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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.

Ignorance of the procedure is no excuse

 

It’s a well-worn phrase that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but now we have the Court of Appeal confirming that if a parent is having to construct their appeal in person without the benefit of legal representation, it is not an excuse for procedural flaws.

Re D (Children) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/409.html

 

In this case, which was an appeal by the Local Authority arising from the parents successful appeal to His Honour Judge Plunkett who overturned a Care Order and Placement Order in relation to their youngest child, those orders having been made by a District Judge Maughan.

The bare facts of the case are quite simple. The parents had five children (now six) and the four oldest children had made serious allegations of physical abuse by the parents. Care proceedings began and all five children were removed and placed in care. The older children, ranging in ages from fifteen to twelve had “Voted with their feet” and returned to the parents care by the time the Court came to make final orders. Those four children were made subject to Supervision Orders.  The youngest was made the subject of a Care Order and Placement Order (hence adoption being the plan)

A year later, the parents made an application to revoke the Placement Order. His Honour Judge Plunkett, looking at the case decided that what they really intended to do was to appeal against the order.  They had no lawyers and they never actually lodged grounds for appeal or a formal application.

 

His Honour Judge Plunkett had been understanding about this. The fundamental issues for the appeal were that the older children had substantially retracted their allegations (was this fresh evidence?) and also that the District Judge had not given a judgment about why the older children had not been called to give evidence.

There ought to have been a three stage process here

1. Should the parents be able to appeal out of time, it being a year after the order

2. Should they have permission to appeal

3. Determination of the appeal

In the event, because of the blurred nature of the hearing, the LA and Guardian had thought that the Judge was considering part 2 only, but the Judge had considered that he was determining the appeal itself, and he set aside the Care Order and Placement Order and directed a re-hearing.

 

There are a few important issues that this raises. The first is the headline – to what extent does or should a Court grant leeway to failures in technical or procedural matters because parents (who would have wanted lawyers but couldn’t have them because of legal aid rules) were inexperienced and unknowledgeable about the process?

  1. Although the parents were acting as litigants in person when they instigated the process that became the appeal in L’s case, and some procedural latitude may be justified to accommodate such a litigant, the appeal procedure established by FPR, Part 30 is neither complicated nor onerous. It simply requires pleaded grounds of appeal, permission to appeal granted on stated grounds followed by the determination of the appeal on those grounds at a hearing. A substantial (and therefore impermissible) departure from the Part 30 requirements may well establish a situation in which one or more of the parties is denied a fair hearing.
  2. In relation to the appeal in L’s case, the process adopted by HHJ Plunkett did not come close to that which is required by FPR 2010, Part 30. The D11 Notice filed by the parents did not contain any grounds of appeal, other than the bare assertion that the children had retracted allegations. The Notice was stated to be challenging the judge’s decision regarding L’s adoption and the judge’s refusal to allow the parents to apply to revoke the placement order (ie the 2014 determinations) whereas the judge moved on to allow an appeal against the order made on the 2013 fact-finding hearing. Other than to note the point, at no stage did the judge engage with the fact that this un-pleaded ‘appeal’ was over a year out of time. The grounds upon which the judge eventually came to allow the appeal emerged in the process of free flowing to-and-fro communication between the judge and counsel during the hearing on 21st November.

 

(Given that I have encountered many family lawyers who have no idea of the Ladd v Marshall test for fresh evidence on appeal, I think the Court of Appeal rather overstate the simplicity of the appeal process here…)

  1. At this stage in my judgment it is right to stress the very clear view that I have formed from reading the transcript of the hearing of the 21st November which is that all parties, but particularly the judge, were motivated by the best of intentions. The discourse between all three counsel and the judge demonstrates a cooperative and sensible approach which was initially designed to assist the judge in absorbing the background detail of the case. This laudable spirit of positive cooperation between Bar and Bench should rightly attract praise, particularly in the context of a family case, but the manner in which this process was allowed to develop and then occupy the entirety of what the judge apparently considered was the hearing of the full appeal must inevitably also attract criticism in this case. The discourse between counsel and the court, which ran throughout the 21st November hearing, lacked any structure in the context of an appeal. No grounds of appeal were ever properly identified. The judge did not receive any submissions from any of the parties (even the appellant parents) on the topic that he went on to identify in his judgment as the main ground of appeal. There was no clarity, indeed there was clear confusion, as to the stage that the proceedings had reached and whether the court was considering permission to appeal or the appeal itself.
  2. Although litigants in person as applicants for permission to appeal have always been a feature of appellate justice, in modern times in family cases the litigant in person applicant has become the norm. Circuit judges, High Court judges and Lords Justices of Appeal are regularly required to process and analyse applications for permission to appeal in family cases by litigants in person. Such applications inevitably lack the forensic focus and legal analysis that would be commonplace if the application were made by a lawyer. There is, however, a danger that the judge may become drawn into the process of analysing the case to see if there is some thus far un-noticed and un-pleaded merit in a potential appeal that he loses sight of the structure of the appeal process and his or her role within that structure. It is my view that that danger became a reality in the present case. In seeking to unpick the process in the lower tribunal in order to identify whether matters had gone awry there, the judge presided over a process which, in the end, was neither fair nor effective.
  3. I have already described the appeal procedure established by FPR 2010, Part 30 as neither complicated nor onerous. Part 30 is similar in structure to CPR 1998, Part 52 which governs civil appeals to the Court of Appeal. It is a statutory requirement that family appeals in the family court or the High Court are conducted by adherence to the Part 30 provisions [FPR 2010, r 2.1]. The short and trite point therefore is that appellate judges hearing an appeal in the family court are bound to apply the provisions of Part 30. I would, however, go further and hold that, rule or not, utilisation of the simple structure of Part 30 is likely to assist the parties and the judge to process a challenge to a first instance decision in an effective and straight-forward manner. The three core elementsgrounds of appeal, permission to appeal and appeal hearing – should enable all involved the proceedings to know with clarity what the issues are and what stage the process has reached at any particular time.
  4. Adherence to the requirements for the appeal notice to state the grounds of appeal [FPR, r 30.6] and for there to be no amendment of an appeal notice without the permission of the court [FPR, r 30.9], rather than being arid and empty procedural stipulations, provide both flexibility and clarity to enable the basis of an appeal to develop (as was the case on 21st November before HHJ Plunkett in the present case) but, at the same time, ensure that at each stage all those involved know what is, and what is not, a live issue that falls to be addressed within the appeal. If permission to appeal is granted on a basis outside the pleaded grounds, then those grounds should be amended by permission under r 30.9 and the appeal can proceed with all parties fully aware of the situation.
  5. In R (Dinjan Hysaj) v The Home Secretary [2014] EWCA Civ 1633 my Lord, Moore-Bick LJ, giving the main judgment in a combined appeal relating to applications for extensions of time under the Civil Procedure Rules, Part 52 (relating to appeals), considered whether or not the requirements of the rules fell to be applied differently where the party concerned was acting as a litigant in person. At paragraph 44, my Lord said this:

