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Another day, another appeal against Placement Orders refused

 

I know…  it is like autumn 2013 but in reverse.  It would be nice, once in a while if the Court of Appeal would grant some appeals and refuse others, rather than having six months of granting them all and then six months of refusing them all.

At the moment, these appeals are like turning up to play 5-a-side football with your mates, and Christiano Ronaldo turns up as one of the ten.

It isn’t that hard to predict the outcome and if you are on the other side, it is a lot of hard work for not much reward.  Even worse if you turn up thinking he’s going to be on your team, only to find out that the rules changed to put him on the other side whilst you were travelling to the match.

 

Re P (A child) 2014 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1648.html

 

Nothing much in this one about the legal test and the ongoing debate about whether when the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal say “You’ve got to do A, B, C and D if you are going to make a Placement Order” that amounts to a change in law or not.

But some things of interest.

 

The difficulty for a real human being  (we lawyers call them “lay persons”, but “person” is also an acceptable term to use for a person) in understanding the appeal process and what to do, what form to fill out, where to send papers, who to send them to

 

This case yet again puts into sharp relief the difficulties which arise for the courts, the litigants and most of all the children, where unrepresented parents seek to navigate their way through a system which necessarily operates on the basis of detailed procedural rules, without which there would be chaos but which inevitably present the layman with significant difficulties. Had the father been represented, the mistakes that followed, would have been picked up by his solicitors.

 

The Court of Appeal explain that in this case, the father had thought he could appeal to the County Court, and the County Court had also thought that for quite a while because the Recorder who heard the case had also been sitting at that Court as a District Judge. Their explanation for this is so complicated, I had to read it three times to grasp it, so I feel for all involved.

 

Then the age old difficulty of getting a transcript

Meanwhile, notwithstanding that the county court had asserted that a transcript of judgment had been sent to the parties in December 2013, it was not until the 11 July 2014 that the local authority received a copy, and even then they obtained it only because counsel for the father sent it to them. Unhappily, whatever defect in the system for the obtaining and distribution of transcripts had been responsible for the delay in the onward transmission of the Recorder’s judgment did not lead to a revision of those systems as there were further significant difficulties with regard to obtaining transcripts. It is not being suggested that the resulting delays were the result of indifference on the part of the court staff. No doubt the problems stem from a lack resources leading to a shortage of appropriately trained and experienced court staff able to identify the problem and put in place a system for ensuring the prompt and efficient ordering and distribution of transcripts of judgments and evidence.

 

The County Court actually wrote a letter of apology to the father in this case for all of the things that had gone wrong. That’s a fairly rare occurance  (in twenty years of practice, I’ve never heard of the Court apologising to anyone)

As I understand it the father has received two letters of apology from the County Court for the mistakes which led to the wholly unacceptable delay in this matter coming before the court; a delay unacceptable for the father, but also for the prospective adopters. Whilst the father was obviously distressed during the course of the hearing, he behaved with dignity and composure throughout. It will inevitably be hard for him to accept that the outcome of this appeal, and the making of the adoption order which will in due course be made in respect of S, are not a direct result of an inadequate judgment and delay within the family justice system. I can only assure him that it is not so; Mr Hayes put forward every possible argument to convince the court that the case should be remitted, but even his skill and tenacity could not undermine the fact that upon close analysis of the findings and assessments available to the court at the time of the hearing, the making of a care order and placement order in respect of S was the inevitable outcome.

 

In this case, the appeal was based on the judgment not being sufficiently clear about what basis various options had been discounted to arrive at adoption – one might think from reading Re B-S that when they said THIS

 

41. The second thing that is essential, and again we emphasise that word, is an adequately reasoned judgment by the judge. We have already referred to Ryder LJ’s criticism of the judge in Re S, K v The London Borough of Brent [2013] EWCA Civ 926. That was on 29 July 2013. The very next day, in Re P (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 963, appeals against the making of care and placement orders likewise succeeded because, as Black LJ put it (para 107):

“the judge … failed to carry out a proper balancing exercise in order to determine whether it was necessary to make a care order with a care plan of adoption and then a placement order or, if she did carry out that analysis, it is not apparent from her judgments. Putting it another way, she did not carry out a proportionality analysis.”

