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Court of Appeal criticise Judge for insufficient analysis of the placement options

 

In re P (A child) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2016/3.html

The Court of Appeal conclude that a Judge who made a Placement Order (thus authorising a child to be placed for adoption) had not conducted a sufficiently robust analysis of the relative merits of the placement options before making that decision.  The Judge had set out in the judgment what he was required to do, but the Court of Appeal say that he didn’t actually do it.

That’s been an issue I’ve been concerned about for quite a while – I read all of the published judgments, and it seems to me that the complaints that the Court of Appeal made in Re B-S about ‘adoption is the last resort’ being a stock phrase of judicial window-dressing, a remark to be thrown into a judgment but with no real engagement with the principle and philosophy has just been replaced by Judges inserting into their judgments huge swathes of case-law that tell them what they must do and what they must consider (including huge swathes of Re B-S) but there’s not often evidence when I read these judgments of the Judge going on to actually apply these principles. It seems to be considered sufficient for the Judge to simply tell everyone that they know the relevant portions of the caselaw rather than actually following those stipulations.

So in part, I’m rather glad of this case. It puts down that marker.

  1. While ostensibly aware of the need to adopt a ‘holistic’ approach to the evaluation of the options for P (and the guidance offered by Re B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, [2014] 1 FLR 1935 at [36] and at [46]), we are not convinced that Judge Ansell delivered on his intentions. It is, as this Court has emphasised in Re B-S and in Re R (A Child) (Adoption: Judicial Approach) [2014] (above)) “essential” that a judge provides an adequately reasoned judgment at the conclusion of a case such as this. We very much regret that after the extensive, perhaps overly discursive, review of the evidence this judgment is light on analysis of at least one of the two realistic options (i.e. adoption) to the degree of detail necessary, nor does the judgment contain a comparison of each option or options (see McFarlane LJ in Re G (Care Proceedings: Welfare Evaluation) [2013] EWCA Civ 965, [2014] 1 FLR 670 at [54]), or a proportionality evaluation. In this respect, Mr. Horrocks makes good his submission.
  2. There is no specially prescribed form for a judge undertaking the exercise outlined above; the judge is doing little more than performing an ‘old-fashioned welfare balancing exercise’ (Re F [2015] EWCA Civ 882 at [48]); the term ‘holistic’ does not have any special meaning. Neither the parties, nor this Court, will readily conclude that a judge has performed the necessary welfare balancing exercise just because he or she acknowledges the need to do so. The debate about whether the analysis of the realistic options is a ‘balance sheet’ of the pros and cons or an aide memoire of the key welfare factors and how they match up against each other is sterile. What is expected is that the benefits and detriments of each option are considered and there is an evaluation of each option as against the other based on that analysis.
  3. In this case, as in Re R (A Child) (Adoption: Judicial Approach) [2014], Judge Ansell was faced with an essentially binary decision; either P was restored to her mother’s care, or she was adopted. There was no realistic alternative. The fact that the judge considered the merits of the mother’s position, properly evaluating, we are satisfied, her strengths and weaknesses, but ruling her out as a long-term carer for P before moving on to consider the other option of adoption is ‘linear’ thinking, both in form and substance (see Re R [18]).
  4. There was sufficient evidence before Judge Ansell for him to conclude that the mother was indeed a realistic option as a long-term carer for P (giving ‘realistic’ its ordinary English meaning: Re Y (Children) [2014] EWCA Civ 1553). After all, her aspirations to care for P throughout her childhood had attracted some support during the proceedings from both the Family Centre and (until after the hearing had started) P’s Guardian. There were many positives of her parenting, as the Judge himself recognised. This was not one of those rare cases identified in North Yorkshire County Council v B [2008] 1 FLR 1645, and discussed by Sir James Munby P in Re R at [67], in which it would have been permissible for a court, albeit acting cautiously, to rule out a parent as a potential option (even in some cases before the final hearing itself) before going on to consider other options. By his judgment (both in substance and structure), Judge Ansell gives the impression that this is precisely what he did.
  5. That said, the judge conducted a sufficiently sound analysis of the pros and cons of the mother’s potential as a long-term carer of P; he was, after all, entitled to rely on the fact that the expert and professional evidence in this case all pointed against rehabilitation of P with her mother – namely, the final evidence from the Family Centre, the social worker’s assessments and the final recommendations of Mr. Abrahams. At least two of the professional witnesses (one of the social workers and the Children’s Guardian) had known the mother from the earlier proceedings, and were able to bring to this case long-standing knowledge of her care and parental capabilities. Indeed, it is significant to us that the experienced Guardian, who had represented P’s older half-siblings in the 2012/2013 proceedings, had initially supported the mother in her endeavour to care for P, but in the final analysis, had found himself unable to do so, having heard the same compelling oral evidence as the judge. Mr. Abrahams had concluded that P would not be safe in the care of the mother, a view on which the Judge was entitled to, and did, place significant reliance.
  6. However, that was only part of the required holistic evaluation. The Judge then needed to go on to consider the issue of adoption, and place that option up against the case for parental long-term care.(6) The outcome of adoption:
  7. As indicated in the previous section, having conducted a fair review of the mother’s strengths and weaknesses, and considered her potential as a long-term carer for P, the judge should, in our judgment, have gone on to conduct an internal analysis of the pros and cons of adoption, and then place that analysis up against his conclusions on the mother. In failing to do this, Mr. Horrocks has made good his complaint under this ground of appeal.

 

However, the Court of Appeal in this case go on to say that there is sufficient material before them for THEM to go on to conduct that analysis themselves, rather than send the case back for re-hearing. That’s an approach that is legally and properly available to them and they direct themselves to the relevant caselaw.

My querying eyebrow is that the Court of Appeal therefore consider that THIS is sufficient as an analysis of placement options, as it is the one that they themselves provide and rely upon

 

  1. In reaching a view about this, we have considered carefully the evidence from the senior social worker in the adoption team, the final statement of the key social worker, the Family Centre reports, the Placement Order report, the mother’s written evidence and the Guardian’s reports, all of which (save that from the mother) was evidence accepted by the judge. We consider that we have sufficient evidence to undertake the analysis ourselves.
  2. P is an eighteen-month old infant; she is in good health, though has sickle cell traits. She has the ordinary needs for “predictable, reliable, consistent” parenting from a parent who is “available, responsive and sensitive” (per Placement Order report). She has, in the judge’s finding, a warm relationship with her mother. We acknowledge, as indeed the social workers acknowledge, that if P were to express her feelings, she would almost certainly wish to be cared for by her mother, assisted by her father, provided this was in her best interests. This would reflect well her dual-heritage ethnicity, and would most completely respect her rights to family life; she would probably be able to establish a modest relationship with five of her six half-siblings, through her mother’s periodic contact with them.
  3. By contrast, adoption will sever all legal and emotional ties with the mother and she will, in all probability, lose any contact with her half-siblings; it is thought that any ongoing direct family contact could potentially destabilise any placement. P will nonetheless be claimed as a child in a new family. It is not envisaged that there will be difficulty in finding a suitable placement for P for adoption, and it is believed that this could be done within 3-6 months of a final placement order. The “strict” test for severing the relationship between parent and child by way of adoption is now clearly defined; it will be satisfied only in “exceptional circumstances” and:

    “where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short, where nothing else will do” Baroness Hale Re B [198].

  4. We have much in mind that the court’s paramount consideration, in accordance with section 1(2) of the ACA 2002, is P’s welfare “throughout [her] life.” We are of course acutely conscious of the effect on P of ceasing to be a member of her family. But having considered the case carefully, and having placed the options alongside each other, we share the judge’s view, essentially for the reasons he gave, that P’s best interests would not be protected, let alone enhanced, in the care of her mother. We are persuaded that adoption was indeed the only outcome which would meet P’s long term emotional and physical needs; it was, in the final analysis, the only realistic option. The judge was therefore entitled to conclude, albeit he expressed it with incautious brevity, that the mother’s consent to adoption was “required”.
  5. Notwithstanding the exceptionality of this outcome, and while acknowledging that the judgment is light on analysis of the competing options, and far from ‘holistic’ as McFarlane LJ used the term in Re G, the outcome was in our view sufficiently clear that we feel able to substitute our own conclusion.

 

 

It seems rather superficial and sketchy to me – it seems rather like the sort of analysis that the Court of Appeal railed against in Re B-S and all of those other cases. But now, rather than simply carping about what is deficient, we have a concrete example of what the Court of Appeal have ruled is SUFFICIENT.   And it seems, to use vernacular, a bit weaksauce.

If I got that as the social worker’s analysis of placement options, I’d have been sending it back to ask for substantial improvements. I would have been telling them that it doesn’t comply with the guidelines laid down by Re B-S. It seems exactly the sort of analysis that the Court of Appeal described as being anodyne and inadequate. It is barely longer than the example that the Court of Appeal skewered in Re B-S.

And therefore, I am puzzled.

 

The Court of Appeal did express some sympathy for the Judge in the case

In focus in this appeal is a judgment which gives every appearance of being prepared under pressure of time, in a busy court, following directly from submissions at the conclusion of a five-day contested hearing. The result is, as all parties in this appeal have acknowledged to a greater or lesser extent, not altogether satisfactory – a matter of concern to us given that we have concluded that the judge was right for the additional reasons we shall describe; the outcome could not be more momentous for this mother and this child. The appeal represents an example of an all too common occurrence, namely the difficulty of finding time in a busy list adequately to explain a decision based on a series of multi factorial elements. The inevitable temptation for a judge who is seeking to be compassionate and also not to interfere with the other business of the court, is to try and do too much in the time available, when it would be better to take additional time.

 

The judgment was 30 pages long, so not exactly a half-assed rush job. What emerges from the Court of Appeal judgment was the sense that by the time the Judge reached the meat of the case, the real area where the judgment needs to shine – the analysis of placement options and reasons for conclusions, it had rather run out of steam.

 

The judgment finally accelerates to a rather abrupt discussion of the orders; in a concise concluding section the judge expressed the hope that he had “sufficiently analysed the options in this case”; he indicated that, “whether it be a holistic or linear approach”, he rejected the contention that either of these parents could safely protect P. He regarded himself as “driven to the only conclusion” that could be reached, namely a “care order in the welfare of the child must be made”. Without discussing the care plan as such, he reflected that a care order would “involve” a placement order and that required him “to dispense with the parental consent if the welfare of the child requires that consent to be dispensed with”. Without further reflection, he made those orders “in the interests of this child.”

Is there bias if the Judge is leading one of the barristers in a different case?

 

 

Watts v Watts 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/1297.html

is a Court of Appeal decision about judicial bias, and whether the Judge should have recused herself.  This was a dispute between a brother and a sister about property issues.

In this case, the issues were effectively that the Judge did disclose to the parties that one of the barristers, Mr Holland (the one acting for the sister) was being led by the Judge in another case.  I.e the Judge was still in practice as a barrister and was leading counsel in a different case where one of the barristers in front of her  was her junior.

The request for the Judge to recuse herself, and the subsequent appeal, was therefore on these arguments:-
1. That the Judge had a conflict of interest due to professional involvement with Mr Holland, which might cause or give rise to the perception of bias.

