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Reporting Restriction Order – Swansea

 

The decision in Swansea v XZ and Another 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/212.html

It is rather strange, in this week where all judgments by Circuit Judges or above relating to children are to be published online following the President’s guidance, to also see a Reporting Restriction Order case; although the order makes a great deal of sense in the particular circumstances of the case.

In this one, a mother from the Swansea area faced criminal charges relating to the murder of one child and the wounding of another. The mother pleaded guilty to the criminal charges in November 2013.  The alleged offences happened in 2006 and 2007, although the criminal charges were brought many years later.

This was touched on by the Court here

On 27th September 2011, the police finally applied for disclosure of the case papers. I note that this was already nearly three years after the finding of fact hearing before Wood J. The case came before Charles J on 1st November 2011. Even at that stage, he said that there was, as far as he could see, “no reasonable justification” for the delay in applying which appeared to be “inexcusable.”

Between 2007 and the present day, care proceedings took place on the second child and subsequent children those proceedings seem to have taken place over many years, with what seems like several different sets of proceedings,  finally ending in 2013 with the family court deciding that all of the surviving children could live with their parents.  [The precise chain of where they had all been living in the interim is not easy to follow, but it seems that it had mostly been with either both parents, or the father alone]

I should make it clear that the Mother’s care of the children that were staying with her has, since the institution of the proceedings, been, at all times, exemplary. The children very much wanted to be with their Mother and it was in their best interests to be with her provided she was mentally well and it was safe for them. By 11th March 2013, it was clear that, despite the criminal charges, her mental health had not deteriorated. I therefore directed that those children should return to live with her on 19th March.

 

The Local Authority applied in this case for a Reporting Restriction Order to prevent the mother’s name being published – in the usual course of events, there would be nothing to prevent the Press publishing the outcome of the criminal trial (which is certainly newsworthy) and naming the mother – even though that would indirectly identify the children. Hence, the Local Authority applied for the order. (It was not intended to keep the care proceedings secret, but prevent the children from being identified as being the children of a woman who killed a baby)

 

    1. The Local Authority case is that permitting the media to report the identity of the Mother will cause very significant harm to the children. First, it is said that, for reasons I cannot explain fully in this public judgment, anyone in the locality reading a media report naming her would instantly know which family it was.

 

 

    1. It is then said that there are a number of features of this case that could well result in real danger and harm to these children. In particular, it is argued that this case involves a significant number of features that have, rightly or wrongly, caused great contention of late in this country. These stem from the family background details and that very serious harm was done to two babies; and the Mother has cared for those children notwithstanding what has happened.

 

 

    1. It is said that, as a result, the family would be at high risk of being targeted within their community by threats and reprisals if they were identified. It is argued that reprisals might be both physical against them and against their homes. There would be a real risk of serious bullying at school. I am told that the effect on the children is potentially devastating.

 

 

  1. Significant evidence has been put before me as to the risk that the children will suffer significant harm
    1. The evidence that has been placed before me comes into exactly this category. It is from a very experienced social worker, Carol Jones, who is well aware of local conditions. I also have evidence from the Guardian (albeit that she has only relatively recently been appointed in this case) and from the consultant psychiatrist, Dr D.

 

 

    1. Carol Jones says that, for reasons explained in her evidence, the family are easily identifiable. She is concerned that the community may, wrongly, feel that the family has been treated differently because of their background. She tells me that something similar happened to another family in the locality where there was a conviction for child murder. She adds that, if there is no custodial sentence, that may itself fuel resentment.

 

    1. She goes on to say that, if the application for the Reporting Restriction Order fails, the Local Authority has decided that it will have to remove the family immediately to a completely new area of the country and give them new identities. This, of itself, shows how very seriously this matter is viewed. If this happens, the children will lose the stability that has been painstakingly acquired since the tragic events of 2006 and 2007. They will also lose the consistency and security of their schools that have provided them with significant stability, notwithstanding the difficulties faced by the family. They will lose friendship groups. I accept everything that Ms Jones writes.

 

    1. The Guardian, Joanne Bamford, says that she is particularly concerned about one of the children, who is well aware of what has happened. That child has found the stress of the last few months increasingly intolerable and is exhibiting signs of anger and frustration. Ms Bamford considers exposure will have a particularly devastating impact upon that child who uses Facebook and will be exposed to what is written about the family. The child may well be bullied and threatened. There is concern as to the child’s mental health and even the possibility of self-harm or even attempted suicide. I accept all this evidence as well.

 

 

  1. As noted above, the Local Authority has prepared a Safety Plan that involves immediate relocation out of the Swansea area even before the reaction of the public is tested, so serious are the concerns. In my view, the effect of all this on the children will be nothing short of devastating. In due course, they will all know that one of their siblings has died and that another sibling was seriously injured. These events happened as a result of the actions of their Mother, who they love so much. None of this was in any way their responsibility yet they are the ones who would now suffer the most. They would have to move home and school. They would lose their friends and all that is familiar to them. They would have to change their identities. Moreover, in all likelihood, they would suffer significant vilification and abuse. Once this is all clear, it becomes immediately clear why this is such an exceptional case.

 

 

This case is a good illustration that there’s a tension between public policy and interest that people who commit crimes should be identified and their crimes reported and the privacy of children who have done nothing wrong but might face serious detriment or harm if the local community linked them to the mother who committed these crimes. It is that tension, otherwise expressed as article 10 (freedom of expression) v article 8 (right to private life) that the Court had to wrestle with.

The law as it relates to this particular case

 

    1. I have already said that, very responsibly, having considered all the evidence, the media organisations represented before me accept that this is one of those very few wholly exceptional cases in which anonymity is justified not just for the children but also for the Mother (and Father) because identifying the parents will lead to identification of the children.

 

 

    1. I agree with that assessment. I am solely concerned in this regard with the effect on the children, not the effect on their Mother but the evidence points inexorably to serious harm being done to the children if their identity was to become known. The fact that the Local Authority considers, rightly in my view, that it would have to uproot them immediately from the area where the children have lived for many years, if I was to refuse to make the Reporting Restriction Order, is clear evidence of the serious damage such exposure will do.

 

 

    1. I am, however; equally clear that I must permit reporting of anything that does not lead to the identification of the children. I must therefore assess what is likely to lead to their identification and what can safely be put in the public domain without leading to their identification. I accept the submission of the Local Authority and the parents, with which the media organisations do not dissent, that, in dealing with this area, I must consider “the jigsaw effect“. In other words, I must remember that there may be an individual piece of evidence that itself may not lead to identification but that is likely to do so if combined with other pieces of information also placed in the public domain.

 

    1. It is accepted that they would be identified if their name was known. It is for this reason that it is accepted that the Mother and Father’s names must be given anonymity as well as those of the children. I also remind myself that there may be a significant number of people who know that this family lost a baby in 2006.

 

The individual issues

    1. The first issue I had been asked to consider was whether or not to permit reference to the family’s origin. I am absolutely clear that such reporting must be prevented as was agreed by the media once they had read the further papers. Having considered the statistics relating to persons from that country living in the Swansea area, I am quite satisfied that, if any reference had been made to their origin, there would have been a likelihood of exposure.

 

    1. I will therefore now turn to deal with the areas that remain in dispute.

 

 

    1. The first issue was whether or not there could be reference to their religious faith. Again I have considered the statistics in relation to this and I have come to the clear conclusion that permitting disclosure of her religious faith would also be likely to lead to identification of the children. I therefore refuse to do so.

 

    1. I consider that it also follows that the media should not be entitled to name AZ. It certainly points to a family of their origin. I have come to the conclusion that AZ should be referred to as “A” and BZ as “B”.

 

    1. Ms Gallagher perfectly properly pointed out at the end of the submissions that the draft Reporting Restrictions Order would appear to permit the media to report how the Mother came to be in this country. The other parties were surprised by this as they had assumed that this would not be possible. I was therefore additionally asked to decide on that.

 

    1. I am particularly aware of the fact that the Z family are not living in an area where there are a significant number of people who might potentially have this background. I have come to the same conclusion in relation to this aspect. In other words, I consider that permitting disclosure would run too high a risk of identification.

 

    1. Finally, there is the question of the composition of the family. I consider that very different considerations apply here although I am still concerned about naming the exact number of the children. To do so would immediately show that this is a family with a particular number of surviving children plus one deceased in 2006. I do not believe there are likely to be many families in the Swansea area in that category and certainly not where they live. It therefore follows that I consider it would be to run too high a risk to permit naming of the number of the children.

 

  1. I do not, however, see that there is any reason to prevent reporting that the parents are separated. Indeed, it would be surprising if they were not. Equally, I consider there is no reason to prevent the media saying that there is more than one surviving sibling and that they see their Mother. Further, I consider that it is appropriate to report, if the media wishes to do so, that, since the institution of care proceedings, her care of them when with her has, at all times, been exemplary.

