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Intermediary, fair trial and Legal Aid Agency


The High Court case of West Sussex CC v H and Others 2015 throws up an interesting issue.


This was a fact finding hearing, where the central allegation was that either mother or her boyfriend W, had caused a brain injury to a child who was two years old. The injury had at the time been life-threatening.


This is one of the most serious sorts of cases that come before the family Court. A finding that mother had caused that injury or failed to protect the child would have serious consequences for this mother’s prospects of keeping the children and possibly of any future children she might have. Also, the process itself would involve a lot of documents, some complicated issues and really forensic dissection of the events that happened that night, in a lot of detail.

The mother had undergone a cognitive assessment by Dr Nigel North, and he had concluded that she would need the assistance of an intermediary when giving evidence.

Intermediaries are used in criminal proceedings, and they play a very important part in making sure that a vulnerable witness can give the best evidence that they are able to.


The Registered Intermediary, having taken the intermediary oath, assists during the giving of evidence. They sit alongside the witness in the live link room (or stand next to them if they are giving evidence in court) in order to monitor communication. They intervene during questioning when appropriate and as often as appropriate in accordance with the ground rules and the recommendations in their report.   [taken from ]


However, though that was a clear recommendation and not challenged by anyone, she had to give evidence without an intermediary as the Legal Aid Agency had refused to fund one.


  1. The case was before me for case management on the 24th April 2015 and following the orders made on that day it was listed to be heard in July 2015. In addition to the complexity of the medical evidence there were concerns about the ability of M to fully participate in, and understand the proceedings because of a report by Dr Nigel North (a psychologist) dated the 6th March 2015 which recommended the use of an intermediary. The solicitors for M had applied for public funding for an intermediary assessment which was refused by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). There followed attempts by the solicitors to appeal against this decision which were unsuccessful. By the time the solicitors approached the court for approval for funding an intermediary without a further assessment to support M during the trial in July there were none available to come to court.
  2. Given her history, which was never in dispute, it is not clear to me why it was considered necessary to have a further assessment by qualified intermediary except that Dr North is not an intermediary himself; the stance of the LAA did not assist when coupled with the insistence by Communicourt that they carry out an assessment separately from supporting Y at court. This led to the refusal of funding for that initial assessment. There is undoubtedly a pressing need for clear guidance and rules similar to those in criminal proceedings when it comes to the treatment of vulnerable witnesses. It is to be hoped that the proposed addition to the Family Procedure rules will come in to force sooner rather than later.


There would not have been a problem obtaining an intermediary in a criminal court*, but in a family court if the Legal Aid Agency say no, that’s the end of it.  [*I’m not a criminal lawyer, so I might be utterly wrong here and if someone more knowledgeable tells me otherwise, I’ll amend.  Of course in a criminal case, the Judge could throw the trial out for abuse of process if the LAA refused to provide an intermediary where one was necessary, and that’s a bit more difficult in family proceedings. You don’t want to decide family cases and the safety and future of children on a ‘technicality’]


Those involved in the case worked with the Judge, Russell J,  to come up with the fairest solution that they could.


  1. On the first day of the fact finding trial I heard a ground rules hearing to decide how the case could progress without the assistance of an intermediary taking into account the recommendations which had been made by Dr North. It was agreed that the trial could go ahead with frequent breaks to allow M to have time to consider the evidence broken up into shorter more manageable sections. There were to be breaks every 30 minutes or more often if needed. M’s evidence was to be similarly divided; she was to be asked short questions and cross-examined by one counsel only, who would agree the area of questioning with other counsel. Counsel for the local authority undertook this task with the assistance of the guidance provide by the ATC in their toolkit for family proceedings. As there were seven files of evidence the documents that M was to be referred to during her evidence were placed in one file; in addition it was agreed that she would be supported by someone she knew from her solicitor’s firm to find pages or if she needed any other assistance.
  2. M’s own mother L is a respondent to these proceedings as she had originally been named as a possible perpetrator and is closely concerned with the local authority’s future plans for the care of Y and X. She was able to offer M additional support throughout the hearing.



[The outcome of the case was that the Judge found that mother’s boyfriend W, had caused the injury but more out of carelessness or recklessness than by any intention to hurt the child  :-   I do not consider that there is evidence to support any suggestion that the impact was deliberately inflicted and consider it more likely that it was a reckless and foolish action taken by a young man who has no experience as a parent, primary or main carer of a child who is still very young.   There was no finding that the mother had done anything wrong  M’s conduct since that night has been congruent with a parent seeking an answer to what has happened to her child and has not been self-serving or defensive. ]



Concurrent affairs


The Court of Appeal had to look at what happens or what should happen, when there is a conflict between the Local Authority plan for a child and what the foster carers (who had signed up as concurrent carers, or ‘foster to adopt’ under the new language of the statute) thought the plan should be.


Re T (a child: Early Permanence Placement) 2015

  1. The facts can be stated quite shortly. T was born on 20 November 2014. T’s parents signed an agreement in accordance with section 20 of the Children Act 1989 the next day, 21 November 2014, and T was placed the same day with a married couple I shall refer to as Mr and Mrs X.
  2. Mr and Mrs X had been approved as adopters by the local authority on 14 November 2014. Shortly before T’s birth, on 17 November 2014, they were invited by the local authority, and agreed, to care for T, on his birth, as foster carers with a view to adopting him if adoption was required: what is known as an early permanence placement. T, as I have said, was placed with them on 21 November 2014. The local authority commenced care proceedings, with a plan for adoption, on 3 December 2014. Mr and Mrs X signed an early permanency placement agreement the same day. On 18 December 2014 an interim care order was made. It remains in place. T remains with Mr and Mrs X.
  3. On 29 January 2015 T’s paternity was established by DNA testing. At an adjourned case management hearing the next day, 30 January 2015, the father indicated that he did not wish to be assessed as a carer for T, but he put his parents forward for assessment. An initial viability assessment of the paternal grandparents was completed on 13 February 2015. It was positive. The full kinship assessment of the paternal grandparents was completed on 1 May 2015. Again, it was positive. Following a professionals’ meeting on 8 May 2015, the local authority told Mr and Mrs X that it had abandoned its plan for adoption in favour of a placement with the paternal grandparents under a special guardianship order. This plan is supported by both the mother and the father, who accept that neither of them is able to care for T. The position of T’s guardian is that the court does not at present have before it the evidence upon which to make a proper evaluation of what the guardian says are the two realistic options: a family placement with the paternal grandparents or adoption by Mr and Mrs X.
  4. On 20 May 2015 Mr and Mrs X issued an application for leave to apply for an adoption order (see sections 42(4) and 44(4) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002). The application came before Judge Troy on 22 May 2015. By then the care proceedings had been on foot for a little over 24 weeks. She made two orders. In one she gave Mr and Mrs X leave to apply for an adoption order. In the other she joined them as parties to the care proceedings. In accordance with directions she gave on that occasion, the matter came back before Judge Troy for directions on 1 June 2015. The paternal grandparents indicated their wish to apply for a special guardianship order (their formal application followed on 19 June 2015). Judge Troy joined them as parties to the care proceedings and consolidated the care proceedings and the adoption proceedings. She extended the time limit for the proceedings (see section 32(5) of the 1989 Act) to 34 weeks.
  5. On 22 May 2015 Mr and Mrs X gave the local authority notice in accordance with sections 44(2) and 44(3) of the 2002 Act.


There’s quite a lot in there, so I’ll break it down.

The Children and Families Act 2014 tells Local Authorities that they must actively consider looking for a “foster to adopt” foster placement when they are placing a child. That’s a set of foster carers who are also approved as adopters, with a view to if things pan out that the child can’t be placed within the family, those carers will go on to adopt the child. The idea is that it reduces uncertainty and delay for the child and cuts down the number of moves.

The Local Authority did that in this case (and did nothing wrong in doing so – that’s what the Act tells them to do). The foster carers entered into the arrangement thinking that they would probably go on to adopt the child.

The child’s grandparents put themselves forward as carers, the Local Authority assessed them and considered that they would be able to care for the child.

The Local Authority told the foster carers that the plan was no longer adoption, but was placement within the extended family.

The foster carers disagreed and put in their own private application to adopt.

The Judge gave the foster carers the leave of the Court to make that application.

Then the Local Authority, the father and the grandparents appealed.



The appeal arguments of the LA, father and grandparents were these:-


  1. The grounds of appeal and the parties’ submissions
  2. As I have said, the father, the paternal grandparents and the local authority made common cause. In large measure their submissions were very much to the same effect and made the same points. I shall take them together.
  3. Their submissions can be summarised as follows:i) Judge Troy was wrong to give Mr and Mrs X leave to apply for an adoption order. Their application was premature and should not have been considered until such time as the court had determined that T’s future welfare required his adoption rather than a family placement. That process has not been in any way altered by the implementation of the statutory early permanence placement scheme. Mr Tyler adds that, if the appeal against Mr and Mrs X’s joinder is successful, their application for an adoption order will be left hanging in the air. So, he submits, on that ground also the appeal on this point should succeed.

    ii) Furthermore, Mr and Mrs X had failed to demonstrate that they had a real prospect of success in relation to an application for an adoption order, and that T’s welfare required their being given leave to apply for, such an order.

    iii) Judge Troy was wrong to join Mr and Ms X as parties to the care proceedings and failed to consider the procedural ramifications and consequences of doing so.

    iv) Judge Troy failed to have sufficient regard or attach appropriate weight to the authorities about the primacy of family placements.

    v) Judge Troy failed to have sufficient regard or attach appropriate weight to the fact that Mr and Mrs X were temporary foster carers and that in the early permanency placement agreement dated 3 December 2014 they had expressly agreed that their adoption of T would be contingent on his not being rehabilitated to his family.

    vi) On the contrary Judge Troy gave excessive weight to the facts (a) that Mr and Mrs X were approved adopters and that the placement had been made by way of an early permanence placement, (b) that they had cared for T for 6 months and (c) that there was evidence of attachment between T and them.

    As the argument developed, it became apparent that there was a degree of overlap in these submissions.

  4. By way of elaboration, a number of points were made which it is convenient to take together.
  5. Mr Tyler submitted that it is wrong in principle to allow state-sanctioned carers to acquire the right to set themselves up against a family member as a potential permanent carer for a child simply by virtue of an unexceptional period of time caring for an unexceptional child in an unexceptional case. Particularly is this so, he says, where, as here, the aspiration of the foster carers is the non-consensual adoption of a child outside his birth family. As the father put it in his grounds of appeal, Mr and Mrs X are the product of the care process and should not be part of it. According to Mr Tyler, there is simply no place in the statutory process under Part IV of the 1989 Act for foster carers who are not otherwise entitled to participate by virtue of family status, statutory responsibilities, or relevant social work or other expertise.
  6. Mr Donnelly submitted that the analysis of adoption as an option in care proceedings is limited to consideration of adoption in principle and does not involve an assessment of the individual merits of particular proposed adopters. Least of all, he submitted, should care proceedings become, as would be the consequence of Judge Troy’s order, an arena in which prospective adopters should be enabled to probe alleged deficits in a family placement and compare it unfavourably with what they could offer. It is the children’s guardian whose task it is to scrutinise the local authority’s plan and, if appropriate, criticise it and invite the court to reject it. To like effect Mr Tyler submitted that the proper people to test the local authority’s assertions, assessments and care plans, in order to assist the process of quasi-inquisitorial judicial critical analysis in the care proceedings, are the parents and the child(ren), the latter through the children’s guardian. Miss Anning made much the same point when she submitted that the very idea of a competition between the birth family and prospective adopters at the stage of deciding whether a child should be placed for adoption is to shift the focus away from a true analysis of what is fundamentally in the child’s best interests in favour of the competing views of the adults. And, she suggested, it ran the risk of a simple comparison as to which placement would be better for the child, the very thing that all the jurisprudence demonstrates is not the right question (see, for example, Y v United Kingdom (2012) 55 EHRR 33, [2012] 2 FLR 332, referred to below).
  7. Accordingly, it was submitted, Mr and Mrs X’s joinder to the care proceedings serves no useful purpose; it does not provide a means for the court to consider an option that it otherwise would not. Moreover, there is, they say, no need for Mr and Mrs X to be parties to the care proceedings to demonstrate that they are suitable prospective adopters for T, for they have already been positively assessed. If and to the extent that the court needs to consider adoption as an alternative to a family placement all it needs to know is that T has the best prospects of being adopted given Mr and Mrs X’s wish to adopt him.
  8. As Mr Donnelly put it, the fact that this was an early permanence placement did not give Mr and Mrs X an elevated status, nor did that (or any of the other matters) create a ‘status quo’ requiring the kind of balancing of ‘status quo’ and ‘family’ contemplated in Re M’P-P (Children) [2015] EWCA Civ 584 (see below). In reality, as Mr Tyler put it, the asserted ‘status quo’ and attachment in the present case do not differ in any significant way from what exists in a large proportion of similar care cases where a child has been successfully fostered for a short, interim, period.
  9. Mr Tyler conjured up the spectre of social engineering. He suggested that parents in care proceedings will be very much less likely to agree to the potential benefits of a fostering for adoption placement. He pointed to the inevitability of delay given the requirements of sections 42(4) and 44(4) of the 2002 Act



Summarising these very briefly – it is the task of the Court to decide what orders should be made, and Mr and Mrs X (the carwers and would-be adopters) come into the equation IF AND ONLY IF the Court is satisfied that nothing other than adoption would do. To bring Mr and Mrs X into the equation before that point potentially muddies the waters and gets into a social engineering situation where the Court is deciding which family has more to offer the child, Mr and Mrs X or the grandparents.