2. That as the case was on a conditional fee arrangement (no win no fee), Mr Holland would only get paid if he won the case, so the existing professional involvement might make the Judge more desirous of an outcome where her junior in a long-running case where she would have to continue working with him would not have lost a big pile of money as a result of the Judge’s decision on this case.

3. That as the nature of that particular case involving the Judge leading Mr Holland was not known, it was possible that the Judge might be tempted (if it was in a similar field) to give a decision or set a principle in THIS case which might be helpful in that case.

 

The nub of the case was as to in terms of the conflict of interest, was the Judge expected to reveal absolutely everything, or was it sufficient that she revealed sufficient for a proper view to be taken, whilst not showing more than was necessary or appropriate? Just how much should be uncovered?

This is important stuff, and I think it is really important that all of the essentials get covered here.

 

Now, is the coverage sufficient here? I'd hate to be accused of skimpy coverage

Now, is the coverage sufficient here? I’d hate to be accused of skimpy coverage

 

[My inclusion of this is actually LESS gratuitous than the inclusion of it in the show itself…]

 

  1. Discussion
  2. On the appeal, Mr McLarnon criticised the judge on three grounds: (i) for the paucity of information provided by her about her involvement with Mr Holland; (ii) for announcing her ruling at the commencement of the hearing but only giving her reasons at the end of it; and (iii) for the decision not to recuse herself, which he maintained was unlawful because of the appearance of bias which he submitted she presented in the circumstances. I deal with these in turn.
  3. In relation to ground (i), Mr McLarnon relied in particular on the following guidance. In Davidson v Scottish Ministers Lord Bingham said at [19] that where a judge discloses matters which would or might provide the basis for a reasonable apprehension of lack of impartiality, “It is very important that proper disclosure should be made …, first, because it gives the parties an opportunity to object and, secondly, because the judge shows, by disclosure, that he or she has nothing to hide and is fully conscious of the factors which might be apprehended to influence his or her judgment.” Similarly, in Jones v DAS Legal Expenses Insurance Co. [2003] EWCA Civ 1071 at [35] this court emphasised that where a judge becomes aware of circumstances which might give rise to an appearance of bias and a real as opposed to fanciful objection being taken by a notional fair-minded observer and an application for recusal might be made, “The judge should make every effort in the time available to clarify what his interest is which gives rise to this conflict so that the full facts can be placed before the parties.”
  4. Mr McLarnon submitted that provision of full material in this sort of situation is particularly important because parties are not permitted to question the judge about the position, and so are not able to seek and obtain the full facts if they are not disclosed by the judge of her own volition at the outset. In that regard, Mr McLarnon referred to Locabail (UK) Ltd v Bayfield Properties Ltd [2000] QB 451, CA, in which at p. 472A-B the court said “The proof of actual bias is very difficult, because the law does not countenance the questioning of a judge about extraneous influences affecting his mind; and the policy of the common law is to protect litigants who can discharge the lesser burden of showing a real danger of bias without requiring them to show that such bias actually exists.” Mr McLarnon further submitted that the inadequacy of the disclosure by the judge serves to reinforce his main ground of appeal, that she presented an objective appearance of bias.
  5. I do not agree with Mr McLarnon’s criticism of the extent of disclosure made by the judge. The disclosure required to be given is of the material facts, not every background detail: see Resolution Chemicals at [42]. The judge did disclose the material facts. Armed with this information, Mr McLarnon was fully equipped to make the relevant application. No further disclosure was required.
  6. Mr McLarnon submitted that the disclosure was inadequate because it did not reveal the subject matter of the litigation in which Mr Holland and the judge were instructed, so it was possible that the judge might have an interest in giving a ruling in the present case which might assist them in that other case. Additional disclosure should have been given to allay any such fears.
  7. This argument proves too much. I cannot accept it. The notional fair-minded and informed observer, knowing the professional standards applied by part time judges drawn from the legal profession, would understand that any deputy judge who found that she was being asked to try a case in relation to subject matter where there was a real risk that her ruling in the case (which would of course acquire a degree of authority as the ruling of a court) might have a bearing on the arguments to be advanced in other ongoing litigation in which she was involved as counsel, would immediately for that reason recuse herself. In such a case it would be clear that her interest as a barrister would conflict with her duty as a judge and, since that would be clear, it would be obvious that she could be expected to identify such a conflict and then act ethically and in accordance with her professional obligations by recusing herself. This would be so whether or not she happened to be instructed along with another counsel in the case, and whether or not that counsel was now appearing as counsel in the case in which she was to sit as a deputy judge. A part time judge does not have to reveal details of every ongoing piece of litigation in which she is professionally involved as counsel in order to allay suspicion whether any of them concern subject matter which overlaps with the case to be tried by her. On the contrary, the notional fair-minded and informed observer would not consider that there is any real risk that there is any such conflict of interest, since if there were the deputy judge could naturally be expected to identify the problem and recuse herself without more. The addition of the extra feature that the deputy judge might be leading other barristers in such other ongoing litigation does not change this analysis.
  8. I should also mention that the judge was bound by obligations of confidentiality owed to her client in the other case and was therefore not at liberty to go further than she did unless there was a strong public interest to do so. There was none, for the reasons I have given. To my mind, it is clear that she has behaved entirely correctly in giving the disclosure that she did.
  9. In fact, any residual concern the appellant might have had that the other litigation in which the judge was involved trespassed upon the subject area of the proceedings which she was to try could have been resolved very simply either by asking Mr Holland or by raising the matter with the judge herself. Mr McLarnon’s reference to the passage in Locabail at p. 19A-B, set out above, as precluding such an approach is misplaced. The point being made there is that a judge cannot be questioned about influences upon her with a view to making out a case of actual bias; but if a party has a reasonable request to make of a judge for relevant factual information in the context of an argument that an appearance of bias exists, in the absence of which the application cannot be made on the proper fully-informed basis which is required by the law, that passage does not prevent raising the difficulty with other counsel or the judge. This is not to encourage requests to judges to provide further information in relation to recusal applications: as I have emphasised above, a judge only has to provide relevant information which is material to the application and will in almost all cases have done just that. But there is no rule of law which prevents a party asking politely for more information if it exists and explaining why disclosure of it is required in order to enable the recusal application on grounds of appearance of bias to be advanced in a properly informed and effective way.
  10. I record here that we asked Mr Holland, through leading counsel, whether the subject matter of the other litigation in which he was instructed with the judge overlapped with the subject matter in the present proceedings and he confirmed it did not. No doubt the judge would have given the same confirmation had the point been raised with her. But for the reasons given above this was not information which she was required to state or volunteer.
  11. Under ground (ii), Mr McLarnon contends that the judge erred by reserving her reasons for refusing the recusal application until the end of the hearing. He submits that this left the appellant in the difficult position throughout the trial of believing that he had good grounds for objecting to the judge sitting in the case, knowing that she disagreed, but not knowing why: the appellant was subjected to a trial without any certainty that non-recusal on the part of the judge was justified. This again, Mr McLarnon says, reinforces the objective impression that the judge might be biased and might be behaving unfairly.
  12. I reject this submission. In my view it was correct in the circumstances for the judge to give her decision with reasons to follow later, so that the trial could proceed without further delay and to minimise the risk that it might have to run over, so adding to the cost. The test is not one of how the individual litigant might feel subjectively, but an objective one of how the notional fair-minded and informed observer would view matters. Such an observer would not think that this way of proceeding displayed any disposition of unfairness towards the appellant. It only gave rise to the appearance of a judge willing to make a sensible case management decision in accordance with the overriding objective set out in CPR Part 1. Proceeding in this way was in line with the approach adopted by this court in Resolution Chemicals, in which the court considered an appeal in which permission had been granted for an appeal against the judge’s refusal to recuse himself and then gave its ruling dismissing the appeal with reasons to follow, so that the trial could proceed straight away and before the court’s reasons were handed down: see [4]. There was no suggestion by this court in that case that this would create any difficulty in terms of appearance of bias, simply because the disappointed applicant would not know until after trial the reasons why its arguable appeal for recusal of the trial judge had been unsuccessful. I cannot see that any difficulty arises by reason of a court proceeding in this way.

The appeal had not succeeded. The Court of Appeal give their final summary here

 

 

  1. Finally I turn to ground (iii) and the main substance of the appellant’s case. I would dismiss the appeal for the following reasons, which essentially reflect the reasons given by the judge below:

    i) The notional fair-minded and informed observer would know about the professional standards applicable to practising members of the Bar and to barristers who serve as part-time deputy judges and would understand that those standards are part of a legal culture in which ethical behaviour is expected and high ethical standards are achieved, reinforced by fears of severe criticism by peers and potential disciplinary action if they are departed from: Taylor v Lawrence [2001] EWCA Civ 119, [33]-[36]; Taylor v Lawrence [2002] EWCA Civ 90; [2003] QB 528, [61]-[63]. These aspects of the legal culture of the Bench and legal professionals are not undermined by the fact that some litigation is now funded by means of CFAs;ii) The notional fair-minded and informed observer would understand that a part-time judge’s approach to the case she is trying and to her relationships with other professionals will be governed by these professional standards. There is no reason to think that a judge would allow her professional training and ethics to be overridden by a concern not to upset a junior counsel she is leading in other litigation. Moreover, the judge would know that the junior counsel would himself understand that she is bound by strict professional standards, and hence would have no expectation that she would do anything other than act in accordance with them. So the judge would not expect any disgruntlement or difficulty to arise in her relationship with the junior counsel even if she makes a decision adverse to him in the case she is trying. Accordingly, the idea that the judge would adjust her behaviour as judge to avoid upsetting the junior counsel is far-fetched indeed. The notional fair-minded and informed observer would not consider that there was any genuine possibility of this occurring;

    iii) There is a danger in cases of this kind of multiplying reference to authority in the hope of finding analogies on which to found arguments one way or the other, and we were presented with a plethora of authorities to address what is really quite a simple matter. However, it may be observed that a number of authorities indicate strongly that it could not be said that there is any objectionable connection between the judge and counsel for the respondent sister in this case. In The Gypsy Council v United Kingdom (2002) 35 EHRR CD 96 the European Court of Human Rights dismissed as manifestly ill-founded an argument that Article 6 (right to a fair trial) was infringed on grounds of appearance of bias where a part-time deputy judge in a case involving gypsies on one side and a public authority on the other was a barrister in practice (David Pannick QC) who had been instructed as counsel for the government in numerous cases before the Court of Human Rights involving gypsies, in which he had argued that public authorities had not infringed the rights of gypsies: p. 101. The deputy judge in that case remained in practice and might hope to be so instructed by the government again, but still it was clear that no appearance of bias arose. In Laker Airways Inc v FLS Aerospace Ltd [2000] 1 WLR 113, Rix J dismissed an application to remove an arbitrator on grounds that “circumstances exist that give rise to justifiable doubts as to his impartiality” (section 24 of the Arbitration Act 1996) where the arbitrator was a QC practising in the same chambers as counsel for one of the parties in the arbitration. It is true that the judge directed himself by reference to the then current standard for assessing an appearance of bias set out in R v Gough [1993] AC 646, which was adjusted in Porter v Magill to bring it into line with the test under Article 6, but I do not think that is significant for the analysis in the case. The position is underlined by Smith v Kvaerner Cementation Foundations Ltd [2006] EWCA Civ 242; [2007] 1 WLR 370. In that case, a personal injury claim was tried by a practising barrister and part-time judge sitting as a recorder, who was the head of the chambers to which both counsel for the claimant and counsel for the defendant belonged and who had also acted for the defendant or associated companies in the past and might do so in the future. This court rejected the suggestion that an appearance of bias arose by reason of the connection between the recorder and counsel through being members of the same chambers: [17]-[19]; it was only because the recorder regarded himself as having an on-going barrister-client relationship with the defendant that this court held he should have recused himself. Similarly, in Resolution Chemicals at [46] this court referred to the idea that the reasoning in Lawal “would preclude a judge from hearing a case in which his former pupil master or regular instructing solicitors were acting for one of the parties, or a deputy High Court judge from ever hearing a case in which a more senior member of his or her chambers was acting for one of the parties” as something which it regarded as obviously untenable;

    iv) As both the Taylor v Lawrence judgments and these other decisions indicate, relationships between members of the Bar, or between members of the Bar and their clients, can be much closer than that between the deputy judge and counsel for the respondent in the present case, yet because the relationships are mediated through known professional standards no appearance of bias arises.

