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Fax it up, m’lord

 

I was listening to Radio Five this morning, to a debate on the NHS and at one stage an expert told the listeners that the NHS was far too behind in modern technology – by way of disparaging illustration he said “Most GP’s are still using faxes, for goodness sake”

Which reminded me of the apocryphal story of the High Court Judge sitting in a Court far away from London, reaching the end of the case and realising that he has left all of his notes and preparation for delivery of his imminent judgment back at his London home. He mentions this dilemma, and someone helpfully suggests, “Fax it up, m’lord”  – to which the Judge sadly responds, “yes, I’m afraid it rather does”

And that led me to think that anyone who began practicing law in the last ten years would probably not understand that joke.  We have a fax machine in our office, but I can’t remember the last time anyone used it in anger. All that I ever see come out of it are single page spam adverts – invariably telling us that if we have had an accident in the workplace, we could get compensation – hugely informative stuff of that type.

When I first started working in law, which was a long time ago, I was at the beck and call of the fax machine. I don’t know that I want to give precise dates, but by way of indication my Local Authority was using a junior barrister named Cherie Booth and we were dimly aware that her husband was an MP but had no idea who he was.

 

The fax machine and I were very close. Our first version had no programmable numbers, you had to dial them all manually. And it didn’t use ordinary paper, but some horrid shiny stuff akin to the toilet paper in schools at the time (and possibly prisons now).  When we received our evidence, we had to fax this out. It had to go to the Court, to three firms of solicitors (mum, dad, Guardian) and to our counsel. So each piece of final evidence, I, as the junior dogsbody, had to fax out five times. I was junior dogsbody for eight lawyers at the time, so there was a LOT of final evidence, most of it having to be sent out on a Friday afternoon.

And the fax couldn’t send and receive at the same time, so if we had one lawyer with evidence ready to go out, and another waiting to receive the faxed copy from the social worker, that would be a juggling act with the social services dogsbody and I on telephones “Can I start sending it now?”  “Just wait, ten seconds… oh damn, the one to Thimbleby Fisher has jammed again”

If you aren’t old, like me – for example, my colleague Gimson, who does not believe me that we didn’t always have stuff on television whenever you turned it on and that for about five years daytime television consisted of Pebble Mill then three hours of “Pages from Ceefax”, it probably seems ridiculous to think that I was spending close to eight hours a week doing nothing other than feeding paper into a fax machine and swearing copiously when two pages went through at once.  I had to do this, because there was no way of sending these documents from one computer to another.

The social worker would write their statement out by hand, take it to a typing pool, a typist would type it up, the social worker would give it to the social services dogsbody, they’d fax it to me, I’d take it to the lawyer who would check it. If it was okay, then I would fax it out to everyone.  And then when they got it, which would often be at about seven pm, because I’d be doing this for eight cases on a Friday, they’d have to fax it out to their counsel.

And as archaic and dreadful as that sounds – this was an improvement. This was cutting edge tech – it was instantaneous compared to the system that had been around before I started, when you’d be DX-ing or posting it out and it would arrive a day or two later – usually just after you’d left for Court on the case you needed the document on.

None of us had computers on our desks – I remember that coming in, and many of the lawyers being mortified that this was taking up space on their desk where their files and notes would have been. When we finally got email, it meant that we no longer had to have the social work statements faxed to us, and that we could make changes and amendments to documents without having to get a typist to do it.   (It also ended one of the other curiousities, which was that I was keeping an index for all of those cases, which I was doing by making handwritten annotations to the typed index as new documents came in, and then getting it typed about once a month – if the case was going wrong, I’d be squeezing more and more annotations into a tiny space).

But we still couldn’t send documents out by email, because most of the other solicitors didn’t have it straight away.

I can’t really imagine doing the job now without a computer, being able to see a document and edit it and perfect it and send it back and forth until it is just right, then simply send it out to everyone who needs to see it in a task that takes less than 30 seconds when it used to take an afternoon. I can’t really now, even after such a short time, really get straight in my mind what it was like to only be able to look at your emails if you were sitting at your desk – to not be able to read them on the way to Court or whilst waiting for Facts and Reasons. And that’s a change of only the last four years or so.

The really odd thing of course, is that without blackberries, and email, and computers, and word processing – without even photocopiers, the lawyers in the early days of the Children Act got all this done – and they actually did it in shorter timescales and with less delays than we manage now with all of our assistance. That’s rather like learning that Formula One cars in the 1930s were faster than modern ones (they weren’t)

I wonder what is coming in the next few years, and how it will make our lives easier, but how as Parkinson’s Law shows us, work expands to fill the time available to do it.

