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Removal from grandparents under Interim Care Order

This is a curious appeal (I have to say that my gut feeling is that the grandparents were damn unlucky to lose this appeal, but of course the Court of Appeal have the benefit of seeing the papers and hearing the full argument. And each time I read the appeal judgment, my view that the grandparents were damn unlucky increased.  )

 

Re T (Children) 2015

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed144754

There are two issues of wide import

 

1. That the test for removal under an ICO from grandparents is exactly the same as for removal from parents.

[Most of us thought this and worked on that premise, but it is helpful for the Court of Appeal to formally confirm it –  in short terms – the child’s safety must require immediate separation]

2. That the original trial Judge had not been fair in curtailing the time for the parents to seek a Stay application before the Court of Appeal – and had gone too far.

 

A stay, for those readers who are not lawyers, is an application that can be made to say “Don’t take the action that the Judge ordered, because I intend to appeal that order, and things should stay the same way as they are now until that appeal can be heard”  (think of it like a ‘stay of execution’)

In this case, a judgment concluding that Interim Care Orders were made and that the children could be removed by social workers was announced on Friday 30th January. Counsel for the grandparents immediately applied for a stay  (don’t remove the children until I can get before the Court of Appeal) . The Judge granted a stay until 2.30pm on Monday 2nd February, but didn’t send out his judgment until 1.00pm on that Monday. Even if counsel happened to be free and immediately available to look at the judgment the second the email arrived, that only gave 90 minutes to read it, draw up an appeal notice and lodge the appeal. Oh, and get before an Appeal Court to ask them for a stay. And have that application heard and decided. Ninety minutes doesn’t perhaps seem like a fair amount of time for that.

Mr Elliott of counsel seems to me a top bloke, but I don’t actually believe that he is the Fastest Man Alive (as anyone will know, that is Barry Allen. And yes, The Flash is faster than Superman)

 

except maybe Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash

Although counsel asked for the stay to be continued for longer, the Court were only prepared to grant him an extra ninety minutes. Thus, by the time that the grandparents case for an appeal was able to be considered, the children had already been removed – that must have massively damaged their prospects of success.

If the Court had been reasonable and granted the stay for say 24 hours after delivery of a judgment that was known to be likely to be appealed, that injustice would not have occurred.

14. Before descending to the merits of the appeal itself, it is necessary to dwell for a short time on the procedural progress of the appeal and in particular upon the paternal grandparents’ application for a stay of the interim care order to allow them to issue papers in the Court of Appeal and make application to this court for an extension of any stay until at least the permission to appeal application could be determined.

15. The sequence of events is that the judge, as I have indicated, announced his decision to make the interim care order on Friday, 30 January, but did not hand down his judgment until it was circulated by email to the advocates shortly after 1 pm on Monday, 2 February. On the application of counsel, Mr Mark Elliott, who has conspicuously and very effectively stood up for the interests of the paternal grandparents in these proceedings, the judge granted a stay on Friday, the 30th until 2.30 on Monday, 2 February. It became clear during the course of the morning of the Monday that preparation of the judgment was to an extent delayed and the judge therefore extended the stay to 3 pm on that day.

16. At the hearing which took place shortly after the judgment was circulated and I should indicate for these purposes the scale of the judgment, it runs to some 31 closely reasoned pages and amounts to 120 paragraphs the judge was asked to extend the stay until 3 pm on the following day, 24 hours later. However, the judge declined to do so and was only prepared to extend the stay until 4 pm on that day, 2 February. Counsel, Mr Elliott, those who instruct him and his clerks, were engaged in a process of trying to make contact with the Court of Appeal in order that their application for a further stay might be considered by this court. They were told that such an application could only be entertained if a formal notice was filed, and it simply was not possible for them to get the paperwork in order by 4 pm, when the judge’s stay expired.

17. The Local Authority were mindful of the procedural and professional difficulties that I have described, and they in fact allowed a further hour’s extension to 5 pm, but at 5 pm on 2 February, the children were removed from the paternal grandparents’ care. At shortly before 7 pm, Mr Elliott was able to make an oral application to the out of hours Lord Justice on duty on that night, but by then the children had been removed and the stay application fell to be considered in the colder light of day subsequently, and on that basis it was considered by me on 7 February, when at the same time I initially refused permission to appeal, and so the question of a stay did not arise.

18. I go through that procedural chronology for this reason: Mr Elliott as his fourth ground of appeal complains that the sequence of events and the limited stay granted by the judge was profoundly unfair to his clients, and also I think his submission is that it was not a procedural course which was in the best interests of the children. It effectively prevented an application for a stay being made to this court until the children had been removed.

19. In short terms, I think Mr Elliott’s point is very well made. This was not a case, happily, where the children were in any situation which could be described as immediate risk of physical harm. There was no emergency in that sense. The children had been living for a very substantial period of time in the grandparents’ home. The grandparents, we have been told, despite some concerns on the part of the social workers to the contrary, had not behaved in any unreasonable or worrying way in the intervening period between the Friday, when they heard that the order was to be made, and the Monday when judgment was handed down.

20. From the perspective of this court, it is difficult to see why Judge Meston felt unable to grant a stay of sufficient length to enable an application to be made to this court. It is well known, and has been the subject of judicial comment by judges of this court over a significant period of time, that judges at first instance, in a case which does not have the characters of a 999 emergency, should be encouraged to establish a short but reasonable stay to their orders in cases such as this so that an application can be made to this court. Judge Meston, hearing the case as he was on a Monday, might reasonably have contemplated a stay measured in the length of two or three days to allow an application to be made to this court as I have described, and not to do so seems to my eyes to be entirely unwarranted.

21. It is not – I do not think Mr Elliott argues it in this way – a ground of appeal that would lead me to hold that the judge’s overall order about the making of the interim care order should of itself be set aside, but insofar as I need to, I would agree entirely with the criticism of the judge’s process that is made in ground four.

 

On the facts of the case itself, the removal was not an emergency one – the Court had decided that the children’s needs were not being met but their safety wasn’t in jeopardy.

For my part, I’m not convinced that the ‘child’s safety requires immediate separation’ was borne out, but the Judge thought that it was, and so did the Court of Appeal.

 

My reading is more that the Local Authority were arguing that their assessment of the children’s needs was being hampered by them being with their grandparents and that removal into foster carer would allow for a better assessment. (I have heard that argument posited before, and I’ve always thought that it doesn’t meet the legal test for removal)

26. In addition, it is plain that Judge Meston in the course of his judgment considered that the plan to have these two children assessed in a neutral venue with skilled foster carers was a helpful step for the Local Authority to take. It would provide helpful, vital, information for those charged with drawing up any plan for the children’s future. It would also, if the grandparents were to become once again the full time carers of the children, give the grandparents much needed information about the sophisticated needs of these young children.

27. But again, it is plain on a reading of the judge’s judgment, and it is the submission of the Local Authority and the guardian in this case, that the judge did not make the order simply because he favoured the process of assessment that was available; he made the order, it is submitted by those who oppose the appeal, because he considered that the test of “safety demanding immediate separation” was met.

28. It is therefore necessary to see what the judge did or did not say about the level of harm to which the children were currently exposed in the grandparents’ home. Before descending into detail, it is helpful to summarise the case that is put by the Local Authority and the guardian. They do not assert that the grandparents themselves are fresh sources of significant harm to the children.

29. The case that is put is that these children have been profoundly damaged in an emotional and psychological way by the experience that they have previously lived through, and that in the care of the paternal grandparents, the need for enhanced parenting is not being met, and that despite their best endeavours the grandparents are simply not able to provide the sort of care that the children need, that the children’s behaviour is deteriorating and has been seen to deteriorate over time and contact which is supervised at times when the mother has observed them, and also more generally when observed by social workers. The Local Authority’s case, to put it in lay terms, was simply that “enough is enough”, the time has come when it is no longer in the children’s interests to be exposed to further deterioration in their emotional wellbeing.

 

[I interrupt. This is smacking to me of that rather insidious ‘reparative care’ argument…]

30. In the course of his submissions, Mr Hand has taken the court to a number of parts of the judge’s judgment where he refers to evidence about harm to the children that he has heard from the social worker and from the children’s guardian, and to findings that the judge has made. It is not necessary for me to turn to those parts of Mr Hand’s submissions which in my view did not advance his case to any great extent, but at paragraph 108 of the judgment, the judge said this:

“The nature of the harm suffered by the children is now clear enough, although the continuing risks to the children are less easy to measure; but in my judgment the risks are correctly seen to be significant, particularly if the children’s needs are not properly understood and managed by the grandparents, and particularly if the father is not seen by them as a source of risk, and/or if the conflicts between the two sides of the family remain or revive. The father’s hostility to the mother and their immature relationship was a striking feature of the evidence. The concerns about the grandparents’ attitude of the social workers is another worrying feature. Only further assessment will show whether the grandparents have developed, or can develop, some insight which can be put into practice.”

The judge had already made findings in a number of places about the need for the children to have enhanced parenting. He said at paragraph 107:

“They are also said now to require reparative care, with a high standard of skill, insight and consistency.”

