RSS Feed

Category Archives: fact finding

Reversing the burden of proof – injury to a child

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

The Court Orders…”

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Epilepsy and rib fractures

 

 

This is a County Court decision on a finding of fact hearing, involving a child of two Brazilian parents who sustained a rib fracture.

Because I am childish, I like to think that the Judge specifically named the case Re O because of the Brazilian connection…

Re O (Minors) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/B44.html

The case threw up a number of important issues. The parents defence had been that they had not done anything and that there had been a Vitamin D deficiency, leading to rickets, leading to weak bones. A substantial amount of expert evidence was called on this, and eventually it went nowhere.

The mother, who had been caring for the child L, during the relevant period, is someone who has epilepsy. She gave evidence about whether she had had a fit on that day
As to her epilepsy the mother said that she had five such fits during her pregnancy with F and two during her pregnancy with L. She could recall no fits between F’s birth and her pregnancy with L. Although she does not remember having such fits she usually begins to feel unwell shortly beforehand. Following a fit she feels drowsy, unwell and everything seems muddled. She did not recall any such symptoms occurring on 7th April 2013.
With that in mind, you may be surprised that the finding of His Honour Judge Bond was that the injury was caused during an epileptic seizure. I think, to be fair, that everyone else was surprised as well, and this emerged as a result of some expert evidence from a Dr Hillier
121 Attempts had been made before and during the hearing to secure the attendance of Dr. Hillier. He is a Consultant in Neurology. Unfortunately he did not give evidence until after the parents. He was the last witness to give evidence.

122. The mother’s G.P. had first referred her to Dr. Hillier in 2009. He has written a short report dated 30th September 2013 (C2199) about the mother’s possible epilepsy. He last saw the mother in November 2012. Dr Hillier found it difficult to make a clear diagnosis but thought that the mother suffered from faints which look like seizures, but perhaps has a tendency to fainting and to suffering seizures.

123. In his oral evidence Dr. Hillier went further and took everybody by surprise. He distinguished between what he described as partial epileptic fits and full epileptic fits. In his opinion it was possible that the mother could have had a partial fit, during which she injured L, but remembered nothing of it. Further he thought it possible that the mother would experience no symptoms, before or after a partial fit, that would lead her to remember that she had suffered such a fit.

124. The doctor described situations where a patient had attended his clinic and reported that he had suffered no fits since the last appointment. Not infrequently, the patient’s partner reported that he/she had observed occasions when the patient was “spaced out”, having had some form of partial fit, but which the patient could not remember.

125. It was because of this evidence that the local authority reconsidered its position and no longer sought any public law orders.
The very vivid illustration given by Dr Hillier was that he had once had a patient who had been peeling an orange, had had a partial fit, and continued peeling the orange afterwards, and that for this patient there had been no gap at all in the sequence of events, she had simply peeled an orange and nothing of any significance had occurred at all.

The suggestion therefore was that mother could have had a partial fit, injured the child completely accidentally during it and been utterly unaware of it.

The Local Authority, in the light of that evidence, threw the towel in (save for shutting the door on all of the Vitamin D debate in relation to this case)

That suggestion that a parent could injure their child during a partial fit and have NO RECOLLECTION of it at all is startling, but Dr Hillier’s evidence was clearly compelling.
The Judge had to consider whether this was capable of meeting the section 31 threshold in any event (for example was there some negligence or fault or flaw in the mother handling a child when she was prone to fits?)
In paragraph 8 of his written submissions, Mr Hand [counsel for the LA] deals with the question of whether the threshold criteria are satisfied. He referred to the case of Re D (Care Order: Evidence) [2011] 1 FLR 447 per Hughes LJ that the test under Section 31(2) of the Children Act is an objective one. As the Lord Justice said in that case:

“It is abundantly clear that a parent may unhappily fail to provide reasonable care even though he is doing his incompetent best.”

145. Mr Hand submits, and I agree, that on the facts of this case, if the court finds L’s injuries were caused by the mother during a partial fit, the threshold criteria are not met by reason of the fractures that L suffered. Mr Hand said that, had the Local Authority been aware, at the outset, of Dr Hillier’s evidence, they would not have instituted proceedings under Section 31.
[i.e so far as the LA were concerned, although it was theoretically possible for the Court to find that the s31 threshold was crossed by the child being injured whilst being held by mother who had a partial fit that she had no recollection of, they were not going to invite the Court to do so]
The next interesting point to arise is that clearly once the LA accepted the partial fit theory, and the mother and father accepted it, was it a done deal? In this case, those representing the Guardian felt uncomfortable about that.

168. Mr Tolson QC [counsel for the Guardian] submits, and I agree, that the medical evidence did not alter during the course of the hearing. The three jointly instructed experts agreed substantially, as did Dr Allgrove. The thrust of the evidence was that non-accidental injury is the only explanation, save in wholly exceptional medical circumstances which it is submitted do not exist in this case. It is submitted that the parents’ evidence was not credible and in this case the matter goes further than simply being unable to offer an explanation. It is submitted on behalf of the guardian that the omission of any recall prior to the observation of the lump is particularly striking given the obvious thoroughness with which the parent’s statements have been prepared in other respects. Further submits Mr Tolson QC it is clear that the parents were tired and under some stress on Sunday 7th April 2013.

169. In his oral submissions Mr Tolson QC accepted that he was now the only advocate who contended for a finding of non-accidental injury. Following Dr Hillier’s evidence, Mr Tolson QC had been able to take brief instructions about the Local Authority’s change of position. The guardian maintained her position, as I have just described.

170. Mr Tolson QC dealt with the point raised by Charles J in Lancashire CC v D & E, in respect of the guardian’s position in a case such as this. In the particular circumstances of this case, and particularly since the Local Authority’s change of position, the guardian felt it important that the court should have before it, on behalf of the children, arguments which supported a finding of inflicted non-accidental injury.

171. It is the case that the role of the guardian’s advocate in a fact-finding exercise is to be fully involved in testing, in particular the expert evidence. Generally I would expect the guardian to help the court by making submissions which alert the court to the important matters, but to remain neutral as to the court’s findings. In the unusual circumstances of this case, it was helpful for the guardian to maintain the position that she did, although I regard it as an exceptional course.
The Court therefore permitted the Guardian’s advocate to ‘test the evidence’ and to make submissions that the partial fit explanation might not be the correct answer in this case. (It would perhaps have been interesting to see if the Court would have taken a different view had the key piece of evidence, Dr Hillier, not been the very last witness in the case)

Here is what the Guardian (through leading counsel) had to say about the partial fit theory
172. As to the question of the burden of proof, and given that the Local Authority no longer pursued a finding of inflicted non-accidental injury, Mr Tolson QC pointed out that the court must still, in the circumstances of this case, consider whether such a case has been proved on the balance of probabilities.

173. As to the question of the mother’s epilepsy, Mr Tolson QC pointed out that there was no evidence that the mother had had a fit on the day in question. Further, there was no evidence that the mother had ever had a partial fit of a kind which Dr Hillier thought might have been possible. Mr Tolson QC did not accept that Dr Hillier’s evidence necessarily meant that during a partial fit the mother would drop L and not remember such an event. He submitted that a partial fit would not fill the gap to explain the vagaries of the mother’s evidence, in respect of what happened between about 13.00 and 18.00 on 7th April 2013. It is accepted, on behalf of the guardian, that if the mother had had a full epileptic seizure she might not recall dropping L.

174. Mr Tolson QC submitted that an epileptic fit does not explain L’s rib injuries. For example if L had been dropped that would not involve a squeezing mechanism, which is generally thought to be the cause of a type of rib fracture that L had suffered. Further, said Mr Tolson QC, one such fit would not explain the presence of the bruises.

The Judge said that before having heard from Dr Hillier, he had reached the tentative conclusion that he was satisfied that the injuries had occurred but was not satisfied that they had been deliberately caused by either of the parent, their overall presentation and absence of any other troubling issues weighing significantly in these deliberations.
The applications for Care Orders were dismissed and the children returned home.  [It is worth noting that the Judge indicated that even before Dr Hillier's evidence, he had been of the view that he should not make a finding of fact that either of the parents had deliberately harmed the child]

 

The Judge had this to say about epilepsy

184. The question of epilepsy and its possible implications in cases such as this has been explored. There is clearly much to learn.

 

Children giving evidence

 

This is a Court of Appeal decision, arising from a private law case in which there was an issue as to whether a child should give evidence as part of the forensic exercise of determining the truth of what happened.

Re B (Child Evidence) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1015.html

 

John Bolch does an excellent summary here

http://www.familylore.co.uk/2014/07/re-b-children-giving-evidence.html

 

The case builds on, but doesn’t change the principles set down by the Supreme Court in Re W  http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKSC/2010/12.html

 

The fundamental difference is that in Re W, the potential child witness was the subject of proceedings (thus the welfare of the child was a legitimate component of judicial decision-making, though not the paramount consideration), whereas this was a sibling/half-sibling of the child in question and thus wasn’t covered by that umbrella of welfare.  Other than in the broader philosophical sense that a Court dealing with the welfare of a particular child ought not to cause harm to another child in that pursuit of a decision. Also, in Re W, the child had given a video interview to the police and that could potentially stand as evidence, in this one, the child had not given any interview and the issue was whether and how the child’s evidence ought to be placed before the Court if at all

 

The original trial Judge had decided that a series of questions ought to be drawn up and the CAFCASS adviser ask them of the child and record the answers, deciding to leave the issue of live evidence to one side until that information was available.