She added (para 124): “there is little acknowledgment in the judge’s judgments of the fact that adoption is a last resort and little consideration of what it was that justified it in this case.”

42. The judge must grapple with the factors at play in the particular case and, to use Black LJ’s phrase (para 126), give “proper focussed attention to the specifics”.

that they meant that a judgment ought to grapple with the factors at play and give proper focussed attention for the specifics.

The Court of Appeal had been taking a very hard line on this, but seem to have softened their approach and are prepared to look at the totality of the judgment and the evidence heard by the Judge  (which was not the case in the low-watermark case where the parents had both been in prison at the time of the Placement Order and the appeal was granted)

  1. One of the difficulties where a judgment lacks structure and fails to present the reader with a clear analysis of the evidence, its application to the law and thereafter of its cross check with Convention rights, is that a reviewing court is not only presented with a formidable task in determining whether the decision reached by the judge was wrong, but it potentially leaves a litigant, (often a parent destined as a consequence of that judgment to have their parental tie severed), with a sense of unfairness, even where there is no question of his or her Article 6 rights having been compromised.
  2. At first blush it appeared that the deficiencies in the judgment with which this court is concerned were such that, no matter what further delay was occasioned in determining S’s future, the appeal must be allowed and the matter remitted for rehearing. The process of determining whether the essentials can in fact be found within the judgment and the evidence has been immeasurably assisted by the careful analysis of Miss Morgan QC, through which it has become clear to the court that notwithstanding the difficulties inherent in the judgment:

    i) All the material necessary for a proper determination of the case was before the judge and tested in cross examination.ii) That, whilst the finding in relation to developmental delay cannot stand, there were nevertheless more than adequate findings to allow the threshold criteria to be satisfied and therefore the court to proceed to consider what, if any order, should be made.

    iii) The father was assessed by both the Guardian and the social worker as to his ability to care for S. The judge was entitled, having heard the evidence, which included oral evidence from the father, to accept the recommendation of the Guardian and indeed, if a court decides not to follow the recommendation of the Guardian, it should give its reasons for failing to do so. (Re J [2001] 2 FCR 44)

    iv) The evidence before the judge addressed the available options and the judge took into account the father’s strengths as well as weaknesses. The Recorder gave his reasons for concluding that it was not in the best interests of S to be rehabilitated to her father.

    v) Whilst the judge failed to state in terms that he made a care order before moving on to consider the placement order application, it was implicit that, having determined that the child could not return to the only parent who was a realistic option, a care order would follow. The conditions necessary for the making of a care order were undoubtedly made out.

    vi) The care plan was for adoption. The necessary information was available to the judge for the welfare analysis within the extended assessment of the Children’s Guardian. The Recorder noted the exceptionality of the order sought and said that the making of such an order was ‘necessary’. Even though the case was heard before Re B-S the Recorder took into account the importance of the order for adoption being ‘proportionate’ and importantly, that it is not enough to say that “it would be better for the child to be adopted than to live with his natural parents”

    vii) This was a little girl who had just turned 2 at the time the orders were made in circumstances where there was no one within the extended family who could appropriately offer her a home. Once the court had concluded that it was not in her best interests to be returned to the care of either parent then, given her age and need for a secure, stable and permanent home, it could not be regarded as wrong for the judge who had heard the case to conclude that her welfare required an adoption order to be made.

  3. Pieced together in this way, I conclude that the Recorder did engage with the essence of the case and that his judgment contained the essential ingredients necessary for there to be a proper determination of the issues which determination also respected the Convention rights of all the parties

Baby without a name / child removed because of father’s aggression towards social workers

 

The Court of Appeal have given judgment in the full Permission to appeal application by these parents from a Care Order and Placement Order decision at first instance.

 

 

Re BP and SP v Hertfordshire 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1524.html

 

 

This case was covered by me when Ryder LJ first gave a judgment on the papers moving it forward to fuller hearing

 

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/08/02/we-are-all-unquantified-risks/

 

 

[You might recall, if I jog your memory, that this was the case involving a child where there had been no naming ceremony, and the father had assaulted the social worker – and at the hearing before Ryder LJ the thrust of the argument had been “if the child was removed because the father was a risk to social workers, was that wrong?”