The arguments against the appeal were made by the adopters and the Children’s Guardian. (I pause here to note that the collective brainpower in the Court room must have been making the air crackle)


  1. Essentially, Miss Scriven and Miss Fottrell submitted that Judge Troy was right to decide as she did and for the reasons she gave. There are, they said, two realistic options before the court and Judge Troy was right in her approach and in recognising that the court, in the light of the statutory framework and the authorities, had to evaluate both the realistic options and to assess each in the context of the other. How, Miss Scriven asked rhetorically, was the court to do this, as she put it, balancing the competing arguments for and against those two options, unless Mr and Mrs X were able to participate in the care proceedings and make representations?
  2. Miss Scriven submitted that the local authority’s approach was far too rigid and absolute, and inappropriately minimising of Mr and Mrs X’s role. As the guardian put it, whatever the strength of the arguments in favour of a family placement, it cannot be said that Mr and Mrs X’s application has no prospect of success. After all, as Miss Scriven pointed out, Mrs X is the only mother T has ever known. What is required is for each case to be looked at in a case-specific way. Reliance was placed on what McFarlane LJ had said in Re M’P-P (Children) [2015] EWCA Civ 584, paras 46-50 (see below). Reliance was placed on what was said to be the reality that T and Mr and Mrs X have, as a result of Mr and Mrs X caring for T, an established family life together. Mrs X, it is said, is at the centre of T’s life. Miss Fottrell said that Mr and Mrs X are de facto parents and if T is to be removed from them they need to be heard, particularly if what is being proposed is T’s placement, albeit within his family, with people with whom he has no relationship. T’s welfare requires this reality to be carefully examined, and this requires the participation of Mr and Mrs X, precisely because it is not an argument that will be supported either by the local authority or by the birth family, all of whom will be arguing vigorously against it. As Miss Fottrell put it, it is difficult to see how Mr and Mrs X’s case could be properly heard if they were not joined to the care proceedings.
  3. Furthermore, and relying upon Singh v Entry Clearance Officer, New Delhi [2004] EWCA Civ 1075, [2005] QB 608, [2005] 1 FLR 308, it was said that there exists between Mr and Mrs X and T ‘family life’ within the meaning of Article 8, which in turn, it is said, entitles them to a fair hearing in accordance with Article 6: see Soderback v Sweden (1998) 29 EHRR 95.


Again, in a summary – as Mr and Mrs X are the only people the child has ever lived with and they have an article 8 right to family life, their application for adoption is an application they can legitimately make, and a legitimate option before the Court. If they are robbed of the chance to make such an application, how can that argument be properly made before the Court?  And if they don’t get the chance to make their application, their family life is being disrupted without them having a chance to contribute to the arguments.   [Also that as Re B-S requires the Court to consider all of the realistic options, how can the Court fairly proceed without one of them being presented]


Boiling it all down, it seems to be this central dilemma


“Do foster to adopters have a stake within care proceedings and can make their arguments just as any other interested party, or ought they stay out of it and just wait for the Court to decide whether this is an adoption case at all?”



The historical approach of the Court to joining foster carers to the proceedings:-


  1. From the very earliest days of the 1989 Act (which, it will be remembered, came into force in October 1991), the court has set its face against the joinder in care proceedings of foster-parents or prospective adopters. Two decisions of this court explain why.
  2. In Re G (Minors) (Interim Care Order) [1993] 2 FLR 839, the judge had made an order joining foster-parents as parties to care proceedings. This court declined to interfere with his order, describing the case as being “exceptional … with many unusual features.” However, Waite LJ added this (page 846):

    “In ordinary circumstances I would not expect the court to regard it as appropriate to join foster-parents as parties to proceedings of this kind. To do so would in most cases run counter to the clear policy of the Act reflected in ss 9(3) and 10(3). The assistance afforded by foster-parents to the effective functioning of any system of child care is invaluable and should never be discouraged. Theirs is not a role, nevertheless, which would normally make it necessary for them to be joined formally as parties to proceedings in which the future upbringing of the children in their temporary care is in issue. There will generally be ample means for making their views known to the court, either directly as witnesses or indirectly through the inquiries of the guardian ad litem, without the necessity of adding them formally as parties.”

  3. Some fifteen years later, this court said much the same thing again. In Re A; Coventry County Council v CC and A [2007] EWCA Civ 1383, [2008] 1 FLR 959, a foster mother sought leave to apply for an adoption order in accordance with section 42(6) of the 2002 Act after the court, in that case the family proceedings court, had made a placement order. So the forensic context was very different from the one with which we are concerned. However, the judgment of Wilson LJ, as he then was, is of illuminating importance because he had to confront the argument of Mr Stephen Cobb QC, as he then was, appearing on behalf of the local authority. Wilson LJ summarised Mr Cobb’s argument as follows (para 35):

    “In the end Mr Cobb has been constrained somewhat to retreat from the proposition that the court which hears care and placement applications is the appropriate forum for resolution of any issue about the candidacy for adoption of, for example, a foster mother. He still maintains, however, that it is an appropriate forum. Challenged to furnish a reported example of resolution of such an issue in such proceedings, he cites the decision of Hedley J in Re R (Care: Plan for Adoption: Best Interest) [2006] 1 FLR 483.”

  4. Wilson LJ, with whom both Ward LJ and Moore-Bick LJ agreed, was having none of this. He said (para 24):

    “The application for a placement order required the magistrates to consider the principle whether the best interests of A required that she be adopted but not to determine the identity of the optimum adoptive home for her.”

  5. He elaborated this (para 34):

    “I do not agree with the judge that the proper forum for consideration of the identity of the optimum adopter or adopters for a child is the court which makes the care and placement orders. For, in terms of the adoption of the child and in contradistinction to the child’s committal into care, the placement order is not the court’s last word. Its last word is articulated when the adoption order is made; and any court which makes a placement order knows that any issue in relation to the identity of the optimum adopter or adopters of the child can be ventilated in an application for an adoption order, which is precisely what this foster mother aspires to make. In my view the magistrates were rightly unattracted to the suggestion, albeit that it was later endorsed by His Honour Judge Bellamy, that the foster mother might in some way join in the proceedings before them. As a judge of the family justice system for almost 15 years, I have never encountered a case in which an aspiring adopter participated in the hearing of proceedings relating to whether a child should be placed for adoption, or should be freed for adoption under the old law set out in s 18 of the Adoption Act 1976. For the law provides a forum in which issues as to the identity of the optimum adopter can later be ventilated. In my view, therefore, the requirement for close scrutiny of the care plan should in principle not extend to an address of any issue as to the identity of the optimum adopter or adopters for the child.”

    My own experience mirrors that of Wilson LJ.

  6. Referring to Re R (Care: Plan for Adoption: Best Interests) [2006] 1 FLR 483, Wilson LJ said (para 35):

    “I respectfully agree with Hedley J’s observations. But they are of no assistance to Mr Cobb. To say that the credentials of proposed adopters may exceptionally need to be considered in care proceedings in order that the court should better be able to reach the central decision whether the child should be removed from his family and adopted is not to say that care or indeed placement proceedings are an appropriate forum for resolution of an issue between a proposed adopter and the local authority as to the merits of her candidacy.”





In short, foster carers or prospective adopters should not be involved in care proceedings as parties unless there are some exceptional circumstances.

So, in this case, were there any?


  1. In my judgment, there is no reason to depart from this long-established approach and, indeed, every reason to follow it. There is nothing in Article 8 or in the Strasbourg jurisprudence which calls for any different approach. There is nothing in the recent case-law on adoption (In re B (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Threshold Criteria) [2013] UKSC 33, [2013] 1 WLR 1911, [2013] 2 FLR 1075, In re B-S (Children) (Adoption Order: Leave to Oppose) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, [2014] 1 WLR 563, [2014] 1 FLR 1035, M v Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council and others [2014] EWCA Civ 1479, [2015] 1 WLR 2441 and In re R (A Child) (Adoption: Judicial Approach) [2014] EWCA Civ 1625, [2015] 1 WLR 3273) which justifies, let alone requires, any change in approach. Nor, in particular, is there anything in the status or function of an early permanence placement foster carer which either justifies or requires any change in approach.
  2. I agree, therefore, with the essential thrust of the submissions by Mr Donnelly, Mr Tyler and Miss Anning as I have summarised them in paragraphs 28-29 above. The care judge is concerned at most with consideration of adoption in principle, not with evaluating the merits of particular proposed adopters. There is no need for the prospective adopters to be joined, for it is the children’s guardian (who will be aware of Mr and Mrs X’s stance and can, if necessary, address their suitability) who has the task, indeed is under the duty, of subjecting the local authority’s care plan to rigorous scrutiny and, where, appropriate, criticism. So, I agree, Mr and Mrs X’s joinder to the care proceedings is inappropriate. Moreover, as was pointed out, and I agree, there is no need for Mr and Mrs X to be parties to the care proceedings to demonstrate that they are suitable prospective adopters for T, for they have already been positively assessed.
  3. The truth is, as Mr Tyler submitted, that, putting on one side Mr and Mrs X’s role as early permanence placement foster carers, and, I emphasise, without in any way wishing to belittle or diminish all that they have done for T, this is a case where there has been an unexceptional period of time caring for an unexceptional child in an unexceptional case. This, in my judgment, is not an exceptional case justifying any departure from the general approach. For the reality is, as Mr Tyler correctly put it, that the ‘status quo’ and attachment on which Miss Scriven and Miss Fottrell placed such emphasis do not differ significantly from what is found in the many similar care cases where a child has been successfully fostered for a short period. Moreover, and to repeat, there is, in my judgment, nothing in the status or function of an early permanence placement foster carer which either justifies or requires any change in the hitherto conventional and long-established approach.
  4. To the extent I have indicated, I therefore agree with the thrust of Mr Tyler’s submissions.
  5. Moreover, there is, as Miss Anning pointed out, a very real risk that if, in a case such as this, the forensic process is allowed to become in effect a dispute between the prospective adopters and the birth family, the court will be diverted into an illegitimate inquiry as to which placement will be better for the child. That, it cannot be emphasised too much, is not the question before the court. I repeat, because the point is so important, what the Strasbourg court said in Y v United Kingdom:

    “family ties may only be severed in very exceptional circumstances … It is not enough to show that a child could be placed in a more beneficial environment for his upbringing.”

