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Category Archives: private law

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?

 

 

 

Q v Q – an impasse

 

You may not be aware (it depends if you spend too much time online), that on the internet QQ in effect means stop whining, or crying about something (the Q’s looking like a pair of eyes with tears coming out of them)   – if you say that someone is QQ-ing, it means that they are whining like a child about something.    [ it comes up a lot]

 

In Q v Q 2014, the President tackles what’s been a long-standing problem in family law proceedings, particularly family law. And brings tears to the eyes of the Legal Aid Agency, Her Majesty’s Court Service and our beloved minister Chris Grayling. QQ indeed.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2014/7.html

 

For many years now, the Legal Aid Agency, under its various guises, has had a policy that they will withdraw public funding from someone who has legal aid (free legal representation) if there is an independent report which is heavily against them. Back when I was doing private law, this quite often used to be the CAFCASS report, and you’d end up in a position where your client’s legal aid would be pulled two days before a final hearing because the CAFCASS report was very damning.

 

Of course, the report is at that point untested evidence – for the Legal Aid Agency to presume that just because on paper the CAFCASS officer is against your client, there would be no prospect of getting them to change their mind or getting the Court to disagree with their conclusions is presumptuous in the extreme. If all the Court did was agree with what the CAFCASS report said on paper, then we wouldn’t need Judges at all, and CAFCASS could be the investigators and arbiters of final outcomes.   [Indeed, on a few such cases I recommended my client for free, and got a favourable decision for them]

 

That’s not a new thing, but in this case, the father was publicly funded and an expert was instructed (it was his expert) and the expert was heavily against him. His funding was pulled.

 

The father was therefore appearing in person, and requiring an interpreter. He wanted to be represented and he wanted to challenge the expert report. The mother, who was represented, invited the Court to dismiss his application and make a section 91(14) order prohibiting him from making further applications without leave of the Court.

 

The Court were unhappy about the impact of proceeding without representation for the father on his article 6 and article 8 rights, and mooted a series of possible solutions, before adjourning the case and inviting the Legal Aid Agency and Ministry to intervene to discuss those possible solutions.

 

 

In the circumstances, what I propose to do is this: I propose to adjourn this matter for, I emphasise, a short time, inviting the Ministry of Justice – or it may be the Secretary of State for Justice or it might be the Minister for the Courts and Legal Aid – to intervene in the proceedings to make such submissions as are appropriate in relation, in particular, to the argument that in a situation such as this the expenditure which is not available from the Legal Aid Agency but which, in the view of the court, if it be the view of the court, is necessary to be incurred to ensure proceedings which are just and fair, can be met either from the Legal Aid Agency by route of the other certificate, the mother’s certificate, or directly at the expense of the court.

 

 

I appreciate that this is a case in which, as Miss Spooner points out, there have already been too many adjournments of supposedly final hearings. I appreciate it is a case which has been going on for the best part of four years, which is depressing to say the least. And I am very conscious of the fact that the mere existence of the proceedings, and they must seem to the mother and her son to drag on interminably, is having a significant impact both on the mother and also on the parties’ son. Factoring that in as I do, it does seem to me that some further, but limited, delay is inescapable if I am to do justice not merely to the father but, as I have emphasised, also to the parents’ son.

 

 

I shall accordingly, in terms which I will draft, adjourn this matter so that the relevant ministry can intervene if it wishes to and on the basis that if it does not I will have to decide the issues I have canvassed without that assistance. I will reserve the matter to myself. I will direct that the hearing takes place as soon as it possibly can after the forthcoming short vacation. I would hope that the hearing can take place in front of me in June.

 

 

This is about nine years too late for the general principle, and a year late for the LASPO position which left almost all parents in private law cases unrepresented (I suspect that the father’s rights movements would also say that as a result of relative incomes, there were a huge number of cases in which fathers had to represent themselves because they had slightly too much money for legal aid representation but not nearly enough to pay privately, and I have some sympathy with that position)

 

It is welcome anyway, even if it is late.

 

The President helpfully gives people a valuable little crib-sheet in case they WERE asking the Legal Aid Agency to grant legal aid in the s10 LASPO exceptional circumstances

 

Putting it in the language of FPR 2010 1.1, the court is required to deal with this matter “justly” and by ensuring “so far as is practicable” that the case is dealt with “fairly” and also “that the parties are on an equal footing.” That is the obligation of the court under domestic law. It is also the obligation of the court under Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention. Despite what Miss Spooner says, I am left with the strong feeling that I cannot deal with the matter today justly and fairly by acceding to her submission.

 

As I have said, the domestic obligation on the court is to act justly and fairly and, to the extent that it is practicable, ensure that the parties are on an equal footing. In the well-known case of Airey v Ireland (Application no 6289/73) (1979) 2 EHRR 305, the European Court of Human Rights held as long ago as 1979 that there could be circumstances in which, without the assistance of a legally qualified representative, a litigant might be denied her Article 6 right to be able to present her case properly and satisfactorily. In that particular case, the court held that Ireland was in breach of Mrs. Airey’s Article 6 rights because it was not realistic in the court’s opinion to suppose that, in litigation of the type in which she was involved, she could effectively conduct her own case, despite the assistance which the judge affords to parties acting in person.

 

 

Mantovanelli v France (Application no 21497/93) (1997) 24 EHRR 370, a judgment given by the court in March 1997, indicates the significance of the right to an adversarial hearing guaranteed by Article 6 specifically in the context of an expert’s report which was “likely to have a preponderant influence on the assessment of the facts by [the] court.”

 

 

I mention those cases merely as illustrative of the kind of issues which arise in this kind of situation. I emphasise I do so without expressing any view at all as to whether, in the circumstances I am faced with, unless there is some resolution of the present financial impasse, there would be a breach of either Article 6 or Article 8.

 

 

 

You may have noticed that I haven’t come on to the facts of the case yet, which is not my usual approach. You may be wondering what the facts of this case are that led to the President being so troubled about the father’s human rights (especially given that there was no such intervention on the D v K case where a father was accused of rape by the mother in private law proceedings and not given legal aid, leaving him in the position of facing those very serious allegations without a lawyer and the mother in the position of being cross-examined by the father directly, something which would be illegal if it happened in a criminal trial http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/700.html   So it must be something worse than that?)

 

 

Well, this, I’m afraid is one that the Daily Mail would exhaust the entireity of the “Outrage” section of Roget’s Thesaurus

 

The father is a convicted sex offender, having convictions for sexual offences with young male children, the second of which was committed during the currency of these proceedings.

 

 

That’s right – the man who the President has gone to the wall for, to defend his human rights, to single out and say “This is the case where I must defend the father’s rights” is a convicted paedophile seeking to have contact with his seven year old son.

 

[That, sadly, is the point of human rights, that they are universal and apply to the most deserving and those who the general public might regard as undeserving and beyond the pale. It isn’t great PR for those who support human rights – including myself, when it is cases like this that stir our courts into upholding rights. It does seem from time to time that the more unsavoury you appear to be, the more thought the Court give to your rights. I hope it only seems that way.

 

If you were to hold a national referendum on whether this man, a convicted paedophile, should get to see his seven year old son, I don’t imagine that it would be a finely balanced result. I don’t think bookmakers would be giving very good odds on “No” ]

 

 

 

 

Back to the legal debate, the President felt that just because the report was against the father that would not determine the matter

 

Tempting though it is to think that the father’s case is totally lacking in merit, it does seem to me, despite everything Miss Spooner has said, and recognising the constraints which may be imposed on cross-examination by the fact that, in part, challenge on behalf of the father would be to his own expert, I am unpersuaded that there are not matters in these reports which could properly be challenged, probed, by someone representing the father.

 

 

For example, a perfectly proper line of cross-examination of JD might be along these lines, “In part at least, your analysis of the risks that the father poses to his son, as opposed to other children, is based upon the account you have had from the mother of what went on in the family home.” It would seem, bearing in mind the language of JD’s report, that the answer could only be, “Yes.” The next question then might be, “Suppose for the sake of argument that the true picture at home was not what the mother says but a very different picture presented by the father. Just suppose that. Would that affect your opinion?” I use that only by way of illustration of a wider point that could be made in relation to these reports. That seems to me to be a proper and appropriate line of cross-examination.

 

 

My problem and ultimately Miss Spooner’s problem is that it is completely a matter of speculation as to what JD’s answer would be to the last question I formulated. The answer might be, “It does not make the slightest difference at all because of X, Y, Z”, in which case the father’s case might evaporate. It might be, “Well, yes, that might make a difference.” The point is we simply do not know

 

 

 

[If you are thinking at this point – well all of that seems like it could apply to ANY witness who was against you, and thus ANY case –mmmmm, yes, I agree. This could be a very critical case for the Government and LASPO. If they don’t take it seriously, it could put a serious hole in their policy about legal aid]

 

 

What were the Court’s possible options to resolve this unthinkable impasse?

