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Category Archives: costs

The LASPO safety net is a fig leaf

Oh, you’re going to like this one.

This decision from Mostyn J is quite involved, but significant. Even if you aren’t that interested in the very peculiar mechanics, what he had to say about LASPO (see title of the piece) is striking.

 

MG and JG v JF 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/564.html

 

To make it less alphabet soup, I’ll give people names (these are NOT their real names, I’ve made them up)

Jean Grey and Marie Grey were lesbian partners. They wanted to have a child and advertised for a man to provide gametes to make this happen. Jim Francis agreed to do this.

 

The child is born, and named John Fitzgerald Grey.

Jim Francis was having quite a lot of contact with little John, once or twice a month. This all changed when Marie Grey became pregnant with a second child (that donor thankfully isn’t involved in this case), and Marie and Jean stopped Jim’s contact.

 

Jim makes an application to court for contact. Jean and Marie learn that post LASPO they don’t qualify for legal aid. Jim on the other hand has some means and can pay privately.  [He could not be described as being wealthy – it is more comfortably middle class. His property is valued at £1.2 million and he earns £67,000 per year. Sufficient to pay his own legal fees – though probably not without a degree of wincing when he writes the cheques, but we are not in big money divorce territory here]

 

At some point, someone comes up with a cunning wheeze. An application can be made under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 for some of Jim’s capital to be released to the child, and those funds can be used to pay for Marie and Jean’s legal costs.

That sort of thing isn’t that unusual in big money divorce cases where one person holds all of the assets – the Court order that they release some of the disputed funds to the other party to cover their legal costs and when the money is all divvied up at the end, that can be taken into account.

 

But this is a contact application – there isn’t going to be a share out of money at the end.  And as we know, the law in children cases is that each side pays their own costs, unless one party has behaved terribly badly. No suggestion of that here.

So this is in a sense, an application that Jim Francis uses his own money to pay for the other side to fight his application, even though he has done nothing wrong.  Unusual.

 

Firstly then, why shouldn’t Marie and Jean represent themselves, as envisaged by LASPO?

In this case it is my firm view that it is impossible for MG and JG to be expected to represent themselves having regard to the factual and legal issues at large. There would be a gross inequality of arms, and arguably a violation of their rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 47 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. So even though it cannot be said that JF has behaved reprehensibly or unreasonably he is the only realistic source of costs funding, subject to whatever contribution MG and JG should make from their own very limited resources. Some may say (and have said) that this is grossly unjust; I myself refrain from comment.

 

[I’m not quite sure it is accurate that Mostyn J refrains from comment. He doesn’t make direct comment, but I think the next section gives you a pretty clear idea of his thinking]

 

We add to the complexity that Jean and MArie split up with a degree of acrimony, and that the case also involved disputed about whether the child should be vaccinated.

Mostyn J is scathing here about the changes and the lack of foresight in seeing that cases are inevitably going to emerge where a lack of legal aid causes huge difficulties and unfairness.  This is a breathtaking and masterful dissection of the disaster that LASPO has been for individuals.

 

  1. With very few changes the government’s proposals were enacted in LASPO. A safety net was included by section 10(3)(b) which gave the Director of the Legal Aid Agency the discretion to award legal aid where “it is appropriate to do so, in the particular circumstances of the case, having regard to any risk that failure to do so would be …a breach [of Convention or EU rights].” As the President explained in Q v Q (No. 2) [2014] EWFC 31 at paras 6 – 8 the Lord Chancellor issued guidance concerning section 10(3)(b) which stated that it should be confined to “rare” cases which are of the “highest priority”. But this guidance has been quashed as legally defective by Collins J in Gudanaviciene & Ors v Director of Legal Aid Casework & Anor [2014] EWHC 1840 (Admin). That decision is under appeal.
  2. As the President explained in Q v Q the number of annual cases where the safety net has been applied can be counted on the fingers of two hands. In the year to March 2014 there were 9. Indeed between December 2013 and March 2014 one solitary case was caught by the safety net. The President stated at para 14 “if the scheme is indeed working effectively, then it might be thought that the scheme is inadequate, for the proper demand is surely at a level very significantly greater than 8 or 9 cases a year.” Thus it would be perfectly reasonable to describe this “safety net” as a fig leaf. MG and JG have not applied for exceptional funding under section 10(3)(b), no doubt taking the realistic view that any such application would be rejected summarily.
  3. Since the reforms have taken effect there have been an appreciable number of cases which have demonstrated that the blithe assumption in the consultation paper (that the parties’ emotional involvement in the case will not necessarily mean that they are unable to present it themselves, and that there is no reason to believe that such cases will be routinely legally complex) is unfounded. This was entirely predictable. The cases are Kinderis v Kineriene [2013] EWHC 4139 (Fam) (18 December 2013, Holman J); Re B (a child) (private law fact finding – unrepresented father) [2014] EWHC 700 (Fam) (27 January 2014, Judge Wildblood QC); Q v Q [2014] EWFC 7 (21 May 2014, the President); Q v Q (No. 2) [2014] EWFC 31 (6 August 2014, the President); Re H [2014] EWFC B127 (14 August 2014, Judge Hallam); Re D (A Child) [2014] EWFC 39 (31 October 2014, the President); CD v ED [2014] EWFC B153 (14 November 2014, Judge Hudson); Re D (A Child) (No. 2) [2015] EWFC 2 (7 January 2015, the President); and Re K & H (Children: Unrepresented Father: Cross-Examination of Child) [2015] EWFC 1 (5 January 2015, Judge Bellamy). This is a formidable catalogue. Each case focussed on the gross unfairness meted out to a parent in private law proceedings by the denial of legal aid. I do not think it would be right to say that these were examples of the operation of the law of unintended consequences since, as I say, the problems were so entirely predictable.
  4. Also of relevance is JG v The Lord Chancellor & Ors [2014] EWCA Civ 656 (21 May 2014) where the Court of Appeal held that the refusal of the (then) Legal Services Commission (LSC) to meet the cost of an expert report was unlawful. A district judge had ordered that the legally aided child, who was a party to the proceedings, should pay for that report. The order recorded that “the cost of the report to be funded by the child, the court considering it to be a reasonable and necessary disbursement to be incurred under the terms of her public funding certificate.” In the face of a dogged refusal to comply with this order by the LSC the district judge later ordered that:

    “The cost[s] of the expert to be funded by the child the court considering them to be a reasonable and necessary disbursement under her certificate and the purpose of the report is solely to establish what arrangements are in her best interests. Furthermore, the court has carried out a means assessment of both parents and found that they are unable to afford any part of these fees. In reaching this conclusion the court considered the provisions of section 22(4) of the Access to Justice Act 1999.”