I’ve been reading a book called Future Crimes, by Marc Goodman, which is about incredible advances in technology and the opportunities that these bring, and also the threats that they may pose. It isn’t an alarmist book – every story that the writer tells, he is able to show a real-life example where this has happened (often where hackers are demonstrating weakness in things like GPS, drone missiles, pacemakers, hearing aids, central heating controls, by hacking them and taking them over as proof of concept).  It was a great read, and frankly I could devote the blog for the next month to quoting you individual stories from it – there’s something astonishing on every page. (Paypal’s privacy policy contains more words than Hamlet… how one hacked tweet knocked 20% off stock prices in America for a morning, allowing the hackers to profit by shorting stocks, Target emailing a 14 year old with discount vouchers for maternity items leading to her father writing them an angry letter only to send another one two days later  saying that unknown to him she was pregnant – Target’s shopping algorithm knew she was pregnant based on purchases of things like unscented moisturiser before the girl herself even knew)

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Future-Crimes-journey-technology-survive/dp/0593073657/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1429206768&sr=8-1&keywords=future+crimes

A heartbreaking case of staggering genius

 

It isn’t really heartbreaking – when you read about how two people are arguing about how to divide a fortune of £144 million it stirs up the expression ‘my heart bleeds’, but it is a case where Holman J tackles the word ‘genius’   – and his approach interested me.

Gray v Work 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/834.html

 

It so happens that I agree with Holman J that the word is massively overused.  Just as a quick random sampling – 458,000 hits for “wayne rooney genius” and 35 million for ‘george north genius’  – both of whom are exceptionally talented and gifted sportsmen, but they aren’t geniuses  (geni-ii?)

  1. Paragraph 80 of Charman, excerpted in paragraph (vi) above, is one of several authorities that employ the word “genius”. It appears also in Lambert, and very recently in Cooper-Hohn, and in other authorities in which the court has debated whether the person claiming a special contribution possesses the quality of “genius.” I personally find that a difficult, and perhaps unhelpful, word in this context. To my mind, the word “genius” tends to be over-used and is properly reserved for Leonardo Da Vinci, Mozart, Einstein, and others like them. It may lead, as it did in this case, to the rather crude question to (in this case) the husband: “You don’t describe yourself as a genius, do you?” Not surprisingly, the husband, like any person with a modicum of modesty, was rather nonplussed by the question. Oscar Wilde is famously said to have declared that he had nothing to declare but his genius. More modest, even if exceptionally talented, people may be slow to make such a claim.
  2. What I understand is meant by the word “genius” in this context, and what is required for a claim to a special contribution to succeed, is some “exceptional and individual quality which deserves special treatment.” See Charman at paragraph 80. But the fact that judges have used the word “genius” in this context does tend to underline how exceptional, individual and special the quality has to be.
  3. It is clear from the above propositions and the outcome in other cases that hard work alone is not enough. Many people work extremely hard at every level of society and employment. Hard work alone lacks the necessary quality of exceptionality. Further, to attach special weight to hard work in employment risks undervaluing in a highly discriminatory way the hard work involved in running a home and rearing children.
  4. It is clear also that a successful claim to a special contribution requires some exceptional and individual quality in the spouse concerned. Being in the right place at the right time, or benefiting from a period of boom is not enough. It may one day fall for consideration whether a very highly paid footballer, who is very good at his job but may be no more skilful that past greats, such as Stanley Matthews or Bobby Charlton, makes a special contribution or is merely the lucky beneficiary of the colossal payments now made possible by the sale of television rights.

 

[I think personally I would go with Da Vinci, Mozart, Darwin and Einstein, and I don’t tend to use genius for anyone else – I know that my definition is narrow. {I wrestled with including Orwell, but had to finally conclude that this would open the door to too many others. If Sherlock Holmes had been a real person, would he have been a genius? Just short, I think.}  It would be a definition which means that the special contribution ancillary relief test would not be met for anyone, were I deciding it, since those four men are long gone. And actually it conflicts with the second definition in the dictionary

an exceptionally intelligent person or one with exceptional skill in a particular area of activity.  So in the unlikely event that I was sitting on the Court of Appeal, I would overrule my own definition as being wrong…]
The other issue of general application relates to the ever popular (and I use ‘popular’ here to mean ‘hatefully recurring and more difficult to ignore than one would ideally like’ as in “One Direction are a very popular band”) theme of excessively large bundles
  1. The parties have spent approaching £3,000,000 on legal fees and associated expenditure. For that, you get very high quality legal teams, and each of them has been very well represented, but it does not appear to have facilitated a conciliatory outcome to this case.
  2. Further, some of the spending has been, in my view, profligate and unnecessary. Ordinary people litigating in the family courts about very serious issues, such as whether their children should be adopted or returned from care or whether life support of a child should be maintained or ended, do not have the luxury of, nor, frankly, the need for, two shorthand writers in court throughout the hearing, producing overnight transcripts to which negligible reference was later made. It is an extravagance. Whilst it was a privilege to hear from two Texan matrimonial lawyers, I do not think the cost of their travel and attendance was justifiable or necessary.
  3. The bundles were excessive and proved inconvenient for me, for witnesses who struggled with them in the witness box, and at least at one stage for Mr Howard QC. At one point we had the absurdity of going to one bundle for a letter and another bundle for the reply. There was a pre-trial hearing before a circuit judge on 3rd December 2014. He had no other involvement in the case either before or after that day. Amongst many other directions, he did formally give “permission for the trial bundle to be extended to six lever arch files…” I asked Mr Tim Bishop QC, who appeared on behalf of the wife, and who was present on 3rd December 2014, whether the circuit judge had exercised his own independent discretion in agreeing to six bundles, or whether he had been seduced by counsel. Mr Bishop immediately and frankly said that the judge had been seduced by counsel and that it was not an independent assessment by the judge. It was rubber stamped. This is not how the very important Practice Direction 27A is intended to be applied. Further, the cardinal and over arching words of the practice direction are the opening words of paragraph 4.1: “The bundle shall contain copies of only those documents which are relevant to the hearing and which it is necessary for the court to read or which will actually be referred to during the hearing …” However many bundles the court may authorise, there should be no document within them which does not fall within that rubric in paragraph 4.1. I have not kept a tally in the present case, but I am confident that the total number of documents read or referred to is less than half the total of well over two thousand pages assembled in the bundles.
  4. In his judgment in L (a child) [2015] EWFC 15, handed down last week, the President of the Family Division has given due and crystal clear warning that these excesses will no longer be tolerated. What I wish to emphasise is that although that judgment related to care proceedings, every single word of the relevant part of it applies no less, and arguably more, to financial remedy proceedings.