    Indeed, there are passages in Judge Troy’s judgment – for example, where she refers to a “comparative analysis of these two options”, without at the same time spelling out that adoption is appropriate only as ‘a last resort’ and if ‘nothing else will do’ – which do make me wonder whether she may not in fact have fallen into precisely that error here.

  6. There is another significant matter which, in my judgment, points in the same direction. The effect of sections 44(2) and (3) of the 2002 Act is to impose a period of three months’ delay in a case such as this. This is an appropriate aspect of the statutory scheme in relation to private law adoptions. But it would sit most uncomfortably if, as suggested in the present case, the statutory scheme under the 2002 Act is to be run in tandem with the quite separate statutory scheme in relation to care proceedings under the 1999 Act, required, by the recently amended section 32(1)(a)(ii) of the 1989 Act, to be concluded within a total period of only 26 weeks.
  7. Before us, Miss Scriven and Miss Fottrell relied, as had Judge Troy, on the recent case-law emphasising that the court must address and analyse all the realistic options. We were taken through the cases (In re B, In re B-S, M v Blackburn and In re R), but with all respect to Judge Troy they are not in point and do not justify the course she took.
  8. What those cases are authority for is the proper approach in cases where (see In re B-S, para 33) the court is being asked by a local authority to approve a care plan for adoption or being asked to make a non-consensual placement order or adoption order. It was in this context that, as we made clear in In re B-S, para 34, “The evidence must address all the options which are realistically possible and must contain an analysis of the arguments for and against each option.” M v Blackburn was a challenge to the making of a non-consensual placement order, and it was to that forensic contest that Ryder LJ was directing his observations (see, for example, para 32, where he said “A court making a placement order decision must conduct a five part exercise.”). The same observation applies to In re R. But the case before us is not such a case. The local authority is not seeking either an adoption order or a placement order, nor is it seeking approval of a care plan for adoption.
  9. It would turn the In re B-S learning on its head to assert that, in a case where the local authority is not seeking any order which brings In re B-S into play, the requirement to consider every realistic option justifies, let alone requires, the joinder of a party to argue for the adoption for which the local authority itself is not applying. In my judgment, the In re B-S learning applies where the local authority is inviting the court either to approve a care plan for adoption or to make a non-consensual placement order or adoption order. It does not apply where, as here, the local authority is seeking none of these things.
  10. Accordingly, in my judgment, Mr and Mrs X ought not to have been joined as parties to the care proceedings, and the father’s appeal must be allowed.
  11. I turn to the local authority’s challenge to the order giving Mr and Mrs X leave to apply for an adoption order.
  12. In my judgment, the application was premature, as was Judge Troy’s decision. There are two reasons for this. First, this was an application which properly fell to be considered after the conclusion of the care proceedings and once the court had concluded, if it did, that T’s welfare required his adoption. This is the approach which, in my judgment, is generally applicable, and nothing in the statutory early permanence placement scheme justifies any different approach.
  13. The other reason is graphically illustrated by the forensic difficulty in which Judge Troy found herself, as she described in three passages in her judgment which I have already quoted in context but which bear repetition:

    “Mr and Mrs X have only very limited information about the care proceedings in respect of T in general or about the paternal grandparents in particular.”

    “The local authority has not sought to place before me any information about the paternal grandparents. I have no information about what they may be able to offer to T, about the benefits or any detriments for T in placing him in the care of his paternal grandparents.”

    “The position taken by local authority … means … that I must determine this application without being in a position to consider the relative merits of the two proposed placements for T.”

  14. None of this, in my judgment, is any matter for criticism of the local authority, let alone of Mr and Mrs X. It simply reflects the forensic reality given the stage the care proceedings had reached – as Judge Troy noted, the children’s guardian had not yet filed a report or even reached a concluded view –, a forensic reality which simply goes to demonstrate that the task which Judge Troy attempted to embark upon was premature. Moreover, her lack of knowledge, shared it may be noted by Mr and Mrs X, meant that, try as she might, Judge Troy did not have the materials which she needed to have if she was properly to determine their application in accordance with sections 42(4) and 44(4) of the 2002 Act.
  15. Accordingly, in my judgment, Mr and Mrs X ought not to have been given leave to apply for an adoption order, and the local authority’s appeal must be allowed.


There might come a case where the circumstances are sufficiently exceptional to allow a foster carer to make these applications, but it is rather hard to think of one.  I don’t think, tracking it through, that the Court of Appeal actually determined whether the foster carers had acquired any article 8 rights or whether as a result they had article 6 rights to a fair hearing, but the thrust of the case is that there were not the sort of exceptional circumstances that would have warranted granting their applications for leave to be joined as a party and to make their application for a private adoption.


As the Court of Appeal say at the end of the case :-


  1. Before parting from this case there is one final matter I need to refer to. These proceedings have inevitably imposed an enormous strain on Mr and Mrs X. Anxiety and anguish was etched on their faces as they sat before us. The outcome will come as a terrible blow. They have suggested that the local authority was unduly dismissive in November 2014 of the risk that they would not be able to adopt T and, after the paternal grandparents had emerged as contenders for T’s care, unduly dismissive of the possibility that the paternal grandparents would receive the positive assessment which, in the event, they did.
  2. We are in no position to evaluate those concerns which do not, in any event, ultimately bear upon the issues which we have to decide. Without, I emphasise, expressing any view as to what was actually going on, I merely note what I would hope is obvious: that in every case of an early permanence placement there must, from the outset and at every stage thereafter, be complete frankness coupled with a robust appraisal of the realities.

Re DAD (application for committal, flawed process)

Hell yeah

Thank you Holman J for the best case name ever. Re DAD.  [Although annoyingly, the case is really about an uncle rather than a dad…]


If you are doing a committal case, either for or against, this case will be worth reading and taking with you. Paragraph 10 of the judgment, as underlined, makes a very difficult argument to overcome, due to the standard orders being flawed.


In this case, the father had allegedly abducted his son in breach of a Court order, and the child having been kept away from the mother for over 8 months.  The mother obtained a Collection Order, which compelled the father to return the child, but it had not been possible to locate the father to serve it upon him.


However, the father’s brother was at a known address and an order was made in these terms:-


“(2) If [the father, who is specifically named in the order] and/or any other person served with this order is in a position to do so, he or she must each deliver the child into the charge of the Tipstaff.

(3) If the respondent or any other person served with this order is not in a position to deliver the child into the charge of the Tipstaff, he or she must each:-

(a) inform the Tipstaff of the whereabouts of the child, if such are known to him or her; and

(b) also in any event inform the Tipstaff of all matters within his or her knowledge or understanding which might reasonably assist him in locating the child.”

It is important to mention that paragraph 7 of the order later provides that:

“The obligations under paragraphs 2 and 3 above will continue until the Tipstaff takes charge of the child…”


Fairly traditional order, and I have written about a number of these cases where a relative knows where the child is and conceals it and then is committed to prison.


5…on Saturday 27th June 2015, police officers acting on the instructions and authority of the Tipstaff attended at an address at which Muhammad Nawaz Chaudhry was residing. I mention that, as I understand it, it is not in fact his own home, but he was residing there with a relative of his. Muhammad Nawaz Chaudhry is the brother of the father of the child and, accordingly, the uncle of the child. The police officers introduced themselves to Mr Chaudhry and produced a copy of the Collection Order in Form 2A and asked him for any information he could give as to the whereabouts of the child. In summary, and in effect, he said that he did not know where either the child or his brother, the child’s father, were. The police officers then telephoned the Tipstaff himself. The Tipstaff himself considered that Mr Chaudhry in fact knew more than he was revealing and, accordingly, that he (the Tipstaff) had reasonable cause to believe that Mr Chaudhry was disobeying paragraph 3 of the Collection Order in Form 2A. He therefore instructed the police officers to arrest Mr Chaudhry in obedience by the Tipstaff himself to the provisions which I have mentioned of the Collection Order in Form 2B, which are directed to the Tipstaff. Mr Chaudhry was then conveyed to the local police station in custody and brought before a judge here at the Royal Courts of Justice on the following Monday. He was further remanded in custody by that judge and only finally released from physical custody on Friday 10th July 2015. In other words, following the evening of his first arrest on Saturday 27th June 2015 until his first release from actual custody, Mr Chaudhry spent thirteen nights in custody; eleven of them in Pentonville Prison. On Friday 10th July 2015 he was released on bail subject to certain conditions. There have been subsequent adjournments of the application to commit him to prison and it has come before me (dealing with the matter for the first time) for substantive resolution today.

  1. The essence of the case of the mother in support of her application to commit is that there had been considerable communication by text and/or email and/or telephone between the father and Mr Chaudhry before, and in the months following, the actual abduction of the child. Accordingly, even if Mr Chaudhry did not and does not now know the precise whereabouts of the child, he certainly had “matters within his knowledge or understanding which might reasonably assist [the Tipstaff] in locating the child” which he certainly failed to give information about prior to his arrest on 27th June 2015 and which even now he has not been fully forthcoming about. So it is that the solicitors on behalf of the mother issued a formal application on 7th July 2015, which was subsequently amended on 16th July 2015, for Mr Chaudhry to be committed to prison for contempt of court. The formal application notice for committal, as amended, seeks that he be committed to prison for contempt of court “because Mr Chaudhry disobeyed paragraphs 3(a) and (b) of the Collection Order made…on 20th February 2015…” in ways which were described in supporting statements made by the solicitors for the mother.
  2. Pausing there, it thus follows that the matter for which I am asked to commit Mr Chaudhry to prison is very specifically that he has disobeyed those paragraphs of that order



In this case, counsel for uncle, very generously and fairly told the Judge that the best points of the uncle’s argument had been arrived at through hard work of the uncle’s solicitor.


 I should mention that appropriately, but generously, Mr Main-Thompson made very clear today that all or most of these points – which are made in his most excellent position statement and skeleton argument, dated 15th September 2015 – are points which have been generated by the input and researches of his instructing solicitor, Ms Maria Wright. She is a solicitor who is employed by Freemans, who act on behalf of Mr Chaudhry, and who herself has conduct of this matter. There are within that position statement and skeleton argument a number of important points with regard to the lawfulness of the Collection Order in the form in which it was made in this case. There is, in my view, however, one knockout point with which I will deal in a moment. Since I regard that point, even standing on its own, as completely decisive in this case, anything I were to say in relation to the other points would be what lawyers called obiter. It happens that there is very currently a thorough – going review of the form and language of collection orders. In my view, it is undesirable that I should express in judgment any view or comment which would be obiter about these other points



Always  nice when a Judge praises the hard work of a solicitor. Even nicer when he describes one of your points as a knockout one.



Hell to the yeah

Hell to the yeah



What’s the knockout punch?


  1. I turn, therefore, to what, in my view, is the decisive point for the purposes of the present application and the one upon which I base my decision and judgment today. The Family Procedure Rules 2010 (as amended) make provision in relation to applications for committal. So far as is material to the present case, the first rule in point is rule 37.4, which provides as follows:

    “37.4 Enforcement of Judgment, order or undertaking to do or abstain from doing an act

    (1) If a person –

    (a) required by a judgment or order to do an act does not do it within the time fixed by the judgment or order; or

    (b) disobeys a judgment or order not to do an act,

    then, subject to…the provisions of these rules, the judgment or order may be enforced under the court’s powers by an order for committal”

    Pausing there, it is clear from the language of that rule that the power to commit is itself subject to the provisions of those rules. The next relevant rule is rule 37.9. That provides as follows:

    “37.9 Requirement for a penal notice on judgments and orders

    (1) Subject to paragraph (2) [which is not in point in the present case], a judgment or order to do or not to do an act may not be enforced under rule 37.4 unless there is prominently displayed, on the front of the copy of the judgment or order served in accordance with this Chapter, a warning to the person required to do or not do the act in question that disobedience to the order would be a contempt of court punishable by imprisonment, a fine or sequestration of assets.”

