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Category Archives: private law

“Just glanced?” Court of Appeal find Judge to have been unfair

 

Re G (child) 2015  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/834.html was an appeal from a finding of fact hearing in private law proceedings conducted   (perhaps that ought to be in inverted commas) by Her Honour Judge Pearl.

 

The appeal was on the basis of judicial bias/ unfairness, which as I’ve set out before has a relatively low bar in law  (that a reasonable observer would have concluded that the Judge was biased) but in practice is hard to pursuade an Appeal Court of, since most people who leave Court without the order they wanted tend to think that a Judge was biased.

 

Here the case was made out, in spades.   [Though not necessarily in terms of the Judge being in favour of one party and against the other, but rather that her treatment of mother’s case was sufficiently unfair to prejudice a fair hearing]

Things began badly when Ms Toch, the mother’s counsel, arrived late at Court on the first day. The context of this was that exceptional weather conditions had disrupted all transport on that day. Ms Toch apologised, but the Judge seemed to take it as a personal slight and had not been able to move on.

 

  1. The first specific complaint was that the judge impolitely told counsel off for her late arrival at court on the first day of the fact finding hearing, 28 October 2013. It was submitted that Ms Toch had been subjected to unwarranted and unfair criticism about this and that this was of concern to the mother as it was obvious to her that the judge was annoyed with her counsel. Other specific instances were identified where it was said that the judge’s attitude towards Ms Toch was disparaging and bore the mark of hostility or unfairness. One example was in relation to the way in which the judge dealt with Ms Toch over the CAFCASS officer but attention was invited to the way in which the judge dealt with Ms Toch over other matters as well.
  2. It is essential to consider the exchanges that preceded the commencement of the evidence in the case as a whole. The hearing got off to a difficult start on the morning of Monday, 28 October. There had been a powerful storm the previous night with damaging winds. Transport services were severely disrupted and Ms Toch had problems in getting into central London for the hearing. Ms Toch’s account in her statement is that, on the witness template, the morning had been scheduled for the judge to read. It has not been possible to find out whether that was anyone else’s understanding. Ms Toch’s account is that she was told by her clerks on the Monday morning that the judge wished to sit at 11.45 a.m.. Because of her travel difficulties, Ms Toch did not arrive until 12.20 p.m. which made her late for this and meant that she had not been able to discuss matters directly with counsel for the father before the case started. The transcript of the proceedings opens at C3 with Ms Toch apologising to the judge for delaying the court. She explained about the limitations on transport from her home area that morning and the steps she had had to take to get to court.
  3. Matters moved on but it can be seen from the transcript that Ms Toch’s lateness continued to trouble the judge for some time and that she returned to it later. I will deal with this at its appropriate place in my consideration of this stage of the hearing.

 

 

The Court of Appeal are not kidding.  To get a flavour of it, see this exchange

 

It is not difficult to accept that the mother’s confidence in her counsel’s ability to put forward her case to the judge would have been undermined by the judge’s approach to Ms Toch as set out above. It is also, perhaps, of note (although it cannot affect the fairness of the fact finding hearing) that matters were not easy at the hearing on 7 January 2014 either. By way of example, Ms Toch said to the judge, in relation to the mother’s evidence about the dowry question, “Your honour subsequently looked at these matters and made a finding.”. The judge responded:

“THE JUDGE: Looked at them?

MS TOCH: Your honour has….Yes.

THE JUDGE: Just glanced?

MS TOCH: No, your honour.

THE JUDGE: I have analysed them. I have spent hours on this case…..I have gone through every line of the evidence. I have not just looked at it, Ms Toch. I take that as a straight insult.”

 

 

Oh boy. And again

 

 

“THE JUDGE: Do you think it is fair that a CAFCASS officer should stop contact completely without even speaking to the father about a matter of fact? Do you think that is the way to proceed?

MS TOCH: Well, of course, he did not. He raised this. He referred the matter to Social Services to investigate and the matter was referred to the court and the court stopped contact. It was not the CAFCASS officer.

THE JUDGE: But he recommended that contact be supervised.

MS TOCH: He wrote a letter to the court to say that contact should be suspended pending the outcome.

THE JUDGE: Do you think that is a fair way to proceed?

MS TOCH: Well, it was referred to the court, so it is a matter for the court.

THE JUDGE: Do you think –

MS TOCH: It is a matter for the court.

THE JUDGE: We are not going to get –

MS TOCH: I am sorry.

THE JUDGE: This is the second time we have had a conversation like this.

MS TOCH: Yes.

THE JUDGE: If I ask a question, try and answer it please.

MS TOCH: The CAFCASS officer did not suspend contact and contact was ordered to be supervised by HHJ Everall –

THE JUDGE: Do you think it is right –

MS TOCH: – on submissions.

THE JUDGE: Do you think this man’s evidence on a finding of fact is going to assist me?

MS TOCH: I am not saying it will.

THE JUDGE: Yes or no?

MS TOCH: I am not asking for him. I am saying he is available. I understood the father wished to have him.

THE JUDGE: Well, you have just asked the question [of the father’s counsel]. He said he does not want him to be cross-examined.

MS TOCH: And I have heard that, so unless the court wishes him, I do not.

THE JUDGE: Look –

MS TOCH: I am not calling him. Am I clear?

THE JUDGE: No, I know.

MS TOCH: I am not calling him.

THE JUDGE: Let us try and have an exchange, shall we?

MS TOCH: Yes.

THE JUDGE: All right. You have made me angry.

MS TOCH: I am sorry.

THE JUDGE: The second time. This morning I was asking questions. You simply were not answering the questions.

MS TOCH: I am sorry.

THE JUDGE: You must answer my questions.

MS TOCH: I will, yes.

THE JUDGE: Are you going to ask me to rely on this CAFCASS officer’s finding or understanding of the truth as part of the evidence I rely upon to substantiate your client’s allegation of the stabbing? Yes or no?

MS TOCH: No.

THE JUDGE: Thank you.

MS TOCH: I am terribly sorry. I did not mean to be –

THE JUDGE: I am so grateful to you.

MS TOCH: Yes.

THE JUDGE: No, you do mean to be because this is the second time you have done it and it does not work with me. You are not relying on his assessment of this child’s veracity. You are only relying on the fact that it was said. The father does not deny it was said and you are not going to come towards me at the end of the hearing and say, ‘Because the CAFCASS believed it, your honour, you must believe it.’

MS TOCH: No.

THE JUDGE: All right. Do you think it was bad judgment for him to recommend that contact be suspended?

MS TOCH: He –

THE JUDGE: Yes or no?

MS TOCH: It was correct judgment to have the matter investigated as it was.

THE JUDGE: This is going to be a difficult hearing.

MS TOCH: I am sorry. I do not think my opinion is important, with respect. He made the recommendation. It came before the court.

THE JUDGE: Look, I do not want to stop a witness coming to court and then meet submissions from you –

MS TOCH: I am not going to make those submissions, if I make that plain.

THE JUDGE: Yes, good.

MS TOCH: Yes.

THE JUDGE: So that has taken ten minutes. No counsel this morning at all and ten minutes and I am not being unreasonable about this.”