 

[This latter bit explains the earlier suggestions about how giving much of the family's background would easily identify them - let's pretend for hypothesis sake that they are Martians, and have green skin and surnames like M'Hxtelkraw, and you can then see what is being hinted at, and also the talk of 'how the family entered the country' makes sense of the earlier suggestion that the local community might, wrongly, feel that they had been treated differently because of their background]

 

The Press were very responsible in this case – reading between the lines, this would be a very newsworthy story, particularly for the more erm… ‘traditional’ newspapers for whom the story would have pursued several agendas, but they recognised and accepted the balance between the children’s welfare and running a juicy story.

Secret decision to remove

(No, I’ve not asked Christopher Booker to do a guest blog, but this is a case which is worthy of attention, given how much press coverage the Italian C-Section case received. I am quite surprised that this made it through the Lord Nueberger view of article 8 and what the word necessary means in that context)

A Local Authority v C 2013

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/4036.html

This is unusual, because it is an application that the Local Authority made BEFORE the birth of the child. I have only ever seen one of these before, the one referred to in the judgment Re D 2009.

    1. The local authority’s application is, therefore, for a without notice order which is not to be served on the mother that:

(a) she lacks capacity to make decisions relating to the future care of her child when born;

(b) it is lawful as being in the best interests of her child when born for its Claimants, its servants or agents immediately to remove the child from the mother’s care and to maintain that separation pending a Court considering the Claimant’s application from an emergency protection order or interim care order;

(c) it is lawful for the minimum necessary force to be used, if required, in the course of effecting and maintaining such separation;

(d) it is lawful for the police to assist in the carrying out of the order by utilisation of their powers pursuant to section 46 of the Children Act 1989; and

(e) it is lawful for the Claimant to withhold from the mother its intention to remove her child from her immediately following birth and, in this regard, not to involve the mother in the planning process for her baby.

(I note that it is a shame that the order accompanying the judgment is not published, since (b) is interesting. It seems as though that might be akin to an Emergency Protection Order made before the baby is born, to take effect at birth. Edit – actually what it does is tell the police (d) that they can lawfully remove under a PPO.  That raises even more questions, since the existing law is that Police Protection ought to be behind making an EPO or ICO application in the pecking order – Liverpool v X, for example)

The mother in this case was said to have profound mental health problems and other issues

Mother has long-standing mental health problems and an IQ of 64. I have read a report from her treating psychiatrist. Her diagnosis is of paranoia and psychosis. She also abuses drugs. She is described as challenging, and she can be volatile. She has had two previous children, both of whom were removed from her very early in their lives. The elder was removed from her care in 2007 aged three weeks, when mother physically injured that child by causing twisting injuries to his arms and bruising to his chest. Both those children now live with those children’s father. She is now pregnant again, by a different father, with an estimated delivery date of 22nd September 2013.

What were the arguments for not telling her?

    1. The local authority perceives there to be a grave danger to the unborn child immediately after birth, in the light of the mother’s mental health problems and the increasingly worrying presentation which has manifested itself to her obstetrician, to social workers and to others. She is undoubtedly incapacitous in some respects, the extent to which is not clear because she has not been assessed. She is likely to have understanding in a number of respects, particularly those aspects of her own health care and her own wishes and feelings about her child which do not require sophisticated intellectual understanding.
    1. Her consultant obstetrician found a very marked deterioration in her presentation. He describes how her usually more placid demeanour has become more and more aggressive, hostile, confrontational and oppositional, during the monitoring of her pregnancy. She has had, until recently, a fairly trouble-free pregnancy and her two previous deliveries were normal. She has had some internal bleeding. It is not clear how accurate her description of the severity is of that. There is a fear there may be problems with the attachment of the baby’s placenta. She became very agitated when he needed to examine her and refused to be examined. She is not currently medicated or accepting her medication, and this cannot take place until after the birth. She showed pressure of speech; she swore, was verbally aggressive and she had what the obstetrician called “an outburst”. She was threatening. A number of minor issues were raised by her which it was impossible to “de-escalate”. He is extremely worried that the mother will not be compliant with staff during the birth process as a result of her discussions with him. I have been referred to his notes recorded in an internal meeting.
    1. If professionals attempt to hold any form of conversation with her on a topic with arouses her emotion she becomes hostile very quickly. All the professionals who have been dealing with the mother are concerned that her mental health is currently deteriorating.
    1. Her consultant psychiatrist reports that it has proved impossible to have a coherent rational conversation with her. She is “very thought disordered”. The psychiatrist anticipates a struggle if the mother is asked to hand over the baby at birth. He believes that the risk to the baby when born would be high if the mother were to be allowed to hold the baby. He also infers that the mother’s mental health was not as severely effected at the time when her older child was injured since she was not known to mental health services at that time.
    1. All those who have had dealings with her think it highly likely that the mother would inadvertently harm the baby whilst attempts are made to remove it from her.
  1. The view expressed by all the professionals is that if she is told about any plan to remove the baby at birth or after birth (under an emergency protection order or interim care order) this will exacerbate the problems with her mental health and “increase the already risky situation that is likely to occur following the birth”. She is presently in a psychiatric unit and arrangements are being made for her to undergo her delivery at a local hospital.

You should also note that the mother was not represented at THIS hearing, even through the Official Solicitor  (the agency who act on behalf of parents who lack capacity to instruct a solicitor). This was discussed, here

I raised the question with Mr Jones during the course of his carefully presented argument as to whether or not it would be appropriate for me to indeed appoint the Official Solicitor (if he so agreed) to act on behalf of this mother, and for the Official Solicitor to be informed of the nature of the application (or indeed any order), in order that representations could be made to the court. However, I perceive that the Official Solicitor, or indeed any legal representative acting on behalf of a party, incapacitous or not, cannot be bound to withhold information which comes to their notice from their client. And it seems to me that this mother probably has the capacity to understand the nature of this application and that the local authority intends to remove the child from her. In my view, the only basis upon which a legal representative can agree not to disclose information to their client is if that client consents to that course of action, and in order to obtain such consent the Official Solicitor would have to alert the mother to the nature of these proceedings. Mr Jones tells me that the authority shares that concern.

So, the order was made, using the authority of Re D, and the principles set out within that judgment

    1. I have come to the conclusion from the documents which I have read and the submissions that I have heard, that this is indeed a highly exceptional and unusual case and that the history of the mother’s mental health problems, her mistreatment of her other children (and there are other assertions of ill-treatment as well as the injury to the baby), the mother’s increasing volatility, irritability and inability to accept the concerns of others and indeed her deteriorating mental health, do give rise to an imminent, serious and present danger to the child when it is born, in particular of an inadvertent injury to the child if the child is sought to be wrested from her.
    1. It seems to me that the only way in which that risk and danger can be guarded against is by way of an order that the baby be removed immediately upon delivery. I understand and acknowledge what a drastic step this is, how deeply distressing this will be to this mother (as it would indeed be to any mother newly delivered of a child), and I am in no doubt that she will understand what is happening to her in these circumstances. But I am persuaded, and indeed now convinced, that there is sadly no other way of safeguarding the interests of this child than by making an anticipatory declaration as I am asked, in order that intervention can take place at the earliest possible opportunity.
    1. Weighing up the options (as I must do), removal is the one which safeguards the child’s interests whereas non-removal does not.
    1. This will not deprive the mother of an opportunity to be heard on an application for an emergency protection order or interim care order at the earliest possible date.
  1. I recognise that the first moments after a child’s birth are particularly precious and can never be recovered, but nonetheless the opportunity to have her case heard at the earliest possible moment will go some way to preserving the mother’s opportunity to have a relationship with her child.

It seems therefore, that what the Court did was use the inherent jurisdiction to authorise removal of the baby at birth PENDING a very fast application for an Emergency Protection Order.  The Judge makes it plain that the EPO application must be ready to be heard very swiftly

In Mr Jones’ draft order he refers to an application for an emergency protection order or an interim care order. This local authority is in no doubt as to the basis of its potential application and the application must be prepared now and must be lodged at the first possible moment during court opening hours after the child is born. If I say ‘immediately’, that means that it does not go down by courier; it means that nobody is still checking for spelling mistakes, it means that it is all sorted out and it is all ready to go and it is with the court at the drop-box or in the court office. I direct that the local authority contacts its local Court where the application is to be issued to ask that special arrangements be made for receipt of this emergency application.

I have some problems with this judgment and decision (not as a matter of law, the Judge followed Re D and balanced things but as a matter of principle and human rights).  The remedy here for the removal at birth is that the mother has the opportunity to challenge within a few hours that decision at the EPO hearing. But how realistic is that?

Firstly, she is going to be in a state of complete shock at the removal, which will be a total surprise to her.  (I know that lawyers could look at the history and say “well, an EPO application was likely” but from mother’s perspective, if social workers have been working with her and never said that the baby would be removed, she might well think that she will keep the baby)

Secondly, she is also in the immediate aftermath of childbirth, a process which is fairly stressful, painful and somewhat discombobulating  (that is a huge understatement) – not putting one in the best shape to get dressed and get on a bus to court

Thirdly, when she gets to Court, she is not entitled to instruct a solicitor to represent her, as she doesn’t have capacity

Fourthly, the Official Solicitor hasn’t been warned of the pending application so that they will be ready at court to represent her

So a vulnerable woman, with mental health problems, in the immediate aftermath of childbirth will be in Court, reeling from the shock of removal and representing herself at a contested removal hearing.