    “The fact that a party is unrepresented is of no significance at the first stage of the enquiry when the court is assessing the seriousness and significance of the failure to comply with the rules. The more important question is whether it amounts to a good reason for the failure that has occurred. Whether there is a good reason for the failure will depend on the particular circumstances of the case, but I do not think that the court can or should accept that the mere fact of being unrepresented provides a good reason for not adhering to the rules. …. Litigation is inevitably a complex process and it is understandable that those who have no previous experience of it should have difficulty in finding and understanding the rules by which it is governed. The problems facing ordinary litigants are substantial and have been exacerbated by reductions in legal aid. Nonetheless, if proceedings are not to become a free-for-all, the court must insist on litigants of all kinds following the rules. In my view, therefore, being a litigant in person with no previous experience of legal proceedings is not a good reason for failing to comply with the rules.’

    That approach, with which I am in full agreement, must apply to family appeals just as it does to all other forms of civil appeal.

  6. The fact that an applicant for permission to appeal is a litigant in person may cause a judge to spend more time explaining the process and the requirements, but that fact is not, and should not be, a reason for relaxing or ignoring the ordinary procedural structure of an appeal or the requirements of the rules. Indeed, as I have suggested, adherence to the rules should be seen as a benefit to all parties, including litigants in person, rather than an impediment. Ensuring that a litigant in person’s appeal is established in a manner which is compatible with the rules, that the grounds of appeal are accurately drawn to include the points that the court is going to be asked to consider on the permission application and that all parties know what stage in the process the application has reached, are steps that are each likely to support, rather than hinder, the litigant in person in their interaction with the court and the other parties.
  7. It would, thus, have been perfectly straightforward for HHJ Plunkett to ensure that the Notices of Appeal were amended once he had become sufficiently concerned to consider that an appeal might succeed (a) against the 2013 decision, which was not a pleaded target of the Notice of Appeal, and (b) upon a basis outside the currently pleaded grounds of appeal. The failure of the judge to ensure that the pleadings kept pace with his developing thoughts, much more than simply being a slip in sticking to the rules, led in this case to a process which was unclear and unfair to the parties and gave rise to genuine confusion (as evidenced by the supplemental submission filed by the local authority and the guardian).

 

It was this somewhat blurred process that led to everyone neglecting the first stage of the process – should these parents be allowed to make an application to appeal out of time, the order in question having been made a year earlier?

  1. The lack of due process also caused the judge to by-pass the need to consider whether or not to extend time to permit an appeal against the fact-finding decision nearly 12 months prior to DJ Maughan deeming the parents’ application to be an application for permission to appeal. In the present case the parents had been legally represented at the fact-finding hearing, yet the issue of calling any of the children to give oral evidence had not been raised with the district judge and it was not, apparently, considered to be a matter to be brought on appeal immediately following the fact finding hearing. The question of whether the parents should be given an extension of time a year later to bring the point by way of appeal therefore plainly arose. In the absence of a process that required the parents’ appeals on this point to be properly pleaded, the issue of an extension of time, it would seem, never sufficiently crystallised so that it was addressed by the parties or the judge.

 

The issue that had really tipped the appeal before His Honour Judge Plunkett was his view that where the allegations were made by children, it was incumbent on the Court to raise and consider whether they should be called as witnesses. None of the parties had ever asked the Court to call the children or asked for a ruling, but His Honour Judge Plunkett considered that there was a duty on the Court to do so, whether or not it had been expressly raised.

This is a very important point, and His Honour Judge Plunkett set it out in this way:-

The judge’s reasoning on the issue of the potential for one or more of the children to be called to give oral evidence is clear and shortly stated:

i) Where, as here, the threshold facts relate entirely to complaints from the children, ‘any court … is obliged to consider whether children should give evidence';

ii) This is not dependent upon a party making a specific application for oral evidence, the court is obliged to make such a determination and to record it;

iii) There is no record of the district judge having made any determination on the issue;

iv) If the district judge did not consider oral evidence from the children then the hearing is unlikely to have been Article 6 compliant;

v) In the alternative, the district judge in any event failed to analyse her approach to the hearsay nature of the children’s complaints.

 

The Court of Appeal agreed with His Honour Judge Plunkett that the issue of the children’s evidence was important, and even perhaps that it would be good practice for a Judge to consider it even if the parties had not made such application. Where they disagreed was that a Judge who did not do so had erred in law and that a failure to examine matters of their own motion would be a basis for an appeal.

  1. I am entirely at one with the judge in identifying the potential importance of the issue of children giving oral evidence in a case such as this. A judge who adopted the practice that he describes would be beyond reproach and would have demonstrated a sound and sensible approach to the evidence. Where I differ from the judge is in his elevation of this aspect of good practice to a free-standing obligation upon the court, breach of which establishes, almost of itself, that the whole fact finding hearing was conducted in breach of Article 6.
  2. No authority, either domestic or ECHR, is cited for this principle. The judgment of the Supreme Court in Re W describes how the task of evaluation is to be undertaken, but their Lordships do not state that such an evaluation is a requirement in every case where key evidence arises from a child or young person. The nearest that the judgments in Re W come to the point is at paragraph 31 in the judgment of Baroness Hale SCJ:

    ‘Finally, we would indorse the suggestion made by Miss Branigan QC for the child’s guardian, that the issue should be addressed at the case management conference in care proceedings or at the earliest directions hearing in private law proceedings. It should not be left to the party to raise. This is not, however, an invitation to elaborate consideration of what will usually be a non-issue.’

    My reading of that paragraph is that it is no more than an endorsement of counsel’s suggestion of good practice; it does not establish a legal obligation in every case, breach of which will, or is likely to, render the whole proceedings unfair. Such an approach is also in line with the observation of Black LJ in Re B (Child Evidence) [2014] EWCA Civ 1015 at paragraph 29:

    ‘The Supreme Court [in Re W] did not consider that their decision would lead to children routinely giving evidence, predicting that the outcome of the court’s balancing exercise, if it was called upon to adjudicate upon such matters, would be a conclusion that the additional benefits in calling the child would not outweigh the additional harm it would cause him or her.’ [emphasis added]

  3. For my part I consider that the judge has overstated the position and has done so without the support of any authority. Whilst the approach taken by the district judge to the children’s complaints must fall to be considered as part of an analysis of the proceedings as a whole in the context of any fresh appeal, this one aspect, taken in isolation, did not of itself establish a breach of Article 6 as a matter of law and justify allowing the appeal on that ground alone.