 

[Erm, I think perhaps you were]

I feel Ms Toch’s pain there. I’ve had, some considerable years ago, that sort of experience, though only about a quarter as bad as that. If I say to practitioners “Humpty Dumpty” some may have a shudder of recognition and repressed memories flood back. There is very little worse than being in front of a Judge and feeling that every single word you say is just making the Judge more cross.

If you are remembering the Liverpool Judge and the Court of Appeal ruling that a judicial appointment was not a licence to be rude, you are on the right lines here.

 

As the Court of Appeal say, one does not pick up tone of voice from a transcript of judgment.

What is not apparent from the transcript is the judge’s tone of voice. I need only say that listening to the recording did nothing to improve the impression gained from the written word.

 

There are many, many, more examples of this from the trial. Immediately after this, the Judge castigates Ms Toch for being late again.

The pressure on Ms Toch continued immediately after the passage that I have set out above with the judge returning to the subject of Ms Toch’s lateness as follows (C25):

“THE JUDGE: Everybody knew – let me be clear about this – there were going to be no trains this morning. It was very, very clear on the national media. Everybody knew. It was absolutely clear and I changed my travel plans accordingly, as did everybody else. Everybody knew and if I had been living in [counsel’s home town in Kent], I would have made plans to avoid this disaster this morning. Be utterly clear about that.

MS TOCH: Yes. I can only apologise to the court. I did try. I really did try.

THE JUDGE: Well, I hope you have apologised to your client.

MS TOCH: I apologise to everybody in this court that has been inconvenienced.

THE JUDGE: Everybody knew that there were going to be no trains this morning.

MS TOCH: Yes.

THE JUDGE: So why you sat in [counsel’s home town] last night waiting for there to be no trains, I do not know. It is ten to three and we have not even started –

MS TOCH: I am so sorry but sometimes people cannot leave the night before and I could not. ….”

 

How is the mother supposed to feel about whether she is getting a fair trial at this point? The Judge is outright quarrelling / bullying her representative at this stage.

  1. It was unnecessary, in my view, for the judge to have returned to this question at this stage in the proceedings and, as I see it, the exchange compounded the pressure that had been put on Ms Toch by what had just occurred in relation to the CAFCASS officer. My experience is that counsel tend to manage to be on time for court against even formidable odds but sometimes it simply is not possible. The weather conditions on this weekend in October were extraordinary and disruptive of transport. As Ms Toch observed to the judge, sometimes it is not possible for counsel to set off the night before. There are various reasons for this, ranging from domestic commitments to an inability to obtain accommodation overnight or to pay for it from a brief fee which was not designed for that eventuality. Ms Toch told the judge of the steps that she had taken to get round the problems on the morning of the hearing, she got herself to court as soon as she could, and she apologised. It is understandable that the judge felt frustrated by the loss of time that could otherwise have been devoted to discussions between counsel or other arrangements outside court or to getting the hearing underway. It is clear that it was going to be a challenge to conclude the evidence and submissions within the allotted court time, even without delays of the kind that had occurred and that always poses difficulties for a judge. However, I accept the submission of Mr Phillips that she laboured the issue of Ms Toch’s lateness to the point of unwarranted, unfair criticism.
  2. Taking the whole of the exchange about the CAFCASS officer and the lateness together, I also accept the submission that the mother would have felt that the judge was annoyed with her counsel and that this annoyance influenced the judge’s approach to her case and impeded the presentation of it by counsel on her behalf.

 

The Court of Appeal did determine that the Judge’s management of mother’s cross-examination did not cross the line and that a Judge is entitled to have their own approach to such matters providing that the line is not crossed

 

  1. It was shortly after the CAFCASS/lateness exchange that the mother began to give evidence. Complaint was made of the judge’s approach to her during her cross-examination which it was argued was hostile and distressing to the mother. Managing a trial can be a challenging, even for an experienced judge, and it is sometimes necessary to react without much time for refined consideration. Generous allowance always has to be made for this and also for the fact that, even with counsel’s help, it is very difficult to tell from a transcript, or even from listening to a recording, precisely what was going on at all stages during the hearing. Furthermore, different judges have different styles and counsel and litigants can usually be expected to cope with the talkative, the uncommunicative, the robust, and even the irritated judge, provided the judge’s behaviour does not stray outside acceptable limits.
  2. In this case, I see the judge’s handling of the mother’s cross-examination as being within normal tolerances. True it is that the judge asked the mother on occasions to stop interrupting her, but that was not unjustified as the mother did tend to interrupt questions put to her and talk over people. Nor, in my view, would it be right to criticise the judge for speaking to the witness about being on oath or for requiring her to stand up, which was likely to have been done in an effort to control the process and possibly also in order to hear better. I note also that when the mother was upset following some questioning by Mr Cameron (C104/5), the judge asked if she had hankies and offered her a short break.

 

However, the judicial approach to Ms Toch’s cross-examination of father did cross that line on occasions.

 

Mr Phillips’ summary in his Schedule of the position with regard to the second day of Ms Toch’s cross-examination was that between C221 and C279 (which was essentially the end of it), it was difficult to find a single page where there had not been interventions by the judge. The fairness of a hearing cannot be assessed scientifically or mathematically but, seeking for some way in which to look at matters as a whole and to pin down impressions, I counted the entries against the names of the judge, Ms Toch and the witness in the first thirty or so pages of transcript of the resumed cross-examination, starting at the foot of C216 which was the nominal start of it. By the middle of C247, the judge had spoken 250 times, Ms Toch had spoken 227 times and the witness had spoken 140 times, only 64 of them in response to a question from Ms Toch. Between C251 and C258, there was quite a concentrated period of cross-examination, during which the judge spoke only 18 times. However, it was then a further nineteen pages before Ms Toch was able to cross-examine continuously again, although during those nineteen pages there was considerable questioning of the father by the judge, for example for three full pages between C259 and C261. Ms Toch resumed continuous questioning at the foot of C277 but at the foot of C279 Mr Cameron intervened to remind the court that a witness was waiting outside court and that was effectively the end of the cross-examination.

 

….

 

  1. By C194, Ms Toch’s cross-examination had turned to the issue of who was the primary carer for G and, shortly thereafter, also incorporated questioning going to the father’s allegations about the mother drinking, about which he was seeking a finding of fact. The judge’s second prolonged intervention came in the course of this at C197 when she said to Ms Toch, “Are you going to ask him about these serious allegations that are being made?” and slightly later, “I am just wondering when we are going to start on the case that your client is making.” The judge then explored with counsel for some time, in the presence of the witness, what the underlying material was to support the mother’s case about gambling and domestic violence, wondering aloud to counsel “whether we are using the time efficiently” (C201). This passage ended with the father putting up his hand to contribute to the discussion and doing so at the foot of C201.
  2. When Ms Toch resumed her cross-examination of the father the following day (C216), it is apparent that she was intending to deal with the question of domestic violence. I have already referred to the number of contributions made by the judge, Ms Toch and the father respectively during this period but I now return to look more closely at the nature of some of these, albeit that I will not go through every matter of complaint. It is perhaps relevant that the day began with the judge criticising both counsel over Mr Cameron having spoken to his client whilst he was in the course of giving his evidence. The criticism was first directed to Mr Cameron, whom the judge said she felt like reporting, but then widened to include Ms Toch as well because she was thought to have agreed to what Mr Cameron had done. The judge said that she would decide in due course what action she was going to take about this (C215).