    Notwithstanding this ruling the Legal Aid Agency (as the LSC had become) persisted in its refusal, and judicial review proceedings had to be commenced. The Legal Aid Agency actually succeeded at first instance but in the Court of Appeal, despite elaborate and trenchant argument by it and by the Lord Chancellor, who had intervened, its decision to refuse to comply with the order and to fund the report was held to be unlawful.

  5. In Lindner v Rawlins [2015] EWCA Civ 61 the Court of Appeal heard an appeal by an unrepresented husband against a refusal to order police disclosure in defended divorce proceedings. The wife was neither present nor represented. Aikens LJ observed that the appeal was technical and unusual and that the husband could not be expected to have mastered this area of the law in order to be able to present his appeal in a way that assisted the court. He bemoaned the lack of the legal assistance of counsel that the court should have.
  6. I need only cite a few of the judicial observations. In Kinderis v Kineriene Holman J described the position in which the unrepresented mother in Hague proceedings found herself as follows:

    “The present procedure operates in a way which is unjust, contrary to the welfare of particularly vulnerable children at a time of great upheaval in their lives, incompatible with the obligations of this state under Article 11(3) of the [B2R] regulation, and ultimately counter-productive in that it merely wastes taxpayers’ funds”

    In Re H Judge Hallam was dealing with an unrepresented mother with speech, hearing and learning difficulties. An official of the Legal Aid Agency stated that there would be no breach of convention rights were she to remain unfunded. Judge Hallam stated “I find that statement astounding”. In Re D the unrepresented father, who lacked capacity, had made an application to revoke a care order; the local authority had applied for a placement (for adoption) order. After heavy pressure from the President some legal aid was eventually awarded. At para 31(vi) of his first judgment the President stated:

    “Thus far the State has simply washed its hands of the problem, leaving the solution to the problem which the State itself has created – for the State has brought the proceedings but declined all responsibility for ensuring that the parents are able to participate effectively in the proceedings it has brought – to the goodwill, the charity, of the legal profession. This is, it might be thought, both unprincipled and unconscionable. Why should the State leave it to private individuals to ensure that the State is not in breach of the State’s – the United Kingdom’s – obligations under the Convention?”

    At para 21 of his second judgment he stated that “the parents can be forgiven for thinking that they are trapped in a system which is neither compassionate nor even humane.”

  7. In Lindner v Rawlins at para 34 Aikens LJ stated:

    “Yet again, the court was without any legal assistance and had to spend time researching the law for itself then attempting to apply it to the relevant facts in order to arrive at the correct legal answer. To do the latter exercise meant that the court itself had to trawl through a large amount of documents in the file. All this involves an expensive use of judicial time, which is in short supply as it is. Money may have been saved from the legal aid funds, but an equal amount of expense, if not more, has been incurred in terms of the costs of judges’ and court time. The result is that there is, in fact, no economy at all. Worse, this way of dealing with cases runs the risk that a correct result will not be reached because the court does not have the legal assistance of counsel that it should have and the court has no other legal assistance available to it.”

  8. These are powerful criticisms. The President suggested that if the Legal Aid Agency would not award legal aid to an unrepresented parent facing serious allegations then the court might have to do so from its own budget. In Re K & H that was the course proposed. The Lord Chancellor instructed leading counsel who bravely argued that the President’s analysis of the existence of this power was “plainly wrong”. Judge Bellamy disagreed and awarded representation from the court budget. The Lord Chancellor is appealing that decision. It can safely be assumed that the criticisms I have recounted have fallen on deaf ears. Based on the decisions I have cited, including no fewer than four from the President himself, it can be said that in the field of private children law the principle of individual justice has had to be sacrificed on the altar of the public debt. And based on the observation of Aikens LJ, it can reasonably be predicted that the phenomenon of the massive increase in self-representation will give rise to the serious risk of the court reaching incorrect, and therefore unjust, decisions.

 

Just in case you missed it, yes, that was a High Court judge saying that in private family law, the principle of individual justice has been sacrificed on the altar of public debt. And that LASPO is likely to lead to incorrect and unjust decisions.

That noise you can hear just to your leftmy applause echoing.

So, with legal aid not being available, and it being unfair for Jean and Marie to act in person, that was really only leaving Jim Francis as a source of funding.

How much money were we looking at?

  1. Decision
  2. In my judgment JF should pay 80% of each of the claims of MG and JG. Therefore he will pay MG £12,202 and JG £8,394. In addition he will pay 80% of all future professional costs in respect of therapeutic work and MG and JG will each pay 10% of such costs.
  3. Thus MG will have to find £3,050 and JG £2,098 and they will each have to find 10% of the future costs of therapeutic work. In my judgment they cannot reasonably or realistically be expected to find more. By contrast, I am satisfied that JF can find, without undue hardship, the share with which I have shouldered him.
  4. It could be said that it is grossly unfair that JF should have to pay now £20,596 plus 80% of the future therapeutic costs up to the IRH. But that is where the government has left him. It is a sorry state of affairs.
  5. This leaves the costs of expert evidence which will come into being between now and the IRH. The consent order provides for the educational psychologist to answer further questions and for the psychologist to file an addendum report. In my judgment these should be paid for by JFG and in my opinion such fees are a reasonable charge on his legal aid certificate, for the following reasons.
  6. In JG v The Lord Chancellor & Ors Black LJ explained at para 92 that when read with FPR rule 25.12(4)(a) (which provides that the court may give directions about the expert’s fees and expenses) rule 25.12(6) (which provides that provides that unless the court directs otherwise, the relevant parties are jointly and severally liable for the payment of the expert’s fees and expenses) is not intended to be prescriptive and merely establishes a default position for financial responsibility for the expert in the event that the court does not direct otherwise. She stated: “I do not see it as setting up a ‘normal rule’ that the cost is to be apportioned equally.”
  7. She further explained at para 93 that in order not to fall foul of section 22(4) of the Access to Justice Act 1999 that:

    “It is necessary to ask what order the court would make in its discretion on the particular facts of that case, leaving aside any resources problems. The answer may not uncommonly be an order for equal apportionment of the costs but that cannot be assumed. It may be that a full consideration of the circumstances of the case produces the result that the publicly funded party should be paying a greater share of the costs in any event, quite irrespective of any financial difficulties that the other parties may have in sharing the cost of the expert. In such circumstances, section 22(4) does not prevent the court from making an order accordingly, because the order is in no way affected by the fact of public funding.”