I’m not quite sure why the appeal was brought before that decision was made, or how the Court of Appeal dealt with it so quickly (it feels a bit premature to me, but nonetheless they did)

 

The Court of Appeal backed the decision of the trial judge to proceed in that way, but were keen to stress that this was not sanctioning an opening of the floodgates (as Jack of Kent has pointed out, floodgates opening is actually a good thing contrary to the metaphor – they are SUPPOSED to open).

 

  • I would not expect our endorsement of Judge Cameron’s decision to open the floodgates, leading to a widespread practice of calling children as witnesses in cases such as this one. The Supreme Court did not consider that their decision would lead to children routinely giving evidence, predicting that the outcome of the court’s balancing exercise, if it was called upon to adjudicate upon such matters, would be the conclusion that the additional benefits in calling the child would not outweigh the additional harm it would cause him or her. I am sure that the natural sensitivity and caution of the family courts, which originally generated the now defunct presumption, can be relied upon to ensure that matters are approached in a way which properly safeguards all the interests involved.

 

 

 

  • In addition to the argument that G’s evidence was peripheral, it was also argued on F’s behalf that it was wrong to have embarked upon the Family Court Adviser path because it would (or should) lead nowhere as the shortcomings in G’s evidence rendered that evidence of little value. The shortcomings were said to arise from matters such as G’s age, the lack of a contemporaneous statement from her, the passage of time since the incidents, and the likely influence upon her account of having lived in the meanwhile with M who was negative to F.

 

 

 

  • I recognise the logic in the submission that the court should not involve a child in steps designed to explore the possibility of him or her giving evidence unless satisfied that the evidence is likely to be of value. However I would not take such an absolute position. It can be difficult to take a reliable decision in a vacuum and there can sometimes be merit in a step by step approach which enables more information to be gathered before deciding irrevocably. In deciding what steps to take, the apparent nature, quality and relevance of the evidence are obviously material but the court may not know enough in the early stages to form a concluded view about matters such as this.

 

 

 

In the light of the Court of Appeal’s decision to nuke fact finding hearings in public law from orbit, a decision I respectfully think is something one could happily eat with cheese, I thought these remarks from the Court of Appeal were interesting

The pursuit, in public and private children proceedings, of “the truth” about past events is not an abstract endeavour. What happened in the past is the foundation for informed decisions about the future, including decisions as to what, if any, risk of harm a particular course of action may present to the child who is the subject of the proceedings. The more reliable the court’s findings as to what happened in the past, the more reliable should be the prognosis for the future and the better the court should be able to judge where the welfare of the subject child lies.

 

Quite so.

Interim care order appeal (unsuccessful)

 

This is our dear old friend section 37 again, and also a regular topic on these blogs – the bringing of allegations that aren’t proven and the consquences for the person bringing the allegation.

 

Re W (A child)  2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/772.html

 

In this case, private law proceedings were taking place between the two parents about where the child (an 8 year old girl) should live and how much time she should spend with each parent. As part of those proceedings, very serious allegations of sexual abuse were made against the father

[I note, and think it is probably more important than the Court of Appeal treated it, that the Court had previously made findings that the paternal grandfather had sexually abused the child - that sort of thing would probably make any parent hyper-sensitive and vigilant, and also possibly means that the child might act out in a sexualised way as a result of the established sexual abuse which might lead a mother to mistakenly but genuinely think the father had done something. I don't say that this explains and excuses everything, but it is quite an important bit of context]

 

At the finding of fact hearing, the Judge found that none of the mother’s allegations were true, and went on to make an Interim Care Order removing the child from mother’s care – although no public law application by Social Services had been made, the Judge using the power under section 37 of the Children Act 1989 to make an Interim Care Order in the absence of an application (albeit for a maximum of 8 weeks, rather than for whatever duration the Court sees fit as with the new public law regime)

 

 

  • On that day the judge concluded at [246] to [260] of his judgment that all of the allegations that the mother had made against the father were false including, in particular, that he had ever behaved in a sexually inappropriate way towards his daughter. The judge set out his conclusions in considerable detail. The conclusions that were reasoned in the previous 245 paragraphs. He held that the mother:

 

 

 (i) had wrongly suggested that the child did not want to see her father, and was frightened by him;

(ii) had knowingly sought to prevent the child from having a relationship with her father by putting pressure on her about seeing him, and by putting obstacles in the way of contact;

 (iii) had deliberately and wrongly sought to exclude father from school events and being involved in the child’s life;

 (iv) believed that the father was involved in the child’s abuse in London (i.e. the abuse perpetrated by the paternal grandfather), and had informed others of her belief;

 (v) misled the court by saying that it was the child rather than herself who struggled with the grandfather’s abuse;

 (vi) deliberately put the worst interpretation on events to place obstacles in the way of the father’s contact;

 (vii) encouraged the child to make false allegations against her father because of her own fear of contact (which the child did at her mother’s behest despite being a daughter who delights in seeing her father);

 (viii) had told the child about alleged domestic violence on the parties’ separation to influence the child against her father and to cause her to make similar allegations;

 (ix) is out of control, believing her own propaganda and convincing the child of it: creating a situation that is deeply concerning – the child was and is subject to influences which she should not be;

 (x) is worryingly obsessed by the abuse of the child by her paternal grandfather to the extent that she had unfairly taken an adverse view of the father and worked against his contact at every opportunity, save when she could police it herself. Her reluctance to let him develop a natural relationship with his daughter was plain for all to see; and

 (xi) had encouraged the child to have an unhealthy attitude towards her father, to make untrue allegations, to know more about sexual matters and about the case than was good for her with the consequence that her emotional and psychological progress had been damaged.

 

  • The judge concluded that the child could not remain living with her mother before the case was finalised because of the mother’s behaviour, in particular her involvement of the child, and her unjustified convictions, in particular that the father was dangerous and presented a risk of sexual abuse. The judge concluded that the child had suffered significant emotional harm in her mother’s care within the meaning of section 38 CA 1989 and that her psychological safety required her immediate removal from that care.

 

The mother appealed this.

 

The Court of Appeal rejected it. They considered firstly that the Judge had applied the correct test in law

 

 

  • Turning then to the implications of the findings of fact that the judge made. It should be noted that it is no part of this appeal that the judge applied an inappropriate test to the question of removal. That test was set out in Re LA (Care: Chronic Neglect) [2010 ] 1 FLR 80 at [7] by Thorpe LJ:

 

 

13. “separation is only to be ordered if the child’s safety demands immediate separation [...] at an interim stage the removal of children from their parents is not to be sanctioned unless the child’s safety requires interim protection”

 

  • Safety is given a broad construction and includes the child’s emotional and psychological welfare (see, for example, Re B (Care Proceedings: Interim Care Order) [2010] 1 FLR 1211 at [56]).

That test is usually seen in connection with an application by a Local Authority to remove a child under an Interim Care Order, but exactly the same principle and legal test extends to a Judge making an Interim Care Order and his own care plan of removal   [The more difficult issue of how a Judge doing this is becoming both the applicant and the tribunal is something that doesn't get raised - to me, it is a significant problem, but the Court of Appeal when dealing with other section 37 appeals haven't ever felt it was problematic]

 

The next issue was whether the Judge had properly applied the facts of the case to that test, when deciding that the test was met  – and specifically whether the Judge had failed to look at whether removal was proportionate and what other options were available that would have been less interventionist.

 

  • The question is whether the test was wrongly applied to the facts. The judge rejected the mother’s allegations that the father had been involved in or was aware of the sexual abuse of the grandfather or had himself acted in a sexually inappropriate manner. The judge made extensive findings about the inappropriate conduct of the mother which I have summarised by using the analysis that the judge himself constructed at the end of his judgment. The mother’s conduct, even if explicable as a consequence of a psychological or behavioural condition, was inexcusable and highly damaging to the child. The judge’s finding that the mother was “bent on manipulation and encouraging false allegations” was a finding of huge adverse significance in relation to her capability to care for her child. The child had been encouraged by the mother to make allegations against her father despite the child’s own delight in seeing her father in the process of which she had obtained an unhealthy knowledge of sexual issues. On any basis, the risk of further significant harm to the child had to be addressed by the court. Given the prevalence of false allegations made by parents against each other in private law proceedings, conduct at this level by a parent should be understood to be serious child abuse that will usually necessitate intervention by a court.

 

 

 

  • Given that context, the judge was required to consider his child protection duties and powers. The only question that realistically arises on this appeal is whether he exercised them proportionately. There can be no question that the court’s jurisdiction to make orders under sections 37 and 38 CA 1989 was engaged on the facts of this case. The interim threshold for the making of an interim care order was clearly satisfied and there was jurisdiction to make that order. The test for removal was clearly satisfied on the facts as found and that only leaves the question of whether there was a less draconian, i.e. more proportionate order that the judge could and should have considered.