 

Assuming that public funding in the form of legal aid is not going to be available to the father, because his public funding has been withdrawn and an appeal against that withdrawal has been dismissed, and on the footing that, although the father has recently gained employment, his income is not such as to enable him to fund the litigation, there is a pressing need to explore whether there is any other way in which the two problems I have identified can be overcome, the first problem being the funding of the attendance of the experts, the second being the funding of the father’s representation

 

 

There may be a need in this kind of situation to explore whether there is some other pocket to which the court can have resort to avoid the problem, if it is necessary in the particular case – I emphasise the word “necessary” – in order to ensure a just and fair hearing. In a public law case where the proceedings are brought by a local authority, one can see a possible argument that failing all else the local authority should have to pay. In a case such as the present where one party is publicly funded, because the mother has public funding, but the father does not, it is, I suppose, arguable that, if this is the only way of achieving a just trial, the costs of the proceedings should be thrown on the party which is in receipt of public fundsThere may be a need in this kind of situation to explore whether there is some other pocket to which the court can have resort to avoid the problem, if it is necessary in the particular case – I emphasise the word “necessary” – in order to ensure a just and fair hearing. In a public law case where the proceedings are brought by a local authority, one can see a possible argument that failing all else the local authority should have to pay. In a case such as the present where one party is publicly funded, because the mother has public funding, but the father does not, it is, I suppose, arguable that, if this is the only way of achieving a just trial, the costs of the proceedings should be thrown on the party which is in receipt of public funds.

It is arguable that, failing all else, and bearing in mind that the court is itself a public authority subject to the duty to act in a Convention compliant way, if there is no other way of achieving a just and fair hearing, then the court must itself assume the financial burden, as for example the court does in certain circumstances in funding the cost of interpreters.

 

 

May I be very clear? I am merely identifying possible arguments. None of these arguments may in the event withstand scrutiny. Each may dissolve as a mirage. But it seems to me that these are matters which required to be investigated in justice not merely to the father but I emphasise equally importantly to the son, as well as in the wider public interest of other litigants in a similar situation to that of the father here. I emphasise the interests of the son because, under our procedure in private law case like this where the child is not independently represented, fairness to the child can only be achieved if there is fairness to those who are litigating. There is the risk that, if one has a process which is not fair to one of the parents, that unfairness may in the final analysis rebound to the disadvantage of the child

 

 

 

 

If you have ever watched a submarine movie (and if you haven’t, you have wasted your life to date), you will be familiar with the sequence where disaster strikes, water breaches the hull and red lights go on and a siren blasts “Arooogah Aroogah” for the next twenty minutes of the film, where men in crewneck jumpers and/or bellbottoms use wrenches on pipes and doors burst open and water pours in.

 

That submarine disaster sequence is  pretty much what the scene at Her Majesty’s Court Service would be like when they read this line from the President

 

 

. It is arguable that, failing all else, and bearing in mind that the court is itself a public authority subject to the duty to act in a Convention compliant way, if there is no other way of achieving a just and fair hearing, then the court must itself assume the financial burden, as for example the court does in certain circumstances in funding the cost of interpreters

 

 

What the President is saying there is, if a situation arises in which a party’s human rights would be breached by having to conduct litigation without a lawyer and the Legal Aid Agency won’t pay, it might have to come out of the Court’s budget, otherwise the Court would be breaching the party’s human rights.

 

Aroogah! Aroogah!

 

 

In private law, if someone is going to have to pay for legal representation to prevent a breach of article 6 and article 8, the options are basically limited to the Legal Aid Agency or the Court (either way, it is coming out of Mr Grayling’s budget)

 

Aroogah! Aroogah!

 

Luckily, we know from Mr Grayling’s comments about the completely opaque terrorism trial of AB and CD that “We must trust the Judges” and on that basis, I’m sure that Mr Grayling will stand by that, and not bring a Silk along to talk the President out of it, or appeal any decision that the President might make.

 

And also note that the President drags the poor old Local Authority into this, despite being a private law case that they aren’t involved in.

 

In a public law case where the proceedings are brought by a local authority, one can see a possible argument that failing all else the local authority should have to pay

 

 

It is wrong, and probably a contempt of Court for me to refer to the President of the Family Division as Dude – so let’s for a moment imagine that I am talking about someone entirely different  (which I am, I am addressing a friend of mine who has just made this very suggestion, in coincidentally the same words that the President used), but

 

Dude !

 

Are you saying that if a child has a fractured skull, and the suspects are mother and mother’s boyfriend, and mother’s boyfriend can’t get legal aid, the Local Authority should pay for the boyfriend’s lawyers to fight the case against them? That it would be fine for those lawyers to be paid by the applicant in the proceedings, who is running a case directly in opposition to their client?

 

Dude!

 

 

[I think in the light of Re T, we’d see what the Supreme Court thought about that. The answer it seems to me, is that we need our Courts to unlock s10 LASPO exceptions by saying that these cases would be an article 6 breach in accordance with the spirit of Airey v Ireland, and it would be Wednesbury unreasonable for the Legal Aid Agency to decide otherwise once a judge has ruled that there would be an article 6 breach. IF that is the path that the President goes down, it seems to me to have the potential to punch a big hole in the hull of HMS LASPO - it is lucky that Mr Grayling trusts the Judges]

 

 

 

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 article 8 right is to family life, not a happy family life

 

Another case involving unregulated artificial conception of a child, and the difficulty in resolving the fall out afterwards

 

L v C 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2014/1280.html

 

L and C were a same sex female couple. L was English, C Irish. They decided to have a baby together, and a male donor was found. C conceived and had a baby, G.   G was born in October 2013.

Between August and December 2013, L and C lived together in England, and from Oct-Dec 2013 they shared in the care of G.  They then split up, rather acrimoniously. C took G back to Ireland to live, and L has not seen her since.  L made an application in the English Courts – believing that she would have no rights to make any applications in Ireland.

 

    • For permission to apply for a residence order and a contact order under the Children Act 1989.

 

 

  • For declarations that at the point of G’s departure from England, L v C was acting as her ‘psychological parent’ and that they shared family life within the meaning of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights

 

Before the Court could hear the application on residence and contact, they had to consider jurisdiction. At the time the application was issued, G was back in Ireland with C, her biological mother.

 

  • Jurisdiction in respect of the Children Act application falls under the Family Law Act 1986 and the Council Regulation (EC) No. 2201/2003 (‘Brussels II Revised’ or ‘BIIR’) which, as its title states, concerns among other things ‘matters of parental responsibility’.

 

 

 

 

  • The effect of this regime is that this court will only have jurisdiction to entertain the application if G was habitually resident here on 25 February: Family Law Act 1986 ss. 2 and 3 and Arts. 8 and 16 BIIR.

 

 

 

 

  • If the court concludes that it does not have jurisdiction, and that the Irish court does, it must declare that it has no jurisdiction: Art. 17 BIIR.

 

 

 

 

  • If G’s place of habitual residence cannot be established, the Irish court will have jurisdiction on the basis that she is present there: Art. 13 BIIR.

 

 

 

 

  • The meaning of habitual residence has been considered by the European Court of Justice, by the Supreme Court and by the Court of Appeal.

 

 

 

 

  • In Re A (Jurisdiction: Return of Child) [2013] UKSC 60, the Supreme Court reviewed the European decisions in the cases of Re A (Area of Freedom, Security and Justice) (Case C-523/07) CJEU and Mercredi v Chaffe (Case C-497/10) CJEU. Baroness Hale, summarising at [54], emphasised that habitual residence is a question of fact and not a legal concept. The test is ‘the place which reflects some degree of integration by the child in a social and family environment’ in the country concerned. This depends on numerous factors. The environment of an infant or young child is shared with those upon whom she is dependent. Hence it is necessary to assess the integration of that person or persons in the social and family environment of the country concerned.

 

 

 

 

  • In Mercredi v Chaffe the European Court referred to the factors that must be taken into consideration as including, first, the duration, regularity, conditions and reasons for the child’s stay in the State in question and for the mother’s move there and, second, with particular reference to the child’s age, the mother’s geographic and family origins and the family and social connections that the mother and child have with that State.

 

 

 

 

  • The facts of the Supreme Court case of Re A are not at all similar to the present case. However, the facts of Mercredi v Chaffe are. A French mother and a British father cohabited until five days after the birth of the child. The father did not have parental responsibility. When the child was two months old, the mother unilaterally took him overseas. The father began proceedings in England and the mother began proceedings in France. Following the reference to the European Court, the Court of Appeal (at [2011] EWCA 272) held that the removal of the child had been lawful, that the English court’s jurisdiction was at best doubtful and in any event should not have been exercised in competition with that of the French court.

