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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]

Child giving evidence

Very quick one – this is an appeal just decided, about a 14 year old girl who wished to give evidence in care proceedings. She was saying that the allegations made against her father (about sexual abuse of her younger sibling) were not true, and thus the father was not a risk to her or her sister and her mother had not failed to protect.

 

The Local Authority and the Guardian were both saying that what the girl was saying was not correct  ( This might have covered either that she just didn’t know about the abuse or that she was lying to protect her parents) but that she should not give evidence and the trial Judge had agreed with that.

 

The Court of Appeal ruled that this decision was wrong – this was a witness who had capacity, who was willing to give evidence, she had filed a statement and the contents of that evidence was being challenged and it went to a material issue. The girl should have been able to give evidence, and if her evidence in her statement was not right for that to have been tested in cross-examination.

 

(Of course a Local Authority when bringing care proceedings on a child feels uncomfortable about cross-examining that child and causing them emotional harm, and similarly the Guardian is in a tough position cross-examining a child, but in a situation like this, the child has to be able to give evidence if she wishes)

 

Re R (children) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/167.html

 

  1. In civil litigation the general rule is that where a party witness provides an appropriately verified written statement of her evidence, and is willing to attend for cross-examination, the court cannot be invited by other parties to disbelieve that evidence on a matter within her personal knowledge, unless it has been tested in cross-examination. This is a basic and deep-rooted aspect of the fair conduct of a trial, and reflects the central role which cross-examination plays in the ascertainment of the truth.
  2. It is therefore very unusual to find, as in the present case, a situation where the parties who do wish to challenge verified statement evidence from a party witness with the closest personal knowledge of the relevant events, seek to persuade the judge not to allow that witness to attend for the necessary cross-examination, where the witness herself positively desires to do so. Of course the motivation for this persuasion is of the very highest, namely an understandable concern for the young witness’s welfare. But for that concern, one would expect it to be common ground that there was a need for the witness to attend for cross-examination, since she denies in her evidence the very thing which the Local Authority seek to prove, namely that both she and her sister have been sexually abused by their father.
  3. To my mind it is the absence of any real recognition of the basic importance of the cross-examination of GR to a fair trial of the serious issues in this case, in the judge’s judgment or even in the respondents’ submissions on this appeal, that makes it necessary that the appeal should be allowed. I would regard the welfare implications of the choice whether to permit her to give oral evidence and to be cross-examined as being evenly balanced. The risk of harm which the process may cause to this bright and articulate fourteen year old does not seem to me to be more substantial than the risk of long-term harm at being denied the opportunity to have her evidence properly weighed in the determination by a court of matters of the utmost importance to her.

Judicial appointment is not a licence to be gratuitously rude

 

You may recall His Honour Judge Dodds, who has not had the best time with appeals in the lifespan of this blog.

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/02/02/sentence-first-verdict-afterwards/

where he made full Care Orders at the first hearing, when none of the parties were expecting that or asking for it.

 

and

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/07/02/go-on-then-appeal-me-i-dare-you/

 

Where the Judge refused to assess family members largely because they were in Poland and offered the remarkable sentence of “If you don’t like it, there is always the Court of Appeal”

 

And this is the one that I’ve been waiting for.

Re A (Children) 2015

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed143386

 

This was an appeal, arising from the conduct of a hearing. The Judge was asked for several things at that hearing. The mother and father both applied to discharge the Care Order and for more contact. The child SA, asked for DNA testing, saying that she had always had doubts that the father was really her biological father.

It is quite a short judgment, and practically every line of it is remarkable. This is the sort of thing that people who disapprove of the family justice system can rightly point to and say “This is the sort of thing that goes on”

In this case, the appeal was probably the easiest that the Court of Appeal have ever had to deal with – every single aspect of the hearing was wrong and improper. So in this case, the system screwed up royally, but then worked because an appeal put things right. But what we can never know is how many times something a bit like this happens and the advocates don’t appeal. Either they can’t get funding, or their client doesn’t want to, or they take the view that appealing a Judge who approaches things in this way is going to be counter productive in the future  (the “don’t poke an angry bear with a stick” argument)

 

It is a terrible indictment and this case makes sorry reading. The only consolation really is that the child herself was not in Court.