 

For my part, I can see the ambiguity on this point, and I can see why His Honour Judge Plunkett considered that the failure by the DJ to explicitly consider whether the case could be properly resolved without the children’s evidence and whether for article 6 purposes the children should have been called (or at least weighed up those issues) was a fatal one.

However, this is now cleared up by the Court of Appeal. There isn’t a requirement on the Court to consider whether the children should give evidence UNLESS they are invited to do so.

I do wonder, having never met either His Honour Judge Plunkett * or District Judge Maughan, how the judicial tea and biscuits have gone down in Birmingham.  I am imagining DJ Maughan stretching casually and remarking “Oh, I see on that case where you overturned me and said I’d got the law wrong, it turns out it was you who had got the law wrong”

(I’m sure that hasn’t happened and that all involved are much more grown up than I would be in those circumstances. Reading this, I think it a bit Schroedinger’s Cat again – I think both of them wre sort of right and capable of being right, and it was only when the Court of Appeal explictly ruled on it that either of them became right or wrong)

 

*It is possible that I have met HH J Plunkett whilst he was at the bar, but as I don’t know his forename, I could not now say either way.

 

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and sent the matter back for re-hearing. It is a good job that this was Birmingham and not one of the smaller Courts in the country, because a smaller Court might have been running out of judges to hear the case.

Poppi Worthington

 

There has been a lot of media interest and frustration about the death of Poppi Worthington.  She died in December 2012 and was just thirteen months old. A finding of fact hearing took place in care proceedings and judgment was given on that in March 2014.  Despite media interest and applications, the contents of that judgment are still not known other than to those directly involved in the case.

A reporting restriction order remains in place, that prevents the contents of that hearing being shared in the media or published. [As ever with reporting restriction orders, they apply to me and to my commentators, so if the information is leaked elsewhere on the net, please do not link to it]

We do know that an inquest took place, with an open verdict and the Coroner releasing Poppi’s name into the real world and was recorded as describing her death as ‘unusual and strange’

The Press were interested in the suggestions that either the finding of fact hearing in the care proceedings might be a miscarriage of justice (based on the Coroner’s verdict being open, rather than concluding that Poppi was unlawfully killed)  OR that the finding of fact hearing was critical of the Local Authority and social workers and that this was being hushed up.

[See for example, the Daily Mail piece here http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2810262/How-council-tried-baby-s-death-secret-protect-social-workers.html   ]

Either of those things are possible, it is really hard to prove or disprove them until we see the judgment itself.

For a long time, the decision to hold back the contents of the judgment despite media interest, was on the basis that there might be a pending criminal trial.

The police decided on 16th March 2015 not to charge the father with any criminal offences. The Press obviously thought that this would mean that the judgment would be released and they could tell Poppi’s story.

However, as a result of enquiries that had been made in the police investigation, including fresh medical experts, the father considered that there was scope to challenge the decision of the fact finding hearing and the decision to make Care Orders on Poppi’s siblings.  [I don’t think it is rocket science to infer that the final outcome of the finding of fact hearing was that father had done something to Poppi that led to her death, which he disputes]

 

The issues then for Mr Justice Peter Jackson to resolve were :

1. Should this be an application to the Court of Appeal on fresh evidence OR an application for re-hearing made to the High Court who had originally heard the case?

2. If the latter, should the application for re-hearing be granted?

3. Should the original judgment be published prior to the conclusion of that appeal/re-hearing?

And that is what he dealt with in the case of Cumbria County Council v M and F (Application for rehearing) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/35.html

 

 

  1. At the original hearing, the main medical evidence came from three pathologists. Dr Alison Armour, Dr Stephanie Bitetti and Dr Stephen Leadbeatter and from Dr Victoria Evans, a paediatrician. Their opinions coincided in some respects and diverged in others. I substantially accepted the evidence of Dr Armour.
  2. As a result of the fact-finding judgment, the police commissioned further medical enquiries. Opinions have now been given by Dr Nathaniel Cary (pathologist) and Dr Liina Kiho (histopathologist). Their views diverge in a number of respects from those of Dr Armour. An opinion has also been obtained from Dr Victoria Aziz, who is described as a forensic examiner.
  3. In their submissions, the parties have analysed the extent to which the more recent pathology evidence differs from that which was given that the original hearing, with reference to five particular post-mortem appearances.
  4. On behalf of the father and the Guardian, it is argued that the additional medical evidence raises issues of sufficient importance to warrant a rehearing. On behalf of the local authority and the mother, it is said that the issues are ones of nuance and interpretation that do not amount to a reason for reopening the matter. It is also said that the process by which the new evidence was gathered may have had shortcomings.
  5. In my view, the further evidence contains matters of mixed fact and opinion that deserve further consideration. In particular, it contains an alternative unifying hypothesis for the post-mortem appearances. That hypothesis was not overlooked at the earlier hearing, but it did not receive the degree of attention that is now being paid to it. Arguments about any consequences arising from the process by which the further opinions were obtained cannot be resolved without significant further inquiry, and a decision on the father’s application should not in my view be postponed for that to occur.
  6. The circumstances in which the court will reopen established findings of fact are rare. There is a public and private interest in litigation being final. The impact of a renewal of the litigation on the family members can be significant, as is undoubtedly the case here. Further proceedings are also expensive, in this case to the public, and consume court time that is needed for other cases.
  7. There are two ways in which an application for a further hearing can be made. The first is by way of an application to appeal out of time on the basis of fresh evidence. The second is by way of an application to the trial court for a rehearing. In this case, the latter course has been selected. It is argued on behalf of the mother that the former course would have been better. However, it is acknowledged that the appeal route would be likely to lengthen the overall process in circumstances where the earliest resolution is in the interests of the children. In the overall circumstances, and bearing in mind that this court has had an ongoing involvement since the conclusion of the care proceedings because of issues of publicity, I find that the father’s application is appropriately made here.

 

So, in these circumstances, an application for re-hearing was better than an application to appeal. What about the merits of the application itself?