 

 

 

  • I ask the question rhetorically: given the court’s findings, how could the judge leave the child with the mother? No level of sufficient support and necessary protection was described by anyone. To leave the child without protection would have been unconscionable. One has only to consider physical abuse to a child that gives rise to a similar index of harm to understand that such a position was untenable. The submission made on behalf of the mother that her care of the child had in all (other) respects been good or even better than good simply misses the point. More than that level of care was needed to protect this child from her own mother. Each of the alternative orders described to this court would have left the child in that care without any better ability to protect the child than there had been hitherto. The situation might have been different if there could have been effective policing of that care in the interim and before other assessments were conducted but that was not an option addressed to the judge or to this court. I bear in mind that the family court sometimes hears cogent evidence of particular harm that may be caused on the removal of a child from the care of a parent which the court must consider and balance in the welfare analysis and proportionality evaluation, but that was not this case.

 

 

 

  • The distress that had been engendered in the child, as advised by the children’s guardian, sadly made an immediate move to the father impossible. No other relative was immediately available without assessment of the position that relative would take in the highly antagonistic and dysfunctional family relationships that existed (for example, to consider the effect on the maternal family of the mother’s discussions with them that the father was a paedophile). That included the mother’s sister who is now being assessed by the local authority. The only realistic option that remained in this case was the neutral position of short term foster care.

 

 

 

  • The judge described his decision as proportionate at [264] and in accordance with the child’s welfare having regard to the ‘welfare checklist’ in section 1(3) CA 1989. He specifically envisaged a short period of respite care while the local authority explored the possibility of placing the child with her father and/or the obtaining of therapeutic assistance for the mother. Given the need for an assessment of the child’s aunt (who has not challenged the interim conclusion of the judge), there was no immediately available realistic option for the court other than removal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Leading counsel for the father has taken the court through the judgment, identifying the specific points at which the judge came to value judgments about the welfare factors in section 1(3) CA 1989 based on the facts that he found. None of those conclusions is seriously challenged in this appeal and it is not necessary for this court to set them out seriatim. The judge analysed his conclusions by reference to more than 40 written submissions made by the mother. The judge did not specifically address the child’s wishes and feelings in his analysis but he had set out in detail what it was that the child had been influenced to say. It is hardly surprising that there was little more that he could add given the context in which he had to make his decision. It may well have been harmful to ask the child anything else at that stage. Likewise, the judge made ample reference to the situation the child was in and focussed on the unacceptability of its continuation. To that extent the effect of the proposed change of circumstance for the child was regarded as positive and no party other than the mother disputed that.

 

 

 

  • Given that a decision by a court to remove a child into public care, whether in public or private law children proceedings engages article 8 of the ECHR, a welfare analysis and proportionality evaluation are necessary. In any case where there is more than one realistic option it will be necessary for the judge to summarise his conclusions in what is now a conventional balance sheet approach i.e. where there is a choice to be made between two or more realistic options, an analysis of each option by reference to the welfare checklist is required so as to afford paramount consideration to the child’s welfare. The court is then required to evaluate the proportionality of its proposed intervention (and / or that of the local authority) by conducting a balancing exercise in which each of the available options is evaluated by considering the positives and negatives, or the benefits and detriments, of each option side by side. An adequately reasoned judgment must deal with the reasonably available options and give them proper and focussed attention.

 

 

 

  • That was not this case. There were no other realistic options i.e. options that were reasonably available to the court and no more proportionate interference than that contemplated by the judge. Given the stark facts, no further analysis was necessary.

 

 

[Okay, this may be more widely important, because this is the Court of Appeal accepting the point that some High Court Judges, notably Pauffly J have made about Re B-S, that the Court isn't required to rigorously scrutinise EVERY option, only the realistic ones. The Court of Appeal accept that what is required of a Judge is to analyse each of the REALISTIC OPTIONS.  They say in this case that there were no other realistic options, so the level of scrutiny and weighing up was much lower.  That, to me, is interesting, since I read last week of a Court of Appeal judgment that overturned a Placement Order where BOTH OF THE PARENTS WERE IN PRISON at the time of the final hearing and were going to be there for some years to come, and the Court of Appeal overturned it for lack of proper analysis of the options. Consistent much?    *  I have that on Lawtel as Re T (a child) 2014 but without a bailli report yet, and Lawtel is paywall-y so I can't link]

I would be using Re W (a child) 2014 as Court of Appeal authority for the principle that only the REALISTIC options need to be scrutinised and weighed.  (That raises the question of how you sift the options into realistic and unrealistic without scrutinising them, but y’know, there are degrees of scrutiny  – like for example, mum is not a realistic option to care for her child because she is doing FIVE YEARS IN PRISON)

 

The Court of Appeal here are saying that removal on the facts of the case was such a blindingly obvious outcome that it doesn’t matter if the Judge didn’t spend much time in the judgment setting out the pros and cons, the facts speak for themselves.  [They might regret that, this seems to be something that lawyers could argue about till the end of time - was THIS case bleedin' obvious, or was it finely balanced? We call an expert witness, whose specialist subject is the Bleedin' Obvious, Mrs Sybil Fawlty]

 

So, the mother’s appeal on those first two points failed – the next point was whether this was procedurally fair and whether she had been properly placed on notice that she might face an Interim Care Order and removal of her daughter.

 

  • It is convenient to take the last two propositions first because the whole context of the decision making process needs to be analysed if one is to understand what happened on the day the order was made. At the time the fact finding hearing was being case managed by Judge Cardinal on 21 June 2013 the judge indicated to the parties in the presence of the mother that if it were subsequently to be established that the mother was leading the child to make false allegations against her father, the court would consider making a residence order in favour of the father. At that stage, the judge had identified as a key issue the nature and extent of the harm that was being or would be caused to the child if the mother’s allegations were false and had rightly, in my judgment, identified one of the potentially serious consequences, namely removal of the child and a change of residence away from the child’s primary carer.

 

 

 

  • On 16 July 2013 at a hearing when mother was again present and assisted by an experienced McKenzie friend, Ms Haines, Judge Cardinal repeated his concerns to both parents: the consequences for each parent of the allegations being determined to be true or false were patent. On 18 October 2013 in the presence of Ms Haines, the judge explained to the mother that if he rejected her allegations he would have to very carefully consider the child’s future.

 

 

 

  • On the morning of 28 October 2013 before the fact finding hearing in question began, Judge Cardinal addressed all the advocates and Ms Haines. Entirely properly and to enable the parties to think about their positions, the judge indicated that if the mother’s allegations against the father were subsequently proved, he would have to consider exercising his powers to make a section 37 direction and an interim supervision order because the threshold for intervention would be met and the child would need protective assistance. He also dealt with the converse position. He explained that if the allegations were found to be false (a necessary and logical position on the facts of this case if they were not proved) he would have to consider exercising his powers to make an interim care order on the basis he would approve the removal of the child from the mother’s care. These observations were repeated by the judge more than once during the fact finding hearing.

 

 

 

  • The fact finding hearing was adjourned on 31 October 2013 at the conclusion of the oral evidence. The judge directed the parties to file written closing submissions by 10.00 am on 6 November 2013 in preparation for the resumed hearing on 11 November 2013. The judge directed the local authority as the recipient of his section 37 direction to attend court on 11 November 2013. In order to assist the mother, who did not have a legal representative, the judge identified specific questions for the mother to answer in her written submissions. The questions related to what orders he should make specifically including the options of interim care or supervision orders and residence and contact orders. The mother understood the judge’s intentions at least to the extent that she faithfully replicated his questions in her written submissions.

 

 

 

  • The mother did not answer the questions posed by the judge in her written submissions but as respects the notice she had of the judge’s powers and his realistic options, it is quite clear that she had days not hours or minutes to consider her position. Indeed, as to the key question about the removal of her daughter, she had more than 4 months notice and repeated reminders of the stark position that faced everyone if her allegations were found to be false.

 

 

 

  • As the judge records at [56] of his judgment, the mother’s closing submissions were received and considered after the deadline he set. There were in fact four sets of closing submissions from her, the last of which was received on 11 November 2013 which was the resumed final hearing day. By that time the mother would have been aware of the written submissions of the other parties specifically dealing with removal and inviting the court to take that step. The father asked the court to remove his daughter from the mother’s care and the children’s guardian recommended and reasoned the precise order made by the judge. The guardian also dealt with the difficult position that would arise if the judge decided that the mother’s allegations were false and that she had involved the child in her allegations to the extent that on removal the child would not immediately be able to go to live with her father.

 

 

 

  • At [30] and [31] of his judgment the judge records the following:

 

 

12. “[30] At the outset of proceedings I warned both parents of the serious consequences of pursuing this fact finding exercise. Were the allegations now make [sic] of sexual abuse true, then the court would be finding [the child] had been abused twice over, both by the grandfather and, later, by father. It would almost certainly mean, given [the child's] distress, the need for a section 37 report, and probably an interim supervision order, and very careful evaluation of the need to protect, of a risk assessment, and the need to manage, with care, a deeply damaged little girl.

12. [31] Were the allegations untrue, then mother would be guilty of feeding her with untruthful stories, of an obsessive nature, about sexual abuse. Again, I would almost certainly be directing a section 37 report and making an interim care order, as [the child] would then need speedy removal from an abusive home.”

