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Passage to India (and laying the smackdown on the Legal Aid Agency)

There seems to be increasing amounts of litigation about children being taken on holiday to countries outside of the Hague Convention, particularly when the children are the subjects of private law dispute about contact and residence (or as I now have to call it but won’t ,  “Child Arrangements”)

 

[If you want to skip to the bit where the Judge rips the LAA a new one, I'll understand, you can come back afterwards if you're interested in the background. Scroll down to the bit that says "SMACKDOWN!"]

There was one about Iran recently,  Re H (a child) 2014   http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/989.html

 

This one is about a trip to India that the mother wanted to make with the children.  Re AB (A child: Temporary Leave to Remove from the Jurisdiction : Expert Evidence) 2014   heard by His Honour Judge Bellamy sitting as a High Court judge.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2014/2758.html

 

Why this particular case is helpful is that the Court managed to get some expert legal advice from the Indian jurisdiction, notably on what might happen if the mother refused to return the children. This might save others in the same position hours of difficult research, so it is useful that the Court set it out here:-

 

ANSWER TO QUERIES

(i) What is the legal position in India if the Mother does not return to the United Kingdom with the child and remains instead with her in India? What impact, if any, would be made by pre-existing orders from the High Court in England making declarations of habitual residence in England and mandatory orders in relation to the return of the child by a certain date?
Answer

If the mother does not return to the United Kingdom with the Child, the father will have to bring a claim for custody in India under provisions of Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act 1956. The pre-existing orders from the High Court in England making declaration of habitual residence in England and mandatory order in relation to the return of child by a certain date will only be one of the factors to be considered and court will draw up independent judgment on merits having regard to welfare of the children.

(ii) What legal remedy would the father have, and what procedure would apply if he found himself having to take steps to effect the return of the child to the United Kingdom? What would be the likely timescale, cost and likelihood of success?
Answer

Father would have to file an application for custody of children under the provision of Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act. The proceedings may take from 1 year to 2 year and likelihood of success cannot be predicted as it will be dependent on Court’s fact finding to ascertain best interest and welfare of the children in deciding the custody rights.

(iii) As India is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, is there any other Agreement or Treaty in place with the United Kingdom which would assist in alleviating the Father’s concerns or in assisting if the child was not to be returned?
Answer

No there is no other treaty except treaty to enforce judgements passed by reciprocating courts in UK and India, however in matters of child custody, courts will not pass summary judgements and will pass independent judgement considering welfare of the children.

(iv) Is there scope for the mother obtaining a Mirror Order on her arrival in India? If so, what is the relevant procedure and what protection would such order give in ensuring the return of the child to the United Kingdom?
Answer

No, Courts in India will not pass mirror orders but will pass independent orders considering welfare of children.
 

(v) Are there other practical or legal safeguards which could be put in place before or on the Mother’s arrival in India? For Example (sic), requiring family members to take oath in relation to not assisting in the retention of the children, or lodging the children’s passport with a British Embassy or another place?
Answer

Since the foreign custody orders cannot be enforced mechanically, it is suggested that in the event of any litigation in the foreign country of habitual residence, a letter of request be obtained from the UK court in which litigation is pending for incorporating safeguards and conditions to ensure the return of the minor child to the country of normal residence.
This letter of request should be addressed by the UK court to the Registrar General of the High Court within whose jurisdiction the estranged spouse is residing with the minor child. It should also be specifically mentioned that the passports of the parent and the child should be deposited with the Registrar General of the state High Court to ensure that the child is not taken away from the jurisdiction of the [state] where he or she is confined.’

 

The answers are both technical and practical, so useful to others in the same position.

 

You might remember in the distant past, His Honour Judge Bellamy encountering much the same issues and having the ridiculous position of the Legal Aid Agency refusing to pay for the expert to answer those vital questions (presumably on the basis that English lawyers could magically find the answer to these questions in any other given national jurisdiction)   Re R (children : temporary leave to remove from the jurisdiction)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/643.html

 

So, it is impressive that the report was produced here. Let’s have a look at how.  Clue – it was not done simply, and the Legal Aid Agency showed a painful lack of knowledge of the Court of Appeal’s decision that their previous policy of insisting that they would only pay for reports if EVERYONE was paying an equal share was unlawful.

 

42. This is the second time this year that it has been necessary for me to consider the conduct of the Legal Aid Agency when dealing with an application for prior authority to incur the fees of an expert in an application for the temporary removal of a child to a non-Hague Convention state – see Re R (Children: Temporary Leave to Remove From Jurisdiction) [2014] EWHC 643 (Fam). In that case I was critical of the LAA (see paragraphs 81 to 97). Before deciding whether further criticism is merited it is necessary to consider the history of the application for prior authority.
 

The mother’s application for prior authority

43. As I have noted, the expert proposed by the mother was Mr Ravindra Kumar. Mr Kumar is a legal associate with Singhania & Co, a firm of ‘Solicitors & Indian Advocates’ with offices in India and London. In his curriculum vitae Mr Kumar says that he is ‘a consultant in Singhania’s litigation group, concentrates his practice on handling litigations in UK and in India. He has advised clients on Indian laws and India-specific issues including family laws and matrimonial laws issues. Maintenance and Adoption Laws issue. Mr Kumar had given expert witness evidence on issues pertaining to India laws on matrimonial matters, wills and contacts issues. Affiliations: Supreme Court Bar Association [SCBA], India. Delhi High Court Bar Association [DHCBA], India’.
 

44.  I heard the mother’s application for permission to obtain expert evidence on 13th June. I was satisfied that expert evidence was necessary and that Mr Kumar was an appropriately qualified expert. I decided that the cost of the expert evidence should be borne by the mother. In an extempore judgment I said,
 

8. There can, in my judgment, be no doubt as to the need for an expert’s report in this case. The law relating to the reliance upon expert evidence in Children Act proceedings is now to be found at s.13(6) of the Children and Families Act 2014 of which reads:
‘The court may give permission as mentioned in subsection (1), (3) or (5) only if the court is of the opinion that the expert evidence is necessary to assist the court to resolve the proceedings justly.’
There is in this case absolutely no doubt that expert evidence is necessary.
9. The issue that then arises is who is to pay. The mother is publicly funded and the father is a litigant in person. The father’s means are extremely straightened. He works for [a supermarket] and has an income of £1,200 per month out of which he has mortgage repayments of £500, car insurance of £28, fuel of £300, a mobile phone contract of £42, electricity of £76, food of £178 and finally a debt management payment of £76. The father has produced evidence from a debt management company which shows that the £76 per month that he is paying is for the payment of some eight debts which together amount to around £6,500. There can be, in my judgment, not the slightest doubt of this father’s inability to be able to afford to pay.
10. If the father cannot pay, is it appropriate to require the mother to pay for the whole of the costs of this report? In my judgment it is, and for two reasons. The first reason is the obvious one that it is her application for the temporary removal of AB from the jurisdiction. It is she who wants to do something that potentially could cause the breakdown of contact between AB and his father, and could potentially leave the father in an extremely difficult position in trying to right a wrong. Therefore, it is only just, in my view, that she should bear the costs of paying for that report, and that would be the case even if she were not publicly funded. The second reason why it is appropriate for her to pay the costs is because the father simply cannot afford to pay, of that I am in no doubt.
11. The position with respect to the Legal Aid Agency funding the entirety of the costs of an expert under one party’s public funding certificate is an issue that has been considered by the court twice over the course of the last twelve months. Firstly in the decision of Ryder J (as he then was) in JG v The Lord Chancellor & Ors [2013] 2 FLR 1174 and more recently by the Court of Appeal overturning the decision of Ryder J in that same case in JG v The Lord Chancellor & Ors [2014] EWCA Civ.656. In that case it was argued on behalf of the Lord Chancellor and the Legal Aid Agency that the normal rule was one of equal apportionment of expert costs amongst all parties to proceedings. At para.86 of the judgment of Black LJ in the Court of Appeal, she said this:
‘I do not accept that there is a normal rule of equal apportionment of the costs; in my view, like so many of the issues that arise in this appeal, it all depends on the particular circumstances of the case.’
At para.90, having referred to three authorities, she said this:
‘What I draw from the three authorities to which I have just made reference is that the court has discretion as to what order is made as to the costs of instructing experts in family proceedings and that that discretion must be exercised bearing in mind all the circumstances of the particular case.’
Then at para.93, she said this:
‘None of the authorities which I have just cited turned on the impecuniosity of the parties. Although they differ from the present case in that they were care cases, they are capable of providing assistance as to “the principles on which the discretion of [the] court is normally exercised” in relation to the cost of expert evidence. As I have explained, to my mind, they do not reveal the existence of a normal rule that costs be apportioned equally any more than Rule 25.12(6) does. Accordingly, in so far as the Lord Chancellor’s submissions proceed upon the basis that equal apportionment is the norm, I would question the premise. In order to decide whether a court order has fallen foul of s.22(4), a more sophisticated exercise is required. It is necessary to ask what order the court would make in its discretion on the particular facts of that case, leaving aside any resources problems. The answer may not uncommonly be an order for equal apportionment of the costs but that cannot be assumed. It may be that a full consideration of the circumstances of the case produces the result that the publicly funded party should be paying a greater share of the costs in any event, quite irrespective of any financial difficulties that the other parties may have in sharing the costs of the expert. In such circumstances, s.22(4) does not prevent the court from making an order accordingly, because the order is in no way affected by the fact of public funding.
The reference in her Ladyship’s judgment to s.22(4) is to s.22(4) of the Access to Justice Act 1999.
12. In light of her Ladyship’s comments, I am in no doubt at all that it is right to say in this case that even leaving to one side the ability to fund the costs of an expert report, the cost of the expert report proposed in this case should be borne entirely by the mother. The fact that she is publicly funded makes no difference to that conclusion. There is, as I have already said, the subsidiary point that the father simply cannot afford to pay.
13. It is my sincere hope that the problems encountered by the court and the parents in Re R (Children: Temporary Leave to Remove from Jurisdiction) will not be visited again upon this mother in this case. I shall make the order giving permission for the expert’s report. I approve the draft letter of instruction, and the costs will be limited to £1,000. The costs will be met by the mother and I deem that to be a reasonable and proportionate expense on her public funding certificate. I direct that there be an expedited transcript of this judgment at public expense to assist the mother in obtaining prior authority.
45.The Court of Appeal’s decision in JG v The Lord Chancellor & Ors was handed down on 21st May. The mother’s application for prior authority was sent to the LAA a month later, on 20th June. The application was made in the LAA’s prescribed form APP8A and was submitted together with relevant supporting documents. Following an enquiry as to progress, the application was re-sent by e-mail on 3rd July.