 

5. The importance of and the right of children to know the identity of their biological father has long been recognised and has only recently been restated by the President in Re Z (Children) [2014] EWHC 1999 Fam. Para 5. An application under section 55A is the proper procedural route in order to determine the parentage of a child. It must therefore have caused Ms Roberts and Mr Saunders (who acted on behalf of the Local Authority), considerable consternation when the judge, having dismissed out of hand the father’s application to discharge the care order as, “Factious” and the mother’s as, “An affront”, turned to Mr Saunders and told him that in relation to the section 55A application, “You may want to put your crash helmet on”.

6. Mr Saunders and Ms Roberts valiantly tried to explain to the judge what they sought and why they sought it, only to be met with evermore intemperate responses from the judge. In relation, for example, to the cost of the DNA testing, Ms Roberts told the judge that Legal Aid would paid for it. The response was, “You can pay for it if you want, I will let you. In fact, I am half minded to make an order that you do so”. Judge Dodds continued, “If she (meaning SA) told you that the moon is made of green cheese will you say, ‘Yes, S, no, S, three bags full S?” He continued: “The lunatics have truly taken over the asylum” and “For heaven sake, in this day and age especially, just because the lunatic says, ‘I want, I want’, you do not have to respond by spoon feeding their every wish”. The judge went on to comment, “Can I tell you how bitterly resentful I am at how much of my Saturday I spent reading this codswallop”.

7. Finally, the judge in dealing with the actual application said, “There is not a syllable of evidence before me to warrant making the order you seek and so it is refused”. He went concluded:

“At lest there be a nanosecond’s doubt as to the application for an order under section 55A of the Family Law Act 1986, I am nothing short of appalled that it was thought that public funds could be expended upon such nonsense. And I tell you I am within a hair’s breadth of ordering that any costs incurred in respect of that application should be paid by you.”

 

 

The Appeal Court, as indicated earlier, had no trouble in deciding that the appeal had to be granted and the case sent back to a different Judge for re-hearing.

 

9. In my judgment, it is not necessary to consider the merits of the application itself. The submission that the hearing amounted to a serious procedural irregularity is unanswerable. Each of the points made in the skeleton argument are made good when the transcript is considered. The judge did not allow proper submissions to be made; the premature threat of costs inevitably, and rightly, gave the impression that the judge had a closed mind in relation to the application and no proper reasons were given for the decision to dismiss the application. The manner in which the hearing was conducted went far beyond anything that could be characterised as robust case management.

10. In the event, neither parent attended the hearing, fortunately, although not surprisingly, SA was not there either. Even so, the unrestrained and immoderate language used by the judge must, I am afraid, be deplored and is wholly unacceptable. Such bombast can only leave advocates seeking to present, on instructions, their cases to the court feeling browbeaten and impotent and, rightly, as though their lay clients have been denied a fair hearing.

 

 

and

 

The transcript of the hearing makes embarrassing reading and I hope that Judge Dodds will read it for himself and be ashamed of his behaviour on that particular occasion. Appointment as a judge, at whatever level, is not a license for intemperate language or for being gratuitously rude to advocates and others appearing before you. Judge Dodds’ behaviour on that occasion was beyond what is permissible. It meant that there was a serious procedural irregularity. That particular hearing was not fair. I do emphasise that my remarks concern only that one particular hearing. However, this appeal must be allowed.

 

I am aware that the newspapers in Liverpool made enquiries about whether there was an investigation or complaint into judicial conduct as a result, and were told that there was not, because no complaint had been received.  One does not want to see judicial complaints made each and every time a Judge loses an appeal or gets something wrong, but you might think that an appeal judgment as serious as this might be a trigger for an investigation without a formal complaint being made.

 

[In case you are ever before a Court and this sort of thing happens, and I very much hope that it never does, there is a formal body who deal with complaints about judicial conduct, as a separate body to the appeal process which deals with the decision made.

 

http://judicialconduct.judiciary.gov.uk/making-a-complaint.htm

Let’s not bring politics into it

The case Re A and B (Prohibited Steps Order at Dispute Resolution Appointment) 2015 might have one of the dullest names concievable, but I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t become rather newsworthy.  Wizardpc (regular commentator – you’re going to want to read this one)

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed143473

Why?

Because fresh on the heels of the President of the Family Division telling us all that there’s nothing wrong with a father belonging to the English Defence League, we have a family Judge banning a UKIP Parliamentary candidate from bringing his children to election rallies. [And another family Judge overturning that on appeal]

It is a short judgment, so before anyone’s knees jerk too much, let’s all read it first.