 


 

  • Applying the guidance to be found in these decisions, I find that when L v C’s proceedings were issued G was not habitually resident in England and Wales:

 

 

 

    • G had by then been living in Ireland for over seven weeks, a significant period for a baby then aged four months.

 


    • She was dependent on her mother, who was then habitually resident in Ireland, to which she had returned with the intention of remaining permanently and where she has deep, longstanding family and social connections.

 

 

  • G’s removal to Ireland by Ms C was lawful, a fact conceded by L v C.

 

 

  • I reach this conclusion despite accepting that:

 

 

 

    • Ms C was quite possibly habitually resident in England between August 2013 and G’s removal. (For what it is worth, the facts do not appear to sustain her argument that this four-month period of residence in England was the result of duress. Duress requires a complete overbearing of the will: see Re T [2010] EWHC 3177 (Fam) at [31]. That is not alleged here.)


    • G had not been outside England for the first 11 weeks of her life and was very likely habitually resident here during that period.

 

 

    • L v C has been habitually resident in England throughout.

 


    • L v C had had full parental involvement in G’s life up to the point of her removal.

 

 

 

  • In accordance with Art. 17 BIIR, I must therefore declare that this court has no jurisdiction in relation to matters of parental responsibility concerning G

 

Because G was not habitually resident in England at the time of the application and had not been unlawfully removed, the Court had no jurisdiction on residence or contact.  (I think that where the judgment says “L v C” it means “L” and this has been some sort of find-and-replace snafu in anonymising the document)

 

That left the issue of whether L had acquired family life (and thus article 8 rights) with G in the period between October-December 2013.

 

There was firstly the argument about jurisdiction to consider – C was arguing that as all matters regarding G ought to be dealt with in the Irish Courts, the English court should stay out of this.

Ms Guha argues that the court does not have carte blanche to consider L v C application. She raises two objections. The first (which I shall call the ‘territorial’ objection) is a submission that the court cannot interfere in matters that are properly within the province of the Irish courts. The second (the ‘procedural’ objection) is that the court cannot make a free-standing declaration of human rights in the absence of substantive proceedings concerning the child. Ms Guha further argues that even if jurisdiction exists it should not be exercised in the circumstances of the case, and that if the court was considering doing so it would need to hear oral evidence.

 

On the ‘territorial’ argument, the Judge found against C

 

  • What is at issue here is the competence of this court to rule upon a specific situation that existed in England in respect of a child who had never lived anywhere else, involving the nationals of two contracting states, one of them English and all of them resident in England at the material time. As to the existence of an alternative forum, I entirely accept that this court should not trespass upon matters that would fall within the territorial jurisdiction of the Irish court. For example it would, as I have already held, be improper for this court to make orders about future arrangements for the child. But I do not accept that the declaration that is being sought would encroach upon the Irish court’s territorial jurisdiction. In fact there is as yet no indication that there will be proceedings in Ireland, that jurisdiction not having been invoked by either party at this point. And even if proceedings were taken in Ireland, their central focus would be on the child’s actual situation and not upon declarations as to past events. Nor do I accept that the issue of Art. 8 rights can only be determined by a court considering substantive remedies relating to the child. As discussed below, I would hold the question of whether such rights existed to be independently justiciable.

 

 

 

 

  • In the circumstances, while I understand the logic of Ms Guha’s objection, I would hold that there is no territorial obstacle to L v C’s application for a declaration being considered by this court.

 

 

That left the ‘procedural’ argument, that the Court could not consider article 8 rights purely in isolation with no substantive application. The Court was more sympathetic on that, but found against C

 

  • I turn then to Ms Guha’s ‘procedural’ argument. This is that the court cannot make a free-standing declaration of human rights in the absence of substantive proceedings. The argument is based upon s.7(1) of the Human Rights Act, which provides that a person who claims that a public authority has acted (or proposes to act) unlawfully may bring proceedings against the authority under the Act in the appropriate court or tribunal, or rely on the Convention right in any legal proceedings, but only if he is (or would be) a victim of the unlawful act. It is argued that L v C’s application falls outside the ambit of s.7 because she is not claiming unlawfulness by a public authority, nor relying on her Convention rights in any substantive proceedings.

 

 

 

 

  • The relief L v C actually seeks is a free-standing declaration as to her Art. 8 rights. This is not a claim falling within s.7 of the Act, even though her claim has on a number of occasions been described as being brought ‘under the Human Rights Act’. Likewise, Ms Markham has suggested that the court could invoke its inherent jurisdiction to enable it to hear the application. In my view, recourse to the inherent jurisdiction would not add anything of substance. Lastly, the suggestion that the application for a declaration might gain a sound jurisdictional foundation as a result of being made alongside the ill-founded Children Act application cannot be right.

 

 

 

 

  • I therefore have some sympathy for Ms Guha in having had to respond to these distractions from the main point: that is whether a free-standing declaration as to human rights is possible or whether s.7 prevents this.

 

 

 

 

  • It is true that the Human Rights Act is normally deployed to challenge allegedly unlawful acts by public authorities (s.6) by making the claim within judicial proceedings (s.7) for a specific remedy (s.8). This provides a route for the enforcement of Convention rights, but it does not provide a statutory route by which their existence can simply be asserted in an appropriate case.

 

 

 

 

  • The whole tenor of the Human Rights Act is the protection of Convention rights domestically. There being nothing explicit within the Act to state that declarations cannot be granted in the absence of proceedings brought under s.7, there is no good reason to infer such a restriction. (I would add that I do not find that s.11, entitled ‘Safeguard for existing human rights’, assists on this issue. Its purpose is not procedural in relation to Convention rights but protective of rights arising outside the Convention.)

 

 

 

 

  • My overall conclusion is that the terms of the Act do not exclude the court’s power to make free-standing declarations as to Convention rights in appropriate cases and that such an application can be approached in the same manner as any other application for a declaration.

 

 

 

 

  • Rule 40 of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 provides that the court may make a binding declaration whether or not any other remedy is claimed, or can be claimed. As stated in Financial Services Authority v Rourke [2002] C.P. Rep. 14 (Neuberger J), the power to make declarations is discretionary. The court can grant a declaration as to their rights, or as to the existence of facts or as to a principle of law. When considering whether to grant a declaration, the court should take into account justice to the claimant, justice to the defendant, whether the declaration would serve a useful purpose and whether there are any other special reasons why the court should or should not grant the declaration.

 

 

  • Standing back, a conclusion that this court is impotent to make human rights declarations arising from past events occurring within its territorial jurisdiction would to my mind be capable of leading to a denial of justice. This casts doubt upon the correctness of such a conclusion.

 

 

 

 

  • For the above reasons, I would therefore hold that this court has procedural jurisdiction to entertain L v C’s application for a free-standing declaration.

 

 

All that this means is that the Court could legitimately consider L’s application for a declaration that she and G had family life, not that it had agreed that she had.  That comes next

 

 

  • The first matter of relevance to the question of justice to the parties and to G is the degree of cogency of L v C’s argument in favour of her family rights. As to that, it is to be noted that there is no precise definition of ‘family life’ in Convention case law. It is a question of fact and one of substance, not form. There need to be close personal ties but these need not yet be fully developed provided there is potential for them to develop. There is no pre-determined model and family life must be interpreted in the light of modern trends. (See Clayton and Tomlinson ‘The Law of Human Rights’ 2nd ed. 13.04 -13.06). With less conventional family structures, the courts have taken a broad purposive approach. So it was held that a family relationship did exist in X, Y and Z v UK 1997 24 EHRR 143 between a woman, her female-to-male transsexual partner and the child she had conceived by artificial insemination. The court emphasised that the notion of family life is not confined to families based on marriage and can depend on a number of factors including whether the couple lived together and whether they demonstrated their commitment to each other by having children or by any other means (see Clayton and Tomlinson at 13.134 and 13.145 and Lester, Pannick and Herberg ‘Human Rights Law and Practice’, 3rd Ed. at 4.8.49).

 

 

 

 

  • Applying these principles to the present case, L v C’s claim that family life existed is a compelling one. A balancing of these rights against the Art. 8 rights of Ms C and G is not a precondition to determining the rights of L v C. The fact that all such rights are qualified and would have to be balanced against each other in any welfare determination should not be confused with the question of whether they exist in the first place.