 

It seems pretty obvious that following JG v Lord Chancellor, that the Legal Aid Agency would have notified their front line staff that the previous policy was not going to fly anymore, and that a stock refusal to fund assessments that the Court had deemed necessary just because there was another party who wasn’t paying an equal share would not do at all. But no

 

46. An e-mail response from the LAA on 3rd July suggests that the writer of that e-mail was unaware of the Court of Appeal’s decision in JG v The Lord Chancellor & Ors. The e-mail reads:
 

47. ‘I can confirm on the information provided we would expect the costs to be apportioned between the parties as per S22(4) AJA 1999 which expects all parties to bear an equal share in the costs of an expert. The costs were originally being shared between the parties therefore it is not considered reasonable to transfer the burden of costs onto the publically (sic) funded party. We will need to see evidence to satisfy itself that the father should share in the costs and the court will need to undertake a robust assessment of the father’s means.’
The mother’s solicitors replied on 8th July. By then they had received the transcript of my judgment of 13th June and attached it to their response. Initially, it appeared that my judgment would help to resolve the issue. On 11th July an e-mail from Ann Davies, a senior caseworker at the LAA, said,
 

48. ‘Thank you for your e-mail and confirm I have reviewed our earlier decision. An authority will be issued in this matter however, despite my search of our completed applications I have been unable to find your APP8A…Please e-mail me a copy to enable me to consider this properly…’
The mother’s solicitor had already sent the LAA an application for prior authority in form APP8A on 20th June and on 3rd July. Form APP8A was sent to the LAA for a third time, by e-mail, on 14th July.

49. The optimism generated by Ms Davies’ e-mail was misplaced

 

The LAA refused the assessment, and refused it again, and again, and a fourth time. They moved on to a whole new area to get bogged down in, which was that the expert was a qualified solicitor, and thus wasn’t an expert.  The Judge disagreed

 

Is Mr Kumar an expert?

56. In proceedings in the Family Court, the position concerning expert evidence is clear. The Family Court Practice 2014 states (p.2009) that.
 

‘The general rule is that a witness may only give evidence as to fact observed by them. That rule is overridden in the case of opinion evidence given by a person whose expertise justifies the court in receiving that opinion.’
Hershman & McFarlane Children Law and Practice states (C3057) that,

‘It is for the court to determine in each case that the witness has the necessary expertise to come within the exception to the normal rule that opinion evidence is not admissible.’
Section 3(1) of the Civil Evidence Act 1972 provides that,

‘Subject to any rules of court made in pursuance of…this Act, where a person is called as a witness in any civil proceedings, his opinion on any relevant matter on which he is qualified to give expert evidence shall be admissible in evidence.’

57. Section 4(1) of the Civil Evidence Act 1972 is also relevant. It provides that,
 

‘It is hereby declared that that in civil proceedings a person who is suitably qualified to do so on account of his knowledge or experience is competent to give expert evidence as to the law of any country or territory outside the United Kingdom, or of any part of the United Kingdom other than England and Wales, irrespective of whether he has acted or is entitled to act as a legal practitioner there.’

58. In the circumstances of this case I am in no doubt that Mr Kumar is ‘qualified to give expert evidence’ (s.3(1) of the Civil Evidence Act 1972) and is properly to be regarded as an expert in Indian law.

 

I don’t know what the Latin for ‘stick that in your pipe and smoke it is’, but it probably should be inserted at the conclusion of this section.

 

[The joy of google - it is  Habeto eas solus, qui in vobis est, ut fumo et tibia canentium  - feel free to sprinkle that into your skeleton arguments if you feel bold ]

 

With all this in mind, those of us who read H H J Bellamy’s judgment in Re R are waiting for him to Etiam iuvat asinis  or indeed  ut in Republica, asini eorum,    [either  Apply Boots to Asses, or Get Medieval on their ass, depending on your preference]

 

I was not disappointed

 

 

SMACKDOWN  SMACKDOWN SMACKDOWN !!!!

 

Discussion and conclusions

It is a matter of concern that two months after the Court of Appeal handed down its decision in JG v The Lord Chancellor & Ors [2014] EWCA Civ 656 a senior case worker and a Director should both reject an application for prior authority by advancing arguments based on an interpretation of s.22(4) of the Access to Justice Act 1999 which had been so roundly rejected by the Court of Appeal. That, though, is not the only concern about the approach of the LAA in this case.
 

As I noted earlier, the 2013 Standard Civil Contract does not define the word ‘expert’. That is unsurprising. The determination of whether expert evidence is necessary in order to resolve a case justly and whether a particular witness ‘is qualified to give expert evidence’ (s.3(1) of the Civil Evidence Act 1972) are issues for determination by the court not by the LAA. I am concerned that in this case the LAA should have disregarded a decision by the court that Mr Kumar is an expert. In my judgment it was not open to the LAA to disregard a judicial decision on this issue.
 

The Standard Terms of the 2013 Standard Civil Contract define the term ‘Approved Third Party’ as someone engaged by a party to the Contract ‘to undertake non-legal work ancillary to Contract Work, including experts’. The expression ‘non-legal work’ is not defined. In my judgment, it includes giving expert advice on the law of any country or territory outside the United Kingdom. Whether the ‘expert’ is an academic specialising in that area or a person who is a practitioner in that foreign state is immaterial. It is equally immaterial if such a practitioner happens to have dual qualification enabling him also to practice law in England and Wales. I reject Ms Davies’ analysis and interpretation of the 2013 Standard Civil Contract.
 

I also reject Ms Davies’ attempt to pray in aid the provisions of the Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013. The regulations do not define the word ‘expert’. Ms Davies refers to the 63 different categories of expert set out in the Table which follows paragraph 1 of Schedule 5 of the regulations. The point made appears to be that there is some significance in the fact that nowhere in this list is there ‘provision for legal work’. It is clear from Schedule 5 paragraph 3 that the list of experts in the Table is not intended to be either an exhaustive list of the categories of experts for which fees will be paid by the LAA or an indicative list of the categories of expertise in which expert evidence will be funded.
 

All of the issues I have raised so far give rise to concern about the adequacy of training for those members of LAA staff responsible for determining applications for prior authority.
 

In addition to these particular issues I also have two general concerns. Firstly, I am concerned that the mother’s solicitors had to submit their application for prior authority three times before the LAA finally acknowledged that it had received a complete set of documents. I am also concerned that to arrive at the stage at which the LAA appeared to agree in principle to fund a non-solicitor expert in Indian law took more than four weeks and in excess of 20 letters and e-mails between the solicitor and the LAA. In Re R (Children: Temporary Leave to Remove From Jurisdiction) [2014] EWHC 643 (Fam) I expressed concern about a similar state of affairs in that case. I said that,
 

’95. The applications for prior authority to instruct an expert have been going backwards and forwards between the LAA and solicitors for some six months. Although I have not been given details of the time spent by the solicitors in pursuing this issue with the LAA, it seems to me to be self-evident that it must have been considerable. This process is wasteful and inefficient. Solicitors are being required to deal with a level of bureaucracy that is almost impenetrable. They are also being required to deal with the consequences that flow from decisions that are unappealable including explaining to their clients why they cannot have the expert evidence which the court has directed is necessary. This is unsatisfactory.’
When considered alongside Re R (Children: Temporary Leave to Remove From Jurisdiction) [2014] EWHC 643 (Fam) the facts of this present case strongly suggest that, administratively, the LAA is disorganised. The consequences of this for litigants and their hard-pressed solicitors are matters of concern.