[Yes, there’s the reparative care bit]

31. Looking back to an earlier stage of the judgment, in paragraph 92, the judge there lists the findings that the Local Authority sought in relation to the grandparents. Most of those are not directly relevant to the issue of harm to the children now, but the judge does say this at subparagraphs 9, 10 and 11:

“(9) The Local Authority point to the deterioration in the children’s behaviour since September shown by the mother’s statement, the contact records and the school reports.

There is no doubt that there have been serious problems in the children’s behaviour which was noted by almost all the professionals. As was said by the social worker, it was not suggested that the grandparents have been the cause of this behaviour but that their ability to manage it is limited. As was said by RP, J has sought attention by a level of negative behaviour which is not normal for the behaviour of a four year old, and she described his behaviour as escalating without strategy and routine.

(10) The Local Authority contend that the paternal grandparents struggle to set appropriate boundaries for the children. In the parenting assessment J was noted to be violent to L without there being any reprimands or other consequential for his action. In general his behaviour is challenging.

Clearly the behaviour of J, in particular, has been remarkably difficult for the grandparents to deal with, and if it continues there will be serious implications for his development and for the relationship between him and his sister.

(11) The Local Authority submit that the children have suffered significant harm and disruption in their lives to date because of the care provided by the parents, and that the children have a heightened need for stability and consistency and require reparative parenting. L also has special educational needs and requires better than good enough parenting which the grandparents are not in a position to meet. In this respect it is submitted that the paternal grandparents are not in a position to meet those needs for the rest of the children’s minorities.

There is no dispute that the children have suffered significant harm and disruption and there can be no dispute that they have a particular need for stability and consistency and require reparative parenting. The evidence overall does raise very real doubts about the abilities of the grandparents to meet the children’s particular needs.”

32. Of that material, Mr Hand in particular draws attention to subparagraph 10, where focus is placed upon the behaviour of J and the fact that the grandparents find that behaviour remarkably difficult to deal with. Within that subparagraph, I would stress the following; the judge says:

” … if it continues, there will be serious implications for his development and for the relationship between him and his sister.”

Pausing there, that is a plain highlighting by the judge of a profoundly important long term factor in the case. The starting point for any consideration of a child’s welfare is that it is normally likely to be in his or her interests to be brought up with and continue to live with any siblings. What the judge identifies at subparagraph 10 is a potential for J’s behaviour, if it continues to deteriorate or even be maintained at its current level, to call into question his ability long term to find a home with his sister.

33. The judge, having made those particular findings, moves on in his judgment to cast them within the test of identifying safety requiring immediate separation. The judge says this at paragraph 103:

“At this stage and on the evidence available I do not propose to rule out the paternal grandparents from further consideration as potential carers for the children (or either of them). They are devoted grandparents who have been prepared to take on the children, and they might have taken a more constructive position had they had legal representation at an earlier stage and perhaps, thereby they might have obtained more support from the Local Authority. They almost certainly now represent the only chance of keeping the children within their birth family. Although there is considerable force in the criticisms of the grandparents it is necessary to be cautious before deciding that they are not, and could not become, a realistic option (even if that turns out to be an option to be considered for only one of the children). At a final hearing the realism or otherwise of that option is likely to depend upon (among other things): (a) evidence that their attitude to the inevitable constraints and intrusions of Local Authority involvement really has changed, and that any improvements are not superficial as the social worker suspected they were; (b) further (and better) evidence about the grandmother’s medical condition and prognosis; and (c) the availability of effective measures to protect the children from harm in the longer term.”

There the judge, as well as stating that he is not ruling the grandparents out, does identify serious deficits in their ability to care that require attention in terms of further evidence at the hearing.

34. Turning to the harm in relation to the children, the judge says this at paragraph 108:

The nature of the harm suffered by the children is now clear enough, although the continuing risks to the children are less easy to measure; but in my judgment the risks are correctly seen to be significant, particularly if the children’s needs are not properly understood and managed by the grandparents, and particularly if the father is not seen by them as a source of risk, and/or if the conflicts between the two sides of the family remain or revive. The father’s hostility to the mother and their immature relationship was a striking feature of the evidence. The concerns about the grandparents’ attitude of the social workers is another worrying feature. Only further assessment will show whether the grandparents have developed, or can develop, some insight which can be put into practice.”

35. Drawing matters to a conclusion, the judge describes his analysis at paragraphs 113, 114, 115 and 116, before stating his conclusion at 119:

“113. I accept the fundamental arguments advanced by the Local Authority and guardian that it is now essential and urgent for the long term needs of the children to be assessed to inform the final care plans, and that in the circumstances of this case the necessary assessment cannot properly be carried out while the children remain in the care of the paternal grandparents.

[interruption – of course, that’s not a safety issue]

114. Secondly, the Local Authority and guardian argue that the evidence of the children’s continuing and deteriorating behaviour, not least towards each other, shows the extent to which the children have been damaged in their upbringing and shows the limited ability of both paternal grandparents to understand and manage the children’s situation and needs. In essence the contention of the Local Authority and guardian was that the situation is bad and could get worse; and although there has been no obvious emergency that requires immediate removal of the children, there has been a growing level of concern and the situation is serious and urgent enough to justify such a removal.

115. In looking at the evidence overall including the incidents and difficulties indicating harm to the children and the risks of harm, I have tried to assess whether these are really long term welfare concerns, rather than concerns which involve a current risk to safety.

[That’s really the nub of the case – these could all be categorised as long term concerns, rather than immediate safety ones]

116. I accept the evidence of the social worker and guardian that things cannot remain as they are. The concerns of the Local Authority are valid and are justified by the evidence. The need to understand, manage and address the problems and needs of L and J and the potential for further damage to them outweigh the arguments for leaving the children with the grandparents in the hope that the grandparents continue to control their attitude to the Local Authority and their reluctance to cooperate, and in the hope that the grandparents can shortly acquire the skills and insight they lack.

119. In the light of all the evidence I have concluded that there is sufficient concern about the children’s emotional and psychological safety to justify the orders sought for the reasons advanced by the Local Authority and guardian. I have therefore decided that it is necessary and proportionate to approve the proposals of the Local Authority for removal of the children.”

Given the importance of a finding that the child’s safety require immediate separation, this seems somewhat thin.

36. Mr Elliott in his submissions to the court accepts as a matter of fact that the judge did identify harm of the nature that I have now described, and did seek to cast it in the context of current safety needs, but he submits that the element of harm that is identified simply does not come within what the case law requires. He says this is emotional harm and at no stage does the judge identify why at that date, in January 2015, the children required removal from the home because of the impact on their emotional wellbeing, when that had not been sought at an earlier stage and when the court was going to look at the whole question of the children’s future wellbeing only some four months further in the future. He submits that the judge simply did not achieve findings that got as far as identifying the children’s immediate safety needs, in emotional terms, requiring removal on that day.

37. I am bound to say, when I granted permission to appeal and when I heard Mr Elliott’s submissions this morning, I too could readily identify the dislocation that he draws attention to between the judge on the one hand saying “I do not rule these grandparents out as long term carers,” but on the other hand saying nevertheless the children’s circumstances require immediate removal.

38. Having now had the benefit of being taken to the detail of the judgment by Mr Hand in the way that I have described, I take a contrary view. The judge declined to rule out the grandparents at that stage for reasons to do with their long term capacity to be carers of the children. For the judge, the jury was still out on the question of whether or not the grandparents could bring themselves to meet the needs of the children long term, and the issues that the Local Authority had sought to identify, which included matters to do with the grandmother’s health, the ability of the grandfather to devote himself more fully to the care of the children alongside his laudable and clear desire to work hard in his chosen trade, and other matters, were long term issues that required further investigation.

39. They are, I now accept, separate matters from the immediate wellbeing of the children, and I can see how this experienced family judge, who had become immersed in the evidence of this case over the course of five days, who said that he was considering the test of safety requiring immediate separation, could come to the view that the children’s safety in emotional terms did indeed require separation at this stage.

40. For me, the elements of the evidence that I have drawn attention to, that we have been led to by Mr Hand, establish the context within which the judge’s decision can be seen to be justified in evidential terms, and also justified as a conclusion. In particular, paragraph 92 subsection 10, to which I have already drawn attention, is striking. The judge there is identifying the status quo in the grandparents’ home, where J was behaving in a way that the grandparents found remarkably difficult to deal with, but also in a way which had “serious implications for his development”, and which might, if it was allowed to continue and consolidate, pass the point of no return so that the option of this boy being able to grow up in the same home as his sister might be lost, in terms of safety in emotional terms, requiring immediate separation. To my eyes, that point alone would justify the order that the judge made.

41. Secondly, I have already described the approach of the judge and the experience of the judge. Where a judge correctly identifies the legal test, says he is applying it, and says he has the evidence which justifies that conclusion, and is able in the course of the judgment to refer to that evidence, this court should be slow to interfere and say he is wrong. There is no indication here that there was an error of principle in the judge’s conclusion, and to my mind he should be given a substantial margin of respect by this court in having conducted the exercise that he said he had undertaken.

