable to the state. Each case ultimately must be considered on its facts (however unpalatable such an approach may be in respect of public resource considerations).

    Whilst the applicant (in many ways) would gratefully submit that D is not deprived of his liberty, it does not consider it is appropriate for a public body to interpret the law in a manner disadvantageous to the protection of a vulnerable child’s rights. Whilst the applicant would readily adopt a “pragmatic approach” as identified by Gross LK in RK, the applicant submits the preferred conclusion, on the facts of these proceedings, is that D is deprived of his liberty, such deprivation is attributable to the state and his parents cannot provide valid consent.

 

Powerful stuff.

Here comes the decision.

  1. When considering the exercise of parental responsibility in this case and whether a decision falls within the zone of parental responsibility, it is inevitable and necessary that I take into account D’s autism and his other diagnosed conditions. I do so because they are important and fundamental factors to take into account when considering his maturity and his ability to make decisions about his day to day life.
  2. An appropriate exercise of parental responsibility in respect of a 5 year old child will differ very considerably from what is or is not an appropriate exercise of parental responsibility in respect of a 15 year old young person.
  3. The decisions which might be said to come within the zone of parental responsibility for a 15 year old who did not suffer from the conditions with which D has been diagnosed will be of a wholly different order from those decisions which have to be taken by parents whose 15 year old son suffers with D’s disabilities. Thus a decision to keep such a 15 year old boy under constant supervision and control would undoubtedly be considered an inappropriate exercise of parental responsibility and would probably amount to ill treatment. The decision to keep an autistic 15 year old boy who has erratic, challenging and potentially harmful behaviours under constant supervision and control is a quite different matter; to do otherwise would be neglectful. In such a case I consider the decision to keep this young person under constant supervision and control is the proper exercise of parental responsibility.
  4. The parents of this young man are making decisions, of which he is incapable, in the welfare best interests of their son. It is necessary for them to do so to protect him and to provide him with the help and support he needs.
  5. I acknowledge that D is not now cared for at home nor ‘in a home setting’. His regime of care and treatment was advised by his treating clinicians and supported by his parents. They wanted to secure the best treatment support and help for their son. They have done so. It has proved extremely beneficial for D who is now ready to move to a new residential home out of a hospital setting. What other loving and caring parent would have done otherwise?
  6. Those arrangements are and were made on the advice of the treating clinicians. All professionals involved in his life and in reviewing his care and treatment are agreed that these arrangements are overwhelmingly in D’s best interests. On the facts of this case, why on public policy or human rights grounds should these parents be denied the ability to secure the best medical treatment and care for their son? Why should the state interfere in these parents’ role to make informed decisions about their son’s care and living arrangements?
  7. I can see no reasons or justifications for denying the parents that role or permitting the state to interfere in D’s life or that of his family.
  8. I accept the position might well be very different if the parents were acting contrary to medical advice or having consented to his placement at Hospital B, they simply abandoned him or took no interest or involvement in his life thereafter.
  9. The position could not be more different here. D’s parents have regular phone calls with him. They regularly visit him at the unit. Every weekend D has supported visits to the family home. He greatly enjoys spending time at home with his parents and his younger brother.
  10. In my judgment, on the facts of this case, it would be wholly disproportionate, and fly in the face of common sense, to rule that the decision of the parents to place D at Hospital B was not well within the zone of parental responsibility. Conclusions
  11. I am satisfied that the circumstances in which D is accommodated would amount to a deprivation of liberty but for his parents’ consent to his placement there.
  12. I am satisfied that, on the particular facts of this case, the consent of D’s parents to his placement at Hospital B, with all of the restrictions placed upon his life there, falls within the ‘zone of parental responsibility’. In the exercise of their parental responsibility for D, I am satisfied they have and are able to consent to his placement.

 

So whilst for D, a gilded cage is still a cage and one doesn’t take into account his disabilities, whether or not his parents are able to consent to him being in that cage is a decision that CAN take into account his disabilities.

 

Only just over the threshold

 

I am tending to think that there’s a repositioning of the threshold criteria going on at the moment. It is a little hard to call, since there’s always been the unspoken background that what constitutes threshold in Liverpool doesn’t necessarily be the same things that consitute threshold in Torquay. But it feels that Re A and Re J are a subtle raising of the bar.

When a bar is raised, it can be tricky to work out exactly where that bar now is. We know that on the facts of Re A, threshold was not made out, but we don’t know if it was miles short or inches short.

Which is why when the President decides a case and says that the threshold criteria was satisfied but only just, it gives us some potentially useful information.