 

If you don’t remember that, you might remember the Telegraph’s report about the case

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/10855218/Child-with-no-name-must-be-adopted-judge-rules.html ]

 

These were Ryder LJ’s strong words at that initial permission hearing (but the permission hearing could not ultimately reach a decision because the parents and their McKenzie Friends did not have the court papers from the care proceedings that would be vital in reaching a proper determination of the basis on which orders had been made.

 

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

 

 

At this hearing, the papers were available, and the application was heard by three Judges. Ryder LJ gives the lead decision, and again reminded everyone that “nothing else will do” is not a legal test or principle.

 

There was no error of law made by Judge Mellanby and Judge Waller was right to dismiss the first appeal. This is not a case in which it can be argued that there was any misapprehension by either judge about what the concept of proportionality might mean and it is perhaps appropriate to remind practitioners and ‘interested McKenzie Friends’ that ‘nothing else will do’ is not a new legal test, rather it is part of the description used by the Supreme Court for the proportionality evaluation that is to be undertaken by the court. The language used must not be divorced from the phrase that qualified it, namely: “the overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s best interests” (see [77] and [215] of Re B (A Child) [2014] UKSC 33).

 

 

 

 

In relation to the father’s main point of appeal, the Court of Appeal encapsulate it like this :-

 

In layman’s terms he was saying: it is not a sufficient reason that my children are permanently removed from my care because I disagree with the local authority and will not co-operate with them.

 

 

Their decision and analysis in relation to this, having seen all of the papers (that were of course not available to Ryder LJ at the previous hearing ) was this

 

 

On the facts of another case that might be a successful submission but that simplistic analysis does not adequately examine the facts relating to this father’s antagonistic behaviour and lack of co-operation. There is of course no general duty on a citizen to co-operate with an agency of the state unless that duty is described in law. That said, these proceedings might not have been taken had father co-operated and it may not be too much of a speculation to say that, given his capabilities to provide support for mother and the children, there may not have been a need for the proceedings to be completed i.e. they may not have been pursued to an adverse conclusion had he demonstrated that he was prepared to act in the best interests of his children.

 

 

The significance of the father’s conduct is not that his children were removed because he had the temerity to argue with the local authority: to put it in that way misses the point. The welfare issue that was legitimately pursued by the local authority was that father’s antagonistic and unco-operative behaviour was indulged in by him to the detriment of his children. By way of examples, the following are relevant:

 

 

  1. father exhibited sustained antagonistic behaviour throughout the proceedings before DJ Mellanby who concluded that his behaviour was likely to continue;

 

  1. the consultant psychiatrist relied upon by DJ Mellanby was of the opinion that father would not change his aggressive behaviour;

 

  1. father had assaulted the social worker in the presence of P in respect of which he has been been convicted and since then he has also been convicted of an offence of threats to kill for which he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment;

 

  1. father was unlikely to be able to manage his behaviour even in the presence of his children;

 

  1. father prioritised his own needs above those of his children:

 

  1. by refusing to engage with the local authority to agree contact with his sons even to the extent of denying B a relationship with him;
  2. by refusing to comply with assessments or engage with the children’s guardian;

iii. caused an unnecessary change of placement for P;

 

  1. father is unlikely to change his behaviour;

 

  1. mother is unable to control father’s behaviour.

 

Given the nature of the positives that the parents demonstrated in the residential assessment and despite the recorded antagonism that he exhibited during that assessment and thereafter, DJ Mellanby gave father ‘one last chance’ in the proceedings relating to P. She did so in response to the decision of this court in Re B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, [2014] 1 WLR 563 which had been handed down during the proceedings. In so doing she was being more than fair to the parents. She allowed a further examination of the evidence and of the father’s ability to change in the hope that the parents might provide a realistic alternative to long term placement away from the family.