The children are both under 10, this is an appeal from a decision of the District Judge in private law proceedings to make this order:-

i) By way of preamble, that the court held the view that it is inappropriate for young children to be actively engaged in political activities as they may be emotionally damaged by potentially hostile reactions from members of the public;

ii) By way of order, that neither parent is to involve the two youngest children actively in any political activity.

 

 

There were three older children who were not subject to these stipulations.

As a matter of law, can the Court do that? Well, section 11 of the Children Act allows the Court to set conditions about contact / time spent with a parent, and the powers are broad, or as here, a Prohibited Steps Order, where one parent can ask that another be prevented from doing something particular (almost anything) with their child – so long as they meet these three criteria

Is it a necessary and proportionate interference with article 8 right to family life?
Is it better for the child to make this order than to not make the order?
Is this the right order, considering that the child’s welfare is paramount.

So the Court has the legal power to make such an order – providing those tests are met. But can it be right to make such an order?

9. Procedure – The father says that:

i) The District Judge was wrong not to hear evidence or at least his full submissions in relation to the need for a prohibited steps order to this effect;

ii) The District Judge made incorrect assumptions about the factual basis for such an order;

iii) The District Judge wrongly dealt with the issue without the father having notice prior to the hearing as to her intention to consider making such an order;

iv) The District Judge did not give the father an opportunity to contend that the order was neither necessary nor proportionate.

10. The mother, who is in person, contends that 99.9% of parents would recognise that their children should not be involved actively in political activities and so the District Judge was acting sensibly and fairly when faced with a father who, she says, does not share that recognition. However, she accepted before me that the father had not been given the opportunity to argue his case before the District Judge and that he made it plain throughout that he did not agree to the order that the District Judge was proposing. The mother could plainly see the difficulties that arise in seeking to upholding the decision of the District Judge.

11. The Cafcass report – The Cafcass report is in the bundle. The following parts of it are particularly relevant:

i) The only mention of political activity in the report is at D5. There the Cafcass officer stated: ‘The mother has expressed concerns that the father’s political views and value base are influencing the children – particularly C who can be racist and homophobic. The father has allegedly enlisted the support of his children to distribute UKIP leaflets when they have spent time with him’. That is the only reference to political activity within the report.

ii) The views of the children, which are very fully explored by the Cafcass officer, do not record any complaint by them in relation to their father’s political activities or their involvement with them;

iii) The children are reported as having some other concerns about their father’s method of disciplining them but were observed by the Cafcass officer to be happy in their father’s company. The Cafcass officer stated at paragraph 27 that ‘it is my view that, on the whole, the children enjoy the time they spend with their father and this needs to be supported…my observations of the children with their father were positive’.

12. Statements – Both parties provided brief statements for the hearing before the District Judge. The father’s statement is dated 20th November and the mother’s dated 24th November 2014 (the day of the hearing before the District Judge). There was no application in relation to the father’s political activities or the children’s involvement in them and therefore the father’s statement makes no mention of this. The mother states in her statement at C8: ‘I would like it if he respected my wishes and promised the court that he will not use the children directly in any of his political activities. I would be prepared to abide by the same promise if he so wished. Although it is apparent that the court has failed to protect certain of the children from brainwashing, since [C] has been campaigning for UKIP, is a member of UKIP youth and [E] has also attended UKIP rallies and is intent on joining UKIP youth’.

13. That is as far as any prior notice of this issue went. The father saw the mother’s statement at court. He did not have any other notice prior to the hearing that this issue would be raised. It is therefore significant to note that there was no evidential material relating to any involvement or harmful consequences for the two younger children in relation to the father’s political activities.

It does appear that this issue was somewhat bounced upon the father – did he have proper opportunity to challenge it, and was there proper evidence before the Court as to political activity being harmful?

If one is saying that political activity is harmful to young children generally (as opposed to just toxically dull) then there a lot of babies who will be saved from being kissed by George Osbourne/Ed Balls/Danny Alexander (choose which candidate you most dislike / least admire).  And to be perfectly honest, if it would remove any possibility in the future of the horror that was Tony Blair in his shirtsleeves drinking tea out of a mug with a picture of his kids on it – then, y’know, I can see an upside.

 

The worry with this is that a decision was made about whether the Court cared for the particular brand of politics espoused by the father – which is getting us into Re A territory to an extent. We see mainstream politicians regularly dragging their kids out for the cameras.