Secondly, I am concerned about what appears to be resistance by the LAA to the granting of prior approval for the use of an expert as to the law of a foreign state in connection with an application for temporary leave to remove a child to a non-Hague Convention country. In Re R (Children: Temporary Leave to Remove From Jurisdiction) [2014] EWHC 643 (Fam) the correspondence between the LAA and the mother’s solicitor suggested that the LAA was highly resistant to meeting the cost of such an expert The correspondence between the LAA and the solicitor for the mother in this present case gives the same impression.
 

In light of my further criticisms of the LAA I direct that the mother’s solicitor shall forthwith forward a copy of this judgment to the Chief Executive of the LAA.

 

 

I will add, simply Solum versus est, et ut ‘quia, ut dicit Bellamy saxum iudicis gelu

 

 

[For non-wrasslin'  fans or non-Latin speakers  -  "And that's the bottom line, cos Stone Cold Judge Bellamy says so" ]

 

Can I get  a "Hell yeah!" ?

Can I get a “Hell yeah!” ?

The placement of an adult away from their family

This Court of Protection decision LBX v TT and Others 2014  touches on some important issues. It is a case involving a 19 year old girl, and the decision of the Court that she lacked capacity to make decisions for herself and that it would be in her best interests to continue to live in foster care.

 

 

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/24.html

 

The background to this is that there were allegations of serious sexual misconduct by her step-father, who awaits criminal trial. The case had been set down for what would have been quite a long and tricky hearing, particularly in the Court of Protection, to determine the truth of those allegations.  Since, if they were not true, the best interests decision would be very different, or potentially very different.

That starts to look like care proceedings, but on a vulnerable adult rather than on a child.

An additional complexity is that whilst mother and probably stepfather would have been entitled to free legal advice to fight the case in care proceedings, that’s not the case in the Court of Protection.

 

The Judge, Cobb J, said this  (MJ is mum, JJ stepfather)

At the outset of the hearing on 7 July, MJ and JJ made an application to adjourn the proceedings to obtain legal advice. They told me that they had been advised that they did not qualify for legal aid (on grounds of means) and did not have funds to instruct a solicitor privately. They had tried, without success, to obtain a litigation loan from the bank. I had been advised at the pre-trial hearing that the Bar Pro Bono Unit could not offer counsel for this hearing.
 

I recognise the considerable disadvantage to someone in the position of MJ and JJ appearing unrepresented in proceedings of this kind; their article 6 ECHR rights are imperilled. However, as there seemed no realistic prospect of MJ or JJ obtaining representation in these proceedings, and given the need to reach conclusions at this hearing, I refused the application to adjourn.
 

I was advised that JJ had solicitors acting for him in the criminal proceedings. I caused a message to be communicated to those solicitors over the short adjournment expressing my hope that they would be able to offer JJ some advice. I was very pleased to see Mr Levy at 2pm appearing on a pro bono basis.
 

On the third day of this hearing, MJ attended court with a McKenzie Friend. I considered it appropriate to allow this gentleman to assist MJ, and in doing so, applied the Guidance offered by the McKenzie Friends Practice Guidance Civil and Family Courts (12 July 2010): this Guidance is said to apply to civil and family proceedings in the Court of Appeal (Civil Division), the High Court of Justice, the County Courts and the Family Proceedings Court in the Magistrates’ Courts. I have assumed, and unless advised to the contrary will continue to conduct hearings in my court on this basis, that it applies to proceedings in the Court of Protection.

 

A further problem was the unwillingness of the police to provide any of the source material, which would have been vital to the conduct of any finding of fact hearing. In the event, the finding of fact hearing did not take place, due to MJ’s position at the hearing on 9th June 2014:-

I arranged a hearing on 9 June 2014 to consider the viability of the fact-finding hearing. At that hearing the case took an unexpected turn; MJ and JJ (who were helpfully represented by counsel instructed by the Bar Council Pro Bono Unit) indicated that they intended to remain together as a couple, irrespective of the allegations &/or the outcome of any trial of the allegations, and did not propose to offer TT a home, now or in the long-term. Specifically, they conceded that:
 

 

i) MJ could not envisage a situation in which she would separate from JJ “even if findings were made against him”. 

ii) TT should not return to live with MJ and JJ; she should remain living with KK (MJ: “we cannot offer her a home”).

iii) That the decision that TT should remain with KK is a “long-term decision” on the part of MJ;

iv) JJ was “is not willing to, and will not, have any contact with TT in the future. Contact is defined as direct and indirect contact and facebook/social media messaging”. He further agreed not to attempt to have any contact.

 

 

Within the case, the Official Solicitor (representing the 19 year old, TT) argued that the Court should still conduct the forensic exercise about the allegations and what happened to this young woman, and went further in suggesting that the Court had a duty to do so.

The Official Solicitor, on behalf of TT, contended that I am under a duty, or, if not under a duty should nonetheless exercise my discretion, to hear oral evidence in order that I can determine a solid factual basis for establishing TT’s best interests orders, even on an interim basis. Mr. McKendrick referred me to Re W [2008] EWHC 1188 (Fam) where McFarlane J held at paragraph 72:
 

“It is important that the planning in the future for these children, particularly C, is based upon as correct a view of what happened to R as possible. It is not in the children’s interests, or in the interests of justice, or in the interests of the two adults, for the finding to be based on an erroneous basis. It is also in the interests of all of the children that are before this court for the mother’s role to be fully understood and investigated.”
He contended that the principles outlined above could be appropriately transported from the Family Division to the Court of Protection. I interpolate here to say, as will be apparent later, that I agree.

The Official Solicitor’s argument was developed further thus:
 

 

i) Section 48 provides jurisdiction to make interim ‘best interests’ orders where it is necessary to make those orders “without delay”; this phrase in section 48(c) imports into the section a degree of expectation that this provision should be used very much as an interim measure; 

ii) While the evidential bar is lower on determination of capacity in section 48(a), there is no qualification to the court’s approach on ‘best interests'; therefore unless the case is urgent, there ought to be a reasonable and proportionate enquiry into best interests;

iii) That I should endeavour to resolve the facts so far as I can at this stage; many of the issues will need to be grappled with at some point in time and it is better to do so while the events are fresher in people’s minds; this hearing was set up for that purpose, and the witnesses are available;

iv) MJ has expressed a wish for unsupervised contact in the future: see §9 above. Indeed, the Official Solicitor observes that the Applicant itself accepts that “it is … foreseeable that [MJ] will seek unsupervised contact in the future, after the conclusion of the criminal trial”;

v) That ‘best interests’ decisions should be made on the most secure evidential footing; this is particularly so where

a) interim orders are expected to last for a considerable period (the criminal trial may not be for many months);
b) interim orders are inconsistent with TT’s expressed wishes (see §95-98 below);
vi) Prolonged interference with TT’s Article 8 ECHR rights for unrestricted contact without a clear determination of facts is not proportionate;

vii) That particular caution is required before the Court proceeds to make determinations largely on the basis of concessions offered by an unrepresented party (MJ), particularly where that party is plainly distressed by the issues.

 

 

As a family lawyer, it interests me that lawyers in the Court of Protection are placing reliance on McFarlane J ‘s (as he then was) decision in the family Court in Re W, which is a decision I wholeheartedly agree with, when the Court of Appeal in dealing with family cases are taking quite the reverse view about finding of fact hearings in family cases.  My support for the latter stance is somewhat less than wholehearted.

 

Cobb J goes on to borrow some principles from family law cases to provide guidance for if and when to embark on a finding of fact exercise in the Court of Protection, and these would now be rules or guidelines to follow in such cases

By analogy with the position in family law, the judge would in my judgment be well-served to consider the guidance of Butler-Sloss LJ in the family appeal of Re B (Minors)(Contact) [1994] 2 FLR 1 in which she said as follows:
 

“There is a spectrum of procedure for family cases from the ex parte application on minimal evidence to the full and detailed investigations on oral evidence which may be prolonged. Where on that spectrum a judge decides a particular application should be placed is a matter for his discretion. Applications for residence orders or for committal to the care of a local authority or revocation of a care order are likely to be decided on full oral evidence, but not invariably. Such is not the case on contact applications which may be and are heard sometimes with and sometimes without oral evidence or with a limited amount of oral evidence.”
It is acknowledged that the ‘spectrum’ may now be narrower than that described in 1994 following the revisions to rule 22.7 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010, but the principle nonetheless remains, in my judgment, good.