Forgive me if I don’t think that this is terribly fair.

In addition to that, the legal tests for an Emergency Protection Order are rightly very high, following Re X, and are particularly high when the Court is only hearing one side of the story (as here). Shouldn’t the Court, when making a pre-emptive EPO using the inherent jurisdiction have to meet an even higher burden on the evidence than Re X?

I don’t blame the LA here – the facts of the case make this a very tricky and difficult decision, and they did place it before a Court for consideration. Nor do I blame the Court, who applied the existing principles, had all of the evidence when I have only seen a flavour of it, and had a hard judgment call to make.  But I do think, and I suspect many of my regular readers will think the same, that this mother has not been fairly treated. Is the fact that she would react very very badly to the news of the plan for removal really sufficient to take from her her article 6 right to a fair hearing about that removal?

Do we have a proper system in place for mothers who have profound mental health problems, not least because often their drugs to control their condition aren’t conducive to being taken in pregnancy? Shouldn’t we be doing more? What are the safeguards for people like this mother?

(I don’t think this will be opening floodgates – the 2009 decision was viewed by most lawyers who read it as being something that would only be used in the most dramatic and extreme circumstances. I’m not sure these are those, however.  I do honestly think that this case probably justifies more public debate than the C-Section case – at least she had legal representation, even if one could argue that she didn’t get much of a say in it )

Supreme Court and emotional harm

The Supreme Court judgment in Re B is out, and can be read in full here:-

 

http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk/decided-cases/docs/UKSC_2013_0022_Judgment.pdf

For the too-long didn’t read version, the parents lost. The case was hoped to clarify emotional harm, and whether it justifies State intervention, and whether the risk of future emotional harm (when it becomes somewhat tenuous and predictive) justifies the most draconian of orders, a plan for adoption.

There was an excellent preview of the case by Celtic Knot over on Pink Tape, here

http://pinktape.co.uk/cases/rescuing-children-from-significant-harm-looking-forward-with-trepidation-and-hope/

and it sets out the backdrop to this case very clearly and why it was that he and I were both hoping that the parents would succeed. In all of this debate, I am mindful that  (a) I haven’t had the chance to read or hear all of the evidence and (b) that the case sadly involves real people and a real child.  Sadly, as it has important principles, it is something that needs to be discussed in broader terms than just the tragedy for the immediate family.

Frankly, my reading of the Re B Court of Appeal decision was that there was a lot that professionals were worried about or anxious about, but none of it actually amounted to proof that the child was at risk of significant harm. [I stress, this may very well be a fault of the Court of Appeal judgment in not properly framing how they found threshold to be crossed, rather than on professionals involved in the case]

 

I think the closest it came to threshold was in this passage here

It was the diagnosis of Dr Bass, which Judge Cryan accepted, that, beyond  abnormal personality traits and in additi on to, and more significantly than, her  somatisation disorder, M suffers a factitious  disorder of mild to moderate intensity.

This is a related psychiatric disorder in  which the sufferer is driven repeatedly to exaggerate symptoms or altogether to fabricate them and to offer false histories.

There is therefore a deceptive dimension to  the disorder which was replicated in a  mass of other evidence before the judg e, unrelated to M’s medical condition,  which raised questions about  her ability, and for that matter  also the ability of F, to behave honestly with professionals. Dr Bass  stressed that M’s psychiatric disorders required psychotherapy which might last for a year and which could be undertaken  only if she were to acknowledge the problems and to engage honestly with the therapist.

 

 

Undoubtedly within the case, and the Supreme Court gave multiple examples, there had been incidents where claims had been made by M which the Court found to be untrue, and they were florid claims. That much, I don’t disagree with.  The decision of the Court of Appeal that this crossed the threshold seemed, to me, to fall short on the critical area of actual evidence that it HAD harmed the child or was a risk of harming the child, and not merely in nebulous “Jedi-hand-wave” terms – what was it that was said the parents might do that would harm this child, and how likely was it that they would do it?

 

The original trial judge said this:-

The judge concluded: “Ultimately, I find that I am persuaded… that what the evidence  clearly demonstrates is that these parents do not have the capacity to  engage with professionals in such  a way that their behaviour will be  either controlled or amended to  bring about an environment where  [Amelia] would be safe… In short I cannot see that there is any  sufficiently reliable way that I can fulfil my duty  to [Amelia] to  protect her from harm and still place her with her parents. I  appreciate that in so saying I am depriving her of a relationship  which, young though she  is, is important to  her and depriving her  and her parents of that family life which this court strives to promote.”

 

Again, that seems to me to be a legitimate decision for the Judge who heard the evidence to take ONCE it was established that the threshold was crossed. If there WAS a risk of harm, then whether the parents could manage that harm, take advice, work with professionals and change their behaviour is massively relevant.

But did we ever cross the threshold on the facts as reported?

My fundamental issue is this – if one cannot put into a paragraph, or a page, what harm it was that the State was protecting this child from, I am not sure that the harm is actually properly made out. [Not a criticism of the LA involved – I  haven’t read the papers, I don’t know the whole case, but from the twin judgments I have seen, I don’t see anything that comes close to telling the parents, or the public, what it was that this child was being protected FROM – other than very peculiar behaviour short of abuse]

 

One focus of the appeal was the wording of the threshold criteria (the test that the State has to cross before a Care Order can be made) which is “significant harm”  and whether the law has wrongly developed to an extent where it is now hard to see the distinction, in law, between harm and significant harm.

 

If one were to get a family lawyer to draw up two columns, one headed Harm, and one headed Significant Harm, and then gave them a series of allegations, would all of the family lawyers put each allegation in the same column ? would there be broad consistency about which is which, perhaps with a few grey areas? Or in fact, would nearly everything go into the “significant harm” column.

 

Here is what the Supreme Court have to say

26.  In my view this court should avoid attempting to explain the word “significant”. It would be a gloss; attention might then turn to the meaning of the  gloss and, albeit with the best of intentions, the courts might find in due course that they had travelled far from  the word itself. Nevertheless it might be worthwhile to  note that in the White Paper which preceded the 1989 Act, namely The Law on  Child Care and Family Services, Cm 62, January 1987, the government stated, at para 60:

“It is intended that “likely ha rm” should cover all cases of unacceptable risk in which it may be necessary to balance the chance of the harm occurring against the magnitude of that harm if it does”

The Supreme Court also rejected the applicant’s submission that when a Court determines whether or not the threshold is crossed, article 8 is engaged, and determined that article 8 only arises when the Court are deciding whether or not to make an order.   [I can’t say that i am happy about THAT either]

 

The second matter relates to Mr Feehan’s submission that the threshold set  by section 31(2) is not crossed if the deficits relate only to the character of the parents rather than to the quality of their parenting. His alternative submission is  that harm suffered or likely to be suffered by a child as a result of parental action or inaction may cross the threshold only if,  in so acting or failing to act, the parent or parents were deliberately or intentionally to have caused or to be likely to cause such harm. M is, of course, not responsible for her personality traits nor for her psychiatric disorders; and in effect the submission is that the dishonesty,animosities and obstructionism of the parents represent deficits only of character

and that, if and insofar as they might cause harm to Amelia,whom they love, the harm is neither deliberate nor intentional

 

This is an interesting one, taking us into issues of free will and determinism. I would agree partly with Mr Feehan QC  - I think that the threshold ought to get into quality of parenting or how the parenting impacts on the child, but I don’t go as far as saying that a parent is not responsible for elements of their personality which are beyond their control. (The latter, seems to me, to invite later ligitation on the basis of paedophilia being intrinsic to a person, rather than a conscious or deliberate choice on their part)

The Supreme Court rejected this anyway.  

 

One interesting addition from the Supreme Court was their debate about whether, when deciding whether a lower Court had mistakenly found threshold to be crossed (or vice versa) the test for the appellant Court should be the usual one (derived from Piglowska) that the Court had been “plainly wrong”  or whether in the context of the threshold, which is a binary value judgment – the evidence is there to satisfy it, or it is not, the test should simply be whether they were “wrong”

it is generally better to allow adjectives to speak for themselves without adverbial  support. What does “plainly” add to “wrong”? Either the word adds nothing or it serves to treat the determination under challenge with some slight extra level of generosity apt to one which is discretionary but not to one which is evaluative.

Like all other members of the court, I  consider that appellate review of a  determination whether the threshold is crossed should be conducted by reference  simply to whether it was wrong.

 

 

I think they may come to regret that formulation.