14. What happened at the hearing? Both parties appeared in person, that is without legal representation. I have studied the whole of the transcript of the hearing. I made sure that I read it through twice. Both parties were in person and the District Judge was faced with a difficult task in relation to parties who held strong views. I do not in any way underestimate the task that befell the District Judge and, by this judgment, pay tribute to her experience and exceptional industry. She knew this case well having been involved in it previously.

15. The following are some of the key parts of the transcript :

i) At page three there is the following: ‘THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Yes, all right. One of the other issues she raises, and I know there is another issue in your statement that you want to raise in a minute, [father], I have not forgotten this, one of Mother’s concerns is, and she is quite happy to promise in the same way but she does not like the fact that the boys are being involved in your UKIP activities and she would like you to give an agreement that you will not involve them in your UKIP, for instance, C campaigning in [X town] recently she mentions. How do you feel about that?…FATHER: I’m totally unwilling to have her dictate anything what I’m doing with the children in that respect….THE DISTRICT JUDGE: She said that she would be prepared not to involve them in any political activities as well….Father: Well, she does. She indoctrinates them, you know, so I just don’t think this is on. C is very keen; he gets a lot out of it’.

ii) At page 4 the District Judge said: ‘I can understand where you are coming from because you are not a UKIP supporter, yes….MOTHER: Or any political party. Is it right for a child of A’s age to be going into school saying, “What did you do at the weekend? I’ve been to a UKIP garden party”, and the other kids go, “Hey, what?” they have no idea what she’s talking about. They shouldn’t know what she’s talking about because none of them at that age should know anything to do with politics. Isn’t that to do with abusing their childhood if they’re being pumped full of whatever political party?

iii) At page 5 – ‘THE DISTRICT JUDGE: As I have said, children will always be very conscious about what their parents’ political views are. Your political views may well be at the other end of the spectrum. MOTHER: But I wouldn’t dream of taking them to any political meetings or encourage them to leaflet on the streets. C was egged by somebody. Is that right? …THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Is that right? Was C egged by somebody?…Father: He was exceedingly amused to have an egg land somewhere near his feet on one occasion. MOTHER: I do not want the younger children put in that position.
iv) Also on page 5 – ‘MOTHER: And what about the younger children— THE DISTRICT JUDGE: No, I am just thinking—MOTHER : —who go into the classroom— THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Yes. MOTHER: Think about the teachers then who have to pick up the pieces, so and so’s brother was egged at the weekend. The other children are too young to be worried about this and it’s confusing for them’.

v) At page 8: ‘THE DISTRICT JUDGE: What have you been doing with A and B at the moment so far as UKIP is concerned?…FATHER: A and B have sat on the van while a couple of the others get out and do some leafleting, that’s happened about once. Then there was a garden party where they played in the garden a long way from a congregation where there was a speech going on, so they were happy and they were supervised and they didn’t feel embarrassed and we all left together. So they were not put in any sort of awkward or inappropriate situation and I wouldn’t do, of course…THE DISTRICT JUDGE: I mean what I would like to do is to make a neutral order which is that neither of you should involve A or B in your political activities. Now, going to a garden party, I do not regard that as political activity, that is a garden party, all right? Probably sitting on the van is not but what I am talking about is they should not be going out leafleting and actively taking part….FATHER: Well, I’m just amazed, I’m just amazed— MOTHER: [Inaudible – overlap of speech] A was encouraged to hand out a leaflet and somebody went up to her and just tore it up in her face. She’s a tiny, little girl. This is really mentally challenging for them. THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Yes, look. Father, I am not expressing any political views, it is not appropriate for me to express any political views but there are a lot of people in this country who have very strong feelings about UKIP and I would not want to expose your two youngest children to emotional harm because of how people might react to them if they get involved. That is how I am looking at it, because you must accept there are a lot of people who are dead against UKIP, you understand that?

vi) At page 9 and 10 – ‘THE DISTRICT JUDGE: I am worried about somebody throwing – all right, C is 15, if he is happy to get involved in UKIP then he is old enough to decide that but I am not happy with A and B being involved in political activity to the extent that somebody in front of their faces rips up a poster. That is emotionally damaging for them. That should not be happening to two little girls and I do not care whether we are talking about the Labour party, the Conservative party, UKIP, the Liberal Democrats or whatever. That should not be happening to two little girls…FATHER: Well, that’s three of us agreeing then, isn’t it?…THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Yes….FATHER: So what’s the problem? I don’t see—…THE DISTRICT JUDGE: So I am going to make an order that neither of you are to involve the two younger girls actively in political activities, so I am saying to you garden party is not a problem, sitting on the van is not a problem but they are not going out actively taking part in your political activities because there are a lot of people out there who do not like UKIP and probably a lot of grown ups will not think about the impact on children’ .

