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Gilded cage – junior edition

 

Those of you who follow deprivation of liberty cases will be aware that the landscape is markedly different after the Supreme Court in Cheshire West.  Just how different remains to be seen, as individual cases come before the Courts and are tackled.

 

Keehan J was faced with a difficult concrete example of the uncertainty following Cheshire West in

 

Re D (A Child :Deprivation of liberty) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/922.html

 

This case involved a boy, not quite sixteen, with considerable difficulties.

D was born on 23 April 1999 and is 15 years of age. He was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder at the age of 4, with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 7 and with Tourette’s syndrome at the age of 8.

 

He had been admitted to hospital for psychiatric treatment as a result and is just about to be discharged into a residential care setting. He had been on a locked psychiatric ward for 15 months. This is obviously a very high-end example.

 

In this case, as a result of the Cheshire West decision, there was considerable dispute about whether D was being deprived of his liberty and whether his parents consent to this was sufficient to allow this or whether a DoLs authorisation was required.

The hospital trust considered that DoLS authorisation was required and that to conclude that D’s parents had the right to consent to D being deprived of his liberty was too broad a view of PR.

The Local Authority considered that D’s parents were consenting, and thus this was not a deprivation of liberty in the DoLS sense.

  1. The Applicant Trust submits that the circumstances in which D lives at Hospital B satisfy the first limb of the Cheshire West test namely:

    “the objective component of the confinement in a particular restricted place for a not negligible length of time.”

  2. Further the Trust submits that D’s parents cannot consent to his placement at Hospital B because such a decision, to consent to what would otherwise amount to a deprivation of liberty, falls outside the ‘zone of parental responsibility’.
  3. Accordingly, the Trust submits the appropriate course is to seek the court’s approval of D’s placement under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court.
  4. The local authority adopts a diametrically opposed stance. It submits that the circumstances of D’s placement do not amount to a deprivation of liberty. Further, it submits that the decision of D’s parents to consent to his placement at Hospital B falls within the proper exercise of parental responsibility. Accordingly what might otherwise constitute a deprivation of liberty does not do so because the second and third limbs of the test in Cheshire West are not satisfied namely:

    ” (b) the subjective component of lack of valid consent; and

    (c) the attribution of responsibility to the state”.

This has substantial implications – all disabled children who are receiving care from the State and whose liberty is being restricted (in order to keep them safe) on the Trust’s interpretation of Cheshire West would need to have that deprivation of liberty authorised – even if the parents were consenting. The real bad news there is that for people under 16, the Mental Capacity Act 2005 doesn’t cover them and such deprivation of liberty would have to be authorised under the Children Act 1989.  Which means, to spell it out, placing all of those disabled children in Secure Accommodation.

 

Which also means making Court applications. Which also means the residential homes that are caring for these disabled children needing to go through the registration process to qualify as Secure Units.

 

It is an interpretation of Cheshire West which does make logical sense from the judgment, but which has immensely worrying consequences. Not least that the Secure Accommodation provisions might well not be met for these children and the alternative would be that carers at the residential units would thus have no power to restrict the children’s movements  (for example, not being able to stop them from running into the road)

 

[I note that Keehan J in this case specifically rules that the High Court can authorise deprivation of liberty for children under the inherent jurisdiction. I’m really rather dubious about that. I know the inherent jurisdiction is a magic bullet for every situation with almost limitless powers, but to use it to sidestep s25 Secure Accommodation provisions seems to me to have real difficulties with s100 – particularly s100 (4) (a) which bars granting leave to a Local Authority to make an application under the inherent jurisdiction if there is a statutory order the LA could apply for instead, and s100 (4) (b) which says that leave can’t be granted unless the Court is satisfied that significant harm would result to the child otherwise. Would anyone ever appeal it? probably not. ]

 

Any Local Authority lawyer dealing with deprivation of liberty or disabled / disturbed children is really really nervous about how this case is going to turn out. It is a big test case.

Here’s the practical arrangements for D, to consider whether they amount to a deprivation of liberty

Dr K describes D’s life at Hospital B as follows:

“D is residing on X one of the two buildings which make up the adolescent service. Each building is a six-bedded unit. Each young person has their own bedroom, and shares bathroom and living areas with the other patients. There is a school room attached to each building, and all the students receive full time education provided from a special school outreach service.”

“D’s unit is staffed 24 hours a day.

It has a locked front door. D does not leave the ward without a staff member or his family accompanying him. He has been offered opportunity to undertake small tasks by himself, such as emptying the bins, but he says he is scared. Unescorted leave would be considered as part of his treatment package to see how he fares.

D has his own bedroom, which he can access whilst he is on the unit at his leisure. He shares a bathroom and residential areas within the building.

D is on general observations. This means that he is checked on every half an hour or so. However, D seeks out contact with staff more regularly within that time and this means that he is under direct observation on a much more regular basis. I am of the view that he is under constant supervision and control.

His school is integral to the building. He goes off site for all relevant school activities such as, to music sessions on site, and to activities which take place in the community, such as shopping and cafes. He leaves the unit on a daily basis, accompanied by staff.

He is independent in his self-care, and requires minimal support for this. He eats a varied diet independently, and is able to vocalise his preferences.

Attempts to engage him in more serious conversation unnerves him, and he will try to deflect the subject, or directly challenge the person, by telling them that he is not happy. I am of the view that this is reflected in the anxiety he has shown around his discharge. My team will need to manage this carefully within the discharge process.

When out in the community, D is supported one-to-one. He has stated that he would be anxious to go out on his own, and prefers to be accompanied by staff. On occasion he has to be reminded about his behaviour when out, as he might stare and pull faces at strangers. He has been encouraged to do some tasks independently, such as emptying the bins outside, but he has stated that he was too anxious to do it by himself and so he is accompanied when doing this.”

 

That does seem, from Cheshire West, to be deprivation of liberty, and indeed Keehan J found it to be so, and all parties accepted that those circumstances did amount to a deprivation of liberty following Cheshire West.

In the ultimate analysis counsel for the Trust and counsel for the local authority accepted that the circumstances in which D was accommodated amounted to a deprivation of liberty subject to the issue of consent to the placement.

On the facts of this case I am wholly satisfied that D lives in conditions which amount to a deprivation of his liberty. He is under constant supervision and control. The fact that D enjoys residing in the unit in Hospital B, that he is comfortable there and readily seeks out and engages with members of staff are irrelevant factors when considering whether there is a deprivation of liberty. So too are the facts that the arrangements have been made in his welfare best interests and have been, and are, to his benefit. A gilded cage is still a cage.