I did rather like the language of whether in agreeing that there should be six bundles in the case, the Judge had been ‘seduced by counsel’.

I’m not sure that seduction efforts that involve allowing a Judge to permit additional lever arch files into evidence is going to be a subject matter that would particularly tempt Hollywood into incorporating it into Rom-coms, and probably it will be a while before my huge rollercoaster of a script “Pride and Pagination” gets picked up by Hugh Grant, but a man can dream.    [My action-ancillary-adventure movie starring Matt Damon  “The Besterman Cushion” is in post-production, so there’s that]

[I would have to say that having a letter in one bundle and the reply to that letter in a different one is fairly illustrative of things having gotten completely out of hand]

It is different counsel who later on posits that in the list of assets that the wife has suggested should be transferred to her contains some ‘duffs’ as well as ‘plums’  – I don’t think I am anywhere near well-bred enough to ever get away with using it; but I still liked it.

  1. The wife and her legal team have attempted to avoid the dispute as to discounts by proposing what they call Wells v Wells sharing. They have identified about 24 assets in the asset schedule which they suggest should be transferred in whole or in part to the wife, inclusive of any inherent discount. Whilst I welcome and appreciate their desire to minimise costs and potential further litigation, I am unable to accept that proposal. The present hearing has been largely occupied with the evidence and argument as to the two issues of the agreement and of special contribution. There simply has not been time, in the time estimated and allotted for this hearing, to hear either evidence or argument as to discounts.
  2. Mr Bishop says that their proposed Wells v Wells sharing list contains “duffs” as well as “plums”. But that is mere assertion. I am simply unable to engage judicially in consideration of discounts, save on an item by item basis, upon which the court would need to hear both evidence and argument.

The case is well worth a read if you do ancillary relief, or enjoy watching very well paid lawyers squabble about millionaire’s money. The husband clearly had cojones that would have been setting off the security metal detector given that they began with an offer that was 2% to the wife, 98% to the husband and over the course of the hearing shifted that.

Very sensible, to shift.

But probably not from 2% to 0%.

The wife ended up with 50%  – which one might have thought was a result that one could have guessed at without spending three million on lawyers, but I suppose if you thought you could get away with 98% of the assets it was worth a punt.

 

Yet another of those big money cases that ate up precious High Court time, for a very small fee. I do wonder if the time has come for the Court to get a percentage of the assets in dispute where one is dealing with sums over twenty five million. The ancillary relief Court fee of £255 is not touching the sides of what these cases are actually costing the taxpayer.

350 pages – a historical precedent

 

It is my duty as a lawyer to disclose the existence of material which may aid the other side or may harm my own case. So even as an active opponent of Practice Direction 27’s descent into “Micromanaging whilst Rome burns”,  when I come across a historical precedent that not only aids the President but provides a terrifying punishment, I’m afraid that I have to share it.

 

This comes courtesy of Lowering the Bar

The chancellors of those days were busy administrators who would stand no academic nonsense: Lord Chancellor Ellesmere in the reign of James I ordered that the Warden of the Fleet should lay hold on an equity pleader who had drawn a replication of 120 pages where 16 would have done, “and shall bring him unto Westminister Hall … and there and then shall cut a hole in the middle of the same engrossed replication … and put the said Richard’s head through the same hole … and shall show him at the bar of every of the three courts within the Hall.”

Alan Harding, A Social History of English Law (1966)

 

Doing a quick search, the case referred to is Mylward v Weldon 1596 and is actually true, not made up.