  2. Pausing there, I emphasise from that rule the words “prominently displayed” and “on the front of the copy of the judgment or order served”. I stress at once that the collection order made in this case was, and is, in the absolutely standard form that has been in regular use by judges of the High Court for many years. The actual order made in the present case shows in the top right hand corner that it is in a form that was revised in May 2011. I say at once that I personally have made a considerable number of collection or similar orders, such as location and passport orders, in these standard forms without appreciating until today that they all suffer the defect that there is no penal notice prominently displayed on the front of them. But if there is a failure to comply with an express requirement of rules of court, it is of course no justification to say that the failure to comply has been longstanding and routine.
  3. The standard form of collection order and the one used in this case extends altogether to six sheets of paper, although the third page is largely blank. There is nothing remotely in the nature of a penal notice at all on the first four sheets of the order. The fifth sheet is headed with the following words in capital letters: “Important notice to the respondent and to any other person served with this order”. There are then a series of number paragraphs 1 to 5. These are headed respectively:

    (1) Liability to be arrested;

    (2) Liability to be committed to prison;

    (3) Your rights;

    (4) The Tipstaff;

    (5) Interpretation.

    The font or print size used on pages 5 and 6 is exactly the same as that used throughout the whole of the order and there is no particular use of bold type face on pages 5 and 6. Paragraph 2 on page 5 under the heading “Liability to be committed to prison” does contain the following words:

    “Breach of any part of this order would be a contempt of court punishable by imprisonment or fine. Accordingly, whether or not the Tipstaff arrests you, you may be summoned to attend court and, if you are found to be in breach of the order, you are liable to be committed to prison or fined.”

  4. In my view the use of those words in that paragraph on the fifth page of the order simply does not comply with, or satisfy at all, the requirements of rule 37.9(1). In the first place, the warning cannot be said to be “prominently displayed”. It is merely a part of several pages of somewhat indigestible text. In the second place, it most certainly does not appear, as the rule requires, “on the front of the copy of the…order”. It will be recalled that rule 37.9 is emphatic and prohibitive in its terms. Unless the penal notice is prominently displayed on the front of the copy of the order, “a judgment or order…may not be enforced…” In my view, the words “may not be enforced” where they appear in that rule do not import a discretion in the court. Rather, they are a mandatory direction to the court that it cannot and must not enforce the order by committal


The format of the Court orders, which Holman J has previously complained about, now mean that the vital component for a committal, that the front page of the order shows the person what they must do or must not do AND that the consequences for not doing it can be imprisonment.  At the moment, the first page is a lot of dry and dull rambling about who was present in Court that day and the dates of birth of everyone involved and yadda yadda yadda.


The Rules do provide a judicial discretion to proceed with the committal if there’s a flaw in the process but it is satisfied that no injustice would be caused to the defendant.


Here, the Judge considered that this did not apply.

14.  I do have a discretion under paragraph 13.2, but I can only exercise it “if satisfied that no injustice has been caused”. In support of her submission that no injustice has been caused, Ms. Chaudhry invited me to watch and listen to the video that the police officer made contemporaneously whilst visiting Mr Chaudhry and arresting him. As I understand it, this is a video made from some form of camera attached to the clothing of the police officer. I mention that, as that video forms part of the evidence or material upon which I base my decision in this case, I have ensured that it was available to be seen by the accredited journalist who is in the courtroom and the journalist has seen it. I would indeed have ensured that it was able to be seen by any member of the public who had shown any interest in this case and had been present at any stage during the hearing, although in fact there has been none. The whole duration of the visit by the police lasted about twenty minutes. I wish to stress that the two police officers appear to have handled this whole matter with the utmost courtesy and lightness of touch. From start to finish, there was nothing remotely heavy handed by either of them. Rather, they treated Mr Chaudhry with the utmost courtesy, respect and indeed patience, whilst ultimately arresting him with minimum formality. He went with them in the car, but at no stage was he placed in a handcuff nor handled physically in any way by the police. After being admitted to the house, the officers went into the front room immediately adjacent to the front door. They were holding two copies of the collection order and, therefore, a number of sheets of paper. They handed several sheets of paper, which I assume to be one copy of the six page collection order, to Mr Chaudhry, and the officer said “Have a big old read of that. There’s quite a lot there”. Mr Chaudhry sat down in an armchair and did for the next ten minutes or more hold the sheets of paper in his hand, but he hardly glanced at them at all. There is one moment in the video when he can be seen to be turning through the sheets of paper, but, even in that moment, he does not appear to have reached page 5, upon which such warning notice as this order contains is printed. At no stage, so far as I could discern, did either officer specifically draw the attention of Mr Chaudhry to that warning notice, nor indeed talk him through the language of the order at all. I do not say that necessarily critically of the officers; I merely record the fact that his attention was not specifically drawn to any particular part of the order and certainly not to such warning notice as appears on page 5. After the officers spoke on the telephone to the Tipstaff, they informed Mr Chaudhry that they must arrest him. They allowed him time to go upstairs and into the kitchen; and, as I have said, the whole process was gentle, orderly and sympathetic. As the two officers and Mr Chaudhry finally left the front door of the house, one officer said: “You can take the paper if you like so you can read it”. As Mr Chaudhry got into the back seat of the police car one can see that he did still have pieces of paper (which I assume are the order) in his hand, but there is no sign, at any rate at that stage, of his actually reading it. Before leaving the content of that video recording of the whole process, I mention that at one stage the officer said to Mr Chaudhry that “someone from the court will do a quick interview” with him. Frankly, I do not think that either Mr Chaudhry or either of the officers imagined for one moment, when they arrested him and took him away in the police car that night, that he was about to spend no less than thirteen nights continuously in custody. The picture and impression that was conveyed was that he would have to go to the police station under arrest and no doubt in custody perhaps for that night, but that he would then be visited and interviewed by “someone from the court” and probably released soon thereafter.

  1. The essential submission of Ms Chaudhry is that the officers did hand the order to Mr Chaudhry that day. The officer did say “Have a big old read of that” and an opportunity to read the order was undoubtedly afforded. Thus Mr Chaudhry might have been able to say to the officers “Please sit patiently while I now read through this whole order”. I have no doubt that if he had said that they would have permitted him to do so, but that is not in fact what happened. Further, Mr Main-Thompson has drawn my attention to paragraph 5 of the affidavit sworn by Mr Chaudhry on 12th August 2015. In that he says that he left school at fifteen before taking any exams:

    “I don’t have any academic qualifications. I was slow at school. I was always in the bottom set and I had extra classes, one to one with a teacher. Despite this I did not complete my secondary education. I need to read things, particularly official documents, many times before I can understand them fully. My spelling is not good…”

    The picture there is, therefore, of somebody with relatively little and unsuccessful education and no great ability to comprehend complex documents such as this order.

  2. Ms Chaudhry submits that I can, and should, be satisfied that no injustice has been caused to Mr Chaudhry by the defect that a penal notice in the required language was not prominently displayed on the front page of this order. Far from being satisfied that no injustice has been caused to him, I am personally quite clear that a great deal of injustice was caused to him. Rule 37.9 exists for a purpose. The purpose clearly is so that somebody in the position of Mr Chaudhry can see prominently and at once, the moment a lengthy order of this kind is given to him, what the gravity of the situation is and that he is at risk not merely of being arrested at the time, but of being committed to prison as a punishment for contempt of court.
  3. In my view, therefore, this is not a situation where I can waive the procedural defect. All applications to commit require proper adherence to the requirements of any enactment and rule of court. In the present case there is a serious defect in the order upon which the application to commit is based. I simply cannot commit Mr Chaudhry to prison for any breach of the order, however egregious. In my view that has the consequence that I must indeed strike out the application as a threshold decision, and Mr Chaudhry must not be required to give any evidence or to defend himself on the substance of this application. For those reasons, the application issued on 7th July 2015 to commit Muhammad Nawaz Chaudhry to prison for contempt of court is struck out.


You may be reading this and think that it is potentially applicable to any order drawn up in the standard way, where the warning does not appear until page 5 of the order. And yes, it is certainly arguable.  Less so of course when the person is given substantial time to read the order before being in breach of it, and much less so if the person is present in court and represented when it was made and the Judge gives the warning about the consequences of breach. But yes, expect to see Re Dad being photocopied and handed out a LOT in committal cases until the standard orders get fixed.


And if you are drafting, until the orders get fixed, make sure you put the wording that’s normally on page 5 on the first page, in the biggest and boldest type that you can get away with.


Because at the moment, Re DAD is a


Don't push your luck in asking for the £200 though

Don’t push your luck in asking for the £200 though

Bad week for Gloucestershire continues to get worse

I wrote on Wednesday about Gloucestershire social workers getting a hard time from His Honour Judge Wildblood QC, and it is only Friday and they are getting another. For many of the same issues



C1 and C2 (Children :Section 20 of the Children Act) 2015


  1. This is the third case that I have seen this week where this Local Authority has allowed there to be protracted use of the accommodation of children under section 20 of The Children Act 1989. Without descending into full legal analysis of the statute ‘section 20 accommodation’ arises when a parent agrees that a Local Authority should arrange where a child is to live. With their mother’s agreement, therefore, the two children involved in this case went to live with foster carers in September 2013 and have remained with the same carers for over two years. In its own case summary the Local Authority says: ‘the Local Authority is aware that there has been delay in bringing this matter before the court and entirely accepts this is inappropriate and will attract judicial criticism’. It does.
  2. The one saving feature of this case is that the foster carers, through their dedication to these children, are now offering them a permanent home. However, initially, they were short-term carers for the children and there is still no certainty about where the children will live because, as yet, there is no agreement about the orders that will be made. It appears that the mother may agree to the children remaining with the foster carers. It also appears that the putative fathers may also agree to this. The guardian has proposed that there needs to be further assessment of the foster carers before orders are made (and I deal with that point later).
  3. The upshot is that, for two years, nobody has been able to tell these children where they will be living and that remains the current state of affairs. The only way that certainty can be achieved is by making court orders. For some inexplicable reason the Local Authority chose not to bring the case before the court until now.
  4. Over the past year I have i) met with this Local Authority on a number of occasions to discuss the issue of the protracted use of s 20 accommodation, ii) attended conferences in this area at which I have spoken on this issue, iii) issued newsletters where I have written about it, iv) placed judgments about it on the Bailii website, v) spoken to other judges and magistrates in this area all of whom seem to share my opinion and are also trying to combat what is happening and vi) raised the issue with the Local Family Justice Board.
  5. Where this type of very bad practice arises it is not possible for a judge to undo the past. The only thing that I can do, now, is to publish judgments where this occurs so that the public know what is being done in its name by this Local Authority in a bid to prevent other children experiencing the same procedures. The firm drive of the courts to deal with cases expeditiously in accordance with 32 of The Children Act 1989, as amended, (i.e. keeping cases to no more than a 26 week timetable) is of no benefit to the child if the delay during the overall period of state intervention remains the same because of procedures that are followed before the case is brought before the court.
  6. The effect of this type of procedure is not only that it is patently wrong from the point of view of the welfare of children and in the full spectrum of family difficulties that it creates for foster carers. It also means that limited resources and money are being taken up in a way that expedition would avoid. In the plainest possible language it takes much more time and money for a delayed procedure to be followed than an expeditious one. Inefficiency costs more than efficiency and takes up more time. It also means that the task of sorting out what is best for the children becomes even more complex than it would otherwise be with repeated episodes of crisis management.
  7. For these children not to know for two years where they will be living, who will be caring for them, where they will be going to school, with whom they can make friends and when decisions will be made about them is bound to have a profound effect on their emotional welfare. It is inevitable that the children form attachments to their current carers and do so without knowing whether those attachments will persist.
  8. The guardian says this in her initial assessment: ‘as a consequence of the significant delay to issuing these proceedings the two children have been deprived of having care that could be regarded by them as permanent. It is likely that this has had a significant impact upon the children’s ability to feel secure and this combined with the children’s early experiences had an impact on their personality development and attachment style. This I believe will impact upon their ability to regulate their emotions, feel secure and develop a sense of self-worth. They and any carer are likely to require support with this impact…the children were accommodated under section 20 on 2/9/2013. I am unable to evidence any reason or explanation for the delay in issuing proceedings’.
  9. Over the past two years when these children have sought comfort or reassurance about the future nobody will have been able to tell them what the future holds. In my experience schools do excellent jobs when this type of issue arises but the burden that this type arrangement places on teachers is immense – for instance, how can schools or nurseries protect the emotional welfare of children in these circumstances and what happens when there are discussions or projects at school about families, holidays or future plans?