 

The issue then, was whether the parents could consent to D’s liberty being deprived in this way.

  1. Mr Cowen, on behalf of the local authority sought to contend that:

    i) Cheshire West did not apply to those cases where the young person concerned was under the age of 16 years;

    ii) in such a case the decision in Cheshire West, that the disability or mental disorder of the young person concerned was irrelevant to the question of whether there was a deprivation of liberty, did not apply; and

    iii) the court should prefer and apply the ‘relative normality’ test propounded by the Court of Appeal in P and Q.

  2. I do not accept any of those propositions. The protection of Article 5 of the Convention and the fundamental right to liberty applies to the whole of the human race; young or old and to those with disabilities just as much to those without. It may be those rights have sometimes to be limited or restricted because of the young age or disabilities of the individual but ‘the starting point should be the same as that for everyone else’, per Baroness Hale: Cheshire West at paragraph 45.
  3. The majority in Cheshire West decided that what it means to be deprived of liberty is the same for everyone, whether or not they have a physical or mental disability: per Baroness Hale in Cheshire West at paragraph 46.
  4. I accept the essential ratio of Cheshire West does not apply to the circumstances of this case. Nevertheless, in my view, the acid test definitions of a deprivation of liberty apply as much to D as they did to the subjects of the appeals in Cheshire West.
  5. In the premises I do not accept the local authority’s third submission that I should reject the approach of the Supreme Court in Cheshire West and apply the Court of Appeal’s test of ‘relative normality’. I do not understand the logic of the submission that I should hold that the decision of the Supreme Court does not apply to the facts of this case but then resurrect and apply the test propounded by the Court of Appeal which was expressly rejected by the majority of the Supreme Court.
  6. The essential issue in this case is whether D’s parents can, in the proper exercise of parental responsibility, consent to his accommodation in Hospital B and thus render what would otherwise be a deprivation of liberty not a deprivation of liberty (ie the 2nd limb in Cheshire West is not satisfied).

 

That’s quite dense, so I’ll walk you through it. The argument was that Cheshire West, being a Mental Capacity Act case, doesn’t strictly apply to minors. The Judge said that this was right, but that the Supreme Court’s acid test as to what sort of restrictions amounted to a deprivation of liberty DID apply also to children, and that the Local Authority’s argument that the restrictions in place for D were the sort of restrictions that a child like D would have (relative normality) was exactly the decision reached by the Court of Appeal in Cheshire West that had been rejected.

When considering whether D’s liberty had been deprived, his physical or mental disabilities were not a relevant factor  – they might well be relevant when later considering whether those restrictions were the right thing for him but not at the stage of considering whether they amounted to a deprivation of liberty.

The argument that children like D need these restrictions, so they aren’t a deprivation of liberty in the way that they would be for a child who didn’t have D’s issues was completely rejected by the High Court.

The sole issue was whether the parents could exercise parental responsibility to CONSENT to those restrictions, thus making the deprivation of liberty one that was effectively consented to, and thus not a breach of Article 5.  IF the parents could consent, then there would not NEED to be a court order or declaration to justify the article 5 breach, since the restrictions would be by consent and the breach would fall away.

 

Mr McKendrick for the Trust set out the arguments for why the Trust considered that the parents could NOT consent.  (I have to confess that in reading this, much as I want the LA to win this argument and so much rides on it, I was thinking that Mr McKendrick’s points were right)

48. Mr McKendrick reminds me that Dr K does not consider D to be Gillick competent to consent to his residence, treatment or care. He referred me to the provision of the new MHA Code of Practice which comes into effect on 1 April 2015. Paragraphs 19.47 – 19.48 provide:

      1. 19.47 An additional and significant factor when considering whether the proposed intervention in relation to a child or young person is a restriction of liberty or amounts to a deprivation of liberty is the role of parental control and supervision. Practitioners will need to determine whether the care regime for, and restrictions placed on, the child or young person accord with the degree of parenting control and supervision that would be expected for a child or young person of that age. For example, whereas it is usual for a child of under 12 years not to be allowed out unaccompanied without their parent’s permission, this would not usually be an acceptable restriction on a 17 year old. Account also needs to be taken of the particular experience of the child or young person. For example, a younger child who has been caring for their parent, including shopping for the household and/or accompanying their parent to medical appointments, might not be used to being prevented from going out unaccompanied.
      1. 19.48 Prior to the Supreme Court’s judgment in Cheshire West, case law had established that persons with parental responsibility cannot authorise a deprivation of liberty. Cheshire West clarified the elements establishing a deprivation of liberty, but did not expressly decide whether a person with parental responsibility could, and if so in what circumstances, consent to restrictions that would, without their consent, amount to a deprivation of liberty. In determining whether a person with parental responsibility can consent to the arrangements which would, without their consent, amount to a deprivation of liberty, practitioners will need to consider and apply developments in case law following Cheshire West. In determining the limits of parental responsibility, decision-makers must carefully consider and balance: (i) the child’s right to liberty under article 5, which should be informed by article 37 of the UNCRC, (ii) the parent’s right to respect for the right to family life under article 8, which includes the concept of parental responsibility for the care and custody of minor children, and (iii) the child’s right to autonomy which is also protected under article 8. Decision makers should seek their own legal advice in respect of cases before them. (Chapter 26 provides guidance on the use of restrictive interventions.)
  1. The Trust submitted that D’s parents cannot consent to a deprivation of his liberty in Hospital B for 11 reasons: i) D has the same Article 5 ECHR rights as an adult and the same definition of deprivation of liberty applies to him as it does to adults;

    ii) D has a mental disorder, he is deprived of his liberty pursuant to Article 5 (1) (e) – see Cheshire at paragraph 6, per Baroness Hale: “Article 5(1)(e) permits the lawful detention of persons of unsound mind, but that detention has to conform to the Convention standards of legality, and the doctrine of necessity did not provide HL with sufficient protection against arbitrary deprivation of his liberty. The court was struck by the difference between the careful machinery for authorising the detention and treatment of compulsory patients under the Mental Health Act and the complete lack of any such machinery for compliant incapacitated patients such as HL”;

    iii) D has been resident on a locked psychiatric ward for fifteen months;