    Conclusion

  2. For the reasons given above, I would dismiss this appeal.

 

 

The ISIS flag is apparently not a red flag

 

 

The President has published his judgment in one of the “are parents taking children to join up with ISIS?” cases

 

This one he has previously given judgment on, and ruled that at an interim stage the children should return home to parents with the parents wearing electronic tags. The mother, and two other adult relatives, were arrested when attempting to board a flight to Turkey with their four children.

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/07/30/syria-children-and-electronic-tagging/

 

This one is the fact finding hearing, as to what the mother’s motivation was.

Re X (Children) (No3) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/2358.html

 

First, let me recount the mother’s position at previous hearings  (underlining mine for emphasis)

 

  1. The mother’s case
  2. An order made by Peter Jackson J on 22 April 2015 recorded the mother’s position as follows:

    “The mother disputes that the threshold criteria is crossed. She says that she was intending to travel to Turkey with the children for the purposes of a legitimate family holiday. She says that although she understands why the Local Authority has intervened, her wish is for the children to be returned to her care as quickly as possible or for them to be placed with a member of their family. Once the children have settled in their current placement, she would also like to have increased contact with them so that this takes place more than twice per week.”

  3. The mother disputed the local authority’s case as set out in the original Scott Schedule. Her position, as encapsulated in her response to the local authority’s allegation in paragraph 69 (paragraph 78 in the final Scott Schedule), was that “I am a practising Muslim. I do not regard myself as a radical fundamentalist and have no links or contacts with ISIS militants.”
  4. The finding of fact hearing was at that stage listed to start before me on 29 June 2015. Shortly before, the mother’s counsel, Mr Karl Rowley QC, circulated a position statement on her behalf. This set out her position in relation to the findings sought by the local authority as being that:

    “she does not seek to oppose the making of a finding that she was intending to attempt to enter Syria and live in territory governed by the Islamic State. That is not to say that she accepts the truth of the allegations but she does not wish to resist the making of findings on the balance of probability. In these circumstances she does not require cross examination of the local authority witnesses and does not wish to give evidence herself.”

  5. That radical shift in her position gave rise to a certain amount of discussion in court when the hearing began on 29 June 2015. It was left that she would prepare and file a statement. The statement was circulated the next day, 30 June 2015. It represented another radical shift in her position. She acknowledged that she had not been fully open with the court and professionals. Her case now, in short, was (judgment, para 13) that:

    “she had travelled to Turkey to meet up again with, and possibly marry, a man” – I shall refer to him as H – “she had met in this country collecting money for Syrian refugees and whom she understood to be a doctor in Turkey. She denied any intention of travelling to Syria and said “I do not agree with or support or favour anything ISIS do … and have no wish to be involved with ISIS in any way.””

  6. That remains her stance.

 

 

The Local Authority therefore had to seek findings  [again, underlining mine for emphasis]

 

  1. The local authority’s case
  2. As I have mentioned, the final version of the Scott Schedule is dated 17 October 2015 and now runs to 80 numbered paragraphs. Much of this sets out the “agreed context”. Paragraphs 13, 16-20, 22, 24-27, 32, 34b, 36-37, 39-44, 46-48, 51-53, 55, 57-76 and 78-80 contained the findings sought by the local authority which were disputed by the mother. In his final submissions, Mr Simon Crabtree on behalf of the local authority made clear that it no longer sought findings in relation to paragraphs 13-18.
  3. The local authority’s case has seven strands, which can be summarised as follows. In support of its overarching case, the local authority relies upon what it asserts were:

    i) The mother’s acquaintanceship with various individuals who, it is alleged, had travelled via Turkey to Syria in 2014 to take up arms with ISIS militants (paragraphs 19-27).

    ii) Lies the mother told the children’s schools on 27 February 2015 about the reasons for their forthcoming absence from school (paragraphs 28-33).

    iii) The fact that when stopped at the airport on 2 March 2015 the mother gave a false address (paragraphs 36-37).

    iv) The fact that the family’s luggage, when searched at the airport, was found to contain a number of suspect items (paragraphs 39-48); as it is put (paragraph 39), “a large number of items[1] not normally associated with any family holiday.”[2] It is asserted (paragraph 48) that “There is a striking similarity between the items contained in the … luggage and a list of items a known ISIS operative asked a British recruit to bring to Syria with him (and in connection with the same the said recruit was found guilty of possessing items of use to terrorists).”

    v) The fact that, when her house was searched, the items found included (paragraphs 76-77) “ISIS flags” and ‘to do’ lists, written by the mother, “which indicated that the writer of the list was moving and not intending to return.”

    vi) The fact that the mother lied to the police when being asked the purpose of their trip (paragraphs 49-55). She described (paragraph 51) “a multi-faceted trip involving a combination of an adventure holiday, culture, sight-seeing and relaxation.”[3]

    vii) The fact that the mother’s most recent account, as I have summarised it in paragraph 10 above, is a lie (paragraphs 56-65).

  4. This last part of the local authority’s case is further elaborated as follows:

    i) It is said that she met no man in the circumstances she described or at all (paragraph 62). She has (paragraph 63) “manifestly failed to provide any tangible evidence as to his existence and cannot even produce a photograph of him, any contact details or even one of the electronic communications which she claims passed between them.” Furthermore (paragraph 64), “In so far as that man is not a point of contact she had in Turkey for another reason, he is a figment of her imagination.”

    ii) As a separate point, it is said (paragraph 59) that, if her account was true, “it would reveal a mother who was unable to place her children’s needs before her own and that she was prepared to sacrifice her children’s stability, all they knew and their relationship with their father so that she could fulfil her own desire for a relationship with a man she hardly knew.” Furthermore (paragraph 60), if it was true “the extent of her intended folly is revealed by the fact that this man has literally disappeared without trace and left the mother unsupported at a time she needed it most.”

    iii) It is alleged (paragraph 65) that “She has in essence, weaved this account around the notes secreted in the children’s underwear to try to explain away the manifest inherent improbabilities in her first version of events at the eleventh hour and in the face of a growing realisation that no Judge would on the totality of the evidence believe that first account.”

  5. The local authority’s case is summarised as follows (paragraphs 66-74):

    “The reality is, the mother, her own mother and her brother had no intentions of remaining in Turkey.

    They intended to travel with the children from Istanbul to the Turkish border with Syria.

    Once they crossed the border into Syria, they intended to join up with ISIS militants and to supply them with items of use to the group’s combative activities.

    In all probability, they also intended to meet up with those … who had already travelled … to Syria via Turkey.

    In essence, the mother’s plan was to take these children to a war zone.

    As such, she knowingly and intended to place the children at risk of significant harm.

    The sole purpose and intention was … to cross the border into Syria and take up arms with ISIS militants and/or live in the Islamic caliphate ISIS claims to have established in the region for the foreseeable future.

    [Neither] she nor [her brother] had any intention of returning to [her house].

    That is why she suddenly found the money to buy the above electronic equipment which with one exception she financed on credit in February 2015 and why [her brother] paid for the trip using a £12,000.00 loan.”

  6. In conclusion, the local authority asserts (paragraphs 78-80) that:

    “In short, the mother is a radical fundamentalist with links and contacts with ISIS militants and those who seek to recruit others to their cause.

    Although she is arguably entitled to have whatever view she chooses, she is not however entitled to place her children at risk of significant harm or even death in furtherance of such a cause.

    In furtherance of her aims and objectives, [she] is and was prepared so to do and to lie with impunity to conceal her real intentions and motives.”

 

Bearing in mind the two underlined passages, you may be surprised to learn that the President ruled that the threshold was not met, and the children are now living with mother under no statutory orders at all.

 

I have to say that mum’s counsel did a blinding job, but it is still a surprising outcome, on my reading.

 

What about the ISIS flag though?

Thirdly, he submits that the local authority has failed to show that the material recovered from the mother’s home was indicative of her holding such views or being sympathetic to ISIS. The flag is one that has been adopted by ISIS, but it contains the shahada and seal of the Prophet Mohammed, both of which, he says, are important symbols which all Muslims share. The local authority, he correctly points out, has failed to adduce any evidence to disprove the proposition that the flag predated the al-Baghdadi Caliphate, and the mother’s case that she received it from a bookshop some 12 years ago as a gift has not been seriously challenged.

 

[See, I’m NOT a Neo-Nazi, I’m just a collector of flags designed by dentists…]

 

Although the President was not satisfied with mother’s account, the burden of proof was on the LA and he was not satisfied that they had made out their allegations

 

  1. The first point to be made is that, on her own admission, she is, even if she cavilled at the appropriateness of the label, a liar. The contrast between her original case, as I have summarised it in paragraph 7 above, and her revised case, set out in paragraph 10 above is obvious. If elements of her first story have been carried forward into the second, the two are nonetheless so fundamentally different that one or other must be essentially untrue. This is not mere suggestio falsi et suppressio veri; it is simply the telling of untruths, in plain terms lying. The notes to the schools were, on any basis, and wherever the ultimate truth in relation to the trip may lie, false to the mother’s knowledge. Mr Rowley characterises them (paragraph 66) as “ill-advised”. I cannot, with respect, agree. They involved the deliberate uttering of falsehoods. I am also satisfied, and find as a fact, that the mother did indeed give a false address when questioned by DS SH. And the allegations she made in the witness-box against the police were, in my judgment, and I so find, utterly groundless. On matters of fact I accept the evidence of each of the police officers. I cannot accept Mr Rowley’s submissions on the point (paragraph 68).
  2. As we have seen, the mother put herself forward at the hearing as now being completely open, honest and frank. Was she? I am not satisfied that she was. I am unable to accept what she is now saying merely because she is saying it. Some of it may be true. About much of it I am very suspicious. Some of it may well be, in some cases probably is, untrue. But the fact that I am not satisfied that the mother was telling the truth, the fact that I am very suspicious, does not mean that I find everything she said to be a lie. And, as I have already explained, the fact, to the extent it is a fact, that the mother has in the past told, and is still telling, lies, does not of itself mean that the local authority has proved its case.
  3. Be all that as it may, the plain fact is that the mother has not, in the past, been frank and honest either with the local authority, the guardian or the court and I am not satisfied that she is being now.

