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Tag Archives: article 6

IS v Director of Legal Services 2015

Many other people will be writing about this case, but I’ll just give the bit for the family lawyers and Court of Protection lawyers (since it touches on capacity cases). Really important for the battles that have been fought since LASPO to say that it is being interpreted by the Legal Aid Agency in a way that, as Mostyn J put it

 

“sacrifices individual justice on the altar of public debt”

 

[which is approvingly cited in the case. Hell yeah]

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2015/1965.html

 

This is of course, the case about whether the Legal Aid Agency were properly using their discretion on granting public funding for cases where to represent yourself would put you in a position where your human rights would be breached, i.e section 10 LASPO. The LAA lost. They intend to appeal.

 

The really important bit for family law cases is paragraph 40

 

 

It is difficult to imagine a family case, particularly when there are contested issues about children, in which there would not be an interference with the Article 8 rights of either parent or the children themselves. Thus unless the party seeking legal aid could albeit unrepresented present his or her case effectively and without obvious unfairness, a grant of legal aid would be required. That does not mean that every case will require it: some may be sufficiently simple for the unrepresented party to deal with. Obviously if there is a lack of capacity even such cases may require legal aid. That issue I will have to consider in further detail later. But I am bound to say that I believe that only in rare cases, subject to means and merits if properly applied, should legal aid be denied in such cases. As it is now applied, the scheme is clearly wholly deficient in that it does not enable the family courts to be satisfied that they can do justice and give a fair hearing to an unrepresented party. While the problem may perhaps be less acute in other civil cases, I have no doubt that the difficulties I have referred to in family cases apply.

 

You can’t really have a much clearer message than that to say that the low rate of s10 LASPO public funding applications being granted, and the tests and guidance being applied by the LAA are wrong. Scandalously wrong.

 

Paragraph 80 also good  – that the process of making an application is made unnecessarily difficult, and this, combined with the poor success rate has had the obvious effect of discouraging such applications from being made.

 

The main problem lies in the forms which are prescribed. They are far too complicated and are not at all helpful to lay persons. Providers have difficulties with them and the small level of grant has unquestionably, on the evidence which has not shown to be erroneous, led to the unwillingness of providers to take on clients who need to apply for ECF. The scheme is not properly providing the safety net which s.10 is supposed to provide. It is to be noted that it was anticipated that some 5,000 to 7,000 applications would be made in a year. The actual rate was a fraction of that. The defendants say that the figures they relied on were only estimates for planning purposes. In a letter of 20 August 2013 the MoJ stated that the figures were based on the number of grants estimated in the LASPO consultation exercise, namely 3,700. It is significant that the scheme has not produced anything like that number of grants, let alone applications. Furthermore, as the OS has indicated and a number of applications dealt with in the statements confirm, the hurdle erected for those who lack capacity is far too high. Those who are unable to pay for legal assistance are suffering in a way that Parliament cannot have intended.

 

 

And final flurry of killer blows

  1. As will become apparent, I think that there must be changes to the scheme. The ECF application forms are far too complex for applicants in person. Separate forms should be provided. Indeed, overall the test set out in R(G) can be set out in the form and applicants or providers can then be required to give full details of the need for legal assistance by producing all existing material relevant to the application. As I indicated, what is put on the website can surely be put on a form. Consideration must be given to provision of Legal Help to enable providers to do work to see whether a client has a case which should be granted legal assistance because it qualifies within s.10 of the Act. No doubt the LAA will be entitled to decide whether any such application is reasonable since a provider must satisfy himself that there is a possible need for legal assistance on the basis of preliminary information given by the client and any relevant documents provided. Legal Help does not require a prospect of success test.
  2. The rigidity of the merits test and the manner in which it is applied are in my judgment wholly unsatisfactory. They are not reasonable.
  3. As will be clear, I am satisfied that the scheme as operated is not providing the safety net promised by Ministers and is not in accordance with s.10 in that it does not ensure that applicants’ human rights are not breached or are not likely to be breached. There is a further defect in the failure to have any right of appeal to a judicial body where an individual who lacks capacity will otherwise be unable to access a court or tribunal.

 

 

I don’t know about you, but I find  something shameful about a Ministry of Justice being condemned by a Court for their part in devising a scheme that deprived individuals of justice in order to assauge public debt. And similarly something shameful that a body whose job it is to ensure that people have access to legal representation and advice going out of their way to prevent them getting it.