    iv) D can only leave that ward with adult 1:1 supervision;

    v) whilst his parents consented to his placement, such consent much be seen in the context they could not accommodate him at their home;

    vi) he does not lead a life of relative normalcy;

    vii) D is fifteen and shortly will be afforded the protection of the MCA to authorise and review any deprivation of liberty occasioned by being deprived of his liberty at Hospital B (by way of application of s. 4A MCA, given Schedule A1 would not apply to him until he is 18);

    viii) to rely (effectively solely) on parental consent, when D’s parents cannot accommodate and care for him (and have no or other limited options for their son) is an insufficient safeguard to protect D’s Article 5 ECHR rights;

    ix) parental consent over a period of fifteen months, as means of review and safeguard, is not compliant with Article 5 (4);

    x) it is out with the reasonable zone of parental control to authorise the deprivation of liberty for such a prolonged period of time and is inconsistent with a child’s Article 5 ECHR right;

    xi) hospital clinicians remain uneasy about caring for and depriving a child of his liberty, given the length of time and given his age, with only authority provided by way of parental consent.

  2. The Trust concludes its submissions as follows:

    The applicant recognises there may be cases where parents can authorise the deprivation of liberty of a younger child for a shorter period of time, in a hospital setting. The applicants are not certain the concession approved by the court in RK is correct. Indeed it seems clear parents can authorise the first stage of the deprivation of liberty test (i.e. they can deprive, rather than just restrict, the liberty of their children, at home) but that such deprivation is not an Article 5 deprivation of liberty, because it is not attributable to the state. Each case ultimately must be considered on its facts (however unpalatable such an approach may be in respect of public resource considerations).

    Whilst the applicant (in many ways) would gratefully submit that D is not deprived of his liberty, it does not consider it is appropriate for a public body to interpret the law in a manner disadvantageous to the protection of a vulnerable child’s rights. Whilst the applicant would readily adopt a “pragmatic approach” as identified by Gross LK in RK, the applicant submits the preferred conclusion, on the facts of these proceedings, is that D is deprived of his liberty, such deprivation is attributable to the state and his parents cannot provide valid consent.

 

Powerful stuff.

Here comes the decision.

  1. When considering the exercise of parental responsibility in this case and whether a decision falls within the zone of parental responsibility, it is inevitable and necessary that I take into account D’s autism and his other diagnosed conditions. I do so because they are important and fundamental factors to take into account when considering his maturity and his ability to make decisions about his day to day life.
  2. An appropriate exercise of parental responsibility in respect of a 5 year old child will differ very considerably from what is or is not an appropriate exercise of parental responsibility in respect of a 15 year old young person.
  3. The decisions which might be said to come within the zone of parental responsibility for a 15 year old who did not suffer from the conditions with which D has been diagnosed will be of a wholly different order from those decisions which have to be taken by parents whose 15 year old son suffers with D’s disabilities. Thus a decision to keep such a 15 year old boy under constant supervision and control would undoubtedly be considered an inappropriate exercise of parental responsibility and would probably amount to ill treatment. The decision to keep an autistic 15 year old boy who has erratic, challenging and potentially harmful behaviours under constant supervision and control is a quite different matter; to do otherwise would be neglectful. In such a case I consider the decision to keep this young person under constant supervision and control is the proper exercise of parental responsibility.
  4. The parents of this young man are making decisions, of which he is incapable, in the welfare best interests of their son. It is necessary for them to do so to protect him and to provide him with the help and support he needs.
  5. I acknowledge that D is not now cared for at home nor ‘in a home setting’. His regime of care and treatment was advised by his treating clinicians and supported by his parents. They wanted to secure the best treatment support and help for their son. They have done so. It has proved extremely beneficial for D who is now ready to move to a new residential home out of a hospital setting. What other loving and caring parent would have done otherwise?
  6. Those arrangements are and were made on the advice of the treating clinicians. All professionals involved in his life and in reviewing his care and treatment are agreed that these arrangements are overwhelmingly in D’s best interests. On the facts of this case, why on public policy or human rights grounds should these parents be denied the ability to secure the best medical treatment and care for their son? Why should the state interfere in these parents’ role to make informed decisions about their son’s care and living arrangements?
  7. I can see no reasons or justifications for denying the parents that role or permitting the state to interfere in D’s life or that of his family.
  8. I accept the position might well be very different if the parents were acting contrary to medical advice or having consented to his placement at Hospital B, they simply abandoned him or took no interest or involvement in his life thereafter.
  9. The position could not be more different here. D’s parents have regular phone calls with him. They regularly visit him at the unit. Every weekend D has supported visits to the family home. He greatly enjoys spending time at home with his parents and his younger brother.
  10. In my judgment, on the facts of this case, it would be wholly disproportionate, and fly in the face of common sense, to rule that the decision of the parents to place D at Hospital B was not well within the zone of parental responsibility. Conclusions
  11. I am satisfied that the circumstances in which D is accommodated would amount to a deprivation of liberty but for his parents’ consent to his placement there.
  12. I am satisfied that, on the particular facts of this case, the consent of D’s parents to his placement at Hospital B, with all of the restrictions placed upon his life there, falls within the ‘zone of parental responsibility’. In the exercise of their parental responsibility for D, I am satisfied they have and are able to consent to his placement.

 

So whilst for D, a gilded cage is still a cage and one doesn’t take into account his disabilities, whether or not his parents are able to consent to him being in that cage is a decision that CAN take into account his disabilities.

 

Easiest legal exam ever

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

Here is the 1901 law degree exam in full

 

Question 1.  Is ‘do what thou wilt’  ?

 

(a) None of the law

(b) The Whole of the law

(c) A part of the law

 

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

 

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

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

Only just over the threshold

 

I am tending to think that there’s a repositioning of the threshold criteria going on at the moment. It is a little hard to call, since there’s always been the unspoken background that what constitutes threshold in Liverpool doesn’t necessarily be the same things that consitute threshold in Torquay. But it feels that Re A and Re J are a subtle raising of the bar.

When a bar is raised, it can be tricky to work out exactly where that bar now is. We know that on the facts of Re A, threshold was not made out, but we don’t know if it was miles short or inches short.

Which is why when the President decides a case and says that the threshold criteria was satisfied but only just, it gives us some potentially useful information.