[Also note, that despite a period of nearly two years in section 20 foster care  The putative father of the eldest child underwent DNA testing only yesterday ]


Powerful words.  The Judge here is quite right – the delay in section 20 cases coming before the Court is one that harms children.  The Government have tackled the delay that occurs within proceedings (firstly by the clause in the Children Act 1989 that specifically says that delay within proceedings is harmful to children and to be avoided if possible, and latterly by introducing the Children and Families Act 2014 to try to make care proceedings be resolved within 6 months).


The delay BEFORE proceedings are issued though, has not been tackled. It may even be that the introduction of the Children and Families Act actually made it worse – because there’s a relatively short space of time once the care proceedings start for the social worker to get absolutely everything done and the case can be finished, it can be tempting to not start the case until almost all of that is done. Which can mean, in a case where parents aren’t demanding the return of the child or their lawyer sending angry letters, that there’s delay for the child.

It may be that all that the Children and Families Act 26 week edict has done is “Shift the Drift” so that most of it happens before Court proceedings. Which is worse, because at least when the case is in Court, everyone has a lawyer and knows their rights and a Judge can control the timetable. Section 20 drift is a real problem.


Here, this was a case that was inevitably going to need care proceedings. The children were 3 years old and 15 months old when they came into foster care, and they came into foster care as a result of suspicious bruising.  And there was a background of concerns that went back to 2010. That was always likely to need to be resolved by a Court, and it was always the case that decisions needed to be made for these children quickly, so that wherever they were going to live permanently that could be done and the children settled.

It isn’t a problem that only happens in Gloucester, not by any stretch of the imagination. But Gloucester have a Judge who has realised the scope and nature of this problem and is going to express displeasure about it each and every time.


What would be some practical proposals, if one was to legislate to fix it?


Well, I would start with the requirement that any use of section 20 where the child is in care for more than a fortnight must go through the PLO procedure – that means the parents get sent a letter about the concerns and future plans and more importantly attend a meeting and get legal advice. That means that they will absolutely know that they have the right to remove the child from section 20 and can make the Local Authority ‘put up or shut up’ – either take the case to Court and persuade a Judge that the child needs to stay in foster care or to return the child.

Another helpful addition might be to incorporate into legislation that a Local Authority can’t take a section 20 consent given in September 2013 and be still relying on it in March 2015. What would be wrong with saying that section 20 consent must be obtained afresh after 20 days, then 3 months after that, and then every 6 months thereafter?   [That is the same timing as LAC reviews, and thus the IRO can be charged with establishing at the LAC review whether there is genuine and informed parental consent to the next period of section 20 accommodation, and if not the LA are to ‘put up or shut up’]


Could a Judge impose such stipulations on a Local Authority without legislation?   I don’t think that even the President would have such power by way of Practice Direction – those powers really only extend to what happens within care proceedings – a Judge can’t really fetter what a Local Authority can do before care proceedings are initiated.


An option available to parents is to make a claim under the Human Rights Act – as can be seen from the last blog, even if the section 20 consent is given freely and on an informed basis, there is the possibility of a claim on the basis that the State’s actions in using section 20 to keep the child in care rather than working actively on either rehabilitation or putting the matter before the Court are not proportionate.


[In the Hackney case in the last blog, the parents would have lost on the ‘proportionality’ argument based on the facts in that case, but the section 20 was only for two months, not nearly two years as here]



The other noteworthy element of this case was the Guardian’s tentative suggestion that there be a psychologist to assess the children. I wholeheartedly agree with the judicial approach here.


The guardian has suggested that she may seek an order for a psychological assessment of the attachment of the children to the foster carers; I have made it very plain that, having regard to the necessity test in Section 13 of The Children and Families Act 2014, I think it highly unlikely that I would make an order to that effect since the attachment between the children and the foster carers: a) is obvious; b) can be dealt with by evidence from schools, nurseries, health authorities, social workers and the guardian c) does not raise any evident psychological issues that could not easily be dealt with by the social worker and guardian. Further, by the time that a psychological report had been produced (e.g. in 3+ months time) and the case has come back to court the children would have been with the foster carers for at least two years and about four months so I cannot begin to imagine that psychological evidence would add anything to what was obvious about the attachment between the foster carers and the children by then.



I think I might be taking this to Bristol Family Court if I was cursed with having to do a section 20 drift case next week.



Your Honour, I represent the Local Authority. Did you get the exhibit to my position statement?




Couple win damages for Hackney keeping their children in care


[There are some VERY IMPORTANT rulings about section 20 in this judgment, which was in the High Court. Practitioners, particularly social workers or those who advise social workers are urged to read it in full. I will put a huge IMPORTANT flag on the key passages]


This story came to my attention via The Guardian


The bare bones of this story were that a Hackney family had eight children removed from their care by the police, that the main issue was home conditions that could be fixed very quickly, and that the parents successfully sued Hackney under a variety of methods (including the one that’s always popular Beneath the Line here with commenters, “misfeasance in public office” ) and won on the Human Rights Act part of the case, receiving £10,000 compensation each.

The report is good, clear and compelling, and accurate.   [The author has clearly read the judgment and quotes the Judge and captures the essence of the story]


That led me to the judgment, which was not in the Family Court but in the Chancery part of the High Court.



Williams and Another v London Borough of Hackney


  1. If ever there was a case illustrating the challenges that face children, parents, public authorities, and the courts when concerns are raised about the safety and welfare of children it is this. A relatively trivial incident on 5 July 2007, followed by an allegation made by a young child in potential trouble, led to the exposure of issues about the upbringing of a large family in respect of whom there had been no previous concerns. Eight children, including a young baby, were removed from their parents’ care and distributed to foster homes. A swift consideration of the welfare issues concluded that if some simple improvements were made to their home, the children could return home. Yet it was some 2 months before the children returned to their parents, after experiencing a variety of foster placements, some of which were of dubious quality. A criminal investigation led to a 20-count indictment against the parents, but in the end, 2 years later, no evidence was offered and the parents were acquitted. The parents’ complaints about the handling of their case by the defendants were considered in a complaints process over a period of nearly six years culminating in a final decision of the Local Government Ombudsman, issued on 22 April 2013. In spite of their complaints being upheld in part, and the exoneration of their character in the Crown Court, the claimants believe their grievances have not been properly addressed and therefore bring these proceedings, ending in this trial, eight years after this unfortunate incident started. Fortunately it is not my task to adjudicate on more than a small fraction of what has occurred, but the overall picture is not a happy one.
  2. The claimants bring this claim against the London Borough of Hackney [“Hackney”] in their own right, and not on behalf of any of their children. They accept that the authorities acted lawfully in the initial action of taking their children into foster care under the authority of what has been described as police protection order. However, they claim damages for what they say were the unlawful actions of the defendant authority and its officers in keeping the children of the claimants in authority controlled foster care after the expiry of the effect of the police order. The causes of action alleged are misfeasance in public office, breach of statutory duty, negligence, religious discrimination and breach of the parents’ Article 8 human rights. The defendant denies liability in any of these causes of action.



The next bit, which explains how the children came into care, does throw into the mix a brand new element, that there were concerns about physical abuse of the children, not just a dirty or untidy house


The claimants, John and Adenike Williams, have been married for 24 years. They have 8 children whose ages at the time of the matters about which they complain ranged from 8 months to 14 years. All the children lived at home, and no concerns were raised about the manner in which their parents were caring for them until one of them was arrested on suspicion of shoplifting on 5th July 2007. This child was said to have told the police that he had been beaten by his father with a belt, as an explanation for a bruise on his face. The police visited the family home and were of the opinion that it was not in a fit state to be accommodation for the children. They alerted the defendant to their concerns. The police also initiated a Police Protection Order under section 46 of the Children Act 1989, and the defendants made emergency arrangements to accommodate them in foster homes. The police order authorised these arrangements for 72 hours. On 6th July, in circumstances I will have to examine in some detail, the parents signed a form of agreement which the defendants assert authorised them to continue to accommodate the children away from their parents, an assertion the claimants dispute. The children did not in fact return to live with their parents until 11th September 2007. It is right to record at the outset of this judgment, that, although the claimants were eventually charged with various offences relating to their treatment of the children, following strong observations made by a Crown Court judge, no evidence was offered, and a not guilty verdict was entered on all the charges.



So, firstly, the period of time that the children spent in foster care, from 6th July 2007 until 11th September 2007, was purportedly under a written section 20 agreement.  That’s important, because obviously social workers themselves have no powers to remove children or keep them away from a parent. They can only do so if the parents agree (under section 20 of the Children Act 1989) or there is a Court order sanctioning this.

We will come later on to whether the parents had agreed section 20 accomodation (they disputed this)


Secondly, the physical injury and the allegation that father had hit the child with a belt.  I was interested to find this in the judgment:-


  1. On 5 July 2007 one of the Williams children was interviewed by the police. The child was reported said to have alleged that Mr Williams “regularly beats him and his siblings and had reported that [the child] had been beaten the previous evening as he had gone to the shop without his permission to buy some lollipops.” It was also reported that the child had attributed a mark below the eye to the father using a belt.
  2. The legality and justification, if any, for what was done following that report does not depend on whether the allegations made by the child were true but on the appropriateness of the reaction of the authorities to the potential risks to the children implicit in them. However the truth of the allegations of violence was put in issue.
  3. In examining the evidence before me it is important for me to bear in mind and record in this public judgment the conclusions which HH Judge Paul Kennedy reached in the Crown Court having examined the evidence before him in the criminal proceedings brought against the parents for assault, cruelty and child neglect. Having read the file, he urged the Crown to offer no evidence. In his remarks, made on 16 September 2008 he said this:These are persons of good character, who faced the quite enormous task of bringing up 8 young children in an overcrowded home. That they loved their children, that they wanted the best for them, that there were determined that the future held more for them than for what Mrs Williams described as “street kids” has never been in doubt and shines out from Mrs Williams’s interview. Whilst there is little doubt that conditions at home were chaotic, the Williams have accepted the help they were offered and, within a remarkably short time, have turned around a difficult and dangerous situation to one where all departments of Social Services are content and positive about the future.

    Following these observations no evidence was offered and the judge entered a verdict of Not Guilty on all counts.