  8. I do not think that the imaginary scenario that I have to address assumes that everyone is of means. Rather, it assumes the facts as they are with the sole exception that the child is not legally aided but is funded from another source, such as his own means or the means of a relative of substance. Were that the position I would have no hesitation in making an order that JFG bear the costs of these further reports given that MG and JG do not, on my findings, have the means to do so, and given the burdens that I have already imposed on JF. Further, and in any event, it is just and reasonable that JFG bears these costs whether or not he is legally aided because at the end of the day these fees are being incurred primarily for his benefit.

 

 

And again, you read that right, that is a High Court Judge making a decision and saying that some could describe that decision as being grossly unfair but that this is the position that the Government have put this man in.

I partially wondered whether Mostyn J made this decision with a view to it being appealed and having the Court of Appeal rule that it would instead be right for the public authority (the Court) to fund the costs – at the moment, we only have the President’s hints that this is a route and His Honour Judge Bellamy doing it.  A Court of Appeal authority would be much more powerful. I’m not so sure though – an appeal (particularly paying the other sides costs) would run to more than this sum of money, and I think it is unlikely that Jim Francis would be tempted into appealing.

It is, as Mostyn J has said, a sorry state of affairs.

 

It makes uncomfortable reading for donors, or in fact any party in private law proceedings who is earning that sort of money (£67,000 is a lot, but it is not the riches of Croesus; it could easily bite on people who would much rather not spend half of their gross annual income on one court case)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wasted costs

 

I think most practitioners are aware that this has been coming, and one has now hit.

 

HU v SU 2015

 

This was in private law proceedings, and the father was paying privately, so there actually were costs that were incurred. It relates to the inability of the mother’s team to get police disclosure (caused in part because the Legal Aid Agency had dallied in processing the extension to her certificate)

 

The mother’s solicitors had written to the Court and the father, but what they had not done was applied to vary the existing order about timetabling and to thus obtain an extension from the Court.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/535.html

 

Here is the  law on costs, as set out in Ridehalgh v Horsefield 1994 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/1994/40.html

 

“a) Had the legal representative of whom complain was made acted improperly, unreasonably or negligently?

b) If so, did such conduct cause the applicant to incur unnecessary costs?

c)If so, was it, in all the circumstances, just to order the legal representative to compensate the applicant for the whole or part of the relevant costs?”

 

That has always been considered quite a high test, because of the wording in (a).  What HU v SU does is confirm the High Court’s view that post the cascaded authorities of the President in Re W (adoption order leave to oppose) 2013 (remember the contumelious attitude case?) http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1177.html

 

that :-

 

It must now be clear and plain to any competent family practitioners that:

i) court orders must be obeyed;

ii) a timetable or deadline set by the court cannot be amended by agreement between the parties; it must be sanctioned by the court; and

iii) any application to extend the time for compliance must be made before the time for compliance has expired.

 

And thus that failure to do so amounts to improper or unreasonable conduct for part (a) of the Ridehalgh test.

 

In this particular case

  1. He  [Mother’s counsel]referred me to a chronology of relevant events. On 16.12.14 the mother’s solicitors sought a further extension to the mother’s public funding certificate. It was not granted until 13.1.15 and as a result of the delay in granting the same a letter of complaint was sent to the Legal Aid Agency.
  2. On 7.1.15 they sent a letter to the father’s solicitors setting out that an extension of public funding was still awaited and requesting a one week extension for the filing of the mother’s statement (orders to be filed and served by 10.1.15). Crucially this letter did not set out that police disclosure had not yet been formally sought and no communication was sent to the court.
  3. On 16.1.15 the mother’s solicitors wrote to the father’s solicitors and to the court notifying them that the mother’s public funding certificate had been extended, police disclosure had been requested and that the mother’s statement and schedule of findings would be filed and serve after police disclosure had been received.
  4. I have a number of observations: i) the letter to the court was not noted to be for the attention of me or my clerk and it was incorrectly addressed. I did not receive it;

    ii) the solicitors had decided that the statement and schedule would be filed after police disclosure had been received. No such linkage or sequential process was made or set out in the order of 15.12.14; and

    iii) no application was made for an extension of time to file the police disclosure and/or the mother’s statement and schedule.

  5. A further letter is sent to the father’s solicitors and the court dated 23.1.15. Once again the letter is incorrectly addressed and was not received by the court. Furthermore it merely apologised for the further delay in obtaining police disclosure and nothing else.
  6. On 29.1.15 yet another letter is sent to the father’s solicitor but not to the court) setting out that the mother would not be able to complete her statement or a schedule until police disclosure had been received. No time for receipt of the police disclosure was given, however, on the same day the mother’s solicitors chased the Metropolitan police in respect of the disclosure sought.
  7. By an email sent on 30.1.15 to the court, the father’s solicitors sought an urgent directions hearing. On the same day the mother’s solicitors sent a letter to the court and to the father’s solicitors. It once more asserted that the mother could not file a statement or a schedule without sight of the police disclosure. The letter did not: i) set out what steps had been taken to secure disclosure from the police;

    ii) it did not set out any date or likely timeframe by which disclosure would be made by the police;

    iii) seek an extension of time in which to file the police disclosure and/or the mother’s statement and schedule; and

    iv) a revision of the timetable set by the court on 15.12.14.

  8. At the directions hearing on 4.2.15 I directed the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to provide the disclosure sought by noon the following day. The mother was to file and serve her statement and schedule by 6.2.15 and the father his statement and schedule by 9.2.15. Those orders were complied with and it was possible for the fact finding hearing to proceed but at considerable cost to the father, who is privately funded, of legal fees incurred by attendance at the urgent directions hearing.
  9. Mr Newton QC recognises the faults of his instructing solicitors. He characterises them as errors and oversights for which his solicitors profusely apologise, but which he submits did not pass the high hurdle of egregious conduct which merits being condemned by the making of a wasted costs order. He rightly reminds me of the considerable professional embarrassment which can result from the making of such an order.
  10. In my judgment however the serial failures of the mother’s solicitors were elementary. The failure to seek the leave of the court to extend the time for compliance with the directions order of 15.12.14 is to be characterised as incompetence, the result of which could have been the adjournment of this fact finding hearing. Their actions, as set out above, are redolent of past poor practices which should no longer feature in private or public law family proceedings.