 

Leeds City Council v M and others 2015   http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/27.html  is the follow-up to the President’s judgment on Female Genital Mutilation (you may remember, this was the case where that was alleged, and the President had to decide (a) if it had happened (no) (b) whether it could amount to threshold (yes) (c) Would it amount to risk of harm to a male child (no) and (d) if it had happened, would it by itself justify adoption (no)

 

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/01/14/fgm-an-important-authority/

The President’s first judgment pre-dated Re A, which is what makes me think that there’s a shift in thinking. The President here didn’t seem to be struggling with the idea that domestic violence, even if not of the most serious nature could amount to significant harm:-

 

“(i) The local authority is unable on the evidence to establish that G (as I shall refer to her) either has been or is at risk of being subjected to any form of female genital mutilation.

(ii) There was a greater degree of marital discord than either M or F (as I shall refer to them) was willing to admit to. There was also, I am satisfied, some physical violence on the part of F, though neither very frequent nor of the more serious variety.

(iii) Given all the facts as I find them, including but not limited to (i) and (ii) above, threshold is established.

The President had said in the first case that adoption, the LA’s plan, was not proportionate, and was seeking an alternative resolution. This case is that resolution.

In giving his final judgment, the President identified four key areas where the LA contended threshold was met:-

1. Mother’s mental health

2. Domestic violence

3. Neglect and physical abuse

4. Lack of cooperation / engagement

Remember, the President concluded that threshold WAS met, but only just.

I am prepared to accept, in the light of my findings, that threshold is established, though not by a very large margin.

So, looking at things in detail

 

1. Mother’s mental health

The psychiatrist, Dr T, made the diagnosis that mother had ‘schizo-affective disorder’, currently in remission, but a lifelong condition vulnerable to relapse caused by stress. Dr T said at least 12 months’ stability in M’s condition was essential if B and G were to be safe in her care and that the necessary period had not yet elapsed. If stability and compliance could not be maintained over that length of time, it would be “very risky” for them to be returned to her care

The Judge accepted Dr T’s evidence and opinion.

 

  • I accept that there has been improvement in M’s mental health. But Dr T’s evidence, which I accept, is clear, compelling and withstood all challenge. It would be irresponsible not to heed and give effect to it. In my judgment, M is not at present able to look after B and G.

[You might look at that and say that this in and of itself is sufficient to cross the threshold – there’s a factual matrix which allows the Court to establish that there is a risk of significant harm – remember that if a factual matrix is established, the risk itself does not have to be more likely than not, it is sufficient to be a risk which cannot sensibly be ignored, as decided by the House of Lords in H and R 1996. ]

 

2. Domestic violence

 

The mother had made allegations of domestic violence against the father, but later retracted them. The Court had heard evidence from mother and father.

My conclusion, having carefully considered the mass of material put to me and the helpfully detailed submissions from counsel, is that there was, as I have said, a greater degree of marital discord than either M or F was willing to admit to. There was also, I am satisfied, some physical violence on the part of F, though neither very frequent nor of the more serious variety. It was, as Mr Ekaney submits, at the lower end of the scale. Beyond that it would not be right to go.

 

Remembering that the definition of ‘harm’ was expanded in the Children Act 1989  to include the words in bold  “harm” means ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development [including, for example, impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another];     – the words being added in the Adoption and Children Act 2002. So a child being exposed to domestic violence, or at risk of being so exposed can be considered to have suffered harm, or risk of such harm – the issue really being whether it is significant.  The President does not, in his judgment, specify whether his conclusion about domestic violence here amounted to significant harm or the risk thereof.  The best we can do is go back to this bit

“(i) The local authority is unable on the evidence to establish that G (as I shall refer to her) either has been or is at risk of being subjected to any form of female genital mutilation.

(ii) There was a greater degree of marital discord than either M or F (as I shall refer to them) was willing to admit to. There was also, I am satisfied, some physical violence on the part of F, though neither very frequent nor of the more serious variety.

(iii) Given all the facts as I find them, including but not limited to (i) and (ii) above, threshold is established.

 

 

and suggest that domestic violence was part of the factual matrix that led the President to conclude that threshold was crossed, though not by a very large margin.

 

3. Neglect and physical abuse

 

This is the section where you get to see the Re A dynamics play out. There are facts established to show what happened to the children

There were two very specific allegations of neglect, amongst more general complaints

in October 2013, G was taken to nursery with spare clothes that were damp, soiled and smelled of urine; much more significant, on 7 November 2013 M, it is said, abandoned G in an alleyway in the city centre, where she was found cold, wet and very distressed. 

[The mother accepted the abandonment. G was born in July 2011, remember]

 

There is no doubt that B and G experienced instability and inconsistency of care, brought about by M’s recurrent mental health difficulties and F’s limited ability to cope with them. There were the specific instances of neglect I have already referred to.  To the extent that there was marital discord between F and M, B and G were exposed to it. I think it is probable that on a few occasions B and G were exposed to mild chastisement – but nothing more serious.

 

But as Re A showed us, establishing a contested (or accepted fact) as being proven is only half of the story. The next stage is for the Local Authority to satisfy the Court that what happened caused the children harm.

In this case, the Guardian considered that the children did not present as having been damaged by their experiences

“Without exception these two children have been described in very positive ways; it is clear they are delightful and endearing children who make a good impression on anyone who meets them. It is also clear that the first impressions of these children did not signify children who had been exposed to neglect, or an abusive home environment. They appeared to have been protected from the worst excesses of the mother’s mental health challenges. They have experienced positive parenting.”

 

The President says

I entirely agree. The guardian’s analysis accords with everything I have read and heard.

What is important, however, is the fact that, as I have already found, none of this seems to have had any significant or prolonged impact on either B or G – so nothing they have been exposed to can have been that serious.

 

The President doesn’t say so explicitly (which is somewhat vexing for those of us who are trying to decipher the Delphic offerings), but I think that that final remark can be read to mean that he did not accept that the threshold was made out on the basis of the neglect aspects.

Frankly, I think abandoning a 2 1/2 year old child in an alleyway is significant harm, but it appears that I am wrong about that.

 

Firstly, this troubles me because that sort of thing also feeds into risk of future harm, and of course a child isn’t yet showing the ill-effects of future harm. This approach seems to ignore future harm entirely.