 

By this point, the Judge was giving it both barrels to both counsel.  Could it be argued that if a Judge is hostile to both parties, that any judicial bias evens itself out? Nice try…

 

  1. As I have said, the fairness of a hearing cannot be assessed mathematically or scientifically. Nor is it dependent on a comparison between the way in which the judge has treated the two sides. If one party has been treated in such a way as to disable him or her from advancing his or her case properly, the hearing is not rendered fair by the fact that the other party has been treated equally unfairly. For what it is worth, however, a comparison of the quantum of intervention by the judge on the second day of each counsel’s cross-examination of the other party shows, I think, that Mr Cameron was rather less hampered than Ms Toch.
  2. It is necessary to look not only at the quantum of the judge’s interventions but also at their nature. As Mr Turner submitted on behalf of the father, a litigant does not have an unrestricted right to present a case in such a way as he or she or his or her lawyers may choose. A judge sometimes has no choice but to intervene during the evidence because of the nature of the questioning or in order to manage the use of court time (as the father would submit was necessary here). Furthermore, the interventions can sometimes be a help to counsel in his or her questioning rather than a hindrance

 

And so the appeal on unfairness was comfortably made out.

The Court of Appeal did try to soften the blow

 

  1. Before I come to what I would see as the consequences of my conclusions, there are a number of things that need to be said. The first is that I am very much aware of the pressures that there are on the family justice system and upon the hard-pressed and very hard-working judges in the Family Court who must ensure that the court’s limited time is used to the best possible effect. This inevitably means that family judges have to manage hearings before them robustly and this requires intervention at times. The hand of fate, in this case in the form of the disruption caused by the storm, can sometimes make the judge’s task almost impossible. The second is that I am deeply conscious of the fact that the one person from whom this court has not heard is the judge, who would no doubt have had much that she could valuably have contributed to the evaluation of the process. I have done my best to make allowances for this and I have thought long and hard about which side of the line of fairness the hearing in this case fell. The third is that the case is not about Ms Toch and whether she was treated fairly, although she has been mentioned frequently in this judgment. It is about whether the mother was given a fair chance to put her case and Ms Toch was simply one means by which she sought to do so, hence the need to look at the exchanges between the judge and Ms Toch.
  2. In my view, it would be a necessary result of my conclusions that the findings of fact made by the judge would have to be set aside. I would return the matter to the Family Court for there to be a directions hearing, in front of a judge other than Judge Pearl, to examine whether it is now necessary for new findings of fact to be made. It may not be, because the situation for this family has moved on considerably since the events with which we have been concerned. For this same reason, it is not necessary for me to go into the points taken against the orders made by Judge Pearl other than her findings of fact. They have all been overtaken by later orders or other developments.
  3. I would therefore allow the appeal to the extent that Judge Pearl’s findings of fact are set aside and the matter is remitted to the Family Court for further directions.

Private law, infinite appeals and IT naughtiness

The case of Re N (Children) 2015, http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B98.html involves a private law case with 3 children, aged 11, 9 and 6.   Her Honour Judge Atkinson had to deal with a novel and delicate point of law on an appeal.

The children all live with their mother, and the dispute has been about the time that they spend (or do not spend) with their father.

In this case, the mother made a series of very serious allegations against the father, of physical abuse. The father faced criminal trial for these and was acquitted.  the mother then sought findings against him in the family court proceedings.  That was complicated by the last minute addition of a rape allegation.

In any event, the District Judge who heard the case dismissed all but one of the allegations, which he found was proved in part. The finding that was made would not have been a barrier to contact, and really contact should have resumed.

However, mother then appealed that decision, and the appeal was unsuccessful.

She then made a subsequent appeal, and it is that subsquent appeal that gives the case its novelty.  I am not naming the DJ here – it is in the linked judgment if people want to see it, but I took a call that the interest in the case is in the legal issue rather than any naming and shaming of the DJ himself.

 

  1. On 17th March 2015 District Judge B was removed from judicial office following an investigation into an allegation that he had viewed pornographic material on judicial IT equipment in his office. The material did not include images of children or any other illegal content. However, this was considered to be an inexcusable misuse of his judicial IT account and “wholly unacceptable conduct for a judicial office holder”.
  2. On 18th March, together with an enquiry as to the progress of their application for an oral hearing, solicitors acting for the mother wrote to the court lodging a fresh ground of appeal based on the fact of DJ B’s dismissal and its apparent association with sexual matters. Ground 10 argued his lack of judgment, as demonstrated by his dismissal, and argued that the pornography added a sexual element to that lack of judgment directly relevant to the issues that he had tried in this case.

 

The case got still more complicated, because at the appeal, mother sought to withdraw the appeal – not because she accepted DJ B’s findings but because she had realised that there was a finite pot of money for her legal representation and if she went ahead with the appeal there would be little or none left for the remainder of the proceedings.   (Grounds 1-9 here were the ones that had previously been rejected in the previous appeal, ground 10 was the “as the Judge has been sacked for viewing pornography, his judgment is questionable and he was not someone who ought to have been dealing with sexual allegations” angle)

 

  1. So it was that on 11th June 2015, 6 months on from the decision made by DJ B that there was no evidential basis for the assertion that this father has been the perpetrator of violence or sexual abuse against the mother or violence against the children, the mother’s appeal was listed before me to hear. On the day before the hearing the mother’s representatives contacted the court and the father’s representatives stating that she intended to withdraw her application for permission. They asked for the case to be vacated and directions made to enable the matter to proceed as directed by DJ B. The father’s team, shocked by the sudden turn of events refused to agree the vacation of the hearing and the parties nevertheless appeared before me.
  2. I note that the mother does not retract these allegations. Nor does she state that she is accepting of the findings made. Her main motivation in withdrawing from the appeal is cost – not that she will be saddled with a bill of costs but rather, she risks not having enough left in her publicly funded pot to continue to be represented after the appeal has been concluded. A secondary consideration was, it would seem, the “welfare of the children” and the impact upon them of this continuing litigation. Unsurprisingly, the father expressed his concern that if given simple permission to withdraw her appeal then these allegations would almost certainly surface to be litigated again in some form or other.
  3. Accordingly, although I have decided to give permission for the mother to withdraw her application for an oral hearing in relation to Grounds 1-9, I have decided to do so only after I have made a decision on Ground 10 effectively as I would have done on the papers. By this means there will have been a merits based decision recorded on each of the Grounds.

 

 

That, I think, was a good call. It would otherwise have always been hanging over the case.  In case anybody else is envisaging an appeal on similar grounds to Ground 10, this might pour some cold water on it

 

 

  1. Ground 10
  2. I turn now to the additional Ground which reads as follows: “the decision of the DJ in this matter related to various matters of a sexual nature…

    it demonstrates the poor exercise of Judgment in relation to matters of a sexual nature…it demonstrates poor exercise of judgment more generally…justice has to be seen to be done and the public would have no confidence in this DJ dealing with a matter of a sexual nature”

  3. The skeleton argument develops two arguments between paragraphs 88 and 93:

    a. The removal of the District Judge from office demonstrates that he had conducted himself in a manner inconsistent with the high standards of judicial office expected of the judiciary and shows a lack of judgment which is undermining of his decision making generally;

    b. The sexual nature of the behaviour leading to dismissal demonstrates that his judgment in “matters of a sexual nature has been found to be impaired” and the public cannot be expected to have confidence in his decision making as a result.