I think the grandparents were unlucky here – I would have been fairly confident about their appeal had I been them, and fairly doubtful if I had been for the Local Authority.  Interesting that MacFarlane LJ thought that in and of itself – J’s behaviour might lead to him and his sister not being able to be placed together in the future as being sufficient for a finding of ‘safety requires immediate separation’.  I see that particular formulation being deployed in future cases.  How does one assess a ‘might’?  Is it necessary to show that it is more likely than not to happen, or is it sufficient to be a risk that cannot sensibly be ignored?

This is what Lord Justice Ryder had to say on the issue

44. The judge identified the correct test in principle. He was perhaps less clear in a detailed judgment about his analysis of the findings that he made and the prima facie evidence that existed. This court has, however, been assisted by the submissions of counsel for the Local Authority, the children’s guardian, and the appellant paternal grandparents. It is now sufficiently clear that the judge accepted the evidence of the Local Authority witnesses and the analysis of the children’s guardian that the children had suffered significant emotional harm in the care of their parents, and importantly that that harm had continued in the care of the paternal grandparents. The behaviour of the children as between each other, in particular from the child J towards his sister, had continued and deteriorated in the paternal grandparents’ care, to the extent that one of the risks identified was that as a consequence of their behaviour, the children may have to be separated such that they might not be able to be cared for together by anyone. That was capable of being characterised as a safety question that demanded immediate separation; i.e. to put it colloquially, enough was enough. 

Let us hope that ‘enough was enough’ does not become the latest soundbite to be shoved into every submission and skeleton argument in the next six months.

Note also the continuing trend of the Court of Appeal to move away from where they were on appeals post Re B, where a judgment needed to be a stand-alone document explaining and making plain why a decision had been made to a position where now the Court of Appeal are willing with a judgment that is thin in places to open up the luggage of the case and have a good rumage around to see if there are garments within that could cover the barer patches of the judgment so as to preserve its modesty.

Costs argument between Official Solicitor and Mail on Sunday

 

The Court of Appeal dealt with an appeal arising from a costs order made by the President in the Re G case.

The Re G case is an incredibly controversial one, which has now been before three High Court Judges and the Court of Appeal, and involves a Court of Protection application to protect the finances of a woman aged ninety four from carers who were urging her to change her will in their favour  OR a Local Authority dragging a ninety four year old into Court and trying to control her life and gag and silence her  (depending on which side of the controversy you stand).

 

I summarised all the controversial litigation in this post here http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/05/02/journalists-right-to-private-and-family-life-with-her-source/

 

In the very last batch of the litigation, the Mail on Sunday tried to become a party to the Court of Protection proceedings, wanting an input into the letter of instruction to the expert who would be considering whether G had capacity to make her own decision about talking to the Press or whether she did not; and also running the argument that the journalist had an article 8 right to private and family life with G  (you might think that was a curious argument, but the President didn’t actually reject it)

At the end, the Mail on Sunday having lost in all of its applications, the Court ordered that the Mail on Sunday pay 30% of the costs of the Official Solicitor  (let’s quickly remember that all of the Official Solicitors costs are met out of G’s estate, so this was a hearing that cost G money) and 30% of the costs of the Local Authority.

 

The Official Solicitor appealed that order, seeking 100% of its costs. The Local Authority did not appeal the order.

Re G (an Adult) by her litigation friend the Official Solicitor (costs) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/446.html

 

The Court of Appeal considered that the President had struck the right balance [Or certainly that it could not be said that he had been wrong]. Yes, the Mail on Sunday had lost all of their applications, and G’s estate had incurred costs as a result. But also, important (and previously unlitigated) issues of principle had been raised and now resolved to the benefit of public policy. Therefore, it was right that the Mail on Sunday pay some, but not all of G’s costs.

  1. Given the terms of the rule, the challenge to the President’s exercise of discretion is a bold submission. The President set out his reasons. He applied the framework set out in the rules. He identified those matters to which he gave weight. Given that he had concluded that the Official Solicitor had triggered ANL’s application and that he had not understood the public importance of the media’s general role, a proportionate order was an unsurprising outcome. An appeal against the exercise by a judge of his discretion faces a high hurdle. I shall give just one well known example of that hurdle as described by this court in respect of proceedings in this jurisdiction: Burchell and Ballard [2005] EWCA Civ 358, [2005] CP Rep 36 at [25] per Ward LJ:

    “Appeals against orders for costs are notoriously difficult to sustain. That is because the trial judge has a wide discretion with the result that this court will only interfere with his decision if he has exceeded the generous ambit within which there is usually much room for reasonable disagreement or because, even more unusually, he has erred in principle.”

  2. One only has to consider the exercise of discretion in this case from a perspective other than the Official Solicitor’s to understand the point. It was reasonable for the media to raise an issue of public importance and the Official Solicitor failed to understand that issue. The letters written on behalf of the Official Solicitor were wrong and that was conduct before the application and within the proceedings. In this appeal Mr Patel seeks to explain the Official Solicitor’s stance by postulating that any journalist who intruded into G’s private affairs would have been unjustified given Cobb J’s interim declarations and the Press Complaints Commission Editor’s Code of Conduct, but that involves issues of fact which were not established. ANL’s response was wholly misconceived and that was conduct within the proceedings. ANL achieved one of the ends they pursued which was the issue of public importance relating to the role of the media that was triggered in the manner described.
  3. In my judgment the Official Solicitor succeeded on the application i.e. he won a battle but lost a point of principle. ANL lost the application but achieved clarity in relation to a point of principle. None of this should be taken to be an encouragement to the media to use misconceived applications of this kind but it seems to me to be impossible for the Official Solicitor to succeed in arguing that the President exceeded the broad ambit of his discretion by placing too much emphasis on one factor or too little emphasis on another such that he was wrong.
  4. There is one further argument that tells against the second ground of the appeal and that is whether and to what extent ANL should pay two sets of costs. It is submitted by Mr Patel that this was irrelevant. I disagree. The President cannot be said to have been wrong in principle to raise a question that is within the framework of the rules and the terms of rule 159 CoPR. In doing so he apprehended a general principle applied from the administrative law context. There is ample authority for the proposition that multiple representation where there is no significant difference between the arguments of parties on an application is to be discouraged by a limitation in costs. See, for example, the proposition cited with approval by Lord Lloyd of Berwick in Bolton MDC v Secretary of State for the Environment and Ors [1995] 1 WLR 1177 at 1178:

    “In my judgment in circumstances such as these where the issues argued on behalf of two or more respondents are identical, the court should be disposed to make only one order for costs”

  5. The President would have had that principle well in mind given his decision in R (Smeaton) v Secretary of State for Health [2002] 2 FLR 146 at 245 where he overtly applied the principle.
  6. For these reasons I concurred in the dismissal of the appeal. At the conclusion of the proceedings the court expressed its strong view that this appeal should not have any adverse financial effect upon the assets of G. The Official Solicitor has considered that view and I am grateful to him for his confirmation that G will not bear the costs of this appeal.

I was wondering the other day what had finally happened with this case. I still don’t know, but there must have either been a hearing, or be one coming up soon.

Court of Appeal – split hearings aren’t to be used for ‘whodunnits’

Not their exact words, you understand.

These are their exact words:-

 

  1. The hearing at the end of which the findings were made was what is known as a ‘split hearing’ i.e. a hearing limited to a discrete issue of fact without a full analysis of the welfare context. Counsel for the parties before this court acknowledged that the decision to have a split hearing which was taken by a different judge when different advocates were involved cannot have been right given that the issue to be decided was perpetration in the context of an incident of harm, rather than whether the harm occurred.
  2. It is unnecessary for this court to do other than refer to the clear guidance on the point that has been firmly and repeatedly given by this court but just as repeatedly ignored, see for example In the matter of S (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 25 at [27] to [31]. There is no discrete issue that would determine the proceedings in a case like this where harm has been suffered and the perpetrator of that harm is unknown. The social work assessments of those in the pool of potential perpetrators may cast important light on the allegations that are to be determined and upon the reliability of those in the pool and the other witnesses and materials that are available

 

Re BK-S (children) (Expert evidence and probability) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/442.html

If you were wondering which appeal judge was standing up for Lord Justice Ryder’s lead decision in the little-loved Re S (a child) 2014 which effectively banished split hearings for anything other than the most serious case (even though split hearings were invented by the Children Act advisory committee and endorsed by the House of Lords)… well, you aren’t really wondering that, are you?

 

[If you are, then I would like to talk to you about my new business opportunity, where investors get to buy tonnes of gold for the price of grammes of gold. This gold will be all yours when the Sun enters its supernova phase.  The price of gold will likely to increase all the time that your investment is maturing, making this an even more profitable venture. It really is a once in a lifetime investment opportunity]

It is an interesting case in itself, a 6 month child who had been administered (by an adult) doses of an anti-psychotic medication over a period of time. It was established by toxicology reports and medical evidence that the child had been given this drug, Olanzepine, and that it had caused him significant harm. The only real issue was whether it had been given by father, mother or paternal grandfather.

 

The parents were separated, and thus there was quite a clear log of who had been caring for the child on particular days. And the expert called (and then re-called) was able to give quite detailed accounts about how the test results showed the level of Olanzepine, and how Olanzepine has a half-life  (i.e if someone takes 100 milligrams of  X time, there would be say 50 milligrams, and after 2X time, 25 milligrams, and so on), such that calculations can be done to work back from the level to calculate when the drug was taken. Or in this case administered.