In a reported case, Mylward v Weldon (1596) Tothill 102, 21 ER 136; [1595] EWHC Ch 1, it is stated that in 1595 the son of a litigant (the report does not say whether the miscreant was a barrister) produced a pleading (a replication, ie reply) of “six score sheets of paper” which the Lord Keeper deemed could have been “well contrived” in 16 sheets. The Lord Keeper (Egerton) ordered that the miscreant be imprisoned in the Fleet until he paid a fine of £10 (a huge sum) to Her Majesty and 20 nobles to the defendant. In addition the Lord Keeper ordered: “…that the Warden of the Fleet shall take the said Richard Mylward… and shall bring him into Westminster Hall on Saturday next, about ten of the clock in the forenoon and then and there shall cut a hole in the myddest of the same engrossed replication…and put the said Richard’s head through the same hole and so let the same replication hang about his shoulders with the written side outward; and then, the same so hanging, shall lead the same Richard, bare headed and bare faced, round about Westminster Hall, whilst the Courts are sitting and shall shew him at the bar of every of the three Courts within the Hall and shall then take him back to the Fleet…”

 

So perhaps we will find the streets of London choked with local authority lawyers walking around with their heads through ruffs/sandwich boards of their own bundles.

In the case being dealt with by Lowering the Bar http://www.loweringthebar.net/2015/03/judge-criticizes-behemoth-pleadings-.html

Here are some words & phrases that you really don’t want a judge to apply to anything you file:

  • sprawling
  • behemoth
  • surplusage
  • larded with
  • brims with
  • masquerading as
  • voluminous
  • breathtaking
  • madness
  • chokes the docket
  • intended to overwhelm
  • labyrinthian prolixity of unrelated and vituperative charges that defy comprehension
  • sanctions

U.S. District Judge William Pauley used all of those on March 24 in this order, although that list combines objections he directed at both parties. Saying the case exemplified a “troubling trend toward prolixity in pleading,” he did rule on the motion to dismiss that was before him but made it clear he wasn’t putting up with any more of this.

 

 

[I must confess that most of these I’ve never heard of, though I got the sense of it from ‘masquerading as’ ]

Easiest legal exam ever

 

Following the passing of the Aleister Crowley Act 1899, worked by strange and curious Magicks,  law exams became ludicrously easy, which is partially what led to him being dubbed the wickedest man in the world.  Every other piece of statute, regulation, common law, bye law and royal prerogative fell by the wayside, to be replaced in totality by Crowley’s pithy new legislation.

If only our beloved Lord Chancellor had been around at the time, he might have acquired his law degree.

 

Sadly, the passing of the Aleister Crowley Act 1899 led to the complete collapse of the criminal justice system, and distinct difficulties in maintaining individual safety, property and inheritance rights and public order.

As Crowley’s fellow dabbler in the occult later recalled “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world/ the blood dimmed tide is loosed”  and a major restructure of legislation was called for. Crowley’s Act was repealed, the old legislation given a dusty kiss of life and these days, barely anyone knows that there was ever an interregnum period when the sole piece of legislation in England was Crowley’s Act.

These days, you will not find a copy of the Act in any place, not in the British museum, or in any volume of Halsbury’s Statutes.  As the Court of Criminal Appeal observed in Rex v Haddock 1924*, speaking about Mr Justice Mumble, whose judgments they had read with dilligence and something approaching to nausea “it were better that a millstone should be hanged round his neck and he be cast into the uttermost depths of the sea”  – which is precisely what happened with all extant copies of Crowley’s Act (and indeed the very limited amount of case law precedent making use of it)

 

 

Here is the 1901 law degree exam in full

 

Question 1.  Is ‘do what thou wilt’  ?

 

(a) None of the law

(b) The Whole of the law

(c) A part of the law

 

[By the way, if anyone ever tells you that ‘possession is nine-tenths of the law’, be aware that writing ‘possession’ for every answer is very unlikely to give you a 90% mark in the exam]

 

*If you are not presently familiar with Rex v Haddock, then I have a treat for you. A proper writer on the subject of law, A P Herbert.

http://surelysomemistake.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/r-v-haddock-is-it-free-country.html

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

I know that some of my commenters have been interested in this in the past, and in particular the curious half-way house that the UK finds itself in with the UN Convention.  We recognise it in our law, but don’t consider ourselves to be bound by it.  The Government has agreed to take it into account when formulating policy but there isn’t a cause of action that a person can take to Court to say “I think X has acted in breach of the UN Convention”

 

That came into very sharp focus in the Supreme Court’s decision as to whether the Government’s policy on a cap on welfare benefits was discriminatory and in contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – since children of parents who were (a) on benefits and (b) had large families were going to find themselves poorer through no fault of their own.  Had the UN Convention been a formal part of English law, what was a knife-edge decision that the policy wasn’t discriminatory might easily have gone the other way.