  4. I give permission to appeal only if I consider that there is a real prospect of success or there is another compelling reason why the appeal should be heard. To succeed on the substantive appeal the mother will need to show that the DJ was wrong or that the decision is unjust by reason of some other serious procedural or other irregularity in the proceedings.
  5. I have now read all of the papers lodged in what was to be an oral application for permission. I have not heard oral argument and so the decision which follows is effectively made on the papers but on a considerable body of paper. I am quite satisfied that the appeal on Ground 10 has no reasonable prospect of success and indeed I consider it to be without merit. I will explain why.
  6. The lack of judgment arguably demonstrated by the District Judge through misconduct in his office does not necessarily infect all areas in which he has to exercise Judgment. District Judge B was dismissed because of inappropriate use of judicial IT. It does not follow that he has thereby demonstrated himself incapable of making a proper judicial decision. If it did it would mean all of his decisions would be null and void following his dismissal. That simply is not right.
  7. The argument does not become different or stronger simply because his misuse of judicial IT involved the watching of pornography. In the first place it is important to note that he was not dismissed for viewing pornography. In any event, the viewing of pornography does not of itself suggest that he would have disbelieved an allegation of rape. It does not suggest that his approach to the sexual element in this case would be in any way skewed or biased. Had he been viewing such material in the privacy of his own home that would not have rendered him unable to make a determination in the case.
  8. The best way to determine whether District Judge B carried out a proper judicial exercise of discretion is by examining the detail of his Judgment. I have done just that and the transcript reveals a Judgment that is in my assessment beyond complaint. It contains all necessary directions on the law. It gives full and detailed reasons as to why he found the evidence of the mother lacking and why she failed to establish her case to the appropriate standard. As I have already rehearsed, the mother has been unable on the papers (in spite of the numerous and voluminous skeleton arguments in support of her appeal) to establish any basis for criticism.
  9. Accordingly, I find there is no basis for the granting of permission in relation to Ground 10.

 

 

Where you might, I suppose, have stronger grounds for appeal is for example if the decision-maker in an Employment case where the allegation against the employee was illicit use of IT for this purpose and the decision-maker had found in favour of the employee  (where you’d be wondering whether the decision was a ‘kindred spirit’ / ‘there but for the grace of God’ scenario)

 

[It does occur to me that if you are a Judge doing nothing but private law conflicts, where you are just hearing people say “no” all the time, one can perhaps see why DJ B wanted to just listen to people saying “yes yes yes oh yes” once in a while]

 

There’s a rather sad postscript to the judgment

  1. Finally, the mother at this hearing indicated her desire to move on from these matters and look forward. She expressed a willingness to be guided by professionals. I was encouraged by that until it became clear that the professionals that she has put her trust in are currently limited to Norfolk County Council, specifically the author of the s.37 report, who has advised against face to face contact between the children and their father with no clear plan as to how this situation can be improved.
  2. It was made clear at the hearing that the Guardian may not be of the same view. Disappointingly, it was far from clear that if that be the case this mother will be accepting of the Guardian’s advice. I felt it necessary to record this position as a post script to this Judgment.
  3. The court has determined that there is no evidential basis for the allegations made against the father by the mother. He has been through two Crown Court trials and one trial of the facts in the family court. Six months have been wasted on an unmeritorious appeal. Meanwhile these children have not seen their father now since November 2011. If the mother’s concern is for the welfare of her children as she has insisted then going forward she will have as her aim how she can best assist these children in re-establishing their relationship with their father

 

contact handover at Manchester airport

 

Contact handovers are often pretty fraught affairs. Getting through airport security and getting on a plan can also be a pretty fraught affair.  If you combine the TWO, AND you have one person who is more than happy for the children not to get on the plane and who has got there as late as possible, that’s a toxic combination.

 

Re P (A child :Enforcement of contact order) 2015 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/B9.html

 

The reason for the airport is because the father lives in Sweden, and he comes to England to collect the children and then take them to Sweden for his contact.  As the Judge remarked, the fact that he had made 37 flights to England in a year was illustrative that he was committed to spending time with his children.

  1. The events of 22nd May 2015
  2. The flight booked for the children and father to fly to Sweden left from Z Airport at around 6:30pm. Boarding closed at 6:10pm. The father was waiting at an agreed place at the airport and began sending texts enquiring as to the children’s late arrival from about 5:00pm. The father indicates, and the mother accepts, that she generally arrives at about 5:40pm. She insisted that a 5:40pm arrival was entirely realistic for a 6:30pm flight. In any event, the mother told me she could not be any earlier as she and her husband had to collect the children from school at 3:30pm, arrange for them to change and then to drive from school to Z Airport. She complained that the father should have booked a later flight. I accept his evidence that such a flight would involve changing planes, for example, at Copenhagen and this was the latest direct flight from Z Airport.
  3. However, on this occasion and contrary to her evidence to this effect, the mother did not even arrive at 5:40pm. It may be that she was in the vicinity of the airport at 5:40pm, but it is clear from the texts sent by the father at that point in time, which he was able to produce, asking where she was, that she was not at the agreed meeting point. I accept the father’s evidence that she arrived around 6:00pm. By this stage, the father was highly and rightly anxious about missing the flight since he and the children still had security and passport control to navigate in a large, busy airport. I find that this is the pattern for the handover at the airport with the children and father usually having to run so as to avoid missing their flight. I reject the mother’s insistence that, “They were not too late. They still had half an hour to board the plane.” My sense was that the mother was resentful as to the detail of the arrangements, was not troubled by her late arrival and was making no effort to facilitate the speedy handover of the children, saying they were “upset as usual.”
  4. I cannot be sure of all the precise details, but, in summary, the mother did not exhibit any sense of urgency. The father became increasingly frustrated. The mother’s husband saw fit to intervene. Eventually, the father took hold of both children by the hand and began to try to get them through the security barriers. The mother objected and began shouting and screaming. Airport staff intervened and called the police. The children were hugely distressed. When asked in the presence of their mother if they wanted to go with their father, they said no and the police left them with their mother. By that stage, of course, the children and father had missed their flight in any event.
  5. The mother in her written statement and in her oral evidence insisted that the children were made the subject of a police protection order:

    “The police protection order was to last until 31st May, during which time E was to have no contact with the children.”

At this point, every single lawyer in the country is thinking that the mother is a liar.

 

The Judge explains why

The granting of a police protection order pursuant to s.46 of the Children Act is a formal process governed by detailed procedural requirements, none of which the mother was able to evidence. Of course, a police protection order can as matter of law only last for a maximum of 72 hours and not nine days. On the evidence currently before me, the “police protection order” was a fiction of the mother’s imagination. It is no coincidence that this supposed order covers the whole of the period during which the children were supposed to be with their father in Sweden. I note the mother’s complaint that, “Even during this time the father was trying to call and Skype the children.”

 

Obviously, the whole situation must have been horrible, and the Court acknowledge that, whilst understanding that the father had been sorely provoked.