 

Going to the issue of threshold this passage in the judgment outlines why the majority of the Judges found that it was met and the decision was not wrong

The nature of the harm which concerned Judge Cryan was (i) “the emotional harm to [Amelia] likely to be caused by” (a) “the Mother’s somatisation disorder and factitious illness disorder”,

(b) “concerns … about the parents’ personality traits”,

(c) “her mother’s lying”,

(d) her father’s “active, but less chronic, tendency to dishonest

y and vulnerability to the misuse of drugs”, and

(ii) “physical harm to [Amelia]” which “can not be discounted, for example, by over treatment or inappropriate treatment by doctors”.

As to the possibility of such harm being prevented or acceptably mitigated, the Judge concluded that Amelia’s parents did not have “the capacity to engage with professionals in such a way that their behaviour will either be controlled or amended to bring about an environment where [Amelia] would be safe”. He explained that the result of this was that he could think of no “sufficiently reliable way” in which he could “fulfil [his] duty”

to Amelia “to protect her from harm and still place her with her parents”.

 

66. Those conclusions are concerned with what may be characterised as risks, prospects or possible outcomes, and they

are not, therefore, findings of primary fact, let alone conclusions of law. As explained above, they are evaluations based

on the findings of primary fact, and on assessments of character and likely behaviour and attitudes, made by the Judge

as a result of many days of considering oral and written evidence and also as a result of hearing argument. They are

evaluations which are also plainly dependant on the Judge’s overall assessment of  the witnesses, and in particular on his opinion as to the character and dependability of Amelia’s mother and father, and as tothe reliability of the assessments of the expert witnesses. His conclusions appear to me to be ones to which, to put it at its lowest, he was fully entitled to come on the evidence he had heard and assessed. In other words, they were justified in terms of logic and common sense in the light of his findings of primary fact and his assessment of the witnesses, and they were coherently formulated. There is no basis in my view, for saying that they were wrong.

 

Sadly, to me, it seems that the Supreme Court have tackled this case in that very narrow way, rather than comparing the threshold said to be met in this case with the doctrines of Lord Templeman and Justice Hedley, about the difference between abusive parenting which harms a child or is likely to harm a child, and eccentric odd or even poor parenting which falls short of that mark.  I slightly have to wonder why they agreed to hear the appeal at all if they were not going to roll up their sleeves and tackle the issue of emotional harm. They just really said that it was a matter for the trial judge which side of the line the case fell on, unless it was apparent that he had got that wrong.

 

Lady Hale in her judgment, which in my mind actually tackled the issues and concluded in the dissenting judgment that the original judge was wrong to have made a Care Order,  sets out what practitioners felt was the key issue in the case in her opening paragraphs

 

143. This case raises some profound questions about the scope of courts’ powers to take away children from their birth families when what is feared is, not physical abuse or neglect, but emotional or psychological harm. We are all frail human beings, with our fair share of unattractive character traits, which sometimes manifest themselves in bad behaviours which may be copied by our children. But the State does not and cannot take away the children of all the people who commit crimes, who abuse alcohol or drugs, who suffer from physical or mental illnesses or disabilities, or who espouse anti-social political or religious beliefs. Indeed, in Dickson v United Kingdom (2007) 46 EHRR 937, the Strasbourg court held that the refusal of artificial insemination facilities to a convicted murderer and the wife whom he had met while they were both in prison was a breach of their rights under article 8 of the European Convention.

 

How is the law to distinguish between emotional or psychological harm, which warrants the compulsory intervention of the State, and the normal and natural tendency of children to grow up to be and behave like their parents?

 

144.Added to this is the problem that the harm which is feared may take many years to materialise, if indeed it ever does. Every child is an individual, with her own character and personality. Many children are remarkably resilient. They do not all inherit their parents’ less attractive characters or copy their less attractive behaviours. Indeed some will consciously reject them. They have many other positive influences in their lives which can help them to resist the negative, whether it is their schools, their friends, or other people around them. How confident do we have to be that a child will indeed suffer harm because of her parents’ character and behaviour before we separate them for good?

 

Hear hear

 

 

Sadly all of this next bit is by the by, since it is from the dissenting judgment, but I think it is all correct, and I wish it were an accurate reflection of what the law was, post Re B

The reason for adopting a comparatively low threshold of likelihood is clear: some harm is so catastrophic that even a relatively small degree of likelihood should be sufficient to justify the state in intervening to protect the child before it happens, for example from death or serious injury or sexual abuse. But it is clear that Lord Nichollsdid not contemplate that a relatively small degree of likelihood would be sufficient in all cases.

 

The corollary of “the more serious the harm, the less likely it has to be” is that “the less serious the harm, the more likely it has to be”.

 

 

Of course, another reason for adopting a test of “real possibility”, rather than “more likely than not”, is that it is extremely difficult to predict the future and to do so with the sort of accuracy which would enable a court to say that it was more likely than not that a parent would harm a child in the future. Once again, this is a particular problem with emotional or psychological harm, which may take many years to manifest itself. The Act does not set limits upon when the harm may be likely to occur and clearly the court is entitled to look to the medium and longer term as well as to the child’s immediate future.

 

190 However, the longer term the prospect of harm, the greater the degree of uncertainty about whether it will actually happen. The child’s resilience or resistance, and the many protective influences at work in the community, whether from the wider family, their friends, their neighbourhoods, the health and social services and, perhaps above all, their schools, mean that it may never happen. The degree of likelihood must be such as justify compulsory intervention now, for there is always the possibility of compulsory intervention later, should the “real possibility” solidify

191. The second element in the threshold sheds some light upon these questions. The harm, or the likelihood of harm, must be “attributable to the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if an order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him”(s 31(2)(b)). This reinforces the view that it is a deficiency in parental care, rather than in parental character, which must cause the harm. It also means that the court should be able to identify what that deficiency in care might be and how likely it is to happen.

 

For my part, I am unsure why the other Judges did not share those views, they seem to me eminently sensible and fair. In reality, it is merely a sieve to remove the sort of cases that Lord Templeman and Hedley LJ were referring to as being short of the level of parenting that requires State intervention.

I also feel somewhat for Lady Hale, who has given excellent judgments in many of the Supreme Court cases but seems to be being characterised as the dissenter who does not sway the majority.

“Don’t put your daughter on the stage – if you want to claim Disability Living Allowance for her”

The High Court have just published twin judgments on an interesting case, relating to reporting restriction orders – Re Z  v News Group Newspapers 2013

 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/1150.html

 Is the first one, at which the Reporting Restriction order was sought and obtained  (I think with a late sitting hour)

 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/1371.html

 Is the second one, at which the Court determined how that Reporting Restriction Order would be altered if the outcome of the criminal trial was that mother was convicted.

 It is a peculiar one, since although the children in the case were pivotal to the offences, they were neither victims of the alleged offences, nor witnesses in the criminal trial, which meant that all of the restrictions on reporting from the criminal trial which would otherwise ensure the anonymity of the children were dislodged.

 It became apparent to the children’s father that the national press were interested in the story (for reasons which will become apparent) and he therefore made a stand-alone application to the family courts for a Reporting Restriction Order.   These two cases are a very good summary of the competing interests of article 8 privacy, and article 10 freedom of the press.

 Why was the Press interested?  Well, this background  (and the current context of ‘benefit cheats’ ) explains why

  1. Mrs Z is the mother of eight children. They are A (aged 23), B (aged 21), C (aged 19), D (aged 16), E (aged 15), F (aged 12), G (aged 9), and H (aged 7).
  1. The Applicant is the father of D, E, F, G, and H. It is the Applicant’s case (see para.4 application) that the oldest six children (A, B, C, D, E and F) all have special needs. Five of the mother’s children, A, C, D, E, and F are cited in the indictments to which I have referred (and which I discuss more fully below); of those, three of them (D, E and F) are currently minor children.
  1. The trial of Mrs Z focuses on a number of claims for Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Carer’s Allowance (in respect of the child C) and other tax credits which Mrs Z is alleged to have made in respect of a number of her children, over an extended period of ten years.
  1. The prosecution case, in summary, is that Mrs Z was not entitled to those non-means tested benefits, and she knew that she was not so entitled. It is alleged that Mrs Z had made these claims based on the assertion that five of the children “suffered from problems with their speech and language, physical disabilities, mental health problems and severe learning disabilities and behavioural problems” (§1.4 prosecuting opening note) including “handicaps, phobias and intolerances e.g. ‘difficulty with walking’, ‘poor co-ordination’, ‘poor spatial awareness’, ‘unclear speech’, ‘fear of crowds’, ‘difficulty following instructions’, ‘difficulties getting dressed’, ‘cant wash or bathe’ and ‘needs help with toilet’” (§1.4 ibid.). These claims were reported to be independently verified, including (in some respects) by a consultant paediatrician, Dr. K.
  1. Proof of the falsity of the claims, asserts the prosecution, is that the disabilities and problems which Mrs Z claimed her children were suffering were not compatible with their various activities and other achievements. In particular, for periods of time when Mrs Z was asserting (for the purposes of the benefit claim) that the children suffered “various disabilities and conditions which materially affected their care and/or mobility needs” (see §1.3 prosecuting opening note), they were (according to the Crown) all in mainstream school, successful in their academic subjects, and apparently able to undertake physical exercise in school.
  1. Perhaps most notably, it is said that three of the children attended a specialist theatre school, became successful child actors/actresses and appeared in amateur and professional productions in regional theatres, and even on the West End stage, including appearances in a number of well-known and successful productions; they appeared on the television. In their theatrical and public roles they were said to be involved in acting, dancing, and singing – “wholly inconsistent” (says the Crown: §1.9) “with the care and mobility needs described by the defendant“.