Butler–Sloss LJ went on to define the questions which may have a bearing on how the court should proceed with such an application (adapted for relevance to the Court of Protection):
 

 

i) whether there is sufficient evidence upon which to make the relevant decision; 

ii) whether the proposed evidence (which should be available at least in outline) which the applicant for a full trial wishes to adduce is likely to affect the outcome of the proceedings;

iii) whether the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses for the professional care or other agency, in particular in this case the expert witnesses, is likely to affect the outcome of the proceedings;

iv) the welfare of P and the effect of further litigation – whether the delay in itself will be so detrimental to P’s well-being that exceptionally there should not be a full hearing. This may be because of the urgent need to reach a decision in relation to P;

v) the prospects of success of the applicant for a full trial;

vi) does the justice of the case require a full investigation with oral evidence?
In deciding whether to conduct a fact-finding hearing at all, I consider it useful to consider the check-list of considerations discussed by McFarlane J in the case of A County Council v DP, RS, BS (By their Children’s Guardian) [2005] EWHC 1593 (Fam) 2005 2 FLR 1031 at [24]. Following a review of case-law relevant to the issue he stated that:
 

“… amongst other factors, the following are likely to be relevant and need to be borne in mind before deciding whether or not to conduct a particular fact finding exercise:
(a) the interests of the child (which are relevant but not paramount)
(b) the time that the investigation will take;
(c) the likely cost to public funds;
(d) the evidential result;
(e) the necessity or otherwise of the investigation;
(f) the relevance of the potential result of the investigation to the
future care plans for the child;
(g) the impact of any fact finding process upon the other parties;
(h) the prospects of a fair trial on the issue;
(i) the justice of the case.”
There is some (but not universal) acknowledgement at the Bar in this case that this list (with modifications as to (a) to refer to the best interests of ‘P’ rather than ‘the child’) provides a useful framework of issues to consider in relation to the necessity of fact finding in the jurisdiction of the Court of Protection.

 

Those principles are familiar to family lawyers (or at least they were, before the Court of Appeal took its newer position) but are probably fresh to Court of Protection lawyers.

 

The Court decided not to embark on a full-blown fact finding hearing, but did take evidence on some limited allegations which were of particular import. As part of that judgment, the Judge also clarified that hearsay evidence is permissable in the Court of Protection.

 

Hearsay: The factual allegations which I have been required to investigate rely very extensively on what TT has reported to third parties. She has not been called to give evidence at this hearing (no party proposed that she should), and I have therefore had to rely on a range of hearsay accounts, and on records, and interpretations, of her behaviours.
 

Hearsay evidence is plainly admissible in proceedings of this kind; as McFarlane J made clear in LB Enfield v SA [2010] 1 FLR 1836. While ruling (at §29-30) that proceedings in the Court of Protection under the MCA 2005 must fall within the wide definition of ‘civil proceedings’ under section 11 of the CEA 1995, they are civil proceedings before a tribunal to which the strict rules of evidence apply. He went on to conclude (§36) that:
 

“COPR 2007, r 95(d) gives the Court of Protection power to admit hearsay evidence which originates from a person who is not competent as a witness and which would otherwise be inadmissible under CEA 1995, s 5. Admissibility is one thing, and the weight to be attached to any particular piece of hearsay evidence will be a matter for specific evaluation in each individual case. Within that evaluation, the fact that the individual from whom the evidence originates is not a competent witness will no doubt be an important factor, just as it is, in a different context, when the family court has to evaluate what has been said by a very young child”
In all the circumstances, I guard against accepting without careful consideration of the evidence as a whole, the hearsay evidence of what TT told LT and WT as proof of the substance of what is alleged against MJ; this is particularly so given the unchallenged evidence of Dr Joyce that TT has a “very limited understanding of the oath”.

 

This is, as always with Cobb J, a very detailed and well-structured judgment, and he eventually reaches these conclusions about the declarations sought

 

Conclusions

Having regard to the matters listed above, I propose to make the following orders/declarations:
 

 

i) For the reasons fully set out above at §25-29, I declare (under section 15 MCA 2005) that TT lacks capacity to litigate these issues; 

ii) For the reasons fully set out above at §25-29, I declare (under section 15 MCA 2005) that TT lacks capacity to make decisions about her care and residence;

iii) For the reasons fully set out above at §25-29, I declare (under section 15 MCA 2005) that TT lacks capacity to make decisions about her contact with others;

iv) For the reasons fully set out above at §28 and §30, I declare that there is reason to believe (section 48 of the MCA 2005) that TT lacks capacity to consent to sexual relations;

v) For the reasons fully set out above at §30 and §105, I declare that there is reason to believe (section 48 of the MCA 2005) that it would be in TT’s best interests for any education about sexual relations to await the outcome of the criminal trial (in which JJ is a defendant);

vi) For the reasons fully set out above at §8(ii), and §100-102, I find that it is in TT’s best interests that she should continue to reside with her foster carer KK (and that I should make this order under section 15 of the MCA 2005);

vii) For the reasons fully set out above at §8(iv), §100 and §104, I find that it is in TT’s best interests to have no contact with JJ (and that I make this order under section 48 of the MCA 2005);

viii) For the reasons fully set out above at §100 and §103, I find that it is in TT’s best interests to have restricted supervised contact with her mother; this order is made under section 48 MCA 2005; I propose that this should be at a frequency of about twice per week, although with a degree of flexibility. For the time being, the contact should be supervised at least until the conclusion of the criminal trial. At the conclusion of the criminal trial, urgent consideration will be required in relation to whether on-going supervision of contact is in SS’s best interests.

 

 

It does raise important questions – not least being that if the Court of Protection is going to develop a jurisprudence of quasi-care proceedings about vulnerable adults then shouldn’t the parents/carers of those vulnerable adults have access to free legal advice and representation to deal with what can potentially be very grave issues and (as here) potentially extremely serious findings against them of sexual misconduct?

Ruling on ‘the rule’

 

 
In which I ameliorate some of the pain of reading a Brussels II judgment by digressions into betrayal by the BBC, Tarzan wrestling an alligator, James Joyce and Tommy Steele…

The Court of Appeal in Re H (jurisdiction) 2014 were asked to determine whether the trial judge, Mr Justice Peter Jackson, had been wrong to consider that he was not bound by the old ‘rule’ that if two people had parental responsibility neither can unilaterally change child’s habitual residence to another country.

That ‘rule’ is what stops one parent legging it to Spain with the kids and then saying, “well if you want to go to Court about it, I’m afraid we’re all Spanish now, so you’ll have to do it in the Spanish Courts. And I know your Spanish doesn’t stretch further than Dos Cervaza por favor, so good luck with THAT, pal”

[Or at least, it doesn’t stop them doing the legging, but it historically meant that if the other parent hadn’t agreed, then the habitual residence of the children, and the right Court to hear the case in was going to be English]

In the trial itself, it had been argued that the changes to the test of ‘habitual residence’ had meant that this issue was one of a raft of factors rather than being finally determinative of habitual residence, and thus ‘the rule’ was dead.

At appeal, the other side argued that if ‘the rule’ was going to be abolished, then it needed to be done so explicitly, and in the absence of such an explicit abolition it was still good law and binding – thus Mr Justice Peter Jackson had been wrong in diverting from it.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1101.html

Frankly, if you are interested enough to care about the WHY, then you will love the Court of Appeal judgment and can read it all there, it is set out in paragraphs 19 to 37 (It just SEEMS like it is in paragraphs 19 to 64,912)

What you want is the answer, which is that ‘the rule’ is no more. It may be a part of the relevant factual matrix, but just because mum moves the children to Spain against dad’s wishes, doesn’t mean that the children can’t be habitually resident in Spain.
it was submitted to us that a parent’s ability to change their child’s habitual residence unilaterally will be limited by the inclusion of the purposes and intentions of the parents as one of the relevant factors in the factual determination of where a child is habitually resident (see Baroness Hale at §54(ii) of Re A and also at §23 of Re L). I accept that submission. Furthermore, as Baroness Hale said at §26 of Re L, the fact that the child’s residence is precarious (as it may well be where one parent has acted unilaterally) may prevent it from acquiring the necessary quality of stability for habitual residence. However, the fact that one parent neither wanted nor sanctioned the move will not inevitably prevent the child from becoming habitually resident somewhere. If that were the case, the ‘rule’ would be alive and well, albeit dressed up in the new clothes of parental intention as one of the factors in the court’s determination.

Given the Supreme Court’s clear emphasis that habitual residence is essentially a factual question and its distaste for subsidiary rules about it, and given that the parents’ purpose and intention in any event play a part in the factual enquiry, I would now consign the ‘rule’, whether it was truly a binding rule or whether it was just a well-established method of approaching cases, to history in favour of a factual enquiry tailored to the circumstances of the individual case.
The Court of Appeal also go on to say that Parens Patriae jurisdiction [inherent jurisdiction] has no place in these matters, and that the Court should use Article 10 of Brussels II forum conveniens even in a case where the other country is not in Europe. And if for some reason, you are interested in that, may I suggest that you open a window and get yourself some fresh air.

[but it is all at paras 38 to 54. I’m afraid that there is not a sentence there that I was able to read and make sense of first time out. Every single sentence was something of a wrestling match with language, where I had to deconstruct every single aspect and put it back together again to try to work out what was going on, much like Tarzan wrestling with an alligator in a black and white Johnny Weissmuller movie. I ran out of enthusiasm for that exercise at about para 40]

 

That is probably deeply annoying for anyone who does international law and child abduction cases, because this seems to me to be a double whammy of

1. We are going to be arguing about habitual residence in every case on minute detail, rather than applying a simple ‘they ARE in Spain, but against dad’s wishes, so they are still habitually resident in England” test and

2. We’ve just lost the jedi hand-wave of “What’s my power to do this?” “The inherent jurisdiction” – and now need to find chapter and verse on Brussels II article 10.

And more to the point, the last thing anyone needs is more Brussels II.