 

  • Once the judgment had been handed down the judge gave the parties the opportunity to reflect on his conclusions and have discussions including with the local authority who were present in accordance with his earlier direction. Counsel recollect that there was a period from about 12.30 pm to 2.15 pm during which the mother asked the local authority to consider placement of her daughter with the mother’s sister. The local authority would not accept that proposal without an assessment for reasons that are understandable having regard to the content of the judgment. That decision was not at that stage a matter for them but rather for the court and it is of note that from about 2.15 pm to about 3.00 pm the mother was given and used an opportunity to make further oral submissions to the judge about her proposals and the orders that the court could make.

 

 

 

  • Given the judge’s record and that of all counsel in the case and for the reasons set out above, I cannot accept that the mother would have been in any doubt about what the judge was able to do and indeed what he proposed to do if the facts were found against the mother and absent any submissions as to other alternatives. The mother had every opportunity which she used to make proposals about placement including her sister and other members of the family. During oral submissions to this court and for the first time both without written warning or earlier complaint, the mother instructed her counsel to the effect that she had not had notice of the other parties written submissions because she had had computer difficulties and had not been able to open their documents. The process that I have described and the manner in which this complaint is disclosed to this court make it inherently unlikely but even if it is correct, there is ample other material to remain of the firm view that there was no procedural irregularity. This element of the ground of appeal is without merit and is not the case that was put to the single judge when he granted permission. There was no procedural irregularity or unfairness

 

 

There does seem to be quite a few warning shots there, that weren’t picked up on.

 

An argument that was not raised by the mother’s McKenzie Friend which might have been (I think the appeal was doomed, but I would have liked to see how the Court of Appeal tackled this) was the article 6 point. A parent in private law proceedings can be unrepresented – and in this case it seems that the mother was – making use of a McKenzie Friend, because she would not qualify for free legal representation.

In order to assist the mother, who did not have a legal representative, the judge identified specific questions for the mother to answer in her written submissions.

In a case where a Local Authority applies to remove your child, you automatically qualify for free legal representation. Once the Judge was contemplating the possibility of making an Interim Care Order and removing the child,  should the mother not have been entitled to free legal representation in exactly the same way that she would have been in care proceeedings?  From the point of view of a parent’s rights, does it matter whether the Interim Care Order is made by a Judge after a Local Authority apply, rather than by a Judge of his own motion?  The issue is the removal of the child from her care and into foster care, surely?

 

If a Judge is contemplating removal of a child into foster care under section 37,  should a parent not be entitled to free legal advice and representation about that, and be able to challenge it with the benefit of such representation?  Is it a denial of the principles of Airey v Ireland for her to NOT be able to be represented?  Given the warning that the Judge gave to the mother about the risks of the finding of fact hearing, might it have been beneficial for her to have had legal advice?

 

 

 

Private law appeal (unsuccessful)

The Court of Appeal have given judgment in Re H (Children) 2014  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/733.html

 

This relates to an appeal from the decision of Parker J to make an order transferring residence of three children from their mother’s care to their father’s care AT AN INTERIM STAGE – the case is not over and further steps are being taken prior to the final hearing of the private law applications.

 

The interim change of residence followed a finding of fact hearing in which the mother made very serious allegations about the father – including that he had raped her and hit the boys with a belt. The boys had made that allegation during police ABE (Achieving Best Evidence) interviews.

 

The Court of Appeal are quite right, to make sense of the appeal, one needs to look at the context of the litigation, which they set out in summary form

 

  • In order to make sense of what follows, it is necessary to set out the bare bones of the chronological history which catalogues the development of evidence with respect to each of these two core themes.

 

 

 

  • On 4th April 2013 the mother applied for an injunction against the father under the Family Law Act 1986 and made applications for residence and supervised contact orders with respect to the children. In her witness statement supporting those applications the mother did not complain that she was the victim of any physical or sexual violence from the father save for one occasion nearly twenty years earlier prior to their marriage. She did, however, allege that the father was highly controlling and threatening in his manner towards her and that he would regularly assault the children and, in particular, would take a belt to them if he considered that they had misbehaved. The father issued a counter application for contact and specific issue orders regarding the children’s schools.

 

 

 

  • The first court hearing took place on 15th April 2013 before DJ Hodges. At that hearing the mother’s position had changed from one of supporting supervised contact between the children and the father. Her case was that the elder boy, A, opposed the two younger children having direct contact with the father and the mother herself therefore opposed direct contact for any of the children. At the hearing the District Judge explicitly stated that the court would start with the presumption that children should grow up knowing both parents. Some 2 hours after the conclusion of that hearing the mother and A attended the local police station and made allegations about the father’s behaviour. The police record shows that, in addition to the allegations of violence towards the children, the mother alleged that the father had also been violent towards her, but that his abuse of her was “mostly emotional and sexual”.

 

 

 

  • On the following day, 16th April, police visited the mother and the children at the refuge. Notes of that visit indicate that C and A made allegations of physical assault by their father, but that these were not substantiated by B’s account. The mother’s complaint was of emotional and mental abuse. She made an historical allegation that he had raped her and she stated that he had physically abused her, but that this had not happened for some years. In subsequent police interviews (in April and in September) the mother came to make allegations of repeated rape and controlling behaviour.

 

 

 

  • On 23rd April A undertook a formal Achieving Best Evidence ["ABE"] interview with the police in which he made various allegations of physical assault by the father, including the use of a belt.

 

 

 

  • Matters then took a striking turn when, on 30th April, the father filed a statement exhibiting a number of notes and other documents written by the mother which described how she had herself been violent to the children, that she was unable to cope and was unable to control her consumption of alcohol.

 

 

 

  • At his subsequent police interview the father denied the allegations of rape, violence and controlling behaviour. He accepted that during one of A’s violent outbursts he had physically intervened.

 

 

 

  • The first hearing before Parker J took place on 7th May 2013 in which the judge heard oral evidence from the mother, father and paternal grandmother. The judge’s judgment on that occasion indicates that the background material produced by the father, originating as it did from the mother’s own hand, suggested that the father’s case that the mother was emotionally very troubled, was borne out. The judge said that the material that had been produced “worries me in the extreme, particularly the mother’s reference to drinking, Alcoholics Anonymous and being physically out of control with regard to the children”. The case was thus one in which allegations flowed in both directions.

 

 

 

  • Having heard the mother’s oral evidence with regard to the father’s behaviour and, in particular, his use of a belt on the children, the judge was plainly unimpressed with her credibility and stated “I thought that the mother’s evidence with regard to the belting was all over the shop to put it bluntly as to what actually she said had happened and what precisely she knew”. The judge was, however, plainly impressed with the “quite excellent” paternal grandmother who the judge described as being “true as steel, stout as oak”.

 

 

 

  • As a result of this, her first encounter with this case, the judge developed a very clear strategy as to the way forward. Whilst expressing concerns that the mother’s presentation, and the children’s allegations, might indicate that the children had become “recruited children”, in the sense that they had fallen in with their mother’s view of matters, the judge was prepared to accept, for the moment, that these matters were as a result of her troubled emotions and were not deliberate acts. The judge therefore ordered that the two younger children should be made available for contact with their father each Saturday during the day, but that all such contact should be supervised by the paternal grandmother and a paternal aunt. A was free to attend contact with his father and brothers should he desire. The judge fixed a further hearing for the end of June.

 

 

 

  • Three days later, on 10th May, the mother made a without notice application to stay the contact order. Fortunately it was possible for the father and his legal team to attend court on that hearing before Parker J, who, having heard the matter, dismissed the mother’s application. It is apparent that, again, the judge heard oral evidence from the mother on that occasion. The judge records the mother as saying that she was not relying on her serious allegations of domestic violence against herself and the children in opposing contact, but upon the need for the family to “heal” from the difficult marriage and marital circumstances and for the children to repair their relationship as siblings before contact could take place. The judge expressed great concern about what she perceived as the mother’s shifting stance in the proceedings, which did not demonstrate a solidly-founded mindset upon which the court could place any confidence. The mother’s application for a stay was founded upon A refusing point blank to attend any contact with the father and the younger children being said to be visibly upset and awake all night after being told of the proposal for contact. The judge on this second hearing expressed herself as having far more cause for concern as to the extent to which the children had been drawn into adult concerns and adult perceptions. The judge considered that the mother’s “havering and wavering about what her case actually is” supported her view that a firm grip was needed to be taken on contact before there was further opportunity for matters to deteriorate. The judge therefore repeated that she expected contact to take place in accordance with the order.

 

 

 

  • On 28th June all three children were interviewed by police and made allegations of violence against their father.

 

 

 

  • The judge had directed the local authority to provide a report pursuant to Children Act 1989, s 37. In that report, which is dated 26th July, the local authority recommended that no contact with the children’s father should take place “for the time being”.

 

 

 

  • At the end of September, and again in a revised document one week later, the mother filed a detailed schedule of allegations. That second (revised) document raised, for the first time during the court process, allegations of rape “on numerous occasions” from l992 onwards.