 

In this case, a hearing took place that was ineffective, because the police disclosure had not been obtained and thus the statement and schedule of allegations weren’t filed. That hearing did cost the father money, and he was entitled to recover that from the mother’s solicitors (not mother)

  1. I am satisfied that the conduct of the mother’s solicitors is so serious and so inexcusable that I find that they acted improperly and unreasonably. Further the conduct caused the father to incur unnecessary costs. Finally in all of the circumstances I consider it just to order the mother’s solicitors to compensate the father for the whole of the costs he incurred by reason of the directions hearing on 4.2.15.
  2. I shall make a wasted costs order against the mother’s solicitors. The father’s costs of the February directions hearing will be subject to a detailed assessment.

 

I hope that Court staff up and down the country are ready for a barrage of applications, because it is plain now that not making an application to extend a timetable (whether in private law OR public law) exposes the lawyer to a risk of a wasted costs order.

Even where, as in this case, that the delay was a result of external agencies (the police and the Legal Aid Agency), the fault still lies with the lawyer for not applying for an extension of time.

Failed attempt to revoke an Enduring Power of Attorney

 

As Senior Judge Lush remarks at the beginning of Re DT (2015) it is fairly unusual to dismiss the application of the Public Guardian to revoke an Enduring Power of Attorney. You can often learn a lot more from a single unsuccessful application than you can from reading dozens of successful ones.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2015/10.html

 

In this case, the man DT had dementia, but had previously made an Enduring Power of Attorney giving control of his financial affairs to his three sons.

DT and his wife are separated, although this separation has not become a judicial separation or a divorce, and she of course remains the mother of the three sons, who are all adults.

The Public Guardian became concerned about the running of DT’s affairs as a result of two substantial issues:-

 

1. The care home fees were in substantial arrears (by the time of the hearing to the tune of nearly £70,000)

2. DT had been expressing very strong views about his wife getting his money and that his money was being spent on her.

Because there was uncertainty whether DT still had capacity to make a number of specific decisions relating to the management of his property and financial affairs, the Public Guardian commissioned a Court of Protection Special Visitor, Dr Rajaratnam Thavasothy, to examine DT. It was not the easiest of interviews and in his report dated 31 March 2014, Dr Thavasothy described it as follows:

“I visited DT on 24.03.14. … Staff warned me that he could scream at me and would not engage and, even if he does engage, it is likely he would not engage for more than a few minutes. At my request the staff had informed him of my visit and the purpose of my visit.I assessed DT in a large room to which he walked unsteadily with the help of staff and sat in a chair. He was well dressed with clean clothes. He was kempt. The staff left him with me and, as I introduced myself, he understood the purpose of my visit and immediately shouted, “I wanted my sons to have the power of attorney, I don’t want my wife to be involved.” I then asked him what he meant by the power of attorney and he became extremely hostile and shouted again reasserting that his wife should not be involved. I distracted him by talking about his interest in films. He then talked at length about film actors from the 1960s to the 1980s, often repeating the same statement over and over again. After diverting his attention I thought I could proceed with the mental state examination, but as soon as I started assessing his mental state, he would scream at me, shouting loudly to the point that staff came into the room to make certain that I was alright. After the staff left I once again distracted him by talking about his various interests, and when I recommenced the mental examination, he once again started screaming and shouted repeatedly that he had had ‘enough’ and wanted me to leave. The staff arrived and I suggested that they could take him out, as he was demanding cigarettes, and that I would see him after he had smoked his cigarette.

When I recommenced the mental state examination, he shouted that he did not wish his wife to be involved and that he wanted his sons to have the power of attorney. When I asked him what he understood about the power of attorney, he once again became very angry, but later I was able to elicit that he wished to convey that all his finances should be managed by his sons. He stated that he trusted them implicitly and did not wish anyone else to be involved. He stated clearly “of course I am happy for my sons to have the power of attorney. My wife does not have the power of attorney.” When I asked him how much money he has, he shouted “I don’t know. The boys have the money and give me whatever money I need. I don’t have to go out anywhere.” As he screamed, ordering me out of the room, I had to terminate the assessment.

Apart from noting that he becomes impulsively aggressive with a very low level of tolerance, and often became frustrated when he found it difficult to answer any question, I did not find any evidence of depression or elation of mood. Though I could not conduct a mini-mental state examination, as he became angry, I am certain that he does present with cognitive deficits which add to his frustration when he finds it difficult to answer simple questions. His long term memory was, however, very good when he detailed the private lives of film stars from films he has seen in the past.

 

There were clearly difficulties with DT’s functioning, particularly his temper control, but bearing in mind that the starting point of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 is to assume that a person has capacity unless demonstrated otherwise, this appears sufficient information to glean that DT – (a) understood what a Power of Attorney was (b) understood that he had one (c) understood that his 3 sons had the Enduring Power of Attorney and (d) was happy with this.

 

  1. The Public Guardian asked the Court of Protection Special Visitor to assess whether DT had the capacity to revoke the EPA himself, and the Visitor confirmed emphatically that he did have capacity. Although, strictly speaking, this information was unnecessary for the purpose of deciding whether to revoke the EPA, I cannot ignore it.
  2. If one thing is certain in this case, it is that DT is perfectly satisfied with his sons’ management of his property and financial affairs under the EPA, and he has no desire to revoke their appointment as attorneys.
  3. Having regard to the contents of the Special Visitor’s report, and in particular the frustration and anger expressed by DT when questions concerning his sons’ management of his affairs were raised, I consider that, if the court were to revoke the EPA, it would cause significant distress to him, which cannot possibly be in his best interests.
  4. I am reminded of the remarks of Her Honour Judge Hazel Marshall QC in Re S and S (Protected Persons) [2008] COPLR Con Vol 1074, where she held that, if P expresses a view that is not irrational, impracticable or irresponsible, “then that situation carries great weight and effectively gives rise to a presumption in favour of implementing those wishes, unless there is some potential sufficiently detrimental effect for P of doing so which outweighs this.”
  5. She went on in to say in paragraph 58 of her judgment:

    “It might further be tested by asking whether the seriousness of this countervailing factor in terms of detriment to P is such that it must outweigh the detriment to an adult of having one’s wishes overruled, and the sense of impotence, and the frustration and anger, which living with that awareness (insofar as P appreciates it) will cause to P. Given the policy of the Act to empower people to make their own decisions wherever possible, justification for overruling P and “saving him from himself” must, in my judgment, be strong and cogent. Otherwise, taking a different course from that which P wishes would be likely to infringe the statutory direction in s 1(6) of the Act, that one must achieve any desired objective by the route which least restricts P’s own rights and freedom of action.”