  1. His choice of venue will have been influenced by the way in which the tests that apply in each court have been articulated. An application to appeal out of time engages the well-known test in Ladd v Marshall 1954 1 WLR 1489. The new evidence must be such that it would probably have an important influence on the result of the case, though it need not be decisive, and it must be apparently credible, though it need not be incontrovertible. An application to the first instance court for a rehearing engages the guidance contained in paragraph 33 of the decision of the President in Re ZZ (Children) 2014 EWFC 9 where he endorsed the words of Mrs Justice Hale in an earlier decision: “Above all, the court is bound to want to consider whether there is any reason to think that a rehearing of the issue will result in any different finding from that in the earlier trial. By this I mean something more than the mere fact that different judges might on occasions reach different conclusions on the same evidence … The court will want to know … whether there is any new evidence or information casting doubt on the accuracy of the original findings.” To this, the President added that “one does not get beyond the first stage unless there is some real reason to believe that the earlier findings require revisiting. Mere speculation and hope are not enough. There must be solid grounds for challenge. But for my own part I would be disinclined to set the test any higher.”
  2. There may be cases in which the formulations of the tests on appeal and at first instance might make a difference to the outcome, but I do not consider that this is one of them. The court’s overriding objective is to deal with cases justly, having regard to welfare issues involved, and that is my goal.
  3. The considerations that persuade me that justice requires that a further hearing should take place are these:

    (i) The finding of fact addressed in the more recent evidence is of central importance for the family. It is of a kind that determines the children’s future and is of great significance to the parents.(ii) It will be important for the children to have an accurate understanding of what happened to their sister. The more recent evidence has the effect of raising doubt about the existing conclusion. The children’s welfare requires that the matter is resolved.

    (iii) The more recent evidence, like the previous medical evidence, comes from a reputable source; further, it was commissioned in response to concerns expressed by this court about the earlier police enquiry.

    (iv) While the outcome of a further hearing cannot be foreseen, it is possible that a review of the overall medical evidence may lead to a different conclusion. It may, or it may not. What can be said is that there is a serious issue to determine in the light of the further opinions.

  4. As to the scope of the further hearing, oral evidence is likely to be limited to medical testimony. I am unlikely to admit other oral evidence, unless a particular matter needs clarification. Transcripts and notes of evidence from the earlier proceedings will be gathered. A meeting of the doctors should be held in order to establish points of agreement and disagreement. The parties will present a draft directions order, having made further enquiries.
  5. At an earlier stage, the father submitted that any rehearing should take place before a different judge. That submission was not in the end pursued, in my view correctly. There are considerable advantages in judicial continuity in a case of this complexity.
  6. The outcome is that the further hearing will take place in the autumn.

 

So there will be a re-hearing in the autumn. But we are not yet into May – what happens between now and then?

 

As to the publication of the original judgment, I remain on view that this is not appropriate at this point in time, for the reasons given on 30 March. However, I have expressed a provisional view that it should be published at or around the time that the rehearing begins, rather than it being withheld until that hearing ends. There is a proper public interest in the course that these proceedings, and the other procedures surrounding Poppi’s death, have taken. The media will be able to describe matters more effectively if the original findings can be described at the point when they come under review. I have also raised the possibility of the further hearing taking place in public. I will hear from the parties and the media about these issues at the next directions hearing.

 

So the judgment will not be published until the autumn. It MIGHT be published before the re-hearing finishes, and even possibly at around the time that it begins.

The reference to the judgment on 30th March is this one – which was considering the position given that the police had dropped their case against father, but father was wanting to challenge the findings in the family Court.

From that judgment

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/918.html

 

  1. On the question of publication of the judgment, there is division between the parties:

    (i) The media, on whose behalf Ms Caoilfhionn Gallagher has presented written submissions, supplemented today by Mr Murphy, argues for publication. It says that the matter is of the highest public interest, both as to the circumstances of the death and as to any agency failures. There is a risk that an information vacuum will be filled with inaccurate speculation. Moreover, continued non-publication would be likely to reignite concerns about “secret courts” and lack of transparency in the family justice system.(ii) The local authority argues that the judgment should be published now that a charging decision has been taken. Even if the findings are reopened, there is a public interest in being informed about the process as it occurs.

    (iii) The mother supports publication, particularly as non-publication heightens speculation in an unhelpful way.

    (iv) The father opposes publication at this point. On his behalf, Mr Rowley QC argues that the evidence gathered during the father’s criminal investigation forms a credible basis for querying the court’s findings. He submits that it would be wrong, taking into account the father’s rights, to publish the judgment ahead of a decision about whether the findings will or will not be reviewed.

    (v) On behalf of the children, the Children’s Guardian opposes publication of the judgment at this time. The children, whose future plans remain at a sensitive stage, would have to face a heavy bout of publicity now with the possibility of further, conflicting publicity at a later stage.

  2. The Practice Guidance issued by the President of the Family Division on 16 January 2014 and entitled “Transparency in the Family Courts: Publication of Judgments” [2014] 1 FLR 733 advises that fact-finding judgments in serious cases should be published unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary. Quite apart from that guidance, this should in my view be the starting point in a case of this kind. The public interest that the media contends for is very significant indeed. As I have said elsewhere, I am aware of the value of the media being able to describe events in real time as they unfold. The risk of speculation replacing information is also a relevant consideration.
  3. I have nevertheless concluded that it would not be right for the fact-finding judgment to be published now. The court retains control over the question of publication and must give due weight to the public interest, the interests of justice and the interests of the individual parties, not least those of the children concerned. It would be wrong in my view to place in the public domain a judgment that would be likely to receive considerable publicity immediately before taking a decision on the question of whether that judgment should be reviewed. To do so would be unfair to the father and contrary to the welfare of the children.
  4. I well understand the desire of the media to carry out its role as fully as possible, and the frustration that is felt at the course of events in this case, in particular where one obstacle to publication is removed only to be replaced by another. However, I am clear that a proper balancing of the rights of all concerned leads to the conclusion that the judgment cannot be published yet. In saying this, I repeat my intention that it shall be published when it can be.

 

Given the Daily Mail story linked to earlier, it is worth noting that at the hearing on 30th March, the Local Authority (i.e Social Services) were of the same view as the Press, that the original judgment should be released and published.  I can also see however, that if you were the father, hoping to get that decision overturned that you wouldn’t want the Press reporting all the details of how a Court found that you did something dreadful to your child BEFORE you get a chance to persuade the Court that they had got this wrong. I can also see that for the Guardian, representing the children, it would not be ideal to see in the papers terrible headlines about your father and your sibling, and then possibly to have a different version of events and fresh stories AFTER the re-hearing.  But also, I can see that this all feels very unsatisfactory – the Press have a story here which is a genuine public interest. Maybe there were failings from professionals from which others could learn, maybe not. Maybe a family has been broken up as a result of a mistake in the family courts, maybe not.  The Press legitimately want to report the story and they aren’t able to do so.