 

 

Yes, one can see in the light of that, and the information that the total sum of alleged fraud with which mother was charged amounted to £365,000 , why there were print journalists at the trial, frantically licking their pencil tips and writing punning headlines   (for shame, punning headlines are a dreadful sin)

 So, the competing interests here were in the press being able to report on a criminal trial   [see the quotation below from the Trinity Mirror case] and on the protection of children who were, although not victims per se of the alleged offences, were certainly innocent of them and who might very well be stigmatised were their identities made public

 

  1. In our judgment it is impossible to over-emphasise the importance to be attached to the ability of the media to report criminal trials. In simple terms this represents the embodiment of the principle of open justice in a free country. An important aspect of the public interest in the administration of criminal justice is that the identity of those convicted and sentenced for criminal offences should not be concealed. Uncomfortable though it may frequently be for the defendant that is a normal consequence of his crime. Moreover the principle protects his interests too, by helping to secure the fair trial which, in Lord Bingham of Cornhill’s memorable epithet, is the defendant’s “birthright”. From time to time occasions will arise where restrictions on this principle are considered appropriate, but they depend on express legislation, and, where the Court is vested with a discretion to exercise such powers, on the absolute necessity for doing so in the individual case“.

 

 

 

The Court were unsurprisingly taken to a very recent authority balancing article 8 and article 10, particularly on preserving anonymity of children in a case where their mother was convicted of remarkable offences clearly in the public interest to report  – the case bears careful reading, if you have not already encountered it

 

 

  1. The application of the balancing exercise can be found in a number of cases in the Family Division, and increasingly in the Court of Protection. One of the most recent decisions is that of Peter Jackson J in A Council v M, F, and others [2012] EWHC 2038 (Fam) in which he said this (at §82-84):

82. The resolution of this conflict of legitimate interests can only be achieved by close attention to the circumstances that actually exist in the individual case. As Sir Mark Potter has said, the approach must be hard-headed and even, from the point of view of this jurisdiction, hard-hearted.

83. Rights arising under Art. 8 on the one hand and Art. 10 on the other are different in quality. Art. 8 rights are by their nature of crucial importance to a few, while Art. 10 rights are typically of general importance to many. The decided cases, together with s.12(4) HRA, act as a strong reminder that the rights of the many should not be undervalued and incrementally eroded in response to a series of hard cases of individual misfortune.

84. On the other hand, there is no hierarchy of rights in this context and there are cases where individual rights must prevail. In highly exceptional cases this can even include making inroads into the fundamental right to report criminal proceedings, but only where that is absolutely necessary.

 

I respectfully adopt this analysis.

 

 

The Court tried very hard to balance what could or could not go into the public domain, and recognised the legitimate public interest in the public knowing that taxpayers money earmarked for the most deserving and needy of families had been diverted by means of fraud.   Whilst the criminal trial was pending, a widely drawn Reporting Restriction Order was in place.

 

The Press, understandably, wanted to test whether this would be more narrowly drawn if the mother went on to be convicted at trial, hence the second judgment.

 

The Judge did indeed draw the order more narrowly, whilst still striving to protect the anonymity of the children,

 

  1. In reaching conclusions on the supporting information, I have sought to strike the appropriate balance between competing Convention rights, guarding against disproportionate interference with each. In this respect I have concluded that if, but only if, such publication is likely to lead to the identification of the children, adult children, or Mr Z as being involved or named in the criminal proceedings heard at the named Crown Court, and/or as being the children of the defendant (hereafter Mrs Z):

i) There shall be no publication or broadcasting of the forenames of the children, including the adult children, so as to protect, as far as I am able, some cherished rights to privacy; this applies particularly for the child E, and to a lesser extent D and F, but in view of my intention to reduce identification and unwarranted intrusion into family life for their sake and generally, the other children too;

ii) For the same reason, there shall be no reporting of any picture being or including a picture of either the children, the adult children, or the Applicant Mr Z;

iii) Given that the Applicant, Mr Z, is likely to be assuming the care of the younger children in the event that Mrs Z receives a custodial sentence, there shall be no reporting of his forename, consistent with my desire to respect so far as is possible some Article 8 privacy for the children;

iv) There shall be no reporting of any medical conditions or disabilities which the children (whether adult or minor) are said to suffer other than those conditions or disabilities which were said to have been reported by Mrs Z in the context of her claims for benefit; for the avoidance of doubt, there shall be no public reporting of the contents of the recent CAMHS letter concerning child E;

v) There can be identification of the Crown Court (and the trial Judge) at which the trial has taken place, and the County in which the family live. No more specific information relevant to the address or location of the family is justified;

vi) There will be no restriction on reporting of the fact that the children concerned are a sibling group of eight. In reaching my conclusion on this aspect, which I found less easy than other aspects to resolve, I took the view that this information did not of itself materially add to the identification of the family in such a way as to interfere with their Article 8 rights, given the general availability of other information which will be available in accordance with my order.

 And you will note that this obviously allows the naming of Mrs Z, and publication of photographs of her, allows for the facts outlined in the background already included to be published.

 The Judge ends with a very pithy conclusion

 In my judgment, those who cheat the over-stretched resources of the welfare state can neither generally nor reasonably expect to escape the proper reporting of their wrongdoing, or hope to achieve the concealment of their identities. It is with considerable regret that in varying the Reporting Restriction Order in the event of a conviction, I will expose the children of Mrs Z to the risk of identification. A guilty verdict would reflect the jury’s satisfaction that Mrs Z had improperly used her children as innocent instruments of her crime; if this is the outcome of the criminal process, then it is she alone who has unhappily heaped upon her family the misery, shame and disadvantage, which is the inevitable consequence of her offending.

“Don’t ever invite a Judge into your house, you silly boy, it renders you powerless”

 A peculiar little case, considered by the High Court, and not just a cheap opportunity to quote from The Lost Boys, honest. [But come on, when would Suesspicious Minds ever pass up an opportunity to reference the Lost Boys?  "Burn rubber, does not mean warp speed!"]

Re AMV and MV 2012

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed111643

It isn’t an important case, save for those involved, nor does it say anything vital about the law, but it is one of those interesting ones that I collect and write about where the mind boggles at how cases sometimes end up being conducted.

The Judgment is very short. Here is the nub of it.

A private law dispute where the mother and the children were living sometimes at her own home and sometimes with the maternal grandparents. The father alleged that the mother was living full-time with the grandparents, in an unsuitable property and not living at her own address at all.

The District Judge decided that the best way to assess that was to go out and see for herself.

So the mother was asked to agree to that site visit, there and then, and given 15 minutes to decide.  [I like to imagine that the Judge was also loudly humming the Countdown theme tune, but this did not actually happen]

Obviously, saying no might have given the impression that there was something to hide, so with some confusion, she agreed.

It hadn’t been possible to contact the grandparents to forewarn them / ask them, so the Judge, accompanied by the mother, father, counsel and the CAFCASS officer set out on the journey.

All parties duly arrived at the mother’s house, were permitted entry and apparently combed the premises, opening doors, looking in cupboards and fridges, even looking in wastepaper baskets. I was told that the District Judge had specifically looked into a dustbin and, as a result, made an express finding, arising from this as to the likely occupancy of the house.

6 On completion of this outing, the parties (still in the two separate cars) drove to the maternal grandparents’ property. On arrival they were given admittance. The maternal grandparents were to an extent taken by surprise. They did not have independent legal advice. The process of investigation, as already described, then took place in their home, with doors being opened, the contents of drawers being investigated and the like.

7 The parties returned to court. The entire outing took about one and a half hours. The District Judge made findings in reliance upon what had been seen – indeed, a great deal of cross-examination of the CAFCASS officer took place on the basis of counsel’s perception of the state of the two homes.

It is not going to take a genius to work out that the Court having made decisions based on these site visits, the mother was going to appeal those decisions, and that she was going to succeed in that appeal.

To my mind, this entire procedure was wholly unacceptable. In the first place, it was a suggestion which came within or shortly after the opening of the case and did not permit time for proper consideration of the implications. In reality it gave the mother and her adviser little effective choice but to agree for fear that a negative response would draw an adverse inference from the court. It was, in effect, litigation by ambush.

9 Although I have not been addressed in detail by either counsel, it would also seem to me it was, prima facie, a breach of the mother’s Article 6 rights to a fair trial. It is not the role of a judge in such a situation to play detective and enter a person’s home. 10. More importantly this Judge entered the home of a third party in order to elicit evidence. Prima facie, that was a breach of the maternal grandparents’ Article 8 rights.