The difficulty was that all of that information on half-life is based on adults. For a child of six months, the half-life might be different. It might react more quickly, or more slowly, or have greater symptoms.  The reference to Tanoshima here is the name of a study – both are on single children, because obviously there are ethical medical issues on giving anti-psychotics to 100 infants to see how quickly it comes out of their system.

 

  1. When Professor Johnston was recalled on 28 May 2014, the following oral evidence was adduced:

    “Q. [..] There are two reported studies. One that says a half life is 11.6 hours in a 28 month old child. The other one is 13.72 hours for a child of 17 months.

    A. Yes.

    […]

    Q. Can we safely assume – and I mean with almost certainty – that the half life of [Z] would have been less than 21 hours?

    A. I think that would be a reasonable assumption.

    Q. Yes. I think you also said in your previous evidence that it would be a reasonable assumption to take the 13.7 in the Tanoshima case as well?

    A. Yes.

    Q. Would that be right? So if I were for instance to take 18 hours, that would be safe as well?

    A. Yes.”

  2. The judge accepted the evidence that was adduced in the following passage in his judgment:

    “Professor Johnston agreed that to assume a half life between 21 and 13.7 hours would be likely, but that working on a half life of 18 hours in those circumstances would be safe.”

 

On reading that, I can instantly see the appeal point. If the half-life was taken by the Judge as being probably 18 hours, but between 13.7 hours and 21 hours, and that took one person OUT of the pool of perpetrators and made it more likely than not that the other person administered the drug, then an alternative reading of the evidence given might be

“So it is very difficult to be sure of the half-life of Olanzepine in a child of this age, because the research deals with only two children, and both are much much older. It would be unwise to place reliance on hard and fast numbers to resolve this problem”   (my words, but I guess that’s what counsel had been driving at with those questions)

The Court of Appeal considered that the Judge had not been wrong to follow the expert evidence and to make the finding that Olanzepine had been administered to the child on a date when mother had been in hospital with the child and father had not been present – thus that the mother had been the person who administered the drug to him.

My blood runs wild (and not as a result of angels in the centrefold)

 

I often kvetch about the President’s burning desire to make the welfare of the bundle paramount (which on the ground is resulting in me spending hours of precious time removing actual EVIDENCE that the Court has ordered be filed from bundles, negotiating with other sides about what statements should be removed, and bracing myself for the inevitable complaints at the final hearing that the whole case is now going to turn on that document), but I do think that His Honour Judge Wildblood QC has a point here.

 

Re A and B (children : fact finding) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B48.html

[Of course, when the Judge reads the next blog post, about Ryder LJ’s further pronouncement in the Court of Appeal on fact-finding, he will observe that fact finding hearings are still effectively banned and thus the hearing ought to have never happened, but that’s by the by]

 

i) The bundles. To deliver eight lever arch files to a judge on a Thursday evening for him to start a case on Monday morning is unrealistic where the summarising documentation is inadequate. To those who did so I pose this question: ‘How long would it take you to read that amount of material?’ During the hearing I asked what the advocates’ expectations were of me in relation to enclosures M, N, P and Q which extend to over 1,250 pages which had not been adequately summarised (medical records, Local Authority records etc) and the discussion ended with me understanding that I was asked to read them and summarise them myself during the hearing. That would have been manifestly unfair because the advocates and parties would not then know what I was taking into account when reaching a decision before I did so and would not have an opportunity to comment on things that I discovered. In the end I required a list of pages to be given to me from enclosures M and N and read those. I read the whole of enclosures P and Q over two nights (a total of 542 pages). If I had attempted to read 1,250 pages and each page had taken an average of one minute to read and summarise it would have involved over twenty hours of reading mid-case on part only of the documentation that was filed.

ii) The case was given a three day time estimate which was never realistic, particularly if I was going to be expected to read that amount of material during it. As it is I have dealt with the case in five days and have typed this judgment during the fifth day.

iii) The bundles that were produced were in disarray. Many pages were blank. Many reports were repeated. Some pages were upside down. The medical records were not in chronological order and switched between years randomly. Important documents were not included.

 

Even the purpose of this hearing was somewhat hard to fathom – there were two children A (aged 10) and his half-brother B (aged 7 months). A was in care for other reasons and B was living happily with his mother, about whom no complaint was made. The allegations related solely to the father – there was no proposal that the father move back in with the mother, and his contact was supervised twice per week. There were a wide range of allegations made against the father by the Local Authority (most having emerged from A himself).

  1. In this judgment I am critical of the Local Authority. I list the main reasons why at the end of the judgment. I consider that it has approached this hearing without any adequate consideration of the quality of the evidence that it could place before the court. Its approach has been unrealistic and lacking in analysis. As a consequence, scarce resources have been wasted.
  2. This has been a five day hearing which came into my list two working days before it started, bearing eight lever arch files. On the working day before the case started I held a telephone directions hearing in which Advocate B, Counsel for M2, rightly questioned the proportionality of it proceeding but was told by the Local Authority that it thought the hearing to be necessary; I had not been able to read enough of the papers overnight to intervene. I regret that.
  3. Given the outcome of this hearing I think that very little has been achieved from it. He oldest child, A, is in care and, by mutual agreement, does not have contact with his father, his mother or M2. There is very clear evidence that B’s mother cares for B well. She and B have lived together in a residential placement since 19th December 2014. Within the parenting assessment undertaken by the Local Authority at E106 the following is stated at E125 : ‘I do consider that B’s mother can care for him adequately in the community at this stage…[E126]…She has been unfailingly polite, patient, co operative and compliant throughout this assessment. She has responded to advice and guidance with polite interest but [we] have not been entirely convinced that she welcomed it…[E131] …there have been no concerns about her care and he is a healthy, happy baby who is thriving’. B’s mother has been assessed over a long period of time. The father, from whom she is now separated, has contact with B twice a week under supervision. The Local Authority’s position is that B’s mother has been assessed whilst in her current placement and that ‘no concerns have been raised with regards to her basic care of B’.
  4. As will be plain I have rejected most of the allegations that the Local Authority has made. Much of the Local Authority’s case rested on things that A has said against the father. In the telephone directions hearing that I held before the case started I enquired whether the Local Authority regarded A as a reliable source of evidence. I was told that it did; as the evidence (both expert and factual) shows, that was totally unrealistic. When I asked the child’s solicitor what the guardian’s assessment was of the reliability of A I was told that the guardian was away (and has remained away during this hearing) and so it was not possible to answer my question, a response that does not require further comment.

 

[Although that response does not require further comment, I must remark that there is considerable restraint being exercised there. On a case that turns largely on the reliability of A as a complainant, it is astonishing for the Guardian or those representing her not to have a view as to that reliability.]

 

The Judge was also rightly unhappy that the chronology provided was wholly inadequate. The absence of a full chronology meant that several vital questions were unanswered and could only be established by a trawl through the eight bundles of evidence.

 

  1. Chronology – As I state at the end of this judgment when I deal with matters of practice, there was no adequate chronology in this case to summarise the evidence and put matters in context. As Lady Hale observed in a case relating to another area of family law (home ownership), context is everything. For instance (and this is an abbreviated list) i) What preceded the ABE interviews? ii) When did the child make the first allegations against the father? iii) When was the firebell incident (when A says in interview the father began to abuse him physically)? iv) What sexualised behaviour did the child exhibit and when? v) What other false allegations had the child made and when? vi) What state was the child in when he came from Portugal? vii) What happened in the first set of proceedings which ended in August 2013? viii) What was A’s weight loss (see above)? ix) When did A make the first allegation against M2? x) What role did M2 play in A’s care? xi) What does the information from the school demonstrate when it is put into a schedule (I had to require production of the school / home books and the ‘SF’ file was handed in at the start of the hearing)?
  2. It has been left to me to put the evidence in order (and I say more about this at the end of the judgment). That being so I think that it is essential to put the case into its chronological perspective if any sense is to be made of it and I have done that by putting the evidence into chronological order. The result is a judgment of much greater length than I would have liked which has taken me a very long time to produce. I have typed it within the five day listing that I have had to allow for this case

 

The judicially composed chronology is excellent, and completely necessary to make proper sense of the case.  Of course, whilst it is excellent and necessary, it breaches the President’s guidance on chronologies, by first going back further than 2 years in time, and second it is far longer than the President’s mandate.

I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of a Judge having to produce their own chronology, however. That is not an activity that is likely to make him warm to the applicant’s case.