 

 

Sadly, father failed to act on that opportunity and remained implacably opposed to any child protection mechanism or support that would verify that P was safe. He had refused access to the social work team in October 2012, he refused to engage with further assessment which would have been able to demonstrate that the positives had been carried across into the family home and ultimately when access was again refused in February 2013 it had to be obtained with the assistance of the police. Father’s written submissions to this court highlight the fact that mother would have been left in the care of the children when he was at work and in the context of the opinion that mother could not cope on her own, there was a legitimate child protection interest in the adequacy of the arrangements that the family had put in place once they were at home and no longer in a professionally supported setting.

 

 

There was ample material before both courts to justify the conclusion that the children’s father represented a greater risk to them than the benefit he provided by his capability to support their mother. The welfare evaluation of the parents was accordingly adverse i.e. the detriments outweighed the benefits. To the extent that he was able to argue, as he did at the first permission hearing, that he was an un-assessed risk, that ignores the evidence that was before the court, the father’s refusal to co-operate with assessments and the court’s ability and indeed duty to undertake its own analysis for the purposes of section 1(3) of the 1989 Act. The local authority were able to prove both of their cases and the family was unable to take advantage of such support services as the local authority might have been under a duty to provide because father refused to participate in any arrangement that would have demonstrated the efficacy of the same.

 

 

In any event, it is the parents’ case that they do not need help. They deny that the assault in the presence of P (and indeed the continuing aggression thereafter) would have had any effect on P. They deny that either of the children would be likely to be adversely affected by father’s continuing and uncontrolled aggressive behaviour. They are oblivious to the confusing and frightening effects of father’s conduct. They are unable to see that it was their own failure to co-operate within proceedings when they had access to the court to argue their case and non means and non merits tested public funding to facilitate the same that led to the removal of P. Father’s written submissions to this court continue to assert that father will not deal with social workers.

 

 

 

Against that factual backdrop, the Court of Appeal was satisfied that father’s bare assertion that he might be a risk to social workers but not to his child was not bourne out by the evidence, and thus that limb of the appeal was not successful.

 

The interesting academic argument about whether threshold is met as a result of a parent behaving aggressively to a social worker but not to a child or in the presence of a child, will have to wait for another case.

 

 

A fresh limb of appeal was raised, which was that within pre-proceedings work, an expert had been instructed, and the parents subsequently learned that this expert was on a retainer basis with the Local Authority in that they had agreed to do 20 hours of work with the Local Authority each week for 46 weeks of the year, making them really semi-employed by the Local Authority (not in an employment law sense, but leading the parents to question whether such an arrangement could still result in the expert being considered ‘independent’)

 

A separate issue arose during the first permission hearing that has become the second ground of appeal before this court. That relates to the independence of the psychologist. It transpires that on 4 March 2013 the local authority entered into a form of contract with the psychologist described by them as a ‘retainer’ by which the psychologist agreed to work for an agreed hourly rate and for up to 20 hours a week during 46 weeks of the year. Any work covered by the retainer was to be undertaken with a transparent letter of instruction and the psychologist was expected to act in accordance with the obligations of an expert (see for example, Family Proceedings Rules 2010 Part 25, PD25B 9.1(i)).

 

 

The arrangement enabled the local authority to rely upon independent expert advice that may have been obtained by them pre-proceedings where they needed it to supplement their own social workers and in-house advisors and which would subsequently be respected within family proceedings (in accordance with the guidance given for example in Oldham MBC v GW & Ors [2007] EWHC 136 (Fam) at [24] and [91]). The independence of the expert would enable other parties to join in the instruction if they chose to do so. We are told that the arrangement was revealed to solicitors then acting for the mother and each of the children in a circular letter. The arrangement was not specifically referred to in either of the proceedings concerning P and B.

 

 

The funding arrangement of the psychologist should have been notified to the court and to the parties in the proceedings not just by way of a circular letter that may not have come to their attention. The perception of fairness is very important in proceedings that can involve the permanent removal of a child from a parent’s care. There is a hypothetical conflict of interest that can be implied in the financial arrangements. There is, however, no actual conflict of interest on the facts of this case nor any complaint that the psychologist did anything that could have amounted to a breach of her obligations as an independent expert. Far from it, she was not even cross examined as to any of her opinions or the work she had done. This court has been shown no material that would have warranted cross examination other than the disagreement of the parents with the expert’s ultimate conclusion. The assertion that the error in referring to her as a ‘Dr’ in the letter of instruction or the implication that she was unqualified for the task that all parties agreed is without foundation in that no valid complaint is based on the same. Accordingly, although the situation is regrettable, the manner in which the expert was selected and did her work gives rise to no issue that is capable of undermining the determinations appealed and the alleged procedural irregularity is insufficient on the facts of this case to warrant further consideration.