Not an easy situation.

I also note that there is to be a Serious Case Review (which is the internal investigation where a child dies and there might be lessons to be learned). Those generally have to be published, so I wonder if the report might be timed to come in after the autumn re-hearing; as otherwise the Press could legitimately report on the conclusions and substance of that report.

No broad presumption in favour of a natural parent

The Court of Appeal in Re E-R (A child) 2015 had to deal with a very emotionally difficult case.  [Don’t ask me why they call the case “Re E-R a child, but then use T as the child’s codename throughout. I have no idea why, it makes no sense] 

 

T was five years and nine months old. She had lived with both parents until she was two and they separated, and from then on with her mother. Her mother sadly was diagnosed with cancer.  The separation from the father had been very acriminious and the father had drifted out of T’s life.

 

The mother had made a will appointing a friend SJH as testamentary guardian, wanting SJH to care for T after her death. She and T moved in with SJH, who provided the mother and T with care.  SJH made an application for a Special Guardianship Order whilst the mother was unwell but still alive.

 

His Honour Judge Vincent at the family court sitting at Truro on the 30th January 2015. The judge’s order provided for a little girl, T, born 22 July 2009 (5 years 9 months) to move to live with TR (her father), and JB (his partner) and, thereafter, to have extensive contact with the Appellants with whom T and SH (her mother) were currently living. The judge dismissed the Appellant’s application for a special guardianship order in respect of T. The unusual and tragic feature of the case is that the variation of T’s current living arrangements provided for by the order were to take effect only upon the anticipated death of T’s mother.

The principal issue in the appeal turns on whether the judge had erred in law, having conducted his welfare analysis on the basis that there was “a broad natural parent presumption in existence under our law”. The Appellants appeal only the child arrangements order and do not appeal the judge’s refusal to make a special guardianship order.

 

Very sadly, the mother died before knowing the outcome of the appeal and thus without knowing whether her daughter would continue to live with SJH or whether she would be removed and placed with the father.

The Court note at the end, but I think it is very important, that everyone in this case struggled with the law (counsel in the first hearing and the Judge) and that father had not been able to be represented and had to represent himself in the Court of Appeal on extremely tricky points of law. A wholly unacceptable situation.

  1. This was a difficult case. The court was faced with making a decision as to what arrangements could best be made to ameliorate the loss to T following the death of her mother. The judge listened conscientiously and carefully to extensive evidence and made findings about the parties involved. He was however denied critical assistance in two respects:

    i) The relevant law was not brought to his attention; as a consequence his analysis was conducted on the basis that there was a presumption that T should live with her father. This was wrong in law and as already indicated, upon that basis alone, the appeal must be allowed.

    ii) The judge might nevertheless have been better able to analyse the complicated issues which were thrown up had he had the benefit of something more than the somewhat one dimensional and superficial reports which were available to him.

  2. The father has today once again been in a position of having to represent himself. This case is yet another example of the consequences of treating private law children proceedings, (in the absence of allegations of domestic violence), as being essentially straightforward matters in which parents are expected to “sort themselves out” and to make appropriate arrangements between themselves to enable their children to spend time with each of them without the necessity for, or entitlement to, legal representation.
  3. The challenges presented by this case are obvious and have been set out above; the difficulties have been demonstrated at every professional level in the case, from the reports being wholly unsuited to the complexity of the case to counsel being unaware of the legal issues thrown up. As a consequence, the judge was left having to deal with the case without the help he needed. If the complexities of the case proved too much for these skilled professionals, what hope was there for the father in trying to represent himself?
  4. Lord Justice McFarlane recorded, when granting permission that the issues raised in the appeal were principally a matter of law and that the father was to be given “every assistance” to obtain legal advice and representation. Unhappily the father appears before the court today once again unrepresented, although supported by JB. To his credit, the father has produced a skeleton argument for the court; his oral argument was courteous and moderate but inevitably did not touch upon the legal principle at the heart of the appeal. The father’s skeleton argument, far from addressing the point of law raised by the appeal, sadly serves only to underscore his animosity towards both the dying woman and the couple who have provided a home for her and for T during the period of time when he had been absent from their lives

 

The Court of Appeal did overturn the order and send it back for re-hearing.  That does not automatically mean that the decision is that T will live with SJH, but just that in making the decision it is not a starting point or broad presumption that it would be better for a child to live with a birth parent.  The Court of Appeal were at pains to point out that just as there’s no starting point or broad presumption that natural parent should prevail, nor was there one that the status quo should prevail.

  1. The Law
  2. In Re G 2006 UKHL 43; [2006] 2 FLR 629 the House of Lords held in a dispute between a lesbian couple, one of who was the biological parent of the child, that the welfare of the child was the paramount consideration and there was no question of a parental right which might over ride that consideration. Baroness Hale said:

    30. My Lords, the Children Act 1989 brought together the Government’s proposals in relation to child care law and the Law Commission’s recommendations in relation to the private law. In its Working Paper No 96, Review of Child Law: Custody (1986), at para 6.22, having discussed whether there should be some form of presumption in favour of natural parents, the Commission said this:

    “We conclude, therefore, that the welfare of each child in the family should continue to be the paramount consideration whenever their custody or upbringing is in question between private individuals. The welfare test itself is well able to encompass any special contribution which natural parents can make to the emotional needs of their child, in particular to his sense of identity and self-esteem, as well as the added commitment which knowledge of their parenthood may bring. We have already said that the indications are that the priority given to the welfare of the child needs to be strengthened rather than undermined. We could not contemplate making any recommendation which might have the effect of weakening the protection given to children under the present law.”

    Nor should we. The statutory position is plain: the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration. As Lord MacDermott explained, this means that it “rules upon or determines the course to be followed”. There is no question of a parental right. As the Law Commission explained, “the welfare test itself is well able to encompass any special contribution which natural parents can make to the emotional needs of their child” or, as Lord MacDermott put it, the claims and wishes of parents “can be capable of ministering to the total welfare of the child in a special way”.