But then, these are bodies who in their response to the criticisms laid against them by the Justice Select Committee of Parliament with comments like  “The Court did not rule that our policy was wholly unlawful” as though that was something that a Ministry of Justice should actually boast about.

 

Which reminds me rather of Steve Coogan’s pool attendant from the Day Today

 

 

Court of Appeal say no judicial power to order Court to pay for legal costs

 

Very grateful to Noel Arnold of Coram Legal Child’s Centre for alerting me to this.  You may be aware that post LASPO, there will be parents who will have to represent themselves in court proceedings who would previously have got free legal representation.

The Courts have been concerned for some time about cases in which it would seem to be a breach of article 6 to make a parent represent themselves, and particularly where that would involve a parent cross-examining a child or their former partner about abuse.  The provision in LASPO SHOULD capture those cases and grant exceptional funding where there’s a potential breach of human rights, but in practice it just isn’t happening.

The President has done a few of these cases and pushed the Legal Aid Agency to the brink, by saying that if they didn’t provide funding, he would order that the costs of legal representation should be paid by the Court. Up until now, the Legal Aid Agency have folded (but only in the cases before the President, which is not ideal)

Well now, in Re K-H (children) 2015, they didn’t fold, the Court made an order that a lawyer be provided and paid for by the Court service. The Lord Chancellor appealed it. And the Court of Appeal agreed that there was NO POWER to do that.

 

That leaves us all in a mess. The only thing that the Court can really do now is give a judgment that it would be a breach of article 6 to proceed – but where does that leave the case?  Can the Court make a decision that the Court itself has breached father’s article 6 rights and make an order that the Court pay compensation?  (allowing the money to then be used by the father to pay a lawyer?)   Almost certainly not.

I can’t get the link to the judgment to work at present to chew over the detail, but here is the Children’s Legal Centre summary.

 

http://www.childrenslegalcentre.com/index.php?page=judgment_in_court_of_appeal_case_in_which_cclc_intervened

 

Ignorance of the procedure is no excuse

 

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

Re D (Children) 2015

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

There ought to have been a three stage process here

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

2. Should they have permission to appeal

3. Determination of the appeal

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

No broad presumption in favour of a natural parent

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  3. In her conclusion Baroness Hale said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The LASPO safety net is a fig leaf

Oh, you’re going to like this one.

This decision from Mostyn J is quite involved, but significant. Even if you aren’t that interested in the very peculiar mechanics, what he had to say about LASPO (see title of the piece) is striking.

 

MG and JG v JF 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/564.html

 

To make it less alphabet soup, I’ll give people names (these are NOT their real names, I’ve made them up)

Jean Grey and Marie Grey were lesbian partners. They wanted to have a child and advertised for a man to provide gametes to make this happen. Jim Francis agreed to do this.

 

The child is born, and named John Fitzgerald Grey.

Jim Francis was having quite a lot of contact with little John, once or twice a month. This all changed when Marie Grey became pregnant with a second child (that donor thankfully isn’t involved in this case), and Marie and Jean stopped Jim’s contact.

 

Jim makes an application to court for contact. Jean and Marie learn that post LASPO they don’t qualify for legal aid. Jim on the other hand has some means and can pay privately.  [He could not be described as being wealthy – it is more comfortably middle class. His property is valued at £1.2 million and he earns £67,000 per year. Sufficient to pay his own legal fees – though probably not without a degree of wincing when he writes the cheques, but we are not in big money divorce territory here]

 

At some point, someone comes up with a cunning wheeze. An application can be made under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 for some of Jim’s capital to be released to the child, and those funds can be used to pay for Marie and Jean’s legal costs.

That sort of thing isn’t that unusual in big money divorce cases where one person holds all of the assets – the Court order that they release some of the disputed funds to the other party to cover their legal costs and when the money is all divvied up at the end, that can be taken into account.

 

But this is a contact application – there isn’t going to be a share out of money at the end.  And as we know, the law in children cases is that each side pays their own costs, unless one party has behaved terribly badly. No suggestion of that here.

So this is in a sense, an application that Jim Francis uses his own money to pay for the other side to fight his application, even though he has done nothing wrong.  Unusual.