To my mind, a judge’s job is to consider the facts presented, weigh up that evidence after cross-examination, make findings and a determination. If the methodology adopted by this District Judge was correct, it would lead inevitably to breaches under the ECHR. A Judge cannot seek to determine who is telling the truth by a surprise or unannounced visit in relation to disputed facts. That is not an appropriate way to litigate.

Moreover, the method of approaching third parties and seeking entrance into their home in those circumstances as I have stated left them with effectively no choice. I doubt that they felt that they had any alternative but to open their front door and make the Judge, counsel, their daughter and their former son-in-law welcome in their flat.

The District Judge found their home was cramped, dirty and untidy. Hardly a matter which was appropriate in all the circumstances.

10 I consider that it is inappropriate for any District Judge to seek to deal with a case in this manner. Especially as the site visit came at the Courts suggestion without any or any sufficient time for mature reflection let alone legal advice.

If there are real concerns that children are not being cared for properly (and that was not an issue in this case) it is a matter that can be dealt with by social services who are entitled to, and do make, regular unannounced visits.

I deprecate the method used by the District Judge and would urge that nothing similar occurs in the future.

I suppose the process of the District Judge effectively making an unannounced visit and looking in dustbins, and the parents counsel cross-examining the CAFCASS officer about a home visit to which not only they, but also the Judge had also been present (and thus technically witnesses about) was slightly more scientific and forensic than the Judge starting the judgment with “Ip dip sky blue, it is not you” , but not all that much more.

Please, judges and counsel of the land, keep making such extraordinary and peculiar decisions, it brightens up my day.

[The usual tangent – it seems that the lore that a vampire must be invited into your home comes from Bram Stoker, in “Dracula” "He may not enter anywhere at the first, Unless there be some of the household who bid him to come; though afterwards he can come as he please." - where Van Helsing is recounting the powers and limitations of the vampire, and wasn’t around as a myth before then]

we trashed the one who looked like twisted sister - totally annihilated his nightstalking ass

Jumping the gun

A consideration of the High Court decision in Re RCW v A Local Authority 2012 , and the need to be very careful when making decisions to remove a child from prospective adopters

 

 

There is an excellent summary and discussion of the case at Family Lore, and is actually so good that I nearly didn’t write this piece, but I thought I might be able to find something fresh to say, even if it won’t be so pithy.

 

http://www.familylore.co.uk/2013/02/rcw-v-local-authority-unusual-and.html

 

 

 

In essence, it related to a challenge by a woman who had been intending to adopt a child. The child had been with her for 10 weeks (this being the exact period of time that the child would need to be placed with prospective adopters before the formal adoption application could be lodged) and then the carer had an operation, having slightly earlier been diagnosed as having a brain tumour, and that operation tragically left her without sight.

 

The LA decided that they would wish to remove the child from her care. As a matter of strict law, prior to the prospective adopter making an application for adoption, they believed that they were able to do so.

 

The timing was very tight – the carer lodged her application for adoption, and on the same day received a letter from the LA indicating that they proposed to move the child.  (The LA decision therefore pre-dated, though only just, the carer applying for an adoption order)

 

 

[The removal is under s35(2) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002

 

  1. Section 35(2) of the ACA 2002 provides that:

“Where a child is placed for adoption by an adoption agency, and the agency –

(a) Is of the opinion that the child should not remain with the prospective adopters, and

(b) gives notice to them of its opinion

The prospective adopters must, not later than the end of the period of seven days beginning with the giving of the notice, return the child to the agency”.

 

 

And the provision which protects a carer who has LODGED an adoption application is s35(5) of the same Act

 

  1. Section 35(5) provides:

“Where –

(a) an adoption agency gives notice under subsection (2) in respect of a child,

(b) before the notice was given, an application for an adoption order … was made in respect of the child, and

(c) the application (…) has not been disposed of

Prospective adopters are not required by virtue of the notice to return the child to the agency unless the court so orders.”

 

And the timing here was so critical that it might be said that the adoption application was after the s35(2) decision to remove, so there was not necessarily protection under s35(5)

 

Hence the prospective adopter seeking an injunction under the Human Rights Act to prevent them removing the child, which was the only avenue open to her.

 

She had not been involved in any discussions or meetings with the Local Authority about this change of plan, which of course came at a god awful time for the woman; she learning of it on the day of her discharge from hospital.

 

The case can be found here

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/235.html

 

 

The Judge, Mr Justice Cobb, you will be pleased to hear (unless you are a reader from the LA in question, in which case sorry to rub salt in the wounds) granted the injunction, preventing the LA from removing the child, and was critical of the decision-making process.

 

 

The Judge concluded additionally, that the carer had the shield of section 35 (5) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, principally because the notice has to be in writing, so although she had been told in a telephone call that the LA proposed to remove BEFORE her adoption application had been lodged, the written notice came AFTER.  Her prompt action in lodging the application got her that protection.

 

But the Judge went further, and said that regardless of the timing and sequence of events, the process by which the LA reached their decision to give notice of their intention to remove under s35(2) was flawed

 

 

  1. A decision to remove a child who has been placed with prospective adopters is a momentous one. It has to be a solidly welfare-based decision, and it must be reached fairly. LBX discussed its plans to remove SB from the care of RCW at two meetings referred to in the chronology above; the decision was made on 30 January 2013 and communicated to RCW shortly thereafter by telephone. I have not yet seen the minutes of the planning meetings at which the decision to remove SB was made (it has been indicated that Mr M’s notes can be made available forthwith, and they should be). But it is difficult to identify on what material LBX could truly contend that it had reached a proper welfare-based evaluation; there had been limited direct observation and assessment by that time, no apparent discussions with the friends and supporters, and little knowledge of RCW’s condition or, more pertinently, its likely prognosis.
  1. I do not believe that RCW was invited to either of the meetings at which the future placement of SB was discussed (indeed, she was still in hospital at the time of the first meeting). There is nothing in the statements before me which indicates that RCW’s specific views about her ability to care for SB for the future, her support network, or the impact of her condition on her life were sought or obtained; it does not appear that RCW was given any opportunity to make representations at the meeting.
  1. On the information before me I am satisfied that LBX failed to give RCW a full and informed opportunity to address its concerns about the future care arrangements for SB. In this respect, LBX had acted in breach of the procedural rights guaranteed by Article 8 and Article 6, and of the common law principle of fairness.
  1. LBX’s difficulties in defending its decision on fairness grounds are substantially compounded by its acknowledgement that when reaching its decision to remove SB it did not know (and does not know) whether RCW’s visual impairment is temporary or permanent. If the disability proves to be temporary, and RCW is able to resume her life as she led it prior to 8 January 2013, LBX would have no basis for intervening in the care arrangements.

 

 

 

The argument of course, would be that had the carer been involved in the process and her views and position taken into account, that she may well have been able to advance a plan for caring for the child which would meet the child’s needs, notwithstanding her visual impairment; and that the LA had effectively jumped the gun in just unilaterally deciding that if she was sightless she could not care for the child.

 

  1. Visual impairment does not of itself disqualify an adult from being a capable loving parent. In my judgment, the ability for RCW to provide good emotional care for SB (probably with support) needs to be properly assessed. It was not fairly assessed on 24 January 2013 when the social worker visited RCW’s home so soon after RCW’s discharge from hospital. LBX can only point to one example (from the visit on that day) where they maintain that SB’s needs were not being met.
  1. I do not accept that this observation necessarily supports the proposition that RCW is unable to meet SB’s needs; even if it did, it would be grossly unfair to make any judgment about the long-term ability of RCW to meet the needs of SB on the basis of an assessment made on the day on which RCW left hospital and returned home. One can only imagine the tumult of emotions which RCW must have been feeling on that day – joy and relief to be home and with SB; sickening anxiety and possibly despair at her new disability.
  1. In my judgment, LBX’s decision to remove SB was reached on an incomplete assessment of the current situation, and in a manner which was unfair to RCW. I stop short of finding that the assumptions which the authority has made about parenting by a carer who is blind are discriminatory, but in ruling RCW out as a prospective carer so summarily, LBX has shown a worrying lack of enquiry into the condition or the potential for good care offered by a visually impaired parent.

 

Of course, the very agency which was to provide this carer with support and assistance as a result of her new-found disability was the Local Authority, albeit under different legislation, and rather than getting together with such supportive provisions to see what could be done to preserve the situation and allow the carer to care for the child, the LA had reached the decision that the child could not remain there.

 

 

The Court referred to the earlier decision of Mr Justice Charles in DL and Another v London Borough of Newham 2011 

 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2011/1127.html  

 

in which the Court considered that before issuing a notice under s35(2) the LA ought properly to discuss their concerns and reasons for contemplating this with the carers.   

 

The Courts have also established that not only an article 6 right exists in relation to such decisions, but that the carer has an article 8 right to family life which must be taken into account.

 

 

I know that it is often said, and I sometimes say it myself (though more verbosely) that the law is an ass, but sometimes, as in this case, the law gets it very right, and prevents a terrible injustice happening.