    31. None of this means that the fact of parentage is irrelevant. The position in English law is akin to that in Australian law, as explained by Lindenburgh J in Hodak, Newman and Hodak (1993) FLC 92-421, and subsequently approved by the Full Court of the Family Court of Australia in Rice v Miller (1993) FLC 92-415 and Re Evelyn [1998] FamCA 55:

    “I am of the opinion that the fact of parenthood is to be regarded as an important and significant factor in considering which proposals better advance the welfare of the child. Such fact does not, however, establish a presumption in favour of the natural parent, nor generate a preferential position in favour of the natural parent from which the Court commences its decision-making process… Each case should be determined upon an examination of its own merits and of the individuals there involved”

  3. In her conclusion Baroness Hale said:

    “44. The fact that CG is the natural mother of these children in every sense of that term, whilst raising no presumption in her favour, is undoubtedly an important and significant factor in determining what will be best for them now and in the future.”

  4. In Re B (a child) 2009 UKSC 5; [2010] 1FLR 551 Lord Hope referred back to the passage in Re G set out above, saying as follows:

    This passage captures the central point in the Re G case and of this case. It is a message which should not require reaffirmation but, if and in so far as it does, we’d wish to provide it in this judgment. All consideration of the importance of parenthood in private law disputes about residence must be firmly rooted in an examination of what is in the child’s best interests. This is the paramount consideration. It is only a contributor to the child’s welfare that parenthood assumes any significance. In common with all other factors bearing on what is in the best interest of the child, it must be examined for its potential to fulfil that aim. There are various ways in which it may do so, some of which were explored by Baroness Hale in Re G, but the essential task of the court is always the same.”

  5. When granting permission to appeal McFarlane LJ said: “It is highly regrettable that the relevant case law was not drawn to the attention of the judge by counsel then instructed”. I respectfully agree. Had the two key authorities been put before the judge he would inevitably have approached his analysis from a different perspective aware that there is no “broad natural parent presumption” in existence in our law. Miss Renton who did not appear in the court below, on behalf of the Appellants submitted that had the judge approached the case from the correct legal perspective, he would not have fallen into error by elevating the father into a preferential position when he commenced his decision making process. The consequence of having done so, submits Miss Renton, is that whilst all the welfare factors properly analysed, pointed to the status quo being maintained, the biological link between the father and T had subverted the welfare factors in favour of a transfer of care to the father as a “capable father”.
  6. I accept Miss Renton’s submission that the judge wrongly conducted his analysis of T’s best interests on the basis that there is a presumption in law in favour of a natural parent. On this basis alone the appeal must be allowed.
  7. In support of her submission that an application of the welfare principle without an elevated presumption in favour of the father would have led the court to conclude that T should live with the Appellants with extensive contact to the father, In her grounds of appeal Miss Renton argued that the facts ‘militated strongly in favour of the status quo’, referring the court to a number of authorities predating Re G and Re B. In particular she relies on Re G (a minor – custody) [1992] 2 FCR 279 and a passage in which Lord Justice Balcombe said:

    I would agree that this is not a matter of presumption in the legal sense but, nevertheless, when dealing with the custody of small children undoubtedly, as a working rule, one does not disturb the status quo unless there is a good reason to do so.

  8. In my judgment this observation should be read against the backdrop of the views expressed by Baroness Hale in relation to natural parents in Re G and Lord Hope in Re B. If one translates the term of art “status quo” into something more meaningful by relating it directly to the welfare of a child, it simply refers in the broadest sense, to the current living arrangements of a child. For T, the status quo is that place where she is living and settled, in a familiar environment, cared for by people upon whom she can rely and who are currently offering her the love, security and consistency she needs to enable her to cope with the loss of her mother. The fact that a child of five is in such an environment and has been so for some time, will inevitably be a significant feature of the case and a matter of great importance when assessing the likely effect on her of a change in her circumstances.
  9. In the same way that the fact that a person is a natural parent does not in itself create a presumption in favour of that person in the proceedings, neither does (as Balcombe LJ observed), the fact that a child has been living with a party for a significant period of time; each are factors of significance which will be taken into account and given appropriate weight by a court when determining the best interests of a child Whether any such factor is determinative of a particular case will depend on the unique facts of that case.

 

I’ll clarify this – this is the law for PRIVATE law proceedings, and in care proceedings, there is clear authority that the best person to bring up a child is the parent.

“The best person to bring up a child is the natural parent. It matters not whether the parent is wise or foolish, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, provided thechild’s moral and physical health are not endangered.”

Lord Templeman in Re KD (A Minor) (Access: Principles) [1988] 2 FLR 139 at 141A.

This has been cited approvingly in dozens of cases and is a fundamental underpinning of public children law.  It at essence means that it is not the job of the Court when considering a Care Order application to think about whether the child might have a happier life, or better standard of living and better opportunities if they lived with foster carers or nice adopters, but to decide whether the parents care of the child was harmful to them in a way that could not continue. It is the bulwark against social engineering.

(Many would argue, and Owen Jones in particular has argued that a large part of the adoption system is social engineering, moving children from poor working-class families to middle-class ones, but if the Court does its job properly this ought not to happen)

There might well be some tricky decisions in future months when the options before the Court are not parent v foster care, but ‘good enough but not great parent’ versus ‘stellar grandparents’ – it must be very hard to resist the tempation to ‘fix’ the children’s lives by leaving them with far more capable grandparents. But that is a tempation that Lord Templeman warned us to avoid.

 

Adoption – here we go again?

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

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

 

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

Re J (A child) 2015

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Mostyn Powers

 

Long-term readers will have picked up by now that there’s always something of value in a judgment by Mostyn J.  He follows that Raymond Chandler dictum of putting a diamond on every page.

 

This one follows his earlier decision (which many of us questioned at the time) that he wasn’t bound by the Supreme Court in Cheshire West and went with the principle that had been rejected by them to decide that a person wasn’t being deprived of their liberty

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/11/20/have-we-just-given-up-on-the-notion-of-the-supreme-court-being-supreme/

In that case, Mostyn J declared that he was bound by the decision of the Supreme Court in Cheshire West, though making it plain that he didn’t agree with it, but then didn’t follow it, distinguishing his case on its facts. He felt that it was something that the Supreme Court should look at again, and invited an appeal.

 

This is the follow-up judgment after the Court of Appeal reached the entirely unexpected conclusion that the Supreme Court had already decided that the FACT of whether a person was deprived of their liberty didn’t take into account whether their disabilities made that necessary, that’s for the second stage as to whether the Court should authorise that deprivation of liberty.

Readers may recall a previous occasion on which Mostyn J didn’t take it entirely in his stride when the Court of Appeal overruled him and he disagreed with their view.  He drops the “with the profoundest of respect” bomb during the judgment where he has to deal with the case again.

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/10/26/with-the-profoundest-respect/

 

So, given that scenario, one is following the firework code when reading Mostyn J’s decision.