 

[When I say knife-edge, I’m not kidding. It was 2-2, and the Judge who made the fifth judgment had gone the other way in his original decision, but changed his opinion when he saw the other draft judgments. It honestly could not have been closer]

 

See the excellent summary in UK Human Rights blog, which I couldn’t hope to match.

http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2015/03/19/supreme-court-splits-the-baby-over-the-benefit-cap-mike-spencer/

 

And the other newsworthy item on the UN Convention is the Parliamentary report on the UK’s compliance with the UN Convention here :-

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/system/redactor_assets/documents/2799/UK_s_compliance_with_the_UN_Convention_on_the_Rights_of_the_Child.pdf

summarised very well by the people at Jordan’s Family Law here

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/uk-s-commitment-to-children-s-rights-doesn-t-go-far-enough#.VRFUtfmsUXw

 

The Report also points to areas, such as immigration, legal aid and children in custody, where some policy developments have actually worked against the best interests of children, despite the Government’s specific commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) made in December 2010.

The Committee expresses its disappointment that, during the current period of austerity, children – particularly disadvantaged children – have in certain areas suffered disproportionately, and concludes that the Government’s statutory duty to eliminate child poverty by 2020 should be treated as a human rights issue.

The Committee also states that the Government should move to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UNCRC which would allow children in the UK the right to individual petition to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in the same way that applies under the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

 

 

 

I can tell you rock, I can tell by your charm

Memo from Shirley Crabtree to Mr Micklewhite, matrimonial partner at Morris, Micklewhite &Co

 

Mr Micklewhite

 

I wonder if you could cast your eye over this draft pre-nuptial agreement I have prepared on Mr West’s very specific instructions (very very specific). It is somewhat unorthodox, and I remember that you dealt with Tammy Wynette on her divorce and that you had to spell everything out for her, so I think your view would be helpful

 

Pre-nuptial agreement between Mr West and (unnamed woman)

 

In this document Mr West shall be referred to as Mr West  (or Jee-zus) and (unnamed woman) shall be referred to as GD (short for Girlfriend Delightful)

 

WHEREAS

 

Mr West acknowledges that whilst no one man should have all that power, he in fact does

He acknowledges that he is not saying that GD is a gold digger

He acknowledges that when he met GD she had assets of her own (to whit a baby Louis Vitton under her underarm)

GD acknowledges that she aint’s messing with a broke gentleman of African American ethnicity

GD acknowledges that if she ever sees Mr West on TV, on any given sunday, if he wins the superbowl he will not be driving home in a Hyundai

GD acknowledges that she is NOT a hobbit and that should any later assessment demonstrate that the GD is a hobbit, this agreement shall be void, and the “You stole Fizzing Lifting Lemonade, you get Nothing” clause shall take effect

 

This agreement shall commence when each party declares that they aren’t a punk and holler the words “We want pre-nup”

It shall last until Mr West decides that the relationship is over, unless a baby has been concieved during the relationship. In which case the duration of the agreement will be for eighteeen years (“eighteen years”)

 

The parties agree

 

1. In the event that GD has one of Mr West’s children, then 18 years, he will give her money for 18 years. The sum of money shall be no trifling sum indeed  (I have advised specificity in this clause but to no avail)

2. Mr West retains naming rights for the child – if this influences any decision by GD to conceive, his choices of names are “North” “Northbynorth” “String” and “Mymommaisagolddigga”

3. In relation to the money that Mr West gives the GD when she is in need, she MAY spend the money on TYCO (or other toys) for the child, and for sundries of her own.

4. She MAY NOT spend the money on the following:-

(a) She may NOT get lipo with his money

(b) She may NOT walk around looking like Michael with his money

(c) She may NOT purchase insurance from Geico with his money

(d) As his babymomma, her car crib must not be bigger than his   [I believe that Mr West means that she must not, as the mother of his child, have a larger garage than him, but his wording was most specific]

 

5. GD agrees never to ask Mr West whether he likes fishsticks.

 

[Next week, Shirley cross examines Destiny’s Child on previously inconsistent statements vis-a-vis  “Independent Woman” and “Bills bills bills”]

 

 

[Hobbit reference]  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EnE36Y55cQw

 

[Fishsticks] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRLyxjZtkzY

 

[Fizzy lifting lemonade]  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSQNl4V_R88

Let’s not bring politics into it

The case Re A and B (Prohibited Steps Order at Dispute Resolution Appointment) 2015 might have one of the dullest names concievable, but I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t become rather newsworthy.  Wizardpc (regular commentator – you’re going to want to read this one)

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed143473

Why?

Because fresh on the heels of the President of the Family Division telling us all that there’s nothing wrong with a father belonging to the English Defence League, we have a family Judge banning a UKIP Parliamentary candidate from bringing his children to election rallies. [And another family Judge overturning that on appeal]

It is a short judgment, so before anyone’s knees jerk too much, let’s all read it first.

The children are both under 10, this is an appeal from a decision of the District Judge in private law proceedings to make this order:-

i) By way of preamble, that the court held the view that it is inappropriate for young children to be actively engaged in political activities as they may be emotionally damaged by potentially hostile reactions from members of the public;

ii) By way of order, that neither parent is to involve the two youngest children actively in any political activity.

 

 

There were three older children who were not subject to these stipulations.