 

The Streisand effect and care proceedings

A discussion of Bristol City Council and Others 2012

This is the decision in the High Court that the Sun newspaper, and in due course no doubt many others, be permitted to report on a case (subject to restrictions about anonymity) whereby a girl who was in care made allegations that the foster carer had grabbed her by the throat, the allegations might not have been properly investigated, and that there was strong reason for suspicion that the foster carer had been viewing child pornography.  The LA had originally sought to restrict any reporting, but moved forward within the court proceedings to accepting that there was a legitimate public interest in reporting the broad facts, but wanted the details kept out.

As you may know, the Streisand Effect is the term given when an attempt to prevent publication makes the story even more delicious and juicy and gets ten times the attention it would have got. See also, the welsh footballer whose name you all know, but I still probably can’t say, save that you can find it if you search google for John Hemmings, plus footballer, as Mr Hemmings MP was legitimately able to name the footballer with the superinjunction in parliament – I am not an MP.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2012/3748.html

The reporting restriction order made here, applies to me, of course, so am going to only give the information which is in the judgment – in fact, lets stick to the background given in the magistrates facts and reasons, and the preamble that was in the order itself

    1. In their written reasons for making a care order, the Justices set out the evidence that had been placed before them about these matters and in their findings of fact added these observations:

 

“We have heard and read considerable evidence concerning the care provided to A whilst subject to an interim care order. This is extremely concerning and deserves to be examined fully within a different forum. This bench is, however, of the view that these events are not germane to its decision as to whether care and placement orders should be made. All references to these highly regrettable events are made for the sake of completeness.

This bench believes that the local authority did not follow child protection procedures. As soon as A disclosed the assault and the contact worker noted the injuries, she should have informed A’s social worker, Ms P, or the emergency duty team. No such report was made and it was left to B, A’s father, to make the referral via the police. The bench does not consider that the local authority has been involved in a cover up which has been suggested by B.

The contact worker should not have disclosed the allegation to the foster mother until A had been interviewed. The foster mother denied the allegation on R’s behalf immediately. Having already been aware of the difficulties in the placement and of A’s fear of R, the authorities should not have allowed A to return to the foster home whilst the allegation was unresolved and it is reasonable to suppose that this increased the risk to A. We believe an immediate strategy meeting should have been called and A’s guardian should have been involved. It is a matter of very great concern that Mr N, A’s guardian, was not told by Miss P of the allegation at an earlier stage.

We strongly believe that A should have been referred to a doctor. A grasp to the throat accompanied by red marks to the front of a young child’s neck could denote internal injuries. In any event, the injuries would have been properly documented and their cause commented upon. It appears to us that the explanation provided for the injury by R was inconsistent with the injury itself.

A’s allegation of being assaulted does not appear to have been taken seriously by the authority….

It concerns us greatly that the alleged assault by R occurred at 2 am when T was cuddling S apparently whilst the foster mother was downstairs and that information did not cause the authority to act immediately.

At the time of the allegation of physical abuse, the local authority were already aware of other allegations relating to child pornography at the address. Despite this, and having parental responsibility through the interim care order, they failed to remove A for a period of 14 days.

With hindsight, Miss P acknowledged the risk of sexual, physical and emotional harm to A during the authority’s care of A between 14th May and 28th May 2012. It is clear to this court that the local authority knew about these risks on 14th May and did not take protective action as it should have done.

These matters concern us greatly and we believe should be thoroughly and forensically investigated and reviewed in an independent forum.”

    1. An order restricting publicity was originally made in the following circumstances. A journalist from The Sun attended the hearing of this matter in the Magistrates Court at Bristol on 9 October 2012. On the afternoon of 10 October 2012 Mr Cusack, an agency journalist attending the Magistrates Court hearing in this case on behalf of News Group Newspapers, was told that none of the legal representatives in the case were present at court but were instead at Bristol Civil Justice Centre seeking an injunction against The Sun. Mr Cusack went to Bristol Civil Justice Centre and attempted to take contact details for the local authority lawyer and to urge her to contact the in house lawyer for NGN. However Mr Cusack was unable to speak to the local authority lawyer until the hearing had finished and the order had been granted.

 

    1. At around 4.30 on that day, 10 October, HHJ Barclay, sitting as a s.9 judge, made an order preventing any reporting of the case, and of the names of the parties including Bristol. During that hearing no one appears to have drawn the judge’s attention to the Practice Direction applying to such applications, nor to s.12 of the Human Rights Act 1998, nor to Article 10 of the ECHR. The judge did note, despite this, that the press had not been given notice of this hearing and “arguably they should have been“. He also noted that it was a ‘great pity‘ that the press had not been notified.

 

    1. Bristol City Council at the hearing sought an order for Bristol City Council’s identity, and the social workers’ identities, to be “kept undisclosed pending an investigation”. It is unclear what “investigation” was referred to.

 

    1. Bristol City Council subsequently contended that they had been “prevented” from providing notice to News Group by the “urgency of the position”, and maintained that Bristol City Council had been correct to take this course. This is not a tenable position, given the presence in court on 9 October and the morning of 10 October of journalists who the parties knew were attending on behalf of The Sun. There was in fact no excuse at all for not putting the Sun, at the very least, on notice of the application.

 

    1. On 12 October Bristol City Council completed the checklist for applications for a reporting restriction, with a view to a video link hearing taking place before Baker J on the afternoon of 15 October. The application included a draft order, which provided for prohibitions upon (amongst other things)

 

a. Publishing anything at all relating to the care proceedings;

b. Publishing anything which identified the local authority;

c. Seeking information about the case from any employee of the local authority.

    1. In the skeleton argument served in support of the application, the LA maintained:

 

a. That there could be no public interest for the ‘unproven’ allegations about the use of pornography by the foster carer to be publicised.

b. That there could be no public interest for ‘unsubstantiated allegations of negligent social work practice made by the parents’ to be publicised.

    1. Bristol City Council subsequently changed its position concerning the reporting of the proceedings, conceding that News Group should be free to publish certain matters which News Group identified as being in the public interest, including the identity of Bristol City Council as the applicant in these proceedings. Bristol City Council maintained that certain items of information which News Group wished to disclose from the proceedings were inaccurate and should not be publishable.

 

    1. Bristol continued to maintain however that certain allegations made during proceedings should not be reportable on the basis that complaints were “ properly investigated by the local authority” and found to be without substance.

 

    1. During the course of these proceedings for an injunction, it became apparent to News Group that there was in existence a document entitled ‘Facts and Reasons’ dated setting out the findings of the Magistrates on the care application. News Group applied for permission to see this document, and then for permission to publish its contents in anonymised form. News Group maintained that the Facts and Reasons raised issues of considerable and legitimate public interest concerning the manner in which Bristol City Council had sought to discharge its duties.

 

    1. Bristol initially resisted the application by News Group for permission to publish the contents of the Facts and Reasons, then, during a hearing, conceded that the contents of the Facts and Reasons should be publishable in anonymised form.

 

  1. News Group made further submissions in respect of whether particular points of detail within the Facts and Reasons should be publishable. News Group contended that all the information within the Facts and Reasons should all be publishable in anonymised form, together with a limited amount of additional information from the proceedings.

Although the Court allow the naming of the social worker, I have chosen not to do so.

The case obviously contains very useful information on the balancing exercise between article 8 right to privacy and article 10 freedom of the press, and is helpful for that.  I don’t think there’s anything particularly novel in the law here.

The LA were obviously in a tight spot – they clearly didn’t want the girl to be identified, and were worried that she might be. The problem is, of course, that once the Sun got the story, they were always going to want to run it, and LA loses attempt to stifle the Sun is an even bigger story.  A tough position to be in.

You can’t hurry issues of disclosure of anonymous referrers

 

Tenuous title, based on nothing more than it being a Supreme Court decision – and it didn’t fit my “Chicken Supreme” headline, which will be saved for a decision which deserves it. Big important case though.

I’d previously blogged about the Court of Appeal decision in this case, but now the Supreme Court have decided it once and for all.  In RE A (a Child) 2012    (which is weird, because the appeal case was re j, and we all anticipated this being re x)

The judgment is here

http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk/decided-cases/docs/UKSC_2012_0193_Judgment.pdf

 

You may recall, that the case involved an allegation of  a sexual nature being made against a father by a person who wished to remain anonymous. The father wanted to know the details of the referrer, with a view to establishing  a case of why this person might make ghastly and untrue allegations against him; and the Court of  Appeal had to grapple with the twin concepts of article 6 right to a fair trial, and the broad public interest immunity in people being able to make referrals about child abuse in an anonymous capacity, to remove the risk that proper referrals might not be made if the person wishing to make one was fearful of reprisals, both in and out of Court.