If a lot of legislation has the ‘bet you can’t read all of this’ quality of “A Brief History of Time” then Brussels II is the equivalent of reading the entireity of “Finnegans Wake” whilst you have both a migraine and a nearby six year old boy who just got a One-Man-Band kit* for his birthday.

[* To play “Crash Bang Wallop What a Picture” on a one man band kit, with Tommy Steele was the second Jim’ll Fix It request I sent in. The first was to meet Enid Blyton, who was long dead at the time. In retrospect, I am no longer bitter and twisted that the BBC never granted my opportunity to go on Jim’ll Fix It]

 

Care proceedings by the back door

The Court of Appeal decision in Re W (Children) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1065.html

 

This was an appeal from a mother, about a private law decision that her child should live permanently with the grandmother. The placement with the grandmother had come about by the mother signing a Written Agreement with the Local Authority that the child should live there.   [see previous post]

 

There are some obvious, and well-known points about whether such a placement is a section 20 placement (in which case the Local Authority have to do a fostering assessment of grandmother and pay her fostering allowance) or a private family arrangement (in which case they don’t).  As a general rule of thumb – if the Local Authority’s fingerprints are all over the placement (as they were here) then it is almost certainly going to be a section 20 placement – whether anyone involved wants it to be or not.

That wasn’t the thrust of this appeal though.

 

That was, rather, that by private law proceedings where the child was placed with grandmother (and the Local Authority had never done an assessment of the mother to see if she could have the child back) this child was permanently moved from mother to grandmother without any of the safeguards that such a proposition would have had in care proceedings. Were these, in fact, care proceedings by the back door?

 

The children had been placed in July 2012, the proposed assessment of the mother by the Local Authority never took place, and the mother made an application for a Residence Order (as it then was) in May 2013

A particularly odd aspect of these situations is that when the private law case goes to Court, when the Court asks for an independent section 7 report (to make recommendations for the child’s future), such report is usually sought from the Local Authority (rather than CAFCASS) because of their historical involvement.  Can you spot an obvious flaw in that aspect, if it is the Local Authority who engineered the move from mother to grandmother?

 

This is what the Court of Appeal say about their section 7 report

 

The mother sought the return of the children. Eventually, after mediation had failed and following difficulties in obtaining legal funding, the mother issued proceedings on 28 May 2013 seeking a residence order and the return of the children to her care. The local authority was ordered to provide a section 7 report. Written by Ms Nesbitt, it was dated 4 October 2013. An addendum section 7 report was written by her successor, Ms Fitzgerald, dated 13 December 2013.
 

Ms Nesbitt expressed the view that the children should remain with the paternal grandmother under the auspices of a residence order. For present purposes it is Ms Fitzgerald’s report which is more significant. In paragraph 4.1.2 she said:
 

“Further assessment of [the mother's] current ability to meet the needs of the children is required in order to provide evidence that she has made positive changes and more importantly is able to sustain such changes in the longer term.”
In paragraph 4.3.1 (paragraph 4.6.1 was to much the same effect) she said:

“… there is little evidence to support the children returning to their mother’s care … It is therefore the view of the Local Authority that Family Resource Team intervention is required in order to support [the mother] and her relationship with the children to include work around routines, boundaries and the appropriateness of comments made to the children by [the mother] … This intervention will enable the Local Authority to assess [the mother's] current ability to meet the needs of the children. [The mother] reports that she has made positive changes by accessing counselling and evidence of those positive changes is required by the Local Authority in order to establish [her] current ability to meet the needs of the children in the immediate and longer-term future.”
In paragraph 4.8.1 she said:

“As previously indicated, the Local Authority are of the view that intervention is required from the Family Resource Team who will work with [the mother] and the children in relation to routines, boundaries and inappropriate comments made to the children. This will enable the Local Authority to further assess [the mother's] current and longer-term ability to meet the needs of the children”
In paragraph 4.9.1 Ms Fitzgerald recorded a counsellor describing the mother as “engaging well with the service” which, as she commented, “demonstrates [her] willingness to engage with services to address concerns.” In paragraph 4.10.2 she observed that “mother’s current ability to meet the needs of the children remains un-assessed” and continued:

“it is the view of the Local Authority that Family Resource Team intervention is required in order to assess her ability to meet the needs of the children.”
Ms Fitzgerald’s overall view was expressed in paragraph 4.10.3:
 

“It must be acknowledged that if the children were to grow up in the care of the 2nd Respondent and not the Applicant mother, this has the potential to affect their identity and they may feel a sense of rejection from their mother. That said, at the present time, the un-assessed risk of placing the children in their mother’s care, far outweighs the risk of them remaining in paternal grandmother’s care and the ‘potential’ for this to have an impact upon their identity/emotional wellbeing.”

 

In light of Ryder LJ’s withering comments in Re P and B about the use of ‘unquantified’ as a perjorative term, the ‘un-assessed risk’ here is somewhat dubious. Particularly since it was unassessed precisely because the Local Authority had not assessed it.

 

Those representing the mother, quite rightly, sought that assessment of the mother’s parenting and any risks. That would be a basic foundation of any care proceedings and something that would be vital if deciding whether children should live permanently away from a mother. But in private law proceedings, it can often be rather more of a ‘beauty parade’  – which person is in a better position to provide care for the children here and now

 

The hearing before the Recorder commenced on 9 January 2014. We do not have a transcript of the hearing but Mr Ben Boucher-Giles, who appeared on behalf of the mother before the Recorder, as he subsequently appeared before us, has prepared a very helpful case summary for our use which sets out what we need to know. It has been circulated to the other parties and to the local authority, who have raised no objection and identified no errors.
 

The Recorder heard evidence from Ms Fitzgerald and her team manager, Ms Richardson. In cross-examination Ms Fitzgerald accepted that the mother was committed to her children and was prepared to work with professionals. She re-iterated that the local authority had not assessed the mother and could not therefore say that she had made sufficient progress to prove that she could safely care for them. In answer to the specific question whether there was any event since July 2012 which gave her any specific cause for concern in relation to the mother or her ability to care for the children, Ms Fitzgerald accepted that she could not think of anything in particular. She indicated that a delay in the proceedings – the assessment and associated work might take between 12 and 16 weeks – would have a “high potential of emotional impact” on the older child, though this was no more than the usual consequence of delay.
 

Ms Richardson expressed concern about the lack of assessment and accepted that the local authority had failed in its duty to provide the court with the information it required. She indicated that rehabilitation of the children to the mother “would not be beneficial until perhaps after CAMHS had reported – something may arise.”
 

Unsurprisingly in these circumstances, Mr Boucher-Giles applied at the conclusion of this evidence for an adjournment for the preparation of a full assessment of the mother’s parenting abilities. His argument, as recorded by the Recorder in the judgment she gave refusing his application, was that the court could not make a decision because it did not have any information about the mother and her ability to care for the children. The application was resisted by the paternal grandmother on the basis that the best interests of the children were served by the matter being brought to a conclusion, in circumstances where the local authority had indicated that it would not ‘walk away’ even if the case came to a final conclusion.

 

You can guess that the Recorder refused the adjournment, otherwise there wouldn’t be an appeal   (you may take it that every sentence that I have underlined could be read aloud  in a tone of total shock and wonder0

 

The Recorder dismissed the application. She explained why:
 

“In seeking that adjournment and in considering whether or not I should allow it, I must take account of various factors, one of those of course being that delay is inimical to these sort of proceedings. They need to be brought to a conclusion as soon as possible. I have to weigh against that, the fact that [the mother] has not been subject to any detailed assessment, the fact of the matter is that the court is in the position today where it has sufficient information to consider what is in the best interests of the children and if I were to adjourn where would we be then? We would be at a position where the local authority might be saying by virtue of their role in these proceedings that the matter should move to overnight staying contact. It does not mean that they would be in a position to make a final recommendation, not that anything is ever final in the lives of children because things move and things change, but I take the view that to delay these proceedings any further, these proceedings having been ongoing for some time, to delay them any further for the purpose of an assessment which might not be able to come to a final conclusion and might not be able to be effected due to the involvement of CAMHS with the older of the two children”.
The hearing proceeded. The Recorder heard oral evidence from the mother and the paternal grandmother. Cross-examined on the point, the paternal grandmother, who said she had spent a great deal of time in the mother’s company over the past 18 months, could not think of anything that had happened during that time which gave her cause for concern in respect of the mother or her ability care for her children, apart from some missed contacts.
 

In closing submissions Mr Boucher-Giles again invited the Recorder to adjourn for an assessment of the mother.
 

At the end of the hearing, on 10 January 2014, the Recorder gave judgment. She summarised the history of events, recording that, on the mother’s own evidence, she had had problems in the past with ill health, post natal depression and drug misuse and that, as a result, she had not been able to offer adequate care to the children. She described how matters had “almost reached crisis point” in July 2012. She described the mother’s position as being that she had only ever envisaged a temporary arrangement and that by April 2013 she was in a fit and proper position to deal with looking after the children herself.
 