 

 

Such an arrangement, the Court of Appeal say, could be capable of giving rise to a conflict of interest, and proper transparency needs to take place (not just burying the disclosure deep in the pages of boilerplate Letter of Instruction); but there had not been a conflict of interest in this case – the Court of Appeal noted that there had been no cross-examination of the expert by the parents, who would have been entitled to do so if they challenged the report.

Permission : Impossible

 

(I asked the Court of Appeal to give me a permission judgment, so I could use this title, and they delivered the same day I asked.)

Re G (A child) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1365.html

This was an application for permission by the mother to appeal out of time in relation to the making of a Care Order and Placement Order.

Those orders had been made as a result of overwhelming and unanimous medical evidence that the child had suffered a brain injury deliberately inflicted (it’s a classic ‘shaking injury’ case)

The orders had been made in September 2013, and the appeal itself was heard in September 2014, so clearly out of time.

The interesting wrinkle was that the mother was seeking to rely on ‘fresh evidence’ – her case was that she had learned after the final hearing that an infection that she had had was steptoccocal in nature, and thus might have been passed on to the baby in the birth canal – and thus that the ‘injuries’ to the child might have been as a result of organic causes rather than injury.

The mother obtained a report from Dr Wayney Squier dated 28th April 2014.

(The Court of Appeal descend into quite a bit of detail on her credentials and whether Dr Squier ought to have disclosed within her report that she was up before a Fitness to Practice Panel in relation to allegations about her doing expert reports that she wasn’t qualified to do. I’m not going to go into any of that, because I obviously don’t know the outcome of the Panel – Dr Squier might very well have been utterly exonerated / be utterly exonerated. And the Fitness to Practice Panel might drag on for months/years, so is she to lose her livelihood in the meantime?  Slightly different of course if the GMC suspend someone.  Let’s just say that the Court of Appeal tend to think that it was a material fact which OUGHT to have been communicated by the expert, rather than as here, everyone learning this when they heard it on the radio)

I have tried to track through the judgment, how that report came about. It clearly wasn’t ordered within the care proceedings. And it had not been ordered by the appeal courts. It emerges that an application had been made to the Judge who had decided the fact finding hearing and been granted. I’m not sure what the locus for that would be, given that there were no proceedings at that time. The purpose of the report was to see if there was a basis for appealing on fresh evidence – it was obtaining that fresh evidence.
The Court of Appeal were therefore looking at a number of issues

1. Could mother apply for an appeal out of time based on fresh evidence, asking the Court to re-open factual issues?
2. Did the Circuit Judge have jurisdiction to authorise the instruction of Dr Squier (or anyone) ?
3. If the appeal was to go ahead, would it be successful?

 

 