 

 

 

….

 

 

  1. So where, at the end of the day, am I left? There are four key matters, in my judgment, which preponderate when everything is weighed in the balance, as it must be:

    i) The mother is a proven liar. The mother has not, in the past, been frank and honest either with the local authority, the guardian or the court and I not satisfied that she is being now.

    ii) H (if that is his true name) is someone known to the mother and who has some connection with Turkey. The mother has wholly failed to persuade me, however, either that she met H in the circumstances she describes, or that their relationship was as she asserts, or that the role (if any) he was to play in Turkey was as she says. I am unable to accept her as being either a reliable or indeed a truthful witness. The mother, in my judgment, has not proved her case in relation to H.

    iii) The mother is an observant Muslim, but the local authority has been unable to prove either that the materials found at her home have the significance which was suggested or, more generally, that she is a radical or extremist.

    iv) The luggage contained a significant number of items which cry out for explanation in circumstances where the only explanation proffered by the mother is tied to her story about H which, as I have already explained, I am unable to accept.

  2. It is for the local authority to prove its case. The fact that the mother has failed to persuade me of the truth of her case, in particular in relation to H, does not, as I have already explained, absolve the local authority of the requirement that it prove its case. And, for reasons I have explained and which Mr Rowley appropriately relied on, I must be careful to remember the Lucas point when I come to consider the inferences I can properly draw from the fact, to the extent I have found as a fact, that the mother has lied. The fact, to the extent it is a fact, that the mother has in the past told, and is still telling, lies, does not of itself mean that the local authority has proved its case.
  3. There are, as I have noted, many matters on which I am suspicious, but suspicion is not enough, nor is surmise, speculation or assertion. At the end of the day the question is whether in relation to each discrete part of its case, the local authority has established on a balance of probabilities, applying that concept with common sense, the proposition for which it contends.
  4. Standing back from all the detail, and all the arguments, there are, at the end of the day, two factors of particular importance and which, unhappily, point in opposite directions. The mother, for her part, has not proved her case in relation to H, with the consequence that the only explanation she has proffered for the presence of various significant items in her luggage falls away. The local authority, for its part, has not proved either that the materials found at her home have the significance which was suggested or, more generally, that she is a radical or extremist. Weighing these and all the other matters I have referred to in the balance, I am left suspicious of what the mother was really up to but I am unable to conclude that the local authority has proved any part of its case as set out in paragraphs 66-73 and 78-80 of the Scott Schedule.

 

 

It is very difficult to successfully appeal a finding of fact  (the Court of Appeal vacillate from time to time as to whether you even CAN – because technically you appeal an order, not a judgment. In this case, the President did make an order – because he made NO order on the care proceedings or Wardship application, so the LA can appeal that).  The Court of Appeal are very mindful that on a finding of fact hearing the Judge has the advantage of hearing all of the evidence and seeing the demeanour of the witnesses, so are reluctant to interfere.

 

Having said that, I’d appeal the hell out of this one.  The order (which one presumes would have the effect of removing the electronic tags) is stayed until 18th December (oh, today), so we will soon find out whether an appeal has been lodged.

 

 

There’s a lot in the judgment about the contents of the luggage – the President kindly sets out the matters in a footnote.  As indicated above, the President was not satisfied with either the mother’s account (of either a holiday, or that her new boyfirend H had wanted these things) or that the LA had proved that these matters amounted to evidence that mother intended to join up with ISIS

 

Note 1 Including, it is alleged, 9 battery powered or other powered torches, 4 hand-wound torches, 3 solar charger units or power-packs, 4 emergency blankets, 3 new and 2 used rucksacks, 5 mobile phones in excess of the 3 mobile phones chargers carried by the group as a whole, unused computer equipment comprising 6 machines (including 3 identical Samsung devices) and 5 chargers, 3 unused sim cards, 5 Multi-tools devices and power converters etc, what is described as “a large quantity of substantially if not entirely new size ‘large’ and ‘extra-large’ outdoor clothing including coats, waterproof bottoms, breathable t-shirts, gloves and so on”, what is described as “a large amount of medication and panty-liners and tampons”, and “telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and passwords … found on pieces of paper secreted in the children’s underwear in one of the suitcases.”

Note 2 It is further said (paragraph 42) that “By contrast, the luggage did not contain outdoor clothing of a sort which might have been associated with an adventure or camping holiday for (amongst others) 4 children”, (paragraph 43) that “Although there was a large quantity of large and extra-large outdoor clothing there was bar one piece, an absence of such clothing in sizes that would fit any of the children and in particular, X1”, and (paragraph 44) that “Those and most of the other supposedly camping equipment was or appears to be completely new.”

 

Cracking a case at IRH without father present – robust case management or jumping the gun?

 

This is a Court of Appeal decision

 

RE v North Yorkshire County Council and Others 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/1169.html

 

(Making me wonder if it is going to get shortened to “Re RE”)

It has an unfortunate typo in the very first line of the case report which will delight those like me with a childish mind – you really do need to be very careful with the spelling of the word “Public” in Public Law Outline.

 

Though this version has a certain aptness – in many parts of the country it doesn’t really exist at all, in some areas only a sliver of it can be observed,  everyone can agree that some pruning and trimming is wholly desirable, and nobody really pays it much attention until a bit gets stuck in your throat…

 

Anyway, the nuts and bolts of the case. The parties attended an Issue Resolution Hearing. The father was not in attendance – he was in prison and a production order was not sought.  [As a person in prison is not in a position to simply saunter out and wander down to Court of their own volition, what needs to happen is for their solicitor to apply to Court for a Production Order so that the prison staff know that the person is required in Court on that date and must be brought there. Without a Production order, the prisoner won’t be produced. With one, they will be produced two hours later than you asked for…]

 

The Court made a series of final orders

 

i) A Care Order in favour of the Local Authority, North Yorkshire County Council;

ii) Permission to the Local Authority, to refuse contact between the child (A) and his father (F) pursuant to section 34(4) of the Children Act 1989;

iii) Leave to the Local Authority to apply for a declaration removing responsibility to consult F in relation to A;

iv) A declaration that the Local Authority should be absolved from the statutory responsibility of consulting F in relation to A’s care and their obligation to involve him in the Looked After Children (LAC) consultation process;

v) A non-molestation order (granted until further order) prohibiting F from:

a) Contacting M, A or the maternal great grandmother (MGGM) either directly or indirectly or through any third party except through lawyers or through the Local Authority for the purpose of the letterbox contact;

b) Attending within 100 metres of any address where he knows M and A or MGGM are living;

c) Should F meet M in any public or private area he is ordered to leave immediately to a distance of at least 100m away.

A power of arrest was attached to the non-molestation order.

 

 

The father appealed the order, on the following grounds

 

  1. The Grounds of Appeal have been drafted in very general terms (even as amended) but the thematic basis, which embraces each of the orders set out above, is identified in Ground 1 of the Appellant’s Amended Grounds of Appeal:

    “The Judge was wrong to have made final orders at interim hearing which:

    1. Prevent a child from maintaining personal relations with a parent; and

    2. Prevent a child having a future determined by which both parents have played a part.”

    It is argued that at the IRH the Judge was not in a position to conduct the ‘holistic analysis’ of the available options that was required in order properly to do justice either to the interests of the child or the father. In particular, at Ground 3, which is really an amplification of the same point, it was contended:

    1. Before reaching the determination that it was necessary and proportionate to the identified risks, that ‘nothing else would do’ the Judge needed to be sure that all the evidence was before the Court. The Judge was wrong to have proceeded to make Final Orders at an interim hearing;

    i. Without the court bundle;

    ii. Without the father having had notice that the IRH might be dealt with as a final hearing;

    iii. Without the father having been produced from prison

    iv. Without having heard any evidence or allowed father the opportunity to properly challenge the evidence of the Social Worker and Children’s Guardian;

    v. Without some form of contact being tested, the father, having made requests for contact, photographs and for the Social Worker to visit him, had the father having never met A or received any update in respect of his developments except the redacted Care Plans when the child was nearly 5 months old.

    vi. Where despite a large number of concessions and acceptances by Father, enough for a court to consider the Threshold Criteria for making s.31 orders was crossed, the Threshold Criteria annexed to the order had only been agreed by the Mother and not by Father,

    vii. Without having proper evidence before the court as to the impact upon the child of having no contact with the paternal family.

  2. Further, the Declaratory Relief granted by the Judge is attacked on the separate ground that the Judge lacked a jurisdictional basis to grant such relief and accordingly exceeded the ambit of her lawful powers. No party now seeks to uphold these declarations recognising and conceding their lack of jurisdictional foundation. The Appellant however goes further and contends that ‘even had there been jurisdiction, it would have been wrong to make the orders’. Furthermore, it is asserted ‘the declarations were in breach of the F’s Article 6 rights and were unlawful.’

 

 

The Court of Appeal tackled the declaration first, and had no difficulty in saying that it ought not to have been made. Firstly, the Judge had not been sitting in the High Court or as a s9 Judge and had no jurisdiction for a declaration of that type,

 

As I have already foreshadowed, none of the advocates seek to salvage the declaration releasing the Local Authority from its obligation, pursuant to statute, to consult F in relation to A’s care and to involve him in the Looked After Children (LAC) consultation process. I propose therefore to address this point first. HHJ Finnerty was sitting as a Judge of the Family Court. Though she is an experienced Judge who sits regularly as a Deputy High Court Judge of the Family Division, she was not sitting in that capacity in this case on the day of the IRH. No application had been made for her to seek permission from her Family Division Liaison Judge or other Judge of the Division to sit as a Section 9 Judge of the High Court. It is plain that, through oversight, no thought was given to the jurisdictional basis of the declaration by either Counsel or the Judge. Such declarations are made pursuant to the inherent jurisdictional powers of the High Court, they have no other foundation. If this had been the sole difficulty here and had they been otherwise sustainable I would, for my part, have been prepared to investigate some pragmatic resolution, perhaps a speedy remission to the Judge inviting her to reconstitute herself in the High Court to authorise the declarations on a free standing application pursuant to the inherent jurisdiction. It may well be that there is no such solution. However, it is unnecessary for me to investigate further as I am of the clear view that the declarations are more generally flawed.

 

  1. There are sound reasons why declarations are required to be made under the Inherent Jurisdiction and commenced in the High Court. Frequently, as here, they involve authorisation of actions which fall outside statutory obligation or may, again as here, be directly contrary to it. Thus, these are invariably complex issues which require to be dealt with in the High Court. This is given effect to, unambiguously by Rule 12.36 (1) and PD 12D.
  2. In Re B [2013] EWCA Civ 964, the Court of Appeal considered whether there needs to be a formal transfer where the Circuit Judge is authorised to sit as a s.9 Judge. At para 7, Black LJ observed:

    Where a circuit judge is to sit as a High Court judge, it seems to me that this needs to be arranged deliberately, with the proceedings commenced in or transferred to the High Court. The mere fact that the judge who has heard the case happens to be authorised to sit as a High Court judge or to try Administrative Court cases might not redeem a failure to observe proper practice.’

