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Category Archives: transparency

Rhubarb* and custody

 

(*Story contains no rhubarb, but was prepared in an environment where there is a risk that rhubarb, rhubarb pollen (?) or rhubarb dust may have inadvertently contaminated the contents )

 

 

A committal hearing in relation to a grandmother who was using electronic media, including Facebook to protest against the adoption of her granddaughter.

 

 

Staffordshire CC and Beech 2014

 

There are two judgments, one being the committal hearing itself, and the second being the sentencing

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B81.html

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B80.html

 

 

Probably the most important thing is said at the very end

 

I conclude the Judgment by making clear to Mrs. Beech that there is no objection to her criticising the court, criticising the judge, the Social Services Department or the family justice system. She has an entitlement to campaign about these matters. What the court will not tolerate is the use of the name of her grandchild or the photograph of her grandchild in connection with this campaign.

 

 

The Court did find that the grandmother had breached the orders preventing her from naming her grandchild and using photographs of her grandchild within the campaign. Part of that had been to ask a wide network on Facebook to circulate the photograph of her grandchild with a view to tracking her down in the adoptive placement and find out where she was.

 

Allegation number 1. Mrs. Beech has a group Facebook page entitled “Stop social services” which has about 7,000 members. This page was compiled before my Injunction Order was granted. The page has photographs of the child and a slogan including her name. The page contains the assertion that the child has been stolen by Staffordshire County Council Social Services. On 24th January 2014 the Injunction Order was served on Mrs. Beech. On that very day she posted additional words on her group Facebook page in terms which represent a flagrant breach of the court order. I read from the relevant posting which is exhibit 5 in my papers: “I have just had court papers handed me. I have been gagged until (the child’s name) is 18 years old. How can this be? They steal my granddaughter, then gag me. Fuck off. You have no chance. I am still fighting for her, you idiots. You cannot bully this nana. The truth hurts and no one will shut me up. I will go to war for my family, you idiots. Please spread the word”. These words were posted alongside photographs of the child and other words and slogans which had been posted long before the Injunction Order was granted. However, I find that by posting these additional words on 24th January 2014 alongside the photograph Mrs. Beech was republishing the old photograph and slogans and so her breach extends not only to the new words but to the old words and the old photograph.

 

Allegation number 2. On 28th January 2014 the B.B.C. website reported my Injunction Order in an article carefully drawn to avoid breaching the terms of the order itself. However, Mrs. Beech on her Facebook page posted a link to the B.B.C. report together with a short extract from it. She accompanied this posting with additional words of her own which constituted a flagrant breach of the Injunction Order. She posted “Just to let you know this is me, Amanda Jane Beech. It’s about my granddaughter (named). Staffordshire Social Services think they can bully me. The truth will be heard.”

 

Allegation number 3. On her Facebook page Mrs. Beech posted more words of flagrant breach, this time accompanied by a photograph. Mrs. Beech claims that the photograph could have been put up by someone else. She says that the photograph was already present on her Facebook page. She says that if another person clicked on the Facebook page to indicate they liked the contents the consequence would be that the photograph came up on this profile page automatically without any intervention on her part. The Facebook page does show that people had clicked the page to show that they liked it. Mrs. Beech raised the same point in relation to allegations 5, 9 and 11, saying in relation to these other allegations that the intervention of others explains the entire posting, not just the posting of the photograph, as she says it does for allegation 3. I have looked closely at these pages. No other name appears. On each occasion the posting appears under Mrs. Beech’s own name. With the exception of allegation number 5 each photograph follows a different form of words for which it is obvious to me that the grandmother, Mrs. Beech, is responsible.

 

She gave me rather inconsistent evidence about these allegations. She said that she did from time to time re-post material on the Facebook page in order to encourage her campaign. In this context she accepted that some of the postings might be her responsibility but some might be the responsibility of supporters. In the course of her evidence she said that the accompanying words appeared automatically from what she had already recorded herself on other parts of the page. However, on analysis the form of words is different for each of these postings, so I reject this explanation from Mrs. Beech. One of these allegations, allegation number 5, has no accompanying words and comprises just a photograph. However, this posting appears under Mrs. Beech’s name, just like the rest. I have heard her account. I am sure that she posted this and the other postings to encourage others to support her continuing campaign.

 

Allegation number 4. This allegation comprises clear words of breach which Mrs. Beech accepts that she posted on her Facebook page. There was no photograph with this posting.

 

Allegation number 5. I have dealt with allegation number 5 above.

 

Allegation number 6. This allegation comprises clear words of breach which Mrs. Beech accepts she posted on her Facebook page. Again, there is no photograph involved in this breach,

 

Allegation number 7 caused me a moment’s hesitation. This is Mrs. Beech’s Facebook group page. She accepts that she posted on this page a link to a YouTube recording. The new words do not constitute a breach of the terms of the injunction. However, these new words must be considered with the existing words to which they were linked so the effect is a re-publication of the words previously posted. Read together the words refer to the removal of Mrs. Beech’s grandchild into care which constitutes a breach of the injunction.

 

Allegation number 8. Mrs. Beech accepts that she posted the words and photograph which constitute this breach. She makes the point that the photograph was already on the web as part of an online petition that she started long before the Injunction Order was imposed. The local authority accept that the photograph is not new, but on this occasion by posting the link Mrs. Beech brought the old picture back onto her Facebook page again which constitutes a re-publication of the old picture in breach of the Injunction Order.

 

Allegation number 9. I have dealt with allegation 9 above when dealing with allegation number 3.

 

Allegation 10. Mrs. Beech accepts that she posted these words which clearly breached the terms of the Injunction Order. The reference to her partner, Mr. Rogers, is accepted by Mrs. Beech as a mistake. This was a publication to a closed group without a photograph.

 

Allegation number 11 has already been dealt with above when I was dealing with allegation number 3.

 

Overall then, all 11 allegations made by the local authority have been proved so that I am sure of the truth of the allegation and the fact that it infringes the terms of the injunction

 

 

It then adjourned, to give the grandmother the chance to reflect on this, and to get legal advice before the sentencing hearing.

 

At that sentencing hearing the grandmother accepted that she would comply with the injunction, take down those postings and not put up things of that sort in the future.

 

As a result, the Judge gave her a suspended sentence of 56 days, meaning that Ms Beech would not go to prison for her breaches unless she were to breach the order again (in which case the sentence of 56 days would take effect)

 

 

It does raise difficult questions, which I raised in part at the original report of the injunction. If a person campaigns on Facebook without naming their granddaughter, the step to indirect identification is a very short one. It is likely that within the rest of the grandmother’s facebook page are pictures and names of her family, and one could deduce fairly swiftly by the appearance of say “Rebecca” on those photos up until a year ago and then no more photos that it is “Rebecca” who was the child who was removed.

 

The provisions about directly identifying and indirectly identifying a child make decent sense for mainstream press – a newspaper reporting about a child and calling them “Child X” doesn’t identify the child.

 

Moreover, newspapers have editors, and lawyers. They can pause and consider whether they might be in breach of the law by any element of their story.

 

But we are now in a world where anyone with a mobile telephone can become their own publisher, and put things on the internet for all to see. It’s a whole new ball-game, and the law hasn’t quite caught up yet.

 

 

Ms Beech putting on Facebook “My granddaughter, who I can’t name, was stolen by social services” doesn’t directly identify the child, but it must be arguable that it indirectly identifies the child, because you can see that that the author of the post (who is named) is related to the child in question, and probably find on that page other photographs of the child. In a situation like that, proving whether someone made that indirect identification deliberately or by accident or lack of thought is very difficult, especially to the criminal standard of proof required.

 

 

 

 

[The original injunction judgment is here

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCC/Fam/2014/B1.html

 

and my post at the time about it is here

 

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/01/24/transparency-and-facebook/   ]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reporting restriction orders – a pragmatic suggestion

London Borough of Waltham Forest and AD 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/1985.html

 

This was an application by Waltham Forest for a Reporting Restriction Order to prevent the Press from naming a 3 year old child who had been present when her father murdered her mother. There’s evidently a criminal trial coming up, and there’s a substantial human interest story in the tragic circumstances of this little girl. The Press were always going to run the story – the issue for Waltham Forest was whether the Press should run that story WITHOUT identifying the child.

 

 

  • Miss Howard, in her submissions, also refers to the expert reports provided by Dr. Jones, a consultant psychiatrist and Dr. Graham, a psychologist, in the public law care proceedings. They have both examined and assessed EI. They, understandably, set out the dreadful emotional and psychological impact that witnessing the death of her mother will have on EI, compounded by this tragic loss of her mother and, if her father is convicted, the loss of her father for a considerable period of time. Their assessments are deeply troubling to read as to the future that EI now faces. Everybody will undoubtedly have the greatest possible sympathy for the terrible position that EI finds herself in now and will undoubtedly do for the rest of her life. I note that neither of those experts have been asked to give an opinion on what potential further damage, if any, publicity about EI and her mother and father would have upon her.

 

 

 

 

  • In the submissions on behalf of the local authority it is asserted that if EI is identified as being the child involved in this case, it will have an adverse impact on her. It is asserted that it would thwart the therapeutic process that she is engaged in now and will continue to be involved with for some time to come. It is asserted that although the reporting of the father’s trial may be of short duration – a matter of a few days or a week – anything which appears on the internet will be there for the rest of EI’s life and that were she, when she is older, to come across her name in association with her mother’s death and her father’s trial, it may have an adverse impact upon her. It is further asserted that if, in her daily life – when she starts school, for example – friends or others were to search her name on the internet, they would raise her family history with her and that would undo the benefits of the therapy that she has received and will receive. Accordingly, it is submitted that it is necessary for the court to grant a reporting restriction order in narrow terms that would prevent the publication of EI’s name.

 

The Press Association took a slightly different view

 

 

  • Mr. Dodd makes the submission that the matter has already been the subject of press reporting. However, he makes the powerful point that the evidence of harm to EI, if she is named, is speculative. He also makes the strong submission that the question is not, “Why should the press name EI?” but rather, “Why may the press not name EI?” He further submits that the issue of the use of EI’s name in connection with the reporting of the father’s criminal trial and the death of the mother is a matter to be left to the decisions of individual editors. He also makes the powerful point that just because some elements of the press or broadcast media, or others, may misuse the naming of EI is not a justification or a reason for injuncting the whole of the press.

 

 

 

 

  • Lord Rodger of Earlsferry observed in Re Guardian News & Media Ltd. & Ors. at paragraph 72,

 

 

 

“Of course, allowing the press to identify M and the other appellants would not be risk-free. It is conceivable that some of the press coverage might be outrageously hostile to M and the other appellants – even though nothing particularly significant appears to have been published when Mr al-Ghabra’s identity was revealed. But the possibility of some sectors of the press abusing their freedom to report cannot, of itself, be a sufficient reason for curtailing that freedom for all members of the press … The possibility of abuse is therefore simply one factor to be taken into account when considering whether an anonymity order is a proportionate restriction on press freedom in this situation”.

 

 

  • In considering the competing Articles – Article 10 and Article 8 – and in considering the merits of the application made by the local authority one of course has the greatest possible sympathy for EI. She very sadly will have to live with the tragic events of 31 July, 2013 for the rest of her life. The decision I have to make, however, is whether there is sufficient evidence of harm to EI if she is named, which when balanced against the freedom of expression under Article 10 of the press & broadcast media, it is an absolute necessity for me to make the reporting restrictions order sought. Mr. Dodd tells me, and I accept, that some newspaper editors have already made the decision that they will not name EI in any reporting of the father’s criminal trial.

 

They put the question very powerfully, and in the correct way in law – the question is not “Why should the Press name EL?” but “why should the Press not name EL?”

 

The Judge was not persuaded that the article 8 right to privacy for the child outweighed the article 10 right to free expression and declined to make the Reporting Restriction Order.

 

  • I accept that EI faces, emotionally and psychologically, a very difficult future. I accept that there is a possibility that if she is named in either the press or the broadcast media – in particular, on the internet – that at some future date she may come across that and it may cause her some distress or other people with whom she is associated may come across it and mention it to her. That, I accept, may cause her some distress.

 

 

 

 

  • However, I am not satisfied that there is clear or cogent evidence that that risk would either thwart the therapy that she is receiving or would undoubtedly undo the benefits she may derive from her therapy. I consider the potential risks of further harm to EI, if she is named in connection with the reporting of her father’s trial, to be speculative and speculation. Even if I am wrong about that, the risks of further additional harm to EI do not overcome the high hurdle that is required for the granting of a reporting restrictions order. If one was solely concerned with the welfare best interests of EI it may well be that the court would want to take the course of least harm to EI and, accordingly, would make an order. That is not the position the court is in. The court is having to balance the Article 8 rights of EI with the Article 10 rights of the press and broadcast media. I am not satisfied that the naming of EI and the risks of that to her are so clear or compelling that it justifies placing a restriction upon the press and broadcast media in the manner in which they report the father’s trial. It is submitted on behalf of the local authority that this case is very different from other reported cases because the child was present when her mother was killed. I accept that is an extremely unusual feature. But, I also have to accept that that feature is one which will be, I have no doubt, of considerable interest to the press and broadcast media and to their readers, viewers and listeners.

 

The more important issue is the Judge’s pragmatic suggestion for Local Authorities in this sort of situation in future (no doubt with an eye to the costs to the public purse and the time pressures on the Courts)

 

Mr Dodd (for the Press Association) submits that applications for reporting restriction orders by local authorities are increasingly being made at considerable cost in time and money. I endorse his submissions that local authorities, in particular, ought to give very careful thought to alternative means of achieving the aim that they seek when they apply for a reporting restriction order – namely, local authorities should, in future, consider writing to editors of the press and broadcast media, inviting them, for example, not to name a particular child or children in connection with a particular story and setting out clearly, within that letter or e-mail, the reasons in support of such a request. That, alternatively, could be done by sending a letter or an e-mail to what is now the Press Complaints Commission, which will be replaced by the Independent Press Standards Organisation, who may then be requested to transmit the letter or e-mail more widely to the press and broadcast media. In my judgment, that is a course which local authorities should first consider and should first make before launching applications for reporting restriction orders.

 

 

“The pages of the most extravagant French novel…”

 

 

Rapisarda v Colladon 2014 – new areas of transparency, journalism and Monarchs trying to protect public morals – it has it all.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2014/1406.html

This is a very quirky case, decided by the President. It arises from divorce and ancillary relief proceedings. In particular, it arises from an application by the Queen’s Proctor, to dismiss a large number of divorce petitions, and to set aside a number of decree absolutes and decree nisis.