 

Firstly then, why shouldn’t Marie and Jean represent themselves, as envisaged by LASPO?

In this case it is my firm view that it is impossible for MG and JG to be expected to represent themselves having regard to the factual and legal issues at large. There would be a gross inequality of arms, and arguably a violation of their rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 47 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. So even though it cannot be said that JF has behaved reprehensibly or unreasonably he is the only realistic source of costs funding, subject to whatever contribution MG and JG should make from their own very limited resources. Some may say (and have said) that this is grossly unjust; I myself refrain from comment.

 

[I’m not quite sure it is accurate that Mostyn J refrains from comment. He doesn’t make direct comment, but I think the next section gives you a pretty clear idea of his thinking]

 

We add to the complexity that Jean and MArie split up with a degree of acrimony, and that the case also involved disputed about whether the child should be vaccinated.

Mostyn J is scathing here about the changes and the lack of foresight in seeing that cases are inevitably going to emerge where a lack of legal aid causes huge difficulties and unfairness.  This is a breathtaking and masterful dissection of the disaster that LASPO has been for individuals.

 

  1. With very few changes the government’s proposals were enacted in LASPO. A safety net was included by section 10(3)(b) which gave the Director of the Legal Aid Agency the discretion to award legal aid where “it is appropriate to do so, in the particular circumstances of the case, having regard to any risk that failure to do so would be …a breach [of Convention or EU rights].” As the President explained in Q v Q (No. 2) [2014] EWFC 31 at paras 6 – 8 the Lord Chancellor issued guidance concerning section 10(3)(b) which stated that it should be confined to “rare” cases which are of the “highest priority”. But this guidance has been quashed as legally defective by Collins J in Gudanaviciene & Ors v Director of Legal Aid Casework & Anor [2014] EWHC 1840 (Admin). That decision is under appeal.
  2. As the President explained in Q v Q the number of annual cases where the safety net has been applied can be counted on the fingers of two hands. In the year to March 2014 there were 9. Indeed between December 2013 and March 2014 one solitary case was caught by the safety net. The President stated at para 14 “if the scheme is indeed working effectively, then it might be thought that the scheme is inadequate, for the proper demand is surely at a level very significantly greater than 8 or 9 cases a year.” Thus it would be perfectly reasonable to describe this “safety net” as a fig leaf. MG and JG have not applied for exceptional funding under section 10(3)(b), no doubt taking the realistic view that any such application would be rejected summarily.
  3. Since the reforms have taken effect there have been an appreciable number of cases which have demonstrated that the blithe assumption in the consultation paper (that the parties’ emotional involvement in the case will not necessarily mean that they are unable to present it themselves, and that there is no reason to believe that such cases will be routinely legally complex) is unfounded. This was entirely predictable. The cases are Kinderis v Kineriene [2013] EWHC 4139 (Fam) (18 December 2013, Holman J); Re B (a child) (private law fact finding – unrepresented father) [2014] EWHC 700 (Fam) (27 January 2014, Judge Wildblood QC); Q v Q [2014] EWFC 7 (21 May 2014, the President); Q v Q (No. 2) [2014] EWFC 31 (6 August 2014, the President); Re H [2014] EWFC B127 (14 August 2014, Judge Hallam); Re D (A Child) [2014] EWFC 39 (31 October 2014, the President); CD v ED [2014] EWFC B153 (14 November 2014, Judge Hudson); Re D (A Child) (No. 2) [2015] EWFC 2 (7 January 2015, the President); and Re K & H (Children: Unrepresented Father: Cross-Examination of Child) [2015] EWFC 1 (5 January 2015, Judge Bellamy). This is a formidable catalogue. Each case focussed on the gross unfairness meted out to a parent in private law proceedings by the denial of legal aid. I do not think it would be right to say that these were examples of the operation of the law of unintended consequences since, as I say, the problems were so entirely predictable.
  4. Also of relevance is JG v The Lord Chancellor & Ors [2014] EWCA Civ 656 (21 May 2014) where the Court of Appeal held that the refusal of the (then) Legal Services Commission (LSC) to meet the cost of an expert report was unlawful. A district judge had ordered that the legally aided child, who was a party to the proceedings, should pay for that report. The order recorded that “the cost of the report to be funded by the child, the court considering it to be a reasonable and necessary disbursement to be incurred under the terms of her public funding certificate.” In the face of a dogged refusal to comply with this order by the LSC the district judge later ordered that:

    “The cost[s] of the expert to be funded by the child the court considering them to be a reasonable and necessary disbursement under her certificate and the purpose of the report is solely to establish what arrangements are in her best interests. Furthermore, the court has carried out a means assessment of both parents and found that they are unable to afford any part of these fees. In reaching this conclusion the court considered the provisions of section 22(4) of the Access to Justice Act 1999.”