 

The Judge also felt that none of the professionals involved – either the professional clients or the lawyers had properly attempted to analyse the evidence. With eight bundles having been produced, everyone had clearly been very dilligent in identifying bits of paper that needed to be collected up and distributed, but somewhat lacking in the process of analysing where all this evidence would take the Court.

v) The advocates themselves had not seen relevant material. The papers from the previous proceedings were produced late and omitted important material, such as the threshold document from the 2013 proceedings. Nobody knew, when the case started, what had happened about the January 2013 allegations within those proceedings. There was no mention of the parenting assessment, the psychological report or the guardian’s report in the chronology. I had to call for the threshold document from those proceedings. The chronology jumps from 21/01/13 to 01/05/2013 then to 10/10/2013 and therefore somersaults over the 2013 proceedings. That is just not sensible.

vi) It was perfectly plain to me that there had been no realistic assessment of the evidence that was being placed before me by the Local Authority, upon whom the burden of proof rests. The Local Authority is the prosecuting authority and has the burden and responsibility of proving the case that it brings. There are many examples of this. A particularly obvious one is that A says that his father started to hit him after the firebell incident in July 2013 – what impact did that have on the January 2013 allegations against the father? The sexual allegations against M2 should have been put in the context of the other material, not least the similar and false allegations that A had made against others. The chronology that I have put together (which can be compared with the Local Authority chronology) speaks for itself. Huge parts of relevant and important evidence had been omitted in the Local Authority’s analysis.

vii) There has been no overview by the Local Authority or by the guardian (and I deliberately include the guardian and the child’s solicitor in this) about the reliability of the child’s evidence. That is not the fault of this child. But it does mean that before presenting a case that is so heavily dependent upon what the child has said it is of obvious importance to consider the reliability of the child as a source of evidence. I held a telephone conference hearing on the Friday before the case started and I asked for the Local Authority’s assessment of the child’s reliability. The guardian’s solicitor told me that the guardian was not available and she could not take instructions on that issue. The Local Authority counsel told me that the Local Authority viewed A as a reliable source of evidence. It was plain that there had been no proper assessment of this issue and that there had been no proper thought given to the many untrue allegations that this child had also made. That is not just unfair to the parties but it is unfair on the child whose future should not be subject to such a process.

viii) The important evidence relating to A’s weight and the condition of his feet and hands was not summarised or analysed before the case started. I created the weight chart which I extracted from the papers. Other than that the important job of seeing what the child’s weight had been had been covered by Dr GR in his report. If the point was to be made and proved it needed to be supported by evidence from the medical records. The child’s solicitor tried to cross examine on this point without any information from or reference to those records and, in doing so, sought to make a point that was wholly invalid. As to the state of A’s feet in January 2014 it was necessary for me to require an analysis of the level of pain that the child would have felt at the time that the blisters etc were developing (would it have been obvious to his carers that he was so injured?); I very nearly made a totally false assumption that the child would have been in obvious pain (as to which see Q10).

ix) Despite the abundance of evidence about the psychological difficulties that A has, there is no evidence that any consideration was given to how A should be interviewed in the light of his very specific difficulties. The questioning that I saw gave no demonstration at all of questioning being crafted by reference to those difficulties or in a way that reflected the very large amount of medical information that was available in relation to him.

x) There was a wrongful absence of enquiry into the interview that took place on 15th January 2013 [the M10 interview]. There was no recording of it or any evidence of an investigation arising from what A said in it. There is no point in me expressing my opinion about the standard of practice that those absences demonstrate because the points are too obvious.

 

 

None of the findings sought by the Local Authority (and supported by the Guardian) were made. It is therefore theoretically possible that either of them could appeal. I really wouldn’t….

 

 

 

 

The spine was white like snowflakes

No one could ever stain

But lifting all these bundles

Could only bring me pain

 

Hours go by, I’m flicking through, I’m reading J nineteen

But there’s no hint of threshold, on the pages in between

 

My blood runs wild

I can’t believe this crap they’ve filed

My blood runs cold

The chronology is not that old

Chronology is not that old

 

Na na na na na na na na na

 

(Apologies to the J-Geils band)

Cards face upwards – Local Authorities and judicial review

 

I daresay that most of my readers don’t also read planning law (and neither do I), but Midcounties Co-Operative Ltd v. Forest of Dean [2015] has some wider importance.

 

There are times when Local Authorities get judicially reviewed, and the Court in this case set out that there are rules that apply to public bodies in their interactions with the Court that there aren’t with private litigants.

David Hart QC’s summary of the case over at UK Human Rights blog is something that I couldn’t better, so I will give you the link so that you can see how it should be done.

http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2015/05/07/local-authorities-and-judicial-review-they-should-not-put-their-heads-completely-in-the-sands/#more-25909

 

The nub of it is, that a Local Authority was being judicially reviewed for its planning decision to allow a Tescos out of town supermarket – as this was the third time, they decided that they’d had enough of Court and would decline to participate and just let the wealthy supermarket fight the case if they wanted to.  (That doesn’t really work, since the supermarket chain weren’t a public body accused of behaving unreasonably – it was the Council’s decision to grant permission that was under review, not the supermarket’s decision to ask for it)

More fundamentally, it is because the relationship between a public authority defendant and the court is not the same as that between an ordinary litigant and the court. In particular ….. a public authority defendant in judicial review proceedings has a duty of candour and co-operation so as to assist the court in understanding its decision-making process and deal with the issues fairly. It should conduct the litigation with its cards face upwards. This is based on the concept that it acts in the public interest, and not merely to protect a private, commercial interest.

 

The Court rather neatly set out what a Local Authority who proposed not to settle a JR but not to actively attend and fight it would have to do.  (And if you read all of this and say “well, they might as well either settle or turn up and fight if they have to do all of this”, that’s rather the point)

It should at least consider the following:

(1) whether it has complied with its duty of candour and co-operation, by disclosing all relevant documents;

(2) whether its duty of candour and co-operation requires it to file a witness statement to assist the court in understanding its decision-making process and dealing with the claim for judicial review fairly;

(3) whether it should file an acknowledgement of service, with summary grounds of resistance, even if only in outline form, so that at least the gist of why it maintains that its decision is correct in law is explained;

(4) whether a representative of the authority (not necessarily a lawyer) should be present in court at any hearing, so that the authority is in a position to know what is going on and it can rapidly take steps to deal with points which may arise unexpectedly or answer judicial questions if invited to do so.

 

I suppose that technically, a Local Authority who have decided not to turn up to fight their own judicial review might say “Well, our obligation was to consider WHETHER to do those things. And we considered it and decided that we didn’t”

I don’t recommend that. I don’t recommend that at all.

If, many years ago, my friend Simon had asked me for advice before he went up to a nightclub bouncer and said  “You think you’re so hard, because you’ve got muscles, do you want to step outside and we’ll find out how hard you really are?”, I would not have recommended that.  I would have used similar tones and certainty in my advice to Simon as I would to a client suggesting the above approach to judicial review – if somewhat less colourful language.

 

Things I’d like to see in judgments (but never expect to)

Some childish nonsense – title explains it all.

Poor Mr Crumpet of counsel is going to be the whipping boy in a lot of this. Picture whoever you like as Mr Crumpet.

 

“Having consulted the authorities presented before me, there does indeed appear to be no reason in law why a man may not marry a squid”

 

“Mr Crumpet, it did not augur well for your client on his entry to the Drug and Alcohol Court that he formed entirely the wrong impression about the ambit and ambience of said Court and had partaken heavily of both on his way there, to as he put it ‘get the party started’ ”

“I am aware, as Mr Crumpet pointed out that the mother has before her an extremely long and difficult road. He pleaded this as a reason not to attempt rehabilitation and not to go down that road. A wise man put it best – Roads ? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”

 

“I find that they were the footprints of an enormous hound”

 

“I am reliably informed that the powers of the inherent jurisdiction are theoretically limitless, and therefore, I exercise my powers under the Inherent Jurisdiction to award everyone in the case a dinosaur and I shall from this point onwards have always been the drummer in the Beatles, with all that entails”

 

“This is an intractable contact dispute, almost impossible to resolve. Therefore, I have decided  – pud pie, straight to London, no tipsys”   *      (that might make no sense to Southern readers, sorry. Explanation at foot of page. You’ll all be doing it next week. It would sort this election nonsense out. )

“I want to give a big shout out in this judgment to Dr Kutten-paste – you da man! His evidence was the bomb, I’m sure you’ll all agree. The Bomb. ”

“Mr Grayling, I see that you have come before me today unrepresented as a result of the LASPO reforms, and you stand to lose something incredibly dear to you – I have decided therefore that we shall conduct this hearing in Latin”

“Mr Crumpet, your client gave evidence that he had no tattoo. He is behind you now shaking his head. He is certain that he has no tattoo. Indeed, he showed us last week from the witness box. that he did not have one. Allow me the indulgence of checking again.  Roll up your  left sleeve sir. Ah yes, I see the surprise on your face. Mr Crumpet, do you recall day one of this fifteen day hearing? You do, good. Would you please examine the tattoo on your clients arm. Now….. is THAT your card?”