As a matter of law, can the Court do that? Well, section 11 of the Children Act allows the Court to set conditions about contact / time spent with a parent, and the powers are broad, or as here, a Prohibited Steps Order, where one parent can ask that another be prevented from doing something particular (almost anything) with their child – so long as they meet these three criteria

Is it a necessary and proportionate interference with article 8 right to family life?
Is it better for the child to make this order than to not make the order?
Is this the right order, considering that the child’s welfare is paramount.

So the Court has the legal power to make such an order – providing those tests are met. But can it be right to make such an order?

9. Procedure – The father says that:

i) The District Judge was wrong not to hear evidence or at least his full submissions in relation to the need for a prohibited steps order to this effect;

ii) The District Judge made incorrect assumptions about the factual basis for such an order;

iii) The District Judge wrongly dealt with the issue without the father having notice prior to the hearing as to her intention to consider making such an order;

iv) The District Judge did not give the father an opportunity to contend that the order was neither necessary nor proportionate.

10. The mother, who is in person, contends that 99.9% of parents would recognise that their children should not be involved actively in political activities and so the District Judge was acting sensibly and fairly when faced with a father who, she says, does not share that recognition. However, she accepted before me that the father had not been given the opportunity to argue his case before the District Judge and that he made it plain throughout that he did not agree to the order that the District Judge was proposing. The mother could plainly see the difficulties that arise in seeking to upholding the decision of the District Judge.

11. The Cafcass report – The Cafcass report is in the bundle. The following parts of it are particularly relevant:

i) The only mention of political activity in the report is at D5. There the Cafcass officer stated: ‘The mother has expressed concerns that the father’s political views and value base are influencing the children – particularly C who can be racist and homophobic. The father has allegedly enlisted the support of his children to distribute UKIP leaflets when they have spent time with him’. That is the only reference to political activity within the report.

ii) The views of the children, which are very fully explored by the Cafcass officer, do not record any complaint by them in relation to their father’s political activities or their involvement with them;

iii) The children are reported as having some other concerns about their father’s method of disciplining them but were observed by the Cafcass officer to be happy in their father’s company. The Cafcass officer stated at paragraph 27 that ‘it is my view that, on the whole, the children enjoy the time they spend with their father and this needs to be supported…my observations of the children with their father were positive’.

12. Statements – Both parties provided brief statements for the hearing before the District Judge. The father’s statement is dated 20th November and the mother’s dated 24th November 2014 (the day of the hearing before the District Judge). There was no application in relation to the father’s political activities or the children’s involvement in them and therefore the father’s statement makes no mention of this. The mother states in her statement at C8: ‘I would like it if he respected my wishes and promised the court that he will not use the children directly in any of his political activities. I would be prepared to abide by the same promise if he so wished. Although it is apparent that the court has failed to protect certain of the children from brainwashing, since [C] has been campaigning for UKIP, is a member of UKIP youth and [E] has also attended UKIP rallies and is intent on joining UKIP youth’.

13. That is as far as any prior notice of this issue went. The father saw the mother’s statement at court. He did not have any other notice prior to the hearing that this issue would be raised. It is therefore significant to note that there was no evidential material relating to any involvement or harmful consequences for the two younger children in relation to the father’s political activities.

It does appear that this issue was somewhat bounced upon the father – did he have proper opportunity to challenge it, and was there proper evidence before the Court as to political activity being harmful?

If one is saying that political activity is harmful to young children generally (as opposed to just toxically dull) then there a lot of babies who will be saved from being kissed by George Osbourne/Ed Balls/Danny Alexander (choose which candidate you most dislike / least admire).  And to be perfectly honest, if it would remove any possibility in the future of the horror that was Tony Blair in his shirtsleeves drinking tea out of a mug with a picture of his kids on it – then, y’know, I can see an upside.

 

The worry with this is that a decision was made about whether the Court cared for the particular brand of politics espoused by the father – which is getting us into Re A territory to an extent. We see mainstream politicians regularly dragging their kids out for the cameras.

14. What happened at the hearing? Both parties appeared in person, that is without legal representation. I have studied the whole of the transcript of the hearing. I made sure that I read it through twice. Both parties were in person and the District Judge was faced with a difficult task in relation to parties who held strong views. I do not in any way underestimate the task that befell the District Judge and, by this judgment, pay tribute to her experience and exceptional industry. She knew this case well having been involved in it previously.

15. The following are some of the key parts of the transcript :

i) At page three there is the following: ‘THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Yes, all right. One of the other issues she raises, and I know there is another issue in your statement that you want to raise in a minute, [father], I have not forgotten this, one of Mother’s concerns is, and she is quite happy to promise in the same way but she does not like the fact that the boys are being involved in your UKIP activities and she would like you to give an agreement that you will not involve them in your UKIP, for instance, C campaigning in [X town] recently she mentions. How do you feel about that?…FATHER: I’m totally unwilling to have her dictate anything what I’m doing with the children in that respect….THE DISTRICT JUDGE: She said that she would be prepared not to involve them in any political activities as well….Father: Well, she does. She indoctrinates them, you know, so I just don’t think this is on. C is very keen; he gets a lot out of it’.