The Recorder then said this:
 

“It has become apparent as well that there have been failings in social services dealing with this case and that was acknowledged by the team leader Miss Richardson when she gave her evidence that in fact no assessment of the mother has at any time been undertaken since the mother has recovered from all the difficulties that she had.
However I have to look at the welfare checklist and I have to decide this case on the basis of those matters”.
She drew attention to the fact that the older child appeared to be saying that she wished to live with her grandmother. She directed herself that the child’s welfare is the paramount consideration and that she had to have regard to the general principle that any delay is likely to prejudice the welfare of the child.

The Recorder reiterated her reasons for refusing an adjournment, saying:
 

“Clearly delay is a matter which I have to take account of if it is likely to prejudice the welfare of the child or the children and I take the view that any delay in this case, any extension of these proceedings with all the necessary conflicting views of all the parties, would mean that it is likely, it is probable that certainly [the older child] would be adversely affected in terms of her emotional wellbeing by knowing that these proceedings were on going.
It is clear as well that such a delay is an open ended delay, because no-one can say at this stage as to how long, as to what the outcome of overnight contact would be, if it was in fact recommended by the social services department.
… I take the view that delay would not be in the interests of these children, it would not be productive in terms of their welfare and it is for this reason that [the proposition that I should] adjourn for a period of time, is not one which lends itself to me.”

She then said this:
 

Can I say that I accept that there is no assessment of the mother as she is now. I do not make an assessment of her because I have only had the opportunity of seeing her in the witness box and my decision is based not on the fact that I have made an assessment of her, it is based on the fact that I feel that delay in the case would be prejudicial to the children.
One can only speculate as to what the outcome of that assessment will be“.
The Recorder then considered the welfare checklist, saying in the course of this:
 

“The court must also take into account the children’s physical, emotional and educational needs, well it is perfectly plain to me and I think it is even accepted on behalf of the mother that those needs are being met by the paternal grandmother at the present time. On the other hand so far as the mother is concerned I have no evidence before the court that she is able to provide them with the same level of support in terms of their physical, emotional and educational needs.”
Having found that in the past the children had suffered harm as a result of the mother’s inability to cope, the Recorder continued:
 

I cannot say whether they are at risk of suffering in the future, it is probable that matters will move forward in fact it is inevitable that matter that matters will move forward but I am not in a position to make any finding as to whether or not they are at risk of suffering in the future.
What I also have to take into account is how capable the mother and the grandmother are in relation to the question of meeting the children’s needs. Well as I have already indicated it appears to be accepted and in fact I make a finding that the grandmother is in fact meeting the needs of these children and has done so at least for the last eighteen months and possibly for longer so far as [the older child] is concerned.
Taking all those matters into account I then have to decide what is the proper order in this case.
This is a case where the mother has, I have no doubt the best of intentions at heart, but I am not satisfied that it would be appropriate at this stage to make an immediate order granting her residence and so in those circumstances I dismiss her application for residence.
I then have to consider what orders I should make. At the present time the paternal grandmother has no legal standing because she has no orders and nothing in place at the present time. I intend therefore to make a residence order in favour of the paternal grandmother.”

 

The application for appeal was made, and Ryder LJ gave permission, identifying four important principles

 

The mother’s appellant’s notice was filed on 31 January 2014. Considering the application for permission on the papers, Ryder LJ had the benefit of Mr Boucher-Giles’ powerful skeleton argument. In giving permission, Ryder LJ observed that the grounds of appeal and skeleton argument at least four potentially significant issues, which he described as follows:
 

“(a) whether a court dealing with a private law children application is obliged to deal with the proportionality of the order as an interference with art 8 rights – the horizontality argument;
(b) whether the judge should have attached any greater significance to the position of a mother as against a grandmother – the imperative of being brought up by a parent if that parent is a good enough parent even though the grandmother may be better;
(c) whether the judge’s refusal to order an adjournment to obtain a section 7 assessment report from the local authority deprived the mother of the evidence that might demonstrate her capability;
(d) how the court should deal with section 20 accommodation cases where the local authority is acting as the decision maker but not taking care proceedings (and has not assessed the parent when arguably it should have done so).”
Ryder LJ “invited” the local authority to intervene in the appeal to make submissions in relation to issue (d). It has declined to do so.

 

Quite so. The vital ones of public interest are (a)  (c) and (d)  – point (b) already has the benefit of a lot of settled law.

 

The Court of Appeal determined the appeal solely on ground (c), leaving us in limbo as to the important questions in (a) and (d) until they arise again. The appeal was granted and the case sent for rehearing.

The stark facts here are clear and obvious. There had been no assessment of the mother. Ms Fitzgerald’s report was peppered with the recognition that an assessment was “required” in order both to provide evidence that the mother had indeed changed, and was able to sustain that change, and to assess her current and longer-term ability to meet the needs of the children. The Recorder acknowledged that there had at no time been any assessment of the mother, made clear that she herself had not made any assessment of the mother, and, most strikingly of all, found that, to repeat:
 

“I cannot say whether [the children] are at risk of suffering in the future … I am not in a position to make any finding as to whether or not they are at risk of suffering in the future (emphasis added).”
It is quite apparent that the Recorder’s decision was driven by her concern about delay. She says so explicitly in the passage, already cited, where she said:
 

“my decision is based not on the fact that I have made an assessment of her, it is based on the fact that I feel that delay in the case would be prejudicial to the children.”
That is elaborated in the passage where she said:

“any delay in this case, any extension of these proceedings with all the necessary conflicting views of all the parties, would mean that it is likely, it is probable that certainly [the older child] would be adversely affected in terms of her emotional wellbeing by knowing that these proceedings were on going.”
As to this I merely observe that one needs to bear in mind what Ms Fitzgerald had said in evidence (see paragraph 8 above) and that the Recorder’s comment about the delay being “open ended” (paragraph 16) involved little more than an educated guess – what the Recorder herself described (paragraph 17 above) as speculation – as to what might be revealed by the strictly time-limited assessment being proposed by Mr Boucher-Giles. There is also, in my judgment, much force in his submission that the Recorder focused too much on the short-term disadvantages without addressing, as she should, the medium and longer term implications.
 

The simple fact, in my judgment, is that the Recorder fell into a double error. By refusing an adjournment for the assessment which had never taken place, which the local authority acknowledged was required and which Mr Boucher-Giles was understandably pressing for, the Recorder denied herself vital evidence to fill what on her own findings were serious gaps in her knowledge of the mother and of the mother’s ability to care for the children. This was, as Mr Boucher-Giles submitted, an essential piece of information if the Recorder was properly to do her duty in accordance with section 1(3)(f) of the Children Act 1989. On top of that she placed far too much weight on a view as to the consequences of delay which was not borne out by the evidence.
 

This all fed into an approach which ended up being unfair to the mother and went far in the direction of effectively reversing the forensic burden. I have in mind in particular the passage in her judgment where the Recorder, having correctly found that the children’s needs were being met by the paternal grandmother, went on to note that:
 

“On the other hand so far as the mother is concerned I have no evidence before the court that she is able to provide them with the same level of support in terms of their physical, emotional and educational needs.”
Indeed, but why was that?

It follows that, for all these reasons, the mother in my judgment succeeds on issue (c) and accordingly succeeds on her appeal.

 

The Court of Appeal then went on to have a go at the Local Authority (deservedly so in this case)

Moreover, the “Agreement” was expressed, more than once, to be “whilst further assessments are completed”, yet it seemingly remained in place even after the assessment had been cancelled. And the children were not returned to the mother even after she had asked. If this was a placement under section 20 then, as my Lord pointed out during the hearing, the mother was entitled under section 20(8) to “remove” the children at any time. Why were they not returned to her? I can only assume it was because the local authority believed that the arrangements were not within section 20, so that it was for the mother, if she wished, to take proceedings, as in the event she had to, against the paternal grandmother. But if this was so, why did the local authority arrogate to itself effective decision-making power as to whether the mother’s contact with the children should be supervised or not? And why was the local authority as recently as January 2014 seemingly arrogating to itself decision-making power as to whether or not there should be overnight staying contact?
 

The local authority’s decision to decline Ryder LJ’s invitation to intervene makes it impossible for us to get to the bottom of these issues. The picture we have, however, is disturbing. I can well understand why Mr Boucher-Giles complains that the local authority has in effect instigated and resolved what ought to have been public law proceedings without legal authority to do so, sidestepping the need to prove ‘threshold’ and thus avoiding the important protections against State interference which Part IV of the Children Act 1989 provides. The mother, he says, was by virtue of the State’s actions placed in a position whereby her children were being cared for, against her wish, by the paternal grandmother and without any legal order in place. I place these submissions on record without expressing any concluded view, though agreeing with Mr Boucher-Giles that it would be a matter of concern if ‘back door’ care proceedings such as this were to become prevalent.

 

It is a great shame that the Court did not get to grips with the issue of ‘back door care proceedings’, but one can see why the appeal so obviously suceeds on point c that it was not strictly necessary.

 

 

Written Agreements

 

Written agreements in cases involving Social Services are always a tricky thing. It is important that the wording is clear about what is being asked of a parent and what is okay and what’s not. It is also important that they are fair and not  “setting a parent up to fail”

 

These would be my golden rules for parents about written agreements

 

1. Don’t sign one unless you understand every single bit, and you’ve been told clearly what will happen if you don’t stick to it

2. If you have a lawyer, you should ask for legal advice BEFORE you sign it.  If you don’t have a lawyer, say that you want the Local Authority to hold a Meeting Before Action, so that you can have free legal advice about the agreement.