(Who the heck is the Queen’s Proctor, you may be asking – well, he or she, is the person who is authorised to intervene in litigation on behalf of the Queen, i.e when there’s some heavy issue at stake. For divorce, that all flows from s8 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973)

This case is described by the President in his opening paragraph as being

what can only be described as a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice on an almost industrial scale

Vexingly, for me, the judgment doesn’t give chapter and verse on what on earth was going on here.

The issue that the judgment is principally concerned with, is whether the Press could report what the Court was uncovering. At the moment, they are prevented from reporting details from divorce cases (not, as you might imagine to protect the confidentiality of the individuals but to protect public decency)

That allows the President to do two of his favourite things – (a) to test where the boundaries of transparency are and whether they could be expanded; and (b) to give a history lesson as to how the current framework came to be.

For a law geek like me, (b) is really rather absorbing, and I have to say that few people have ever been as skilled as the President in doing that sort of exercise.

So, what prevents the Press reporting about what happens in divorce or ancillary relief proceedings? * (As to whether any of this applies to ancillary relief proceedings, having analysed it very carefully, the best we can do is “It might”)

It is the Judicial Proceedings (Regulation of Reports) Act 1926 (from now on in this piece “The 1926 Act”

3. Section 1 of the 1926 Act is headed “Restriction on publication of reports of judicial proceedings”. As amended, it provides as follows:
“(1) It shall not be lawful to print or publish, or cause or procure to be printed or published –
(a) in relation to any judicial proceedings any indecent matter or indecent medical, surgical or physiological details being matter or details the publication of which would be calculated to injure public morals;
(b) in relation to any judicial proceedings for dissolution of marriage, for nullity of marriage, or for judicial separation, or for the dissolution or annulment of a civil partnership or for the separation of civil partners, any particulars other than the following, that is to say:
(i) the names, addresses and occupations of the parties and witnesses;
(ii) a concise statement of the charges, defences and countercharges in support of which evidence has been given;
(iii) submissions on any point of law arising in the course of the proceedings, and the decision of the court thereon;
(iv) the summing-up of the judge and the finding of the jury (if any) and the judgment of the court and observations made by the judge in giving judgment.
Provided that nothing in this part of this subsection shall be held to permit the publication of anything contrary to the provisions of paragraph (a) of this subsection.
(2) If any person acts in contravention of the provisions of this Act, he shall in respect of each offence be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding four months, or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both such imprisonment and fine:
Provided that no person, other than a proprietor, editor, master printer or publisher, shall be liable to be convicted under this Act.
(3) No prosecution for an offence under this Act shall be commenced in England and Wales by any person without the sanction of the Attorney-General.
(4) Nothing in this section shall apply to the printing of any pleading, transcript of evidence or other document for use in connection with any judicial proceedings or the communication thereof to persons concerned in the proceedings, or to the printing or publishing of any notice or report in pursuance of the directions of the court; or to the printing or publishing of any matter in any separate volume or part of any bone fide series of law reports which does not form part of any other publication and consists solely of reports of proceedings in courts of law, or in any publication of a technical character bona fide intended for circulation among members of the legal or medical professions.”
So, in normal language –

1. the Press can’t report anything arising from Court proceedings which might injure public morals (I’m not convinced that is routinely adhered to, thinking of the many sexual abuse celebrity crime reporting, or the level of detail that was published arising from evidence in murder trials – the murder of Lee Rigby springs to mind, and the Press have hardly been sparing in the Oscar Pistorius details)

2. The Press can’t report anything arising from the evidence given in divorce proceedings or PROBABLY ancillary relief proceedings (they can report things in broad summary, but not chapter and verse). And if they do, they can be prosecuted.

3. That does not stop the reporting of bona fide LAW REPORTS
The President explains how the 1926 Act developed. In effect, at around the same time as the law banned Obscene Publications the Press started publishing fairly routinely the juicy and salacious details from divorce cases to titillate and/or shock their audience.

8. Kate Summerscale, in her recent retelling in Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady (Bloomsbury, 2012) of the remarkable case of Robinson v Robinson and Lane (1859) 1 Sw & Tr 362, notes (at page 187) what one can only think of as the delicious irony that in the summer session of 1857 “Lord Palmerston’s government had pushed through the Matrimonial Causes Act, which established the Divorce Court, and the Obscene Publications Act, which made the sale of obscene material a statutory offence.” Both, she opines, had identified sexual behaviour as a cause of social disorder. But, she continues:
“A year on … they seemed to have come into conflict: police officers were seizing and destroying dirty stories under the Obscenity Act, while barristers and reporters were disseminating them under the Divorce Act. ‘The great law which regulates supply and demand seems to prevail in matters of public decency as well as in other things of commerce,’ noted the Saturday Review in 1859.” – The author, she suggests, was James Fitzjames Stephen, later Stephen J – “‘Block up one channel, and the stream will force another outlet; and so it is that the current dammed up in Holywell Street flings itself out in the Divorce Court.’”
9. Deborah Cohen, Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day (Viking, 2013), comments (at page 45), that:
“Born at the same moment, the Divorce Court and the mass-circulation press were made for each other. The Divorce Court got the publicity to humiliate moral reprobates. The newspapers got the fodder they needed to power a gigantic leap into the mass market.”
This state of affairs even led Queen Victoria to become involved, and she caused this letter to be written

“to ask the Lord Chancellor whether no steps can be taken to prevent the present publicity of the proceedings before the new Divorce Court. These cases, which must necessarily increase when the new law becomes more and more known, fill almost daily a large portion of the newspapers, and are of so scandalous a character that it makes it almost impossible for a paper to be trusted in the hands of a young lady or boy. None of the worst French novels from which careful parents would try to protect their children can be as bad as what is daily brought and laid upon the breakfast-table of every educated family in England, and its effect must be most pernicious to the public morals of the country.”

Obviously the comparison between lurid French novels and the details of divorce reports in the English newspapers was a popular one, because the metaphor was still going in 1922, when King George V caused this correspondence to be written

12. Despite all this, as Cretney records, every attempt to remedy matters by legislation failed until the notorious Russell divorce case (see Russell v Russell [1924] P 1, [1924] AC 687, and, for the eventual denouement, The Ampthill Peerage [1977] AC 547) was opened before Sir Henry Duke P and a jury on 8 July 1922. On the fourth day of the hearing, the King’s Private Secretary, Lord Stamfordham, wrote to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Birkenhead:
“… the King is disgusted at the publication of the gross, scandalous details of the Russell divorce case. His Majesty doubts whether there is any similar instance of so repulsive an exposure of those intimate relations between man and woman which hitherto through the recognition of the unwritten code of decency indeed of civilisation have been regarded as sacred and out of range of public eye or ear. The pages of the most extravagant French novel would hesitate to describe what has now been placed at the disposal of every boy or girl reader of the daily newspapers.”
So for all of our modern obsession that Prince Charles has been exercising influence behind the scenes and pulling strings, it is nothing new.
The King wasn’t done there, and had another try later on

14. The final catalyst seems to have been the newspaper reporting in March 1925 of Dennistoun v Dennistoun (1925) 69 Sol Jo 476. King George V returned to the point, Lord Stamfordham writing to the Lord Chancellor, now Lord Cave, in striking terms:
“The King feels sure that you will share his feelings of disgust and shame at the daily published discreditable and nauseating evidence in the Dennistoun case. His Majesty asks you whether it would not have been possible to prevent the case coming into Court, either by a refusal of the Judge to try it, or by the joint insistence of the respective Counsels to come to an arrangement, especially when, apparently, the question at issue was one of minor importance.
The King deplores the disastrous and far reaching effects throughout all classes and on all ranks of the Army of the wholesale press advertisement of this disgraceful story.”
And so the 1926 Act came about, to protect those delicate flowers that were serving in the British Army, and the vulnerable working classes from having to read such filth (the upper class could of course, afford to buy the most extravagant French novels, and get their filth that way)

 

 

[I began pondering just how juicy Dennistoun v Dennistoun was, the case that changed the law and remains law ninety years on, and which got a King so disgusted and ashamed that he wrote letters complaining about it. So I had a look  - the salacious details from the trial are all here

http://alminacarnarvon.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/lady-almina-scandal-the-dustbin-case-dennistoun-v-dennistoun/

 

after two pages, the strongest I found was that the wife had been having an affair, her paramour nicknamed Tiger, and he called her "Brown Mouse"   -  it rather pales in comparison to what we know Prince Charles said to Camilla when they were both married to other people]
The major decision about the 1926 Act, prior to this case was Moynihan v Moynihan 1997, which coincidentally, also dealt with an application by the Queen’s Proctor to set aside a decree of divorce obtained by fraud. Sir Stephen Brown P heard the case and considered that section 1 was mandatory and did not give the Court a discretion to waive it in certain cases.

24. To return to Moynihan v Moynihan, Sir Stephen continued as follows:
“The point is made by counsel for the Attorney-General that this is a statute which is mandatory in effect; it does contain a criminal sanction and therefore must be construed restrictively. No point arises, as I have already said, as to the merits of any reporting of details likely to be made public in the course of the evidence. It is merely a question as to how that will be achieved.
The matter is of importance because the representatives of the press and the media are entitled to be clear as to what their duties are and what restrictions apply to them, and I have a great deal of sympathy with their position. For that reason the question has been raised at the outset of these proceedings. However, it seems to me that the court simply cannot construe the statute in a way which is contrary to the language of the statute itself. I have to rule that the Judicial Proceedings (Regulation of Reports) Act 1926 does apply to these proceedings. The Attorney-General has through counsel indicated that he would not be very anxious to institute criminal proceedings if by some oversight there was a breach of the strict letter of the law. That is not a matter which is before me, but it seems to me that until or unless Parliament were to intervene the Act does apply in this instance.”
25. Sir Stephen concluded with these words, which I read out in the present case to the journalists present in court:
“However, having said that, it is quite plain that there would appear to be ample scope in the context of the subparagraphs of subpara (b) for clear and full details of the proceedings to be given, though not necessarily a line-by-line account of what a particular witness says at any particular time.”

26. Sir Stephen seems to have been unenthusiastic about the application of the 1926 Act to the proceedings before him but concluded that section 1(1)(b) did apply. With equal lack of enthusiasm I am driven to agree. The logic of the analysis propounded in turn by the Law Commission Report, by the LCD Review and, finally, by Sir Stephen is, in my judgment, irrefutable.
That would seem to be problematic  in authorising the reporting of a case where transparency would be in the wider public interest, such as here. If there has been fraud on an industrial scale about obtaining divorces, then the Press ought to be allowed to tell us about it. But there’s no judicial discretion to relax s1(1) (b) of the 1926 Act.

But our President wouldn’t be the President if he didn’t have a sharp mind, and if there’s someone who is going to find a way on transparency, it is going to be him.

Firstly, he suggests that Parliament need to look long and hard about the 1926 Act – in our modern era, we are hardly short of titillation and scandal and we really don’t need to be mollycoddled and protected from things that might shock us from divorce proceedings. And particularly when the hearing itself is in Open Court, it seems a nonsense to prohibit the Press reporting the case. The days when one needed to go to either the tabloids or Soho if you wanted a fix of smut are long gone.
27. Though driven to this conclusion by the words Parliament chose to use in 1926, and reiterated in 1973, I find it almost impossible to believe that this is an outcome intended by Parliament. No doubt it is some imperfection on my part, but I do not begin to understand how the protection of public morality and public decency, or indeed any other public interest, is facilitated by subjecting the reporting of proceedings in open court of the kind that Sir Stephen Brown P was hearing in Moynihan v Moynihan and that I am hearing in the present case to the restraint imposed by section 1(1)(b) of the 1926 Act. On the contrary, this restraint would seem to fly in the face of the “fundamental, constitutional rule” (Scarman LJ’s phrase in In re F (orse A) (A Minor) (Publication of Information) [1977] Fam 58, 93) previously articulated in Scott v Scott [1913] AC 417.
28. This is not, I venture to suggest, the only reason why Parliament might wish to consider with an appropriate degree of urgency whether the retention of the 1926 Act on the statute book is justified

But even in the absence of that, a way has been found. We can publish, we will publish, we must publish…

36. Pending any review of the 1926 Act by Parliament are there any legitimate means of avoiding the impact of section 1(1)(b)? The answer is clear: only as allowed by one or other of the express provisions of section 1(4).
37. For convenience I set out section 1(4) again, but inserting additional lettering and creating subparagraphs for ease of reference:
“Nothing in this section shall apply
(A) to the printing of any pleading, transcript of evidence or other document for use in connection with any judicial proceedings or the communication thereof to persons concerned in the proceedings, or
(B) to the printing or publishing of any notice or report in pursuance of the directions of the court; or
(C) to the printing or publishing of any matter
(i) in any separate volume or part of any bone fide series of law reports which does not form part of any other publication and consists solely of reports of proceedings in courts of law, or
(ii) in any publication of a technical character bona fide intended for circulation among members of the legal or medical professions.”
In the context of the present proceedings it is quite clear that neither (A) nor (C) can avail the media generally. But what of (B)?
38. This is not something which Sir Stephen Brown P considered in Moynihan v Moynihan. As I have already noted, he made no reference at all to section 1(4). Indeed, so far as I am aware, there has never been any consideration of the point.
39. The language of (B) is quite general. It excludes from the ambit of the 1926 Act the printing or publishing of “any notice or report in pursuance of the directions of the court”. Although I agree with Sir Stephen that section 1(1) is mandatory and confers no discretion, section 1(1)(b)(iv) plainly leaves the judge free to include in or exclude from his judgment whatever material he thinks fit. In that sense the judge has a discretion – and, in my judgment, a discretion which is fettered only by the dictates of the judicial conscience. As the Law Commission Report put it (para 17):
“The prohibition on publishing the evidence in divorce and similar cases, though it protects the public from being titillated by morning and evening accounts of the salacious details brought out in evidence, does not prevent it from learning those details in due course if the judge thinks it necessary or desirable to review the evidence in full in his judgment or summing up.”