 

 

 

 

  • I next consider the question of fairness to Ms C and to G. Ms C undoubtedly dislikes any recognition of L v C’s role, saying hyperbolically that ‘she destroyed my and my baby’s family life’, but this does not translate into any unfairness towards her arising from the court evaluating the circumstances objectively. G’s own position is of great importance and in my view fairness to her calls for the circumstances of her conception and neonatal period to be reflected as accurately as possible amidst the adult discord.

 

 

 

 

  • This is also relevant to the question of whether a declaration would serve a useful purpose. There are two ways in which it might: first, as an objective contribution to G’s future wellbeing, and secondly as a record that may be useful to any other court considering her situation. Ms Guha argues that such a declaration would be meaningless in isolation from substantive proceedings in respect of the child. I accept that this might be the case, but it equally might not and I cannot see any detriment arising from the existence of an accurate declaration, any more than it would arise from an accurate judgment.

 

 

 

 

  • In the course of her argument, Ms Markham submitted that one reason why a declaration should be granted is that there would otherwise be a lacuna in English law in failing to protect L v C’s rights, and that there is positive obligation on the State to remedy this. I am not influenced by this argument. There is in my view no such gap in the law. Had the matter come before the court at a time when G remained in England, there are a number of legal remedies that might have been available to L v C, whether or not she had the support of Ms C. Nor can it persuasively be said that the law is failing in its treatment of the non-biological partner (male or female) of a biological parent who conceives as a result of informal arrangements. There would be many difficulties in seeking to equalise the legal consequences of licensed and unlicensed arrangements, fuller consideration of this issue being far beyond the scope of this judgment.

 

 

 

 

  • The international element is undoubtedly a special feature of the case, but I do not find that it provides a reason for declining to make a declaration. As stated above, the matter arises from events in England. It has been capably argued before this court, and there are no existing proceedings in Ireland. The limited nature of the declaration in question would not trespass on any potential Irish proceedings, and might even assist if there were any. It is said on Ms C’s behalf that an alternative legal remedy is available to L v C in the Irish courts, but this rests on the doubtful assumption that she has the emotional and financial resources to pursue that course in practice.

 

 

 

 

  • I do not consider that oral evidence is required to enable a decision to be reached in this matter. There is a mass of written material from which the picture is clear in all material respects. Both women speak of unhappy features of their relationship and ascribe responsibility for them to the other. But given the extent of the agreed facts, this difference in perception cannot colour the question of whether family life existed. What is in issue is the existence of family life, not the existence of happy family life, nor the reasons for unhappiness.

 

 

 

 

  • Drawing all these matters together, I shall refuse L v C’s applications except to the extent that I declare that at the date of G’s removal from England on 3 January 2014 family life within the meaning of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights existed between G and L v C.

 

 

It is another important example that if you are in a situation where a child is being concieved by non-traditional means, you should think long and hard about how everyone involved feels about it, what they want, whether they should play a role in the care of the child, whether they should have parental responsibility, how legally you would acquire that, and what might happen if your non-nuclear family breaks up at some point in the future.

“Welfare of the child : Parental involvement”

There was quite a lot of debate about the wording of the new section 11 of the Children and Families Act 2014.

 

You may recall, in the distant mists of time, that the Family Justice Review were asked to consider whether we should incorporate into English and Welsh law the sort of provision that Australia introduced, of there being a starting point in law that it is good for children to spend time with both parents.

 

The Family Justice Review decided not to, but the Government decided that it did want to consult on whether something along those lines was desirable.

 

I wrote about the consultation nearly two years ago, here

 

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/06/13/co-op-good-with-kids/

 

 

There were four options consulted on (none of them being the presumption of equal time or shared time that the media reported on, and that the fathers’ rights lobby were asking for. I’ve tried in this article to not split it on pure gender lines – I think that all parents who don’t live with their children would like the Court to have in mind that spending a lot of time with both parents is better for a child than artificially restricting one parent’s time with their child)

 

  • Option 1 requires the court to work on the presumption that a child’s welfare is likely to be furthered through safe involvement with both parents – unless the evidence shows this not to be safe or in the child’s best interests
  • Option 2 would require the courts to have regard to a principle that a child’s welfare is likely to be furthered through involvement with both parents
  • Option 3 has the effect of a presumption by providing that the court’s starting point in making decisions about children’s care is that a child’s welfare is likely to be furthered through involvement with both parents
  • Option 4 inserts a new subsection immediately after the welfare checklist, setting out an additional factor which the court would need to consider.

 

The Government decided to go with option 1, but this got diluted further in the parliamentary process, until we ended up with this

 

Children and Families Act 2014

 

Section 11Welfare of the child: parental involvement

(1)Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 (welfare of the child) is amended as follows.

(2)After subsection (2) insert—

“(2A)A court, in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (4)(a) or (7), is as respects each parent within subsection (6)(a) to presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of that parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare.

(2B)In subsection (2A) “involvement” means involvement of some kind, either direct or indirect, but not any particular division of a child’s time.”

(3)After subsection (5) insert—

“(6)In subsection (2A) “parent” means parent of the child concerned; and, for the purposes of that subsection, a parent of the child concerned—

(a)is within this paragraph if that parent can be involved in the child’s life in a way that does not put the child at risk of suffering harm; and

(b)is to be treated as being within paragraph (a) unless there is some evidence before the court in the particular proceedings to suggest that involvement of that parent in the child’s life would put the child at risk of suffering harm whatever the form of the involvement.

(7)The circumstances referred to are that the court is considering whether to make an order under section 4(1)(c) or (2A) or 4ZA(1)(c) or (5) (parental responsibility of parent other than mother).”

 

 

[If you want a quick explanation – there’s a presumption that it is good for a child to have involvement with both parents (unless it would cause harm or risk of harm to the child), but that involvement can be ‘of some kind, direct or indirect, but not any particular division of a child’s time’.  

It is probably worse for non-resident parents than the current Act, which tended to be interpreted that direct contact for both parents is a good thing for the child, if it can be done safely]

 

I’m grateful to Noel Arnold for alerting me and others to the fact that these provisions are not yet in force, and indeed, aren’t in any of the commencement orders (that’s the thing that turns a part of the Act from words into actual law to be followed)

 

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/all?title=children%20and%20families%20act%202014

 

Those commencement orders roll out various parts of the Children and Families Act 2014 at various stages this year – 1st April, 22nd April, 13th May, 25th July, 1st September.

 

Clause 11 doesn’t appear in any of those, and the suspicion therefore is that it won’t be rolled out this year (My own suspicion is that it may not be rolled out at all, as happened with the “no fault divorce” provisions enacted in 1996)

 

 

It does appear a little odd to me that this fairly anodyne provision can’t be rolled out at the same time as the change of Residence and Contact to “Child Arrangements Orders” (Translation for Eastenders writing staff “They’ve changed Custody and Access to Child Arrangements Orders” )

 

I’m not sure what else would need to be done to make those provisions ready to go, and it suggests to me a measure of disquiet that the provisions are not really useful to anyone and would do more harm than good if released into the wild.

 

There’s a risk, in fact, that for a parent whose contact would be safe, but the parent who lives with a child is hostile to anything more than a birthday and christmas card, the s11 change might make this something that the Court could more easily countenance than the existing position that there ought to be direct contact. There’s statutory sanction for the fact that involvement can include ‘indirect’ contact.

 

They also seem to set up a situation in which parental responsibility should not be given to a parent (really only a father, since mothers get it automatically) if there’s a risk of harm. That risk of harm isn’t then balanced against the risk of harm if it were not done, or against the possible benefits to the child of doing so. Or if there’s a risk of harm flowing from the mother towards the child as well as from the father towards the child, so that there might be harm to the child either way.

 

Or indeed that the risk that would warrant not making a parental responsibility order or a Child Arrangement Order that provides for contact flows from that person at all. For example, if a mother wrongly believed that a father was a paedophile and the Court found that he wasn’t, but that having contact would cause the mother emotional distress and anxiety that would impact adversely on the child, the father’s request for contact could be classified as one that puts the child at risk, even though he has done nothing wrong.