    Notwithstanding this ruling the Legal Aid Agency (as the LSC had become) persisted in its refusal, and judicial review proceedings had to be commenced. The Legal Aid Agency actually succeeded at first instance but in the Court of Appeal, despite elaborate and trenchant argument by it and by the Lord Chancellor, who had intervened, its decision to refuse to comply with the order and to fund the report was held to be unlawful.

  5. In Lindner v Rawlins [2015] EWCA Civ 61 the Court of Appeal heard an appeal by an unrepresented husband against a refusal to order police disclosure in defended divorce proceedings. The wife was neither present nor represented. Aikens LJ observed that the appeal was technical and unusual and that the husband could not be expected to have mastered this area of the law in order to be able to present his appeal in a way that assisted the court. He bemoaned the lack of the legal assistance of counsel that the court should have.
  6. I need only cite a few of the judicial observations. In Kinderis v Kineriene Holman J described the position in which the unrepresented mother in Hague proceedings found herself as follows:

    “The present procedure operates in a way which is unjust, contrary to the welfare of particularly vulnerable children at a time of great upheaval in their lives, incompatible with the obligations of this state under Article 11(3) of the [B2R] regulation, and ultimately counter-productive in that it merely wastes taxpayers’ funds”

    In Re H Judge Hallam was dealing with an unrepresented mother with speech, hearing and learning difficulties. An official of the Legal Aid Agency stated that there would be no breach of convention rights were she to remain unfunded. Judge Hallam stated “I find that statement astounding”. In Re D the unrepresented father, who lacked capacity, had made an application to revoke a care order; the local authority had applied for a placement (for adoption) order. After heavy pressure from the President some legal aid was eventually awarded. At para 31(vi) of his first judgment the President stated:

    “Thus far the State has simply washed its hands of the problem, leaving the solution to the problem which the State itself has created – for the State has brought the proceedings but declined all responsibility for ensuring that the parents are able to participate effectively in the proceedings it has brought – to the goodwill, the charity, of the legal profession. This is, it might be thought, both unprincipled and unconscionable. Why should the State leave it to private individuals to ensure that the State is not in breach of the State’s – the United Kingdom’s – obligations under the Convention?”

    At para 21 of his second judgment he stated that “the parents can be forgiven for thinking that they are trapped in a system which is neither compassionate nor even humane.”

  7. In Lindner v Rawlins at para 34 Aikens LJ stated:

    “Yet again, the court was without any legal assistance and had to spend time researching the law for itself then attempting to apply it to the relevant facts in order to arrive at the correct legal answer. To do the latter exercise meant that the court itself had to trawl through a large amount of documents in the file. All this involves an expensive use of judicial time, which is in short supply as it is. Money may have been saved from the legal aid funds, but an equal amount of expense, if not more, has been incurred in terms of the costs of judges’ and court time. The result is that there is, in fact, no economy at all. Worse, this way of dealing with cases runs the risk that a correct result will not be reached because the court does not have the legal assistance of counsel that it should have and the court has no other legal assistance available to it.”

  8. These are powerful criticisms. The President suggested that if the Legal Aid Agency would not award legal aid to an unrepresented parent facing serious allegations then the court might have to do so from its own budget. In Re K & H that was the course proposed. The Lord Chancellor instructed leading counsel who bravely argued that the President’s analysis of the existence of this power was “plainly wrong”. Judge Bellamy disagreed and awarded representation from the court budget. The Lord Chancellor is appealing that decision. It can safely be assumed that the criticisms I have recounted have fallen on deaf ears. Based on the decisions I have cited, including no fewer than four from the President himself, it can be said that in the field of private children law the principle of individual justice has had to be sacrificed on the altar of the public debt. And based on the observation of Aikens LJ, it can reasonably be predicted that the phenomenon of the massive increase in self-representation will give rise to the serious risk of the court reaching incorrect, and therefore unjust, decisions.