ii) At page 4 the District Judge said: ‘I can understand where you are coming from because you are not a UKIP supporter, yes….MOTHER: Or any political party. Is it right for a child of A’s age to be going into school saying, “What did you do at the weekend? I’ve been to a UKIP garden party”, and the other kids go, “Hey, what?” they have no idea what she’s talking about. They shouldn’t know what she’s talking about because none of them at that age should know anything to do with politics. Isn’t that to do with abusing their childhood if they’re being pumped full of whatever political party?

iii) At page 5 – ‘THE DISTRICT JUDGE: As I have said, children will always be very conscious about what their parents’ political views are. Your political views may well be at the other end of the spectrum. MOTHER: But I wouldn’t dream of taking them to any political meetings or encourage them to leaflet on the streets. C was egged by somebody. Is that right? …THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Is that right? Was C egged by somebody?…Father: He was exceedingly amused to have an egg land somewhere near his feet on one occasion. MOTHER: I do not want the younger children put in that position.
iv) Also on page 5 – ‘MOTHER: And what about the younger children— THE DISTRICT JUDGE: No, I am just thinking—MOTHER : —who go into the classroom— THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Yes. MOTHER: Think about the teachers then who have to pick up the pieces, so and so’s brother was egged at the weekend. The other children are too young to be worried about this and it’s confusing for them’.

v) At page 8: ‘THE DISTRICT JUDGE: What have you been doing with A and B at the moment so far as UKIP is concerned?…FATHER: A and B have sat on the van while a couple of the others get out and do some leafleting, that’s happened about once. Then there was a garden party where they played in the garden a long way from a congregation where there was a speech going on, so they were happy and they were supervised and they didn’t feel embarrassed and we all left together. So they were not put in any sort of awkward or inappropriate situation and I wouldn’t do, of course…THE DISTRICT JUDGE: I mean what I would like to do is to make a neutral order which is that neither of you should involve A or B in your political activities. Now, going to a garden party, I do not regard that as political activity, that is a garden party, all right? Probably sitting on the van is not but what I am talking about is they should not be going out leafleting and actively taking part….FATHER: Well, I’m just amazed, I’m just amazed— MOTHER: [Inaudible – overlap of speech] A was encouraged to hand out a leaflet and somebody went up to her and just tore it up in her face. She’s a tiny, little girl. This is really mentally challenging for them. THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Yes, look. Father, I am not expressing any political views, it is not appropriate for me to express any political views but there are a lot of people in this country who have very strong feelings about UKIP and I would not want to expose your two youngest children to emotional harm because of how people might react to them if they get involved. That is how I am looking at it, because you must accept there are a lot of people who are dead against UKIP, you understand that?

vi) At page 9 and 10 – ‘THE DISTRICT JUDGE: I am worried about somebody throwing – all right, C is 15, if he is happy to get involved in UKIP then he is old enough to decide that but I am not happy with A and B being involved in political activity to the extent that somebody in front of their faces rips up a poster. That is emotionally damaging for them. That should not be happening to two little girls and I do not care whether we are talking about the Labour party, the Conservative party, UKIP, the Liberal Democrats or whatever. That should not be happening to two little girls…FATHER: Well, that’s three of us agreeing then, isn’t it?…THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Yes….FATHER: So what’s the problem? I don’t see—…THE DISTRICT JUDGE: So I am going to make an order that neither of you are to involve the two younger girls actively in political activities, so I am saying to you garden party is not a problem, sitting on the van is not a problem but they are not going out actively taking part in your political activities because there are a lot of people out there who do not like UKIP and probably a lot of grown ups will not think about the impact on children’ .

16. There was no formal judgment given. The matter was dealt with as part of the discussion that took place at the hearing. There was no evidence given and the underlying facts were disputed, in particular, the extent to which the father does involve the children in his political activities and the extent to which this might have caused harm to them. The father wished to advance in full his arguments but the matter was cut short by the judge making what she perceived as a ‘neutral order’.

 

 

The Judge hearing the appeal, His Honour Judge Wildblood QC came to these conclusions  (underlining mine, emphasising that the three ingredients I spoke of earlier weren’t present. That, combined  with lack of  fairness to the father in the procedure meant the appeal was successful and the order discharged)

28. My difficulties with this case are:

i) The father had no notice before the hearing that this issue would be raised as one that was argued, let alone governed by orders.

ii) The factual underlay behind the orders is disputed and there was no written or oral evidence before the court that related to the issues before it.

iii) The contentions that the mother raised in support of the order were contested and the father did not have an opportunity to answer them. If he was not to have notice of this application for an order and was not to be allowed to give evidence about it he was entitled to the opportunity to make full submissions about it. He expressed the wish to advance his side of the story on the issues that arose and did not get it.

iv) The Cafcass report did not raise this as an issue that required intervention and there was no professional evidence before the court that supported the necessity for such an order.