 

There must be a degree of doubt whether rolling out a revised section 1 (via giving s11 Children and Families Act a commencement date) might undermine the existing body of caselaw which was determined under the current s1

 

For example,

 

“The Courts recognise the critical importance of the role of both parents in the lives of their children. The courts are not anti-father and pro-mother or vice versa… unless there are cogent reasons against it, the children of separated parents are entitled to know and have the love and society of both their parents. In particular the courts recognise the vital importance of the role of non-resident fathers in the lives of their children and only make orders terminating contact when there is no alternative”

Re O (A child :Contact :Withdrawal of Application) 2003 1 FLR 1258

 

Or

 

“It is almost always in the interests of a child whose parents are separated that he or she should have contact with the parent with whom the child is not living”

 

Re P (Contact: Supervision) 1996 2 FLR 314

 

Or

 

“No parent is perfect, but “good enough parents” should have a relationship with their children for their own benefit and even more in the best interests of the children. It is, therefore, most important that the attempt to promote contact between a child and the non-resident parent should not be abandoned until it is clear that the child will not benefit from continuing the attempt”

 

Re S (Contact: Promoting Relationship with Absent Parent) 2004 1 FRL 1279

 

Or

 

“Contact between parent and child is a fundamental element of family life and was almost always in the interest of the child… there is a positive obligation on the state and therefore upon the judge, to take measures to maintain or to restore contact”

 

Re C (A child : suspension of contact) 2011 2 FLR 912

 

I would be very reluctant to have any of those vital principles, which were determined under the old s1, weakened or put in doubt by a changed s1 with a slightly different emphasis.

 

[I am sure that some non-resident parents will feel that these principles didn’t seem to get much of a look-in when their own case was decided before a District Judge, but they are principles that can be relied on and pushed under the Court’s nose at the moment, and they are important ones]

 

I have to say that I greatly prefer the current section 1 of the Children Act 1989, which is just plain and simple that when deciding anything that affects a child, the Court’s paramount consideration must be the child’s welfare.

 

If and when s11 comes into force, all we have is an embroidering of that position which if anything makes it less clear and less meaningful. It certainly isn’t a victory for those lobbying for a fairer and more equal treatment for parents who don’t live with their children.

 

[I have to confess that it has never sat comfortably with me that portions of an Act go through parliamentary scrutiny and royal assent, and in effect get voted on by the House of Commons and the House of Lords and win that democratic approval, but ultimately become law on the decision of a single government minister to push the “Release the Clause” button or not. But here, I’d be happy for the button not to be pushed – I think that the clause makes things worse for non-resident parents, and they really didn’t need the deck stacked against them]

Terminating parental responsibility – the appeal

Re D (A Child) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/315.html

 

In this case, the Court of Appeal were hearing father’s appeal against Baker J’s decision to use the power in s4(2A) of the Children Act 1989 that a father’s parental responsibility can be removed from him by order of the Court.

 

John Bolch over at Family Lore has done a good piece on this.

http://www.familylore.co.uk/2014/03/d-child-fathers-appeal-against-order.html

 

The legal power is

4(2A) A person who has acquired parental responsibility under subsection (1) shall cease to have that responsibility only if the court so orders.

 

The father in this case was not the most edifying man. He is serving a prison sentence for sexual offences against women. The mother, having ended that relationship wanted nothing to do with him, but from prison the father was making applications for contact with their child.

There are two big arguments in this case  (a) If that s4(2A) power exists, then there must be circumstances in which the Court can use that power, and why not in a case like this?   OR (b) the power in the Act is draconian AND discriminatory, since it presently allows for a mother to ask the Court to discharge father’s PR for bad behaviour, but a father can never do the same against the mother.

[It is for the latter reason that I find myself on father's side as a matter of law, although my sympathies in this case all lie with the mother]

 

The problem for dad’s team was that the nub of that argument, that s4(2A) is discriminatory to men has already been shot down by the European Court of Human Rights

 

The question of the differential treatment of married and unmarried fathers by the statutory scheme is not before this court for consideration. Neither mothers nor married fathers can have their parental responsibility removed. That was the issue in Smallwood v UK (29779/96) (1999) 27 EHRR CD 155, an admissibility decision of the Commission in which it was held that the difference in treatment between mothers, married and unmarried fathers in the context of the jurisdiction of the court to make an order which removes an unmarried father’s parental responsibility is not a violation of article 8 ECHR [the Convention] taken in conjunction with article 14. On that basis the father in this case was refused permission to appeal on the question of whether the differential treatment was proportionate and whether section 4(2A) CA 1989 was incompatible with the rights set out in articles 8 and 14 of the Convention.

 

Damn. So dad’s team had to take a different tack

 

 

  • The grounds of appeal upon which permission was granted are that:

 

 

 

i) the judge failed to distinguish Re P to have regard to the principles set out in the Human Rights Act 1998 [HRA 1998], the ACA 2002 and the changing social norms over the 18 years since Re P; 

ii) the judge failed to consider whether the mother had discharged the burden of proof so as to establish the allegation that the father was “a sexual recidivist”; and

iii) the judge failed to make a proportionate order or take into account the asserted policy consideration that applications of this kind should not be allowed to become “a weapon in the hands of a dissatisfied mother”.

 

[i.e that "there might be some cases in which it is proportionate and necessary to terminate father's PR but (a) they should be very very rare and (b) this isn't it"]

 

Having had to fight, as a result of Smallwood v UK, with one hand tied behind their back, it is not surprising that dad’s team did not succeed.

On the final point, the ‘this could open the floodgates’ one, the Court of Appeal archly point out that two such orders in 25 years doesn’t suggest that the family Courts are about to be besieged by s4(2A) applications.

 

The burden of proof thing is an unusual and intricate argument – in effect it is that the burden of proof falls on the person making the allegation (they have to prove it, the subject of the allegations doesn’t have to disprove it  – a concept that seems entirely lost in LASPO…).

These are the facts that Baker J found, having heard all of the evidence (the important thing here is that some of these findings were his own conclusion rather than mum making allegations and the Court finding them proven)

 

  • The second ground of appeal relates to the judge’s findings of fact and the value judgments he came to upon which he based his ultimate conclusion. So far as the former is concerned this court would have to be satisfied that the judge was plainly wrong in the factual determinations to which he came, that is that there is no objective basis for the same on the evidence that he heard and read, otherwise they will be immune from review. The judge had the benefit “of reading and hearing all of the evidence, of assessing not only the credibility and reliability of the witnesses but also their characters and personalities and the professionalism of the professional witnesses, of living and breathing the case over so many days …” (Re B above at [205]). This court will be very hesitant indeed to interfere in that process.

 

 

 

  • It is plain from the transcript that Baker J carefully considered the factual and opinion evidence in coming to his conclusions. It cannot be said that he was wrong to reject the expert evidence that he heard from the jointly instructed psychologist having found that his evidence was naive, complacent, unreliable and at times misleading. He made the following findings about the father:

 

 

 

i) the nature and extent of the facts associated with the father’s criminal convictions included penetrative sexual abuse, inciting a child to engage in penetrative sexual activity, engaging in sexual acts with a child, causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity and three sexual assaults; 

ii) he had vacillated over the years between accepting the truth of those facts and asserting his innocence and was presently again asserting that he had been wrongly convicted;

iii) his account of what he called a false confession was wholly unconvincing with the consequence that he had not satisfied the burden under section 11(2) of the Civil Evidence Act 1968 of proving that he had not committed the offences for which he was convicted;

iv) his persistent denials of the validity of the convictions meant that he had repeatedly lied to professionals and to the court (and by implication to his family including his son as that was the factual basis upon which he presented himself to the court);

v) he had lied when he denied giving a previous account to the respondent when he told her that he had been abused in the past by his brother;

vi) having regard to the Lucas direction which the judge gave himself, the father’s lies called into question his reliability as a witness (see R v Lucas [1981] QB 720).

 

  • On the facts that he found, the judge was entitled to conclude (at [51]) that:

 

 

“as he continues to deny his culpability for the devastating acts of abuse he perpetrated on the family, I think it highly unlikely that he appreciates the damage he has caused to every member of the family, or the danger of further damage should he have any further involvement with the family”

 

In this case, it was Baker J who made the finding that father was a sexual recidivist, and the argument was thus that mum (who benefited from the finding) hadn’t had the burden of proof in establishing it.  It would be fair to say that the Court of Appeal didn’t care for that submission.

 

  • It is superficial to say that in this case D’s father has not inflicted harm directly on his child and that therein lies a distinction with Re P which ought to have led to a different conclusion. D’s father inflicted devastating emotional harm on the whole family including D which he continues to deny. It is difficult to see how in that circumstance and in the absence of any other positive factors, the father can be said to be capable of exercising ‘with responsibility’ his parental rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority.

 

  • It is likewise wrong to say that the mother has failed to satisfy the burden of proof of facts relating to father’s alleged sexual recidivism. That is a submission that is becoming ever more prevalent in this court with the advent of parties who are not represented at first instance and who can be excused for not understanding the significance of either the burden or standard of proof. So the submission goes, if a party who has the benefit of a finding from the court has not been put to the obligation of proving it, what the court has done is to subtly reverse the burden of proof. I make it clear this is a distinct submission from one which calls into question whether someone has not had the benefit of procedural protections to which they are entitled.