40. So too, limb (B) of section 1(4) confers a similarly unfettered discretion enabling the judge to give “directions” in relation to any “notice or report”. The word “directions” is quite general; it is neither defined nor circumscribed. In my judgment it embraces any direction of the court, whether a direction that something is to be published or a direction that something may be published. Likewise, the other words are quite general; they are neither defined nor circumscribed. Although the word “report” will no doubt include such things as a medical or other expert report to the court, whose publication the judge then authorises, I see nothing in the 1926 Act to limit it to such documents. In my judgment, the word “report” is apt to include a report of the proceedings.
It follows, that limb (B) of section 1(4) recognises a discretion in the judge to make a direction authorising the publication by the media of a report of the whole of the proceedings, as opposed to the concise statement, allowed by section 1(1)(b)(ii), of the charges, defences and countercharges in support of which evidence has been given
So, having devised a judicial discretion, with some creative thought, to allow a Judge to authorise the publication by the media of a report of the whole of the proceedings, is the President going to exercise this discretion in this case? (If you think that the answer is “No”, then I would like to talk to you about a bridge you might be interested in buying)

42. Should I exercise that discretion? In the circumstances of the present case there can, as it seems to me, be only one answer. Publication by the media of a report of the proceedings before me does not, given the nature of the proceedings, engage the mischief at which the 1926 Act is directed. On the contrary there is, in my judgment, every reason why the media should be free to report the proceedings – proceedings which, to repeat, were conducted in open court and related to what, as I have said, was a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice on an almost industrial scale.
43. I shall, therefore, make a direction that there be liberty to the media and others to publish whatever report of the proceedings which took place before me on 9 and 10 April 2014 they may think fit. I make clear that this direction is, and is to be treated as, a direction within the meaning of limb (B) of section 1(4) of the 1926 Act.

44. On the assumption that the 1926 Act perhaps applies to ancillary relief (financial remedy) proceedings, judges may in future wish to consider whether to exercise discretion in such cases under section 1(4).
We should, therefore, get chapter and verse on this whole story from the Press soon. I am a bit miffed that they get to know, in breach of a ninety year old act, whereas I, as a member of the legal profession who could legitimately get to know all the details by way of a published law report am in the dark, but such is life.

 

journalist’s right to private and family life with her source

A very interesting decision by the President sitting in the Court of Protection in Re G (an adult) 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/1361.html

 

This is the 3rd judgment in relation to this 94 year old woman in the last two months. I’m going to try here, not to get too far into the controversy (I’m sure the comments will descend into that, but let’s TRY to focus on the principles and issues in THIS judgment)

THIS judgment relates to the application by the Daily Mail news group (ALN) to be joined as a party to the Court of Protection proceedings, to have an input into the questions to be posed to the expert, and ultimately to have the chance to cross-examine everyone. That’s a unique application, and the reasoning behind the decision is therefore interesting.

We do need SOME historical context though, so we need to know that the decisions being made by the Court of Protection are controversial, that G is 95 and that C her live-in carer is very actively campaigning about the controversial decisions and unfairness, part of that campaign includes involving the Press (the ubiquituous Mr Booker, and this time Ms Reid of the  Mail on Sunday). G has talked to those journalists, and at times been very keen to tell her story, at other times it is said that she finds the press involvement intrusive.  The Press want to report on the injustice that G and C may have suffered, and want to report as much as possible. In the second judgment, Cobb J ruled that there were doubts about G’s capacity to talk to the Press and that there needed to be an assessment of that and in effect a cease-fire on the Press talking to G until it could be established whether she (a) had capacity to do that and (b) if not, would it be in her best interests to do so.

 

If you want to skip to the chorus, it is HEARING THREE heading

 

Hearing one

The first judgment, 26th February 2014   was decided by Russell J.  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/485.html

That case was brought by the Local Authority, who had become concerned about the influence that C (the carer) was having over G, and particularly that G was being influenced to change her will to the benefit of C.  (These allegations are all disputed by G)

This is the judge’s summary

 

  • In this case the local authority were under a duty to investigate the circumstances of an old and frail lady following reports regarding the behaviour of C and F and their influence over G, her home and her financial affairs and with respect to her personal safety from multiple sources including private citizens and professionals, from agencies providing care support and from a lawyer engaged by C to act for G (to change her will in C’s favour). The complaints came from G too; although she would later retract them. The obstruction met by the social worker when she tried to carry out her duties led to the attendance of the police more than once.

 

 

 

  • The local authority had no alternative but to visit on numerous occasions and to attempt to see G on her own. Anything else would have been a dereliction of their duty to her as a vulnerable person about whom they had received complaints about possible financial predation. Local authority staff must be permitted to carry out their duty to investigate reports relating to safeguarding unhindered.

 

 

 

  • The court has decided for reasons set out in full below that G lacks capacity under the provisions of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and that further investigation needs to be carried out to decide how her best interests will be met and her comfort and safety assured. Her wishes and feelings will be taken into account at every stage as will her desire to remain in her own home. It is the court’s intention that every measure that can be put in place to secure her in her own home is put place. There is an equal need to ensure that she is not overborne or bullied and that she can lead her life as she wants it led.

 

 

 

  • All the expert evidence put before the court was of the opinion that G was a vulnerable person who lacked the capacity to conduct this litigation and to decide on her financial affairs and the disposition of her property without the assistance of an independent professional appointed by the court. There was disagreement as to the reason for the lack of capacity; the court decided, on the balance of probabilities, that it was due to a impairment of G’s mind or brain.

 

 

That judgment made reference to the press reporting of the case to that point, and that the press were present in Court

 

At the outset of the hearing it was drawn to my attention that there had been a very short article on Sunday in the press which, thankfully, did not name G. I have held these proceedings in open court but have restricted the publication of the names of the parties, and at this stage, of the local authority and the expert witnesses. This will be subject to review. I have done so to protect the privacy of G who is old, frail and vulnerable. She has repeatedly told me she wants no further intrusion in her life. The purpose of this order is to protect her privacy and to protect her from intrusion. As the case was heard in open court I have to make an order restricting publication of identification of G and the other parties to put that protection in place. Members of the public and the media were present in court through out the hearing.

 

G had a degree of dementia. She was assessed by an Independent Social Worker  (underlining mine)

 

 

  • Mr Gillman-Smith, the independent social worker (ISW) was instructed to carry out an assessment of capacity and the nature of any lack of capacity such as by undue influence. Mr Gillman-Smith was asked to prepare a report in which he was to ascertain the true wishes and feelings of G in respect of her care arrangements; her living arrangements and her property and affairs. He was asked to consider nine questions the last being whether any lack of capacity was due to G not meeting the criteria of the MCA or because of undue influence. Orders had been made prior to his instruction that C and AF leave the property and allow the assessments to be carried out.

 

 

 

  • On this occasion G had an advocate present in the person of D (D attended these proceedings and sat in court) who left and allowed Mr Gillman-Smith to interview G alone. G had difficulties in remembering her relatives; she could not remember the name or her relationship to her relative in the Netherlands. She was quite forthcoming about C and F describing C as bossy and herself as like the fly in the spider’s web, “and the spider eats you up.” C she indicated to be the spider.

 

 

 

  • G was at best ambivalent about C; as she said “she works well” but that she threatened to walk out and then F would look after her if G did not do what C was asking; she does house work “but what is in her mind?” G described her as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. She also said this of church members. C would not let her sleep during the day; she said C physically shakes her sometimes; dresses her and then undresses her replacing her clothes with the same ones. She said she was rough with her; She repeated that she was shaken and like the fly in the spider’s web. She repeated the belief that the court proceedings had been brought by H.

 

 

There was also an expert, Dr Lowenstein, who reported.  Again, underlining mine for emphasis

 

 

  • The evidence of Dr Lowenstein was undermined by his having no instructions; he said in his oral evidence that he deduced them from what was said to him by C. G herself was brought to see him in his place of work by C. How his report came into being is a matter of concern, it appears to have been instigated by C, who paid for it; where she got the funds to pay for it is not known. C was given Dr Lowenstein’s name by a third party active in family rights campaigns.

 

 

 

  • When Dr Lowenstein saw G she was over two hours late and had been travelling for some time, he then interviewed her in the presence of C for some 3 hours. Dr Lowenstein had no knowledge of the background to the case at all except that there were court proceedings and that C and G were saying she, G, did not lack capacity. He was introduced to C as G’s niece. When he discovered during his evidence that this was not the case and their relationship was not lengthy he was very surprised. Dr Lowenstein took no notes of what was said to him by C prior to his interviewing G and preparing his report and he could not remember what was said. He said that he fashioned his instructions from those given to Dr Barker and set out in his report.

 

 

 

  • His evidence was further undermined when it became clear that he had not, as he said, read and assimilated the documents disclosed to him by C (without leave of the court ) namely the social worker’s statement, the report of the ISW and Dr Barker’s report for, had he done so, he could not have failed to pick up that G, C and F are unrelated and have known each other for a relatively short time. He would have been better aware of the extent of the concerns about C’s influence and control over G. As it was, he accepted that it would have been better for him to interview G on her own, without anyone being present. This is a matter of good practice, a point that Dr Lowenstein accepted, conceding that it was all the more necessary when he realised that the close family relationship as it had been presented to him was false.

 

 

 

  • Dr Lowenstein brought with him some of the results of tests he carried out with G; tests which indicated some low results indicating a lack of ability to think in abstraction and decision making. He did not accept the need to think in abstraction to reach decisions but did accept that in order to make decisions one had to retain information and that there was evidence that G was not able to do so. I do not accept this evidence it is part of the essence of reaching complex decisions that one is able to think in the abstract.

 

 

 

  • Dr Lowenstein lacked the requisite experience and expertise to make the assessment of capacity in an old person as he has had minimal experience in working with the elderly, has had no training in applying the provisions of the MCA and very little experience in its forensic application, this being his second case. He is a very experienced psychologist in the field of young people, adolescents and children but has no expertise in the elderly. In the tests results he showed the court G consistently had very low scores but he frequently repeated that G was “good for a person of 94″; any tests in respect of capacity are not modified by age and must be objective. If, as appeared to be the case, he felt sympathy for her and did not wish to say that she lacked capacity that is understandable but it is not the rigorous or analytical approach required of the expert witness. When questioned about capacity he seemed to confuse the capacity to express oneself, particularly as to likes and dislikes, with the capacity to make decisions.

 

[The Court of course, did not HAVE to consider Dr Lowenstein's evidence at all, since it had been obtained without leave of the Court, but they did so]

 

Russell J’s conclusions on G’s capacity were these

 

  • In respect of financial matters there is evidence that G is unaware of her financial situation, of her income and expenditure. While there is good reason to believe from what she herself has told others, that this information is being kept from her and that she is fearful of C should she try to regain control, there is also evidence that she has difficulties in retaining information and formulating decisions as described by Dr Barker [46]. Both he and Mr Gillman-Smith considered the influence and controlling behaviour of C and F to make decision making even more difficult for G; it is obvious to this court from what she has said that she is at times almost paralysed by the threats regarding her removal to a care-home or to have F take over her personal and intimate care.

 

 

 

  • The impairment of G’s brain has affected her ability to retain information relevant to the decisions she has to make, as described by Dr Barker. She has difficulty in understanding the necessary information and to use and weigh the information. G could not remember the details of her will, and did not know the name of the advocate present when she saw Dr Barker or why he was there, despite having told Dr Barker his name the previous week. G referred to C and F as H and R (the previous carers) and expressed paranoid ideas about social services and previous friends from the church saying they were after what they could get from her.

 

 

 

  • There is evidence that G understands some of the information relevant to decision making, for example she well understands that she is frail and needs assistance with her personal care and house-work to be able to remain in her home and that C provides that care. At the same time G is either unaware of or unable to remember details of C’s and F’s backgrounds; she could not, for example, say how old they were. She also understands that C and F have taken control of her finances and has complained about being shouted at and physically shaken but she is unable to use the information to make a decision about her own welfare and care and allows them to remain in her home. This information about C and F living with her or not is relevant for the purposes of s3 (4) as it includes the reasonably foreseeable consequences of deciding one way or another or failing to make the decision. The decision as to contact with others and whether or not she should see other people falls into this same category. She does not foresee that to allow visitors would have benefits including oversight of her care and treatment at the hands of others. I accept that the influence and controlling behaviour of C and F described by the witnesses and in the documentary evidence before the court will have further compromised the ability of G to make decisions and understand what is happening to her.

 

 

 

  • I have found, on the balance of probabilities, that G lacks capacity under sections 2 and 3 of the MCA 2005 and accordingly this case falls under the jurisdiction of the Court of Protection. I do not consider it necessary to rule on any application under the inherent jurisdiction.

 

 

A request was made for an order that C not exercise any of her powers under the Lasting Power of Attorney to manage G’s affairs and finances, and the Court agreed with this.

 

[Everything that the Judge decided is very hotly contested by those lobbying on C's behalf, and indeed the journalists who have spoken to G, but the judgment was not appealed]

 

Hearing two

 

This was before Cobb J on 26th March 2014   http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/959.html

 

This hearing was particularly about whether G had the capacity to give interviews to journalists or be interviewed with a view to stories being reported.  G remained living in her own home, with C as her carer (the only real change from the previous hearing was that C was no longer in a position to manage G’s finances)

Cobb J begins by remarking that members of the Press are present and that they are welcomed. He does pass comment on the reporting of the Russell J decision

 

  • I should like to emphasise that I recognise that access to the press and freedom of parties to litigation to communicate with the press engages powerfully the competing rights under Article 8 and Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. There is, in my judgment, a legitimate public interest in the reporting of proceedings in the Court of Protection concerning our vulnerable, elderly and incapacitous. There is a separate legitimate public interest in the court protecting the vulnerable, elderly, and the incapacitous from public invasion into their lives. These are, in stark terms, the competing considerations at play.

 

 

 

 

  • Of note, but not specifically influential in my decision-making today, is the fact that some of the press reporting of these proceedings thus far, as is apparent from the three reports which I have read, does not provide a balanced account of this case, nor does it faithfully or accurately, in my judgment, reflect the substance of Russell J’s judgment or the evidence heard by the court. That is highly regrettable.

 

Cobb J felt that the issue of whether G had capacity, and if not, whether it was in her best interests to talk to the Press required some specialised assessment and evidence

 

  • Having heard these submissions, I invited all counsel to consider whether the first question which I should in fact be considering in this case on these issues is whether G has capacity to communicate directly with the press now. Given the press interest (it is, after all, here both in the form of a court reporter and as an interested party, represented) the sooner there is a capacity assessment available on that issue the better. After an adjournment for parties to take instructions, the London Borough of Redbridge indicated that it accepted this approach and refined its position to seeking an adjournment of today’s application in order to commission a further issue-specific capacity assessment by Dr. Barker. It was said that this could be completed within two weeks; it proposed that the matter should then be relisted for consideration. It invited me to make interim orders, as holding orders, in the meantime.

 

 

 

 

  • This approach was supported by the Official Solicitor in all respects.

 

 

 

 

  • Those orders were opposed by C, who asserted that there was no proper basis on which I could or should go down this route. F associated himself on this issue (as on all issues) with C.

 

 

 

 

  • It is self-evident that the question of G’s capacity to engage with members of the press (with a view to sharing her story publicly) has to be assessed properly and expertly before the court could reach any informed view as to whether it is in G’s best interests that she should in fact do so. In those circumstances, I propose to accede to the application to adjourn the Local Authority’s application for substantive relief in this respect, and shall re-list this application on the first available date, which is 2nd May 2014, before Russell J. I shall give the Local Authority leave to instruct Dr. Barker to undertake the capacity assessment specifically directed to the question of whether or not G has the capacity to communicate, and engage, with members of the press, with all the implications of so doing.