 

Leeds City Council v M and others 2015   http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/27.html  is the follow-up to the President’s judgment on Female Genital Mutilation (you may remember, this was the case where that was alleged, and the President had to decide (a) if it had happened (no) (b) whether it could amount to threshold (yes) (c) Would it amount to risk of harm to a male child (no) and (d) if it had happened, would it by itself justify adoption (no)

 

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/01/14/fgm-an-important-authority/

The President’s first judgment pre-dated Re A, which is what makes me think that there’s a shift in thinking. The President here didn’t seem to be struggling with the idea that domestic violence, even if not of the most serious nature could amount to significant harm:-

 

“(i) The local authority is unable on the evidence to establish that G (as I shall refer to her) either has been or is at risk of being subjected to any form of female genital mutilation.

(ii) There was a greater degree of marital discord than either M or F (as I shall refer to them) was willing to admit to. There was also, I am satisfied, some physical violence on the part of F, though neither very frequent nor of the more serious variety.

(iii) Given all the facts as I find them, including but not limited to (i) and (ii) above, threshold is established.

The President had said in the first case that adoption, the LA’s plan, was not proportionate, and was seeking an alternative resolution. This case is that resolution.

In giving his final judgment, the President identified four key areas where the LA contended threshold was met:-

1. Mother’s mental health

2. Domestic violence

3. Neglect and physical abuse

4. Lack of cooperation / engagement

Remember, the President concluded that threshold WAS met, but only just.

I am prepared to accept, in the light of my findings, that threshold is established, though not by a very large margin.

So, looking at things in detail

 

1. Mother’s mental health

The psychiatrist, Dr T, made the diagnosis that mother had ‘schizo-affective disorder’, currently in remission, but a lifelong condition vulnerable to relapse caused by stress. Dr T said at least 12 months’ stability in M’s condition was essential if B and G were to be safe in her care and that the necessary period had not yet elapsed. If stability and compliance could not be maintained over that length of time, it would be “very risky” for them to be returned to her care

The Judge accepted Dr T’s evidence and opinion.

 

  • I accept that there has been improvement in M’s mental health. But Dr T’s evidence, which I accept, is clear, compelling and withstood all challenge. It would be irresponsible not to heed and give effect to it. In my judgment, M is not at present able to look after B and G.

[You might look at that and say that this in and of itself is sufficient to cross the threshold – there’s a factual matrix which allows the Court to establish that there is a risk of significant harm – remember that if a factual matrix is established, the risk itself does not have to be more likely than not, it is sufficient to be a risk which cannot sensibly be ignored, as decided by the House of Lords in H and R 1996. ]

 

2. Domestic violence

 

The mother had made allegations of domestic violence against the father, but later retracted them. The Court had heard evidence from mother and father.

My conclusion, having carefully considered the mass of material put to me and the helpfully detailed submissions from counsel, is that there was, as I have said, a greater degree of marital discord than either M or F was willing to admit to. There was also, I am satisfied, some physical violence on the part of F, though neither very frequent nor of the more serious variety. It was, as Mr Ekaney submits, at the lower end of the scale. Beyond that it would not be right to go.

 

Remembering that the definition of ‘harm’ was expanded in the Children Act 1989  to include the words in bold  “harm” means ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development [including, for example, impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another];     – the words being added in the Adoption and Children Act 2002. So a child being exposed to domestic violence, or at risk of being so exposed can be considered to have suffered harm, or risk of such harm – the issue really being whether it is significant.  The President does not, in his judgment, specify whether his conclusion about domestic violence here amounted to significant harm or the risk thereof.  The best we can do is go back to this bit

“(i) The local authority is unable on the evidence to establish that G (as I shall refer to her) either has been or is at risk of being subjected to any form of female genital mutilation.

(ii) There was a greater degree of marital discord than either M or F (as I shall refer to them) was willing to admit to. There was also, I am satisfied, some physical violence on the part of F, though neither very frequent nor of the more serious variety.

(iii) Given all the facts as I find them, including but not limited to (i) and (ii) above, threshold is established.

 

 

and suggest that domestic violence was part of the factual matrix that led the President to conclude that threshold was crossed, though not by a very large margin.

 

3. Neglect and physical abuse

 

This is the section where you get to see the Re A dynamics play out. There are facts established to show what happened to the children

There were two very specific allegations of neglect, amongst more general complaints

in October 2013, G was taken to nursery with spare clothes that were damp, soiled and smelled of urine; much more significant, on 7 November 2013 M, it is said, abandoned G in an alleyway in the city centre, where she was found cold, wet and very distressed. 