v) This was an important issue in the context of this case. The order made was a prohibited steps order. Such an order should only be made for good (and, I add, established) cause and for reasons that are explained as being driven by the demands of the paramount welfare of the children. I do not think that such orders can be justified in contested proceedings on the grounds of neutrality and I do think that the decision must relate to the specific children in question. In Re C (A child) [2013] EWCA Civ 1412 Ryder LJ said: ‘A prohibited steps order is a statutory restriction on a parent’s exercise of their parental responsibility for a child. It can have profound consequences. On the facts of this case, without commenting on the wisdom of any step that either parent took or intended to take when they were already in dispute, and in the absence of an order of the court, father had the same parental responsibility as mother in relation to his son. Once the order was made, he lost the ability to exercise part of his responsibility and could not regain it without the consent of the court. That is because a prohibited steps order is not a reflection of any power in one parent to restrict the other (which power does not exist) it is a court order which has to be based on objective evidence. Once made, the terms of section 8 of the Children Act 1989 do not allow the parents to relax the prohibition by agreement. It can only be relaxed by the court. There is accordingly a high responsibility not to impose such a restriction without good cause and the reason must be given. Furthermore, where a prohibition is appropriate, consideration should always be given to the duration of that prohibition. Here the without notice prohibition was without limit of time. That was an error of principle which was not corrected by an early return date because that was susceptible of being moved or vacated unless the prohibition also had a fixed end date. The finite nature of the order must be expressed on the face of the order: R (Casey) v Restormel Borough Council [2007] EWHC 2554 (Admin) at [38] per Munby J’.

vi) Further, the District Judge was being asked to make orders that were invasive of the Article 8 rights of the father and of the children to organise their family lives together without interference by a public authority unless that interference was necessary and proportionate. That issue was not examined.

vii) Oral evidence is not always necessary (see Rule 22.2 of The Family Procedure Rules 2010). However there must be some satisfactory basis for an order if it is to be made. Otherwise the justification of the order is absent.

29. The form of the order made – The order that was made merely states that ‘neither parent is to involve the two youngest children, A and B, actively in any political activity’. I am personally in no position to cast stones on the drafting of injunctive orders in the light of what was said in Re Application by Gloucestershire County Council for the Committal to Prison of Matthew John Newman [2014] EWHC 3136 (Fam) but I think that there are very real difficulties about the form of the order that was made in this case.

30. By reason of Rule 37.9(3) of The Family Procedure Rules 2010 it is a matter of discretion as to whether a prohibited steps order should contain a penal notice (In the case of …a section 8 order…the court may’…attach a penal notice). I am concerned that this order did not make plain the consequences of any disobedience, the duration of the order or the activities that were prohibited. I realise that the District Judge said that garden parties would not be covered but I think that, if this order was ever to be enforceable in any way, it needed better definition. At a DRA there would have been very little time to examine that, I appreciate. District Judges lists are stretched to snapping point.

31. The conclusion that I have reached, therefore, is the decision of the District Judge was procedurally irregular and cannot stand. I therefore give permission to appeal and allow the appeal. I direct that there be a rehearing of the issues that have been raised in this appeal before me. Paragraph three of the order of the District Judge is discharged.

 

 

I think, regardless of what you might think about UKIP, the appeal was correct. The issues had not been properly explored and the father had not had proper opportunity to challenge what was a very unusual request, made at a hearing which was really only intended to set up the necessary directions to get the case to a substantial hearing.

I already have fond thoughts of His Honour Judge Wildblood QC, having read a lot of his judgments, and this made me think even better of him – this is very nicely done.

34. Finally, I will release this judgment on Bailii. By this decision I mean no offence at all to the very experienced District Judge for whom I wish to record my appreciation and thanks. In choosing my words when explaining why I am allowing this appeal I hope that I have displayed an understanding of the motto ‘do as you would be done by’ – who knows, tomorrow another court might hear an appeal from me.

 

[This case shows some of the risks of jigsaw identification – I’m sure I could work out UKIP Parliamentary candidates in the West country with five children and identify this family very swiftly. I’m sure others can do the same, and probably will. Not here in the comments though, please. ]

 

6. Publication – An officer of the press is present in court. I have referred her to Rule 27.11 of The Family Procedure Rules 2010 and also to PD27B of those rules. I explained the law to her in the presence of the parties and adjourned so that she could read the Practice Direction and the rule. She was referred to Section 97(2) of The Children Act 1989 and also to section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 and confirmed her understanding of the limitations on any reporting of this case. I am not going to explain those limitations in this judgment. If any person, organisation or party is thinking about making any aspect of this case public, they should inform themselves of those limitations. If in doubt, an application should be made to the court because breach of the law would amount to contempt which would be punishable by imprisonment, a fine or sequestration of assets.

7. Anonymised information about this case has already appeared in the press today. The father expresses his views in the press reports, without revealing his identity other than as a father and UKIP candidate. That being so I have alerted the Judicial Press Office about this case and of my intention to place this judgment on the Bailii website under the transparency provisions. I think it essential that there should be a clear and immediate record of the basis of my decision. That being so I have had to type this judgment myself immediately at the end of the hearing under pressure of time.

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