 

 

 Having made the decision to get expert evidence from Dr Barker on those issues, the only issue remaining was what should happen in the interim – should the Press be talking to G, or should those legitimate journalistic desires to get the story be put on hold until the Court could decide whether G had capacity to make that decision for herself?

 

  • I have “reason to believe” that G does indeed lack the capacity in relation to decisions concerning communications with the press.

 

 

 

 

  • There is no doubt that in relation to section 48(b) the question of her discussions or communications with the press is indeed a matter (perhaps unprecedented) on which the Court of Protection can be invited to exercise its powers under the 2005 Act.

 

 

 

 

  • As to section 48(c), I have to do my best to weigh up on the evidence available to me whether it is in G’s best interests that I should make such an order.

 

 

 

 

  • On the one hand, there is evidence before the court that G indeed wishes to communicate with the press. That evidence is provided not only by G herself, but also by Ms Reid, a journalist who has now met with G on one occasion at her home. Furthermore, in a discussion with Miss Moore, G is reported to have said that she was “happy” that the article written by Ms Reid had indeed been written: “… it let them know what they do to the elderly“.

 

 

 

 

  • Of course, at present the press is circumscribed in what they can report of what G says about the proceedings. In my judgment there is indeed a powerful case for permitting G to communicate with the press at will, the court being reassured (pending the specific capacity assessment) that at present there are justified limits on what the press can report of this process and of matters germane to G’s private and family life.

 

 

 

 

  • On the other hand, it is clear from the attendance notes helpfully provided by Miss Moore that at other times G has expressed less than positive views about the involvement of the press in her life. She has said: “The newspaper trying to say I am crazy when I am not crazy…” She has gone on to say, when asked about the article in the Daily Mail: “I don’t know how happy I would be about that. I don’t want anybody from the press. They put what they like. They put in details that are not correct.” She also told me that she valued her privacy.

 

 

 

 

  • There is evidence, but I make no finding about it, that G is being used as the instrument of others to pursue publicity in relation to her particular situation, and that she is not exercising her free-will at all. I specifically reference the fact that she has, in discussions with Miss Moore, graphically described herself as the fly “in the spider’s web … the fly cannot get out of the spider’s web“. She has confirmed elsewhere and to others that C is “the spider“.

 

 

 

 

  • There is a concern that while Ms Reid has indicated to me that she has made but one visit to G’s home, others may have visited or repeatedly phoned G. G told Miss Moore, on her most recent visit yesterday:

 

 

 

She said reporters are always at her home or phoning her“.

 

That said, she added:

 

She said she wants people to know what is happening to her and that it has gone all around the world already.

 

And

 

I asked her if she remembered the name of anyone she had spoken to. She said she did not.

 

  • I bear in mind, when considering G’s best interests in this regard, that there is now clearly signalled a likely application by Associated Newspapers to relax the Reporting Restriction Order. The press will argue for a wider ability to report on G and her situation.

 

 

 

 

  • It seems to me that, weighing these matters one against the other, it is not in G’s best interests for her to be able or permitted to communicate with the press at this stage; she has expressed at least ambivalent feelings, it appears, about the engagement of the media. I am further concerned that any private information which G vouchsafes to a journalist at this stage may, of course, be exposed to more public examination in the event that the Reporting Restriction Order is subsequently varied or discharged. Until the court can take a clearer view about G’s capacity to make such relationships with the press it is, in my judgment, clearly in G’s best interests that I should make an interim order that she should not make such communications. It follows that the injunctive order sought by the London Borough of Redbridge, shall be granted (in paragraph 3 of the draft order as earlier recited) until 2nd May.

 

 

  • I shall require Dr. Barker carefully, as he has in the past, to perform the functionality test in relation to this difficult question, inviting him to consider the implications for G’s decision-making, on the basis alternatively that (a) the Reporting Restriction Order remains in place, and/or (b) the Reporting Restriction Order is varied or discharged. Plainly, G is provided with not insubstantial protection from invasion into her private and family life for as long as the Reporting Restriction Order is in place. But that protection may be dismantled if the court, undertaking the competing Article 8 and 10 review, reaches the conclusion that the Reporting Restriction Order cannot or should not stand in its present form

 

 

 

Readers may also be interested in the paragraphs dealing with C taking G to protest at Parliament.

The other issue was that C was resistant to social workers visiting G

 

  • I am satisfied on what I have read that it is indeed necessary for G to be monitored as to her welfare in her home at present. I wish to make clear that there is no evidence whatsoever but that the home is well-maintained, comfortable, and that G has adequate food and nutrition. But, as I have indicated in my judgment (and as is clear from the judgment of Russell J), there is considerable scope for the view that C, and to a lesser extent F, are not just failing to meet G’s needs but are actually abusing her within her home. C and F, it should be noted, strenuously deny this. Monitoring in those circumstances in the interim period is, in my judgment, vital. I do not believe that the neighbourhood team proposed by Ms Hewson would adequately or appropriately discharge the function of monitoring as I envisage it should be delivered. I was advised that the neighbourhood team:

 

 

 

were not in a position to act as a substitute for Social Services … she” [that is a representative PCSO from the Redbridge Neighbourhood Team] “…did not think they had the resources to commit to twice-weekly visits … the Neighbourhood Team did not want to get drawn into court proceedings but would agree to resume visits to [G's home] on an ad hoc basis … the team could not commit to a weekly visit but would ‘pop in every so often and have a chat with G for ten minutes’.”

 

 

  • For those reasons it is self-evident that the Neighbourhood Team could not discharge the responsibility which I regard as important in order to safeguard G’s welfare within the home.

 

 

 

 

  • I therefore propose to accede to the application of this Local Authority which will require C and F to facilitate visits by the London Borough of Redbridge social workers, going forward.

 

 

Again, this is all hotly contested, but the judgment has not been appealed

 

Hearing Three

 

This one was before the President, on 1st May 2014  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/1361.html

Apologies in advance, some of this is going to have to get technical.

There were two issues raised

1. Was Ms Reid, journalist for the  Mail on Sunday, in any trouble?  And latterly, did she have an article 8 right to private and family life that allowed her to visit G and have a say in her life?

 

2. Should Associated Newspapers Limited ( the Mail) be joined as a party to the proceedings, as per their application, and could they have an input into the questions to be put to Dr Barker following Cobb J’s judgment above?

 

The first is thankfully pretty short. Cobb J of course said that until the next hearing when Dr Barker’s report was available, journalists should not interview G, that it was not in G’s interests to talk to the Press and that “until further order C be forbidden, whether by herself or instructing or encouraging others, from taking G or involving G in any public protests, demonstrations or meeting with the press relating to any aspect of these proceedings … “

What happened, allegedly, after that judgment was given, was that Sue Reid from the Daily Mail spoke with G and in effect said that she was not allowed to interview her anymore, but would visit her as a friend. (I say alleged, because of course the Court has not made any findings or heard any evidence, and this assertion might be complete nonsense. One has to be fair.  All I can see is that from THIS judgment, the President does not say that the allegation is denied. It could well have been, but it just did not get recorded in the judgment. So it is an allegation only.

 

  • On 2 April 2014, solicitors acting for the Official Solicitor wrote a letter to ANL which, after referring to Cobb J’s judgment, continued as follows:

 

 

“After the hearing Ms Reid was heard outside court telling G that as the judge had stopped Ms Reid contacting her, Ms Reid would have to make social visits to G instead. Clearly this would be completely inappropriate in view of the judgment of Cobb J. The court heard that Ms Reid has only met with G at her home on one occasion and we assume that this was for the purpose of publishing her article dated 20 February 2014. We are not sure why Ms Reid would seek to make social visits to G

We write to clarify that Ms Reid will not seek to circumvent the Order of Cobb J by making social visits to G. Please respond urgently confirming that Ms Reid will not attempt to visit G before this matter returns to Court on 2 May 2014.”

ANL replied on 3 April 2014. Its response prompted the Official Solicitor’s solicitors to write again on 8 April 2014:

“We write further to your letter dated 3 April 2014. The Official Solicitor remains concerned about your client’s proposed actions and note that you have not provided an assurance that Miss Reid will not seek to visit G before the matter is again before the Court on 2 May 2014. We refer you specifically to paragraph 40 of the Judgment of Mr Justice Cobb dated 26 March 2014.

We enclose a sealed copy of the Order of Mr Justice Cobb dated 26 March 2014. In view of this please can you confirm whether your client has made any social visits to G since the hearing on 26 March 2014 and whether she intends to make any visits in the future?”

In the interests of fairness, I shall report that whether those allegations were true or not did not trouble the President, since even if they were true, he didn’t think they raised any concern that should worry the Court.

  • As I remarked during the hearing, I do not understand the basis upon which these letters were written. The complaints they contain are made by reference to Cobb J’s judgment. But nothing that Ms Reid was alleged to have done amounted to a breach of anything contained in Cobb J’s order. If the basis of complaint was that Ms Reid’s conduct was somehow rendered improper by the terms of the declarations which Cobb J had made, there is in law no foundation for any such contention: see A v A Health Authority, In re J (A Child), R (S) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2002] EWHC 18 (Fam/Admin), [2002] Fam 213, paras 118-122. The frailty of the argument, whatever it be, is demonstrated by the revealing use of such phrases as “completely inappropriate” and “seek to circumvent”. The approach set out in the letters is somewhat reminiscent of the approach on which I had occasion to comment in E (by her litigation friend the Official Solicitor) v Channel Four; News International Ltd and St Helens Borough Council [2005] EWHC 1144 (Fam), [2005] 2 FLR 913, paras 115-120.

 

So there you go, whether Ms Reid had said this or not, it would have been fine if she had said it, and it would have been fine if she had in fact gone to visit G as a friend.  [I might myself have had a different view as to the true purpose of those visits, but what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander - the Judge has said it, nobody has appealed it, so the issue is settled]

 

On the secondary issue, whether Ms Reid had article 8 rights in relation to G

I deal finally with the separate argument based on Ms Reid’s asserted Article 8 rights. There are, in my judgment, two short answers to this. In the first place, there is no application by Ms Reid; the application is by ANL. Secondly, and more fundamentally, for reasons I have already explained, it makes no difference whether the argument is put on the basis of Article 10 or Article 8. Neither provides any foundation for the grant of relief of the kind being sought by Mr Wolanski.

 

[In a case that is already peppered with D and G, and F and H, the Judge explained all of the article 8 issues by use of X andY, which makes it hard going. In effect what he says is that G can have an article 8 right that she wants to spend time with Sue Reid, but if G doesn't want to spend time with Sue Reid (or lacks capacity and the Court have to rule on her best interests) then Sue Reid doesn't have an article 8 right to access to G. It is more complex than that, I've reduced it to a manageable form because there are real people reading this blog]

 

The big stuff then – should ANL be made a party?  Having already dragged X and Y into the alphabet soup, we broaden out by introducing here S (the subject – here G) and J (the journalist, here Sue Reid).

  • Where no relief going beyond the existing reporting restriction order is being sought against ANL, the issues are quite different. There is, for example, no application for any order restraining ANL from publishing any information it has already received from either G or her carers. Nor, despite some of the rhetoric deployed by ANL, is there anything in Cobb J’s order or in the relief now being sought by the local authority which bears upon ANL’s freedom to report any court proceedings. From ANL’s perspective, leaving the existing reporting restriction order on one side, this is, as Mr Millar correctly submits, not an ‘imparting’ case, it is at best a ‘receiving’ case. And, as he goes on to submit, the problem which therefore stands in ANL’s way is the Leander principle.

 

 

 

  • The starting point is that if S, as a competent adult, declines to disclose information to J – if S, as it were, shuts the door in J’s face – then that is that. S is deciding not to allow J into S’s ‘inner circle’. S’s right to be left alone by the media, if that is what S wishes, is a right which, as I have already explained, is protected by Article 8 (see Re Roddy) and it trumps any rights J may have, whether under Article 8 or Article 10. J cannot demand that S talks to him and, as Leander shows, J’s reliance on Article 10 will avail him nothing. From this it must follow that S’s refusal to talk to or impart information to J cannot give rise to any justiciable issue as between J and S.

 

  • But what if, as here, S – in the present case, G – arguably lacks capacity? At this point I can usefully go to the analysis in E (by her litigation friend the Official Solicitor) v Channel Four; News International Ltd and St Helens Borough Council [2005] EWHC 1144 (Fam), [2005] 2 FLR 913, paras 57-59.

 

 

 

  • In that case, the Official Solicitor, as Pamela’s (E’s) litigation friend, sought an injunction to restrain the broadcasting of a film featuring Pamela which Pamela wished to be broadcast. I summarised the proper approach as follows (para 59):

 

 

“in a case such as this there are in principle three questions which have to be considered:

(i) Does Pamela lack capacity? If yes, then

(ii) Is it in Pamela’s best interests that the film not be broadcast? If yes, then

(iii) Do Pamela’s interests under Art 8, and the public interest in the protection of the privacy of the vulnerable and incapable, outweigh the private and public interests in freedom of expression under Art 10.”

 

  • The first question for the court goes to capacity. There are two reasons for this: first, because the Court of Protection has jurisdiction only in relation to those who lack capacity; second, and more fundamental, because if S does have capacity then the decision as to whether or not to impart information to J (or, if the information has already been imparted by S to J, the decision by S as to whether or not to bring proceedings against J) is exclusively a matter for S.

 

 

 

  • Assuming that S lacks capacity the next question for the court is whether or not it is in S’s best interests to impart the information to J (or, if that has already happened, whether or not S’s best interests require that an injunction is granted against J). This is because best interests is the test by which the Court of Protection or, as in E, the High Court exercising its inherent jurisdiction, takes on behalf of S the decision which, lacking capacity, S is unable to take himself.

 

 

 

  • Pausing at this point in the analysis, and for essentially the same reasons as in relation to Article 8, it follows in my judgment that the identification by the Court of Protection of S’s best interests does not give rise to any justiciable issue as between J and S. Nor is there any justiciable issue as between J and S in relation to the question of S’s capacity.