 

  • Provided that procedural protections are identified and used by the court, the process of fact finding in family proceedings is quasi-inquisitorial. The welfare of a child may sometimes require a judge to make decisions about facts and/or value judgments that are not asked for by either party. A judge cannot shrink from doing so. That is his function. He must identify such questions and where necessary decide them. Although identified in relation to a different supervisory jurisdiction, the quasi-inquisitorial process to which I have referred was considered and approved in its use by the family courts in public law children proceedings and must as a matter of good practice be available to the same inquiry in private law children proceedings: In the Matter of W (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 1227 at [36]:

 

“Although it is conventional to speak of facts having to be proved on the balance of probabilities by the party who makes the allegation, proceedings under the 1989 Act are quasi-inquisitorial (quasi-inquisitorial in the classic sense that the court does not issue the process of its own motion). The judge has to decide whether sufficient facts exist to satisfy the threshold (the jurisdictional facts) whether or not the local authority or any other party agree. Furthermore, the basis upon which the threshold is satisfied is a matter for the judge, not the parties. To that end, if the judge directs that an issue be settled for determination, then absent an appeal, the issue will be tried whatever any party may think about that. As Pitchford LJ said in R (CJ) v Cardiff City Council [2012] 2 All ER:

[21] … The nature of the court’s enquiry under the 1989 Act was inquisitorial. To speak in terms of a burden of establishing precedent or jurisdictional fact was inappropriate.

[22] … I am persuaded that the nature of the inquiry in which the court is engaged is itself a strong reason for departure from the common law rule which applies a burden to one or other of the parties … The court in its inquisitorial role, must ask whether the precedent fact existed on a balance of probability.”

 

Interesting – the suggestion there is that if mum had alleged that father was a sexual recidivist, the burden of proof would be on her, but where as here, the Judge makes the finding of his own motion arising from the evidence heard, there is no burden of proof – it is just the STANDARD of proof that we are concerned with. Was it more likely than not to be the case, and the Court of Appeal saw no reason to deviate from this.  [It is such a narrow technical point that I don't see it coming up very often, but the Court of Appeal have slammed that door shut]

 

Of course, the sort of circumstances (Father injured a child, father is a sexual offender) found here in the two cases where PR was removed don’t come up all that often in private law, but they are rather more common in care proceedings – where of course the mother is represented, will have the powers of s4(2A) explained to her and might be under pressure from professionals to distance herself from father. Might we see that more often in care proceedings?

 

Equality of arms – D v K and B 2014

 

One of the principles of article 6 of the Human Rights Act (the right to fair trial) is the ‘equality of arms’ – in essence that there should be a level playing field. Of course, there isn’t always – in a big money divorce, the person who has the assets might well be paying for the better lawyer,  sometimes one party will go and get a QC and the other can’t afford it.  Equality of arms was something that concerned a lot of people when the legal aid reforms came in and established that a person making very grave allegations would have the opportunity to get free representation, whereas the person defending themselves against what might be false allegations was very unlikely to get the same treatment.

D v K and B 2014 brings that into sharp focus

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed128264

1. An issue arises in private law proceedings concerning B who is three years old. A fact finding hearing has to take place. One of the many serious allegations made by the mother is that she was raped by the father in 2010. The allegation of rape would be central to the fact finding hearing and so a court conducting that hearing would have to decide whether the alleged rape took place. The Father denies that it did. That allegation is not the subject of criminal proceedings.

2. The mother has the benefit of legal aid. The father does not. His application for legal aid has been rejected. This judgment was given on 27th January 2014 with the intention that it should be referred to the Legal Aid Agency. I invited them to reconsider the father’s application for legal aid as a matter of urgency. At the most recent hearing on 12th March I was told that the application had been reconsidered and had been rejected again.

 

This does seem, to me, to be a case where there should be equality of arms – father’s case is not rejected because he is wealthy and can afford to pay, but because of the principle that the person defending the allegations is unlikely to get funding (you need the Legal Aid Agency to decide that it is exceptional and justified)

The Judge outlined why he considered that this was an exceptional case and why public funding would be justified

6. If ever there was exceptional private law litigation then this must be it. I say that for these reasons:

i) The seriousness of the allegations involved.

ii) The fact that if these issues were before a criminal court the Father would be prohibited by statute from cross examining the Mother in person. That is as a result of s34 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.

ii) The allegation of rape is one of a number of serious allegations that are made. Any analysis of that allegation would have to be placed in context. I find it very difficult indeed to envisage how a judge asking questions on behalf of Father would be able to do so in a way that he felt was sufficient.

iv) Fourthly and notwithstanding the provisions of Schedule 10 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 (which I have considered, although they are not yet in force) taking into account the point that I have made in iii) above and the fact that the judge could not take instructions, I have difficulty in seeing how that statutory provision in Schedule 10 would be perceived as sufficiently meeting the justice of the case.

v) Where allegations of this seriousness arise it is very important that the respondent to the allegation is given advice. That advice cannot be given to him by the judge and could not be given to him by the representative of the guardian.

vi) The issue that arises is of very real importance to the two adults but also to this child. If the Mother’s allegations are substantiated there is a very real prospect that they may prove to be definitive of the relationship between this child and her Father.

vii) In fact finding cases of complexity a judge is expected to give himself full and correct legal directions. It is vital that those legal directions are correct and take account of the positions of both of the parties immediately involved.

viii) Although enquiry might be made of the Bar Pro Bono Unit or indeed of the Attorney General to see whether arrangements might be made for D to have free representation or the Attorney General to act as amicus curiae neither of those solutions presents itself as likely to be available and neither is anywhere near as satisfactory as D having his own representation. I regard it as highly unlikely that either avenue of enquiry would produce representation in any event.  In March this issue was being investigated further.

ix) As to the position of the Guardian’s representative everything that I have said about the position of the judge applies in at least equal measure to the guardian’s solicitor if not more so. The guardian’s statutory role is to promote the welfare of the child. It is no part of the roles of the Guardian or of the children’s solicitor to adopt the case of one party in cross examination or argument. After the fact finding case is resolved it is essential that both parties retain confidence in the guardian and in the institution of CAFCASS. I therefore cannot see that the Guardian or the child’s solicitor could be expected to conduct cross examination on behalf of this Father.

The final point is saying, in very careful terms, that in order for the truth to be determined about these allegations, mother and father would both have to give evidence. Father would be cross-examined by a barrister – a trained professional not emotionally connected to the case (and in this case, I note, a very good and skilful one, who sadly won’t be able to comment on this case).  Mother, however, would be cross-examined by father – leaving him at a disadvantage because there’s not equality of arms, but also making it much more of an ordeal for both of them.

You simply can’t cross-examine on an allegation like this without putting to the mother that her allegations aren’t true, that she has made them up, that they are malicious. You can’t do it without going into some detail. You can do that as gently and sensitively as you can – it is still not a nice experience. If the person asking the questions is the subject of the allegations, then it is ghastly for everyone.  This is why in crime, it isn’t possible to represent yourself on some criminal charges (such as sexual offences)

s34 Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999

34 Complainants in proceedings for sexual offences.

No person charged with a sexual offence may in any criminal proceedings cross-examine in person a witness who is the complainant, either—

(a)in connection with that offence, or

(b)in connection with any other offence (of whatever nature) with which that person is charged in the proceedings.

There were damn good reasons for that – and I’d suggest that the same good reasons mean that you want to avoid it if at all possible in family cases too.

Obviously it can’t be that the lawyer brought in to represent the child can do this on father’s behalf – the father isn’t his client. That’s not someone frankly and fearlessly fighting his case for him.

Could the Judge do it? That made the Judge uneasy, and rightly so.

7. I am now going to quote from H v L & R. A similar issue arose in H v L & R [2006] EWHC 3099 (Fam) and Wood J said this at paragraph 24 about the prospect of a Judge conducting questioning of the complainant in a case where there was sexual allegations. “…for my part I feel a profound unease at the thought of conducting such an exercise in the family jurisdiction, whilst not regarding it as impossible. If it falls to a judge to conduct the exercise it should do so only in exceptional circumstances.”

8. I respectfully agree with Wood J and therefore, in January, asked the Legal Aid Agency to think again. As matters now stand, it seems highly unlikely that legal aid will be granted.

Sadly, you may detect from the final sentence that the Judge is not optimistic that this will work. Legal Aid Agency and ‘see reason’ aren’t concepts that go hand in hand.

Donating your… ahem… time

 

The High Court have recently dealt with another case (there have been a lot, relatively speaking) where a man (DB) fathered a child for two women in a relationship and later wanted to have more contact than the two mothers had in mind.