  6. There is nothing irrational, impracticable or irresponsible in DT’s wish that his sons should continue to act as his attorneys, and I am not satisfied that their conduct has had a sufficiently detrimental effect on DT or his finances to justify overriding his wishes.

 

There was a quirky side issue, which has a direct bearing for Local Authorities. The Public Guardian had asked that the Director of Adult services at Suffolk County Council become the deputy and manage DT’s financial affairs.  The Director had politely declined.

 

Why would that be, you might ask? Well it is this. There is a fixed fee for being a public authority Deputy and that fixed fee bears no relation to what it would cost the LA to actually do the job. The LA gets £700 for the first year, and £585 a year after that.  (Bear in mind that a deputy from a family does it for nothing, but Local Authorities are cash-strapped) If you are appointing a deputy from the private sector, you are paying £200 AN HOUR for someone very experienced and £111 AN HOUR for a trainee solicitor.

 

  1. Section 19(3) of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 states that “a person may not be appointed as a deputy without his consent,” and I am disappointed that, having agreed to act as deputy, Suffolk County Council, subsequently withdrew its consent. This has an enormous impact on the costs involved.
  2. Public authority deputies are allowed remuneration in accordance with Practice Direction 19B, “Fixed Costs in the Court of Protection.” The rates of remuneration have remained static for the last four years, since 1 February 2011. Understandably, this is a bone of contention for cash-strapped local authorities, and partly accounts for an increasing and alarming trend in which councils are refusing to take on deputyship work.
  3. If Suffolk County Council were appointed as DT’s deputy, it would be entitled to an annual management fee of £700 for the first year and £585 for the second and subsequent years.
  4. At the hearing IT asked about the likely costs of a panel deputy, and I suggested that they would be in the region of £200 an hour. Any meaningful calculation is, of course, more complicated than that.

 

The costs of appointing a deputy from the private sector (the Court not being able to appoint someone from the LA if they object) would of course come out of DT’s finances. The Court had to think about whether that was proportionate, given that the 3 sons were doing this task for nothing and that DT was happy with them.

[The Court had been satisfied that the arrears for the nursing home would be paid off and why they had arisen]

  1. As regards the nature, extent and complexity of the affairs that need to be managed and administered, DT’s former matrimonial home will be sold shortly. His share of the gross proceeds of sale will be £70,000. His share of the net proceeds of sale may be a couple of thousand pounds less than that and will be extinguished by the payment of his debt of £69,000 to Suffolk County Council. His remaining capital assets – a half share of a Scottish Widows ISA and a half share of the balance on a Halifax account – amount to just under £8,000. His income is roughly £17,000 a year.
  2. As can be seen from the fixed costs regime described above, generally speaking, costs are higher during the first year immediately following a deputy’s appointment than they are in the second and subsequent years. DT is likely to remain living in an institutional environment for the rest of his life. The family are not at loggerheads with one another and there is no evidence of dishonesty, which would warrant interfering with DT’s Article 8 rights for the prevention of crime.
  3. The average of Bands A to D in National Band One is a charge-out rate of £172 an hour and, if one reckoned that a fairly straightforward case, such as this, would involve at least twenty four hours’ work during the first year (in other words, an average of just two hours a month), one is looking at a baseline of £4,128 to which should be added:(a) VAT (£825.60);

    (b) the cost draftsman’s fee (say £335) plus VAT (£67);

    (c) the premium payable in respect of any security bond required by the court; in this case a single one-off premium of £98, not recurring annually;

    (d) the detailed assessment fee of £225 (which applies where the costs exceed £3,000 including VAT and disbursements);

    (e) the OPG’s initial deputy assessment fee of £100; and

    (f) the OPG’s annual deputy supervision fee of £320.

  4. It is likely, therefore, that in this case, a panel deputy’s costs would be roughly £6,100 during the first year of appointment, and approximately two thirds of that sum in the second and subsequent years. By comparison, DT’s attorneys charge nothing. They don’t even claim travelling expenses when they go and see him, because they visit him as his sons, rather than as his attorneys.
  5. I consider that, in this case, the employment of a panel deputy to manage DT’s property and financial affairs, even if it were necessary (which it is not), would be a disproportionate drain on his limited resources.
  6. Considering all the relevant circumstances and, in particular, the extent to which DT retains capacity and his clear expression of his present wishes and feelings on the matter, I dismiss the Public Guardian’s application to revoke the EPA.

 

Foolscap on the hill

Oh you are all going to LOVE this.

 

 

You know those lever arch files you have got in your office, that you put the Court papers in?  They are too big. You are not to use them. You are very naughty.

 

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division

 

Re L (A child) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/15.html

 

The case is notionally about the refusal of the Legal Aid Agency to pay for the costs of translating a Court bundle for the father, but it has been almost a week since the last Presidential tirade, so we were long overdue.

 

Size of lever arch files

15. PD27A para 5.1 requires the bundle to be contained in an “A4 size ring binder or lever arch file” (emphasis added). Too often this requirement is ignored and the bundle is contained in a foolscap binder or lever arch file. This will not do. This requirement must be complied with. This is not some mindless pedantry. There are reasons for the stipulation, each deriving from the fact that an A4 lever arch file, although it contains as many sheets of paper, is not as tall as a foolscap lever arch file. First, a standard size bankers box can accommodate 5 A4 lever arch files, but only 4 foolscap lever arch files. Second, many judges and courts have trolleys or shelves arranged to accommodate A4 lever arch files, the purpose being to maximise the number of shelves (and thus the number of files) that can be fitted in any given space.

 

Just to confirm to you, every lever arch file that you have in your office, on your shelves, in your stationery cupboard is TOO LARGE. If you take an A4 piece of paper and lay it on the front of the bundle, the paper should exactly fit. If it doesn’t (and it won’t) it is TOO LARGE and you must not use it.

You are thinking, no, my lever arch files are right, they are just the right size. They are the same size that we’ve all been using for 25 years. Suesspicious Minds is talking about people who are using some weird new fangled ones.  I’m really not. I’m talking about the ones that you are using. They are too big. You must not use them.

Probably on pain of death.

You may wonder why Court trolleys and court cupboards and judicial cupboards have been built to the specifications of a size of lever arch file that literally nobody uses rather than, just throwing this out there – the size that literally everyone uses. I cannot resolve that mystery for you.

We then have a rant about witness bundles – you may recall before the President being outraged that people were sending witness bundles to the Court rather than physically carrying them there.