I do not find the father entirely blameless for the distressing scene at the airport, but understand the pressures he found himself placed under with the flight closing. On balance, I find that this scene was largely instigated by the mother’s behaviour. I do not accept that the children were inherently unwilling to go to Sweden, more that they were understandably confused and terribly upset by the behaviour of their parents.

It doesn’t reflect terribly well on mother that the children are basically travelling with no possessions at all, not even a change of clothes.

 

I was, for example, astonished to learn, very much in passing when I enquired about collection arrangements, that on the father’s visits, whether in the UK or Sweden, the children are sent in, literally, the clothes in which they stand up and with their passports in their hand: no change of clothing, no favourite toys, nothing to cuddle, no books, not even a toothbrush. When the father visits the UK, he is obliged to bring those items with him on the plane from Sweden. The same situation applies even when the children stay with him for four weeks during summer holidays The message this sends to the children as to the totally separate existences they have with each parent is deeply unfortunate and unhealthy. It is compounded by the mother’s refusal to speak to the father at points of handover. The reason she gave was, “I cannot bear to be near him.”

 

The Judge doesn’t say this, and I don’t normally go further than the Judge, but this is SHABBY.

 

There are features of this case that suggest to me that mother is inching towards the Court losing patience and sanctioning a change of residence if she continues on this path of frustrating contact and not complying with Court orders.

 

  1. I simply do not accept the mother’s florid descriptions of the children complaining desperately that they do not want to go to see their father. That is a repetition of the evidence which was demonstrably and comprehensively undermined by the findings of the CAFCASS officer, Mr Power, in his report dated 24th May 2012. If, which I doubt, the children do express such views to her, the most probable explanation is their understanding of her hostility to the father and their desire to please her, their primary carer. I prefer the father’s evidence that the children are loving and affectionate with him, enjoy the time that they spend together and are happy and relaxed with him and his family.
  2. In July 2014, the mother made allegations of sexual abuse against two girls who are friends of B in Sweden. Those allegations were taken seriously by the Swedish police and social work authorities and both girls and their parents have been interviewed. The Swedish authorities found no basis upon which any action could or should be taken. I found the mother’s attempts to blacken the father’s character by insisting that he approved of sexual relationships between young children unconvincing, bearing in mind that such an allegation has never been made before. The evidence, such as it is, does not come close to persuading me that B has been sexually abused.

 

 

I thank my lucky stars that I no longer have to deal with private law contact cases and handovers. It always meant that I spent the whole of Friday afternoon on the phone with (a) clients who wanted to cancel weekend contact for really spurious reasons and telling them not to do it and (b) clients who had just had their weekend contact cancelled for really spurious reasons and having to ring the other side and get it back up and running.

 

 

 

Oh what a tangled web we weave

 

I do love it when I learn something new.

This is a case decided by a Circuit Judge, Her Honour Judge Taylor, in a case where a woman had lied to a man as to whether he was the biological father of her child.  He was then suing her for deceit.

[I confess my ignorance, I didn’t know that you could sue someone for deceit. Helpfully, HH Judge Taylor sets out all of the relevant law, so now I not only know that the concept exists, but what you need to prove]

X v Y 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/Misc/2015/B10.html

 

I can already hear, as I type this, the sound of readers ears pricking up at the idea of being able to sue for deceit.  [We have discussed before that you can’t sue for defamation for anything that someone says in Court or puts in a Court statement, and that a criminal prosecution for perjury is (a) difficult, and (b) not the decision of the victim, but of the Director of Public Prosecutions. So is suing for deceit a remedy? We shall see]

The law and deceit

45 Following the cases of P v B [2001] 1 FLR 1041 and A v B [2007] EWHC 1248 QB, followed in Rodwell v Rodwell [2011], it is clear that the cause of action in deceit may arise in cases such as this in a domestic context.

46 In A v B at para.43 Blofeld J set out the ingredients of deceit.

(1) a representation by words of conduct.  [Suess note, I think that is a typo and it should be ‘or’ conduct. meaning that you could give rise to a deceit action by semaphore, or more realistically that when asked a direct question the person nodded, shook their head, or put their thumbs up or some obvious gesture of that kind…]

(2) Secondly, that representation must be untrue to the knowledge of the maker at the time the representation was made.

(3) Thirdly, the maker must make the representation by fraud, either deliberately or recklessly, in the sense that he or she could not care whether the representation was true or not.

(4) Fourthly, the representation must be made with the intention that it should be acted upon by the claimant.

(5) Fifthly, it must be proved the claimant acted upon the fraudulent misrepresentation and therefore suffered damage.

 

In English

 

(1) that the other person said something

(2) that when they said it, they knew it wasn’t true

(3) that there was either intention, or recklessness that you might believe it

(4) That  they MEANT you to do something as a result of believing it, and that you acted on what the person said  (i.e you didn’t just believe it, that belief caused you to do something about it)

(5) That those actions caused you loss or harm

 

So, for the immediate question on your lips “If a social worker tells lies about me, can I sue them for deceit?”  I think that the fourth ingredient is the problematic one.  In order to sue for deceit, you need to show that not only was there a lie, but that you believed it. And that you did something as a result of believing it. If you never believed the lie, then you weren’t deceived.

You can only sue for deceit if the person successfully deceived you.  A lie is different to a deceit – telling a lie that you didn’t believe isn’t a deceit, it is an unsuccessful attempt to deceive.

[It might be possible to construct such a case – that the social worker told a lie about mum, dad believed it, dad did something as a result, and dad suffered loss.  Or I suppose the section 20 style case where a parent is told that it will just be for a few days and having signed the agreement never gets the child back]

 

In this particular case, the couple had made use of a fertility clinic. The man had had a vasectomy, but had taken the precaution of having his sperm frozen before the procedure. He had been told by the woman that she, with his consent, had used his sperm to conceive a child through the fertility clinic.  In fact, she had not. The sperm used had been another mans. DNA testing later proved that the child was not his.  The man had made maintenance payments to the woman for this child.

The woman’s case was that she had taken two samples to the clinic, one from the man and one from another person and that she had not known which sample was used – so she had not been honest with the man that there was a possibility that the child was not his, but had not lied to him because she did not know that he definitely was not the father.

 

The Judge held that the ingredients for a claim of deceit were all made out.

 

84. On the facts of this case where I have found there has been clear deceit and fraud in relation to the agreement, in my judgment it is right that the court order repayment of these sums which are not for the benefit of Z. The sum claimed in respect of these payments for maintenance to Y is £22,845 plus interest which has been calculated to date at £2,476 making a total of £25,321.

  1. Consequently, the sums that I award are the sum of £10,000 of general damages plus £4,000 in respect of the loss of earning capacity and the £25,321 inclusive of interest in relation to the maintenance of the property.

 

 

 

 

The Minnock judgments are up

This case has been in the news this week.  What little we know from the public domain is that a mother was involved in court proceedings and the Court ordered that the child go to live with father, and that mother instead took the child and went on the run with him. She has contacted the Sun, who ran a story and now the Daily Mail.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3120750/Ethan-needs-home-t-bear-Mother-run-son-3-says-s-thought-handing-in.html

I’m not going to comment much on the story, because it is still a live issue before the Courts, but given the extent of feeling about the case, I think it is helpful for people to see what the Court judgments say on the case.