  3. I note that Black LJ does not completely exclude some pragmatic resolution, limiting herself to the observation that the matter ‘might not’ be capable of being redeemed. Here, as I have stated, Counsel on behalf of the Respondents all agree that the declarations cannot be sustained for these jurisdictional reasons.

 

Secondly, that a declaration of that seriousness could not be made lightly and not on the sort of facts that this case presented

  1. Ms. Bazley submits the case law establishes that a Local Authority may only be absolved from its duty to consult and to provide information to a parent in ‘exceptional circumstances’. I agree.
  2. The duty, pursuant to s.26, is directory not mandatory. But, as Ms. Bazley submits, the result of non-compliance is treated as an irregularity: Re P (Children Act 1989, ss22 and 26: Local Authority Compliance) [2000] 2 FLR 910. Ms Bazley further directs this Court’s attention to Re C (Care: Consultation with Parent not in Child’s Best Interests) [2006] 2 FLR 787; [2005] EWHC 3390 (Fam). There Coleridge J granted a declaration to the effect that the Local Authority was absolved, in what were described as ‘exceptional circumstances’, from any obligation to consult the father. In that case the father was serving a lengthy sentence for raping the child, who did not wish the father to be informed or consulted at all in relation to her future. The child had applied, successfully, to discharge the father’s Parental Responsibility. The applications were decided on the basis of C’s best interests. The Court concluded that the father’s total disregard for C’s best interests in committing the offences, coupled with her consistently and strongly articulated wish that he be excluded from her life entirely, led to a clear conclusion that he should not participate in any discussions about her future welfare. Nonetheless even there, the court directed that he would be informed if the Local Authority intended to make significant changes to the Care Plan, such as applying for adoption. Coleridge J observed:

    “[30] The conclusions that I have come to are really these: the considerations which govern the dismissal of this father from further involvement in the proceedings, and the granting of the declarations seem to me to be the same. Indeed, there is little point in him remaining a party if he is not going to be given any information; indeed, it would be impractical for him to remain a party if he was not going to be given information.”

    [31] The second pivotal point, of course, is that this application is decided, first and foremost, on the basis of s 1 of the Children Act 1989 – that is to say, what is in S’s best interests. Of course, hers are not the only interests, but they are the ones which are of paramount concern to the court.

    [32] The third factor, self-evidently, is that it is a very exceptional case only which would attract this kind of relief. Self-evidently – and it hardly needs the human rights legislation to remind one – a parent is entitled to be fully involved, normally, in the decision-making process relating to his, or her, child, and if not to be involved, then at least informed about it. However, insofar as that engages the father’s rights to family life, then by the same token it engages S’s right to privacy and a family life.”

  3. The factual background, giving rise to this appeal, though undoubtedly very troubling does not, in my judgement, amount to ‘exceptional’. It is not difficult to contemplate strategies which enable the privacy and security of the placement to be protected by a far less draconian level of intervention. Accordingly, Ms. Bazley submits and I agree that: ‘even had it been lawful to make the declaration, the circumstances of this case were not so exceptional as to justify it being made‘.

 

 

The appeal was granted and the declaration set aside.

Next, the substantive part of the appeal – was it wrong for the Judge to have made final orders, particularly final orders which in effect ended the father’s relationship with the child when the father had not expressly agreed, had not attended Court (as a result of Production Orders not having been obtained) and had not had the opportunity then to oppose those final orders?

That may seem something of a no-brainer, but bear with me.  All advocates will need to be aware of particularly paragraph 49 and the duty that this places upon them

 

  1. The following uncontentious facts require highlighting:

    i) The Care Plan provided for mother and baby to remain together;

    ii) No Party opposed the plan;

    iii) It was agreed by all the parties that the question of A’s direct contact with F was not an issue for the final hearing, in consequence of F’s incarceration;

    iv) All agreed that a Care Order was the appropriate order;

    v) All agreed as to the extent to which F should be able to provide photographs / cards to A;

    vi) All Parties and the Judge were aware of the indeterminate Restraint Order passed by the Crown Court preventing F from having contact with M (and others);

    vii) F had not asked to be produced from custody at any stage in the case.

  2. It is axiomatic that this was precisely the kind of case that had every potential for resolution at the IRH. It was the professional duty of all concerned to ensure that it did. I regret to say that the profession fell short in that duty. The Judge had done everything she could. By contrast, the Advocates’ Meeting appears to have been formulaic and ineffective. It was plain that F wished to have photographs of his son. F’s solicitors had not obtained a Home Office Production Order to facilitate F’s attendance at Court. Accordingly, F’s counsel was not in a position to take instructions on last minute and important details. Ms. Bazley asserts that F repeatedly elected not to come to court because he considered his presence to be an impediment to the mother’s case. The obligation of his lawyers here was to ensure that F’s own case was not compromised by his non-attendance.
  3. It requires to be stated that Court Orders are there to be complied with, they are not aspirational targets. I strongly suspect that if the advocates’ meeting had absorbed the true objectives of the IRH, and F produced at court, this case would have resolved by agreement. Moreover, I have no doubt at all that had there been proper thought given to concluding the case, the advocates would, at the final meeting, have paid greater attention to the legal basis of the Local Authority’s application for a declaration.
  4. I agree with King LJ in Re S-W (supra) that a Final Order at a CMH will be appropriate only occasionally. However, the message must go out loudly and clearly that the Court will and must always consider the making of Final Orders at the IRH. It must be understood that it is the professional duty of the advocates and all the lawyers, in every case, to direct their attention to the obligation to achieve finality at the IRH wherever possible. It follows that the lay Parties are always required to attend. If a Party is in custody a Home Office Production Order should be obtained and, if necessary, at the instigation of the Judge.
  5. In granting permission to appeal Ryder LJ considered that this case raised an important issue. Though the Court of Appeal has considered these points before it has been in the context of Judges who have been too robust in concluding cases where evidence required to be tested. This case, for the reasons I have set out, is one of wholly different complexion. It provides an opportunity to signal the cultural shift brought about by the Family Justice Reforms and the particular responsibilities on all involved at the IRH.
  6. Though I regret to say it, where the Judge’s objectives (i.e. to facilitate the potential for resolution of the case) are thwarted by non-compliance with Case Management Orders then this may in future have to trigger the consideration of appropriate sanctions in costs. Such orders are counterintuitive in a court arena where much reliance is placed on cooperation and common endeavour. However, the Family Justice Reforms are not merely administrative; they are designed, as I have emphasised above, to reconnect the profession with a core welfare principle: the avoidance of delay.
  7. The approach of the first instance Judge has been entirely vindicated in this Court. The Parties have been asked to consider whether the key issues were capable of resolution given the very narrow ambit of dispute. It struck me that it would have been hugely disproportionate to adjourn them for hearing before a High Court Judge, as it was submitted the outcome should be.

 

In the event, the parties at the Appeal hearing were able to reach agreement on indirect contact and Christmas cards etc, so in part the appeal fell by the wayside. But putting that to one side, was the Judge wrong to have made final orders when father’s attendance had not been facilitated, or was this robust case management?  It seems from my reading that the Court of Appeal would have backed the trial Judge here (other than on the declaration) and the appeal if it had been on those grounds alone would have failed. The responsibility here was with the advocates for not ensuring that either father’s position was entirely in keeping with the orders sought or to obtain a Production Order so that negotiations / representations could have been dealt with at the IRH.

 

The Court of Appeal put down a marker here that advocates must always be alive to the possibility that the case may be concluded at IRH and turn their minds to the final orders.   [They didn’t actually expressly deal with some of the important issues in the appeal – to whit, whether this Judge had made such serious final orders without a Court bundle i.e reading all of the papers, and the threshold having been finally determined taking into account mother’s concessions but including within it matters that father disputed without the Court hearing evidence about the disputed matters and making findings]

 

 

 

 

 

Abuse by foster parents – can the Local Authority be sued?

 

Almost every case I write about is full of human tragedy and sadness, and this one particularly so. It involves a woman who when she was a child was placed in the care of foster parents, one presumes because it was decided that her own parents could not perform that task. That particular foster carer went on to physically and sexually abuse her. Dreadfully sad and unspeakably awful. I hope (but don’t know) that the foster carers have been convicted and punished.

The issue for this case was whether the woman could sue the Council who placed her there. They did not know of the abuse at the time, and there is no suggestion here that there was negligence on their part  (which would be either that the fostering checks hadn’t been carried out, or that they failed to make the visits and ongoing checks that were required by law at that time, or that they learned of the abuse and failed to act).  Councils can be sued for negligence, if any of those things were alleged and capable of being proven, but negligence is not the case pleaded here. The detail makes it plain that none of those failings were present.

 

Instead, it is something called “vicarious liability”, which in simple language means that an employer can be held legally responsible in some situations for things that its employees did. Vicarious liability can be a useful remedy where the organisation was not negligent, but where they have the necessary care and control over the employee’s actions. It is useful in particular because generally an employer (for example a Council) has more money (and insurance) than the wrong-doers themselves, who would not have the financial means to pay the compensation that the victim would really deserve.

So the fundamental question for the Court of Appeal here was “Can the Council be vicariously liable for criminal actions carried out by foster carers?”

 

NA v Nottingham County Council 2015   (It should be Nottinghamshire, but who am I to question the Court of Appeal?)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/1139.html

 

Unpleasantly, a lot of the law around vicarious liability involves the sexual abuse of children, with the lead case being one about the Catholic Child Welfare Service Various Claimants v Catholic Child Welfare Society and Others [2012] UKSC 56, [2013] 2 AC 1

 

“35. The relationship that gives rise to vicarious liability is in the vast majority of cases that of employer and employee under a contract of employment. The employer will be vicariously liable when the employee commits a tort in the course of his employment. There is no difficulty in identifying a number of policy reasons that usually make it fair, just and reasonable to impose vicarious liability on the employer when these criteria are satisfied: (i) the employer is more likely to have the means to compensate the victim than the employee and can be expected to have insured against that liability; (ii) the tort will have been committed as a result of activity being taken by the employee on behalf of the employer; (iii) the employee’s activity is likely to be part of the business activity of the employer; (iv) the employer, by employing the employee to carry on the activity will have created the risk of the tort committed by the employee; (v) the employee will, to a greater or lesser degree, have been under the control of the employer.”