 

 

 

  • As Mr Millar puts it, and I agree, the reason for this is simple: before J’s right to receive information from S arises, S must, to use the language of Leander, “wish or be willing” to impart the information to J. Where S lacks capacity, what the court is doing when deciding whether or not it is in S’s best interests for the information to be imparted to J (or, if already imparted to J, whether or not it is in S’s best interests for it to be imparted by J to others), is doing what, if S had capacity, S would be doing in deciding whether or not to impart the information to J (or, as the case may be, in deciding whether or not to seek an injunction to restrain J imparting it to others). As Mr Millar points out, J would have no right or interest in relation to such a decision by S, if S had capacity. Why, he asks rhetorically, should it make any difference that, because S lacks capacity, the very same decision is being taken on behalf of S by the court. I agree. Nor can J have any right or interest in the prior decision by the court as to whether or not S lacks capacity. Ms Burnham characterises the capacity issue as a “gateway” to giving effect to what she says is J’s right to receive information from S if she were willing to impart it. So it may be, but the argument breaks down, both on the Leander point and because it overlooks the true nature of what is happening when the court decides on behalf of S where S’s best interests lie.

 

 

 

  • Of course, the court’s best interests decision in relation to S is not necessarily determinative. If the court decides that it in S’s best interests for information to be imparted to J (or, if that has already happened, that S’s best interests do not require the grant of an injunction) then that is the end of the matter. There is no conflict between S’s best interests and J’s rights. If, however, there is a conflict between S’s best interests as determined by the court and J’s rights as protected by Article 10, the court moves on to the third and final stage of the inquiry. But at this stage S’s best interests are not determinative. There is a balancing exercise. The court is no longer exercising its protective jurisdiction in relation to S but rather its ordinary jurisdiction under the Convention as between claimant and defendant. Accordingly it has to balance the competing interests: S’s interest under Article 8 (as ascertained by the court), and therefore her right under Article 8 to keep her private life private, and J’s rights under Article 10. And at this stage, if relief is being sought against J (or against the world at large), J’s Article 10 rights are directly implicated. So J will be entitled to be heard in opposition to the order being sought.

 

 

 

[That's very considered and dense stuff - basically the Judge is saying that people get party status to litigate if there is a conflict between them and the other parties that gives right to an argument that the Court has power to resolve and needs to resolve. There isn't that here.  ANL have legitimate interest in any application for Reporting Restriction Order or injunctions against them or their staff, but they don't have a legitimate interest in the argument between G, C and the Local Authority.  They might be interested IN IT, but that's not the same thing]

 

  • ANL’s first application is to be joined as a party. Mr Millar and Ms Davidson submit that the application is misconceived. I agree.

 

 

 

  • In the first place, and as I have already explained, the relief being sought by the local authority gives rise to no justiciable issue as between ANL and G, or between ANL and anyone else. So there is no reason for ANL to be joined.

 

 

 

  • Secondly, and following on from this, ANL cannot bring itself within either CoPR 2007 rule 75(1), upon which Mr Wolanski relies, or within rule 73(2). Rule 73(2) permits the court to order a person to be joined as a party “if it considers that it is desirable to do so for the purposes of dealing with the application”, and rule 75(1) permits “any person with a sufficient interest [to] apply to the court to be joined as a party to the proceedings.” Mr Wolanski’s application was put forward on the footing that ANL has a “sufficient interest” within the meaning of rule 75(1). In my judgment it does not.

 

 

 

  • The meaning of these provisions was considered by Bodey J in Re SK (By his Litigation Friend, the Official Solicitor) [2012] EWHC 1990 (COP), [2012] COPLR 712, paras 41-43, a case relied upon by Ms Davidson, in a passage that requires to be read in full. For present purposes I need refer only to Bodey J’s statement (para 41) that “sufficient interest” in rule 75(1) “should be interpreted to mean “a sufficient interest in the proceedings” as distinct from some commercial interest of the applicant’s own” and that “an applicant for joinder who or which does not have an interest in the ascertainment of the incapacitated person’s best interests is unlikely to be a “person with sufficient interest””, that (para 42) the “clear import” of the wording of rule 73(2) is that “the joinder of such an applicant would be to enable the court better to deal with the substantive application”, and that (para 43) the word “desirable” “necessarily imports a judicial discretion as regards balancing the pros and cons of the particular joinder sought in the particular circumstances of the case.” I respectfully agree with that approach. In my judgment, ANL does not, in the relevant sense, have a “sufficient interest”. Nor is its joinder “desirable.”

 

 

 

  • Finally, even if ANL’s rights under Article 10 were to be engaged (as they plainly are in relation to the reporting restriction order), that would not give ANL a “sufficient interest” in the proceedings, as distinct from the discrete application within the proceedings, nor would it make it “desirable” to join ANL as a party to the proceedings. On the contrary, it would be highly undesirable for ANL to be joined, because as a party it would be entitled to access to all the documents in the proceedings unless some good reason could be shown why it should not, and the grounds for restricting a party’s access to the documents are very narrowly circumscribed: see RC v CC and another [2014] EWHC 131 (COP). Nor, as I have pointed out, would there be any need for ANL to be joined as a party. It would, as Mr Millar concedes, be entitled to be heard as an intervener.

 

 

 

  • I should add that this is an area of the law where there has been, initially in the Family Division and more recently also in the Court of Protection, very extensive forensic activity involving the media for at least the last twenty-five years. I am not aware of any case, nor were either Mr Millar or Mr Wolanski with their very great experience of such matters able to point me to any case, where a journalist or media organisation has been joined as a party to the proceedings, as distinct from being permitted to intervene. This is surely suggestive of a well-founded assumption that joinder is as unnecessary for the protection of the media as it is undesirable from the point of view of the child or incapacitated adult whose welfare is being considered by the court.

 

 

 

  • In the light of my decision in relation to ANL’s first application, its two other applications fall away. In the first place, if it is not to be joined as a party, what is the basis of its claim either to see Dr Barker’s full report or to ask him questions? There is none. Moreover, and as I have explained, Dr Barker’s report does not go to any justiciable issue as between ANL and G, or between ANL and anyone else. If some relief is sought against ANL, then the application will have to be assessed on its merits, having regard to whatever evidence is relied upon, whether in support of or in opposition to the application. That is the point at which ANL’s Article 10 rights are engaged. And at that point ANL will be able to contest the application, whether by challenging the evidence relied on by the applicant or by adducing its own evidence.

 

 

 

  • I should add this, in relation to the insinuation by ANL that it should be joined as a party or allowed to intervene in relation to the issues of G’s capacity and best interests because otherwise relevant arguments may not be adequately put before the court. There is no basis for this. Quite apart from the rejection by those to whom this comment appears to be directed of any factual foundation for what is being said, this cannot be a ground for being allowed to participate in the proceedings. Either ANL has some basis for being joined as a party or it does not. If it does, all well and good. If it does not, then it is a mere interloper, an officious busybody seeking to intrude in matters that are of no proper concern to it, seemingly on the basis that it can argue someone else’s case better or more effectively than they can themselves. Moreover, if it is to be said that the Official Solicitor is, in some way, not acting appropriately in G’s best interests, then the remedy is an application for his removal as her litigation friend, not the intrusion into the proceedings of a self-appointed spokesman for G.

 

 

 

(I will conclude by saying that whilst I too think that the ANL application was misconcieved in law, I can see why in practice they made it.  IF their story is (and it pretty much is) that the Court of Protection is a wicked terrible body, interfering with people’s freedoms and ignoring what dear old G wants, then I can see why they think that the Court of Protection DECIDING whether G should talk to the Press is something of a conflict of interest.  Imagine for a moment that it had been Maria Miller’s decision and it had been solely up to her whether any of the Press were allowed to report her expenses scandal. As the ANL think that the expert is going to be set up to say “Don’t let G talk to the Press, it isn’t good for her” they wanted to have an input into what he was asked and to have the chance to cross-examine him if that’s what he said.  That somewhat ignores the fact that C is already a party and is able to have that input and cross-examine Dr Barker, but I can honestly see why the Mail made this application from an emotional and journalistic perspective.   They couldn’t have got a judge who was more keen on transparency and openness though, so if they couldn’t persuade the President, it was a hopeless application)

I will add that I think that Sue Reid genuinely believes that what is happening here is an outrage and a miscarriage of justice, and that she is reporting what C and G are saying to them with absolute sincerity.  It is absolutely right that she follow her journalistic instincts and that if there is something rotten in the State of Denmark that this be exposed.

 

 

 

 

There is some corner of a foreign field that is forever not part of the Hague Convention

 

The quirky case of Leicester City Council v Chhatbar 2014 – which features without a doubt the best application for permission to appeal I’ve ever read

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/830.html

The parents names are reported in the case because they are freely available to view on the Interpol website  (the Daily Mail attended the hearing and sought that permission to name the parent, which was granted)

    1. On 12th October 2013 at a time when Mr. Chhatbar and Miss Rahman frankly concede they knew that Abdul Rahman was the subject of protective measures, they left England and Wales and travelled to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. As is well known, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognised as an independent state only by Turkey. The rest of the world, and specifically the European Union, regard the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as being a military occupation by Turkey of part of the Cypriot Republic. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is not a signatory to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Effects of Child Abduction, nor does it subscribe to or apply the child abduction provisions of the Brussels II regulation.

 

    1. The court can easily conclude that a motive for these parents taking this child to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is that, uniquely within Europe, it represents a safe haven from the provisions of the 1980 Hague Convention.

 

  1. The reason I am being asked to determine that on 17th October 2013 when Abdul Rahman was made a ward of court he was habitually resident in England and Wales is not in order to demonstrate that on 12th October 2014 he was unlawfully removed from England and Wales within the terms of Art.3 of the Hague Convention. The reason I am being asked to determine this issue is in order that the local authority would be equipped to argue, should Abdul Rahman ever be taken to a Hague Convention country, that from 17th October 2013 he was being unlawfully retained by the parents in Northern Cyprus. In order for an unlawful retention for the purposes of Art.3 to be proved, it has to be shown that on the relevant date Abdul Rahman was habitually resident here and that at that time rights of custody had been vested in this court. Plainly the latter criterion was satisfied because this court had made him a ward of court on that day. The question is whether on that day he was habitually resident here.

 

If you are going to do a runner then, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is a good destination.  (though read the whole thing before booking your flight)

As it isn’t a signatory to the Hague Convention, there is no straightforward method in international law for compelling the return of the child (there MIGHT be in the law of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, but frankly who knows?).

The City Council asked the High Court to declare that the child had been unlawfully removed from England under article 3 of the Hague Convention, not so they could get the child back from Northern Cyprus, but rather so that if the family set foot in any other bit of Europe, the child COULD be recovered.

Mr. Downs frankly concedes that this exercise only becomes relevant if Abdul Rahman is taken by his parents to a Hague Convention country of which, of course, Turkey is one, the Republic of Cyprus is another, and Greece is yet another. He argues, as does the Council which he represents, that this is a reasonably foreseeable prospect. First, they say that the parents were, in fact, in Turkey as recently as December 2013. They say they went there in 2013 for a holiday. Secondly, they say that in order to be able lawfully to stay in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus they need to leave the country every 90 days in order to re-enter and receive a new 90 day tourist visa.

The Judge heard from the parents by videolink, considered all of the relevant law and facts and reached this conclusion

    1. In my judgment, on 17th October 2013 both the parents and the child had their habitual residence in England and Wales. They had not severed their integration in this country. Their social and family environment was in England and Wales. Of that I have no doubt. I do not need to speculate further on the motives that drove them to leave to go to Northern Cyprus although pretty easy conclusions can be drawn.

 

  1. I say nothing about the merits of the local authority’s case other than to observe that at the relevant time the father was under an order of probation awarded by a criminal court in relation to an offence of domestic violence. He was obliged under our law to be in this country in order to undergo the period of probation that had been awarded. Beyond that I say nothing about the merits of the steps taken by the local authority. Nor do I want to give anybody any indication of the likelihood of success, should these parents go to a Hague Convention country, of an application under the Hague Convention to such a country for the return of Abdul Rahman to this country. Of that I say nothing at all. I confine myself strictly to saying only that on 17th October 2013 the child, Abdul Rahman Chhatbar was habitually resident in England and Wales.

 

What follows then, is the father’s application to appeal, which I’ll print in full

MR. CHHATBAR: Excuse me.

MR. JUSTICE MOSTYN: Yes.

MR. CHHATBAR: Can we appeal your decision?

MR. JUSTICE MOSTYN: I have given my decision. I have declared that Abdul Rahman was habitually resident in England and Wales on 17th

MR. CHHATBAR: Yes, I heard all that. We heard all that. We are asking you can we appeal your decision.

MR. JUSTICE MOSTYN: OK. So you need to ask me for permission to appeal.

MR. CHHATBAR: Yes, that is what we are asking.

MR. JUSTICE MOSTYN: I can only give permission if I am satisfied that you have got a real prospect of success or there is some other good reason why an appeal should be heard. Is there anything else you want to say about that?

MR. CHHATBAR: Yes, it is a joke, isn’t it? It is a fraud. It is a fraud mate. It is all a fucking fraud.

MR. JUSTICE MOSTYN: OK.

MR. CHHATBAR: Good luck in trying to find us. Good luck.

MR. JUSTICE MOSTYN: Thank you very much.

MR. CHHATBAR: The court has got no jurisdiction. We are never coming back to England. Good luck. See how powerful you are, yes. You are powerful sitting there in your chair. It is a fucking fraud.

MR. JUSTICE MOSTYN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chhatbar. It is a shame –

MR. CHHATBAR: See if you are a good parent sitting in that chair when your son takes cocaine. You are a joker, my friend, you are a joker.

 

The transcript doesn’t indicate whether there was any pause, and if not, hats off to Mostyn J for his response

MR. JUSTICE MOSTYN: All right. Mr. Chhatbar applies for permission to appeal. Under the Civil Procedure Rules Part 52 the permission can only be given if I am satisfied that there is a real prospect of success or there is some other compelling reason why the appeal should be heard. In as much as I can understand Mr. Chhatbar, he says that my decision is wrong because I have no jurisdiction and because it is fraudulent.

I consider that I have applied the law scrupulously to the facts of this case. I am completely satisfied that there is no prospect of success of an appeal, let alone a real one, and that there is no other compelling reason why the appeal should be heard. I therefore refuse permission. Mr. Chhatbar, of course, is entitled to renew his application for permission with the Court of Appeal. Thank you very much.

 

The Judge then goes on to address the Press in relation to accuracy of reporting (lets see if this makes any difference when they report the case)

On 3 March 2014 a report appeared in the Daily Mail authored by a journalist who had been in court[2]. In the report it was stated “Financial adviser Mr Chhatbar and travel agent Miss Reheman, 19, fled after a relative made an allegation to Leicester city council social services that Mr Chhatbar had a violent past. It is a claim the couple vigorously deny, but social workers warned them to split up so Momo could live with Miss Reheman in safety or else they would seize the baby.” The report failed to mention what I had said in the first two sentences of para 17 concerning the father’s conviction for an offence of domestic violence. Further, to the best of my recollection, what was written was not mentioned in court. The President, Sir James Munby, has recently emphasised in Re P (A Child) [2013] EWHC 4048 (Fam) at paras 26 and 27[3] that while the court will not exercise any kind of editorial control over the manner in which the media reports information which it is entitled to publish there is nonetheless, for obvious reasons, a premium on accurate press reporting of proceedings such as these.