 

https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/judgments/roger-williams-v-rebecca-minnock-and-ethan-freeman-williams-2-judgments/

There are 3 judgments, on the 8th June, 9th June and 11th June. You can find them all at that link.

 

The 8th June judgment is probably the most helpful in terms of understanding the background of the dispute between mother and father and why the Court decided that a change of home from mother to father was warranted.  (Bear in mind though that all three of these judgments are about efforts to find the child, and aren’t the judgment that sets out the full facts in the private law case deciding where the child should live and making conclusions about the allegations in the case. That isn’t yet published. It would be very helpful to understand things, but I can understand that whilst the child is missing why it might be thought that it should not yet be published)

 

I am sure that people will have very strong views and that those views may well be polarised. Let’s all hope though that the child is okay. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the case, this must be a very difficult and worrying time for all of the real people involved.

 

“Immigrants who beat their children should get special treatment”

 

This was the headline of a piece in the Daily Telegraph, similar stories in other newspapers.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/11663029/Immigrants-who-beat-their-children-should-get-special-treatment-says-judge.html

 

It ticks all of the boxes for a Telegraph story – we have here a High Court Judge (and as she is female, for some reason it is considered appropriate to set out within the story her marital situation and how many children she has), social workers, ‘secret’ family Courts and immigrants being treated more favourably than UK nationals. It’s a great story for the Telegraph.

 

The story leads with this

Immigrants should be allowed to “slap and hit” their children because of a “different cultural context” when they are new arrivals in Britain, a High Court judge suggested yesterday.

and it has some quotations from the Judge, and a bit of rent-a-quote from a politician.

 

Is it accurate?

Well, I don’t think is misleading. I don’t think that the Judge intended to convey that meaning, but the meaning that the Telegraph have derived from it is the fault of the judgment not the fault of the reader. I also don’t think that the Telegraph have sensationalised it or are wrong to report it. I don’t think that it says everything that the Telegraph believes that it says, but I think that their reading of it is one that a common sense reader would derive from it.

 

Re A (A child: Wardship) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/1598.html

 

[I’ll quickly hold up my hands – I read this on Tuesday when it came out and my reading of it was that the case was far too dull to blog about – I missed paragraph 67 when I first read it. I’m like the guy who decided that Fred Astaire ‘can’t sing, can dance a little’ ] 

This is the paragraph that has caused all of the fuss

 

67.I do not believe there was punitively harsh treatment of A of the kind that would merit the term physical abuse. Proper allowance must be made for what is, almost certainly, a different cultural context. Within many communities newly arrived in this country, children are slapped and hit for misbehaviour in a way which at first excites the interest of child protection professionals. In this instance, and on the basis of his ABE interview, A did not appear to have suffered more than sadness and transient pain from what was done to him.

 

A common sense reading of that is that we must make allowances in law for a parent who has just come to this country and that social workers should treat them differently. Which is the Telegraph’s take on it. They aren’t misquoting or misleading – they report what the Judge said and then report how an ordinary person would read those remarks.

 

The allegations were being made in private law proceedings (the argument being between mum and dad , rather than public law proceedings where the argument would be between social workers and parents).

The allegation made by mum was that the father had slapped the child twice. The child  when interviewed by the police said that dad had hit him with a belt, causing him pain and leaving marks which went quickly. Father said that he smacked the child as part of normal discipline.  The job of the Judge therefore was to decide which of these three versions (if any) was correct, and what impact that this would have on any decisions about whether the child should see his father and spend time with him.  [There were also a lot of allegations between mother and father as to domestic violence, and the Judge found that father had been violent to the mother including an attempt at strangulation with a head scarf and a violent push]

 

  1. One of the last matters for discussions arises from A’s physical assault allegations comprised principally within his ABE interview. In the context of a question from the officer about what he did on 17 October – and seemingly out of the blue – A said, “I did my homework … With his belt, he kind of hits me.” A little later, A is asked, “OK and how does he hit you?” A who was by then looking directly at the officer, said, “With a belt … A long belt.” He described being hit on his back and leg and said it was “kind of fast, to hit me.” Asked how he felt, A said “Sad … But I’m little brave … I’m not scared of him… But normally I’m sad.” In response to questions as to whether it hurt, did it leave marks and whether they ‘went quite quickly’, A did not reply verbally but nodded his head to all three inquiries.” Towards the very end of the interview, A responded affirmatively when asked if he missed his father.
  2. The father wholly denies ever striking A with a belt or otherwise. He described with evident emotion that if he could not see A he does not “want to live.” He can “only say (he) never hit A with a belt” and he is “dying to see A.” The father also described what he meant by a “slap or a tap” the words used when he was interviewed by the police in connection with A’s allegations. He said this was not to slap A “badly but to keep him disciplined.”

At the end of my determination on this issue I make the following observations. I did believe the mother when she told me she had not said anything bad about the father although it had been for her “really horrible being separated from her son.” The mother also said that during the time they were together, she had seen the father slap A twice and there had been occasions when he had been pushed and shouted at. She had not told her Solicitor because there had been “so many things.”

 

The conclusion of the judgment is that what father did to the child was not something that amounted to physical abuse (and thus, that it would not amount to any criminal offence).

 

The law in this country is that it is lawful to lawfully chastise a child (that’s a bit redundant, but I was trying to use the emotive word ‘smack’). The line is crossed where the physical discipline becomes a criminal offence.

The Telegraph piece says:-

The Children’s Act 2004 made it illegal for parents in England and Wales to chastise children if blows led to bruising, swelling, cuts, grazes or scratches, with the offence carrying up to five years’ imprisonment.

This is what the Children Act 2004 actually says (it is much, much much less clear cut than the Telegraph summary ) – picking through all of the legal jargon, what it says is “If you have hit a child in such a way that a criminal offence may have resulted, it is not a defence to cite reasonable punishment’  – for most of those offences, the impact on the child would be that the injury caused bruises, marks or fractures (ABH, GBH) or cuts or breaks to the skin (Wounding), but the offence of cruelty or battery don’t require those things.

If you were thinking that the Telegraph has given you legal advice that you can beat your child as long as you don’t leave marks or break the skin, you’d be wrong.  [For example, the sack of oranges scene in the Grifters]

 

 

58Reasonable punishment

(1)In relation to any offence specified in subsection (2), battery of a child cannot be justified on the ground that it constituted reasonable punishment.

(2)The offences referred to in subsection (1) are

(a)an offence under section 18 or 20 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 (c. 100) (wounding and causing grievous bodily harm);

(b)an offence under section 47 of that Act (assault occasioning actual bodily harm);

(c)an offence under section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (c. 12) (cruelty to persons under 16).

(3)Battery of a child causing actual bodily harm to the child cannot be justified in any civil proceedings on the ground that it constituted reasonable punishment.

(4)For the purposes of subsection (3) actual bodily harm has the same meaning as it has for the purposes of section 47 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861.

(5)In section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, omit subsection (7).

 

 

Right, so let’s get back to that first paragraph of the Telegraph story – the lead of the whole article

Immigrants should be allowed to “slap and hit” their children because of a “different cultural context” when they are new arrivals in Britain, a High Court judge suggested yesterday

 

I think that it is a fair reading of the case that the Judge suggested that. I don’t think it is quite what she meant, but it is a common-sense reading of what paragraph 67 says.