As indicated in paragraph 11 above, the single judge identified two procedural issues “for the consideration of the full court” namely (i) whether it was possible for the mother to apply to the first instance court to re-open factual issues; and (ii) what jurisdiction a county court judge had to grant permission to obtain and file a fresh expert report on the concluded factual issues in the context of an adjourned application for permission to oppose adoption.
Miss Bazley, Mr MacDonald and Miss Hurworth have provided full written submissions supported by numerous authorities and statutory provisions in relation to each. However, we have resisted the opportunity to hear oral submissions, the outcome of any deliberation on these points being superfluous to the merits of the mother’s applications. Nevertheless, Miss Bazley invites the court to give its views on the questions posed, albeit obiter, for future reference if necessary.
Clearly more detailed examination of these issues may be called for in the future when any alleged procedural irregularity potentially taints the ‘fresh evidence’ that may otherwise be admitted. In those circumstances the arguments can be more readily appraised when specifically addressed to the point in context. This court recognised the existence of Dr Squier’s report without condoning the procedure adopted by HHJ Roberts in relation to it. The mother’s position was not thereby prejudiced; quite the contrary.
However, I am content to provide my provisional view in relation to cases in which a sealed order follows on from findings of fact which subsequently become subject to challenge such as here in the light of the judgment in Re L and B (Children) [2013] UKSC 8. Lady Hale’s judgment makes clear that challenge after sealed order must be in the appellate court arena. See paragraphs 16 and 19, and particularly her response to a submission that the order should not be an automatic cut off to re-visitation of the facts in paragraph 42.
In the light of this high authority my answer to the first question posed by the single judge would therefore be: if a final order has been sealed, no.
I would regard the answer to the second point to be informed by that to the first in so far as it relates to a report containing contrary medical opinion. It follows that if there is no jurisdiction to re-open the findings of fact once an order is sealed then the court has no jurisdiction to permit expert evidence on the point since FPR 25.4(3) provides that the Court may only give permission to adduce expert evidence if “the court is of the opinion that the expert evidence is necessary to assist the court to resolve proceedings.” This provision must surely refer to extant proceedings within the court’s own jurisdiction and not prospective applications to appeal. The existence of a contrary expert opinion cannot establish a “change of circumstances”, absent re determination of the issue, and therefore cannot inform the necessary welfare assessment of the child in an application for leave pursuant to section 47(5) of the 2002 Act.
My answer to the second question posed by the single judge would therefore be: none.

 

 

Once the order has been sealed, any challenge to it must be by way of appeal not to the Judge who made it. And thus, any directions or decisions in relation to the preparation and presentation of that appeal have to be made by the appellate Court, and NOT the Court that decided the original case.
The Court of Appeal also give some helpful guidance in relation to ‘fresh evidence’ appeals generally (these are cases where the appellant is saying not that the judgment as it was made at the time was wrong, but that in the light of new information we can now see that it was wrong)
They correct any misunderstanding that people may have had following Webster that in cases involving children there’s a greater leeway to admit fresh evidence.

The jurisprudence concerning the reception of “fresh evidence” by an appellate court is well versed. The discretion to admit fresh evidence is provided by CPR 52.11 to be exercised in accordance with the overriding objective of CPR 1.1. Nevertheless, LADD v MARSHALL [1954] 1 WLR 1489 remains powerful persuasive authority; the criteria identified therein effectively covering all relevant considerations to which the court must have regard.
Mr MacDonald directed his written and oral submissions in support of his application to admit fresh evidence to addressing the principles in Ladd v Marshall but reminded the court of Wall LJ’s judgment in WEBSTER V NORFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL [2009] EWCA Civ 59, with which Moore-Bick and Wilson LJJ agreed, to the effect that it “was generally accepted that in cases relating to children, the rules it lays down are less strictly applied.”
For myself, I doubt that this obiter dicta should be interpreted so liberally as to influence an appellate court to adopt a less rigorous investigation into the circumstances of fresh evidence in ‘children’s cases’. The overriding objective of the CPR does not incorporate the necessity to have regard to “any welfare issues involved”, unlike FPR 1.1, but the principle and benefits of finality of decisions involving a child reached after due judicial process equally accords with his/her best interests as it does any other party to litigation and is not to be disturbed lightly. That said, I recognise that it will inevitably be the case that when considering outcomes concerning the welfare of children and the possible draconian consequences of decisions taken on their behalf, a court may be more readily persuaded to exercise its discretion in favour of admitting new materials in finely balanced circumstances.
Clicking on the Ladd v Marshall link http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/1954/1.html

I see that it is a case where Lord Justice Denning gave one of the judgments, so it is going to be worth a read.

Ladd v Marshall involves an alleged sale of land, where the money was allegedly paid in cash. The seller of the land (Marshall) pulled out of the deal, and denied ever having received the money. At the civil trial, the seller’s wife gave some very limited evidence, basically keeping schtum.

However, in her later divorce proceedings, she included in her petition that her husband had made her not tell the truth in the civil trial.

Ladd got wind of this and wanted to appeal the original court’s decision that there had not been a sale of the land, because Marshall’s wife was indicating that if she had been able to give honest evidence she would have said that she witnessed Ladd giving Marshall the money.