 

[For the avoidance of doubt, this judgment, at which representatives of the Mail were present, WAS BEFORE that article was published, and the author of the article was in Court]

X-box mother – the judgment

 

You may have read about the children who in private law proceedings were taken away from their mother and placed with their father, the headline being that she was found to be too permissive, had spent too much time in bed and the children had spent too much time playing on their X-box. It was on Radio 5 this morning, in quite a balanced way, and in the Telegraph yesterday, here.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/10643643/Mother-loses-custody-battle-over-permissive-parenting-style.html

You will see from that account that the children were removed from the mother because of her ‘permissive attitude towards parenting’ and because she was letting the children spend too much time playing on their X-boxes. To be fair to the Telegraph reporting, it  does quote quite a lot from the judgment AND bothers to ask a family lawyer to provide some context as to the circumstances in which the Courts change residence, so it isn’t actually a bad report of the case.  It  at least makes an effort to get some of the facts and to understand the principles. Not something that’s always true of press reports on family cases. cough.

 

But, if you believe that these children were taken away from mother and placed with father because she was a bit slack with discipline and let the children play on their X-boxes too much, well in the words of Ben Goldacre “I’m afraid you’ll find its a bit more complicated than that”

In these days of transparency, we can see the judgment itself, here

RS v SS 2013  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/B33.html

And again, to be fair to the press reports, there is mention in there of X-Boxes, but rather more in the context of the mother appearing to be depressed, of withdrawing from the care of the children and the children being left to their own devices (pardon the pun).   One of the things that you pick up is that even from the Judge’s conclusions and findings that are set out below, there’s far more content than could comfortably fit into a newspaper article, and it is not a great surprise that one or two elements of the raft of issues were the ones that were highlighted.  For reasons of space, and pace, and hooks and drama, newspaper reports of family Court decisions tend to be flattened out and compressed and you can form a different impression than when you read the whole case.  That’s not necessarily the fault of the reporters – even a short judgment is dense, packed with concepts and long. It is something that we are going to encounter more and more as more judgments get published, but at least now readers can actually turn to see for themselves what the Judge actually did. [The X-box paragraph is 107]

FINDINGS IN RELATION TO THE PARENTS

    1. As must be clear from some of the findings that I have rehearsed along the way in this judgment, I found the father to be an honest witness, and, where the parents’ evidence differed, I undoubtedly preferred his evidence to that of the mother. His frustration and distress at this long-standing situation were palpable during his oral evidence. He has been tenacious to the extent of being dogged in his pursuit of a relationship with his sons. I do not criticise him for his tenacity. Many fathers would have given up by now. He has, in my view, demonstrated far better insight into the needs of his teenage and pre-teenage boys, for example, around issues of guidance and boundaries, than the mother. Their parenting styles are very different. He is much more in favour of structure, boundaries and discipline, and I can understand why the boys might baulk at that, given what I consider to have been the very permissive atmosphere in which they have lived at home. He is totally committed to his sons. He has given his proposals a great deal of thought, and I was impressed with the breadth of the proposals and their depth. I was impressed with how he said he would deal with difficulties, for example, if either of the boys ran away. His analysis of what he saw facing the boys if they stayed with their mother was insightful.

 

    1. My only minor criticism of him – and I stress that it is minor – is that he may sometimes have handled situations somewhat maladroitly or clumsily in the past, for example the knocking repeatedly at the door. But he did, I stress, take advice when the Guardian spoke to him. I recognise also that he was between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, his tenacity was alienating the boys further but, on the other hand, if he did not attend with the tenacity he did, no doubt it would have been represented to the boys by their mother that he did not care about them. I make a minor criticism that he turned up on 8th December with the whole family. My intention had been that it would just be him and his parents, so that he could have one-to-one time with his boys, but it is a minor criticism. As I have said, he has frequently been between a rock and a hard place and cannot do right whichever way he goes. The boys found it embarrassing his attending at their schools, but the court had endorsed that and, as I said, if he did not attend, he would be equally culpable in their eyes.

 

    1. So, overall, I consider that, as I have said, he has a good understanding of what these boys need and he is, in my judgment, up to the challenges that a change of residence would entail. I consider he has extensive support not only from his partner but also from the paternal extended family. I have no doubt that they will give him as much support as they can bring.

 

    1. I will turn now to my finding about the mother. I found the mother to be a very angry and wilful woman. Her hated of the father is almost pathological. In my judgment, this is likely to have its origins in the circumstances of the breakdown of their marriage: the father leaving when CD was but a few weeks’ old, and her belief that the father had already begun an affair with SB. That has been fuelled, in my judgment, by financial issues, in particular the mother’s assertion, which has not been tested in these proceedings, that the father walked away with all the funds obtained by re-mortgaging the marital home. In her oral evidence, she accused him of adultery and of fraud on her. The years have done nothing to abate this anger. I consider that the fact that the father has made a new life, when she does not appear to have really moved on, has further fired her up. She also asserts that he has years of unpaid maintenance and, again, this is simply an allegation which was not pursued in evidence. To cap it all, from her point of view, the father has now had the nerve to apply for a change of residence. So preoccupied is she with her own sense of grievance that she completely overlooks the effect of her behaviour on her children. In my judgment, she has prioritised her own needs and feelings at the expense of the needs of her children. That is not to say that she does not love her children, I have no doubt her does, although I find her love to have something of a possessive quality about it.

 

    1. A key example, a glaring example of her prioritising her own needs was the parents’ evening when her behaviour was petty, childish and petulant. She has done nothing to shield the children from the fallout, rather, the converse. She has consistently and repeatedly put them in the centre of this dispute and has used them, or their contact, as a weapon against the father. In my view, her anger is always ready to spill over into uncontrollable rage at the slightest perceived provocation. This was clearly demonstrated by the voicemails. I am quite satisfied that, contrary to her denials, there have been numerous occasions when the father has been exposed to outbursts like these. I reject her evidence that the children have not been exposed to such outbursts other than during the September 2012 phone call, which led to the child protection referral.

 

    1. In my judgment, she has either been untruthful in her evidence when she says that she has done everything to promote contact, or she is in denial about the concerns. Her evidence was characterised by denial and minimising, and she showed no insight into the harm she has caused the boys. Indeed, I found her complacent about the educational issues and that she minimised the concerns about lateness, homework and general progress. I agree with the Guardian that she has not got to the point where she can acknowledge that anything is wrong, and it is difficult to see, in those circumstances, how a change can be effected. It is sometimes referred to as the pre-contemplation stage of change.

 

    1. I consider it also to be quite likely that she may be depressed to a greater or lesser degree. I accept the evidence of AB, as related to CH, that she does spend hours under the duvet, on the phone or using her iPad, and that the children are left to their own devices. It also seems to me to be likely, from what the father and AB said, that they are spending a lot of time playing on their own on their Xboxes. I cannot imagine why AB would say such things to CH unless they were true, given his loyalty to his mother. As I said, they tie in with father’s perception of the situation. I consider, in fact, that it might have been very helpful to have had a psychological assessment of the mother. I agree entirely with the Guardian that the children have done what so frequently happens in such a dispute: to remove themselves from the conflict which is painful and distressing to them, they have firmly aligned themselves with one side, and that is always likely to be the primary carer who is providing for their day-to-day material and emotional needs, and rejected the other parent. This is their attempt at self-protection, and in that view I am at one with the Guardian.

 

    1. This is, however, in my view, a profoundly unhelpful coping mechanism from the point of view of their own emotional development. A child should not be forced to choose one parent over the other. Further, in my judgment, by all her sayings and doings, the mother has exhibited, with capital letters, her negative feelings for the father, which have been adopted wholesale by the children and particularly CD, who has not got the same pre-existing link with his father. The children have been wholly inappropriately drawn into the court proceedings. They have been allowed to read the report of BH, and their statements to BH and indeed to me make this absolutely clear. They talked to me about the meal with their father and the grandparents being a biased test and about seeing the grandparents as strengthening the father’s case. They talk in the language of court proceedings and tactics. I note that AB said to the Guardian: “He is tactically lying in court. Technically he is harassing us”. As I have said, it is quite plain that the mother has exposed to them to the details of the court proceedings. Because their information has come solely from her, they have a wholly distorted view of what is going on, and lay the blame at their father for their discomfort at having been involved in these proceedings for many months and having to be interviewed by different people. That is because, as I have said, they have been presented with a wholly distorted picture.

 

    1. The mother is a powerful personality. She presents as tough and somewhat arrogant. She seemed to me to show no regret for or insight into her behaviour in her evidence. Her expressions of regret, for example, for the voicemail messages and other incidents, referring to them as “not being an ideal situation”, I found to be half-hearted and unconvincing. I considered the regret related more to the fact that they showed her in a bad light. I agree that in her evidence she repeatedly sought to deflect the question, and at times was argumentative. At other times her evidence was self-justifying and minimising. There was not really a chink in the armour until she showed some signs of distress right at the end. Whether and how far her face to the world is a defence mechanism is hard to say. I consider another explanation for her behaviour may well also be her fear that she will lose her children, who are the central focus of her life. I note that in the father’s position statement, made in March of this year, he reports that AB said that his mother was apparently worried about losing them. I do not consider that she understands the importance of a relationship with both parents for a child’s healthy, emotional development.

 

    1. The mother has failed also, in my judgment, to meet the children’s needs in other important respects. She has, in my judgment, consistently failed to meet their educational needs and therefore risks compromising in particular AB’s educational prospects. It is likely that CD would be in the same situation as he grew older. I consider that she does have a very permissive style of parenting, and I accept the father’s evidence that she is more like a friend than a parent. I am satisfied that there is a failure to provide proper guidance and boundaries essential for the social and emotional development of these pre-adolescent and adolescent boys.

 

    1. Further, I have real concerns about her as a role model. I agree with the Guardian that she turns on anyone who challenges her or does not seem to agree with her. Examples are the Guardian herself and CH. She has effectively said that they are lying or have been lying. She was going to change AB’s school after the referral, despite his being settled at the school and it being a good school. I consider that these attitudes are picked up by the boys, especially AB. I consider that AB was reflecting the mother’s belief when he referred to CH as a liar when he saw me, and I find that their hostility to BH has been largely due to their following the example provided by the mother. I note her evidence that she did have the beginnings of a relationship with them when she first met them, but then the door was firmly closed. I find the mother allowed the boys to be profoundly disrespectful to both the father and BH when she did not take them to task for poking them both with the crutch from the cab in August of this year. On other occasions the father has reported the boys shouting abuse to him when he attended contact, and in April holding up a sign telling the father “I’ve told you a million times to fuck off. Go away you gay bastard”. This behaviour went unchecked by the mother. In fact, so far as the April incident is concerned, the mother was challenged by the father, and laughed. This lack of respect for the father and other adults is profoundly unhelpful to these boys, both now and in later life, for example, in a job situation or when they are in disagreement with anyone in authority. Further, the mother has no respect or regard for the father as a father.

 

    1. I am sad to come to the conclusion that I find on all these fronts this mother has significantly failed these boys. Their views across the board faithfully reflect hers. Their repeated complaints of being dragged through the courts by the father are a precise echo of the mother’s own words. Any decision I make has to have their welfare as my paramount concern, and I have to apply the welfare checklist set out in section 1(3) of the Children Act. I have to consider first of all, the boys’ wishes and feelings. In this regard I have been referred to some helpful case law as to how to approach children’s expressed wishes and feelings in a situation where there has been alienation. In particular I have been referred to the case of Re S [2010] EWHC 192, a decision of His Honour Judge Bellamy sitting as a Deputy High Court judge. In the headnote to the case at (2) it states:

 

“Section 1(3)(a) of the Children Act 1989 did not permit the court to pay no regard to the clearly and consistently expressed wishes and feelings of a child, but such wishes and feelings were to be assessed in the light of his age and understanding, in particular the impact of alienation upon the reliability of the child’s wishes and feelings, and some modest signs that his expressed views might not in fact reflect his true feelings were matters to be taken into account when assessing the weight to be attached to his expressed wishes and feelings.”

    1. At para.69 of the judgment, the learned judge said this:

 

“S’s wishes and feelings must be assessed in accordance with his age and understanding. It is here that the assessment becomes more difficult. I have found that S has become alienated from his father. S has said that his father is a ‘monster’ and that he ‘hates’ him. It is clear from Dr. W’s evidence that such behaviour fits within the pattern of behaviour of children who have become alienated from their non-resident parent. In his report of 18th July 2008 Dr. W was very clear. He said that

‘It is also important for both parents and for all professionals working with the child to recognise that the child’s expressed wishes and feelings are irrational and should form no part in the Court’s decision making.’

70. The law requires that the court should take account of S’s wishes and feelings. It would be wrong, therefore, for me to pay no regard at all to the views which S has so clearly and consistently expressed. The Act, UNCRC and case law all emphasise the importance of listening to and respecting the wishes of the child. As a general proposition I accept that the older the child the greater the respect that should be accorded to his or her wishes and feelings. As Butler-Sloss LJ said in re S… a case involving two children aged 13 and 11,

‘Nobody should dictate to children of this age, because one is dealing with their emotions, their lives and they are not packages to be moved around. They are people entitled to be treated with respect.’

I cannot and do not ignore S’s expressed wishes and feelings. However, in the light of Dr. W’s evidence, it would be equally inappropriate for me to proceed on the basis that those expressed wishes and feelings should necessarily be taken at face value. They need to be assessed in the light of S’s age and understanding. The impact of alienation upon the reliability of those wishes and feelings and the signs (albeit modest) that they may not in fact reflect his true feelings, are matters to be taken into account when assessing the weight to be attached to them.”

    1. That judgment was expressly approved in the more recent Court of Appeal decision of Re A [2013] EWCA (Civ) 1104. At para.68, Lord Justice McFarlane said this:

 

“The evaluation of the weight to be given to the expressed wishes and feelings of a teenage child in situations where the parent with care is intractably hostile to contact is obviously not a straightforward matter, no matter how consistently or firmly those wishes are expressed. In this context, the decision of HHJ Bellamy in Re S… provides a good illustration.”

    1. I take into account all those observations in my evaluation of the wishes and feelings of the children. I have very much at the forefront of my mind that I am dealing with two young men, aged 14 and 11 respectively. Their expressed wishes and feelings have consistently been not to see or have a relationship with their father. Indeed, as the Guardian says, their views appear to have hardened over time, and I note the penultimate report of the Guardian as to how AB referred to his father. I have to evaluate how reliable those expressed wishes and feelings are.