 

 

 

  • At this stage the father filed additional material including video, audio and photographic evidence which included a film apparently taken by A of a violent assault by C on B. It was apparent that the father was not present in the house and the children were in the care of the mother, who, apparently, can be seen ineffectually attempting to stop the assault and then leaving the room. This material was viewed by Parker J during a hearing on 29th October. That hearing, which had been intended to be a substantial fact finding process, was thwarted in two respects. Firstly, sadly, the mother’s father had died some five days earlier and she was not available to attend for all of the three or four day trial. Secondly, as a result of a failure by the police to respond to orders for disclosure, the court did not have access to key police records. The case was therefore adjourned part heard. However, at this hearing the court again heard evidence from the mother, father and paternal grandmother. In a short judgment given on 30th October the judge concluded that the risk of the children being put under pressure by the mother was very high in the light of the mother’s inability (apparently demonstrated in the witness box) to restrain herself in airing what she says about the father, including allegations of rape, in the children’s presence. The judge concluded that professionally supervised contact was not in the children’s interests, as there was a high risk that the children would understand that they should behave badly at contact so that this behaviour would be seen by the contact supervisors.

 

 

 

  • Although the judge was plain that the fact finding process was not concluded, and that she kept an open mind, she was struck by the fact that the two younger children had not made assertions of being belted by their father until after the judge herself had made her adverse comments relating to the mother’s oral evidence at the May hearing. The judge seriously entertained the view that the younger children may well have sought to provide corroboration for the allegations that were being made by picking up from the mother’s conversation, either directly with them or by overhearing what she said to A, what the issues in the case were. The judge therefore considered that contact should be reinstated to the father as soon as possible for the younger two children. The judge was clear that, because of A’s alliance with his mother, he should not attend those contact visits, but could, if he wished, have supervised contact with the father. The matter was set down to conclude the fact finding process at a two day hearing on 19th December.

 

 

 

  • Between the October and December hearings contact took place, but not without incident. It is not necessary to spell out the details, but in consequence of the difficulties on 4th December the father applied to enforce the contact order and applied for a residence order with respect to the two younger boys.

 

 

 

  • The fact finding hearing concluded on 19th and 20th December with judgment being given on Monday 23rd December. On the first day of the hearing the court ordered that B and C should stay overnight that night with the father. During their stay the two boys received a text message on their mobile phone from their elder brother A encouraging them to disrupt their time with the father. Part of the message read “fight, break stuff and argue to get out of this situation…you know what to do to get out of this situation…if you don’t act [F] will have custody of you after tomorrow. Good luck. Break, destroy and burn.”

 

 

 

  • At the conclusion of the hearing on 23rd December the judge made an immediate order transferring residence of the two younger boys to the father and making a residence order for A to the paternal grandmother. It is against those orders that the mother now seeks permission to appeal.

 

 

The appeal was centred around 3 issues

 

1. That the judge had come to conclusions prematurely about the allegations, making up her mind before hearing all of the evidence. In part because the earlier history of the litigation had set her mind against the mother’s allegations before the evidence was properly tested at a finding of fact hearing.

2. That in meeting the boys whilst the finding of fact hearing was going on, the exercise crossed from the appropriate one of familiarising the children with the Court and the process into an inappropriate one of gathering evidence  (I note, in passing that Parker J was of course the Judge who was recently criticised by the Court of Appeal for just this issue, having asked a child some 87 questions during an hour long interview http://www.familylore.co.uk/2014/05/re-kp-childs-meeting-with-judge-is-not.html )

 

3. That the Judge had decided that the case warranted an expert of particularly high calibre to assist, but then went on to decide that as the expert she had in mind was not available, no expert would be instructed.

 

[For my mind, looking at this purely from the outside, the third point is the best one, but relatively little was made of it]

 

Point 1 – the appellant claimed that the Judge had prematurely reached conclusions and as a result had curtailed mother’s ability to call witnesses and to put matters to those witnesses who had been called (regular readers will know that this is the Jones v NCB point – has the Judge ‘descended into the arena and become a participant in proceedings’ ?

 

This in part is complicated by the fact that the Judge had previously conducted a hearing in the case, and evidence had been heard during that hearing. Was the Judge entitled to rely on the impressions she formed of the evidence in the earlier hearings, thus allowing her to fairly restrict evidence and the extent of the evidence this time around? The Court of Appeal said yes, she was.

 

  • The range of detailed points about the judge’s conduct of the proceedings all, to a greater or lesser extent, come back to the central submission that the judge formed a premature conclusion on the factual material which was adverse to the mother’s case. That the judge had formed a preliminary view by, at the latest, the end of the October hearing, seems clear. In the light of that view, and conscious of the very tight timetable within which the December hearing had to be completed (given that the judgment was in fact handed down on the first day of the vacation), the judge may have been justified in excluding certain matters entirely from consideration in oral evidence, limiting the witnesses and the time available for cross-examination. On this point Mrs Crowley’s core submission is that the judge was wrong to use the early adverse view she had formed of the mother’s evidence to determine the allegations that had been made by each of the three children and to do so without a proper evaluation of the primary material that only became available to the court at the December hearing. That primary material comprised of the disclosure that was received from the police, including, importantly, the records of the various interviews undertaken by the children and the parents together with a DVD recording of A’s ABE interview. In particular, a point is made concerning the judge’s assumption that the younger boys only made allegations of physical assault by their father after Parker J had made adverse observations about the mother’s credibility at the May hearing. That assumption was shown to be erroneous with respect to C on disclosure by the police on the eve of the December hearing of a note of the interview with him undertaken by the police on 16th April. Mrs Crowley submits that the judge simply failed to engage with this new material and did not refer to it in the judgment.

 

 

 

  • In this respect Mrs Crowley is correct. At paragraph 63 of her December judgment the judge deals with the issue in this manner:

 

 

“I have thought very hard, notwithstanding the evidence that I have heard about good contact, whether there could have been incidents when the father had taken a belt to the children, whose behaviour was, as I have said, seriously out of control at this time. But as a result of the combination of the timing; the older boy’s assertions; the fact that the children were taken to the police station, as they must have been, in order to make this disclosure; the fact that I had made comments in my judgment only weeks previously about the lack of any assertion by the boys; I have come to the conclusion that I cannot place any reliance on these allegations. Also, the mother’s case about what she knew at the time has been markedly unreliable and inconsistent. She cannot possibly have not known about beatings at the time had they happened.”

 

  • It can be seen that the judge’s understanding of the timing of the boy’s allegations, coming after her adverse comments in the May judgment, is but one of the factors relied upon by the judge. It must also be borne in mind that the interview with the boys at the police station on 16th April, whilst happening prior to Parker J’s observations, took place within 24 hours of DJ Hodges indicating that the presumption would be for direct contact to take place.

 

 

 

  • In her skeleton argument in response to this application, Miss Pamela Scriven QC for the father submits that the premium now placed upon ensuring judicial continuity in these cases is partly justified by the fact that it is beneficial for a judge, over the course of successive hearings, to form a developing view of the evidence as it unfolds. I entirely agree with that submission, and Mrs Crowley does not seriously dispute it. It is, in my view, wholly artificial to regard one part of the series of hearings conducted in front of Parker J to be, in some manner, a free-standing, fact finding hearing in which the judge must ignore any previous views she had developed as a result of evidence heard on prior occasions. In a case such as this, where, fortunately, judicial continuity had been largely maintained, the proceedings before the judge, at successive hearings, should be regarded as one single process. Before the start of the December hearings this judge had heard the mother give oral evidence on three previous occasions. At the December hearing she received the material that had been disclosed by the police and watched A’s ABE interview.

 

 

 

  • In her judgment the judge rejected the allegations that were made by the mother having expressly referred, once again, to the “marked inconsistencies” in the mother’s accounts. With respect to A’s ABE interview the judge observed that his demeanour was “quite remarkably flat” with no sense at all of any emotional engagement. The judge observed that “there was every sense of giving an account which had been repeated, perhaps in his own mind, on many occasions, rather than being any form of spontaneous recall”. That description is not challenged within this appeal and we have not been invited to view the ABE interview ourselves. The judge concluded that the father may very well have been over-rough with A on one particular occasion, but she observed the difficulties in dealing with a child whose behaviour is physically very challenging.

 

 

 

  • The judge reviewed the evidence relating to allegations made by the boys more generally, and, in particular, about being hit by the father with a belt. I have already set out the judge’s conclusion on this point which is at paragraph 63 of her judgment. The reasons given by the judge, save for her misunderstanding as to the timing of the first allegations made by the younger boys, is supported by the evidence to which she refers and the conclusion to which she came was plainly open to her on that evidence.

 

 

 

  • Once it is established, as I consider it is, that the judge was entitled to form a preliminary view of the veracity of the mother’s core case following hearing her oral evidence at the two hearings in May, I consider that the criticisms of the robust case management that the judge undoubtedly deployed in December must fall away.

 

 

The nub of this is really the timing of the allegation that the father had hit the boys with a belt, which came right on the heels of  DJ Hodge telling the mother that direct contact would be in the interests of the children (no allegations of physical abuse were being made by mother at that hearing, but they emerged immediately after). At the fact finding all of the mother’s allegations were rejected, and Parker J reached a decision that the mother’s behaviour had gone beyond a misguided belief that the children were at risk or over-protectiveness and into darker areas.