 One of the contested issues in the case was whether the man had (as he said) offered to father a child to be raised by the two women but play a part in the child’s life, or whether (as both of the mothers  said) he was basically being asked for nothing but his biological contribution.

 It was common ground that the child had been conceived in the usual way, rather than by artificial insemination, the argument was about whether the common understanding was that this was where DB’s role ended.

 

Re SAB (A child) 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/384.html

 

One of the big lessons from this (as indeed from most of the previous cases about this sort of situation) is that if you are embarking on a plan of conception that is something out of the ordinary, firstly make sure that all of the adults involved have exactly the same understanding and thoughts about what is intended, and secondly get something down on paper that reflects that.

 

This case was complicated further by the fact that the father DB, and the biological mother AB, had previously had a romantic and sexual relationship, which was over by the time of the conception of the child.

 

The tension that this must have brought to bear on the whole dynamic probably wasn’t helped when DB engaged in some ‘sexting’ and sent a photograph of his  [Menswear Department]  in a mobile phone text. This text and image ended up being received by AB. 

 

DB said later that it was meant to go to an entirely different woman, hopefully one who was a willing or keen recipient of such image. In fact, he had never sent it to AB and wasn’t sure how it had ever reached her.

 

One can appreciate how AB, and the other mother CB might have misconstrued his intentions there.  The Court accepted that this was entirely an accident and not an attempt to rekindle his relationship with AB or cause tension between her and her partner CB.

 

In any event, what happened was that from going from a voluntary arrangement whereby the father was seeing his child in the first year, contact was completely ended, and the Court needed to become involved.

 

The tensions, already high, were not helped by a long paragraph in a statement filed by the father   – this, whatever it was, ramped up the temperature so much that it led AB to express the feeling that she hated him. 

 

19. Throughout this hearing, which has now spanned three days, I have, frankly, been puzzled as to the intensity of the opposition to contact now, when, until a year ago, it was happening relatively smoothly and given that it was accepted that DB had not, himself, sent or caused the obscene photograph to be sent. It was very difficult to discern any other clear explanation in the facts and circumstances of this case as to why attitudes now appear to be so entrenched

  1. I have read, of course, the third statement of DB, originally signed and dated in November 2013. That included at paragraph 9 a paragraph of some length, and I have been shocked at what DB thought it appropriate to state in that paragraph. Nothing, however, had been said about it throughout the first two and a half days of this hearing. Almost at the very end, whilst she was asking some questions of the child’s guardian, Mrs Susan Scott, this morning, AB referred to her “hatred” for DB. Apparently she had used the word “hatred” in some meeting or meetings with Mrs Scott, but it was certainly the first time a word of such intensity and violent emotion had been used within the courtroom. I enquired of AB why she felt such “hatred” and it emerged that it stemmed from what he had chosen to say in paragraph 9 of his first version of that statement.
  1. As a result, that statement has been edited so as to remove altogether the highly offensive parts of paragraph 9, and a fresh version, with a much shorter paragraph 9, has been signed by DB today, 23rd January 2014. All the copies in the courtroom of the earlier version with the longer paragraph 9 have all been returned to Mr Shelton, counsel for DB, who will ensure that they are totally destroyed. I am not going to make any reference whatsoever to the offensive parts of paragraph 9. But it tragically appears that AB expresses a feeling of hatred toward somebody for whom she previously felt friendship and affection, in considerable measure because of his foolish lack of judgment in saying such unnecessary, deeply offensive and highly intimate things. As I observed earlier this afternoon, however, it would be very wrong for decisions to be made affecting the entire childhood and, indeed, lifetime of this tiny, vulnerable child on the basis of one foolish misjudgment of that kind.

 

I rather like the pragmatic solution that the Judge hit upon for this. Rather akin to Basil Fawlty dealing with Bernard Cribbins’ flawed Spanish omelette  (“There, I’ve torn it up, you’ll never see it again”).  I think there’s a line in one of A P Herbert’s imaginary judgments about a judgment given by a High Court judge having been locked in a trunk, secured with chains and thrown into the depths of the ocean so that nobody need ever refer to it again.

 

As ever, the Bard puts it well

 

“I’ll break my staff. Bury it certain fathoms in the earth. And deeper than did ever plummet sound. I’ll drown my book”

 

[Although, hands up anyone who is NOT insanely curious about what was said in paragraph nine. The guess would be that rather than discussing the facts or issues or principles, he said something that was sticking the boot in and personal and offensive to AB. This is what lawyers sometimes call "playing the man and not the ball"  - a term borrowed from football, where the intention is not in a tackle to get the football but just to hurt the other person] 

 

On the whole discord about whether father was a “sperm donor who would walk away” or an intention to father a child and play some role in that child’s life, the Judge said this

 

  1. There is, of course, one major conflict of fact in this case, namely, whether or not it was agreed that the father would simply be a “sperm donor” and then “walk away” or whether, as the father says, there was a joint intention to conceive a child who, it was anticipated, would have some relationship with both his parents. I can only resolve that conflict on what lawyers call a balance of probability. I am not at all persuaded on a balance of probability that DB did agree, as is alleged, that he would merely be a sperm donor. That does not seem to me to fit either his personality or his personal history. As I have said, his situation was that it had been a source of sadness and regret to him that he had been unable to have a child or children throughout a marriage of some length due to infertility on the part of his wife. It was also a source of the utmost regret and guilt to him that he had never had a proper relationship with his one daughter, L. It seems to me highly unlikely that he would have been willing on the one hand to father a child and on the other hand to completely “walk away”.
  1. Further, there are a number of facts in the case which do not seem consistent with the notion that, having had intercourse and conceived a child, he would then “walk away”. Indeed, it is agreed that in September 2011 he and the mother went on a camping weekend together in the Yorkshire Dales where the two of them shared a tent. They did not have sexual intercourse on that occasion but nevertheless the circumstances were obviously ones of some intimacy.
  1. As I have said, after the birth of S the father was permitted to see S quite regularly and amicably. So there was certainly no concept of “walking away” in play for an appreciable period of time after the birth of S. Further, in such texts as are available, nowhere is there an assertion that he had agreed to “walk away”. As I have already said, some of the texts are, indeed, quite affectionate; and even where the mother did ask for some time and space away from him, she did not put that in terms that he had agreed always simply to be a sperm donor and walk away.
  1. It may be that in this case there was, as so often in these sorts of situations, a lack of clarity and understanding between them. It may very well be that A and C, in the spring and early summer 2011, were looking for a mere “sperm donor” as RS might, indeed, have been. But I cannot accept that when DB had intercourse that night he had, himself, agreed that his role was simply to be that of a sperm donor.
  1. In any event, as authority of the Court of Appeal makes clear, even somebody who has agreed to be a mere “sperm donor”, unless anonymous, should not necessarily be excluded from the life of the resulting child. However, it is not necessary to wrap up my decision in this case by reference to authority. It is absolutely clear that cases of this kind are highly fact specific. It is absolutely clear that there is only one legal principle in play, namely, that the welfare of the child concerned must be the paramount consideration.

 

 

It is clear that feelings were running high on this one, and the Judge makes some very helpful remarks, applicable to other cases about what the role of the Court is in this regard.

 

  1. The principal reasons that A and C advance against any contact are these. First, A, in particular, clearly has a very strong view as to parental autonomy, and it is her view that she and C (who also has parental responsibility for S) alone know what is best for their child and that they, and they alone, should decide. Whilst I have some appreciation of that point of view, it is, of course, not the law, and it is precisely because an individual parent, or in this case two mothers, do not have that degree of autonomy that courts in the end do have to decide the outcome of cases such as this.
  1. Next, they stress that from the outset the agreement was that DB would simply be a sperm donor and walk away. I have already explained that I cannot accept that there was agreement to that effect. It may have been their hope and expectation, but it certainly was not that of DB.
  1. Next, A in particular refers to the intensity of her feelings now in relation to DB. As I have said, earlier today she used the word “hatred”, and her overall position is that it could not be in the best interests of S to be brought up in a situation of conflict between the adults.
  1. Allied to that is a similar, but discretely different, point, namely, that in any event she, or they, cannot bring themselves to promote the image of DB as the father and present him in a positive light.
  1. So their overall position is that this would simply be a situation of such stress and intensity of emotions that they would inevitably impact upon S and be damaging to him.
  1. I do, of course, appreciate and understand all those arguments. They are often deployed in situations where there is conflict and disagreement as to contact. But the argument and consideration the other way is the real benefits that S may gain throughout his childhood and, indeed, into his adult life from having proper knowledge of, and interaction with, and some relationship with his father.
  1. Of course, at this moment, when he is aged 20 months and a mere toddler, none of this is immediately apparent. No one could suggest that S is suffering at this moment from the absence of his father from his life. But it is in infancy that the seeds should be laid for slowly developing a relationship in the most natural of ways as the child grows up. The position of the mothers is that S can, of course, see his father when he is older if he wants to do so. But that would not happen in that spontaneous way, at any rate for many years, unless he has grown up with knowledge of, and some relationship with, his father.