The other thing that concerns me about this approach is that I can forsee that we are ending up with a different threshold criteria for a resilient child, who is exposed to poor parenting but has inner qualities that allow them to cope, and a fragile child whose reaction to the same parenting is marked and plain to see.  And it also requires that the child is showing the effects of the harm that they have suffered in a very visible and measurable way – I know that the neuroscience is controversial, but there is at least some evidence to suggest that neglect has much longer repercussions than the immediate visible impact.

 

4. Lack of cooperation / engagement

 

Here the parents made concessions

 

 

  • M admits poor engagement with professionals due to her mental health problems.
  • F accepts that, prior to the children being taken into care, he failed to engage and co-operate with the local authority and that this led to him adopting what was understandably perceived as a controlling attitude towards M. This, I accept, was driven by the two factors to which Mr Ekaney drew attention. The first was F’s perplexity about the family situation, largely caused by his failure to recognise the nature and extent of and inability to understand M’s mental health difficulties. The other was F’s desire to protect his family and his fear, from his perspective well-founded fear, that B and G would be removed from their care. Since B and G were taken into care, F’s attitude has changed. There has been, as Mr Ekaney puts it, a high level of co-operation and engagement with the local authority, coupled with a high level of commitment to B and G. And, as I accept, this is not due to any compulsion; it reflects F’s growing realisation and acceptance of the underlying realities.
  • Given M’s and F’s concessions, which appropriately reflect the reality of what was going on, there is no need for me to make any further findings.

 

[Well, there is a slight need – again, I am assuming that this was not found to have amounted to significant harm or the risk of significant harm, but it is rather difficult to say for certain, because the judgment doesn’t outline it.  To be honest, I do not envy the Local Authority advocate who had to draw up a final settled threshold based on this judgment. I THINK that the totality of the judgment suggests that findings of fact were made across points 1-4, but only those in points 1 and 2 amounted also to findings of significant harm. But I would not race to Paddy Power with bundles* of fivers to back that conclusion. My actual bet would be that over the next year, the number of cases where threshold is agreed rather than fought out will dramatically reduce. And as we can’t have fact finding hearings any more, thresholds will be fought out at final hearings. How’s that going to work out for 26 weeks, I wonder?]

 

 

The President ruled that whilst mother could not care for the children now or within their timescales, the father could and should be given that opportunity, and the children would be placed with him under Supervision Orders.

So there we have it, on these facts, the case crossed the threshold, but not by a very large margin.

 

 

*IF I did happen to be going to the bookies with bundles of fivers, I would ensure that in accordance with Practice Direction 27 there were (a) no more than 350 of them (b) They were A4 sized  and (c) that they were printed only on one side. Which explains why Paddy Power doesn’t want me going in there any more.

 

father who insisted on his right to smack his children

This is a report from the Daily Telegraph, and as luck would have it, I have the judgment that it refers to. Nice to be able to lay them alongside each other.

 

Telegraph report

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/11500866/Father-who-insisted-he-had-a-right-to-smack-his-children-has-son-and-daughter-taken-into-care.html

 

What they report is that the father had two children taken into care

He said he smacked his kids on the bottom, legs and arms, using his hand, but that the red marks left behind ‘did not last long’.

But Rotherham Council social workers took a dim view of his disciplinarian ways and determination to have ‘total control’ over his family.

It seems a fairly balanced piece from the Telegraph, to be fair to them. When I read the ‘dim view’ bit I was all set for social work bashing, but most of it seems to be extracted from the judgment and giving a balanced account. (It does show how much easier it is to write an accurate story if you use the judgment)

The children were placed with an aunt.

And the judgment itself

Rotherham Borough Council v L and Others 2015

is here

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B29.html

 

I don’t think I’ve come across someone refusing to give the oath before, but the father did just that in this case  (having previously micro-managed the expert assessment and refused to participate in any social work assessment)

 

  1. Father gave evidence before me. Before he did he refused to affirm or take an oath. He tried to explain to me why that was. Despite being advised by Mr P that in not doing so this may carry the impression that father wanted to control matters in his own way – a theme throughout – father insisted that he would not affirm or take the oath. He assured me he would tell the truth. His words were ‘I don’t lie.’ I therefore allowed him to give evidence.
  2. I have observed him throughout the case. Mr P was right when he warned father that his conduct would reinforce the evidence that he is a man who must feel in control. It does.

 

Whilst the Telegraph headline (though not the full story) might give something of an impression of a father who just exercised his legal right to lawful chastisement of his children when they were naughty, the judgment itself conveys much more of a sense of a man who was using violence amonst other means of exercising control over his wife and his children.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

Bodey and DoLs

Mr Justice Bodey, sitting in the High Court dealt with a case involving a 93 year old woman with severe dementia, and had to resolve whether the protective mechanisms that had been put in place by the Local Authority amounted to a deprivation of liberty (or DoLs).  And if so, whether the Court would authorise those.

 

W City Council v Mrs L  2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2015/20.html

 

This might have wider implications, because the Court were being asked specifically about two issues :-

 

1. The deprivation was in the woman’s own home, rather than in accommodation provided by the State.

2. The woman herself was not objecting to the restrictions, or kicking against them.

Unusually here, it was the LA who were saying to the Court that their actions amounted to a deprivation of liberty, and the family were saying that it wasn’t.