If, however, someone reads this to mean that immigrant parents have a ‘get out of jail card’ or that they can hurt their children in a way that would get a British parent into trouble but they would get off scot-free, and that this is now the law in this country, that wouldn’t be right.

Firstly, as the case was not decided on that particular point, the remarks would not be binding on any other Court.

Secondly, the Judge wasn’t deciding here that as a matter of principle different standards apply. She was taking into account the individual circumstances of the parents in deciding whether what happened to this child constituted something that would be a barrier to the father having contact with him.

 

I can’t defend the case entirely. I think it is significantly flawed. When I read it, I can’t ascertain whether the Judge found that

a) As the child said in the police interview, father hit him with a belt on his back and legs and that it hurt, it left marks but the marks went quite quickly; OR

b) as the mother said, she had seen father slap the child twice; OR

c) as the father said, that he slapped or tapped  the child as reasonable discipline

 

It is such an important point that it is really quite problematic that the Judge doesn’t say whether she concluded that the child’s account was right or that father’s account was right.

For example, if the Judge had said :-

I find that the father did smack his child on the back of the leg for being naughty, but that this caused no lasting harm to the child.

 

I suspect that it wouldn’t really be in the Press to the extent that it is. I certainly think that the majority of the Telegraph’s readers (and possibly mine too) would nod in agreement with that sentiment.

Whereas the reading of

The father hit his child with a belt, but that’s okay because he was an immigrant

is obviously newsworthy.  [And the readership of the Telegraph and my readers would not be nodding in agreement, but reaching for either a pen, a keyboard or a revolver]

 

And because such an important piece of information is not clear in the judgment (we know that the Judge concluded that WHAT happened to the child was not that serious, but not WHAT she concluded had happened), it does cause legitimate confusion.

The inference has to be that it was the hitting with a belt that she believed happened (since if it was the smack for reasonable punishment, then most of paragraph 67 doesn’t need to be said at all, since this would be within the boundaries of acceptable parental behaviour, whether the parent was from Clapham or Calcutta)

and that then leads to the Press reporting that the Judge is suggesting that a parent from Calcutta in this situation is to be treated differently to a parent from Clapham.

 

Going back to my original question – is the Telegraph piece accurate?  Well, it isn’t inaccurate. The judgment here is unclear about what father was found to have done, but then goes on to excuse what he has done. Part of that is because the effect on the child was very temporary and transient * , but part is the cultural issue set out in paragraph 67.

 

* There might be those who consider that this is not a helpful way of looking at it – a child can recover from the physcial signs of  a bruise on the face in a few days, but the emotional impact can be much more than that. I haven’t been a child for many many years, but I can still vividly recall each and every occasion that an adult struck me in rage as a child.  Whereas the reasonable smacks I got for being naughty are long forgotten. The bruises from a violent assault fade much more easily than the memories.

I think that paragraph 67 is not terribly helpful, and if an argument was being developed in that way it needed more space within the judgment.  I don’t read anyone within the case as having run the argument as “Father did X, but we do X in India”

Father’s case was that what he had done was reasonable chastistment (in Clapham) not, that what happened might have been unreasonable in Clapham but it was reasonable in Calcutta.

 

I’m not sure that the controversial parts of para 67 needed to go in the judgment at all, or play any part of the decision-making. This wasn’t one of those cases (and they do happen) where a parent says “I did do X, and I now know that X is considered wrong in this country, but it isn’t where I’m from”

 

It would be worrying if as a result of the reporting of the story  (and I’ll stress that I don’t think the Press are either inaccurate or irresponsible in their reporting on this), that social workers formed the view that if they are told that a recently arrived immigrant had hit their child with a belt, they should not take that seriously and not take action if they consider it appropriate.  Or that a lawyer thought that as a result of this case, that wouldn’t be capable of establishing threshold.  It would also be worrying if a parent thought that they are being treated more harshly than a parent just arriving from another country would be.  OR that a parent who is in a relationship with someone recently arrived from another country thought that it was okay for their partner to discipline the child with a belt.

For me, the cultural issues are about understanding, rather than condoning. There are parts of the world that tolerate, support, believe in Female Genital Mutilation, and we can understand that parents who have arrived in the UK might have those views, but we can’t condone them acting upon them.  We have to judge all parents on the standards of what is acceptable and lawful in the UK, though we can understand that those standards can be different in other countries.

 

 

 

Experts and fairness

The Court of Appeal decision in Re C (a child) 2015 raises a number of important practice points. There are some important NEW things, which I’ve indicated with a NEW   subheading.  The NEW thing on litigants in person (that the judicial training and best practice is for them to take the oath at the start of the hearing so that all of their representations are effectively evidence and on oath), is a substantial new development. I can also see that where one party is represented and the other not, that the unrepresented party will perceive some unfairness in one party having sworn that everything they say in Court shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and the other party not having given the same oath.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/539.html

 

This arose from a dispute over contact (Child Arrangements) between a mother who was represented by counsel and a father who was appearing in person and for whom English was not his first language. The case came before the Magistrates and mother, through counsel, made a request that father should undertake a psychological assessment.

There was no formal application and none of the requirements of Part 25 had been complied with.  Nor did the Court approach it on the correct statutory basis – that it is for the person seeking an expert to be instructed to satisfy the Court that it is necessary.  This was appealed to a circuit Judge, who upheld the decision.

 

As the Court of Appeal said

It is a matter of some surprise that both of these decisions were made as if the statutory scheme and the Rules simply did not exist. That is unacceptable and it is necessary to explain why, so that the same error does not occur again.

 

Some very quick practice points:-

 

1. The father could not be compelled to undertake a psychological assessment against his will. The original order was that father should  ‘submit’ to a psychological assessment, telling words.

The order made by the magistrates also fell into error in two other respects a) in the way in which it was worded so as to direct the father to undertake what was a medical assessment and b) in the manner in which the costs of the expert were to be provided for. I can take the first error shortly. It is an elementary principle that a competent adult cannot be ordered to have a medical procedure. A psychological assessment of the kind anticipated by the direction made in this case is a medical procedure. If psychological expert evidence is necessary and, as is likely if it is going to have any weight, it involves one or more of the adults or children in the family, the direction should be that the parties concerned ‘have permission to instruct ….. etc’. That should be accompanied by a warning explained to the parties in court about the negative inferences that the court can draw if a party fails to co-operate or comply. That warning should be included in the record that forms part of the court’s order i.e. as a recital.

 

What a Court can do is indicate that a psychological assessment is necessary, and invite a parent to participate in it, and advise the parent that they may not be able to allay concerns if they don’t participate. I.e if there is compelling evidence that a parent has a psychological problem and that instructing a psychologist would allow that evidence to be countered, or a proper understanding of the nature and degree of the problem and prognosis for change isn’t available, that might remain a concern of the Court when it comes to making final decisions.