I have also referred to PD27A para 7.4 and drawn attention to what I said about it in Re W (Children) [2014] EWFC 22, para 13. PD27A para 7.4 could not be clearer but it is routinely ignored. It is bad enough when a second (witness) bundle is unnecessarily and improperly delivered to the court or the judge before the day of the hearing. It wastes the time of court staff and judges. It is even worse when – and I have had this experience myself more than once in recent weeks – the second bundle is not needed because there is no prospect of any oral evidence from witnesses; in such a case money – very often public money – is simply being wasted in the preparation of a wholly unnecessary copy bundle.

 

What is the solution? Well, it is this:-

This practice must stop and I have taken practical steps to stop it. From now on, counter-staff at court offices will be instructed to refuse to accept witness bundles, unless a judge has specifically directed that they are to be lodged, and to require whoever is trying to lodge them to take them away. If witness bundles are sent by post, or by DX or delivered by couriers who refuse to take them away, they will, unless a judge has specifically directed that they are to be lodged, be destroyed without any prior warning necessarily being given. They will not be delivered to the judge and will not be taken into the courtroom by court staff.

I’m not making this stuff up, this is actually in the judgment. This is not satire, it is real life.

I would lose any argument on Godwin’s Law if I tried to suggest that the Court would sacrificially burn bundles like some sort of totalitarian government burned books, but let’s go instead with the Americans in the 1970s who rebelled against disco by burning disco records.

Are we done on the raging against the dying of the light? Not quite.

the practice direction says 350 pages – and if you think that the President is about to say “the code is more what you’d call guidelines than rules” then it is like you’re talking gorgonzola when it’s clearly brie time baby.

 

  1. I make two final observations about PD27A, both of which bear on the crucial issue of the size of the bundle – something which is at the core of the difficulties in the present case. The first is that PD27A para 4.1 spells out the fundamental principle that:

    “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 (emphasis added).”

    In other words, there is a double requirement to be satisfied before any document is included in the bundle: it must be relevant and it must be a document which will used, in the sense that it will either be read or referred to. This principle is reinforced by the list of documents which PD27A para 4.1 states “must not be included in the bundle unless specifically directed by the court”.

  2. The other observation is the desirability of documents being, to adopt the language of PD27A para 4.4, “as short and succinct as possible”. This is a topic I dealt with in both my second and my third View from the President’s Chambers: [2013] Fam Law 680, [2013] Fam Law 816. In relation to both local authority documents and expert reports, I made the point that they should be succinct, focused and analytical though also, of course, evidence-based. In relation to expert’s reports I said ([2013] Fam Law 816, 820):

    “there is no reason why case management judges should not, if appropriate, specify the maximum length of an expert’s report. The courts have for some time been doing so in relation to witness statements and skeleton arguments. So, why not for expert’s reports? Many expert’s reports, I suspect, require no more than (say) 25 or perhaps 50 pages, if that. Here, as elsewhere, the case management judge must have regard to the overriding objective and must confine the expert to what is necessary.”

  3. As that makes clear, the approach is not confined to an expert’s report. There is, in my judgment, no reason why case management judges should not, if appropriate, specify the maximum length of a skeleton argument, a witness statement, a local authority’s assessment, an expert’s report or, indeed, any other document prepared for the proceedings which will be included in the bundle. I would encourage judges to do so. Too many documents are still too long, often far too long, not least having regard to the 350 page bundle limit. I recently tried a care case where a psychologist’s report ran to some 150 pages. In the present case the bundle includes no fewer than 131 pages of witness statements by the mother. Another problem is created by unnecessary repetition, for example where the second witness statement reproduces all or most of the first before proceeding to add the more recent material, or where much of the detail in a lengthy assessment is reproduced, sometimes almost word for word, by the assessor in a subsequent witness statement: see again, for a recent example, Re A (A Child) [2015] EWFC 11.
  4. This endemic failure of the professions to comply with PD27A must end, and it must end now. Fifteen years of default are enough. From now on:i) Defaulters can have no complaint if they are exposed, and they should expect to be exposed, to public condemnation in judgments in which they are named.

    ii) Defaulters may find themselves exposed to financial penalties of the kind referred to by Mostyn J in J v J.

    iii) Defaulters may find themselves exposed to the sanction meted out by Holman J in Seagrove v Sullivan.

    The professions need to recognise that enough is enough. It is no use the court continuing feebly to issue empty threats. From now on delinquents can expect to find themselves subject to effective sanctions, including but not limited to those I have already mentioned. If, despite this final wake-up call, matters do not improve I may be driven to consider setting up the special delinquents’ court suggested by Mostyn J.

  5. I make clear that PD27A has nothing to do with judicial amour-propre, nor is its purpose to make the lives of the judges easier. On the contrary, as I observed in Re X and Y, it is simply a reflection of the ever increasing burdens being imposed upon judges at all levels in the family justice system. I continued (paras 5-6):

    “5 … The purpose of all this is to ensure that the judge can embark upon the necessary pre-reading in a structured and focused way, making the best and most efficient use of limited time, so that when the case is actually called on in court everyone can proceed immediately to the heart of the matter, without the need for any substantial opening and with everyone focusing upon the previously identified issues. The objective is to shorten the length of hearings and thereby to increase the ‘throughput’ of the family courts – with the ultimate objective of bringing down waiting times and reducing delay.

    6 But these wholly desirable objects – wholly desirable in the public interest and in the interests of litigants generally – are imperilled whenever there is significant non-compliance with the Practice Direction …”

  6. The judges of the Family Division and the Family Court have had enough. The professions have been warned.

I mean, this doesn’t actually say that offenders will be put in stocks and pelted with rancid fruit, but it says “name and shame”, “making costs orders”  “having a judge tell you go away, agree 350 pages only and don’t come in with any more” and “setting up a special Court to deal with people who break the practice directions”

If you are going before the President with a big bundle, in a big lever arch file, and you’ve already DXed the witness bundle to the Court, don’t wear your best suit is what I’m saying. Or go, but have your Dry Cleaner on speed-dial.

 

Back to the actual issue – in this case father was Slovenian and didn’t speak English. These were care proceedings, so he might lose his child. The Court bundle was 581 pages (naughty naughty). The costs of translation worked out to be £23,000 and the Legal Aid Agency said no. Including this gem

 

This application is refused as it is not considered the expenditure is necessary or justified. It is accepted that if the client cannot speak or read English he does need to understand the evidence. However, it is very unlikely indeed that he will actually to read such a large volume of documentation. Further, unless the client is a lawyer or has some experience of the work done by child professionals, I cannot see that a verbatim translation would be of any real benefit to him. If the client were an English speaker, would you consider it essential that he was provided with a copy of the Court bundle?