[The mother accepted the abandonment. G was born in July 2011, remember]

 

There is no doubt that B and G experienced instability and inconsistency of care, brought about by M’s recurrent mental health difficulties and F’s limited ability to cope with them. There were the specific instances of neglect I have already referred to.  To the extent that there was marital discord between F and M, B and G were exposed to it. I think it is probable that on a few occasions B and G were exposed to mild chastisement – but nothing more serious.

 

But as Re A showed us, establishing a contested (or accepted fact) as being proven is only half of the story. The next stage is for the Local Authority to satisfy the Court that what happened caused the children harm.

In this case, the Guardian considered that the children did not present as having been damaged by their experiences

“Without exception these two children have been described in very positive ways; it is clear they are delightful and endearing children who make a good impression on anyone who meets them. It is also clear that the first impressions of these children did not signify children who had been exposed to neglect, or an abusive home environment. They appeared to have been protected from the worst excesses of the mother’s mental health challenges. They have experienced positive parenting.”

 

The President says

I entirely agree. The guardian’s analysis accords with everything I have read and heard.

What is important, however, is the fact that, as I have already found, none of this seems to have had any significant or prolonged impact on either B or G – so nothing they have been exposed to can have been that serious.

 

The President doesn’t say so explicitly (which is somewhat vexing for those of us who are trying to decipher the Delphic offerings), but I think that that final remark can be read to mean that he did not accept that the threshold was made out on the basis of the neglect aspects.

Frankly, I think abandoning a 2 1/2 year old child in an alleyway is significant harm, but it appears that I am wrong about that.

 

Firstly, this troubles me because that sort of thing also feeds into risk of future harm, and of course a child isn’t yet showing the ill-effects of future harm. This approach seems to ignore future harm entirely.

The other thing that concerns me about this approach is that I can forsee that we are ending up with a different threshold criteria for a resilient child, who is exposed to poor parenting but has inner qualities that allow them to cope, and a fragile child whose reaction to the same parenting is marked and plain to see.  And it also requires that the child is showing the effects of the harm that they have suffered in a very visible and measurable way – I know that the neuroscience is controversial, but there is at least some evidence to suggest that neglect has much longer repercussions than the immediate visible impact.

 

4. Lack of cooperation / engagement

 

Here the parents made concessions

 

 

  • M admits poor engagement with professionals due to her mental health problems.
  • F accepts that, prior to the children being taken into care, he failed to engage and co-operate with the local authority and that this led to him adopting what was understandably perceived as a controlling attitude towards M. This, I accept, was driven by the two factors to which Mr Ekaney drew attention. The first was F’s perplexity about the family situation, largely caused by his failure to recognise the nature and extent of and inability to understand M’s mental health difficulties. The other was F’s desire to protect his family and his fear, from his perspective well-founded fear, that B and G would be removed from their care. Since B and G were taken into care, F’s attitude has changed. There has been, as Mr Ekaney puts it, a high level of co-operation and engagement with the local authority, coupled with a high level of commitment to B and G. And, as I accept, this is not due to any compulsion; it reflects F’s growing realisation and acceptance of the underlying realities.
  • Given M’s and F’s concessions, which appropriately reflect the reality of what was going on, there is no need for me to make any further findings.

 

[Well, there is a slight need – again, I am assuming that this was not found to have amounted to significant harm or the risk of significant harm, but it is rather difficult to say for certain, because the judgment doesn’t outline it.  To be honest, I do not envy the Local Authority advocate who had to draw up a final settled threshold based on this judgment. I THINK that the totality of the judgment suggests that findings of fact were made across points 1-4, but only those in points 1 and 2 amounted also to findings of significant harm. But I would not race to Paddy Power with bundles* of fivers to back that conclusion. My actual bet would be that over the next year, the number of cases where threshold is agreed rather than fought out will dramatically reduce. And as we can’t have fact finding hearings any more, thresholds will be fought out at final hearings. How’s that going to work out for 26 weeks, I wonder?]

 

 

The President ruled that whilst mother could not care for the children now or within their timescales, the father could and should be given that opportunity, and the children would be placed with him under Supervision Orders.

So there we have it, on these facts, the case crossed the threshold, but not by a very large margin.

 

 

*IF I did happen to be going to the bookies with bundles of fivers, I would ensure that in accordance with Practice Direction 27 there were (a) no more than 350 of them (b) They were A4 sized  and (c) that they were printed only on one side. Which explains why Paddy Power doesn’t want me going in there any more.

 

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