 

The change of residence is interesting – the boys were expressing the view that they did not want to live with their father. The social worker did not support a move, nor did the Guardian. (note the criticisms below of the Guardian)

 

  • Neither the social worker nor the Children’s Guardian supported an immediate change of residence. In justifying her conclusion in favour of an immediate change of residence, the judge explained her reasons for disagreeing with these two professionals as follows:

 

 

“72. The social worker, JW, who is warm, caring and committed, urges me to leave the children living with the mother because that is what they say they want. Until I enforced contact she was also saying that there should be no contact, because that is what the boys say they want. The proof of that pudding has been very much in the eating, on present showing. I have more than once stressed in this case, as in others, that the word used in the Children Act about wishes and feelings is “ascertainable” and not “expressed”. “Ascertainable” often means that the Court has to look at actions rather than words. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of these boys have been demonstrated by the evidence that they are more than happy to be with their father. I suspect they may feel some relief being out of the maelstrom. Their grandmother is calm and robust.

 

73. The Children’s Guardian also urged me to do nothing and not to intervene because of what the boys say they are not willing to see their father. She has done remarkably little as a Guardian. She has not read most of the papers, she hardly knows the boys. When it was put to her that if this was a case of parental manipulation and recruitment, then this could be or would be emotionally abusive to the boys, she took that on board seemingly, or at least superficially, but then said, “But the boys say they don’t want to go.” She was reminded that they were fine when they went on contact. “Oh,” she said, “but the boys don’t want to go.”

 

  • At paragraphs 74 to 76 the judge then set out her conclusions:

 

 

“74. I regard parental manipulation of children, of which I distressingly see an enormous amount, as exceptionally harmful. It distorts the relationship of the child not only with the parent but with the outside world. Children who are suborned into flouting court orders are given extremely damaging messages about the extent to which authority can be disregarded and given the impression that compliance with adult expectations is optional. Bearing in mind the documented history of this mother’s inability to control these children, their relationship with one another and wholly inappropriate empowerment, it strikes me as highly damaging in this case. I am disappointed that the professionals in this case are unable truly to understand this message. The recent decision of the Court of Appeal, Re M (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1147 requires to be read by all practitioners in this field. Lady Justice Macur gave firm and clear guidance about the importance of contact. Parents who obstruct a relationship with the other parent are inflicting untold damage on their children and it is, in my view, about time that professionals truly understood this.

75. I am in no doubt that I am entitled to disagree with the view of both the Guardian and the social worker, both of whom, although expressing their own views forcefully, recognise that the decision is for me, having surveyed all the facts and depending upon the findings that I make. I disagree with them because they have not taken into account the degree of parental manipulation and the dangers presented to the younger children from the inappropriate power given to the eldest boy. I am in no doubt that the mother’s track record is such that she cannot safely have unsupervised contact to her two younger boys at the moment. Much though I would like to give these boys a Christmas as they want it, or as they believe they want it, it is unsafe for them to spend Christmas Day with their mother and her family. Quite apart from anything else, the mother accepts that the two younger children should spend Christmas with the father and his family. They should be told that that is now the parental agreed plan.

76. I am in no doubt that the boys must remain living with their father until this case can be looked at again. I see no chance of any significant change to divert me from that view. I am not inclined to bring this matter back before the circuit judge in January, when I am away, unless there is some emergency which needs to be dealt with. There does need to be some form of further investigation. I am not at the moment persuaded, particularly because an expert of proper calibre has not been identified, that there needs to be any form of psychological assessment. That simply detracts from the judicial role and, after all, it is not experts who make findings and decisions; it is the Court. I would like to see how things settle down.”

 

 

Point 2 – the Judge meeting with the boys

 

 

  • On the morning of the second day of the December hearing the judge conducted two judicial meetings with the children, firstly with the younger two and secondly with A. Depending on the circumstances of any given case, a judge may see a child for a variety of purposes. Such purposes are, however, likely to fall under one or both of two heads, namely providing an opportunity for the young person to say anything that they wish to say to the judge and, secondly, providing an opportunity for the judge to explain the process being undertaken by the court and to otherwise enhance the young person’s understanding of, and feeling of engagement with, the court proceedings. Judges are encouraged to adhere to the guidelines issued under the authority of the President of the Family Division by the Family Justice Council (Guidelines for Judges Meeting Children who are Subject to Family Proceedings (April 2010) [2010] 2 FLR 1872). The guidelines make it plain that a judicial meeting is not for the purposes of gathering evidence:

 

 

“It cannot be stressed too often that the child’s meeting with the judge is not for the purpose of gathering evidence. That is the responsibility of the CAFCASS officer. The purpose is to enable the child to gain some understanding of what is going on, and to be reassured that the judge has understood him/her”

 

  • It is clear that the meeting with the judge occurred in consequence of the judge’s conclusion that such a meeting was likely to be beneficial, rather than arising out of any request from any of the children. The judge indicated both at the October hearing and on the first day of the December hearing that she considered a meeting with the children was likely to be useful. Mrs Crowley submits, and the transcript supports her, that the meeting arose from a desire on the part of the judge to inform the children of the process and of the orders that might be made, rather than to ascertain their wishes and feelings, which were well recorded. On 19th December the judge told the parties that she perceived a need to be open with the children and to “put her cards on the table” at that stage of the process.

 

 

 

  • The judicial interviews were conducted entirely in accordance with the guidelines. The judge saw the boys in the court room, albeit no doubt in an informal configuration, so that the encounters were recorded and have been transcribed. She was accompanied by her usher, her clerk and the Children’s Guardian. First of all the judge saw the two younger boys together. In addition to hearing the boys give a short account of their wishes and feelings, and their reaction to spending the previous night in the father’s home, the judge used the encounter to describe the possibility that the court might order a change of residence and her expectation that the young people, as would be the case with the adult parties, would co-operate with her decision and abide by it. The boys were plain in stating that they did not want to go to live with their father. During the second interview with A the judge adopted an approach which was commensurate with his age and sought to explain to him that he was not “the man of the family” and that it was the grown ups who had to take responsibility for the arrangement of the affairs of the children.

 

Point 3 – the instruction of an expert

 

 

  • Given the extreme behaviour displayed on occasions by A and given the striking content of the mother’s own handwritten notes reflecting on her own behaviour and emotional stability, the question of whether or not the assistance of a child and adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist inevitably arose for consideration. On the first day of the hearing in December the judge indicated that an expert of a particularly high calibre was required. She indicated that she had a particular expert in mind, but, on the second day of the hearing the judge reported that she had made enquiries which had ascertained that that particular expert was not available to take this case on. The judge therefore concluded that no other expert should be considered and the case would proceed without additional expert involvement.

 

 

 

  • That sequence of events had initially been one of the grounds of appeal   [The Judge went on to grant an application in February 2014 for the instruction of a different expert, so that bit of the appeal falls away]  Although any appeal on the question of whether or not an expert should be instructed therefore falls away, Mrs Crowley criticises the judge’s approach to this matter, on the one hand considering that only an expert of high calibre should be instructed but, on the other, taking it upon herself to assess the situation. She submits that as indicating that the judge went outside the boundary of her judicial role in developing an analysis of the family dynamics which, wrongly it is submitted, supported the decision to make an immediate change of residence.

Even though that point did not have to be determined, since it had fallen away by that stage, the Court of Appeal still say that Parker J was entitled to make that decision and did not need to have expert evidence in order to make her decision that in the interim, the children should move from mother’s care to father’s care.

Although I understand the argument as is so clearly put by Mrs Crowley, I do not consider that the judge’s approach to this matter is open to that criticism. The residence arrangements that are currently in place are plainly interim arrangements pending the further assessment by Dr Asen and the further consideration of the court. Given that the judge was required to make findings of fact in December, and given that those findings were so adverse to the mother, the question naturally arose as to whether the children could be emotionally “safe” if they continued in their mother’s care after those adverse findings had been made. The judge having concluded that the allegations made by the boys were not grounded in reality, it was necessary to consider other explanations to explain the fact that the boys had nevertheless said what they had said to the police. Of the limited range of alternative explanations available, the judge’s conclusion, at that stage of this ongoing process, that the allegations in some manner arose out of a dysfunctional relationship with the mother is not, in my view, seriously open to challenge.

 

Any hearing where the allegations are as strong and vivid as this carries risk for both parents – if the Court finds mother’s allegations proven, then father will have difficulty in establishing any relationship with his children. If the Court finds that mother, as they did here, has made them up and drawn the children into a web of deceit, then a change of residence is a distinct possibility – by that time, the children having taken sides so manifestly are going to find a change of residence very difficult. And of course, worst-case scenario is that a Court eventually concludes that the children are so damaged and the parents so culpable that the children can live with neither parent.  Great care has to be taken over making allegations for tactical reasons, rather than raising  a genuine concern. If the concern is genuine, then it is vital to raise it early on in evidence, rather than filing statements that make no mention of something so serious.

 

 

The Local Authority do have to participate in an appeal against orders they applied for

 

I’ll start with this caveat – this judgment involves a neighbouring Local Authority, and also involves members of the bar who I know, and members of the judiciary that I appear before. Writing about it then makes it difficult, without risking injured shins, hurt glances or lost readership.

So with that in mind, I will dispense with my usual snarky attitude and just give the facts and the principles (this case does have a few important things in it, which prevents me from just skipping over it, as was my first instinct)

 

Re S (Children W &T) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/638.html

 

This involved a finding of fact hearing about some very grave allegations of sexual abuse made by a fourteen year old, which had in turn implications for whether two much younger children might be at risk. Those allegations were firmly disputed.  The Judge made the findings, and the mother and her partner (who was the subject of the findings) appealed.