 

 

The Judge opened his judgment with this, but I have moved it for my purposes to the end

 

  1. In a letter written as long ago as 23rd August 2013 the mothers forecast that:

“Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly clear to ourselves that this awful situation will just have to play its course within the court system.”

 

That is what has happened and, despite repeated attempts and encouragement on my part and my affording ample time and opportunities in which to do so, the parties have, unfortunately, not been able to narrow their differences and agree an outcome. Nonetheless, it is very clear that the three adults involved in this case are all, if I may say so, very worthy, caring and decent people, and it is a matter of the utmost sadness that there is currently so great a rift between them.

 True enough. Sad when three decent people end up in such a  situation.

So, three golden lessons to avoid it happening to you / your client

 

  1. Make sure you are all on the same page, and have it written down, before embarking on an unorthodox conception

 

  1. When you write a statement and you play the man and not the ball, bear in mind that this might cause significant problems in due course, and if it has really inflamed things too much, an offer to remove the offensive remarks is not a bad idea. In fact, just don’t play the man and not the ball. It never works.

 

  1. If you think that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, imagine taking two irate mothers on at once…

 

Get it in writing, always get it in writing.

 

Or as Sam Goldwyn didn’t say  “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”

After ten years of war, peace breaks out

The High Court decision in Re J and K (Children : Private Law) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/330.html

Another judgment from Pauffley J – not remarkable on the facts, nor indeed on the law, and I suspect it is one that might not have been published were it not for the transparency guidance. But it is another good judgment, and remarkable in that a set of private law litigation, which began in 2003 and involved 24 court hearings finally ended with agreement.

This opening is worth reading, for a start

This private law dispute demonstrates a number of phenomena. Firstly, that it is sometimes possible to achieve real and substantial progress as the result of the hearing itself. Secondly, that there can be incalculable benefits from the simple exercise of parents giving evidence and, just as importantly, listening to the evidence of others. Thirdly, that proceedings which begin in an atmosphere of adversity may swiftly evolve into an exercise in constructive collaboration. Fourthly, that protracted litigation over children is profoundly harmful to everyone concerned. And fifthly, that the involvement of skilled and insightful professionals – in this instance Miss Wiley, Ms Bushell and Mr Kirkwood – has immeasurable advantages in (a) achieving a better understanding of the genesis of past problems and (b) assisting parents to an infinitely more constructive way of working together for the benefit of their children.

The Judge tried, in this case, to understand, and describe why it was that two loving, caring and kind parents had ended up in a horribly conflicted and contentious bout of litigation that lasted so long. It is worth a read, if you advise parents in this position, or if you are finding yourself in this position. It is possible to get sucked into a fight that neither side really intended – there doesn’t have to be a good guy and a bad guy in family cases. Sometimes everyone is a decent person and a good parent, and a wrong turning just gets made and the case escalates into something nobody wanted.

Why did the problems arise?

    1. So why did things go so badly wrong for this couple such that there was serious and persistent disagreement even although there has never been a valid welfare argument against ongoing contact? Peeling away the layers of mistrust and antipathy has been both painful for the parents but also, I would say, illuminating. In addition, it has been, as Mr Kirkwood so rightly says, cathartic. And the best demonstration of that is the scene he witnessed at lunch time on Wednesday when all the family members were together in the coffee shop, standing around and chatting.

 

    1. To revert to the reasons for the difficulties, I would identify the following as having contributed to the atmosphere of hostility. The twins were alarmingly small when delivered – less than 3 lbs each – and had to stay in hospital for 8 weeks. Their mother had been ill herself in the period prior to their birth. Thereafter, the boys were not physically robust for a couple of years. The mother, entirely understandably, was intensely protective of them as was their closely involved maternal grandmother. It must have been a time of enormous stress and anxiety for the whole family, particularly the mother whose attachment to the babies, of necessity, was of the most concentrated kind.

 

    1. The father felt excluded to an extent though he would say he always did his best to support the mother and his children. During the twins’ first year, the long standing relationship between the parents ended. Doubtless there was disappointment and a sense of loss on both sides. Inevitably, the maternal grandmother would not have been inclined to give the father ‘a good press’ at that time or indeed in the years that followed. Clearly, she had views about his actions in the earliest months of the boys’ lives which were highly unflattering and, I would have to say, very hurtful to him.

 

    1. In the years that followed, the father’s applications to court – his efforts to ensure he played a proper fatherly role in the boys’ lives – were seen as “attacks” upon the mother. Doubtless she was strongly encouraged, by successive CAFCASS officers and judges, to play her part in ensuring the smooth progress of a developing contact routine. Her husband and the children’s father are very different individuals. By trying to do right by her husband, there must have been times when she did wrong by the children’s father. She was criticised for the way in which contact handovers were undertaken at the children’s schools. She complained to various bodies when she believed her behaviour had been wrongly reported as having been confrontational. When a suggestion was made by Cafcass that her actions may have had a psychological or psychiatric component requiring of expert advice, she responded defensively. There was, as it is all too easy to see now, a downward spiral of alarming dimensions.

 

    1. If there was one thing that the parents seemingly failed to do for all of the years they were in dispute, it was that they did not consider the impact upon the other – and the children themselves – of their actions. A prime example of that lack of empathy and its harmful impact was the regularly repeated performance at the children’s schools on a Friday afternoon when the handover was effected. It was easily done; and could, with the benefit of hindsight, have been so straightforwardly avoided as the mother conceded in evidence.

 

    1. For his part, I have no doubt but that the father had not considered the repercussions for the mother and her very respectable, well ordered and closely governed family of repeated court appearances. I am sure they became almost too much for her to bear; and the impact upon the children was a sense that their mother was under attack. They are and were both incredibly loyal to and, said the mother’s husband, fiercely protective of her. He could see though that the boys would have been far better off had they not been inappropriately exposed to the detail of the adults’ dispute.

 

  1. I am hopeful, very hopeful, that for the future similar mistakes will not be made; and that, as Ms Bushell suggested, the mother and her husband will be able to parent the boys authoritatively. There is very little which frightens children more than an absence of appropriate parental guidance and firm boundaries about the things in life which matter most.

I think that it is also worth drawing specific attention to the praise that the Judge gave to Ms Bushell, who acted as the McKenzie Friend for the father.  McKenzie Friends are a bit like Environment Ministers – you only usually know who they are when they are getting told off, but the reality is that 99% of the time they are silently getting on with it and doing very good work.  I have been lucky enough, in the writing of this blog, to come into contact with some very good and thoughful McKenzie Friends, and it is a role that requires all of the qualities praised here by the Judge.

So, it is nice to see a case that recognises that McKenzie Friends can be a powerful force for good and common sense.  (It is also worth noting that the mother’s counsel was acting pro bono – which is a way of masking by clever use of Latin to your clerks and bank manager that you are doing  work for free)

    1. The very last matter for comment is the extent to which each of the parents has been assisted by highly skilled, insightful and intuitive representatives.

 

    1. Ms Bushell has acted as the father’s McKenzie friend. Her background is in social work; her experience of the family justice system as a former guardian is extensive. I had no problem in agreeing that she should perform the role of speaking for the father, asking questions of him and on his behalf. Ms Bushell explained that the father is a shy man who would have encountered considerable difficulty if left to conduct the advocacy on his own. Having seen him give evidence, I agree wholeheartedly with that assessment. He is also, unsurprisingly given what he had lived through, extremely emotional, and would not have managed the advocacy task unaided.

 

    1. Miss Wiley is a member of the Bar with very considerable experience of high conflict private law disputes as well public law Children Act and inherent jurisdiction cases. She enjoys a reputation, deservedly, for diligence, economy, realism and innovative thought. She responded with immense generosity and in the very best traditions of the Bar when she accepted the invitation to act pro bono for the mother. Minor adjustments were made to the court’s sitting time on Wednesday to accommodate another one of her professional commitments in the High Court. Miss Wiley’s questions of her own client as well as of the father demonstrated just how well she understands the dynamics of a dispute of this kind. Her wisdom and emotional intelligence played a very large part in achieving so pleasing an outcome – not just as to the order itself but more importantly as to the shifts in attitude.

 

  1. Both parents were fortunate indeed for the professionalism and legal assistance provided by each of their ‘representatives.’ But of greater significance still, it seems to me, they were in the hands of individuals unafraid to show kindness, generosity and with a desire to help others.

 

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