 

In this case, the critical element was (v) whether the employee (the foster carers) to a greater or lesser degree was under the control of the employer (the Council)

 

The Court of Appeal ruled unanimously that there was no vicarious liability here

 

The provision of family life is not and by definition cannot be part of the activity of the local authority or of the enterprise upon which it is engaged. Family life is not capable of being so regarded, precisely because inherent in it is a complete absence of external control over the imposition or arrangement of day to day family routine, save insofar as is provided by the general law or by ordinary social conventions. The control retained by the local authority is at a higher or macro level. Micro management of the day to day family life of foster children, or of their foster parents in the manner in which they create the day to day family environment, would be inimical to that which fostering sets out to achieve, for the reasons expressed by McLachlin CJ at paragraph 24 of her judgment. The control retained by the local authority, over and above the proper selection of foster parents and adequate supervision of the placement which is here not in issue, is thus irrelevant to the risk of abuse occurring during the unregulated course of life in the foster home. In the Catholic Child Welfare case Lord Phillips described the relationship between the Brothers and the Institute as “closer than that of an employer and its employees.” The manner in which the Brother teachers were obliged to conduct themselves as teachers was dictated by the Institute’s rules. There is in my view not the remotest of analogies to be drawn between that situation and the relationship of local authority to foster parents.

 

 

and

 

For vicarious liability to exist, there would have to be (1) the necessary relationship between the foster parents and the local authority and (2) the requisite close connection between that relationship and the abuse that they committed (see paragraph 21of Lord Phillips’ judgment in Various Claimants v Catholic Church Welfare Society, supra, and also paragraph 88 where he proceeds to apply what he has distilled from the authorities in the preceding paragraphs). I do not consider that the relationship between the foster parents and the local authority was of the required nature. It was not, to my mind, sufficiently akin to employment. Although the significance of control in the relationship has changed over the years, it remains a relevant aspect of the assessment of whether there is vicarious liability. Certain aspects of the care of a child by foster parents are, and were at the relevant time, regulated and the local authority have a supervisory duty over the placement, which can be ended if they consider it appropriate. But the essence of the arrangement is, just as it was at the time with which we are concerned, that the child is placed with the foster parents to live with them as a member of their family. The child’s day to day life is in the charge of the foster parents, who are expected to give the child as normal an experience of family life as they can. The degree of independence that this gives the foster parents is not indicative, in my view, of a relationship giving rise to vicarious liability.

 

 

There was a second part of the claim which was that this was a “non-delegable duty”  – i.e that it was the Council’s job to provide a child whom they are looking after with a safe home and they could not delegate that duty to the foster carers. This is a much more technical argument, and beyond the scope of this blog to explore in detail, but the Court of Appeal ruled that there was not such a duty here. That possible remedy arises largely from a case called  Woodland v Swimming Teachers Association and others [2013] UKSC 66 [2014] AC 537, decided in the Supreme Court and setting out five ingredients.

The Court of Appeal did not think that this case met all of those Woodland ingredients, and were also cautious about viewing the Woodland ingredients in isolation.

 

 

  • I do not propose to take my discussion of this point any further because it seems to me that consideration of the five features set out in Lord Sumption’s paragraph 23 should not be undertaken in a limbo. This is because the question of liability for non-delegable duty has got to be approached having very much in mind what he said at paragraph 25 of the Woodland case:

 

“The courts should be sensitive about imposing unreasonable financial burdens on those providing critical public services. A non-delegable duty of care should be imputed to schools only so far as it would be fair, just and reasonable to do so.”

Lord Sumption explained why he considered that no unreasonable burden would be imposed in that case. In this case, however, I am of the view that to impose a non-delegable duty on a local authority would be unreasonably burdensome and, in fact, contrary to the interests of the many children for whom they have to care.

 

  • I therefore find myself in agreement with Males J’s conclusion about this aspect of the case. I take into account the desirability of providing a remedy of substance for someone in the Appellant’s position. Nothing that I say here should be taken as suggesting that I am anything other than deeply conscious of the dreadful treatment she has suffered and sympathetic to the lasting impact that it must have had upon her. However, there are powerful reasons against the imposition of liability in circumstances such as the present ones.
  • It is a fundamental principle of social work practice that children are best placed in a family environment. If they cannot live with their parents, the majority of children are therefore likely to benefit most from a foster placement. Careful screening of prospective foster parents, training, supervision of the foster family, proper checks and balances in relation to the foster parents’ practice, and regular contact between social services and the child all play their part in ensuring that the child is safe with the foster parents. If, through the duty that it places upon the local authority, the law of negligence improves the chances of these safeguards being rigorously maintained, it is a very good thing. But, as this case demonstrates, even proper care on the part of the local authority cannot always prevent harm coming to the child from the foster parents. It seems to me that the imposition of liability for the actions of the foster parents by means of a non-delegable duty, operating in the absence of negligence on the part of the local authority, would be likely to provoke the channelling of even more of the local authorities’ scarce resources into attempting to ensure that nothing went wrong and, if such were possible, into insuring against potential liability (see paragraph 201 of Males J’s judgment). Particularly influential in my thinking is the fear that it would also lead to defensive practice in relation to the placement of children. Local authorities would inevitably become more cautious about taking the risk of placing children with foster parents and may possibly place some children who would otherwise have had the benefit of a foster home in local authority run homes instead, simply in order that the local authority can exert greater control over their day to day care. Males J dealt with this at paragraph 204 of his judgment. It was referred to also in the Canadian case of KLB v British Columbia [2001] SCR 404, in the context of vicarious liability, at paragraph 26.
  • The imposition of liability on the local authority might also give rise to another undesirable consequence for children. Important amongst the ways in which, under the statutes of the time, the local authority could discharge its duty to provide accommodation for the child was by allowing the child to live with a parent or relative (see section 21(2) of the Child Care Act 1980). If the local authority had a non-delegable duty towards a child in their care under a care order, making them liable for abusive actions on the part of a foster parent, there seems little principled basis for saying that they would not also be liable for such actions on the part of a parent with whom the child had been placed in this way. That sort of strict liability might well, it seems to me, affect the willingness of the local authority to take what would otherwise be seen as the manageable risk of allowing the child to live at home, thus reducing the chance of reuniting the child with his or her own family where that would, in fact, benefit the child. That is the point made by Males J at paragraph 206.
  • To these points, I would add that it is material, when considering a possible non-delegable duty rather than liability in negligence, to remember that the local authority has the powers and duties of a parent. I raised earlier my uncertainty as to what the precise implications of this are in the context of non-delegable duty. However, whatever they may be, I think it appropriate to bear in mind that a parent would not have a strict liability for harm caused by someone to whom he or she had entrusted the child’s care, for instance a nanny or, to take Burnett LJ’s examples, friends or relations. If the local authority’s powers and duties under statute are those of a parent, and where it is day to day care by a third party that is under consideration rather than strategic and management decisions on the part of the local authority, it is difficult to see why the local authority’s liability should be more onerous than a parent’s.
  • I acknowledge that although I am quite clear in my conclusion that the judge was right that the imposition of a non-delegable duty would not be fair, just and reasonable, I have not expressed firm views about the precise nature of the duty that should be considered to be at the heart of the non-delegable duty argument or about all of the five indicia of non-delegable duty. As Baroness Hale observed at paragraph 28 of the Woodland case, the common law is a dynamic instrument, but caution is needed in developing it. The law in relation to non-delegable duties is still evolving, as the Woodland case itself showed, and it seems to me preferable that I should only determine those matters which are essential to the determination of the appeal which, for the reasons that I hope appear from the preceding paragraphs, I would dismiss.

 

 

 

It does seem awful that this woman has no legal remedy for the awful things that were done to her – assuming that Criminal Injuries Compensation is not open to her (it may not be, due to the passage of time).  Nothing in this case affects a Local Authority’s liability under negligence – i.e if they had known of the abuse and failed to stop it, or it had been a foreseeable risk that they had failed to prevent through carelessness.

 

There are some hints in this judgment that it might go up to the Supreme Court – as it is largely interpretation of two distinct and recent Supreme Court authorities, that seems a distinct possibility.

Court of Appeal – section 20 abuse

 

There have been several reported cases about Local Authorities misusing section 20 now, to obtain “voluntary accommodation” of children in foster care where the ‘voluntary’ element doesn’t seem all that voluntary, and therefore it was only a matter of time before the Court of Appeal fell upon such a case and made an example of it.

 

Here it is:-

 

Re N (Children: Adoption : Jurisdiction) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/1112.html

 

As you can see from the title, it is also a case about adoption and the jurisdiction to make adoption orders about children who are born to foreign parents or who live overseas by the time the order is made.  I would really want more time to ponder those parts of the judgment before writing it up.

 

This particular sentence from Aitkens LJ is probably worthy of a piece on its own – raising the issue of ‘limping adoption orders’

 

There is one further comment I wish to make. Both the President and Black LJ have emphasised that when an English court is considering making a placement order or adoption order in respect of a foreign national child, it must consider, as part of the “welfare” exercise under section 1(4) of the 2002 Act, the possibility of the result being a “limping” adoption order. By that they mean an adoption order which, although fully effective in this country, might be ineffective in other countries that the child and his adopters may wish or need to visit. There is a danger that natural parent(s) (or perhaps other parties) who oppose the adoption, will attempt to turn this factor into a major forensic battle by engaging foreign lawyers to give opinions on the effectiveness (or lack of it) of an English adoption order in other countries, in particular the state of the nationality of the natural parent(s). Those legal opinions might then be challenged and there is the danger of that issue becoming expensive and time consuming “satellite litigation”. I hope that this can be avoided by a robust application of the Family Procedure Rules relating to expert opinions.

 

So, focussing just on the section 20 issues  (If you want the background to what section 20 is, what drift is and why it is a problem, I’ll point you towards my most recent piece on it  http://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/10/21/fast-and-the-furious-tunbridge-wells-drift/)

 

This is what the Court of Appeal had to say  (and this is one of those judgments that the President has cascaded down – which is a posh way of saying “sent by email to all Courts saying that they must read it and follow it”)

 

  1. Other matters: section 20 of the 1989 Act
  2. The first relates to the use by the local authority – in my judgment the misuse by the local authority – of the procedure under section 20 of the 1989 Act. As we have seen, the children were placed in accordance with section 20 in May 2013, yet it was not until January 2014, over eight months later, that the local authority eventually issued care proceedings. Section 20 may, in an appropriate case, have a proper role to play as a short-term measure pending the commencement of care proceedings, but the use of section 20 as a prelude to care proceedings for a period as long as here is wholly unacceptable. It is, in my judgment, and I use the phrase advisedly and deliberately, a misuse by the local authority of its statutory powers.
  3. As I said in Re A (A Child), Darlington Borough Council v M [2015] EWFC 11, para 100:

    “There is, I fear, far too much misuse and abuse of section 20 and this can no longer be tolerated.”

    I drew attention there, and I draw attention again, to the extremely critical comments of the Court of Appeal in Re W (Children) [2014] EWCA Civ 1065, as also to the decision of Keehan J in Northamptonshire County Council v AS and Ors [2015] EWHC 199 (Fam). As Keehan J pointed out in the latter case (para 37), the accommodation of a child under a section 20 agreement deprives the child of the benefit of having an independent children’s guardian to represent and safeguard his interests and deprives the court of the ability to control the planning for the child and prevent or reduce unnecessary and avoidable delay. In that case the local authority ended up having to pay substantial damages.