3. If you think that something isn’t fair, say so

4. If you’re willing to do what is being asked, but you want help, ask for that help to be identified and put in the agreement

5. Never ever sign a written agreement if you don’t intend to stick to it – your position is made worse by signing it and not doing it than by not signing it.

 

 

And for social workers

 

1. Be clear

2. Be fair

3. Don’t try to solve every tiny problem – worry about fresh fruit and veg and home-cooked shepherd’s pie AFTER you’ve solved the violent partner hitting the children.

4. It should be a two-way street – what are you doing to help the parent?

 

The Court of Appeal touch on a particular aspect of Written Agreement in Re W (Children) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1065.html

 

There are some important issues in this case, so I will do a follow-up post, but just on the Written Agreement issue.

 

In August 2012 a social worker, Ms Nesbitt, was appointed to the case and in October 2012 began work on a core assessment. On 12 November 2012 the mother and Ms Nesbitt signed a document which described itself as an “Agreement” made between the local authority, the mother and the paternal grandmother. So far as material for present purposes it read as follows:
 

“This is not a legal agreement however; [sic] it may be used in court as evidence if needed.
This agreement has been complied [sic] to ensure that [the mother] agrees for [the children] to remain in the care of paternal grandmother whilst further assessments are completed.
[the mother] agrees to [the children] remaining in the care of paternal grandmother whilst further assessments are completed.

 

[As one of my commentators once had a go at me for [sic]  I will point out that these are the words of the Court, not mine. I loathe the use of [sic], and it isn’t something I would ever do.]

 

Ryder LJ seems to have assumed, and I can well understand why, that the powers the local authority was exercising in and after July 2012 were those conferred on it by section 20 of the Children Act 1989. But the very curious terms of the “Agreement” dated 12 November 2012 give pause for thought. Why was it stated to be “not a legal agreement”? Why was it said that “it may be used in court as evidence if needed”? Whatever it meant, and whatever its true legal status, it was treated by the local authority as enabling it – I decline to say authorising it – in effect to control this mother and her children. And, moreover, to exercise that control without the need to commence care proceedings and hopefully, from its perspective, without exposing the local authority to the various obligations which arise in relation to a child who is or has been ‘looked after’ in accordance with section 20.
 

I express no view at all as to whether this was in law the effect of what was being done, a question on which my Lady’s judgment in SA v KCC (Child in Need) [2010] EWHC 848 (Admin), [2010] 2 FLR 1721, is illuminating (compare the facts in that case as analysed in paras 57-60, 72-74). See also my Lady’s judgment in Re B, Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council v Others [2013] EWCA Civ 964, [2013] Fam Law 1382, and the earlier judgments of Smith LJ in Southwark London Borough Council v D [2007] EWCA Civ 182, [2007] 1 FLR 2181, para 49, and of Baroness Hale of Richmond in R (M) v Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council [2008] UKHL 14, [2008] 1 WLR 535, para 42, to which Mr Boucher-Giles referred us.
 

That is not all. I suspect that the reference to the “Agreement” being “used in court as evidence if needed” can only have been intended to have the effect of warning the mother that if she did not ‘toe the line’ the “Agreement” would be used against her in some way in any proceedings that ensued. I remark that, as Hedley J put it in Coventry City Council v C, B, CA and CH [2012] EWHC 2190 (Fam), [2013] 2 FLR 987, para 27, the use of section 20 “must not be compulsion in disguise”. And any such agreement requires genuine consent, not mere “submission in the face of asserted State authority”: R (G) v Nottingham City Council and Nottingham University Hospital [2008] EWHC 400 (Admin), [2008] 1 FLR 1668, para 61, and Coventry City Council v C, B, CA and CH [2012] EWHC 2190 (Fam), [2013] 2 FLR 987, para 44.
 

Moreover, the “Agreement” was expressed, more than once, to be “whilst further assessments are completed”, yet it seemingly remained in place even after the assessment had been cancelled. And the children were not returned to the mother even after she had asked. If this was a placement under section 20 then, as my Lord pointed out during the hearing, the mother was entitled under section 20(8) to “remove” the children at any time. Why were they not returned to her? I can only assume it was because the local authority believed that the arrangements were not within section 20, so that it was for the mother, if she wished, to take proceedings, as in the event she had to, against the paternal grandmother. But if this was so, why did the local authority arrogate to itself effective decision-making power as to whether the mother’s contact with the children should be supervised or not? And why was the local authority as recently as January 2014 seemingly arrogating to itself decision-making power as to whether or not there should be overnight staying contact?
 

The local authority’s decision to decline Ryder LJ’s invitation to intervene makes it impossible for us to get to the bottom of these issues. The picture we have, however, is disturbing.

 

There are two issues here :-

 

1. The use of the wording that “this is not a Legal Agreement”  and

 

2. Whether a written agreement that is signed as ‘mere submission in the face of asserted state authority’  is fair

 

On the first point, I’ve seen this wording crop up on Written Agreements, and I don’t care for it. It is factually true that the document is not a Legal Agreement – in the sense that the Local Authority can’t sue for compensation or breach of contract or go to Court to MAKE a parent give up heroin because they agreed to it in writing.  But as the Court of Appeal point out, it is a document that would be used in evidence if there was a breach. It is a document that HAS CONSEQUENCES if you don’t stick to it, and those consequences are legal ones.

 

Does writing ‘this is not a Legal Agreement’ on them assist a parent? Well, I think very few parents were signing under the impression that the document was a contract under Contract law.  Does it hinder a parent? Well, if any of them read that message to mean ‘you don’t have to stick to it’, then yes, it does.

 

I can only think that at some time in the distant past, someone or other has said “These Written Agreements have to have written on them ‘This is not a Legal Agreement’, and it got absorbed into practice or philosophy. It might even have been a Judge. I haven’t found an authority to that effect, but it could easily be a small line in a judgment.

 

On the second, the Court of Appeal don’t go as far as saying that written agreements signed in that way should be disregarded   (unless they are a section 20 agreement that the child should live elsewhere, in which case it is established law that this consent must be given on an informed basis and freely, not under duress.

But it raises an important point – if the Written Agreement, as so many of them are, is really a  ‘sign this and you get one last chance before we take the kids’ then is the consent to the written agreement just an extension of what the Courts have ruled wrong in s20 cases ?  Remember that the s20 cases are not about the wording of the Act, which doesn’t mention consent at all, but about the wider Human Rights Act principles of proportionality and fairness.

 

Written Agreements can be valid tools for helping a family to change, to solve problems and in some cases to remove the risks that would otherwise make the children unsafe at home, but a degree of thought has to be given about their construction and use if they are instead being ‘sign this or else’

 

The principles in Re CA would be a sensible way to look at Written Agreements  (even when they are not agreements that involve agreement that the child live elsewhere , section 20)

 

i) Every parent has the right, if capacitous, to exercise their parental responsibility to consent under Section 20 to have their child accommodated by the local authority and every local authority has power under Section 20(4) so to accommodate provided that it is consistent with the welfare of the child.

ii) Every social worker obtaining such a consent is under a personal duty (the outcome of which may not be dictated to them by others) to be satisfied that the person giving the consent does not lack the capacity to do so.

iii) In taking any such consent the social worker must actively address the issue of capacity and take into account all the circumstances prevailing at the time and consider the questions raised by Section 3 of the 2005 Act, and in particular the mother’s capacity at that time to use and weigh all the relevant information.

iv) If the social worker has doubts about capacity no further attempt should be made to obtain consent on that occasion and advice should be sought from the social work team leader or management.

v) If the social worker is satisfied that the person whose consent is sought does not lack capacity, the social worker must be satisfied that the consent is fully informed:

a) Does the parent fully understand the consequences of giving such a consent?
b) Does the parent fully appreciate the range of choice available and the consequences of refusal as well as giving consent?
c) Is the parent in possession of all the facts and issues material to the giving of consent?
vi) If not satisfied that the answers to a) – c) above are all ‘yes’, no further attempt should be made to obtain consent on that occasion and advice should be sought as above and the social work team should further consider taking legal advice if thought necessary.

vii) If the social worker is satisfied that the consent is fully informed then it is necessary to be further satisfied that the giving of such consent and the subsequent removal is both fair and proportionate.

viii) In considering that it may be necessary to ask:

a) what is the current physical and psychological state of the parent?
b) If they have a solicitor, have they been encouraged to seek legal advice and/or advice from family or friends?
c) Is it necessary for the safety of the child for her to be removed at this time?
d) Would it be fairer in this case for this matter to be the subject of a court order rather than an agreement?
ix) If having done all this and, if necessary, having taken further advice (as above and including where necessary legal advice), the social worker then considers that a fully informed consent has been received from a capacitous mother in circumstances where removal is necessary and proportionate, consent may be acted upon.

x) In the light of the foregoing, local authorities may want to approach with great care the obtaining of Section 20 agreements from mothers in the aftermath of birth, especially where there is no immediate danger to the child and where probably no order would be made.