  4. There was much evidence in these proceedings to confirm the view arrived at by the learned judge, and I am absolutely satisfied that Mr and Mrs Williams were loving parents who wanted only the best for their children. They had brought them up in what must have been challenging circumstances without reproach or concern until July 2007. Their anxiety and distress exhibited when they were separated from them, their reactions to the ordeals their children endured over the next few months, were as clear in their demeanour in the witness box in this hearing as they were from the contemporaneous documentation and the evidence of the two children who gave evidence. I have absolutely no doubt that the claimants were and remain loving and committed parents determined to do their best for all their children. Their sense of sadness at not being able to be reconciled with the child who made the allegations triggering the authorities’ concerns was palpable.
  5. Mr Williams denies that he beat his child as alleged in the police report. He told me that there was a troubled relationship with this child which, sadly, has never subsequently been repaired. He agreed that he did smack the children, but in the case of three of them on only a few occasions. In relation to the child who had made the allegation, Mr Williams said he had never smacked, or used a belt to smack, the child in the face. To my mind somewhat strangely, Mr Williams told me that he did not “recollect” punching this child in the face, an allegation made by this child to doctors in relation to a later incident in November 2009. In relation to a row that occurred in 2010 he said that he could not remember if the child had any resulting injuries, although he could not see any. He used similar expressions claiming a lack of memory on several occasions about incidents which appeared from his descriptions and the records of them to be dramatic. Of course to say something cannot be recollected can merely be a form of denial, but I sensed here that there was a degree of equivocation in Mr Williams’s answers. There was, however evidence before me that he did hit his children in the course of disciplining them. One of the adult children who gave evidence before me agreed that this was so. I was told by this witness that Mr Williams used a belt “sometimes but not always” if the children “really misbehaved, [were] really really bad”. The witness added, “sometimes he went a bit too far”. When I asked this witness what was meant by “misbehaving” in this context I was told this meant “arguing with mum, messing about outside or doing things repeatedly – that is when the belt came out“. Very much in favour of Mr and Mrs Williams is that whatever the nature of the discipline handed out certainly the two children who gave evidence clearly remained very close to their parents. There is no evidence that with the one exception described, any of the other children have a less close relationship.
  6. I am satisfied on the evidence before me that Mr Williams did administer what he believed to be justifiable discipline to his children, which included on occasion the use of a belt. It is distinctly possible that a belt was used on or shortly before 5 July, although the circumstances and the extent to which it was used cannot now be reliably established. The only relevance of these matters is that in the course of the involvement of the defendant’s officers with this family they would have seen an attitude towards discipline similar to that which I have seen in this court. It is this sort of factor which persuades me that the defendant was justified in considering that the allegations were evidence of a risk to the safety of the children which they could not ignore in determining whether to exercise their statutory powers. This is not in any way to contradict the very positive conclusions that both HH Judge Kennedy and I have reached about the general character of both claimants.



Whilst the Judge therefore found that these were loving parents who only wanted the best for their children, he did also find that the father had by way of  justifiable discipline hit his children with a belt.


How bad was the house when the police visited?

  1. In a statement for the police made on 27 July Mrs McLaughlin stated that she was “immediately struck by the chaotic, disorganised, dirty, unhygienic and filthy environment of the home.” It was her judgment that placements were required for the children “as I could not leave them in the dangerous and inappropriate environment in which they were living.” The cleanest room, where the TV was placed, had clothes strewn across it; it was dirty and had loose wires across it. The bathroom was extremely dirty; all areas in it were “ingrained with dirt and grease. It appears not to be used.” The toilet was in a similar condition. The mattress in one of the bedrooms was “dirty and rotten with dirty sheets on it“. Clothes were strewn across the room or were in piles against the walls. She stated that she could not find a clean pair or knickers for one of the younger children. The only clean clothes were adult male clothes in the wardrobe, still in their dry cleaning bags. In the kitchen the floor was filthy, and there was “no apparent food in the freezer – only plastic bags.” The cooker was dirty with burnt rice in the grime. She saw no food for the children. In the hallway, which was also dirty, there were loose wires across the floors and sockets hanging from the walls. The children were unkempt with matted hair, and dirty faces and clothes. They were extremely reluctant to engage with the social workers and the two eldest were “hostile“. One child had an apparent skin condition some parts of which were “weeping“. Mrs McLaughlin could find no medication in the home. In her oral evidence she told me that this was one of the worst homes she had ever been in, before or since. A statement made by another social worker on the visiting team, Mark Burgess, was to a similar effect.
  2. In her evidence to this court Mrs McLaughlin confirmed that she could clearly remember the dry cleaned suits. There was material covering the windows which made it dark. There were clothes piled up on the floor and wires across the room. Thee were bundles of sticks in each room,. The home smelt of urine. A police officer put a key into the grime on the bath “and it swallowed up the key“. The ‘fridge and cooker were very dirty. There was no food apart from a snapper fish in the freezer.



The Judge didn’t believe the allegation about the key (which I think is meant to indiccate the depth of the grime on the bath) , but that the photographs did show that the house was not in a state which was suitable to accommodate children of any age


  1. I consider that Mrs McLaughlin’s recollection of the state of the property has been affected by the passage of time, and in some limited respects is unintentionally exaggerated. For example, I doubt that it would be literally possible for a key to be “swallowed” in grime as she suggested. Furthermore Ms Toal’s recollection of what was reported with regard to the availability of clean underwear was that it had been difficult to find any rather than that there was none. Nonetheless the material to which I have just referred persuades me that, bluntly, the premises were in an appalling state. It is inevitable that social workers must as part of their duties see many homes which are less than perfect in their cleanliness and safety, but it is evident to me that the concerns expressed in the contemporaneous records were not exaggerated for forensic purposes but were genuine and substantially true. It is understandable that caring parents like Mr and Mrs Williams find it hard to accept the full extent of the deficiencies that have been described, but I cannot accept that the state as described represented a transient phenomenon caused by a short term illness. If there were any doubt it is laid to rest by the photographs produced to me by the claimants. These were put to witnesses, but their provenance was not a matter of formal evidence and is therefore uncertain. It appears, however, that they may have been taken by the police. It is possible they were taken after some, perhaps preliminary, attempt, had been made to start remedying the deficiencies. Nonetheless they show very concerning conditions. If there is more food in the freezer than the snapper just mentioned, it is contained in unwholesome looking bags. The fridge itself is filthy, as is the cooker and various other surfaces. There are indeed hazardous wires on the floor, even if they are not across the entire floor. There are piles of items in various places, and a tied bundle of sticks is clearly visible. Accordingly I am entirely satisfied that on 5 July 2007 the claimant’s home was not a suitable environment in which to accommodate children of any age.
  2. That the conditions in the home may not always have been unsuitable for children in this way received some support from the information the defendants obtained from the school attended by four of the children that they always looked clean and tidy. They had a 100% attendance and punctuality record, and there were no other concerns expressed. However this reassurance cannot outweigh the strength of the evidence of the actual observations made on 5 July by professional social workers whose findings, subject to the qualification mentioned above, have been, I am satisfied, substantially accurately described to me by Mrs McLaughlin. Further it was clearly reasonable for her and her colleagues to believe that such a state of affairs could not have come about during a few days or even weeks previously.



So it was clearly right for the police to have removed these children, and for an investigation to take place.

It is rightly not in dispute that the circumstances existing on 5 July justified immediate action to safeguard the welfare of the children and, in particular, it is accepted that the police decision to invoke their powers to protect children under section 46 of the Children Act 1989 was justified. A serious allegation of physical abuse had been made which clearly required investigation. The police arrested the parents and therefore those with parental responsibility were not in a position while in custody to look after the children. I am satisfied that the children presented as possibly neglected. The home was clearly in an unsuitable state to accommodate the children, even if an adult to care for them had been identified. However the relevance of these concerns extends beyond the immediate action taken by the police: it forms the background to the consideration of the subsequent actions of the defendants to which I must now turn.



Could the children have been placed with relatives, rather than coming into foster care?


I find it surprising that there is no contemporaneous record of the steps taken to look for alternative accommodation. However I note that in spite of the assertion made now by the claimants that family members were willing to take the children in, no such suggestion was made in the correspondence sent by their solicitor to which I will have to refer for other reasons below. Given the clear wish, indeed desperation, of the claimants to have their children back in the family rather than in separate and in some cases what they believed to be distinctly undesirable foster homes, I consider the absence of such a suggestion at the time inconsistent with any realistic chance of one or more family members having been willing or able to take on the challenging task at short notice of accommodating all or part of this large family. I conclude that throughout the period with which I am concerned no realistic alternatives were available, and that the defendants did probably take sufficient steps on 5 July 2007 to satisfy themselves of that position at the time.



The section 20 “agreement”


  1. On 6 July Mrs and Mrs Williams signed a document carrying the title “Safeguarding Agreement in respect of [their eight children]“. It was also signed by Ciara Toal. The circumstances in which it was signed, and its effect have been the subject of significant dispute between the parties and I must therefore set out what happened in some detail. Where there has been a significant dispute of fact I shall make my factual findings clear.
  2. After reciting the parties to it [the claimants and Hackney Children and Young Person’s Services] the “agreement” continued as follows This document was drawn up on Friday 6th of July 2007 and is a Safeguarding Agreement concerning the child mentioned above.

    This Safeguarding Agreement was drawn up in relation to all of the children. Although the agreement is not legally binding, it may have significance, should there be any court procedures in the future.

    We, Mr & Mrs Williams parents to all the above children, agree to the following:

    1. That all the children will remain in their foster placements for the present time.

    2. When contact takes place you will encourage the children to return to their placements and ensure [sic] them that this is a safe place.

    3. That we will behave appropriately while contact is taking place, ie assure the children that we love and care for them, show them affection.

    4. That we will not discuss with any of the children what has happened.

    5. To continue to comply with Hackney Children’s Social Care.

    In conclusion Hackney Children’s Social Care will seek legal advice with a view to protecting the children if it is found that parents are not complying with the contents of this Safeguarding Agreement.



That wording clearly is a section 20 agreement [if a badly drafted one, it does contain agreement to the children remaining in foster care
) and the Judge says that the document is signed. . If the parents had signed that, and had understood what they were signing then there’s no real case here. The home conditions were unacceptable for children, and it was clearly going to take a bit of time for that to be turned round. If the parents felt that the Local Authority were dragging their feet once the home conditions were good enough, their remedy was to object to section 20 continuing.


So there’s a mystery here, knowing that the Judge did award them compensation.  What’s the issue with the section 20 agreement?


By the time this document was signed all the claimants’ children had been placed in foster homes. Mr Williams’s account in his witness statement – supported formally by Mrs Williams in her witness statement – is that after their release from the police station he and his wife went to the defendant’s offices arriving at around 9.30 am. They met Mrs McLaughlin and asked for their children back. She told them that the defendant wanted to inspect the house and if it had been tidied up and cleaned they would return the children. She told them to return to the office at midday. Accordingly, he says, the claimants went home and cleaned and tidied it up. No-one attended to inspect it. On their return the defendant’s office they were met by Mrs McLaughlin and Ms Toal who told them that the police had now issued a Police Protection Order under which the defendant could hold he children for 72 hours. Ms McLaughlin then produced a document in which the defendant said the children would be released after 72 hours, and asked the claimants to sign it. Mr Williams said he wanted to speak to a solicitor before signing a document to which Mrs McLaughlin responded that the claimants should not speak to a solicitor as otherwise they would not get their children back. As the claimants were about to leave Mrs McLaughlin told them that unless they signed a document they would not see their children again. Because they were tired and did not understand what was happening they panicked and signed the document Mrs McLaughlin then said that they could see the children that afternoon. Mr Williams says he made it absolutely clear that the claimants wanted to take their children home but they were misled into signing the “agreement”.



So that’s the allegation, that the section 20 document was signed under duress – and importantly that when the parents said that they wanted to see a solicitor before they signed it, were strongly discouraged from doing so.


The Judge had to decide whether that was the case – not helped because there was not a contemporaneous account of the meeting

In assessing the evidence I have heard on the circumstances surrounding the signing of the so-called section 20 agreement, I have had regard to the fact that the claimants were on any view in a highly distressed and doubtless tired state when they met Mrs McLaughlin and Ms Toal. Their recollection of what they were told is likely to have been clouded by their understandable emotions, and indeed anger, at what had happened. They were vulnerable people without advice facing two officials vested with the powers of the state to take their children away, possibly indefinitely. The claimants were not therefore in an ideal position to understand the complexities of what they were being faced with. On other side, the two social workers were dealing with an unusual and fraught situation. The defendants had as a matter of urgency found themselves having to accommodate eight children, who themselves were showing signs of distress, against a background of apparently serious allegations of physical abuse, and a home which was without doubt at that moment unfit for accommodating children. Considerable, and to my mind laudable, energy had been devoted to inspecting the home and relocating the children in these challenging circumstances. The parents, however caring they wanted to be, were arguably not in a position to offer that care without being in breach of bail conditions. The notes of what happened are almost certainly not complete and understandably the officers’ direct recollection of what was said is also incomplete. However, given all the circumstances, I consider it likely that the claimants have built up a mistaken picture in their minds of what they were told, in part through misunderstanding at the time and in part through their distress at having to relive these events repeatedly over the intervening years. I prefer the account to be gained from the contemporaneous record as supplemented by the evidence of Mrs McLaughlin and Ms Toal where it conflicts with that of the parents. That does leave a number of points of serious concern about the process adopted to which I will return after examining the legal framework under which the consensual accommodation of children by a local authority is meant to occur.