The Court of Appeal begin (and end) with their views about the decision of the Local Authority not to participate in the appeal and to rather send in a document expressing that they were ‘neutral’.   The Court of Appeal did not like that.

 

 

  • Before moving on, I would note that the judge’s order was made in care proceedings brought by the West Sussex County Council, based upon allegations of serious sexual abuse of a 14 year old girl. In a “Position Statement” dated 24 February 2014, the Council stated that they had been kept regularly updated by the solicitors for the mother on the progress of the appeal. In paragraph 2 of that statement, the following is to be found:

 

 

“West Sussex County Council has regularly confirmed in correspondence with the parties that it maintains a neutral stance in relation to the appeal by the mother and father. West Sussex County Council provides this position statement to formally confirm [sic] to the court this neutral stance.”

At the end of the statement, it is said that the Local Authority will be happy to reconsider the question of representation at the appeal hearing “if the court expresses a wish for West Sussex County Council to be represented at the hearing”.

 

  • To my mind, this statement fundamentally fails to grasp what were the proper roles of the local authority and of the court respectively in these appeal proceedings.

 

 

 

  • Having taken the decision to present these allegations to the judge and having secured findings of fact broadly along the lines that it was seeking below, the least the Local Authority could have done would have been to attend before the court to ensure that the findings were not disturbed to the potential prejudice of the children in this case, who the authority had been contending were at risk from what they said had happened to another young girl at the hands of these parents. Non-participation was not an option. It was never the function of the court to advise the parties, still less to advise upon the obvious, namely that the presence of the local authority was required. That was why Ryder LJ’s order (with which no doubt the local authority had been served) had directed an “inter partes” hearing.

 

 

 

  • After the grant of permission to appeal, at a hearing without notice to the potential respondents, the Lord/Lady Justices of the court do not see the papers in the case until a constitution to hear the appeal is identified and the papers are delivered, a matter of days before the hearing, to the assigned judges. For my part, at that late stage on the court’s designated reading day, I was merely puzzled as to why there was no sign of participation from the local authority. For the future, for my part, I would hope that this type of insouciance on the part of local authorities will be avoided.

and at the end, from the President

 

 

  • My final concern relates to what, I am bound to say, was the quite astonishing attitude to the appeal evinced by the local authority. It was neither present nor represented before us. Even more surprisingly it filed a remarkably perfunctory position statement which, without condescending to particulars, simply announced that “it maintains a neutral stance in relation to the appeal” and “in light of its neutral stance … has chosen not to file/serve a Respondents Notice.” I do not understand what the local authority thinks “neutrality” means. A guardian may on occasions, as indeed in the present case, appropriately maintain a stance of neutrality in relation to a fact-finding hearing. The guardian, after all, is not setting out to make a case and prove facts. The local authority, in contrast, had commenced the proceedings, had decided to make a number of allegations – as it happens very serious allegations – and had succeeded in persuading the judge that most of them were proved. How in the circumstances could the local authority be neutral? Had it suddenly become indifferent to the outcome? Surely not. The consequence is that the court was deprived of any assistance by way of response. Even if, in order to conserve taxpayers’ money (as the position statement said), it was appropriate not to send an advocate to attend the hearing, written submissions resisting the appeal and setting out, even if fairly briefly, why it was being said that the appeal should be rejected would surely have been of assistance. I add these observations by way of supplement to what McCombe LJ has already said on the point, comments with which I entirely agree.

 

 

Thus, principle number 1 of the case – Local Authorities need to play a part in the appeal as a respondent, whether they desire to or not.

 

Principle number 2 – we have a repeat of the clear message that fact-finding hearings are politely discouraged

 

 

  • My first concern relates to the decision that there should be a separate fact-finding hearing. I make no criticism of those involved, who were conforming with what was then understood to be appropriate practice. But for the future judges and practitioners considering the use of a separate fact-finding hearing in a care case must bear in mind the current approach, which is to discourage their use except in a relatively limited group of cases. In Re S, Cambridgeshire County Council v PS and others [2014] EWCA Civ 25, Ryder LJ made clear, para 29, that a split hearing in a care case will usually be appropriate only in either “the most simple cases where there [is] only one factual issue to be decided and where the threshold for jurisdiction in section 31 CA 1989 would not be satisfied if a finding could not be made” or “the most complex medical causation cases where death or very serious medical issues had arisen and where an accurate medical diagnosis was integral to the future care of the child.” He went on, “For almost all other cases, the procedure is inappropriate.” I agree. This is not the kind of case in which, in future, a split hearing should be ordered.

 

 

[I'm sorry, I have tried to do whatever the typing equivalent of biting your tongue is, but I  am struggling]

 

Principle number 3 – a reminder of the importance of complying with Court orders – in this case, the  order made that the Local Authority should produce and lodge for judicial approval a schedule of the findings that were made did not happen. That left the Court of Appeal looking at a schedule of findings that were the draft findings sought, and not a schedule of what the Court had actually found.

 

The simple fact is that, even now, the court’s order has not been complied with. Yet worse, there is, even now, no authentic, definitive, record of precisely what findings the judge made. This is simply shocking. It is, I regret to say, yet another manifestation of a deeply rooted culture in the family courts which I had occasion to condemn in Re W (A Child), Re H (Children) 2013] EWCA Civ 1177, paras 50-51: “the slapdash, lackadaisical and on occasions almost contumelious attitude which still far too frequently characterises the response to orders made by family courts.” Despite our inquiries, I was left wholly unclear as to how this deplorable state of affairs had been allowed to persist for so long. It must be remedied without delay: the parties as soon as possible must put before the judge for her approval an agreed schedule of the findings she made. For the future, there must be no repetition.

 

Principle number 4 – the appeal turned in large part on the appellant’s claim (which was rejected) that the Judge in her interventions had ‘descended into the arena’

 

The lead case on this, as we know, is Jones v National Coal Board, way back to Lord Denning’s time.

And it is for the advocate to state his case as fairly and strongly as he can, without undue interruption, lest the sequence of his argument be lost: see Reg. v Clewer. The judge’s part in all this is to hearken to the evidence, only himself asking questions of witnesses when it is necessary or left obscure; to see that the advocates behave themselves seemly and keep to the rules laid down by law; to exclude irrelevancies and discourage repetition; to make sure by wise intervention that he follows the points that the advocates are making and can assess their worth; and at the end to make up his mind where the truth lies. If he goes beyond this, he drops the mantle of a judge and assumes the role of an advocate; and the change does not become him well. Lord Chancellor Bacon spoke right when he said that : “Patience and gravity of hearing is an essential part of justice; and an over-speaking judge is no well-tuned cymbal.”

………

…..[I]t cannot, of course, be doubted that a judge is not only entitled but is, indeed, bound to intervene at any stage of a witness’s evidence if he feels that, by reason of the technical nature of the evidence or otherwise, it is only by putting questions of his own that he can properly follow and appreciate what the witness is saying. Nevertheless, it is obvious for more than one reason that such interventions should be as infrequent as possible when the witness is under cross-examination. It is only by cross-examination that a witness’s evidence can be properly tested, and it loses much of its effectiveness in counsel’s hands if the witness is given time to think out the answer to awkward questions; the very gist of cross-examination lies in the unbroken sequence of question and answer. Further than this, cross-examining counsel is at a grave disadvantage if he is prevented from following a preconceived line of inquiry which is, in his view, most likely to elicit admissions from the witness or qualifications of the evidence which he has given in chief. Excessive judicial interruption inevitably weakens the effectiveness of cross-examination in relation to both the aspects which we have mentioned, for at one and the same time it gives a witness valuable time for thought before answering a difficult question, and diverts cross-examining counsel from the course which he had intended to pursue, and to which it is by no means easy sometimes to return.”

 

 

The shorthand for this is usually, has the Judge descended into the arena and started to participate in the litigation, rather than asking such questions as are needed for clarification.

The Court of Appeal in this case were clear that this Judge had not stepped over that line, but do add that where the witness being asked questions is vulnerable, it may be that a Judge has more leeway with the nature and type of interventions than with other witnesses.

 

The Court also suggest that as part of the new culture, Judges might well be more active in the proceedings than would have been at the time of Jones. But that if a Judge does overstep the mark, the Court of Appeal would intervene.

The first concerns reliance on Jones v NCB. That was a very extreme case on the facts. Moreover, since 1957 when that case was decided there has been a culture change in the conduct of litigation. More attention is now given to the criteria of proportionality, expedition and the allocation of an appropriate share of the court’s resources to any individual case. This is true both of civil litigation (see CPR Part 1.1) and family proceedings (see FPR Part 1.1). One of the corollaries of this new culture is that a judge is expected to take a more active part in the proceedings than would have been the case half a century ago: see Jemaldeen v A-Z Law Solicitors [2012] EWCA Civ 1431; [2013] CP Rep 8. That said, if a judge does overstep the mark, even in a family case, this court will intervene. Thus in Re J (A child) [2012] EWCA Civ 1231; [2013] 1 FLR 716 counsel was prevented from pursuing a line of relevant cross-examination. She rightly objected to the judge that she was being denied the opportunity to put her client’s case, but the judge did not accede to her objections. This court ordered a new trial.