With me?

In order to justify the reception of fresh evidence or a new trial, three conditions mast be fulfilled: first, it must be shown that the evidence could not have been obtained with reasonable diligence for use at the trial: second, the evidence most be such that, if given, it would probably have an important influence on the result of the case, though it need not be decisive: thirdly, the evidence must be such as is presumably to be believed, or in other words, it must be apparently credible, though it need not be incontrovertible
The Court of Appeal in that case felt that those three facts were problematic in this case – Mrs Marshall was claiming that she had lied in Court proceedings, so her credibility was at least questionable.
Putting the test into a nutshell – it has to be evidence that could not have been reasonably obtained at the time, the fresh evidence has to be evidence that would be presumed to be true (i.e not controversial) and also evidence that if it had been known would have been conclusive.
Going back to our case of Re G – Dr Squier’s report didn’t fit any of those categories – it fails all three tests. It at best, cast some doubt upon the other medical evidence but was an opinion that would have been open to challenge rather than being presumed to be true, and also that would not have been conclusive. It barely touches the ‘new’ aspect, and the Court of Appeal doubted that the infection issue was “new” rather than just had been overlooked at the time.

the further evidence of Dr Squier fell to be considered in two parts: that relating to the possible consequences of the mother’s streptococcal infection, and that relating to the “wider” consideration of possible causes of H’s condition on arrival at the hospital. As to the first part, Dr Squier professes no relevant expertise and offers only the most banal observation. Even if one were to accept (which I do not) that this evidence could not with reasonable diligence have been obtained for the fact finding hearing, it is not realistic to suggest that it could have had an influence on its outcome.
As to the second part of Dr Squier’s report, it is notable that all the references cited in support of her views pre-dated the fact finding hearing. Mr MacDonald accepted that Dr Squier’s opinions, which she bases on these references, were “out there” at the date of the hearing. In a case concerning the welfare of a child this might not in all cases be a sufficient basis to reject an application to admit further evidence. But as Macur LJ has explained, this is not a case where it can be said that the alternative explanation was overlooked. Moreover, as Ms Bazley demonstrated to my satisfaction, there are, to put it at its lowest, serious grounds for supposing that the alternative explanation proffered by Dr Squier, is founded on an insecure scientific basis. For those combined reasons it is therefore not possible to say that, if admitted, the further evidence would be likely to have an influence on the outcome.
and Lord Justice Briggs puts this in even more pithy terms
The first part was of no weight, while the second part amounted to no more than a different view from that of the jointly instructed experts who were unchallenged at trial, not based on any material which post-dated it. It cannot be a proper basis for the admission of fresh evidence that a party has, since the trial, merely found an expert with a different view. That was not of course the basis upon which Dr Squier was instructed, but the supposedly new possibility of infection turned out to be a matter upon which she could offer no useful opinion.
That bit rather reminded me of the apocryphal Samuel Johnson review

“sir, your manuscript is both good and original. Sadly, the parts that are good are not original, and the parts that are original are not good”

“I need not descend into detail”

 

So said the original trial judge in Re B (Children : Long Term Foster Care ) 2014

 

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/re-b-children-long-term-foster-care-2014-ewca-civ-1172#.U_YJE2NuVjM

 

The Court of Appeal took the opposite view.

 

 

[That might be the shortest case summary I’ve ever written. Let me see if I can get it into a Tweetable format   “Re B – judge says less is more, Court of Appeal says ‘fraid not”]

 

 

Some slight elaboration – there was a point in the case where the plan for the children was placement with mother probably under a Supervision Order – that was the case by the end of July 2013. But by the time of the final hearing (September 2013), the Local Authority plan was for the children to remain in long term foster care and be subject to Care Orders.

 

The Judge agreed with the LA and made Care Orders at the final hearing.

 

There are some odd nuggets in the case, not least being that the mother’s new boyfriend was using the name of his brother as an alias from time to time, only to find that his brother’s Certificate of Convictions was worse than his own, that either the children were brandishing knives at neighbours or cutting string off a tree branch, and so forth.