  4. Then there was the decision of Cobb J in Newcastle City Council v WM and ors [2015] EWFC 42. He described the local authority (paras 46, 49) as having acted unlawfully and in dereliction of its duty. We had occasion to return to the problem very recently in Re CB (A Child) [2015] EWCA Civ 888, para 86, a case involving the London Borough of Merton. Even more recent is the searing judgment of Sir Robert Francis QC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge in the Queen’s Bench Division in Williams and anor v London Borough of Hackney [2015] EWHC 2629 (QB), another case in which the local authority had to pay damages.
  5. Moreover, there has in recent months been a litany of judgments in which experienced judges of the Family Court have had occasion to condemn local authorities, often in necessarily strong, on occasions withering, language, for misuse, and in some cases plain abuse, of section 20: see, for example, Re P (A Child: Use of S.20 CA 1989) [2014] EWFC 775, a case involving the London Borough of Redbridge, Re N (Children) [2015] EWFC 37, a case involving South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council, Medway Council v A and ors (Learning Disability: Foster Placement) [2015] EWFC B66, Gloucestershire County Council v M and C [2015] EWFC B147, Gloucestershire County Council v S [2015] EWFC B149, Re AS (Unlawful Removal of a Child) [2015] EWFC B150, a case where damages were awarded against the London Borough of Brent, and Medway Council v M and T (By Her Children’s Guardian) [2015] EWFC B164, another case where substantial damages were awarded against a local authority. I need not yet further lengthen this judgment with an analysis of this melancholy litany but, if I may say so, Directors of Social Services and Local Authority Heads of Legal Services might be well advised to study all these cases, and all the other cases I have mentioned on the point, with a view to considering whether their authority’s current practices and procedures are satisfactory.
  6. The misuse of section 20 in a case, like this, with an international element, is particularly serious. I have already drawn attention (paragraphs 50-51 above) to the consequences of the delay in this case. In Leicester City Council v S & Ors [2014] EWHC 1575 (Fam), a Hungarian child born in this country on 26 March 2013 was accommodated by the local authority under section 20 on 12 April 2013 but the care proceedings were not commenced until 10 October 2013. Moylan J was extremely critical of the local authority. I have already set out (paragraph 115 above) his observations on the wider picture.
  7. What the recent case-law illustrates to an alarming degree are four separate problems, all too often seen in combination.
  8. The first relates to the failure of the local authority to obtain informed consent from the parent(s) at the outset. A local authority cannot use its powers under section 20 if a parent “objects”: see section 20(7). So where, as here, the child’s parent is known and in contact with the local authority, the local authority requires the consent of the parent. We dealt with the point in Re W (Children) [2014] EWCA Civ 1065, para 34:

    “as Hedley J put it in Coventry City Council v C, B, CA and CH [2012] EWHC 2190 (Fam), [2013] 2 FLR 987, para 27, the use of section 20 “must not be compulsion in disguise”. And any such agreement requires genuine consent, not mere “submission in the face of asserted State authority”: R (G) v Nottingham City Council and Nottingham University Hospital [2008] EWHC 400 (Admin), [2008] 1 FLR 1668, para 61, and Coventry City Council v C, B, CA and CH [2012] EWHC 2190 (Fam), [2013] 2 FLR 987, para 44.”

  9. In this connection local authorities and their employees must heed the guidance set out by Hedley J in Coventry City Council v C, B, CA and CH [2012] EWHC 2190 (Fam), [2013] 2 FLR 987, para 46:

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

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

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

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

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

    (a) Does the parent fully understand the consequences of giving such a consent?

    (b) Does the parent fully appreciate the range of choice available and the consequences of refusal as well as giving consent?

    (c) Is the parent in possession of all the facts and issues material to the giving of consent?

    (vi) If not satisfied that the answers to (a)–(c) above are all ‘yes’, no further attempt should be made to obtain consent on that occasion and advice should be sought as above and the social work team should further consider taking legal advice if thought necessary.

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

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

    (a) What is the current physical and psychological state of the parent?

    (b) If they have a solicitor, have they been encouraged to seek legal advice and/or advice from family or friends?

    (c) Is it necessary for the safety of the child for her to be removed at this time?

    (d) Would it be fairer in this case for this matter to be the subject of a court order rather than an agreement?

    (ix) If having done all this and, if necessary, having taken further advice (as above and including where necessary legal advice), the social worker then considers that a fully informed consent has been received from a capacitous mother in circumstances where removal is necessary and proportionate, consent may be acted upon.

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

  10. I add that in cases where the parent is not fluent in English it is vital to ensure that the parent has a proper understanding of what precisely they are being asked to agree to.
  11. The second problem relates to the form in which the consent of the parent(s) is recorded. There is, in law, no requirement for the agreement to be in or evidenced by writing: R (G) v Nottingham City Council and Nottingham University Hospital [2008] EWHC 400 (Admin), [2008] 1 FLR 1668, para 53. But a prudent local authority will surely always wish to ensure that an alleged parental consent in such a case is properly recorded in writing and evidenced by the parent’s signature.
  12. A feature of recent cases has been the serious deficiencies apparent in the drafting of too many section 20 agreements. In Re W (Children) [2014] EWCA Civ 1065, we expressed some pungent observations about the form of an agreement which in places was barely literate. Tomlinson LJ (para 41) described the agreement as “almost comical in the manner in which it apparently proclaims that it has been entered into under something approaching duress.” In Williams and anor v London Borough of Hackney [2015] EWHC 2629 (QB), the Deputy Judge was exceedingly critical (para 65) both of the terms of the agreement and of the circumstances in which the parents’ ‘consent’ had been obtained. There had, he said, been “compulsion in disguise” and “such agreement or acquiescence as took place was not fairly obtained.”
  13. The third problem relates to the fact that, far too often, the arrangements under section 20 are allowed to continue for far too long. This needs no elaboration.
  14. This is related to the fourth problem, the seeming reluctance of local authorities to return the child to the parent(s) immediately upon a withdrawal of parental consent. It is important for local authorities to recognise that, as section 20(8) of the 1989 Act provides:

    “Any person who has parental responsibility for a child may at any time remove the child from accommodation provided by or on behalf of the local authority under this section.”

    This means what it says. A local authority which fails to permit a parent to remove a child in circumstances within section 20(8) acts unlawfully, exposes itself to proceedings at the suit of the parent and may even be guilty of a criminal offence. A parent in that position could bring a claim against the local authority for judicial review or, indeed, seek an immediate writ of habeas corpus against the local authority. I should add that I am exceedingly sceptical as to whether a parent can lawfully contract out of section 20(8) in advance, as by agreeing with the local authority to give a specified period of notice before exercising their section 20(8) right.

  15. It follows, in my judgment, that for the future good practice requires the following, in addition to proper compliance with the guidance given by Hedley J which I have set out above: i) Wherever possible the agreement of a parent to the accommodation of their child under section 20 should be properly recorded in writing and evidenced by the parent’s signature.

    ii) The written document should be clear and precise as to its terms, drafted in simple and straight-forward language that the particular parent can readily understand.

    iii) The written document should spell out, following the language of section 20(8), that the parent can “remove the child” from the local authority accommodation “at any time”.

    iv) The written document should not seek to impose any fetters on the exercise of the parent’s right under section 20(8).

    v) Where the parent is not fluent in English, the written document should be translated into the parent’s own language and the parent should sign the foreign language text, adding, in the parent’s language, words to the effect that ‘I have read this document and I agree to its terms.’

  16. The misuse and abuse of section 20 in this context is not just a matter of bad practice. It is wrong; it is a denial of the fundamental rights of both the parent and the child; it will no longer be tolerated; and it must stop. Judges will and must be alert to the problem and pro-active in putting an end to it. From now on, local authorities which use section 20 as a prelude to care proceedings for lengthy periods or which fail to follow the good practice I have identified, can expect to be subjected to probing questioning by the court. If the answers are not satisfactory, the local authority can expect stringent criticism and possible exposure to successful claims for damages.

 

The marker is down then.  Any LA facing a challenge about misuse of section 20 is on notice that damages may follow, and certainly where the misuse begins after today’s judgment one would expect damages to play a part.

 

The President also tackles here something which has been on my mind for a month. The practice by which agreement is reached that an Interim Care Order is not needed, because the parent agrees (either in a section 20 written agreement) or in a preamble in the Court order that they “agree to section 20 accommodation and agree not to remove without giving seven days notice”   – that is a fairly common compromise which avoids the need for an ICO or to have a fight in Court about the child’s legal status where it is agreed by the parents that the child should stay in foster care whilst assessments are carried out.

 

As the President says here

 

para 169

 I should add that I am exceedingly sceptical as to whether a parent can lawfully contract out of section 20(8) in advance, as by agreeing with the local authority to give a specified period of notice before exercising their section 20(8) right.

 

and here

para 170

iv) The written document should not seek to impose any fetters on the exercise of the parent’s right under section 20(8)

 

I don’t think that this is legally permissable any longer. (The Court of Appeal could, of course, have said explicitly that such a fetter can only be made where the parent agrees after having had independent legal advice, but they didn’t)

That means that Courts up and down the country are going to be faced with arguments as to whether the right thing for a child is to make an Interim Care Order, OR to rely on a section 20 agreement that could be withdrawn at any time  (including the obvious nightmare scenarios of “twenty minutes after we leave Court” or “at five to five on a Friday night” or “at 5pm on Christmas Eve).

 

The other thrust of the President’s comments on section 20 (8) objections are that as a result, surely even a delay in return of the child to place the matter before the Court for an EPO hearing is going to be a breach unless the parents themselves agree to that course of action.  That in turn raises the spectre of an increase in children being taken into Police Protection, since a forseeable outcome of this case is:-

 

(A) Parent says at 4.55pm on Friday “I want little Johnny home now, I object to section 20”

(B) LA are in breach of the Act and may be committing a criminal offence if that child is not on his way home by 4.56pm

(C) Courts aren’t likely to be able to hear an EPO application on one minutes notice

(D) The police remove under Police Protection instead

 

  [I seriously don’t recommend that as an option as a result of the many cases which batter social workers and police officers for misuse of Police Protection, but I do wonder whether the current case law on Police Protection really works after Re N  – those cases making it plain that it should be the Court decision not a police decision only work if there is time to place the matter before the Court.  BUT until one of them is challenged and the law on Police Protection changes, almost any removal under Police Protection can be scrutinised and perhap[s condemned.  And of course the alternative to THAT, is that more and more cases will instead find their way into care proceedings.  I think that the decisions on Police Protection and section 20 are right, but if we have learned nothing else since the Family Justice Review it should be that fixing one problem often has substantial unintended consequences and causes another problem elsewhere]

 

So, LA lawyers up and down the country, get hold of the current section 20 agreement, and rewrite it to comply with this judgment.

Court proceedings were a shambles

 

I would agree with the Court of Appeal’s summing up here.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/992.html

In the case of Re K-L (Children) 2015, the Court of Appeal had to unpick an appeal centred around a judgment of Her Honour Judge Lyon after a finding of fact hearing in care proceedings. There were a raft of allegations to determine, and centrally, some of them involved findings that the father had sexually abused a child.

However a Judge determines those findings, it is vital that everyone knows exactly what was and wasn’t decided.