 

Erm, well yes, I would.  And I’d suggest that article 6 does too

The applicant must have a real opportunity to present his or her case or challenge the case against them. This will require access to an opponent’s submissions, procedural equality and generally requires access to evidence relied on by the other party and an oral hearing.

 

Clearly £23,000 is a lot of money, particularly when the Judge felt that the bundle was over-inflated. So he trimmed it to essential documents

In my judgment it is “necessary” for K to be able to read in his own language those documents, or parts of documents, which will enable him to understand the central essence of the local authority’s case or which relate or refer specifically to him. The remaining documents need only to be summarised for him in his own language.

[listing them]

In short, it is necessary for K to see in translation, either in whole or in part, only 51 pages. The contrast with the 591 pages originally identified for translation, and even with the more modest total of 246 pages subsequently identified, is striking.

 

  1. Plainly it is necessary for K to understand the case as a whole and to be aware of the important substance – not the fine detail – of the various other witness statements, reports and assessments. As proposed by the LAA, this necessitates the preparation by K’s solicitor of a summary. That summary, if it confines itself, as in my judgment it should, to matters of substance rather than fine detail, need be no more than (say) 30 pages in all.
  2. The point is made that between now and the final hearing various other documents will be served. If the same approach is applied as that which I have set out above, and in my judgment it should be, I would expect that it will be necessary for K to see only a modest number of additional pages in translation. The remainder can be summarised at probably quite short length.

 

And ending with another telling off – sorry, a plea for restraint

 

  1. I end with yet another plea for restraint in the expenditure of public funds. Public funds, whether those under the control of the LAA or those under the control of other public bodies, are limited, and likely in future to reduce rather than increase. It is essential that such public funds as are available for funding litigation in the Family Court and the Family Division are carefully husbanded and properly applied. It is no good complaining that public funds are available only for X and not for Y if money available for X is being squandered. Money should be spent only on what is “necessary” to enable the court to deal with the proceedings “justly”. If a task is not “necessary” – if it is unnecessary – why should litigants or their professional advisers expect public money to be made available? They cannot and they should not. Proper compliance with PD27A and, in particular, strict adherence to the bundle page limit, is an essential tool in the struggle to control the costs of family litigation

 

I am off for a final hearing now, with lever arch files that are too large. Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye.

really expensive legal researchers

Lindner v Rawlins 2015

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/lindner-v-rawlins-2015-ewca-civ-51#.VNymu_msVic

 

In this case, the Court of Appeal were dealing with an appeal from a husband relating to divorce proceedings about a Judge’s refusal to order the police to provide him with information / a statement.  There had been a complaint from the wife (or the wife’s new partner, hence the husband’s interest) about an allegation of criminal damage to a Sky tv satellite dish.

The husband had done a lot of legal research, but was sadly relying on the Civil Procedure Rules and a case called Durham County Council v Dunn [2012] EWCA Civ 1654 which relates to the duties of disclosure and inspection owed by one party in litigation to the other.  Neither were really relevant in this case, which was Family Procedure Rules and relating to an order for disclosure against a third party.  I personally think that the husband had made a pretty decent fist of assembling his case, he’d just started from the wrong assumptions.

The Court of Appeal refused the appeal, but this is the relevant bit and why it is worth reporting.

The second observation is in no way a criticism of the husband who presented his case to us courteously and as comprehensively as he could. Nevertheless, the fact that he was not represented meant that he had approached it on a mistaken basis. The task that would normally have been fulfilled by the parties’ legal representatives, of finding relevant documents amongst the material presented, and researching the law and its application to the facts of the case, had to be done by the judges of the Court of Appeal instead. This is not a satisfactory state of affairs as the time taken to attend to this is considerable and cannot be spared in what is already a very busy court.

 

And

I agree with the judgment of Black LJ. I also wish, wholeheartedly, to endorse her observation at [32]. The procedural issue with which this appeal is concerned is technical and unusual. The husband could not be expected to have mastered this area of the law in order to be able to present his appeal in a way that assisted the court. The wife was neither present nor represented. Yet again, the court was without any legal assistance and had to spend time researching the law for itself then attempting to apply it to the relevant facts in order to arrive at the correct legal answer. To do the latter exercise meant that the court itself had to trawl through a large amount of documents in the file. All this involves an expensive use of judicial time, which is in short supply as it is. Money may have been saved from the legal aid funds, but an equal amount of expense, if not more, has been incurred in terms of the costs of judges’ and court time. The result is that there is, in fact, no economy at all. Worse, this way of dealing with cases runs the risk that a correct result will not be reached because the court does not have the legal assistance of counsel that it should have and the court has no other legal assistance available to it.

 

It is quite easy to read this as a kicking to Chris[tian] Gray-ling and the devillish torments he has assembled for justice in his Red Room (and there’s an image you will be stuck with for the rest of the day, sorry), but I’m not quite sure that it is.

We don’t specifically get told what the husband does for a living, but we do know that there is a matrimonial home of a size for a family of four (husband, wife, two kids) and that it is in the Bromley area (because that was the original Court), so one might hazard a guess that to obtain and sustain a mortgage both parties would probably fall outside of the income limits for legal aid, even before the reforms. The husband is clearly bright and capable – one might criticise him for focussing his intellect in the wrong direction rather than moving on, but that’s by the by.

 

If I were staking money on it, it would be that this husband would not have qualified for free legal advice and representation even before Chris Grayling got his hands on the legal reins and made his changes of course.

If this was supposed to be an economy though, it isn’t. The Legal Aid Agency might have saved a few thousand in legal fees for someone to research and advise the husband (and they’d have advised against an appeal) but the taxpayer overall has lost out because three very senior Judges had to spend valuable time researching and working out the proper basis for the appeal and whether or not it should be granted.

 

 

From Bratislava to Llangefni

The President making a costs order against Capita for failure to provide a Slovak interpreter for a final hearing.

In the matter of Capita Translation and Interpreting Ltd 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/5.html

 

You might remember that what used to happen for interpreters is that you would find one, book one, they would turn up and interpret and then you would pay them. That was all far too simple, so the MOJ introduced a helpful layer of complexity and commerciality, by bringing a third party into the process.

Now what happens is you want an interpreter, you ask the Court, the Court ask Capita, Capita find an interpreter, they turn up *(ahem), you ring the Court saying where are they?, the Court say “it’s capita’s fault, not ours”, you try to explain to the client as best you can that nobody has come to interpret, you get shouted at by the Court, you adjourn off and do it all again when this time an interpreter does turn up, you pay Capita, Capita pay the interpreter.