 

There simply wasn’t enough in the judgment to explain to the satisfaction of the Court of Appeal why that was the case (they sent it back for re-hearing, they weren’t necessarily saying that the Judge was WRONG, but that the judgment didn’t do sufficient to show whether he was right or wrong). See the underlined section in paragraph 66 for the pithy quotation that will be deployed in all cases (since in any case, one can always find at least one advocate who thinks that the case is ‘finely balanced’ and persists in saying so throughout. Sometimes, to be fair, that advocate is me…)

 

65.  Mr Hall submitted in his skeleton argument that when the new concerns arose in the summer of 2013, the case was finely balanced, and in oral submissions, he acknowledged that there was a mixed picture including extreme concern at times and at other times positive involvement and engagement by M. That is, in my view, an accurate description of the situation. Mr Hall’s submission was that the judge scrutinised the evidence sufficiently, made the required findings, took into account the positives in relation to M as well as the negatives, and carried out the necessary balancing exercise so was entitled to find that care orders should be made. Indeed, he said, proceedings could have been taken earlier. It was notable, however, that in seeking to support the judgment, Mr Hall was obliged to have regular recourse to the underlying reports and statements from which he sought to draw further material to justify the care orders. That this was necessary reinforced my overall conclusion that the judgement did not contain a sufficient review of the evidence that was available to the judge.

 

66…. The basis on which we allowed the appeal was that the judgment was flawed in its approach to the events which led to LA’s change of mind and was lacking in the detail that was required to substantiate the decision taken. The more finely balanced the decision in a case, the more exacting must be the judge’s approach to the evidence, the more precise his findings of fact on pivotal matters and the fuller the explanation of his route to his determination.

 

67…the judge’s treatment of the background history compounded the problems with his treatment of more recent events. Mr Hall submitted that the social work chronology revealed pervasive profound concerns about the children. For my part, I have no doubt that a study of the history had the capacity to contribute valuable material to the judge’s decision but, in my view, there was no alternative but to look at it in some detail because it was a mixed picture. There were significant problems but we also know that the case was periodically closed by social services following short interventions and that at times, assessments were complimentary about M and sympathetic to her as a victim of prolonged domestic violence. The threshold criteria agreed were far from detailed and could not be relied upon as sufficiently informative of the history. Accordingly, it was not sufficient for the judge to deal with that history (apart from domestic violence from F) in a single short paragraph (§7) summarising the themes and concluding with the observation, “I need not descend into detail”. In summarising things shortly in this way, the positives and negatives were lost and there was no picture of what was actually happening to the children.

 

[68] In short, this was a case which could only be resolved by a detailed and critical review of the evidence, old and new, with each step of the way meticulously charted in the judgment. I have great sympathy with the judge who was trying to reach a determination for the children with reasonable promptness, within the confines of a two day time estimate, and without much offered to him by way of direct evidence. I am conscious that he took trouble to reflect on his decision before giving judgment. However, I am afraid that, for the reasons I have set out, his determination cannot stand.

 

 

The thrust of Court of Appeal judgments over the last year, and this goes hand in hand with the transparency agenda, is that a person ought to be able to pick up and read a judgment and understand why the decisions were made, without rummaging around in the background material to try to plug the gaps. It needs to be spelled out.

 

That has consequences, not least time pressures on the judiciary. A day spent writing a judgment is a luxury in terms of workload, but a necessity now if it is to be fireproof for the Court of Appeal. Where are all these extra Judge days to be found?

[I can’t leave para 67 without saying – well, of course the threshold criteria were far from detailed, that’s because we’re told to squish it into 2 pages. You will see more of this]

 

 

Care proceedings by the back door

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

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

 

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

 

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

That wasn’t the thrust of this appeal though.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

The Recorder dismissed the application. She explained why:
 

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

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

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

The Recorder then said this:
 

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

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

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

She then said this:
 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Written Agreements

 

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

 

These would be my golden rules for parents about written agreements

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

And for social workers

 

1. Be clear

2. Be fair

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

There are two issues here :-

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

We are all unquantified risks

 

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

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

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

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

Why did nobody have the court papers?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two different perspectives here

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

OR, conversely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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