16. There was no formal judgment given. The matter was dealt with as part of the discussion that took place at the hearing. There was no evidence given and the underlying facts were disputed, in particular, the extent to which the father does involve the children in his political activities and the extent to which this might have caused harm to them. The father wished to advance in full his arguments but the matter was cut short by the judge making what she perceived as a ‘neutral order’.

 

 

The Judge hearing the appeal, His Honour Judge Wildblood QC came to these conclusions  (underlining mine, emphasising that the three ingredients I spoke of earlier weren’t present. That, combined  with lack of  fairness to the father in the procedure meant the appeal was successful and the order discharged)

28. My difficulties with this case are:

i) The father had no notice before the hearing that this issue would be raised as one that was argued, let alone governed by orders.

ii) The factual underlay behind the orders is disputed and there was no written or oral evidence before the court that related to the issues before it.

iii) The contentions that the mother raised in support of the order were contested and the father did not have an opportunity to answer them. If he was not to have notice of this application for an order and was not to be allowed to give evidence about it he was entitled to the opportunity to make full submissions about it. He expressed the wish to advance his side of the story on the issues that arose and did not get it.

iv) The Cafcass report did not raise this as an issue that required intervention and there was no professional evidence before the court that supported the necessity for such an order.

v) This was an important issue in the context of this case. The order made was a prohibited steps order. Such an order should only be made for good (and, I add, established) cause and for reasons that are explained as being driven by the demands of the paramount welfare of the children. I do not think that such orders can be justified in contested proceedings on the grounds of neutrality and I do think that the decision must relate to the specific children in question. In Re C (A child) [2013] EWCA Civ 1412 Ryder LJ said: ‘A prohibited steps order is a statutory restriction on a parent’s exercise of their parental responsibility for a child. It can have profound consequences. On the facts of this case, without commenting on the wisdom of any step that either parent took or intended to take when they were already in dispute, and in the absence of an order of the court, father had the same parental responsibility as mother in relation to his son. Once the order was made, he lost the ability to exercise part of his responsibility and could not regain it without the consent of the court. That is because a prohibited steps order is not a reflection of any power in one parent to restrict the other (which power does not exist) it is a court order which has to be based on objective evidence. Once made, the terms of section 8 of the Children Act 1989 do not allow the parents to relax the prohibition by agreement. It can only be relaxed by the court. There is accordingly a high responsibility not to impose such a restriction without good cause and the reason must be given. Furthermore, where a prohibition is appropriate, consideration should always be given to the duration of that prohibition. Here the without notice prohibition was without limit of time. That was an error of principle which was not corrected by an early return date because that was susceptible of being moved or vacated unless the prohibition also had a fixed end date. The finite nature of the order must be expressed on the face of the order: R (Casey) v Restormel Borough Council [2007] EWHC 2554 (Admin) at [38] per Munby J’.

vi) Further, the District Judge was being asked to make orders that were invasive of the Article 8 rights of the father and of the children to organise their family lives together without interference by a public authority unless that interference was necessary and proportionate. That issue was not examined.

vii) Oral evidence is not always necessary (see Rule 22.2 of The Family Procedure Rules 2010). However there must be some satisfactory basis for an order if it is to be made. Otherwise the justification of the order is absent.

29. The form of the order made – The order that was made merely states that ‘neither parent is to involve the two youngest children, A and B, actively in any political activity’. I am personally in no position to cast stones on the drafting of injunctive orders in the light of what was said in Re Application by Gloucestershire County Council for the Committal to Prison of Matthew John Newman [2014] EWHC 3136 (Fam) but I think that there are very real difficulties about the form of the order that was made in this case.

30. By reason of Rule 37.9(3) of The Family Procedure Rules 2010 it is a matter of discretion as to whether a prohibited steps order should contain a penal notice (In the case of …a section 8 order…the court may’…attach a penal notice). I am concerned that this order did not make plain the consequences of any disobedience, the duration of the order or the activities that were prohibited. I realise that the District Judge said that garden parties would not be covered but I think that, if this order was ever to be enforceable in any way, it needed better definition. At a DRA there would have been very little time to examine that, I appreciate. District Judges lists are stretched to snapping point.