 

This development is likely to crop up again, as one can see from reading paragraph 28 of the new Practice Direction 12J (dealing with fact-finding hearings in private law proceedings) to reflect the reality that in a post LASPO world, we are likely to have unrepresented parties cross-examining one another

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/system/uploads/attachments/0008/5109/PD12J.pdf

 

The relevant portions being:-

 

“Victims of violence are likely to find direct cross-examination by their alleged abuser frightening and intimidating, and thus it may be particularly appropriate for the judge or lay justices to conduct the questioning on behalf of the other party in these circumstances , in order to ensure both parties are able to give their best evidence”

 

That guidance does not refer to the principles in Jones v NCB, but they would probably be worth referring to before such an exercise occurred. It seems that this is likely to be a particularly difficult balancing act. As we know, in any finding of fact hearing, at least one party walks away unhappy, and if they are unhappy about the way the Judge conducted that questioning (either too harsh, or too soft, too long or too short) an appeal might well arise.

 

Principle 5 – there were a number of matters about the conduct of the hearing that the appellants sought to rely on, and each of those was quashed by the Court of Appeal, largely on the basis that applications were not made AT THE TIME about whether this particular course should or should not be followed. You do run the risk, if you bite your tongue and press on regardless, of not being able to rely on those case management decisions made by a Court in a later appeal.

 

 

 

Intervening lodger

 

 

Intervening lodger

 

 

 

The Court of Appeal decision in Re H (a Child) 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/232.html

 

This case was effectively an appeal of findings of fact made against A, a young man living in the grandmother’s home.  [He might not be a lodger, but the judgment doesn’t say that he is a relative or partner, and I have used a process of deduction]

 

Care Orders and Placement Orders were made in the case, and the only realistic options in the case were those orders or a plan of mother and the children living in grandmother’s home, where A would continue to live.

 

The issue about that was that there were allegations of A having sexually abused children, and the professional opinion was that the mother and children could live with grandmother IF those allegations proved to be false, but not if they were proved to be true.

 

The Court of Appeal say “There was no question that A could or should move out of that household”     – I’m not quite sure why not, but there it is.

 

The preliminary question was A’s ability to appeal the decision – the Court of Appeal don’t actually consider appeals against findings of fact, but rather ORDERS arising from those findings of fact   (that, as Shakespeare put it, is a custom more honoured in the breach than the observance, but every once in a while the Court of Appeal remembers that)

 

There’s no simple answer to whether A could appeal against those conclusions, since he would not have standing to appeal the ORDER, but in the event this thorny problem was sidestepped as the grandmother was given public funding to run the appeal, and SHE of course could appeal the ORDER.

 

The order of course flows from those adverse findings.  

 

My reading of the case is that the lead Judge had some sympathy with the way that Leading Counsel representing the grandmother (and A) looked at the ABE interviews.

 

11.That theme which necessarily dominates this application was that the one option before the judge was for adoption of B with the maternal grandmother. There was no question that A could or should move out of that household. In attractive submissions, Mr Feehan took the Court through the transcripts of the DVD records of the ABE interviews of each of the three cousins and highlighted the flaws in those records which he submitted are sufficient to render the content unreliable. If he is right, then the judge was wrong to place reliance on any part of the same and the findings of fact would then be unsafe.

12To understand the context of that submission, one has to be conversant with the 2007 guidance “Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings”, which is the multi agency best practice guidance that makes strong recommendations to those presenting the evidence of children to courts, both family and criminal alike.

13There is then a series of decisions of this court that highlight how a failure to follow that guidance can lead to fatal contamination of the children’s evidence. Mr Feehan took this court in particular to TW v A City Council [2011] 1 FLR 1597 where the agreed failings in the interview process in that case so contaminated the children’s materials that no reliance could be placed on the same. Mr Feehan highlighted the significant similarities between this appeal and Re: TW and invited this court to come to the same conclusion.

14In addition, he highlighted a line of authority on the demeanour of witnesses which caution the Court in deciding credibility issues in its reliance on demeanour alone. The point is obvious. What is the circumstantial material and does it tend to suggest credibility and reliability, or not, as the case may be?

 

 

In passing, I will raise my concern about the quality of ABE interviews, and particularly something which troubles me greatly, the development recently of “Q and A” sessions as a prelude to doing an ABE interview, almost as a sifting process to see if the child is going to make allegations in ABE. That seems to me to entirely miss the point of an ABE interview, which is to ensure that one sees exactly what the child is asked and is able to see whether the allegations emerge naturally from the child or whether they might have emerged by way of careless or inadvertent suggestion by the questioner. I am not sure that the ABE guidance is followed properly throughout the country, and it can cause significant problems either way (either a child’s allegations being contaminated and over-stated leading to a person wrongly being determined to be an abuser, or a genuine account having been contaminated leading to a finding that it is not safe to rely on what the child says)

 

 

15In deconstructing each of the interviews of the three cousins, Mr Feehan has identified varying significant failures. I can summarise them in headline form, but it is important to understand that he took the Court to the detail in the interviews themselves to substantiate his submissions.

a) The boys had been questioned by their own mother and by an aunt in a period of a week during which no-one knows what happened.

b) There was no planning for the ABE interviews and, therefore, no knowledge on the part of the interviewer about the boys’ family circumstances, including the house in which it was said the abuse occurred.

c) The interviews themselves were seriously flawed containing as they did graphic examples of the following:

(i) no understanding of the difference between truth and lies and/or the effect of telling lies on the part of each of the cousins.

(ii) no rapport or ordinary conversation so as to allow the boys to settle and gain appropriate professional trust in the interviewers.

(iii)no free recall or an opportunity for spontaneous recall of what it is that the boys reflected upon.

(iv) seriously leading questions, both open leading questions and closed leading questions, in both cases tending to suggest either that an answer must be known to them or indeed, what the answer should be.

(v) a confusion between asking the boys to recall what has happened and what they had previously told their mother had happened.

(vi) inaccurate rehearsal or summarising of what the boys had said in interview.

16Mr. Feehan was also able to point to the fact that these boys had never repeated the allegations in any other environment or since interview, despite one of them being engaged in some significant therapeutic work. Finally in the context of the proceedings, A was described favourably by the judge, despite some of his evidence being found to be unreliable

 

 

That does appear to be a significantly flawed ABE interview – the issue for the Court is whether, taking careful account of the flaws the Judge was able to still have confidence in the core truth of the allegations, or whether the ABE was so flawed that no reliance could safely be placed on anything that was said within it.

 

17The failings in the ABE interview process are very troubling, but no doubt with the same clarity with which Mr Feehan has addressed this Court they were put to Peter Jackson J who analysed those failings with some care. The judge likewise considered the position of the pre-interview discussions with the relatives. It should be remembered in that regard that the judge heard all of the adults who were also made available for cross-examination.

18Given the failings which were apparent, the judge entered into the task of highlighting the most worrying elements of the allegations made by the boys in their interviews. He did so at paragraph 49 of his judgment. The passages relied on include the graphic use of language by one particular boy who was the youngest about his experience of what happened. The judge found that material to be cogent despite the serious failings of the interview process. In essence, the judge was able to be satisfied that there was a core of truth in what had been described in the interviews.

19 That is a position to which a judge is entitled to come unless the whole of the interview process is so flawed that there is nothing reliable that emerges at the end of the same. Having regard to the way the judge set out at paragraph 49 what he relied upon, his impression of that boy’s evidence is something that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for this court to undermine. Furthermore, there was nothing in the conduct of the adult relatives which led the judge to conclude that the boys had been coached or contaminated in their discussions with them

 

The remark at para 17 that shows that the trial judge had been very alive to the failings of the ABE interviews and had analysed it carefully was what sank this appeal. The Court of Appeal did not feel that the trial judge had got this wrong.

 

20 At paragraph 63 of the judgment, the judge carefully discusses the evidence from the family about their circumstances, the effect of the flawed interviews and that part of the interview process that led him to identify the cogent material upon which he relied. Finally, he considers the position of the boys and the adults and reminds himself that it was not for A to prove anything in the proceedings before him.

  1. Insofar as there is a submission that a judge hearing evidence from a witness is entitled to disagree with the content of the same and might thereby come to a conclusion which is not otherwise proved by the local authority, I do not consider that to be a reversal of a burden of proof, as submitted by Mr Feehan. It is a part of binary fact finding in a quasi inquisitorial process where the judge has considered what findings he can or cannot come to. At paragraph 63, the judge puts his finding into context and describes and explains why it is he found the younger cousins to be reliable enough. At paragraph 64 of his judgment, he sets out the findings that he makes. In my judgment, the judge was not wrong in the exercise that he undertook.

 

 

The Court of Appeal were unhappy about one finding

 

  1. If I take issue with anything at all, it is in respect of one part of one sentence at paragraph 64 of his judgment where the judge summarises what has gone before and says:

“He attempted to perform anal sex upon K, though it is not clear whether there was any significant penetration.”

  1. The clause: “it is not clear whether there was any significant penetration” must, as a matter of law, read “I make no finding on the evidence that there was penetration” and accordingly there was no finding on that issue at all. That phrase should not have found its way into the schedule of findings that presently appears in the order, and to that extent the order should be corrected.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,448 other followers