 

“It was argued by Mr Crumpet that section 3, subsection 13 was fatal to his opponents case. I am afraid to inform him that Justice Austin section 3, subsection 13 says he just got his ass kicked”

 

“It has been explained to me over the lunch adjournment with a great deal of courtesy and skill I might add, that the summary of historical background that I set out in the earlier part of my judgment, was in fact the summary of an episode of Saved by the Bell, which perhaps explains why Screech played a more prominent role in those matters than one might otherwise have thought.  In the event that anyone remains curious, I would have found that Kelly should go to the movie with Slater, and that Zach should be grounded for a period not in excess of two weeks. I will now move on with the case proper. I should remark, as I’ve just thought of it, heh heh, that in this particular instance, it seems as though it was I who was saved by the proverbial bell”

 

“Great reliance was placed on the Court of Appeal authority of Re K 2009. It would be an absolute barrier to the ingenious solution that Mr Crumpet proffers to me. Unbeknownst to you all, as the owner of  a time machine, I have had a peek at the law reports for 2025 and Re K has been overturned, so that’s good news for all of us”

“Let me see if I have the chronology of the parental relationship correct. According to my note, of the mother’s account she met him on a Monday and her heart stood still? And at that time, she believed his name to be Bill or William.  Whereas the father’s account was that they did indeed meet on a Monday, that he took her for a drink on Tuesday, and matters became intimate on Wednesday, continuing through the Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and then there was something of a cooling off period on the Sunday”

“Yet more discrepancies emerge in the parental accounts of the relationship. Whereas the father insisted that he had saved the mother’s life when she nearly drowned, her account was that he had been at the beach but that he had showed off, splashing around. ”

“Mr Crumpet, you may recall that a particularly unothodox point of law arose before I adjourned. During that adjournment, you had your clerks walk over your Red book. I have been in my chambers, studying this matter myself. Could you please turn to page 172 of the copy of the Red book that you have in front of you? Now… is THAT your card?”

“Matters took a somewhat unusual turn in this case when I was presented with an application for a witness summons requiring that the Ghost of Elvis Presley attend to give evidence. I found his evidence to be compelling.”

 

“Before I embark on what is going to be a difficult and complex judgment, hands up if you think mother won? And hands up if you think father won?  I am going to count the usher at the back of the Court, so that rather settles that. Does anyone have any FAS forms to hand in?”

 

 

[*Pud-pie – a method of solving a dispute, or deciding who has to do something that neither participant wants to do. The two players stand a distance apart, facing each other. They take it in turns to take a step towards the other, as though walking a tightrope. The technique is that the heel of your striding foot has to touch the toe of the foot that’s behind. Alternate feet.  With each step, player one says the word “Pud”, and when taking a step, player two says the word “Pie”. The winner is the player whose next step will allow them to tread on their opponents shoe.  A tipsy is a small jump backwards, that each player may deploy if they think they are going to lose, in an attempt to shake things up. A round of pud-pie with tipsys tends to take longer, so if you want to get the decision over with quickly – “Pud pie, straight to London, no tipsys”  

I actually couldn’t find an explanation of “pud pie” on google, so I thought it did warrant an explanation.

Someday I will explain the game of Pondo-Grundy to you all. I reckon I still have a chance to medal in Pondo-Grundy, if the Olympics association ever reply to my letters]

MN (adult) 2015 – Court of Appeal pronouncements

Re MN (an adult) 2015 is a Court of Protection case, heard in the Court of Appeal, which spends nearly half of its length talking about care proceedings, housing and practice directions.

It is very very dense, and in all conscience, I couldn’t ask you to read this unless you are a lawyer or are particularly fascinated by Court of Protection work.  (There’s a brief bit in there of relevance to family lawyers – about whether Courts have the final say on care plans. If you’re pushed for time – despite Neath Port Talbot, they don’t)

Lots of big stuff in there though, including important bit for children cases.  There’s care plans, court power to make Local Authority change their plans, whether declarations are valid, costs and timescales in Court of Protection cases and our old friend bundle sizes.

If you are a lawyer working in the Court of Protection, brace yourself for a huge pile of standardised orders, case summaries, and practice directions, all of which will be carefully and thoughtfully designed to make every aspect of your working life more awkward and time consuming than it was before.  Flaubert once said that writing his novels was like having ones flesh torn off with red hot pincers, but he never had to complete a standardised Case Management Order. He would have considerably softened his view of how hard it was to write his novels, if he had this broader experience of life’s miseries.

If you see an announcement of the Court of Protection Outline being launched, quit your job, and take up gainful employment as someone who tests the sharpness of porcupine quills by bungee jumping onto them face first – you will be much happier in the long run.

[Editor note – somewhat over-selling that, Suesspicious Minds? Perhaps a smidge. ]

The actual point of the appeal is an important one,  and in deciding it, the Court of Appeal say some useful things about care cases and specifically care plans.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/411.html

Let’s deal with the care plan bit first (sorry Court of Protection folks, but actually explaining this will help explain what’s going on later on in the judgment)

 

Historically this has been the deal – the LA submit their care plan (what will they do if the Court grant their order?) and the Court decide whether to grant the order. We then got into something of a tangle in cases where the Court wanted to grant the order, but not on the plan put before them. There have been various stages of that arm-wrestling, but where we got up to recently was Re W (or the Neath Port Talbot case) in which the Court of Appeal (principally Ryder LJ) tried to put the power in the hands of the Court.  [I personally think that flies in the face of Supreme Court authority, but ho-hum]

The President here clarifies the law, and takes a step backwards from the more bullish aspects of the Neath Port Talbot judgment. Underlining mine for emphasis.

  1. Finally, I need to consider the position where the court – that is, in relation to a child the subject of care proceedings, the family court, or, in relation to an adult the subject of personal welfare proceedings, the Court of Protection – is being asked to approve the care plan put forward by the local or other public authority which has brought the proceedings. I start with care proceedings under Part IV of the 1989 Act.
  2. It is the duty of any court hearing an application for a care order carefully to scrutinise the local authority’s care plan and to satisfy itself that the care plan is in the child’s interests. If the court is not satisfied that the care plan is in the best interests of the child, it may refuse to make a care order: see Re T (A Minor) (Care Order: Conditions) [1994] 2 FLR 423. It is important, however, to appreciate the limit of the court’s powers: the only power of the court is either to approve or refuse to approve the care plan put forward by the local authority. The court cannot dictate to the local authority what the care plan is to say. Nor, for reasons already explained, does the High Court have any greater power when exercising its inherent jurisdiction. Thus the court, if it seeks to alter the local authority’s care plan, must achieve its objective by persuasion rather than by compulsion.
  3. That said, the court is not obliged to retreat at the first rebuff. It can invite the local authority to reconsider its care plan and, if need be, more than once: see Re X; Barnet London Borough Council v Y and X [2006] 2 FLR 998. How far the court can properly go down this road is a matter of some delicacy and difficulty. There are no fixed and immutable rules. It is impossible to define in the abstract or even to identify with any precision in the particular case the point to which the court can properly press matters but beyond which it cannot properly go. The issue is always one for fine judgment, reflecting sensitivity, realism and an appropriate degree of judicial understanding of what can and cannot sensibly be expected of the local authority.
  4. In an appropriate case the court can and must (see In re B-S (Children) (Adoption Order: Leave to Oppose) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, [2014] 1 WLR 563, para 29):

    “be rigorous in exploring and probing local authority thinking in cases where there is any reason to suspect that resource issues may be affecting the local authority’s thinking.”

    Rigorous probing, searching questions and persuasion are permissible; pressure is not.

  5. I should add that the court has the power to direct the local authority to file evidence or to prepare and file a further plan, including, if the court directs, a description of the services that are available and practicable for each placement option being considered by the court. The local authority is obliged to do so even though the plan’s contents may not or do not reflect its formal position, for it is not for the local authority (or indeed any other party) to decide whether it is going to restrict or limit the evidence that it presents: see Re W (Care Proceedings: Functions of Court and Local Authority) [2013] EWCA Civ 1227, [2014] 2 FLR 431. As Ryder LJ said (para 79):

    “It is part of the case management process that a judge may require a local authority to give evidence about what services would be provided to support the strategy set out in its care plan … That may include evidence about more than one different possible resolution so the court might know the benefits and detriments of each option and what the local authority would or would not do. That may also include requiring the local authority to set out a care plan to meet a particular formulation or assessment of risk, even if the local authority does not agree with that risk.”

Where Ryder LJ was suggesting that at this point, the Court can mutter darkly about judicial review and invite a party to make such an application  (in effect compelling the Local Authority to either give in or incur horrendous costs in judicial review proceedings with no prospect of recovering those costs from the other side, who will be ‘men of straw’), the President considers that after those attempts at persuasion have failed, the Court has to choose the lesser of two evils.

  1. Despite its best efforts, the court may, nonetheless, find itself faced with a situation where it has to choose the lesser of two evils. As Balcombe LJ said in Re S and D (Children: Powers of Court) [1995] 2 FLR 456, 464, the judge may, despite all his endeavours, be faced with a dilemma:

    “if he makes a care order, the local authority may implement a care plan which he or she may take the view is not in the child or children’s best interests. On the other hand, if he makes no order, he may be leaving the child in the care of an irresponsible, and indeed wholly inappropriate parent.”

    Balcombe LJ continued:

    “It seems to me that, regrettable though it may seem, the only course he may take is to choose what he considers to be the lesser of two evils. If he has no other route open to him … then that is the unfortunate position he has to face.”

  2. In practice courts are not very often faced with this dilemma. Wilson J, as he then was, recognised in Re C (Adoption: Religious Observance) [2002] 1 FLR 1119, para 51, that “a damaging impasse can develop between a court which declines to approve their care plan and the authority which decline to amend it.” But, as he went on to observe:

    “The impasse is more theoretical than real: the last reported example is Re S and D (Children: Powers of Court) [1995] 2 FLR 456. For good reason, there are often, as in this case, polarised views about the optimum solution for the child: in the end, however, assuming that they feel that the judicial processing of them has worked adequately, the parties will be likely to accept the court’s determination and, in particular, the local authority will be likely to amend their proposals for the child so as to accord with it … In the normal case let there be – in the natural forum of the family court – argument, decision and, sometimes no doubt with hesitation, acceptance: in other words, between all of us a partnership, for the sake of the child.”