31. The conclusion that I have reached, therefore, is the decision of the District Judge was procedurally irregular and cannot stand. I therefore give permission to appeal and allow the appeal. I direct that there be a rehearing of the issues that have been raised in this appeal before me. Paragraph three of the order of the District Judge is discharged.

 

 

I think, regardless of what you might think about UKIP, the appeal was correct. The issues had not been properly explored and the father had not had proper opportunity to challenge what was a very unusual request, made at a hearing which was really only intended to set up the necessary directions to get the case to a substantial hearing.

I already have fond thoughts of His Honour Judge Wildblood QC, having read a lot of his judgments, and this made me think even better of him – this is very nicely done.

34. Finally, I will release this judgment on Bailii. By this decision I mean no offence at all to the very experienced District Judge for whom I wish to record my appreciation and thanks. In choosing my words when explaining why I am allowing this appeal I hope that I have displayed an understanding of the motto ‘do as you would be done by’ – who knows, tomorrow another court might hear an appeal from me.

 

[This case shows some of the risks of jigsaw identification – I’m sure I could work out UKIP Parliamentary candidates in the West country with five children and identify this family very swiftly. I’m sure others can do the same, and probably will. Not here in the comments though, please. ]

 

6. Publication – An officer of the press is present in court. I have referred her to Rule 27.11 of The Family Procedure Rules 2010 and also to PD27B of those rules. I explained the law to her in the presence of the parties and adjourned so that she could read the Practice Direction and the rule. She was referred to Section 97(2) of The Children Act 1989 and also to section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 and confirmed her understanding of the limitations on any reporting of this case. I am not going to explain those limitations in this judgment. If any person, organisation or party is thinking about making any aspect of this case public, they should inform themselves of those limitations. If in doubt, an application should be made to the court because breach of the law would amount to contempt which would be punishable by imprisonment, a fine or sequestration of assets.

7. Anonymised information about this case has already appeared in the press today. The father expresses his views in the press reports, without revealing his identity other than as a father and UKIP candidate. That being so I have alerted the Judicial Press Office about this case and of my intention to place this judgment on the Bailii website under the transparency provisions. I think it essential that there should be a clear and immediate record of the basis of my decision. That being so I have had to type this judgment myself immediately at the end of the hearing under pressure of time.

A tale of One Telegraph – follow up

I said that I would look out for the transcript of the judgment that Mr Booker was reporting about

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/02/16/a-tale-of-two-telegraphs/

The bare facts that we knew were – His Honour Judge Jones, two boys, a bruise, and an older child, and Placement Orders being made.

This case here, ticks all of those boxes

Re A (a child) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B200.html

I don’t want to get stuck into the facts too much, because there’s no way to be SURE that it is the same case that Mr Booker was writing about. You may recall that the central complaint in Mr Booker’s piece was that the parents weren’t able to fight the case and were not allowed into Court.

From Re A, the Court say this:-

 

  1. The parties to the applications and their legal representations are as follows:
  • the Local Authority, X County Council brings both applications in respect of the children and are represented today by Miss Beattie;
  • the children’s mother L is represented today by Miss Erwood. The mother has been present during the course of today, but she like the father has decided not to remain within this courtroom this afternoon for the purposes of this judgment. That decision is perfectly understandable so far as the Court is concerned;
  • The children’s father is CC. He shares parental responsibility for the children. He is represented by Mr Blythin;
  • The children are represented by their Guardian Miss Siân Wilson who has been present today and is represented by their solicitor Miss Debbie Owens.

 

A parent deciding that they don’t want to come in and hear the judgment is not that uncommon, and is an utterly different thing to being told they aren’t allowed to come in.

It can’t be an easy thing to listen to, particularly where (as these parents did) they have decided not to fight the case and they know that the outcome is going to be something that will break their heart.

One of Mr Booker’s complaints is that the parents were told that there was no prospect of appeal. That would be right in this case, because the parents decided not to oppose the case. It would be an extremely unlikely scenario that a person can decide not to fight a case and then the same day have legal grounds to appeal the decision.

It is always difficult with a Mr Booker story to be sure when you actually have the judgment that matches up with his case, and in his defence, it could be that this is another case entirely.

There’s nothing improper about the judgment in Re A – it considers everything that needs to be looked at, it is not a rubber stamp, it gives proper regard to the evidence and the legal tests and it is as kind as a Judge can be in those difficult circumstances.