Here’s what the restrictions amounted to:-

  1. As I have said, Mrs L is 93. She was widowed in 1976 and has lived since about that time, 39 years, in her current home, the upper floor flat in a 2-storey building. She has 4 adult daughters, 3 of whom live in England and one abroad. Her daughter PC is, as I have said, her litigation friend. If I may say so, the family seem to have done extraordinarily well in caring proactively for Mrs L, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2004. Since that time, her condition has deteriorated, and understandably is deteriorating. Her family have adapted her furniture and routines to take account of all her needs. She fell twice in 2013, the first time injuring her hip and requiring an operation. The second time in November 2013 she suffered no injury, but became disorientated and wandered away from her home very unsuitably clothed into the local town. She was returned home by the Police or Social Services. This event led to the involvement of the Local Authority.
  2. At that time, the garden at Mrs L’s home was not enclosed. In the light of Mrs L’s having wandered off, the family arranged for a fence and two gates to be erected, and for the garden to be generally improved. The gates are side by side: one to use on foot, and the other a double gate to admit vehicles, presumably for the benefit of the young couple who live with their children in the ground floor flat. The pedestrian gate latch is of the kind often seen on bridleway gates, having a vertical metal lever on the gate, which is pulled away from the gate post to open the gate, and which springs back to engage with a clip on the gate post in order to re-close the gate. The double gates are secured by a metal throw-over loop, which holds the two central uprights together. The front door of Mrs L’s flat which leads into this garden area is locked with a Yale lock, which Mrs L can and does operate herself. This enables her to have access to her garden as and when she wishes it. All agree that she gets great pleasure from being able to go out and enjoy the garden.
  3. The Local Authority have undertaken assessments of the safety of the above arrangements. They have concluded that whilst neither of the gate latches lock, they are quite stiff and heavy to operate. There was an occasion when Mrs L was observed to open the pedestrian gate when asked to do so. This was before a wedge was added to the gate by Mrs L’s downstairs neighbours (to stop their young children getting out) which has made the gate more difficult to open. The garden is felt by everyone to be sufficiently secure, although with an unavoidable risk that someone might leave the gate open. At night, there are door sensors which switch themselves on in the evening and off in the morning. They would be activated if Mrs L were to leave the property at night, although she has not in fact done so in the 6 months or so since they were installed. An alarm call would automatically be made to one of her daughters, who lives nearby. If that daughter were not available, the call would re-route go to the emergency services. This would enable Mrs L to be guided safely back home.
  4. Mrs L is happy and contented where she lives. A care package is provided for her by the Local Authority’s specialist dementia carers, who visit her 3 times a day. She is orientated within the property, steady on her feet, motivated to engage in simple activities, and has a clear interest in her garden. There is a documented history of her strong sense of belonging in her current home, and of her fierce sense of independence. She displays an acceptable level of mobility. Her immediate environment can be seen to give her significant pleasure and stimulation. She is able to enjoy the company of her cat. All agree it would cause her distress to be moved to residential care. All agree too that the current arrangements of family and Social Services working together are in Mrs L’s best interests and work well.
  5. The facts on which the Local Authority relies in particular for saying that the arrangements amount to a deprivation of Mrs L’s liberty are: (a) that the garden gate is kept shut, thereby preventing or deterring Mrs L from leaving the property unless escorted; (b) that the door sensors are activated at night, so that Mrs L could and would be escorted home if she left; and (c) that there might be circumstances in an emergency, say if the sensors failed to operate at night, when the front door of the flat might have to be locked on its mortice lock, which Mrs L cannot operate (as distinct from the Yale lock, which she can). She would then be confined to her flat. These arrangements are said by the Local Authority to be integral to its care plan for Mrs L, which is overseen by her social worker. The Local Authority thus asserts that it is responsible, as a public body, for a deprivation of Mrs L’s liberty.

 

This is a good illustration of how unsatisfactory things are at present with DoLs.  On those facts, my gut feeling would be that it ISN’T an article 5 deprivation of libery. BUT, given that if you get this wrong, compensation is payable to the person being deprived of their liberty (and at least one Judge has ordered that that is on a daily rate), would I be sure? Or even fairly sure? I can absolutely see why this LA wanted to make the application and have a Judge decide.

 

Mr Justice Bodey sets out the law very well (this would be a good “go-to” judgment for these issues)

 

On the two key issues in the case, Bodey J said that both were relevant factors in weighing up whether the restrictions amounted to a deprivation of liberty, but neither of them were determinative (i.e a person CAN be deprived of liberty in their own home and a person CAN be deprived of their liberty even if they seem perfectly happy about it, but whether or not they ARE being deprived of their liberty depends on the facts of the case)

 

23. ..it is overwhelmingly clear that Mrs L is where she always wanted to be when she was capacitous: and where not only has she not shown or expressed any dissatisfaction with the arrangements, but has demonstrated positively a continuing satisfaction with being in her own home. Further, her home is clearly not a ‘placement’ in the sense of a person being taken or taking herself to some institution or hospital.

  1. The fact of Mrs L referring to, and demonstrating by her demeanour, this continuing contentment in her home is not in issue. It is right that she is of course not capacitated. Otherwise, this case would not be happening. But I do find that she is capable of expressing her wishes and feelings, as is referred to in the documents and shown in such things as for example her choice of clothes, the choice of what she does around the property, and in her going in and out of the garden at will. Although I accept the general need for the caution which Miss Hirst urges me to exercise, this consideration must be relevant in the evaluation of whether Mrs L is being ‘deprived’ of her ‘liberty’ within Article 5.
  2. This case is thus different from one involving institutional accommodation with arrangements designed to confine the person for his or her safety, and where that person, or someone on his or her behalf, is challenging the need for such confinement. At paragraph 38 of Cheshire West Lady Hale spoke about ‘the presence or absence of coercion’ being a relevant consideration. As I have said, the range of criteria to be taken into account includes the type, duration, effects and manner of implementation of the arrangements put in place. The fact that those criteria are prefaced by the words ‘such as’ demonstrates that they are not intended to be exhaustive. It is a question of an overall review of all the particular circumstances of the case.
  3. I observe too that Article 5 refers to everyone having a right to ‘liberty and security of person’ [emphasis added]. Mrs L’s ‘security’ is being achieved by the arrangements put into place as being in her best interests, even though involving restrictions. Such restrictions are not continuous or complete. Mrs L has ample time to spend as she wishes, and the carer’s visits are the minimum necessary for her safety and wellbeing, being largely concerned to ensure that she is eating, taking liquids and coping generally in other respects.
  4. This is a finely balanced case; but on the totality of everything that I have read in the files, I have come to the conclusion and find that whilst the arrangements (clearly) constitute restrictions on Mrs L’s liberty, they do not quite cross the line to being a deprivation of it. If I were wrong about that, and if there is a deprivation of Mrs L’s liberty, is it to be imputed to the State? On the facts, I find not. This is a shared arrangement set up by agreement with a caring and pro-active family: and the responsibility of the State is, it seems to me, diluted by the strong role which the family has played and continues to play. I do not consider in such circumstances that the mischief of State interference at which Article 5 was and is directed, sufficiently exists.
  5. In these circumstances, my decision is simply that there is no deprivation of Mrs L’s liberty. This is not per se because Mrs L is in her own home; nor because she wishes to be there. Those features alone would not necessarily stop particular arrangements amounting to a deprivation of liberty. Rather it is a finely balanced decision taken on all the facts of the particular case. The question of the court’s authorising the arrangements concerned does not in the circumstances arise, although I would have authorised them if it did. The question of Mrs L’s up to date best interests is better considered back in Birmingham by the District Judge, and I anticipate that it should be capable of being dealt with by consent.