NEW

The Court of Appeal suggest that it is good practice to include in the order a judicial warning about the consequences to the party in not engaging with the assessment (which must include parents who have agreed to the assessment, in case they do not turn up to appointments)

 

Only if the evidence justifies the necessity should permission be given to adduce expert evidence. Only in that circumstance should a party be at risk of a negative inference being drawn from a failure to comply. It is good practice to include the risk of a negative inference being drawn from non-compliance as a recital to an order giving permission.

The Court making an order compelling father to submit to an assessment that he did not agree to submit to, in itself would have been sufficient to win the appeal – since father wasn’t in agreement, the order made was improper.

2. The costs were split equally, even though father was a litigant in person (and would thus be paying his share himself, whereas mother’s would be on legal aid) without any exploration of whether he could afford it.

The costs of the expert were expressed to be apportioned equally between the parties with the expectation that the mother’s costs would be provided for by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). No attempt was made to ascertain father’s financial position with the consequence that his ability to pay was unknown. One must also observe that because part 25 was not complied with the court did not know whether the report would cost £4,000 or £10,000. One might think that was a matter of some importance. Likewise, it was an unwarranted assumption that the LAA would pay half the costs. There was no indication from them by way of prior authority or otherwise to that effect and the reasons given by the magistrates came nowhere near that which would ordinarily be required to satisfy their guidance (not least because neither part 25 of the Rules nor the statutory criteria in section 13 had been complied with).

 

3. The Court wrongly approached it as being the father’s obligation to show why the assessment wasn’t necessary. AND in their reasons simply recited the mother’s submissions without engaging in any analysis

  1. A flavour of the proceedings can be ascertained from this exchange between the chairman of the bench and the father in response to Ms. Slee’s application and submissions:

    Q “The mother is making an allegation that she believes she cannot agree to contact because she believes you may have a psychological problem that needs addressing”.

    A “But that is wrong”.

    Q “Well, that has yet to be proved. What I would like you to do, yes, it is to address the court as to why you think that is not necessary…………”.

  2. The obligation was placed on the father to demonstrate that a report was unnecessary. That was simply wrong. In the subsequent exchanges between the parties and the legal advisor there is regrettably an inference that because the mother has made her allegations then without anything further, let alone any evidence, the father must justify his position. There is no reference to any evidence by anyone and no consideration in that context of a proper and fair process.

 

AND

  1. The written reasons for the decision given by the magistrates are as follows:

    “We agree with [the mother] that any report in these proceedings should be independent and instructed by the court not by either of the parties. We consider that a report on [the father] is necessary in order for us to progress contact further. We have been presented with a number of different applications in this case and we have made little progress since February 2014. We need to ensure that contact is safe for [the child] and if contact progresses we will need to be sure that [the child] can be safe in the care of [the father] outside of a contact centre. We have concerns about the way in which [the father] is dealing with this application, for instance the videoing of [the child] within the contact centre, a complete breach of contact centre rules and the number of applications made to this court with the inability to focus on the contact application. We therefore consider that in order to rule out any psychological issues, we require a report in relation to [the father]”.

  2. That was no more than a recital of the mother’s case without analysis. It was not an analysis which had regard to the evidence or the criteria set out in s13(7) of the 2014 Act. The magistrates did not reason why they disagreed with the cogent advice of the FCA as they were obliged to do having regard to the terms of the statutory scheme and the procedural code.

4. The Court of Appeal will be slow to intervene on case management decisions of a Court, but where they have not followed the procedure and law, the Court of Appeal will intervene if asked.  Therefore, a properly formulated Part 25 application is essential  (particularly if the instruction is contested)

I entirely accept that case management is an art best practised by the judge who has conduct of the proceedings and that this court should be very slow indeed to intervene to substitute its own view. That said, welfare and procedural justice are key components of the task and if they are missing this court will be bound to intervene. I need go no further than to repeat the conclusion of the President at paragraph [37] of Re TG:

“37. None of this, of course, is intended to encourage excess on the part of case management judges or inappropriate deference on the part of the Court of Appeal. There is, as always, a balance to be struck. As Black LJ went on to observe in RE B, para [48]:

“Robust case management…..very much has its place in family proceedings but it also has its limits.”

I respectfully agree. The task of the case management judge is to arrange a trial that is fair; fair, that is, judged both by domestic standards and by the standards mandated by Articles 6 and 8. The objective is that spelt out in rule 1.1 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010, namely a trial conducted “justly”, “expeditiously and fairly” and in a way which is “proportionate to the nature, importance and complexity of the issues”, but never losing sight of the need to have regard to the welfare issues involved.

 

NEW

5. Protection for litigants in person

 

The Court of Appeal discussed the training that the judiciary have had to protect litigants in person. They point out that it is good practice to put the litigant on person on oath at the start of the hearing, so that all of their representations are classed as evidence. Not having had the judicial training, I was unaware of this. It is important to know this, so that if you are in Court with a litigant in person you know whether the Court has taken that step (or formally decided not to and set out a short explanation as to the reason for the deviation)

  1. I shall digress for a moment to consider the means by which a fair process can be afforded to a litigant in person whose language is not English, particularly in a hearing where the other party is represented. There are professional statements of good practice which already exist to ensure that a party in this position is afforded proper access to justice. The implementation of the family justice reforms has included teaching provided by the Judicial College to judges about that good practice. Magistrates sit in the Family Court as judges of that court in accordance with the Crime and Courts Act 2013. They are afforded the same teaching as professional judges. I shall simply take note of the training they have had. The practice that is recommended is that litigants in person are sworn at the outset of the hearing so that their representations can be used as evidence. They should each be asked to set out their case (preferably without interruption and in a fixed time window) and they should be encouraged by the court to answer any relevant propositions put by the other party. The court should identify the key issues for them and put the same issues to each of them at the beginning or end of the statements they are invited to make.
  2. The court should ask the applicant to reply to any matters he or she has not covered before making a decision. Questions which either party want to ask of the other party, assuming that the representations are to be relied upon as evidence, should be asked through the judge where the questioner is a litigant in person so that inappropriate control is not exercised by one party over the other and irrelevant questions can be avoided.
  3. This was not the process used by the magistrates and their legal advisor. Given that such a process might have facilitated a fairer hearing for the father in this case, it is regrettable that it or a similar appropriate process was not used. Give the number of litigants in person in the Family Court the time may have come for this process to be formalised into practice guidance or a practice direction.

 

 

The really sad thing in this case is that there have been three hearings about a psychological assessment, when it appears that the chief complaint against father was that he took photographs during his contact. That particular nut was cracked with a hydrogen bomb rather than the proverbial sledgehammer.

 

  1. This court knows from the transcript and from a Cafcass report of 9 September 2014 which was before the magistrates that the FCA had concluded that there were no safeguarding issues, that the risk of domestic violence was low and that the child enjoyed contact with his father. The FCA’s aim had been to achieve fortnightly unsupervised contact in the community in due course and there was no obvious reason why that would not have been practicable or in the child’s best interests.
  2. In that context what had the father allegedly done? He had photographed his son in the contact centre setting which had led to the sessions being suspended because that was a breach of the centre’s rules. He had made an allegation about the maternal grandfather which I think amounted to excess chastisement (which is an allegation not yet been determined by a court), and he had made his applications to the court. As the magistrates’ reasons record he was criticised by the mother for his behaviour during contact and for his inability to focus on and take advice about the applications before the court.

 

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