 

 

 

 

 

We are all unquantified risks

 

This was a permission hearing, Re B and P 2014 heard before Ryder LJ

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1133.html

There were a number of features which made the permission hearing difficult, not least that the parents, their McKenzie Friends and the Court did not have any of the papers from the care proceedings, save for a transcript of the judgment.

So, Ryder LJ listed the case for a rolled-up appeal (the permission application first, and to go on to an appeal if successful)

Why did nobody have the court papers?

Well, the parents were in person, and their solicitors had sent the bundles off to the cost-draftsmen (if you aren’t a lawyer, that will be meaningless, so by way of explanation it means that in order to get paid, the lawyer has to send all of their papers off to a specialist who then draws up the detailed bill to send to the Legal Aid Agency, who then sit on it for nineteen months and then pay an arbitrary amount that bears little relation to the actual bill)

The parents had asked the Local Authority to give them a copy of the bundle and the Local Authority had refused.

Now, the Local Authority weren’t at this appeal hearing, so I don’t know their side of it. It might potentially be that there was felt to be some very good reason why it would be unsafe for the parents to have those papers.  Hopefully it is some legitimate reason and not just being awkward. I suspect if the reason was just ‘it’s not our job’ or ‘why should we do it?’ or ‘get it from your own lawyers’, that’s not going to cut it with the Court of Appeal.

The parents appealed on six points, two of which Ryder LJ kicked out straight away, but he was interested in some of the others.

[From the reported facts of the case, I am reasonably sure that the judgment that was being appealed was Parker J in Hertfordshire
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/2159.html - there are SO many similiarities, it would be hard for it to be coincidence. Not least because both cases involve a father being convicted for assaulting a social worker and a dispute about a religious naming ceremony]

 

Mrs Haines, representing the parents as a McKenzie Friend, puts the nub of the case very neatly

The baby’s case depends in large part on the same history that led to the conclusion in relation to the older child, J. J was thriving in his mother’s care and after his removal there was good quality contact with the parents (those facts can be deduced from the judgments that I have). There had been two assessments of the parents’ capability to care for J which were both reasonably positive, the latter assessment being a residential assessment after which the child went to live with the parents under an interim order. So what caused everything to fall apart?

The trigger for the ultimate end position was the father’s aggressive failure to co-operate with the local authority and Cafcass. That led to a police raid on the parents house (described by one of the judges as an unfortunate incident i.e. it was either not necessary or should not have occurred at all or in the way that it did). The raid found nothing amiss but had been prefaced by the father’s failure to permit anyone to discover whether the child was still being appropriately cared for. The father has obdurately put his own dignity and rights before his child’s to the extent that it has ultimately led to the removal of both of his children. One might well ask, and Mrs Haines does on his behalf, is an argument with the agencies of the state, even a violent argument, sufficient to cause one to lose one’s children?

 

 

This is a peculiar one, since despite a previously unfortunate history, it appears from the judgment that assessments were such that the parents were given an opportunity to care for their new child at home and it was the father’s violent outbursts to professionals which led to the shift in plan from placement with parents to adoption.

 

So far as father is concerned, he is described as being an unquantified and unassessed risk. He is regarded as being dangerous and is suspected of having a psychiatric or psychological trait / personality disorder that is not amenable to change. That may be right. This court at least needs to scrutinise the evidence given its importance. He is the essential support for the mother, if the psychological opinion relating to her care capability stands. It is said that he is unable to work with professionals and he has assaulted a social worker and those are conclusions of fact that appear to be very secure – there is a conviction for the latter incident. But does that mean he is unable to support the mother and is he a risk to his child?

A conclusion that someone is ‘unquantified’ as a risk is meaningless. We are all unquantified in the absence of evidence and it is for the local authority to prove its case. He was certainly a risk to professionals but not according to the judges to the mother. Was he a risk to his child? The evidence relating to that is not yet known to this court save that which can be gleaned from the judgments. That suggests that he was condemned as being an emotional risk to his child because he had no insight into how his behaviour with professionals might affect his child. That is circular. If there is no need for professional input because he can provide the support for the mother then his reaction to professionals does not prevent him caring for a child or supporting the mother in that task.

In fairness there is another and potentially important factor. These children needed protection at least until it could be concluded that the prima facie risk identified in relation to their mother had been answered one way or the other. Father acted so as to thwart an assessment of himself and in doing that he is alleged to have exposed his children to the risk of emotional harm because his behaviour is indicative of a trait that would be dangerous to their emotional health. Whether that is sufficient to permit of the removal of children for adoption is a question on the facts of this case that the documents will no doubt illuminate but it may also raise a legal policy issue relating to proportionality that the court needs to address i.e. can even a violent failure to co-operate with an agency of the state be sufficient to give rise to the removal of one’s child?

I don’t know yet whether when the Court of Appeal tackle this case in full, with all the papers, and hearing from the other parties, the final outcome will be very different to Ryder LJ’s take, but it certainly raises an important and interesting aspect.

If the sole concern is that a parent is not co-operating with the Local Authority (even violently not co-operating), what is the risk to the child that justifies the State assuming care of the child?

There are some people who are violent to their partner and their child, and that bleeds into their violent outlook on life and approach to professionals. There are people who betray their violent tendencies and nature by the manifestation of their temper, and one learns of the risk that they would pose to others close to them.

But there are some people, maybe not many, but some, who just violently dislike social workers and are not afraid of saying so, but would pose no risk of violence to those around them.

This appeal might answer the question – if you’re not harming your child by doing so, are you entitled to be vile to social workers ?

If it does answer that question, there will be a lot of people interested in it either way.

There are two different perspectives here

(A) That the father was the protective factor against the established problems the mother had in providing care for a child, that he would need support from professionals and how can that support be provided if he is assaulting them physically when they visit?

OR, conversely

(B) If the major problem that the father has only happens when social workers visit, then it is solveable by just not having social workers visit.

It has tricky socio-political consequences, if the Court of Appeal do answer this point (and don’t hold your breath – remember that Re B went to the Supreme Court specifically to resolve the vexed question of emotional harm and completely ducked the issue)

If the Court of Appeal were to find that (A) is the right answer, then parents and campaigners will feel that this is carte blanche for social workers to cultivate a bad relationship with a parent and then rely on that same bad relationship as reason why the child has to be removed.

If the Court of Appeal were to find that (B) is the right answer, does that give a green light for parents to abuse and intimidate social workers?

Which is why I suspect a way will be found to duck the points that Ryder J raises.

[If there was a bet to be had on the outcome of this appeal, the sure thing is “If a parent or their McKenzie Friend asks the Local Authority for a copy of the court bundle to assist in an appeal, the Local Authority MUST provide it” (and probably that the LA must also produce appeal bundles and copies for the Court too) ]

Jordan Family Law Awards

 

Yes, this is the bit where I shamelessly beg for your vote again.  Yes, I know you voted for me last year and I didn’t win.*

 

Yes, I know I promised I would cut tuition fees and ended up tripling them. Yes, I know I told you all I was opposed to privatisation and then sold off the Royal Mail to some very rich people in the City at a knock-down price. Yes, I know that I campaigned on the basis of protecting human rights and have trampled all over them, and that I introduced LASPO,  DRIP and the bedroom tax and loads of other things that, let me tell you, I am now as utterly opposed to as you are.  I know people say that I sold out all of my principles, and sold them out cheaply, that I made wild promises to be different and turned out just as bad as the rest of them.

 

So, you can rest assured that THIS year, it will all be different.

 

Here is the voting link thing.  In the interests of transparency, I should say that Lucy Reed over at Pink Tape has also been nominated (and frankly, I’d vote for her instead of me, if I didn’t have a vested interest and a space on my mantlepiece. I wouldn’t even know there was such a thing as law blogging if it hadn’t been for Lucy. She is an icon. And much like Daniel Day Lewis without a moustache in many ways).  I don’t know the other two nominees, but they sound very impressive too, and also like they might be nice people.

 

http://books.jordanpublishingsecure.co.uk/updates/vote.asp

 

But if you have ever enjoyed the blog – if I’ve made you smile, or made you annoyed, or made you think ‘something must be done’, or helped you find a case that you needed, I’d be really grateful if you would vote for me.

 

More importantly though – if you have ever had a fraction of the enjoyment out of any of my pieces that I had writing them (okay, not the Brussels II pieces, I’ve hated every second of those), then you could do me a huge favour, and pass on a link to someone you know.   (Ideally someone who might have an interest in family law). If you get the email version, forward it on to someone – don’t pick a Brussels II case, those really aren’t a good illustration of what the site is about.

 

 

(*I did get pretty close last time round, and looking back at my guarantee to save the life of everyone who voted for me, what I can tell you is that nobody who voted for me has subsequently died, or will ever die.

 

That might be pitching it a bit strong. I might get sued for that.   Let’s instead say that in the last year NO CORONERS INQUEST has named me as responsible in any way for the death of anyone who voted for me.  So, vote for me.  It is the key to immortality…   or at least, there is not yet any scientific proof that it isn’t . )

 

I’ll put the vote thing here, in case you just skipped to the bottom to see if I was offering any cash.

 

http://books.jordanpublishingsecure.co.uk/updates/vote.asp

 

 

 

 

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