 

 

Even Professionals can find it difficult to know if a person is being deprived of their liberty…

Even Professionals can find Deprivation of Liberty confusing

Adoption – here we go again?

The Court of Appeal have found the reverse gear to their reverse gear (from the original reverse gear of Re B-S).  Sort of.

I actually think this is just the Court of Appeal reminding Judges that in cases where Placement Orders are being made, it is actually a requirement that the judgment explains why.

 

There have been a few cases where the judgments have been flawed and the Court of Appeal rolled up their sleeves, got under the bonnet of the case and got oil on their forearms in order to set out what the Judge must have meant, but omitted to say. This wasn’t one of those.

Re J (A child) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/222.html

 

It is pretty bad that the Court of Appeal remark of the judgment that it barely contains any information that emerged during a three day final hearing or any analysis of the evidence that the Court heard.

The judgment is contained within 38 paragraphs and runs to some 16 pages. Two thirds of the substance of the judgment consists, however, of verbatim recital by the judge of sections within the local authority chronology and the parenting assessment

The judge’s approach to the content of the assessment report was to select substantial passages from that document and simply quote them in narrative form within his judgment. From time to time the judge punctuates these extensive quotations with a comment and, on three occasions, with respect to specific matters the judge simply states that he “rejects” or “accepts” one account or another. No reasons are given for such acceptance or rejection and no references are made to any oral evidence given to the court on any of these three specific points during the three day oral hearing. Indeed, the judgment does not contain any account at all of the oral evidence. The judge’s quotations with regard to the parents’ capacity are all drawn from the written report alone.

This Judge also did something that I have complained about (not with my own Judges, but because I read the published judgments that go up on Bailii) where it appears that simply setting down the law and the rigorous tests to be applied has become a substitute for actually engaging with those tests. The Court of Appeal in Re BS deprecated the practice of stock phrases being used as ‘judicial window dressing’ rather than Judges actually engaging with those ideas and applying them to the facts of the case, but if anything since Re B-S the published judgments on Bailii just show that the stock phrases have just become stock paragraphs.

10…the judge gives a brief outline of the legal context within which he was required to make the necessary decisions. He did so in these terms at paragraph 4:

 

“I recognise immediately that to accede to the Local Authority application I must conclude that there is no other option open, no other option exists for the welfare of this child other than to make the order that the Local Authority seek, it is a position of last resort and it is only a position I can adopt if nothing else remains. It is a draconian order that the Local Authority seek, I have to adopt a holistic approach measuring the pros and cons, the child has a right to a family life with birth parents unless his welfare and safety direct that I am forced, and I underline the word forced, to accede to the Local Authority application.”

  1. Insofar as it goes, the judge’s description of the legal context cannot be faulted. It is repeated towards the end of the judgment at paragraph 36 in these terms:

    “Again I repeat I cannot concur with the Local Authority application unless what they say establishes a case of necessity for adoption, nothing less than that will do, intervention in a child’s right to a family life if at all possible should be through the birth parents or extended family, is it possible that the Local Authority could provide a package of support to maintain the child in the family?”

  2. Again, that account by the judge is entirely in keeping with the current case law regarding these important decisions. The criticism made by Miss Fottrell and Miss Hughes is that in all other parts of the judgment the judge signally failed to operate within the legal parameters that he had described.

 

It is of note that the Court of Appeal formally acknowledge and approve the President’s judgment in Re A about thresholds, giving them even more weight if any were needed.

 

In fact, as Lord Justice Aikens not only approved the points in Re A, but provided a distillation of them, this authority bolsters those points considerably. You won’t get far re-arguing those points with the Court of Appeal.   [Although I note with heavy heart that ‘nothing else will do’ is making a comeback, after I thought we’d reverted to Baroness Hales full paragraph]

 

  1. This case exhibited many of the shortcomings that were highlighted in the judgment of Sir James Munby P in Re A (a child) [2015] EWFC 11. I wish to endorse and underline all the points of principle made and the salutary warnings given by the President in that case. It is a judgment that needs to be read, marked and inwardly digested by all advocates, judges and appellate judges dealing with care cases and particularly adoption cases. As the judgment of the President in that case is necessarily long and detailed, I have respectfully attempted to summarise below the principles set out, none of which are new. I venture to give this summary in the hope that advocates and judges throughout England and Wales who have to deal with these difficult care cases will pay the utmost heed to what the President has said. Advocates and courts are dealing in these cases with the futures of children, often very young and therefore very vulnerable. They are also dealing with the futures of parents who may be imperfect (as we all are) but who often dearly love the child who is at the centre of the litigation. Separating parents and child by placement and adoption orders must only take place if it is proved, upon proper evidence, that “nothing else will do”.
  2. The fundamental principles underlined by the President in Re A, which, as I say, are not new and are based on statute or the highest authority or both, can, I think, be summarised thus:i) In an adoption case, it is for the local authority to prove, on a balance of probabilities, the facts on which it relies and, if adoption is to be ordered, to demonstrate that “nothing else will do”, when having regard to the overriding requirements of the child’s welfare.

    ii) If the local authority’s case on a factual issue is challenged, the local authority must adduce proper evidence to establish the fact it seeks to prove. If a local authority asserts that a parent “does not admit, recognise or acknowledge” that a matter of concern to the authority is the case, then if that matter of concern is put in issue, it is for the local authority to prove it is the case and, furthermore, that the matter of concern “has the significance attributed to it by the local authority”.

    iii) Hearsay evidence about issues that appear in reports produced on behalf of the local authority, although admissible, has strict limitations if a parent challenges that hearsay evidence by giving contrary oral evidence at a hearing. If the local authority is unwilling or unable to produce a witness who can speak to the relevant matter by first hand evidence, it may find itself in “great, or indeed insuperable” difficulties in proving the fact or matter alleged by the local authority but which is challenged.

    iv) The formulation of “Threshold” issues and proposed findings of fact must be done with the utmost care and precision. The distinction between a fact and evidence alleged to prove a fact is fundamental and must be recognised. The document must identify the relevant facts which are sought to be proved. It can be cross-referenced to evidence relied on to prove the facts asserted but should not contain mere allegations (“he appears to have lied” etc.)