 

It would remain an unwise Local Authority who continued to disagree with judicial persuasion at that point, but if they do, the Court simply has to choose.  [It is worth noting that the issue that Ryder LJ went to war on – the ability to force a Local Authority to have a care order with a plan of the child being at home, is exactly the situation which is wreaking havoc in Re D – since if it all goes wrong, the parents get no legal aid to argue the case and there’s no easy application to be made to fix things]

 

Moving on, (come back Court of Protection people) , the Court of Protection say that the same provisions apply. The Court can try to persuade a Local Authority to alter their plan, but they can’t compel them to.

In my judgment exactly the same principles as apply to care cases involving children apply also to personal welfare cases involving incapacitated adults, whether the case is proceeding in the Family Division under the inherent jurisdiction or, as here, in the Court of Protection under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. The fact that a care plan is now part of the statutory process in relation to care cases involving children, whereas there is no corresponding statutory requirement for a care plan in an adult personal welfare case is neither here nor there. Care plans are a routine part of the process in adult cases.

 

That’s important, because the fundamental issue in MN was that MN’s family disagreed with the plan that the Local Authority had for him, and wanted the Court to decide that this plan was not in his best interests.

  1. MN, born in 1993, is a young man who suffers from profound disabilities and lacks capacity to make relevant decisions for himself. When MN was 8 years old he was made the subject of a care order on the application of the local authority, ACC. Shortly before his 18th birthday the court approved MN’s move from his residential children’s placement to an adult residential placement, RCH, where he continues to live. The clinical commissioning group, ACCG, took over responsibility from ACC for the funding of MN’s placement at RCH when he turned 18. The present proceedings were brought by ACC and commenced on 25 August 2011. MN’s parents, Mr N and Mrs N, accept, reluctantly, that MN should live at RCH, where they have regular contact with him, but their aspiration remains that he should return to live with them at home.
  2. By the time the matter came on for hearing before Eleanor King J, the issues had narrowed to disputes (i) as to whether Mrs N should be permitted to assist in MN’s intimate care when visiting him at RCH and (ii) as to whether contact should also take place at Mr and Mrs N’s home. As to (i), RCH was not willing for this to be done. As to (ii), ACCG was not willing to provide the necessary funding for the additional carers who would be needed if MN was to have home contact.

You can see from the lead-in that the Court of Appeal weren’t terribly taken with the idea that by deciding that X plan wasn’t in MN’s best interests, the Local Authority could be compelled to redesign the plan for MN.  The Court has to choose from the options which are realistically before it – they have to choose from what’s on the menu, rather than demanding that the chef cook something more to their liking.

 

If the family really think that the LA are unreasonable, then the remedy is judicial review, not getting the Court of Protection to twist the Local Authority’s arm (or make declarations whose value is merely to lay the foundations for a good judicial review case)

 

  1. In my judgment the judge was right in all respects and essentially for the reasons she gave.
  2. The function of the Court of Protection is to take, on behalf of adults who lack capacity, the decisions which, if they had capacity, they would take themselves. The Court of Protection has no more power, just because it is acting on behalf of an adult who lacks capacity, to obtain resources or facilities from a third party, whether a private individual or a public authority, than the adult if he had capacity would be able to obtain himself. The A v Liverpool principle applies as much to the Court of Protection as it applies to the family court or the Family Division. The analyses in A v A Health Authority and in Holmes-Moorhouse likewise apply as much in the Court of Protection as in the family court or the Family Division. The Court of Protection is thus confined to choosing between available options, including those which there is good reason to believe will be forthcoming in the foreseeable future.
  3. The Court of Protection, like the family court and the Family Division, can explore the care plan being put forward by a public authority and, where appropriate, require the authority to go away and think again. Rigorous probing, searching questions and persuasion are permissible; pressure is not. And in the final analysis the Court of Protection cannot compel a public authority to agree to a care plan which the authority is unwilling to implement. I agree with the point Eleanor King J made in her judgment (para 57):

    “In my judgment, such discussions and judicial encouragement for flexibility and negotiation in respect of a care package are actively to be encouraged. Such negotiations are however a far cry from the court embarking on a ‘best interests’ trial with a view to determining whether or not an option which has been said by care provider (in the exercise of their statutory duties) not to be available, is nevertheless in the patient’s best interest.”

  4. Back of the specific authorities to which I have referred there are, in my judgment, four reasons why the Court of Protection should not embark upon the kind of process for which Ms Bretherton and Ms Weereratne contend. First, it is not a proper function of the Court of Protection (nor, indeed, of the family court or the Family Division in analogous situations), to embark upon a factual inquiry into some abstract issue the answer to which cannot affect the outcome of the proceedings before it. Secondly, it is not a proper function of the Court of Protection (nor of the family court or the Family Division) to embark upon a factual inquiry designed to create a platform or springboard for possible future proceedings in the Administrative Court. Thirdly, such an exercise runs the risk of confusing the very different perspectives and principles which govern the exercise by the Court of Protection of its functions and those which govern the exercise by the public authority of its functions – and, in consequence, the very different issues which arise for determination in the Court of Protection in contrast to those which arise for determination in the Administrative Court. Fourthly, such an exercise runs the risk of exposing the public authority to impermissible pressure. Eleanor King J rightly identified (para 59) the need to:

    avoid a situation arising where the already vastly overstretched Court of Protection would be routinely asked to make hypothetical decisions in relation to ‘best interests’, with the consequence that CCGs are driven to fund such packages or be faced with the threat of expensive and lengthy judicial review proceedings.”

    Precisely so.

  5. The present case, it might be thought, illustrates the point to perfection. The proposal was that the judge should spend three days, poring over more than 2,000 pages of evidence, to come to a ‘best interests’ interest on an abstract question, and all for what?

 

That last point segueways into all of the Practice pronouncements.

Let’s start with bundles.

  1. We were told that the trial bundle in the present case ran to five lever arch files and also, which did not surprise me, that this was not atypical in this kind of case. I confess, however, to being surprised – and that is a pretty anaemic word – when told that the bundle contained no fewer than 2,029 pages of evidence. That, I have to say, is an indictment of the culture which has been allowed to develop in the Court of Protection. It must stop. In the family court, the relevant Practice Direction in relation to bundles provides that the bundle must not exceed one lever arch containing no more than 350 pages unless a larger bundle has been specifically authorised by a judge: FPR 2010 PD27A, para 5.1. It might be thought that the corresponding Practice Direction in the Court of Protection, PD13B, should be brought into line. In the meantime, proper compliance with PD13B is essential and should be rigorously enforced by Court of Protection judges. In particular, proper compliance with PD13B, paras 4.2, 4.3, 4.6 and 4.7, which judges must insist upon, will go a very long way to meeting the concerns identified by Charles J in A Local Authority v PB and P [2011] EWHC 502 (COP), [2011] COPLR Con Vol 166.
  2. In the Court of Protection, the use of expert evidence is restricted by Rule 121 to “that which is reasonably required to resolve the proceedings.” One of the most salutary and effective of the recent reforms to family justice has been the imposition of a significantly more demanding test by section 13(6) of the Children and Families Act 2014 – “necessary to assist the court to resolve the proceedings justly.” Here, as I have already noted, the bundle contained an astonishing 1,289 pages of expert evidence. The profligate expenditure of public resources on litigation conducted in such an unrestrainedly luxurious manner is something that can no longer be tolerated. As I recently observed in relation to the family court (Re L (A Child) [2015] EWFC 15, para 38):

    “I end with yet another plea for restraint in the expenditure of public funds. Public funds, whether those under the control of the LAA or those under the control of other public bodies, are limited, and likely in future to reduce rather than increase. It is essential that such public funds as are available for funding litigation in the Family Court and the Family Division are carefully husbanded and properly applied. It is no good complaining that public funds are available only for X and not for Y if money available for X is being squandered. Money should be spent only on what is “necessary” to enable the court to deal with the proceedings “justly”. If a task is not “necessary” – if it is unnecessary – why should litigants or their professional advisers expect public money to be made available? They cannot and they should not. Proper compliance with PD27A and, in particular, strict adherence to the bundle page limit, is an essential tool in the struggle to control the costs of family litigation.”

    Consideration requires to be given to the early amendment of Rule 121 to bring it into line with section 13(6).

 

Get ready for 350 page bundles and rigorous scrutiny over expert evidence. If the experience in family proceedings is anything to go by, expect to be spending 10% of your working day f***ing about with bundles.

What else?