Rochdale v KW 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2015/13.html

 

Firstly, here’s what happened in  the Court of Appeal  (I haven’t seen this reported yet, but given that the original Rochdale v KW 2014 unleashed the contents of a cattery into a pigeon coop, it is important)

The appeal was fixed for a full oral hearing on 4 or 5 February 2015. However, on 30 January 2015 the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal against my decision by consent and without a hearing purportedly pursuant to the terms of CPR PD52A para 6.4. Its order provided as follows:

“UPON reading the appeal bundle filed with the court.

AND UPON the Respondent confirming that it does not intend to oppose the appeal

IT IS ORDERED that:

1. This appeal is allowed.

2. For the review period as defined below, KW is to reside and receive care at home pursuant to arrangements made by Rochdale Council and set out in the Care Plan; and to the extent that the restrictions in place pursuant to the Care Plan are a deprivation of KW’s liberty, such deprivation of KW’s liberty is hereby authorised.

3. If a change or changes to the Care Plan that render it more restrictive have as a matter of urgent necessity been implemented Rochdale Council must apply to the Court of Protection for an urgent review of this order on the first available date after the implementation of any such changes.

4. If a change or changes to the Care Plan that render it more restrictive are proposed (but are not required as a matter of urgent necessity) Rochdale Council must apply to the Court of Protection for review of this order before any such changes are made.

5. In any event. Rochdale Council must make an application to the Court no less than one month before the expiry the review period as defined below for a review of this order if at that time the Care Plan still applies to KW. Such application shall be made in accordance with any Rules and Practice Directions in effect at the date of the application being filed or, if not otherwise specified, on form COPDOL10.

6. Any review hearing shall be conducted as a consideration of the papers unless any party requests an oral hearing or the Court decides that an oral hearing is required.

7. “The review period” shall mean 12 months from the date on which this order was made or, if an application for review has been filed at Court before that date, until determination of such review application.

8. Nothing shall published that will reveal the identify of the Appellant who shall continue to be referred to as “KW” until further order pursuant to section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960.

9. There shall no order for costs between the parties.

10. There shall be a detailed assessment of KW’s public funding costs.”

Attached to the order was a piece of narrative, prepared by counsel for the appellant, which provided as follows:

“Statement of reasons for allowing the appeal as required pursuant to CPR, PD52A at para 6.4.

The reason for inviting the Court of Appeal to allow the appeal by consent is that the learned judge erred in law in holding that there was not a deprivation of liberty. He was bound by the decision of the Supreme Court in P (by his litigation friend the Official Solicitor) v Cheshire West and Chester Council & ors [2014] UKSC 19; [2014] AC 986 (“Cheshire West“) to the effect that a person is deprived of their liberty in circumstances in which they are placed by the State in a limited place from which they are not free to leave. It is accepted by both parties on facts which are agreed that this was the position in the case of KW and that the learned judge also erred in holding that KW might soon not have the ability to walk or leave home on her own.”

That’s right, everyone involved in the case (except Mostyn J) wrote to the Court of Appeal saying that they thought Mostyn J had got it wrong and agreeing that there HAD been a deprivation of liberty and that the Court should authorise it.

The case then came back before Mostyn J, hence this judgment and hence this piece. I would imagine that the advocates did not have the most peaceful of sleep the night before that particular hearing.

Mostyn J did not take this terribly well.

He questioned whether the Court of Appeal had jurisdiction to make such a decision on a consent basis without actually hearing from the parties.  He has a point here, I think, it must be very unusual. Even in cases where everyone is agreed that a mistake has been made, there is usually a judgment given.

  1. CPR 52.11(3) provides:

    “The appeal court will allow an appeal where the decision of the lower court was –

    (a) wrong; or

    (b) unjust because of a serious procedural or other irregularity in the proceedings in the lower court.”

  2. CPR PD52A para 6.4 provides for a very limited derogation from this simple and necessary rule. It is headed “SECTION VI – DISPOSING OF APPLICATIONS AND APPEALS BY CONSENT” and provides:

    Allowing unopposed appeals or applications on paper

    6.4 The appeal court will not normally make an order allowing an appeal unless satisfied that the decision of the lower court was wrong or unjust because of a serious procedural or other irregularity. The appeal court may, however, set aside or vary the order of the lower court by consent and without determining the merits of the appeal if it is satisfied that there are good and sufficient reasons for so doing. Where the appeal court is requested by all parties to allow an application or an appeal the court may consider the request on the papers. The request should set out the relevant history of the proceedings and the matters relied on as justifying the order and be accompanied by a draft order.”

  3. It can be seen that the strict terms of CPR 52.11(3) are modified by the deployment of the adverb “normally” in the first sentence. In the second sentence the sole exception to the primary rule is spelt out. An appeal may be allowed by consentwithout determining the merits of the appeal if it is satisfied that there are good and sufficient reasons for so doing”. Therefore it follows that this procedure, which involves a determination on the papers and without an oral hearing, cannot be used to determine an appeal on the merits.
  4. One can see the need for this provision. Following the first instance decision there may have been a change in the law deriving from legislation or a binding decision of a higher court. In such a case it would be necessary to set aside the original decision without a determination on the merits. Similarly, a procedural order may require to be set aside without a determination on the merits because of a change of circumstances or a mistake. It is impossible to see however how this procedure could be used to overthrow on the merits the central basis of a first instance decision particularly where that involved a clear statement of legal principle in relation to the facts as found.
  5. My limited researches in the field of family law reveal that where a merits based decision has been reached at first instance, which all parties agree should be set aside on appeal, then there is a hearing and a judgment. This is consistent with the only reasonable interpretation of para 6.4. The judge whose decision is being impugned is surely entitled to no less, and there is a plain need to expose error so that later legal confusion does not arise. Thus in Bokor-Ingram v Bokor-Ingram [2009] EWCA Civ 412 Thorpe LJ held as follows:

    “1. In a judgement handed down on 23 June 2008, Charles J dismissed an application brought by the wife to set aside a consent order reached on 20 July 2006 at an FDR appointment determining her claims for ancillary relief for herself and the two children of the family.

    2. Charles J dismissed the wife’s application and refused her permission to appeal. Her application for permission was renewed to this court by a Notice of Appeal dated 7 August 2008. Wilson LJ granted permission to appeal on 30 October 2008, and that appeal was listed for hearing today and tomorrow, 4 and 5 March 2009.

    3. At the outset Mr Martin Pointer QC and Mr Jonathan Cohen QC, representing respectively the wife and the husband, informed the court that the parties had reached a comprehensive agreement to settle not only the appeal but also pending or prospective applications for the variation of the order of 20 July 2006.