 

Just in case you missed it, yes, that was a High Court judge saying that in private family law, the principle of individual justice has been sacrificed on the altar of public debt. And that LASPO is likely to lead to incorrect and unjust decisions.

That noise you can hear just to your leftmy applause echoing.

So, with legal aid not being available, and it being unfair for Jean and Marie to act in person, that was really only leaving Jim Francis as a source of funding.

How much money were we looking at?

  1. Decision
  2. In my judgment JF should pay 80% of each of the claims of MG and JG. Therefore he will pay MG £12,202 and JG £8,394. In addition he will pay 80% of all future professional costs in respect of therapeutic work and MG and JG will each pay 10% of such costs.
  3. Thus MG will have to find £3,050 and JG £2,098 and they will each have to find 10% of the future costs of therapeutic work. In my judgment they cannot reasonably or realistically be expected to find more. By contrast, I am satisfied that JF can find, without undue hardship, the share with which I have shouldered him.
  4. It could be said that it is grossly unfair that JF should have to pay now £20,596 plus 80% of the future therapeutic costs up to the IRH. But that is where the government has left him. It is a sorry state of affairs.
  5. This leaves the costs of expert evidence which will come into being between now and the IRH. The consent order provides for the educational psychologist to answer further questions and for the psychologist to file an addendum report. In my judgment these should be paid for by JFG and in my opinion such fees are a reasonable charge on his legal aid certificate, for the following reasons.
  6. In JG v The Lord Chancellor & Ors Black LJ explained at para 92 that when read with FPR rule 25.12(4)(a) (which provides that the court may give directions about the expert’s fees and expenses) rule 25.12(6) (which provides that provides that unless the court directs otherwise, the relevant parties are jointly and severally liable for the payment of the expert’s fees and expenses) is not intended to be prescriptive and merely establishes a default position for financial responsibility for the expert in the event that the court does not direct otherwise. She stated: “I do not see it as setting up a ‘normal rule’ that the cost is to be apportioned equally.”
  7. She further explained at para 93 that in order not to fall foul of section 22(4) of the Access to Justice Act 1999 that:

    “It is necessary to ask what order the court would make in its discretion on the particular facts of that case, leaving aside any resources problems. The answer may not uncommonly be an order for equal apportionment of the costs but that cannot be assumed. It may be that a full consideration of the circumstances of the case produces the result that the publicly funded party should be paying a greater share of the costs in any event, quite irrespective of any financial difficulties that the other parties may have in sharing the cost of the expert. In such circumstances, section 22(4) does not prevent the court from making an order accordingly, because the order is in no way affected by the fact of public funding.”

  8. I do not think that the imaginary scenario that I have to address assumes that everyone is of means. Rather, it assumes the facts as they are with the sole exception that the child is not legally aided but is funded from another source, such as his own means or the means of a relative of substance. Were that the position I would have no hesitation in making an order that JFG bear the costs of these further reports given that MG and JG do not, on my findings, have the means to do so, and given the burdens that I have already imposed on JF. Further, and in any event, it is just and reasonable that JFG bears these costs whether or not he is legally aided because at the end of the day these fees are being incurred primarily for his benefit.

 

 

And again, you read that right, that is a High Court Judge making a decision and saying that some could describe that decision as being grossly unfair but that this is the position that the Government have put this man in.

I partially wondered whether Mostyn J made this decision with a view to it being appealed and having the Court of Appeal rule that it would instead be right for the public authority (the Court) to fund the costs – at the moment, we only have the President’s hints that this is a route and His Honour Judge Bellamy doing it.  A Court of Appeal authority would be much more powerful. I’m not so sure though – an appeal (particularly paying the other sides costs) would run to more than this sum of money, and I think it is unlikely that Jim Francis would be tempted into appealing.

It is, as Mostyn J has said, a sorry state of affairs.

 

It makes uncomfortable reading for donors, or in fact any party in private law proceedings who is earning that sort of money (£67,000 is a lot, but it is not the riches of Croesus; it could easily bite on people who would much rather not spend half of their gross annual income on one court case)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Child giving evidence

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Re R (children) 2015

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

 

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

Judicial appointment is not a licence to be gratuitously rude

 

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

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

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

 

and

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

 

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

 

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

Re A (Children) 2015

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

and

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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