I wrote about the President’s first go at this back in May 2014

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/05/23/all-a-matter-of-interpretation/

 

When it emerged that Capita don’t employ interpreters, but used freelancers and that they simply didn’t have any control over whether ones they had booked to go to Court actually turned up at that hearing, or chose to do a more lucrative local hearing instead; and moreover that there was a particular systemic problem with Slovak interpreters.

 

The President said at that time:-

Ms Facchini’s statement is dated 14 May 2014. I need not go into the full details. That is a matter for a future occasion. For immediate purposes there are three points demanding notice. The first is that, according to Ms Facchini, the contractual arrangements between Capita and the interpreters it provides do not give Capita the ability to require that any particular interpreter accepts any particular assignment, or even to honour any engagement which the interpreter has accepted. The consequence, apparently, was that in this case the two interpreters who had accepted the assignment (one on 14 and the other on 17 April 2014) later cancelled (on 5 and 1 May 2014 respectively). The second is that it is only at 2pm on the day before the hearing that Capita notifies the court that there is no interpreter assigned. The third is the revelation that on 7 May 2014 Capita had only 29 suitably qualified Slovak language interpreters on its books (only 13 within a 100 miles radius of the Royal Courts of Justice) whereas it was requested to provide 39 such interpreters for court hearings that day. This is on any view a concerning state of affairs. If the consequence is that a hearing such as that before me on 7 May 2014 has to be abandoned then that is an unacceptable state of affairs. It might be thought that something needs to be done.

12 Whether the underlying causes are to be found in the nature of the contract between the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS or whoever and Capita, or in the nature of the contract between Capita and the interpreters it retains, or in the sums paid respectively to Capita and its interpreters, or in an inadequate supply of interpreters (unlikely one might have thought in a language such as Slovak), I do not know. We need to find out.

 

This is the judgment about whether Capita should pay the parties wasted costs – relying in part on Cobb J’s decision that costs could be paid by a third party who is not part of the litigation if the fault lay with them.

The particular problem with Slovak interpreters was touched on again – it being a matter of supply and demand

The wider context is illuminated by Statistics on the use of language services in courts and tribunals: Statistical bulletin, 30 January 2012 to 31 December 2013, published by the Ministry of Justice on 17 April 2014. In Q2 2012, Capita’s overall ‘success rate’ in providing interpreters requested by courts and tribunals was 92.4%. After a dip, coinciding with Capita’s reduction in the mileage rate paid to interpreters, the overall success rate had climbed again to 93.4% in Q4 2013. For civil and family cases the success rate in 2013 was lower, at 89.8%. What is striking, however, is the markedly lower success rate in relation to the provision of Slovak interpreters, only 77.7% in 2013, which was “reflected in the complaint rate which is amongst the highest of all language requests.” Indeed, “Of the 10 languages with most complaints in 2013, the language with the highest complaint rate was Slovak (8.7%). The majority of Slovak complaints came from tribunals where there was a 23.6 complaint rate.” In relation to the overall complaint rate, “In 2013, most complaints were in the South East (2,400) – 35.8% of all complaints reported. The South East had a relatively high complaint rate of 5.7%, well above the 4.1% UK average.”[1]

The President ordered that Capita pay the wasted costs, but did not go as far as many of us would hope in saying that this should become commonplace in cases where hearings don’t go ahead because of a cock-up with interpreters

There was a certain amount of discussion before me as to whether Capita’s obligation to provide an interpreter is dependent upon it having been given reasonable notice and, if it is, as to what amounts to reasonable notice. The point does not in fact arise for decision because on any basis Capita was given more than adequate notice of the need for interpreters at the hearing on 7 May 2014. I propose to say only this. It is clear from the analysis in the ALS case that Capita is required to provide interpreters not merely 24 hours a day but also at what may be very short notice. Notice will in the nature of things often be a matter of hours at most rather than days. But there may come a point at which, given the circumstances of the particular assignment, the notice given is so short as to be meaningless. Suppose, for example, that at 10.00am the court at Llangefni (on the Isle of Anglesey) were to inform Capita that it needs an interpreter in Slovak for a hearing starting at 10.30. Would Capita be in breach of its obligations? This is a matter to be decided another day when the point arises. But without, I emphasise, deciding the point one way or the other, I have, as indicated (see paragraph 39 above), given Capita the benefit of the doubt in relation to the 37 minutes’ notice it was given of the hearing on 9 August 2012.

 

It is refreshing to see a Judge sitting in London who in stretching for a metaphor about somewhere being far away, casts his imagination further than Watford or Preston, and goes for somewhere off the coast of Wales. Hello people of Llangefni. You don’t get much love in law reports, so this is your moment.

The President rather nicely points out that a target of 98% is not really that useful – in every case where you need an interpreter, you actually need one – you don’t need them 98% of the time.

There have been serial failures by Capita in this case against a background of wider systemic problems. Applying the standard identified by Morritt LJ in the Globe case and Cobb J in B v B, and having regard to the principles of general application to be drawn from the ALS case, it is my judgment just in all the circumstances to make the order Mr Howard seeks. In this case, just as in B v B, the failures (here on the part of Capita, there on the part of the local authority) were, to adopt Cobb J’s words, not minor but extensive, and, at two different stages of the litigation, they had a profound effect on the conduct of the proceedings.

  1. I emphasise that I have reached this decision on the facts of this particular case. I am not to be understood as suggesting that Capita will be liable for each and every failure to provide an interpreter. The ALS case is clear authority against any such proposition. Nor am I to be understood as suggesting that Capita will be liable for each and every failure to provide a Slovak interpreter, lamentable though its failures to provide such interpreters were in this particular case and, seemingly, more generally. Everything will depend upon the precise circumstances of the particular case.
  2. Nor should it be assumed that a similar liability will extend to other private-sector contractors whose failures can impact adversely upon the court sitting-day, for example, the companies responsible for producing prisoners at court or the companies responsible for the maintenance of court buildings. Much may turn on the precise term of the agreements under which they operate, of which I know nothing and which may, for all I know, be very significantly and materially different from Capita’s agreement with the Secretary of State.

 

Given the President’s attempt to build bridges between Wales and the Slovak people, I’ll add my own

poď by sem. Nebudem klamať, že je to poriadok rozsudok

 

 

[Come over by here, I won’t lie to you, that’s a tidy judgment…]

Re D (part 2) a damp squid

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Hear hear.

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

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

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

 

…the ALC makes these two assertions:

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

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

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

     

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

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