    4. The agreement reached between the parties invited the court to allow the appeal, set aside the order of 20 July 2006, and to make revised orders on the wife’s applications.

    5. A short disposal might have followed but for our concern that the judgment below had already been reported at [2008] 2 FCR 527 and at [2009] 1 FLR 2001 and was causing, or was likely to cause, difficulty for specialist practitioners and judges in this field of ancillary relief.”

    Thorpe LJ then went on to give a full judgment explaining why Charles J had fallen into error.

  6. Similarly, in the recent decision of Re S-W (Children) [2015] EWCA Civ 27 it was recorded at para 4 that:

    “Neither Liverpool City Council nor the children’s guardian seeks to uphold the orders made. All parties are therefore agreed that the appeal should be allowed and that the matter should be remitted to Her Honour Judge de Haas QC, the Designated Family Judge for Liverpool.”

  7. Three full judgments followed explaining why Judge Dodds had fallen into error. Again, this was the least he could have expected and a reasoned judgment would have the effect of preventing similar mistakes in the future.
  8. The reason why in neither of these cases the Court of Appeal exercised its powers to deal with the appeal on paper, without a hearing, and by consent pursuant to para 6.4 was that in each instance it involved a determination on the merits that the judge was wrong. Therefore in each case the circumstances fell outside para 6.4.
  9. The researches of counsel, undertaken after argument was concluded before me but before this judgment was handed down, have not revealed any case where a fully reasoned decision has been overturned on the merits by consent and without a judgment. This is not surprising.

In this case the appeal was against para 6 of my order, which reflected the terms of my judgment, that the package of care provided to Katherine does not amount to a deprivation of liberty within the terms of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. That was the centrally, if not the only, relevant component of my judgment. It was its very ratio decidendi. By para 1 of the Court of Appeal order the appeal is allowed. That is plainly a determination on the merits. It could not be anything else. But such a determination on the merits does not fall within para 6.4.

I do rather agree with Mostyn J here. Whilst I respectfully think that he was wrong at first instance, he was wrong in a way that several very senior Judges (including two members of the Supreme Court) have agreed with.  It would have been helpful to have this issue put to bed. I happen to think that the Supreme Court have already done it, but as there appears to be judicial doubt, better to have that cleared up.

 

I also think that even if one accepts that Mostyn J was wrong and that KW’s liberty HAD been deprived, it is then a leap for the parties to agree an order between themselves that the Court of Appeal authorise such deprivation as being in KW’s best interests when frankly that particular argument has not been fully ventilated and litigated because the trial Judge ruled that on the facts he did not consider that she HAD been deprived of her liberty.

 

Where does that leave KW then?

  1. Even though the Court of Appeal appears to have taken a procedurally impermissible route, the rule of law depends on first instance judges complying scrupulously with decisions and orders from appellate courts. And so I must here, even if I happen to think that the order of the Court of Appeal is ultra vires. The allowing of the appeal should be construed as setting aside para 6 of my order, even if it does not actually say so. But does the order replace it with a declaration that Katherine is being deprived of her liberty? It does not explicitly say so, which is highly surprising. Further, para 2 of the order is phrased in highly ambiguous language. It says “to the extent that the restrictions in place pursuant to the care plan are a deprivation of KW’s liberty, such deprivation of KW’s liberty is hereby authorised.” The use of this conditional language suggests to me that Court of Appeal has not actually decided that this is a situation of state detention. What they are saying that if it is then it is authorised. In my judgment para 2 of the order does not amount to a declaration that Katherine is being deprived of her liberty.
  2. It therefore seems to me that we are back to square one with no-one knowing whether Katherine is, or is not, being detained by the state within the terms of Article 5. That issue will have to be decided at the next review hearing whether it is held under paras 3, 4 or 5 of the Court of Appeal order. Pursuant to para 6 I now direct that any review hearing will be conducted by me at an oral hearing and on the basis of full fresh evidence concerning Katherine’s circumstances. Until then Katherine’s status must be regarded as being in limbo.
  3. For the avoidance of any doubt it is my finding that the hearing ordered by para 5 of the Court of Appeal order is not a review of a determined situation of state detention but is, rather, a hearing de novo to determine if one exists.

 

Mostyn J goes further – having said that there has NOT been a decision that KW is being deprived of her liberty and there would have to be a hearing if anyone invites the Court to make such a finding, he goes on to drop this remarkable bombshell

  1. Further, it is my ruling that a hearing under paras 3 or 4 can only be triggered if the restrictive changes proposed amount to bodily restraint comparable to that which obtained in P v Cheshire West and Chester Council. Any restrictions short of that will amount to no more than arrangements for her care in her own home and would not, consistently with my previous judgments, amount to state detention. Therefore, in such circumstances there would be nothing to review under paras 3 and 4.
  2. It will be apparent from what I have written above that in the absence of a reasoned judgment from the Court of Appeal explaining why I was wrong I maintain firmly the correctness of my jurisprudential analysis in my principal decision as augmented in my Tower Hamlets decision. In this difficult and sensitive area, where people are being looked after in their own homes at the state’s expense, the law is now in a state of serious confusion.

 

So we seem to be in a position where if you go before Mostyn J, Rochdale v KW 2014 is good law, but if you go before another Judge, it may not be considered that way. The Court of Appeal sanctioned an order which had the effect of overturning the decision in Rochdale, but Mostyn J has ruled that it did not actually rule on the principle or the interpretation of the law.

That’s not really the way that precedent works. There are quite a few precedents that I don’t agree with and where I think the law has got it wrong, but it is the law and has to be followed until it is overturned or refined.  You have to be able to pick up a piece of case law and know whether it is a precedent which others may follow or if it is not. (Yes, sometimes, like H&R or even Cheshire West at CoA stage, the precedent which everyone follows is later determined to be wrong, but we all knew that those cases were being appealed)

The legal status of the principle in Rochdale v KW 2014 is not at all clear to me any longer. Mostyn J makes a compelling argument here that it remains binding on any Judge who is less senior than a High Court Judge. Equally, we know that the orders made did not stand following an appeal to the Court of Appeal. Is it law, or isn’t it?

We can’t surely have law that applies if you are before X Judge but not before Y Judge.

 

[I hope that I’ve been plain that whilst I disagreed with Mostyn J’s original call, I think he was right that there was a sufficient element of doubt that the Court of Appeal ought to have properly considered it and ruled on it. This was a decision that did not only affect the parties, but had a degree of public interest. It should not have been carved up by the parties, even if I think they were correct that the Judge had fallen into error on thinking the case could be distinguished from the principles in Cheshire West]

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