 

Timescales

  1. That takes me on to the other point. The time these proceedings took to reach a final hearing was depressingly long. I am very conscious that one must not push too far the analogy between personal welfare proceedings in the Court of Protection and care proceedings in the family court, but they do share a number of common forensic characteristics. Even allowing for the fact – not that it arose in this particular case – that cases in the Court of Protection may involve disputes about capacity which, in the nature of things, do not feature in care cases, there is a striking contrast between the time some personal welfare cases in the Court of Protection take to reach finality and the six-month time limit applicable in care proceedings by virtue of section 32(1)(a)(ii) of the 1989 Act. The present case, it might be thought, is a bad example of what I fear is still an all-too prevalent problem.
  2. We invited counsel to make any comments on this aspect of the matter which they thought might assist. Their historical accounts of the litigation are illuminating and need not be rehearsed but demonstrate that the delays were not caused by any one party nor by any one factor. The truth is that this case, like too many other ‘heavy’ personal welfare cases in the Court of Protection, demonstrates systemic failures which have contributed to a culture in which unacceptable delay is far too readily tolerated.
  3. In the family court the handling of care cases has been radically improved, and the previously endemic problem of delay has been brought under control, by the procedures set out in the Public Law Outline, contained in the Family Procedure Rules 2010, PD12A. Key elements of the PLO are judicial continuity, robust judicial case management, the early identification of issues by the case management judge, and the fixing at the outset by the case management judge of a timetable, departure from which is not readily permitted. Failure to comply with the timetable set by the judge and failure to comply, meticulously and on time, with court orders is no longer tolerated, as defaulters have discovered to their cost (for the applicability of this to the Court of Protection see Re G (Adult); London Borough of Redbridge v G, C and F [2014] EWCOP 1361, [2014] COPLR 416, para 12). Moreover, the parties are not permitted to agree any adjustment of the timetable or any extensions of time without the prior approval of the court: see Re W (Children) [2014] EWFC 22, paras 17-19. In the family court there has been a cultural revolution, from which the Court of Protection needs to learn.

 

[Of course, the best revolutions to learn from are those that actually worked, but I suppose you can learn from an unholy mess of a cultural revolution too]

What else?

Lack of rigour in defining the argument

  1. The first relates to the need, rightly identified by Charles J in A Local Authority v PB and P [2011] EWHC 502 (COP), [2011] COPLR Con Vol 166, paras 31-33, to identify, flag up and address, well before a personal welfare case comes on for hearing in the Court of Protection, (i) any jurisdictional issues and the legal arguments relating to them and, more generally, (ii) the issues, the nature of each party’s case, the facts that need to be established and the evidence to be given. The purpose, of course, is to ensure that each party knows the cases being advanced by the others. Charles J went on (paras 34-46) to elaborate how all this might be achieved.
  2. That judgment was handed down on 26 January 2011. It is depressing to have to note how little of what Charles J had said seems to have percolated through to those involved in the present case.
  3. The proceedings began, as I have said, on 25 August 2011. The hearing before Eleanor King J commenced on 18 November 2013, over two years later. The issues with which Eleanor King J and subsequently this court have been concerned had, to use Ms Bretherton’s phrase, been “bubbling under the surface for some time.” The case was listed for three days. As Eleanor King J described it in her judgment (para 46):

    “[Mr and Mrs N] had anticipated until the morning of the trial that, whilst they make a concession in relation to MN’s residence, there would still be consideration by the Court of Protection of the contact issue. Their expectation was that, over 3 days, witnesses would be called and cross-examined and submissions made prior to the court reaching a ‘best interests’ decision as to whether or not MN should have contact at the home of his parents as the first stage of a gradual progression to either living or spending lengthy periods of time with them there. I understand that they may feel that the ground has been cut from under their feet by what Ms Bretherton referred to as the public authorities’ ‘knock out blow’.”

  4. As the judge records in her judgment (para 18), counsel for ACC in a position statement dated 14 August 2013 had flagged up one issue in the case as being the interface between the Court of Protection and the Administrative Court, and had made it clear that her case was that the Court of Protection is limited to choosing between the available options and making decisions that MN is unable to make by virtue of his incapacity. However, directions were given at a hearing on 28 August 2013 for the filing of further evidence and thereafter, we were told, the parties prepared for a three day trial of the contested issues of fact.
  5. ACC’s stance on the jurisdictional issue was clarified in an email (to which copies of various authorities were attached) sent by ACC’s counsel to the other counsel in the case at 23.02 the night before the hearing was due to start. The judge recorded what followed (paras 22-23):

    “[22] … When the court sat it was told, for the first time, that a jurisdictional issue arose as to whether … the court should, or should not, now embark on a contested ‘best interests’ trial in relation to home contact and of personal care of MN by Mrs N.

    [23] No skeleton arguments on the law had been prepared and none of the position statements filed directly addressed, or even identified this legal argument.”

    The judge (para 47) appropriately paid tribute to Ms Bretherton for being both able and willing to deal with the argument then and there.

[Suesspicious Minds note – never mind credit – Ms Bretherton deserves a 21 gun salute and a parade for being able to walk a Court through all of this complexity without a substantial written document]

 

  1. The judge was rightly critical of how this state of affairs had come about and (para 46) “wholeheartedly endorse[d]” the observations Charles J had made in A Local Authority v PB and P [2011] EWHC 502 (COP), [2011] COPLR Con Vol 166.
  2. Steps need to be taken to ensure, as best can be, that there is no repetition of this kind of problem.

 

The quest for perfection

  1. This is not the first time that practice in the Court of Protection has attracted judicial criticism: see the judgments of Parker J in NCC v PB and TB [2014] EWCOP 14, [2015] COPLR 118, paras 126-148, and of Peter Jackson J in A & B (Court of Protection: Delay and Costs) [2014] EWCOP 48, [2015] COPLR 1. A & B related to two cases. In one case the proceedings in the Court of Protection had lasted for 18 months, in the other for five years. In his judgment, Peter Jackson J described (para 11) how:

    “the consequence of delay has been protracted stress – described by one parent as “the human misery” – for the young men and their families, with years being lost while solutions were sought.”

  2. He rightly drew attention (para 14) to a particular problem:

    “Another common driver of delay and expense is the search for the ideal solution, leading to decent but imperfect outcomes being rejected. People with mental capacity do not expect perfect solutions in life, and the requirement in s 1(5) of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 that ‘An act done, or decision made, under this Act for or on behalf of a person who lacks capacity must be done, or made, in his best interests’ calls for a sensible decision, not the pursuit of perfection.”

    I agree, and wish to emphasise the point. He went on (para 15) to deprecate, as Parker J had done, “a developing practice in these cases of addressing every conceivable legal or factual issue, rather than concentrating on the issues that really need to be resolved.” Again, I wholeheartedly agree.

 

Declarations

Unless the declaratory order sought comes squarely within the statute, it ought not to be used, says the Court of Appeal. It is a hangover from the inherent jurisdiction days, but the Court of Protection is not in that ‘theoretically limitless powers’ kingdom any longer-  it has the powers that Statute provides it, and no other.

 

  1. There was a certain amount of debate before us as to the use of declaratory orders in the Court of Protection. This is not the occasion for any definitive pronouncement but three observations are, I think, in order.
  2. First, the still inveterate use of orders in the form of declaratory relief might be thought to be in significant part both anachronistic and inappropriate. It originated at a time when, following the decision of the House of Lords in In re F (Mental Patient: Sterilisation) [1990] 2 AC 1, it was believed that the inherent jurisdiction of the Family Division in relation to incapacitated adults was confined to a jurisdiction to declare something either lawful or unlawful. Even before the Mental Capacity Act 2005 was brought into force, that view of the inherent jurisdiction had been shown to be unduly narrow: see St Helens Borough Council v PE [2006] EWHC 3460 (Fam), [2007] 1 FLR 1115. Moreover, the Court of Protection has, in addition to the declaratory jurisdiction referred to in section 15 of the 2005 Act, the more extensive powers conferred by section 16.
  3. Secondly, the Court of Protection is a creature of statute, having the powers conferred on it by the 2005 Act. Section 15 is very precise as to the power of the Court of Protection to grant declarations. Sections 15(1)(a) and (b) empower the Court of Protection to make declarations that “a person has or lacks capacity” to make certain decisions. Section 15(1)(c) empowers the Court of Protection to make declarations as to “the lawfulness or otherwise of any act done, or yet to be done.” Given the very precise terms in which section 15 is drafted, it is not at all clear that the general powers conferred on the Court of Protection by section 47(1) of the 2005 Act extend to the granting of declarations in a form not provided for by section 15. Indeed, the better view is that probably they do not: consider XCC v AA and others [2012] EWHC 2183 (COP), [2012] COPLR 730, para 48. Moreover, it is to be noted that section 15(1)(c) does not confer any general power to make bare declarations as to best interests; it is very precise in defining the power in terms of declarations as to “lawfulness.” The distinction is important: see the analysis in St Helens Borough Council v PE [2006] EWHC 3460 (Fam), [2007] 1 FLR 1115, paras 11-18.
  4. Thirdly, a declaration has no coercive effect and cannot be enforced by committal: see A v A Health Authority, paras 118-128 and, most recently, MASM v MMAM and others [2015] EWCOP 3.
  5. All in all, it might be thought that, unless the desired order clearly falls within the ambit of section 15, orders are better framed in terms of relief under section 16 and that, if non-compliance or interference with the arrangements put in place by the Court of Protection is thought to be a risk, that risk should be met by extracting appropriate undertakings or, if suitable undertakings are not forthcoming, granting an injunction
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