 

    1. It is a consistent theme throughout all the reports of BH and her predecessor from CAFCASS that the wishes and feelings expressed are a result of the mother’s negative influence and/or are derived from loyalties to the mother and from being provided with inappropriate and often misleading information about the court proceedings. For example, the boys blame their father for not being able to travel to Z last December. What they did not appreciate, as they only had their mother’s side, was the reason behind the court imposing the prohibition, namely the mother’s behaviour and her threats to remove them. The mother’s unhappiness at being, as she put it, dragged to court, has clearly been communicated to the boys, and they then express this as being the reason for their anger with the father. I have referred to the work done with the boys by the CAFCASS officer. Again, they could not appreciate that the reason for the repeated court hearings was the behaviour of their mother. They also referred to their father lying in court. Otherwise, it is a consistent theme that they could give no adequate reason why they did not want to see their father, and they would refer to historic incidents, which the father in any event denies, and which the Guardian concludes would not in any event lead them to have the apparent hatred that they have expressed of their father.

 

    1. AB sent his mother a long list of complaints about his father by an email sent at 3.22 in the morning on 16th August. He said it had been prepared some time before. I am unclear how that came about. What he said in the email to BH and to me was about the father being aggressive. In her statement, the mother said this referred to two incidents in contact going back to 2004 and 2005. AB refers to an incident in 2012 when the father allegedly dragged him on to an underground train, and he referred to lies being told to his school and Social Services. As I have said, CH told me exactly what AB said to her, leading to the social care referral. My concern is that both these boys have a distorted view of the reality. Some of the complaints they make, or AB makes in his email, such as hardly having any food and doing practically nothing at his father’s I simply do not accept. It is also a factor that these boys worry about the mother. They see the proceedings as causing her stress and, because they have been manipulated by the mother, they blame the father for this.

 

    1. In my judgment, their consistent expressed wishes and feelings are not reliable for a number of reasons. Firstly, because I accept the Guardian’s view that AB does not feel hate for his father inside. Glimpses of the real AB have been available during these proceedings at different stages. I note the evidence is that he relaxes once he has been with his father for a period of time. The wishes and feelings are not reliable for these reasons. Firstly, these boys have been manipulated by their mother and greatly influenced by her in their views of their father. Also they have aligned themselves with her in the mechanism I have described to protect themselves from the ongoing dispute. Further, they have a wholly distorted view of the reality of the situation because the information they have received has come from one source, their mother, and therefore, despite their ages, in particular the age of AB, I do not consider that their wishes and feelings are reliable. CD, who does not have the same attachment to his father, I consider is simply mirroring what his mother says about his father, and that this situation therefore is akin to the situation faced by His Honour Judge Bellamy in considering the wishes and feelings of the child in the case before him.

 

    1. I consider that if these children had emotional permission to have a relationship with their father, they would be able to do so, and that has been shown to a small degree by the fact that they have been able to have contact on these two occasions, albeit with some difficulties.

 

  1. Turning to the particular characteristics of these boys, I do not think either boy is a particularly happy boy. Of course in part that is due to the ongoing nature of these proceedings, but I consider it is due centrally to the parental conflict, where they find themselves as innocent parties in the middle. I consider that the boys are guarded. It is no coincidence that neither interacts with adults at the school. I find that they are both anxious about the mother’s reactions should they speak out of turn. I find it likely, for example, that AB said to his mother that CH upset him by talking to him in school to appease her and/or deflect her questioning, because CH’s view of it was that he seemed quite relieved to have someone to talk to.

 

You can see from that, that the initial impression you might have gained about the case – that mum was a bit lazy and let the children spend more time on their X-boxes than a middle-class parent might think was appropriate and that’s why the children were taken away from her and placed with dad – well, it was a bit more complicated than that.   [The extract above hasn't even included the time the mother had the father arrested and detained for 18 hours because he knocked on her door]

Reporting Restriction Order – Swansea

 

The decision in Swansea v XZ and Another 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/212.html

It is rather strange, in this week where all judgments by Circuit Judges or above relating to children are to be published online following the President’s guidance, to also see a Reporting Restriction Order case; although the order makes a great deal of sense in the particular circumstances of the case.

In this one, a mother from the Swansea area faced criminal charges relating to the murder of one child and the wounding of another. The mother pleaded guilty to the criminal charges in November 2013.  The alleged offences happened in 2006 and 2007, although the criminal charges were brought many years later.

This was touched on by the Court here

On 27th September 2011, the police finally applied for disclosure of the case papers. I note that this was already nearly three years after the finding of fact hearing before Wood J. The case came before Charles J on 1st November 2011. Even at that stage, he said that there was, as far as he could see, “no reasonable justification” for the delay in applying which appeared to be “inexcusable.”

Between 2007 and the present day, care proceedings took place on the second child and subsequent children those proceedings seem to have taken place over many years, with what seems like several different sets of proceedings,  finally ending in 2013 with the family court deciding that all of the surviving children could live with their parents.  [The precise chain of where they had all been living in the interim is not easy to follow, but it seems that it had mostly been with either both parents, or the father alone]

I should make it clear that the Mother’s care of the children that were staying with her has, since the institution of the proceedings, been, at all times, exemplary. The children very much wanted to be with their Mother and it was in their best interests to be with her provided she was mentally well and it was safe for them. By 11th March 2013, it was clear that, despite the criminal charges, her mental health had not deteriorated. I therefore directed that those children should return to live with her on 19th March.

 

The Local Authority applied in this case for a Reporting Restriction Order to prevent the mother’s name being published – in the usual course of events, there would be nothing to prevent the Press publishing the outcome of the criminal trial (which is certainly newsworthy) and naming the mother – even though that would indirectly identify the children. Hence, the Local Authority applied for the order. (It was not intended to keep the care proceedings secret, but prevent the children from being identified as being the children of a woman who killed a baby)

 

    1. The Local Authority case is that permitting the media to report the identity of the Mother will cause very significant harm to the children. First, it is said that, for reasons I cannot explain fully in this public judgment, anyone in the locality reading a media report naming her would instantly know which family it was.

 

 

    1. It is then said that there are a number of features of this case that could well result in real danger and harm to these children. In particular, it is argued that this case involves a significant number of features that have, rightly or wrongly, caused great contention of late in this country. These stem from the family background details and that very serious harm was done to two babies; and the Mother has cared for those children notwithstanding what has happened.

 

 

    1. It is said that, as a result, the family would be at high risk of being targeted within their community by threats and reprisals if they were identified. It is argued that reprisals might be both physical against them and against their homes. There would be a real risk of serious bullying at school. I am told that the effect on the children is potentially devastating.

 

 

  1. Significant evidence has been put before me as to the risk that the children will suffer significant harm
    1. The evidence that has been placed before me comes into exactly this category. It is from a very experienced social worker, Carol Jones, who is well aware of local conditions. I also have evidence from the Guardian (albeit that she has only relatively recently been appointed in this case) and from the consultant psychiatrist, Dr D.

 

 

    1. Carol Jones says that, for reasons explained in her evidence, the family are easily identifiable. She is concerned that the community may, wrongly, feel that the family has been treated differently because of their background. She tells me that something similar happened to another family in the locality where there was a conviction for child murder. She adds that, if there is no custodial sentence, that may itself fuel resentment.

 

    1. She goes on to say that, if the application for the Reporting Restriction Order fails, the Local Authority has decided that it will have to remove the family immediately to a completely new area of the country and give them new identities. This, of itself, shows how very seriously this matter is viewed. If this happens, the children will lose the stability that has been painstakingly acquired since the tragic events of 2006 and 2007. They will also lose the consistency and security of their schools that have provided them with significant stability, notwithstanding the difficulties faced by the family. They will lose friendship groups. I accept everything that Ms Jones writes.

 

    1. The Guardian, Joanne Bamford, says that she is particularly concerned about one of the children, who is well aware of what has happened. That child has found the stress of the last few months increasingly intolerable and is exhibiting signs of anger and frustration. Ms Bamford considers exposure will have a particularly devastating impact upon that child who uses Facebook and will be exposed to what is written about the family. The child may well be bullied and threatened. There is concern as to the child’s mental health and even the possibility of self-harm or even attempted suicide. I accept all this evidence as well.

 

 

  1. As noted above, the Local Authority has prepared a Safety Plan that involves immediate relocation out of the Swansea area even before the reaction of the public is tested, so serious are the concerns. In my view, the effect of all this on the children will be nothing short of devastating. In due course, they will all know that one of their siblings has died and that another sibling was seriously injured. These events happened as a result of the actions of their Mother, who they love so much. None of this was in any way their responsibility yet they are the ones who would now suffer the most. They would have to move home and school. They would lose their friends and all that is familiar to them. They would have to change their identities. Moreover, in all likelihood, they would suffer significant vilification and abuse. Once this is all clear, it becomes immediately clear why this is such an exceptional case.

 

 

This case is a good illustration that there’s a tension between public policy and interest that people who commit crimes should be identified and their crimes reported and the privacy of children who have done nothing wrong but might face serious detriment or harm if the local community linked them to the mother who committed these crimes. It is that tension, otherwise expressed as article 10 (freedom of expression) v article 8 (right to private life) that the Court had to wrestle with.

The law as it relates to this particular case

 

    1. I have already said that, very responsibly, having considered all the evidence, the media organisations represented before me accept that this is one of those very few wholly exceptional cases in which anonymity is justified not just for the children but also for the Mother (and Father) because identifying the parents will lead to identification of the children.

 

 

    1. I agree with that assessment. I am solely concerned in this regard with the effect on the children, not the effect on their Mother but the evidence points inexorably to serious harm being done to the children if their identity was to become known. The fact that the Local Authority considers, rightly in my view, that it would have to uproot them immediately from the area where the children have lived for many years, if I was to refuse to make the Reporting Restriction Order, is clear evidence of the serious damage such exposure will do.

 

 

    1. I am, however; equally clear that I must permit reporting of anything that does not lead to the identification of the children. I must therefore assess what is likely to lead to their identification and what can safely be put in the public domain without leading to their identification. I accept the submission of the Local Authority and the parents, with which the media organisations do not dissent, that, in dealing with this area, I must consider “the jigsaw effect“. In other words, I must remember that there may be an individual piece of evidence that itself may not lead to identification but that is likely to do so if combined with other pieces of information also placed in the public domain.

 

    1. It is accepted that they would be identified if their name was known. It is for this reason that it is accepted that the Mother and Father’s names must be given anonymity as well as those of the children. I also remind myself that there may be a significant number of people who know that this family lost a baby in 2006.

 

The individual issues

    1. The first issue I had been asked to consider was whether or not to permit reference to the family’s origin. I am absolutely clear that such reporting must be prevented as was agreed by the media once they had read the further papers. Having considered the statistics relating to persons from that country living in the Swansea area, I am quite satisfied that, if any reference had been made to their origin, there would have been a likelihood of exposure.

 

    1. I will therefore now turn to deal with the areas that remain in dispute.

 

 

    1. The first issue was whether or not there could be reference to their religious faith. Again I have considered the statistics in relation to this and I have come to the clear conclusion that permitting disclosure of her religious faith would also be likely to lead to identification of the children. I therefore refuse to do so.

 

    1. I consider that it also follows that the media should not be entitled to name AZ. It certainly points to a family of their origin. I have come to the conclusion that AZ should be referred to as “A” and BZ as “B”.

 

    1. Ms Gallagher perfectly properly pointed out at the end of the submissions that the draft Reporting Restrictions Order would appear to permit the media to report how the Mother came to be in this country. The other parties were surprised by this as they had assumed that this would not be possible. I was therefore additionally asked to decide on that.

 

    1. I am particularly aware of the fact that the Z family are not living in an area where there are a significant number of people who might potentially have this background. I have come to the same conclusion in relation to this aspect. In other words, I consider that permitting disclosure would run too high a risk of identification.

 

    1. Finally, there is the question of the composition of the family. I consider that very different considerations apply here although I am still concerned about naming the exact number of the children. To do so would immediately show that this is a family with a particular number of surviving children plus one deceased in 2006. I do not believe there are likely to be many families in the Swansea area in that category and certainly not where they live. It therefore follows that I consider it would be to run too high a risk to permit naming of the number of the children.

 

  1. I do not, however, see that there is any reason to prevent reporting that the parents are separated. Indeed, it would be surprising if they were not. Equally, I consider there is no reason to prevent the media saying that there is more than one surviving sibling and that they see their Mother. Further, I consider that it is appropriate to report, if the media wishes to do so, that, since the institution of care proceedings, her care of them when with her has, at all times, been exemplary.

 

[This latter bit explains the earlier suggestions about how giving much of the family's background would easily identify them - let's pretend for hypothesis sake that they are Martians, and have green skin and surnames like M'Hxtelkraw, and you can then see what is being hinted at, and also the talk of 'how the family entered the country' makes sense of the earlier suggestion that the local community might, wrongly, feel that they had been treated differently because of their background]

 

The Press were very responsible in this case – reading between the lines, this would be a very newsworthy story, particularly for the more erm… ‘traditional’ newspapers for whom the story would have pursued several agendas, but they recognised and accepted the balance between the children’s welfare and running a juicy story.

An important unimportant judgment

I believe that Re A, B and C (Children) 2014 is the first judgment to be published and made available online despite not having any significance or importance in and of itself. It is not a precedent for anything, it does not raise any unusual or interesting areas of law, nobody is likely to ever cite it in a skeleton argument or a legal article. But it seems to me to be the first, so it has some degree of novelty and importance despite itself.  [I could be wrong, it might just be the first one that has flitted over my radar, but I have been keeping an eye out]

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/Misc/2014/2.html

It is a fairly short judgment, the case moved at the Issues Resolution Hearing (the hearing that the Court has once all of the evidence is in, to see if the case can be agreed or whether a full-blown final hearing is needed) from a dispute between the LA and parents on the one hand (who were saying the children should stay at home under Supervision Orders) and the Guardian who had reservations as to whether that was safe, to agreement that Supervision Orders were the right orders to make.

It might actually be more interesting for what is NOT said – whilst the name of the LA and the Guardian are up, there is no naming of the social worker  (this may not be intentional, it might just be that in such a short judgment, the social worker’s name simply did not come up).

Cases like this, where the parents work to make changes, succeed in doing so, and there’s a good outcome for the family that means the children stay at home and have a happier life than they would have had before the proceedings started, don’t often get reported – the cases that historically get reported are the ones where there’s a big fight – such a big fight that the case is either in the High Court or gets appealed. Maybe it is a good thing to see that there are cases like this, where the hard work a family does to make changes makes a difference.