    v) It is for the local authority to prove that there is the necessary link between the facts upon which it relies and its case on Threshold. The local authority must demonstrate why certain facts, if proved, “justify the conclusion that the child has suffered or is at the risk of suffering significant harm” of the type asserted by the local authority. “The local authority’s evidence and submissions must set out the arguments and explain explicitly why it is said that, in the particular case, the conclusion [that the child has suffered or is at the risk of suffering significant harm] indeed follows from the facts [proved]”.

    vi) It is vital that local authorities, and, even more importantly, judges, bear in mind that nearly all parents will be imperfect in some way or other. The State will not take away the children of “those who commit crimes, abuse alcohol or drugs or suffer from physical or mental illness or disability, or who espouse antisocial, political or religious beliefs” simply because those facts are established. It must be demonstrated by the local authority, in the first place, that by reason of one or more of those facts, the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering significant harm. Even if that is demonstrated, adoption will not be ordered unless it is demonstrated by the local authority that “nothing else will do” when having regard to the overriding requirements of the child’s welfare. The court must guard against “social engineering”.

    vii) When a judge considers the evidence, he must take all of it into account and consider each piece of evidence in the context of all the other evidence, and, to use a metaphor, examine the canvas overall.

    viii) In considering a local authority’s application for a care order for adoption the judge must have regard to the “welfare checklist” in section1(3) of the Children Act 1989 and that in section 1(4) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. The judge must also treat, as a paramount consideration, the child’s welfare “throughout his life” in accordance with section 1(2) of the 2002 Act. In dispensing with the parents’ consent, the judge must apply section 52(1)(b) as explained in Re P (Placement Orders, parental consent) [2008] 2 RLR 625.

I think that is an excellent distillation, and much more user-friendly than the original.

Ms Daisy Hughes drew out a particularly good point, and one which I expect to see appear again  (I applaud her work here)

On behalf of the father, Miss Daisy Hughes draws attention to the fact that there is no reference at all to the father’s evidence in the judgment. In this context Miss Hughes relies upon the case of Re A (A Child) [2015] EWFC 11 in which, at paragraph 6, Sir James Munby P states:

“I add two important points which I draw from the judgment of Baker J in Devon County Council v EB and Ors (Minors) [2013] EWHC 968 (Fam). First, I must take into account all the evidence and, furthermore, consider each piece of evidence in the context of all the other evidence. I have to survey a wide canvas. Secondly, the evidence of the father is of the utmost importance. Is he credible and reliable? What is my impression of him?”

In short terms, Miss Hughes submits that the approach that is described there by The President is plainly correct and that the judge in the present case failed to conduct any effective analysis of the evidence in the sense of giving any regard to the evidence from either of the parents. To the extent that the judge made any findings, Miss Hughes relies upon the complete absence of any reference to the father’s evidence to make good her submission that this judgment falls well short of what is required.

In this particular case, the parents were disputing the threshold and the order sought was the most serious that the Court could make. So it was imperative that the Court gave a judgment that resolved the factual issues and set out what harm the Court considered the child was suffering from or at risk of suffering, as the ‘baseline’ for considering what orders might be necessary.

 

The trial Judge had failed to do this. The Court of Appeal expressed some doubt as to whether, as pleaded, threshold was capable of having been met.

 

  1. The parents did not accept that the facts of the case justified a finding that the threshold criteria under CA 1989, s 31 were met. On the facts of this case, and, in particular, on the basis upon which the local authority had chosen to plead the threshold grounds, the parents’ stance was not without merit.
  2. In addition to the threshold document, the local authority analysis was summarised in a witness statement made by the key social worker in May 2014 in these terms [page C166 paragraph 38]:

    “It is my professional opinion that [mother] and [father] have demonstrated no positive change since the initial removal of J from their care, and neither have they accepted the local authority’s concerns, throughout Social Care involvement. This refers to the concerns raised regarding Domestic Violence, J’s exposure to a lack of routine and consistency, their own levels of immaturity and the impacts of [father’s] substance misuse. It is my professional opinion that many of the local authority’s concerns relate to the lack of maturity of the couple.”

    In that paragraph ‘Domestic Violence’ must, even on the judge’s findings, be confined to the assault a year prior to J’s birth, clothes being thrown out of a window in March 2014 and the mother’s reported complaint in April 2014 of controlling behaviour and punching. The lack of routine and consistency arise from the parenting assessment. The father’s admitted cannabis misuse does not relate to a time when either parent had the care of J. Immaturity is undoubtedly an issue but, as my lord, Lord Justice Vos, observed during submissions, a presumption that no young person would behave other than perfectly is unsustainable.

  3. To my eyes, the content of this central paragraph within the social work statement begs the question whether this statement of the local authority’s ‘concerns’, even taken at its highest on the basis of the factual evidence, is sufficient to support a finding that it is necessary for J to be placed permanently away from his parents and adopted. In that respect, and with particular regard to what is said about domestic violence, I readily endorse the words of the President in his judgment in Re A (see above), which was handed down in the week prior to our hearing where, at paragraph 16, he stressed the need always to bear in mind the approach described by His Honour Judge Jack in North East Lincolnshire Council v G and L [2014] EWCC 877 (Fam):

    “I deplore any form of domestic violence and I deplore parents who care for children when they are significantly under the influence of drink. But so far as Mr and Mrs C are concerned there is no evidence that I am aware of that any domestic violence between them or any drinking has had an adverse effect on any children who were in their care at the time when it took place. The reality is that in this country there must be tens of thousands of children who are cared for in homes where there is a degree of domestic violence (now very widely defined) and where parents on occasion drink more than they should, I am not condoning that for a moment, but the courts are not in the business of social engineering. The courts are not in the business of providing children with perfect homes. If we took into care and placed for adoption every child whose parents had had a domestic spat and every child whose parents on occasion had drunk too much then the care system would be overwhelmed and there would not be enough adoptive parents. So we have to have a degree of realism about prospective carers who come before the courts.”

  4. There was a need for the judge to make clear and sufficiently reasoned findings of fact with respect to any disputed issues. There was then a responsibility upon the judge to identify whether, and if so how, any of the facts found, either alone or in combination with each other, established that J was likely to suffer significant harm in the care of either or both parents. Finally it was necessary for the threshold findings to identify (at least in broad terms) the category of significant harm that the judge concluded was likely to suffered by J.

 

The Placement Order was over-turned and the case sent back for re-hearing before a different Judge.

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