IF this is the case that Mr Booker complains of, there is absolutely nothing in it that warrants the level of complaint he was making.

They had legal representation, they were entitled to go into the Court, they were entitled to instruct their lawyers to fight the case. By the sounds of it, they were given advice that the chances of doing so successfully were very poor and they decided not to put themselves through that ordeal. Perhaps they regretted it almost immediately. Perhaps they feel in hindsight that they didn’t feel that they had a choice. Perhaps they wish that they had fought the case and that they will never know now what might have happened. But they had the choice to make, and they made that choice with legal advice.

Perhaps (and I really don’t want to besmirch these particular lawyers, it is more of a general complaint) lawyers don’t always make it completely clear enough to parents that the lawyer is there to advise them, but that the parent can refuse to take that advice. They can tell the lawyer to fight on, and the lawyer’s job then is to fearlessly represent that client without fear or favour.  You can tell your lawyer, thanks, but not thanks.

Unlike a boxing cornerman, your lawyer can’t throw in the towel on your behalf, even if they think you will take a horrible beating. Only you can throw the towel in.

[One can accept of course that someone can legitimately hold a view that adoption is wrong in all cases and that any case involving adoption is thus wrong and unfair. If that’s your view, then like Ian of Forced Adoption, you’re entitled to make complaint about all and any cases. But if you are instead arguing that in this particular case, the parents were robbed of a fair hearing, and denied due process, there’s nothing to support that assertion]

If it isn’t the same case (and he is able quite easily to establish the date of the final hearing and who was representing the parents to show otherwise) then we will have to wait and see for when the real case he was writing about shows up.

 

There ARE things that go wrong in family law, there are cases where parents are done great injustice (like the HH Judge Dodds case that Mr Booker also writes about) and it is a good thing that there are people to make those injustices known. It is only by dragging them into the light that things will get better.  But we do also have to be responsible in reporting and be sure that if we are shouting that there’s a wolf that what you are seeing is really a wolf.

 

CSI President : Appeal

 

I was a bit surprised to see that public money was spent appealing the President’s decision in Re Z Children 2014  which I wrote about here:-

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/06/23/csi-president/

 

The case involved a dad who wouldn’t give a DNA sample, but was in prison for murder. The police had two DNA samples – a DNA sample of the perpetrators blood from the crime scene and the one dad gave that matched it. They were prevented by law in giving the second one to the Court to be used as a paternity test sample. The President decided that they weren’t prevented in law in giving the first sample (which we all know is a match and is dad’s DNA)

I actually thought it was a very clever and intricate solution and one that won’t really cause problems for later cases.

 

Nonetheless, it was appealed, and the Court of Appeal over-ruled the President.

 

Re X and Z Another  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/34.html

As a result, any samples held by the police ought to only be used for the purposes of criminal law enforcement.

If you were hoping for the President to get a come-uppance, this judgment is not it. The closest they come to a criticism is this bit:-

35. Parliament cannot, when replacing Part V of PACE in 2012, have intended that Part II DNA profiles could be used outside the sphere of criminal law enforcement but that Part V DNA data could not be so used. That would be arbitrary and would make no sense. The court should be very slow to impute to Parliament an intention to legislate so as to produce results which are arbitrary and irrational.

  1. In order to avoid such absurdity and to reflect Parliament’s clear intention in POFA to legislate to remove the incompatibility between English law and the requirements of the Convention, I consider that section 22 should be construed in a way which is consistent with the scheme of Part V. That is to say, section 22 should be construed as meaning that, if the police consider that it is necessary to retain Part II DNA material for criminal law enforcement purposes, they may not use it for any other purpose

 

Given that the Court of Appeal didn’t like the President’s somewhat elastic use of statutory construction (stretch it as far as you can unless it actually snaps) he is perhaps fortunate that all of the parties in Re  X (a child: Surrogacy) 2014 liked his decision (and hence weren’t going to appeal it), because that one for me went beyond snapping point.

 

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/10/06/conjurers-and-childrens-birthday-parties/

 

When the President decided that a valid interpretation of THIS piece of statute

“the applicants must apply for the order during the period of 6 months beginning with the day on which the child is born.”

was

“unless the Court is okay with it”

 

The President doesn’t lose many though – this one and Cheshire West are the only ones that I can remember.  (And I have some sympathy for him on this one, I think it was a child-focussed attempt to resolve a problem)

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