Happiness writes in white ink on a white page – Henry de Montherlant

“What’s got two thumbs and just cost family justice a million pounds per year?”

My quick unscientific estimate of the cost of a transcript (I took the ones I’ve obtained in the last year and took an average, although I think my judgments are all fairly short)  £130 per case

From the CAFCASS figures on number of care proceedings issued in 2012 (april 2012-march 2013) that was 11,107

If, as a result of the President’s decision on transcripts, we obtain a transcript for each final judgment, that would cost the family justice system  £1,443,910

(yes, that’s nearly one and a half million pounds. A year.)

Now, to be fair, some of those final hearings are heard by Magistrates or District Judges, which aren’t included (at the moment) within the guidance that a transcript be obtained of each final hearing.

It is a bit tricky to work out what proportion – let’s be generous and say half. 

That still leads three quarters of a million pounds of taxpayers money.  A year. And the system isn’t getting any extra, so that’s money that has to be found from existing resources, which means £750,000 of cuts from somewhere else.

 [I don’t have the statistics on how many Court of Protection judgments there are a year, but those all have to be transcribed now too. ] 

 There’s also the harder to calculate figures  (a lawyer has to anonymise the judgment and arrange the transcription, invoices have to be drawn up and paid, everyone’s lawyer has to wrangle with the Legal Aid Agency about the costs each and every time,  the Judge has to check the judgment, someone has to arrange for the transcript to go up on Bailii, Bailii have to host probably ten thousand more family judgments a year than they are used to doing).  Oh, and of course, the basic law of economics that as demand increases about five-fold, the price is probably going to go up too.

Now, when the MoJ ran pilot schemes in five Courts, where all judgments were anonymised and published online for a year,  they calculated the administrative costs, if it were rolled out nationally to be £500,000 per year, pushing the costs back up above a million pounds.

https://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/moj/2011/family-courts-information-pilot.pdf

This pilot was hardly a glowing endorsement for rolling the scheme out nationally, as you can tell by the fact it was published in 2010 and the scheme wasn’t rolled out nationally (until the President decided to do it this year).  In fact, the conclusion was that publishing judgments online was pretty much only useful for researchers and legal commentators; and that journalists and the parties didn’t think it had much value.  One of the few positives (because the transcripts were paid for by the Court) was Local Authorities who were pleased to be getting anonymised transcripts.

The tenor of the recommendations was that the statistical analysis of overall trends was far more useful, and to keep publishing anonymised judgments limited to either cases that had a value as a precedent or where one of the parties specifically sought publication.

 If you don’t want to read the full report on the pilot, then there’s a reasonable summary here:-

 http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed85957

 Now, I’m not saying that transparency isn’t a good thing – I think that it is. Maybe it is a good enough thing to be paying over a million pounds a year for even in our straitened times of cuts and belt-tightening. I’d just like to see the cost-benefit analysis that shows that to do it this way is worthwhile, because the pilot study doesn’t.

[See also David Burrows excellent analysis of the fact that making the decision on an individual case to publish a judgment still requires an actual judicial balancing of article 10 and article 8

http://dbfamilylaw.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/guidance-from-the-president-of-the-family-division-on-publication-of-judgements/
 
If you think I'm a stroppy swine, you need to read a bit of David's blog. He's only been doing it a week and he's already threatened two judicial reviews.... The spirit of John Osborne is lurking nearby, taking notes for a new play named "Angrier Less-Young Man"]

“You can’t see me”

Withholding documents in Court proceedings from a party, and documents being shown to that party’s lawyer

 RC v CC and Another 2014

 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/COP/2014/131.html

 This is a Court of Protection case, but has wider implications (in fact, it imports a lot of the principles established in care proceedings into Court of Protection cases)

 It does sometimes (but only very rarely) happen within court proceedings that there is a document, or something within a document that might be problematic for one of the parties to see. In those circumstances, the Court have to decide whether the reason for keeping it from that party are sufficiently strong to interfere with the usual principle that a party gets to see all of the evidence against them.

 

It is absolutely right that the test for keeping evidence secret from one party is a very very very high one. It does very little good for the perception of fairness and equality in Courts if things are kept away from a party.

This is a very rare course of events – I’ve come across it twice in nearly twenty years of practice. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the parent is entitled to see all of the evidence, and to ask for whatever documents or disclosure that they or their lawyers think is fit. It is also worth noting that even in these rare cases where a piece of evidence is determined by a Judge that the parent should NOT see it, the process itself ought to be transparent  (i.e that the parent knows that SOMETHING is being kept back, they just don’t know what it is).

 

In this case, which was an appeal heard by the President, a birth mother had been applying for contact with her daughter who had been adopted. There were circumstances that led to that being a Court of Protection case. There were three pieces of social work evidence which the Local Authority had argued ought not to be seen by the mother (though they were seen by the Judge) and the Judge ordered that they were not to be disclosed.

 

The President accepted the appeal, for reasons set out below, and sent the case back to the original judge for reconsideration. The President was able to confirm that the principles which govern non-disclosure of documents to a party in care proceedings applied equally to Court of Protection cases.

 The original Court had properly identified the tests to be followed (and they are all helpfully set out within the judgment)

 

  1. How is the jurisdiction to be exercised? I return to what Lord Mustill said in In re D (Minors) (Adoption Reports: Confidentiality) [1996] AC 593, page 615:

“Non-disclosure should be the exception and not the rule. The court should be rigorous in its examination of the risk and gravity of the feared harm to the child, and should order nondisclosure only when the case for doing so is compelling.”

  1. In Re B (Disclosure to Other Parties) [2001] 2 FLR 1017, having examined a number of both domestic and Strasbourg authorities, I concluded my judgment as follows (para 89):

“Although, as I have acknowledged, the class of cases in which it may be appropriate to restrict a litigant’s access to documents is somewhat wider than has hitherto been recognised, it remains the fact, in my judgment, that such cases will remain very much the exception and not the rule. It remains the fact that all such cases require the most anxious, rigorous and vigilant scrutiny. It is for those who seek to restrain the disclosure of papers to a litigant to make good their claim and to demonstrate with precision exactly which documents or classes of documents require to be withheld. The burden on them is a heavy one. Only if the case for non-disclosure is convincingly and compellingly demonstrated will an order be made. No such order should be made unless the situation imperatively demands it. No such order should extend any further than is necessary. The test, at the end of the day, is one of strict necessity. In most cases the needs of a fair trial will demand that there be no restrictions on disclosure. Even if a case for restrictions is made out, the restrictions must go no further than is strictly necessary.”

As I pointed out in Dunn v Durham County Council [2012] EWCA Civ 1654, [2013] 1 WLR 2305, para 46, this approach, so far as I am aware, has never been challenged and has often been followed.

  1. Dunn v Durham County Council is in fact clear authority (see paras 23, 24 and 26) that the test is, indeed, one of “strict necessity”, what is “strictly necessary”.
  1. In a case such as this the crucial factor is, as we have seen from the passage in the speech of Lord Mustill in In re D, page 615, which I have already quoted, the potential harm to the child. Lord Mustill summarised the proper approach as follows:

“the court should first consider whether disclosure of the material would involve a real possibility of significant harm to the child.

… If it would, the court should next consider whether the overall interests of the child would benefit from non-disclosure, weighing on the one hand the interest of the child in having the material properly tested, and on the other both the magnitude of the risk that harm will occur and the gravity of the harm if it does occur.

… If the court is satisfied that the interests of the child point towards non-disclosure, the next and final step is for the court to weigh that consideration, and its strength in the circumstances of the case, against the interest of the parent or other party in having an opportunity to see and respond to the material. In the latter regard the court should take into account the importance of the material to the issues in the case.”

  1. Before leaving this part of the case, there are two further points to be noted. The first is that, as I put it in Dunn v Durham County Council (para 50):

“disclosure is never a simply binary question: yes or no. There may be circumstances … where a proper evaluation and weighing of the various interests will lead to the conclusion that (i) there should be disclosure but (ii) the disclosure needs to be subject to safeguards. For example, safeguards limiting the use that may be made of the documents and, in particular, safeguards designed to ensure that the release into the public domain of intensely personal information about third parties is strictly limited and permitted only if it has first been anonymised.”

To the same effect, Maurice Kay LJ said (para 23) that:

“in some cases the balance may need to be struck by a limited or restricted order which respects a protected interest by such things as redaction, confidentiality rings, anonymity in the proceedings or other such order. Again, the limitation or restriction must satisfy the test of strict necessity.”

  1. A related point, often commented on in the authorities, is that the position initially arrived at is never set in stone and that it may be appropriate to proceed one step at a time. This is not the occasion to discuss this in any detail. I merely draw attention, as examples, to what was said by Hale LJ, as she then was, in Re X (Adoption: Confidential Procedure) [2002] EWCA Civ 828, [2002] 2 FLR 476, para 28, and, most recently, by Baroness Hale JSC in In re A (A Child) (Family Proceedings: Disclosure of Information) [2012] UKSC 60, [2012] 3 WLR 1484, para 36.
  1. Thus far, as will be appreciated, the authorities to which I have referred have mainly related to children. Do the same principles apply in cases in the Court of Protection relating to adults? To that question there can, in my judgment, be only one sensible answer: they do.

 

 

Part of the appeal was that although the original judge had drawn his attention to those authorities and the test, in the discussion passages of his judgment it appeared that he had reversed the test and begun talking of there being no strong reason why the mother needed to see the documents  (as can be seen from the above guidance, the test is the opposite – it has to be demonstrated why it is necessary that she SHOULD NOT see them)

 

  1. First, Mr Fullwood submits that Judge Cardinal misdirected himself, failing in fact to apply the law as he had summarised it. He points to the passages I have set out in paragraph 34 above where Judge Cardinal says “I do not consider that RC needs to see the social work evidence” and, again, “I do not take the view at this stage that it is necessary for the … social worker’s evidence … to be disclosed”, submitting that this is to put the point the wrong way round. The question, he submits, and I agree, is not, is it necessary for RC to see the documents? The question is whether it is necessary (in CC’s interests) that RC does not see the documents. Now particular phrases in a judgment are not to be torn out of context. The judgment must be read as a whole, giving it a fair and sensible reading, not a pedantic or nit-picking reading. Are these particular passages on which Mr Fullwood fastens, passages which taken on their own are wrong, saved by the rest of the judgment and, in particular, by Judge Cardinal’s concluding summary quoted in paragraph 25 above? I cannot be confident.
  1. Second, Mr Fullwood submits that in any event Judge Cardinal has given inadequate and unsustainable reasons to justify his conclusion. There are a number of points here. There is no differentiation between the obvious necessity to prevent the disclosure of anything that might lead to CC being identified or traced by RC and the far less obvious necessity to restrict RC’s access to other personal information about CC. It is surprising, even allowing for what Judge Cardinal says are the difficulties in redacting the material, that it is necessary that nothing in the three witness statements should be disclosed. After all, a large amount of sensitive personal information about CC was disclosed to RC in the redacted psychologist’s report. What is it about all the information that makes it necessary not to disclose it? And how does this square with the fact that Judge Cardinal thought that RC’s counsel should be able to see it? It may be that, with fuller explanation, Judge Cardinal’s decision could be sustained, but as it stands it provides inadequate justification for such a drastic restriction of what RC can see.
  1. Mr Fullwood’s third complaint is that Judge Cardinal has in effect introduced a closed material procedure, which, he says, was inappropriate in this particular case and is in any event, as a matter of general principle, inappropriate in the Court of Protection. I am not sure that it is helpful to categorise what Judge Cardinal did here as a closed material procedure as that expression is more generally understood. I take him to have been doing no more than has been hallowed by long practice in these cases and now has the weighty imprimatur of Baroness Hale. Whether, on the other hand, it was appropriate in this case is another matter. I have already alluded to the deficiencies in Judge Cardinal’s reasoning. But there is another point. As Moses LJ made clear, this is a process dependent upon counsel’s agreement – an agreement which counsel for the reasons given by Moses LJ may feel unable to give and which in any event the instructions from his lay client may prevent him giving. Judge Cardinal does not seem to have explored these aspects of the matter. Nor, for that matter, does he consider other possible solutions: allowing RC to read, but not to borrow or copy, suitably redacted copies of the documents, or directing that there be disclosure to her of a document setting out the gist of what is being said by the social workers.

Conclusion

  1. In the circumstances I am persuaded that the appeal should be allowed to the extent of setting aside those parts of Judge Cardinal’s order which relate to the three social worker statements. Counsel were agreed that in this event the matter should be returned to Judge Cardinal to reconsider his decision and judgment in the light of this judgment

 

 

The other matter of interest was that the original Court had ordered that the documents in question could be seen by mother’s legal team (presumably to reassure themselves that there was not a “smoking gun” being kept back from them) but on the basis that the documents or their contents were not to be shared with the mother.

 

That puts the lawyers in a difficult spot, and the President makes it plain that such an arrangement

 

(a)   can only happen with the agreement of the legal team and not be imposed upon them, and

(b)   they can only agree if they have instructions to do so, and

(c)   They can only agree if they are satisfied that they can do so without any damage to their client’s interests (which is, of course, bloody difficult when they don’t know what might be contained in those documents)

 

  1. It is apparent from Official Solicitor to the Supreme Court v K and Another [1965] AC 201 that disclosure limited to a party’s legal representatives was already by then a recognised practice in wardship. It is mentioned by Sir Nicholas Wall P in A County Council v SB, MA and AA [2010] EWHC 2528 (Fam) , [2011] 1 FLR 651, para 37. There can be no doubt as to the legality of the practice: see, for example, R (Mohammed) v The Secretary of State for Defence [2012] EWHC 3454 (Admin). But there are obviously potential difficulties, some identified in a characteristically thoughtful discussion in the June 2013 issue of the Thirty Nine Essex Street Court of Protection Newsletter of Judge Cardinal’s judgment in this case.
  1. Importantly, such disclosure cannot take place without the consent of the lawyers to whom the disclosure is to be made; and they may find themselves, for reasons they may be unable to communicate to the court, unable to give such consent. Moreover, they cannot consent unless satisfied that they can do so without damage to their client’s interests. As Moses LJ said in Mohammed (para 28):

“The free and unencumbered ability to give and receive instructions is an important facet of open and fair trials. That ability is hampered if in some respects the lawyer is unable to disclose all the relevant evidence and material and, in that respect, the client is deprived of the opportunity to give informed instructions. But the degree to which that is of importance will vary from case to case. No lawyers should consent to such a ring unless they are satisfied they can do so without harming their client’s case. But provided the legal advisers are satisfied they can safely continue to act under a restriction, the inability to communicate fully with the client will not in such circumstances undermine the fundamental principles on which a fair application for judicial review depends.”

 

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