At the end of the finding of fact proceedings on 23rd April 2015, which had overrun somewhat, the Judge was more than a little exasperated

  1. At 4.40 pm, the judge returned to court and delivered a short judgment. Paragraph 1 of the judge’s judgment was as follows:

    “I am not to be held to anything I now say which is why I have deliberately not given it to you and I am saying it has yet to be perfected because I have not had enough time. Unfortunately your colleagues massively underestimated how much time they needed on their case, which I ended up taking in, and of course we have the police as well so I have not had a full run at this at all today so my apologies. However, as I say what I am going to do is just give a rough indication of what I am doing and how I have set things out in the judgment.”

  2. The judge then recounted what had happened in the course of the trial. In the last four paragraphs of the judgment, the judge set out her conclusions as follows:

    “10. The court heard the next day from the mother, TL, who became very upset as she recalled her discussion with both T and P as to what had happened to them. Then finally the court heard from Mr LE. The court is finding in accordance with the submissions made on behalf of the Local Authority and counsel for the mother, who united in their submissions, with the Local Authority adopting those of the mother. Therefore I am basically going with the submissions made on behalf of the Local Authority and the mother and supported to a considerable degree by the submissions made on behalf of the guardian so I have reproduced all of those. I have also reproduced the submissions made on behalf of Mr E by Mr Heaney but I am finding against him essentially with regard to the abuse of the children.

    11. The issues are set out very clearly in the various submissions and as I say the court is accepting those of the Local Authority supporting the mother and that is the purport of your submissions, was it not, Miss Mallon?

    [Miss Mallon: Yes]

    12. Miss Mallon, in relation to the mother, however, you did raise issues about whether the mother had acted appropriately and so in accordance with the findings sought, and I am just having to leaf back to those, I am finding points 3, 4 and 5 of your findings sought which will be between pages 1 and 2 of the document, I am finding those to be made out again on the basis of the evidence that we heard. Again I am going to have to craft this appropriately to indicate what I am finding there but the First Respondent, TL, failed to protect the children from sustaining physical harm at the hands of LE; that she failed to seek medical attention for P and for T after they had sustained physical harm at the hands of LE and finally that she repeatedly failed to protect the children from witnessing, whether through hearing or seeing, domestic violence. Are you with me, Miss Mallon?

    [Miss Mallon: Yes]

    13. Therefore to indicate again very clearly as far as the schedule of findings sought I am finding that the third respondent, LE, sexually abused T as exemplified by his doing rudies, namely inappropriately touching T’s penis, masturbating the child T, putting curry up his bottom. Also finding that the third respondent, LE, physically abused the children, PL and TK, as exemplified by kicking T on the leg, attempting to strangle T — and so the court does not accept the “play” explanation offered by the father — and punching P on the back which, as was submitted, was a very serious injury to inflict on a child of P’s age with all the attendant concerns that would have arisen.”

 

Whether or not those findings were right, it is absolutely and totally clear that the Judge had made findings that father had sexually abused the child as alleged, and had physically abused the child including strangling him on one occasion.

It was therefore something of a shock to everyone when the judgment itself was circulated on 8th May 2015 and set out that those findings were NOT proved in relation to sexual abuse, but were proved in relation to the physical abuse allegations.

 

Understandably, the parties sought clarification from the Judge

 

What the judge said in judgment 3 was this:

“I did go into court without any papers in front of me and stated that I agreed with the case put forward by the local authority with which, in very large part, I did except, one being “except in relation to the allegation of sexual abuse”. I did not make this clear, as essentially this was an ‘off the cuff indication’ and I did not make things clear at all, so it did appear as though I was making findings agreeing with each of the allegations made in the Schedule, whereas whilst I was agreeing with all the other findings sought as to physical and emotional abuse I did not agree with the finding of sexual abuse and I have now set the reasons for this out which given the difficulties we had over the ABE Interviews of T, is perhaps more to have been expected and I can only apologise fully for the rushed way in which I handled things on the final day of the hearing and thus stated my finding as to these sexual abuse allegations wrong.”

The legal issues for the case are :- can a Judge change his or her mind about a judgment, and when does that power end?  And was the Judge wrong in changing her mind in this particular case?

As long-term readers may recall, this issue has come up before. And the Supreme Court resolved it.

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/02/21/if-you-change-your-mind-im-the-first-in-line/

A Judge CAN change their mind about a judgment even after delivering it even after the order arising frtom the judgment is sealed, but they must provide reasons for doing so.

  1. The Supreme Court held that justice might require the revisiting of a decision for no more reason that the judge had had a carefully considered change of mind, since every case could depend upon the particular circumstances. The Supreme Court held that the power of the judge to change his or her mind had to be exercised judicially and not capriciously.
  2. The leading judgment was given by Lady Hale. At paragraph 30, Lady Hale said this:

    “As the court pointed out in Re Harrison’s Share Under a Settlement [1955] Ch 260, 284, the discretion must be exercised “judicially and not capriciously”. This may entail offering the parties the opportunity of addressing the judge on whether she should or should not change her decision. The longer the interval between the two decisions the more likely it is that it would not be fair to do otherwise. In this particular case, however, there had been the usual mass of documentary material, the long drawn-out process of hearing the oral evidence, and very full written submissions after the evidence was completed. It is difficult to see what any further submissions could have done, other than to re-iterate what had already been said.”

  3. Lady Hale went on to discuss what would be the position if the order made by the judge after the preliminary judgment had been sealed. Lady Hale held that that would have made no difference. The judge would still have been entitled to have a change of mind if there was good reason to do so.
  4. At paragraph 46, Lady Hale said this:

    As Peter Gibson LJ pointed out in Robinson v Fernsby [2004] WTLR 257, para 120, judicial tergiversation is not to be encouraged. On the other hand, it takes courage and intellectual honesty to admit one’s mistakes. The best safeguard against having to do so is a fully and properly reasoned judgment in the first place. A properly reasoned judgment in this case would have addressed the matters raised in counsel’s email of the 16 December 2011. It would have identified the opportunities of each parent to inflict each of the injuries by reference to the medical evidence about the nature, manner of infliction and timing of those injuries and to the parents’ and other evidence about their movements during the relevant periods. It would have addressed the credibility of the evidence given by each parent, having regard in this case to the problems presented by the mother’s mental illness. Had she done this, the judge might well have been able to explain why it was that she concluded that it was the father who had more than once snapped under the tension. But she did not do so, and it is a fair inference that it was the task of properly responding to the questions raised by counsel for the father which caused her to reconsider her decision.”

In passing, I’ll remark that “tergiversation” is not a word that I’ve ever enountered in polite conversation, and I’d even be slightly surprised if it cropped up in an email from long-time reader Martin Downs who does occasionally seek to expand my vocabulary.

It has two meanings :-

1. Evasion of straightforward action or clear cut statement

2. Desertion of a cause, position, party or faith

 

As luck would have it, both apply here. Keen-eyed readers will have spotted that Her Honour Judge Lyon was not claiming here that having thought further about her judgment, she had reconsidered her position and changed her views, she was just flatly denying that she’d ever found that father HAD perpetrated the sexual abuse.

So it was a bit different to the Supreme Court case, in which the Judge freely admitted that having decided X she later came to the conclusion that Y was the only proper decision to make. This was more an Orwellian “we have always been at war with Eurasia”

 

So, was Judge Lyon right in the assertion made in the third judgment?

  1. What the judge said in judgment 3 was this:

    “I did go into court without any papers in front of me and stated that I agreed with the case put forward by the local authority with which, in very large part, I did except, one being “except in relation to the allegation of sexual abuse”. I did not make this clear, as essentially this was an ‘off the cuff indication’ and I did not make things clear at all, so it did appear as though I was making findings agreeing with each of the allegations made in the Schedule, whereas whilst I was agreeing with all the other findings sought as to physical and emotional abuse I did not agree with the finding of sexual abuse and I have now set the reasons for this out which given the difficulties we had over the ABE Interviews of T, is perhaps more to have been expected and I can only apologise fully for the rushed way in which I handled things on the final day of the hearing and thus stated my finding as to these sexual abuse allegations wrong.”

  2. That explanation simply does not stand up to examination. Paragraphs 10 and 13 of judgment 1 cannot possibly be explained away as a mere slip of the tongue or misstatement on the part of the judge. It was simply not the case that the judge was saying one thing and meaning another.
  3. At paragraph 13 of judgment 1, the judge said:

    “Therefore to indicate again very clearly as far as the schedule of findings sought I am finding that the third respondent, [the father], sexually abused T as exemplified by his doing rudies, namely inappropriately touching T’s penis, masturbating the child T, putting curry up his bottom.”

  4. The judge was clearly saying what she meant and clearly stating what her findings then were. Therefore, as I say, the explanation for the changed decision given in judgment 3 does not stand up to scrutiny.

 

Given that the Judge HAD changed her position, the failure to provide a compelling explanation of what led to that was obviously going to fall short of the high test of the Supreme Court to change a judgment in a safe way.

 

  1. In my view, the history of this case is such that no one can have any confidence in the judge’s findings contained in judgment 3.
  2. In my view, the three judgments and the April order must be set aside. The case must be remitted to be reheard on all issues at the Liverpool Family Court.
  3. Finally, I must say this. The proceedings in the court below were a shambles. That is not the fault of any counsel in the case, nor is it the fault of the deputy judge. It is the four children at the centre of this case who suffer as a result of what has happened. Also, both the mother and the father have suffered much needless stress as a result of the course that this case has taken.
  4. On top of that, huge expense has been incurred, which no doubt will be borne by the public purse, as a result of matters which have gone wrong in this case.
  5. If my Lords agree, the judgments of this court will be referred to the President of the Family Division, so that he can consider whether any steps need to be taken to prevent such a situation arising again.

 

 

The case therefore will have to be re-heard.

Ryder LJ agreed, whilst defending that this was clearly out of character for Liverpool  Family Court.  [hmmm. There have been some decidedly peculiar appeals coming out of Liverpool in 2015 though]. And of course adds that there should never have been a finding of fact hearing in this case anyway…

 

  1. My Lord Jackson LJ describes a profoundly worrying sequence of events from the perspective of parties to children proceedings, including the children themselves.
  2. I am persuaded that the judge did not make a mistake on 23 April 2015. She clearly intended to make findings of sexual abuse against the father. Thereafter, she changed her mind, but did not accept that she had done so and has, as a consequence, not reasoned that change of mind.
  3. She misremembered what she had said on 23 April 2015 and subsequently recollected only an accidental use of language. That is sadly not an accurate memory, with the consequences described by my Lord, Jackson LJ.
  4. This is not, in my judgment, a circumstance described by the Supreme Court in Re: L. That is where the change of mind can stand. In this case the change of mind was not made judicially.
  5. I say in parentheses that this was a public law children’s application and I can see no basis for a split hearing upon the facts.
  6. Be that as it may, I am very concerned about the other aspects of the judge’s conduct of the determination described by my Lord, not least because it should be understood that this is not the way family proceedings are normally conducted before the Family Court in Liverpool, a matter impressed upon us by all counsel.
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