The police bail confuses matters. The parents would have been in breach of their bail conditions if they had asked for and been given the children back.


This is IMPORTANT IMPORTANT IMPORTANT., the Judge here decided that the exisatence of bail conditions preventing a parent caring for a child DOES NOT MEAN that for the purposes of s20 the parent is prevented or incapbel to providing care for the child. The parent would still need to actively  consent to s20.


  1. Police bail
  2. Bail in this case was granted under the powers accorded to police by section 37 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Conditions may be imposed by virtue of section 47. The person bailed has a right to apply to a magistrates court for a variation of the conditions: section 47 (1E), (1D). The conditions can be varied by the police. Breach of a bail condition entitles the police to re-arrest the bailed person: section 46(1A). Such a breach does not constitute a statutory offence: Regina v Ashley [2005] EWCA Crim 2571, [2004] 1 WLR 2057.
  3. It follows that any attempt by Mr and Mrs Williams to effect the return of their children home would not be an offence, unless, arguably, the conduct amounted to some substantive offence. Therefore the consequences of non-compliance would be most likely limited to a consideration by the police of whether to re-arrest the parents. The most likely immediate reaction to any attempt by the parents to take their children out of foster care would, or should, have been an urgent application by the defendants to the court for one of the available orders authorising them to retain the children in their care. Such an application would of course have enabled the parents to make representations to the court and, potentially give undertakings with regard to their care of the children and their plans for improving the home.



The existance of the bail conditions thus didn’t remove the need for a s20 agreement provided by consent.  Why is this IMPORTANT?  Because if a parent is arrested and has bail conditions and does not sign a s20 consent, the LA have to issue care proceedings – they can’t rely on the bail conditions themselves. And potentially any case where that HAS happened, could now be a Human Rights claim.



  1. The parties’ submissions on the validity of the section 20 agreement
  2. The claimants submit that the defendant had no power to keep their children away from them after the expiry of the PPO, 72 hours after it was made on 5 July 2007, without either a court order of one of the types described above, or the consent of the parents to a consensual arrangement pursuant to section 20. They submit that there was no valid consent obtained on 6 July for a number of reasons:

    a. The mother at least lacked the capacity to give such consent because of her mental illness or general distress.

    b. Neither parent was fully informed to enable them to fully understand the consequences of their giving a consent, to appreciate the options available, and to be in possession of all the material facts.

    c. They were coerced into signing the agreement by the threat of not seeing their children again.

    d. They were not told of their right to take their children home at any time

    e. There was no indication that the agreement was to have any effect after the expiry of the PPO.




Ready?  This next bit is IMPORTANT IMPORTANT IMPORTANT IMPORTANT  – the Judge here sets out that a section 20 agreement HAS to convey that the parents have the right to withdraw their consent.  He also suggest that the parent needs to be told of their right to take legal advice. That goes further than Hedley J’s case on section 20 (Coventry City Council v C, sometimes called Re CA). Don’t forget that at the time that the decisions happened in this case, Hedley J’s judgment had not been given, and wouldn’t be for another 8 years…



  1. Capacity for this purpose is equated to capacity as defined in the Mental Capacity Act 2005: see paragraph 37 of Coventry City Council v C [above]. I am satisfied that both Mr and Mrs Williams had the capacity to understand what they were told and the consequences of the decision they were being asked to make. They were distressed, but not so distressed that they lacked the capacity to make decisions. In my judgment this case is far removed from that of the newly delivered mother under consideration in C. Mr and Mrs Williams were able to express their wish to have their children returned as soon as possible, and to challenge the allegations made against them. They were capable of understanding what they were told. That their distress has resulted in their misunderstanding what they were told has more to do with the inadequacy of the information conveyed to them and its communication than their capacity to understand it.
  2. I do not consider the claimants were fully informed of the matters of which they should have been informed:

    a. Bearing in mind the threatening circumstances in which the “Safeguarding Agreement” was offered to the claimants, its form suffered from very similar defects to those described by Tomlinson LJ as being “comical“.

    i. On its face the agreement is said to have possible “significance” in court proceedings. The strong inference is that the “significance” would be adverse to the parents’ prospects of seeing their children back home. This is reinforced by the threat of the defendants to seek legal advice in the event of non-compliance by the parents; clearly such advice would be with a view to making an application to the court.

    ii. The document makes no reference to the legal basis on which the children are to be accommodated by the defendants. There is therefore no guidance for the parents as to the context of what they are signing.

    iii. The document contains only a list of obligations being imposed on the parents, with no reference to any obligations on the part of the defendants. In particular there is no mention of the parents’ legal right to withdraw their consent and require the return of their children.

    iv. The parents are required “to comply” with the defendants whatever that means. It has the look of a provision which requires the parents to comply with absolutely anything the defendants might require.

    b. There is no persuasive evidence that the parents were expressly told that that they had a right to take their children away from local authority provided accommodation at any time or to object to that provision and I accept that they were not. It is no justification for this omission that the bail condition prohibited unsupervised contact. As was pointed out there could have been a number of solutions, ranging from either the parents or the defendant persuading the police to vary bail to allow alternative accommodation with family and friends if any were identified who could help. There is also an issue about what the police would have done if the children had returned home. Breach of police bail is not an offence and there has been no evidence enabling me – or the claimants – to know what was likely to have happened. It is clear that this issue was not raised or discussed by Mrs McLaughlin and Ms Toal when obtaining the parents’ signatures to the agreement.

    c. There is no evidence that they were told, still less encouraged, to seek legal advice before signing the agreement.

    d. I agree that there was no clear indication offered as to the effect of the agreement following the expiry of the PPO.

    e. While I do not accept that the parents were told, or that the defendants’ officer intended to convey to them, that they would never see their children again if they did not enter the agreement, I do accept that this was what, in their distressed state, the claimants understood.

    f. In short the circumstances, combined with the inadequacies of the information conveyed, were such as to amount to the “compulsion in disguise” of the type described by Hedley J in the Coventry case. For the same reasons such agreement or acquiescence as took place was not fairly obtained.

  3. For these reasons I conclude that on 6 July there was no valid consent obtained from the parents such as to give the defendant authority to accommodate the children under section 20. It is therefore unnecessary to go on to consider the final part of the test, namely whether action under section 20 was a proportionate response to the circumstances facing the defendants at that time. Had I been satisfied that the parents had been fully and fairly informed of all relevant matters and given their consent, which I am not, I would have accepted that the circumstances were such that it would have been proportionate to take action to accommodate the children under section 20. The potential risks to the children posed by the condition of the family home, the parents’ apparent unwillingness to acknowledge the extent of the problem, the allegations of abuse which were under investigation, and, as I find, the absence at that time of any established alternative accommodation would have made such action a reasonable response.


Note that IF the parents had given a valid s20 consent, without the flaws in the process, the Judge was satisfied that on the FACTS of the case keeping the children in foster care until the home conditions were resolved was the right thing to do for them – it was a proportionate outcome. It was the failings of obtaining the s20 agreement – particularly the failure to really convey to the parents that they had a choice not to sign it and that they could withdraw their consent at any time, which sank this Local Authority.


The evidence offered in this case has been considered already. I have found that at material times the defendants were indeed acting outside the statutory authority granted to it by Parliament to interfere with the family life of Mr and Mrs Williams. However they were doing so in the mistaken belief that they had sufficient consent from the parents to authorise their actions under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. They were taking decisions and implementing actions solely for the purpose of protecting children against risks which, on the basis of the information they had, they reasonably believed required protective steps to be taken. It was not disputed that some action was justified as a result of what was found on 6 July. There was at all times a potential for conflict of interest between the children and their need for protection and the parents who were suspected of neglect and abuse. The fact that they were subsequently exonerated of the criminal allegations does not mean there was not a basis for a belief that protective action was required. Therefore I find some difficulty in the distinctions Ms Cooper has sought to persuade me exist between this case and one concerning the actual diagnosis of abuse. Diagnosis and assessment of risk to children is not a one off event, but a continuous process in which the significance of information and the balance of risks has constantly to be reviewed. As the, at times somewhat painful, dissection of decisions and processes in this case has shown, disentangling the rights and wrongs of individual decisions can be complex. It would in my judgment raise the danger of inhibiting authorities from taking steps to safeguard children in difficult cases were they to be open to a minute examination of their every action in a case like this. In short, if there are exceptional cases where there is no conflict justifying an exclusion of cause of action in favour of a parent, this is not one of them. This is not to apply a blanket policy, but to do my best to apply the principles of the common law as determined by the higher courts to the facts of this case.




The Judge deals with the misfeasance in public office claim – as we’ve previously discussed on this blog, a key ingredient is that the action is deliberate, and here the Judge was satisfied that the professionals were operating on the mistaken belief that the parents had validly consented to s20 and that the Council thus had a legal power to keep the children in foster care – they were wrong about that, but it was a genuine belief.


The parents did, however, succeed on the Human Rights Act claim and were awarded £10,000 each.



  1. I consider that comparable factors are relevant in an Article 8 case generally, and the present case in particular. This was undoubtedly a close family presided over by loving parents. They were extremely distressed by the continued separation from their children and constantly voiced their anxieties in that regard to the defendants. They witnessed the adverse effects of foster care on more than one of their children, one of whom was a baby who was being breast fed. On the other hand, I must bear in mind that the initial separation was justified, and that an investigation of the type which occurred would have taken place in any event. This is not a case of permanent loss or bereavement, and the children were returned in the end.
  2. Clearly the claimants have not received adequate redress to date. While certain of their complaints were upheld by the complaints process and the Ombudsman, they have received no acknowledgement let alone compensation for the unlawful deprivation of the care of their children for a number of months. Reminding myself that awards of this type should be fairly modest, I consider that the appropriate sum to award to each parent is £10,000 each. It was contended by Ms Cooper that I should award aggravated or exemplary damages, but if I understood her submissions correctly this related to the misfeasance claim which I have rejected. In any event I do not consider that such an award would be appropriate.Conclusion
  3. For the reasons given judgment will be entered for the claimants in the sum of £10,000 each. I will hear submissions on any further and consequential orders that are said to arise out of this judgment.





Bristol legal event – bring gum

Readers in the West Country  (I am striving to avoid any Wurzels references, and immediately failing) might be interested in this event.  It is going to be attended by His Honour Judge Rowdy Roddy Piper  (subs, please correct), hence the suggestion to bring gum.


I don’t know all of the speakers here, but the ones that I do know of, I think very highly of, so if you are in that neck of the woods, well worth checking out.



What does the Family Court do? … This is your chance to find out.

Join His Honour Judge Stephen Wildblood QC, designated family judge for the Bristol area, and a panel of legal experts to hear about how the Family Court works, what to expect and where to get helpful information.

Find out what the Family Court does, what it’s like going to Court and what to expect in terms of: paper work, giving evidence and the hearing process in general.

Get information about Legal Aid, the support available when you attend Court by yourself and alternatives to the Court process.

This will be an opportunity for you to come to the court building and ask questions about the practice of the Family Court.*

Who should attend?

  • Anyone interested in finding out more about the Family Court
  • All professionals in the field of family law
  • Journalists
  • Students

Other materials covered

  • What are Private Law Orders and upon what basis are they decided?
  • Public Law Orders (Supervision, Care, Placement and other Orders)
  • Civil Partnership and Divorcing Couples
  • Who decides on Cases?
  • What happens after a case?

The panel

Numbers are limited so book as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

*Please note that individual cases will not be discussed.

And I’m all outta bubblegum



It is always enjoyable for me to receive a judgment from His Honour Judge Wildblood QC.  I expect that there may be a slightly different qualitative experience between reading one at a safe geographical distance and being physically present to receive it on a case you’re involved in.


My mental image of His Honour Judge Wildblood QC is that of a kindly man who nonetheless would be able to come into his Court room and open with the Rowdy Roddy Piper (God Rest his soul) line


“I came here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all outta bubblegum”


[Incidentally, the fight scene in this movie, They Live, which is between two characters, one of whom wants the other to put on a pair of sunglasses and the other who is reluctant to don said sunglasses, is so epic that my dad came and got me out of bed to come and watch it at about three am, when he was watching this film on TV. And I was glad that he did. It is marvellous.  In case you are in any doubt – when I compare HH J Wildblood QC with Rowdy Roddy Piper it is intended as high praise]

This case does not disappoint on that level. There was clearly a deficiency of gum that day, but no deficiency of kicking ass.


Gloucestershire CC and M 2015

I am publishing the judgment in this case because it is an example of the following:

i) The unnecessarily protected use of accommodation of a child under section 20 of The Children Act 1989. This child was accommodated with short term foster carers for 12 months before these inevitable proceedings were issued and has now been with them for about 16 months.

ii) The delayed identification of the need for therapeutic intervention for this mother. 19 months after the Local Authority intervened in a family where the mother had obvious difficulties it was identified that the mother needed therapy. It was then said that, by then, the benefit of therapy was ‘outwith the timescales of the child’. If psychological evidence was to be obtained with the invariable recommendation of therapy (and I have never known a psychologist not recommend therapy in a report) I cannot understand why it was not obtained much earlier.

iii) Failure to identify realistic options leading to the adjournment of this final hearing and a consequent inability to meet the timetabling demands of section 32 of The Children Act 1989, as amended.


Section 20 drift has been something of a theme of the Courts and hence this blog, for some time now.

As a quick rule of thumb for a social worker thinking about a case in their cabinet/caseload where there’s a section 20 agreement, ask yourself this question


If the mother or father rang you this afternoon and said “I want the child back” would you be ?


(a) Perfectly fine about that and make the arrangements

(b) Okay about it, but suggest that the move take place over the next 2 days to make the preparations

(c) Concerned and thinking that the child would not be safe at the moment, if they went home

(d) In a blind panic, and wanting to do anything to stop that happening


If your answer is (c) or (d), then it isn’t really a proper use of section 20 any more. The section 20 here is a very short holding position until you can either have a Meeting Before Action at which the parents will have lawyers, or care proceedings at which the parents will have lawyers.



  1. C grew up in the primary care of his mother until 28th May 2014 when, at the age of 5, he was removed from the mother under police powers of protection and then accommodated by the Local Authority with foster carers. The mother does not accept that the threshold criteria in s31 (2) of The Children Act 1989 are fulfilled and has also issued a claim for damages under The Human Rights Act 1998 in relation to the circumstances in which C was removed from her care and the manner in which the Local Authority has conducted itself in relation to C. On the same day in May 2014 A went to live with Mr D.
  2. For no valid reason it took the Local Authority a year, that is until 15th May 2015, to issue these proceedings. In its application the Local Authority said at B9: ‘C was the subject of a child protection plan from August 2013 until 19th May 2014 as a consequence of neglectful parenting. The concerns related to the dirty and unhygienic home conditions and the mother’s mental health and its impact upon her parenting and capacity to meet her child’s needs. A week after de-registration a further child protection referral was received. C was accommodated on 29th May 2014 following police powers of protection being used on 28th May 2014. The police removed C as a consequence of a person known to be a risk to children continuing to have contact with him (against professional advice) and because of the unsuitable home conditions. On 29th September 2014 the mother was evicted from her flat which had been significantly damaged. The mother was sofa surfing. Roger Hutchinson, psychologist, completed a report on the mother on 9th March 2015. This concluded that the mother experiences social anxiety and schizoid and paranoid traits with poorly developed social, functional and adaptive skills. Therapy is indicated over a nine month period’.
  3. C has therefore been with his current foster carers for 16 months of his life, has settled with them and is integrated into life with them. His mother has been having contact with him twice a week for sessions lasting one hour and although there have been inevitable niggles about that contact, a condensed analysis of that contact could not express it as falling below the grasp of the adjective ‘reasonable’ on my current reading of the papers and submissions that were made at the IRH. C’s educational and social connections, at an important time of his life when he is settling into school, have all been made from the base of his current foster home. The foster carers have done an excellent job in caring for him and, in his letter to the judge, C says ‘my family is [the foster father, the foster mother and their cat]‘ and draws the foster father with a big smile on his face. The guardian reports that C is making ‘greatly improved progress at school and his health has improved’ since living with them [A14].



These three paragraphs of background raise the three obvious questions


  1. What the hell took the LA so long to issue?
  2. Is it fair for the LA to have delayed so long in finding out that mum needed 9 months of therapy – because if they’d found out earlier, she’d have had it by now
  3. IF the child can’t go and live with mother, surely this child is going to stay with the current carers if humanly possible


However, the LA in this case had delayed for so long, were saying that the child couldn’t wait for mum to have therapy, and had ruled out the current foster carer as an option.


Taking these in turn

i) Having been involved with this mother since August 2013 and having accommodated this child in May 2014 it is inexplicable that it took a year for the Local Authority to issue these proceedings. That has absolutely nothing to do with limited resources. It is simply bad practice.


On the issue of therapy :-


ii) The Local Authority knew the mother’s level of functioning but still took until 9th March 2015 to identify that this mother needed therapy. Knowing the mother’s level of functioning why did it take 19 months (from August 2013) to do that? How can it be regarded as satisfactory for the Local Authority now to say that the mother needs therapy which is outwith the timescales of the child? For instance, if a psychologist’s report had been obtained within three months of C being accommodated (i.e. in August 2014) there could have been 13 months of therapy by now at far less expense than the cost of these proceedings leading to the possibility that the consequences of this mother’s unfortunate background could have been mitigated with the child receiving an upbringing with her


[I have a bit of sympathy with the LA here –  I’m not sure whether anyone actually argued that as a result of House of Lords authority Kent County Council v G, it is not within the Court’s powers to compel the provision of therapy, that therapy thus has to be resourced through the NHS and the NHS aren’t going to provide therapy without a clear diagnosis and recommendation, at least not without a huge waiting list. So tempting as it is to just start the therapy whilst waiting for the expert report, that isn’t how the real world works.  It is fair enough to say that the real world in this regard sucks and it needs to change.   There is possibly a big argument to come as to whether the House of Lords settled position that “there is no article 8 right to be made a better parent at public expense” is compatible with what Baroness Hale says in Re B about the State needing to provide the resources to do just that, but that’s a debate that can only be resolved by the Supreme Court. ]


On the last issue, why the current foster carers had been rejected in favour of adoption by the LA.


  1. At the IRH, on 8th September 2015, I was told that the current foster carers were not offering C a long term home. The guardian says in her position statement: ‘since the IRH on 8th September 2015 the guardian has spoken to C’s current foster carers. They have confirmed they have never said they would not keep C long term as foster carers. They would not wish to consider special guardianship or adoption because they see themselves as foster carers and may well wish to foster another child and would wish both children to be placed with them on the same basis. The foster carer has also informed the guardian that Mr D has on a number of occasions said that he would be prepared to care for C if there were no other options’.
  2. It is right that, on 27th August 2015 there was a discussion between the adoption social worker, TG, and the foster carers. I have the case note in relation to that. This conversation therefore took place six days after the placement application had been filed by the Local Authority (so the Local Authority had already ruled out long term fostering then). The foster carers were saying at the time of that note that they did not feel able to adopt C. They are not recorded as saying that they would not foster C. It took one conversation between the guardian and the foster carers to clarify matters. When asked directly by the social worker on an unspecified date (but after the IRH) ‘the foster father confirmed that he and the foster mother would have C for as along as is needed in long term foster care with a care order if they were supported by the Local Authority’. The clear impression that I have, having read the papers, heard the IRH and listened to submissions today, is that the Local Authority did not consider the possibility of long term fostering with the foster carers and, once it regarded the mother as ruled out, its linear analysis took it to adoption.


So the child’s current foster carer, who everyone involved would agree had done a marvellous job, was willing to be a permanent carer for the child, just that he didn’t want to adopt the child. The LA had approached this on the basis of “our plan is adoption, you don’t want to adopt, therefore you are out”, rather than looking at whether the child could remain with the carer on a different basis THUS avoiding the need for adoption.


The case simply could not be concluded, as there were too many unknowns.

Following a heavy IRH on 8th September 2015 the case is listed before me for final hearing for the rest of this week. That final hearing cannot proceed because there are realistic options in relation to the future care of C that have not been assessed by the Local Authority. That means that large amounts of public money and time have been wasted in a Local Authority involvement that has spanned 16 months. All parties now say that the case has to be adjourned. Eventually, I have had to give up my attempt at keeping this case on the rails of this final hearing and have had to accede to adjournment. To adjourn a case where there has been lengthy Local Authority involvement with a family in a straightforward case is absurd but now unavoidable.



and in conclusion

  1. What are the options that need to be considered? They are these:

    i) That C should be rehabilitated to his mother. Of course, nature, law and common sense require that it be recognised that the best place for a child to live is with his natural parent unless proven and proportionate necessity otherwise demands. As matters stand the professional evidence is all stacked up against this mother but her case will require very careful consideration at a final hearing.

    ii) That C should continue to be a child fostered by Mr and Mrs B. If the Local Authority will not support this the only way in which C could live with the foster carers would be through private law orders. If special guardianship orders were to be proposed there would need to be a report under s14A(8) of The Children Act 1989. Therefore I need to flush out what the Local Authority is saying. If it will not agree that C should remain with the foster carers (should the court so recommend on the making of a care order and a rejection of the placement application), I will have to give directions for a special guardianship application to proceed (a written application is not necessary if I so determine – s14A(6)(b) of the 1989 Act). The possibility of C remaining with the foster carers is unassessed by the Local Authority and there has not been sufficient discussion with them.

    iii) That C should live with Mr D and A. This is also unassessed. There is no blood relationship between Mr D and C but there is a blood relationship between A and C. They have a clear fraternal attachment (in which C is A’s big brother). That possibility remains unassessed also.

    iv) That C should be placed for adoption. That is an option upon which I have already commented. I am not suggesting that there are difficulties about that option on the basis of age alone. I say that there are difficulties about it because of the particular circumstances of this child.

  2. Therefore today I have had to give directions for the future of these proceedings. By the time that the case comes back the new baby will have been born, and I wish the mother well with the birth. However, the advent of the new baby will mean that there are additional complications that will arise in ensuring that the best solution is found for C.
  3. I have given this judgment in writing so that there is a formal record of what has gone wrong in this case and how matters must now be put right. The Local Authority must consider the realistic options that arise and must put its case into order.
  4. Proper plans must be put in place for the birth of the baby and where the inevitable assessment of the mother and the baby will take place. That should have been done already. The mother is in and out of hospital at the moment and it is manifestly unfair that, as well as dealing with the physical demands of impending birth and repeated hospital appointments, she is also having to deal with the uncertainties of these proceedings and a lack of knowledge about what will happen when she does give birth – where will she be living and what is planned for the baby?
  5. The Local Authority must therefore look at the options that arise and file proper evidence in relation to them. The case will have to come back before me later this week when I will have to give further directions as to how that will be achieved. It is deeply frustrating that a case such as this has to exceed the timescales provided by section 32 of The Children Act 1989 and that should be recorded as having been caused by systemic failure by the Local Authority



There is also some pending litigation in this case as to whether when the child was originally removed from the parents by police protection, whether that was in breach of the families human rights – it being really settled law that where removal of a child is being contemplated it should be a decision of the Court unless there are exceptional and compelling reasons why the removal cannot wait for a Court hearing.




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