I have put that in a very clumsy manner, let’s see how genuinely clever and articulate people do it

1.We are asked in this case to reconcile the irreconcilable. On the one hand, there is the interest of a vulnerable young woman (X) who made an allegation in confidence to the authorities that while she was a child she had been seriously sexually abused by the father of a little girl (A) who is now aged 10. On the other hand we have the interests of that little girl, her mother (M) and her father (F), in having that allegation properly investigated and tested. These interests are not only private to the people involved. There are also public interests, on the one hand, in maintaining the confidentiality of this kind of communication, and, on the other, in the fair and open conduct of legal disputes. On both sides there is a public interest in protecting both children and vulnerable young adults from the risk of harm.

Much better.

 

The issues in this case of course go much broader and deeper than the case itself, and cut to the heart of how the Court is to tackle allegations which on the face of it are serious and grave but where the primary evidence is from someone who wishes to remain anonymous and does not want to come before the Court and have the primary evidence tested by cross-examination.

From the ‘public interest in anonymity’ standpoint, a better case could not have come before the Court – the allegations were not to be determined at a fact-finding, the identity of the referrer was known to the Local Authority who were able to notify her and she was able to secure intervenor status and undertake psychological assessments showing how devastating and harmful revealing her identity might be. It must be at the high watermark of cases where the concern about disclosure is significant and real, rather than theoretical and about the principle in a wider sense.

The Supreme Court helpfully set out the positions of the respective parties

13.The positions of the parties are as follows:
(i) Sarah Morgan QC, on behalf of X, resists disclosure on the primary ground that this will violate her right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment, contrary to article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Alternatively, the balance between her right to respect for her private life and the rights of the other parties should be struck by the court adopting some form of closed material procedure which would enable the allegations to be tested by a special advocate appointed to protect the parents’ interests but without disclosure to the father.
(ii) Paul Storey QC, on behalf of the Children’s Guardian, supports disclosure in the interests of A. A’s right to respect for her private and family life is engaged, as potentially is her article 3 right to protection from abuse: see Z v United Kingdom (2001) 34 EHRR 97. The allegations cannot be ignored but they cannot be taken into account unless they can be properly investigated.
(iii) The mother is in the same position, but with the additional feature that she knows who X is and believes the principal thrust of her allegations to be true. She understands that it will not be possible to rely upon these unless they can be properly investigated but she will have great difficulty in agreeing that the father should resume unsupervised contact with A unless they are.
(iv) The father also supports disclosure. He might instead have relied on the mother’s inability to pursue the allegations without disclosure but he wishes to have them resolved. Not having seen the history of how and when X’s allegations were made, he does not accept the judge’s conclusion that they were not prompted by the mother.
(v) The local authority now adopt a completely neutral stance as to disclosure. Roger McCarthy QC on their behalf accepts that if the material is not disclosed in these proceedings it would not be possible for the local authority to bring care proceedings to remove A from her mother unless the material could be disclosed in those proceedings. In other words, they accept that they cannot have it both ways and put all the burden of protecting A upon the mother without giving her the material with which to do so.

 

The law is then set out

 

14. It is convenient first to look at the principles governing the issue at common law, before considering how these may have been affected by the implementation of the Human Rights Act 1998.

15. The local authority claim public interest immunity for their records relating to X and her allegations. They are doing so because of the public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of information given to the authorities responsible for protecting children from abuse. That this is a class of information to which public interest immunity attaches has been established since the decision of the House of Lords in D v National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children [1978] AC 171. That case accorded to people who informed the authorities of allegations of child abuse the same protection as informants to the police and the gaming authorities. It is not the fact that the information is communicated in confidence which attracts the immunity, but the public interest in encouraging members of the public to come forward to help the authorities to protect children. That this may also protect an untruthful or malicious informant is the necessary price to be paid. Although D v National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was concerned with a neighbour who claimed to have witnessed the alleged abuse, rather than a victim, I can see no reason why the same rationale should not also apply to the victims of alleged abuse.

16.That is not, of course, the whole story. The immunity is only the starting point, for without it there is no question that all documentation relevant to the proceedings must be disclosed. Public interest immunity is not absolute. The public interest in maintaining confidentiality must be balanced against the public interest in a fair trial, according to principles which have developed since the landmark case of Conway v Rimmer [1968] AC 910 required the court to strike that balance.

17.If the public interest against disclosure prevails, the decision-maker, whether judge or jury, is not entitled to take the information into account in deciding the result of the litigation. There is no hard and fast rule as to whether the same judge can continue to hear the case. It is well-established that a judge may do so in a criminal case, but then the jury and not the judge are the finders of fact. It may also be possible to do so in a civil case: see Berg v IML London Ltd [2002] 1 WLR 3271. The well-established test of apparent bias will apply: see Porter v Magill [2001] UKHL 67, [2002] 2 AC 357.

18.Are cases about the future care and upbringing of children any different? The whole purpose of such cases is to protect and promote the welfare of any child or children involved. So there are circumstances in which it is possible for the decision-maker to take into account material which has not been disclosed to the parties. As Lord Devlin put it in In re K (Infants) [1965] AC 201, 238, “a principle of judicial inquiry, whether fundamental or not, is only a means to an end. If it can be shown in any particular class of case that the observance of a principle of this sort does not serve the ends of justice, it must be dismissed”. He went on, at p 240, to approve the words of Ungoed Thomas J at first instance [1963] Ch 381, at p 387:
“However, where the paramount purpose is the welfare of the infant, the procedure and rules of evidence should serve and certainly not thwart that purpose. . . . In general publicity is vital to the administration of justice. Disclosure to the parties not only enables them to present their case fully but it provides in some degree the advantages of publicity; and it further ensures that the court has the assistance of those parties in arriving at the right decision. So when full disclosure is not made, it should be limited only to the extent necessary to achieve the object of the jurisdiction and no further.”
Thus, while there was no absolute right for the mother to see the report made by the Official Solicitor as guardian ad litem for a ward of court, the discretion to refuse it was to be exercised “occasionally and with great caution”. Lord Evershed had earlier set the bar extremely high when he said (at p 219) that “a judge should not reach such a conclusion without the relevant disclosure to the party or parent save in rare cases and where he is fully satisfied judicially that real harm to the infant must otherwise ensue” (emphasis supplied).

19. In In re D (Minors)(Adoption Reports: Confidentiality) [1996] AC 593, referred to by the Court of Appeal in this case as the “starting point”, Lord Mustill, at p 611, did not accept that Lord Evershed intended those words to be read literally as a standard applicable in every wardship case, let alone in adoption cases which were governed by the Adoption Rules. These then provided that all reports were confidential, but that an individual could inspect any part of such report which referred to him, subject to the court’s power to direct otherwise. In Children Act proceedings, Lord Mustill preferred the broader principle enunciated by Glidewell LJ in In re B (A Minor)(Disclosure of Evidence) [1993] Fam 142 at p 155:
“Before ordering that any such evidence be not disclosed to another party, the court will have to consider it in order to satisfy itself that the disclosure of the evidence would be so detrimental to the welfare of the child or children under consideration as to outweigh the normal requirements for a fair trial that all evidence must be disclosed, so that all parties can consider it and if necessary seek to rebut it.”

20. Thus Lord Mustill concluded, at p 614, that “the presumption in favour of disclosure is strong indeed, but not so strong that it can be withheld only if the judge is satisfied that real harm to the child must otherwise ensue”. He went on, at p 615, to enunciate the principles which have been recited ever since:
(i) It is a fundamental principle of fairness that a party is entitled to the disclosure of all materials which may be taken into account by the court when reaching a decision adverse to that party.
(ii) When deciding whether to direct that a party referred to in a confidential report in adoption proceedings should not be able to inspect the part which refers to him or her, the court should first consider whether disclosure of the material “would involve a real possibility of significant harm to the child”.
(iii) If it would, the court should next consider whether the overall interests of the child would benefit from non-disclosure, weighing on the one hand the interest of the child in having the material properly tested, and on the other both the magnitude of the risk that harm will occur and the gravity of the harm if it does occur.
(iv) If the court is satisfied that the interests of the child point towards non-disclosure, the next and final step is for the court to weigh that consideration, and its strength in the circumstances of the case, against the interest of the parent or other party in having an opportunity to see and respond to the material. In the latter regard the court should take into account the importance of the material to the issues in the case.

21.It will thus be seen that these principles are designed to protect the welfare of the child who is the subject of the proceedings, to prevent the proceedings which are there to protect the child being used as an instrument of doing harm to that child. If they were to be applied in this case, it is clear that there is little or no risk of harm to A if the material is disclosed. The risk is if the material is not disclosed and a wrong decision is reached as a result.

22. The principles enunciated by Lord Mustill do not address whether it might be possible in Children Act proceedings to withhold information which is to be taken into account by the court from any of the parties on the ground that disclosure might cause harm to someone other than the subject child. In In re B, above, the proceedings were about a father’s contact with his 12-year-old son. His 15-year-old half-sister had made serious allegations of sexual abuse against her stepfather which the mother wanted the court to take into account without
disclosing them to the father. As Glidewell LJ pointed out, at p 156, the order was sought, mainly if not entirely, for the protection of the half-sister and it was the son’s welfare which was the court’s paramount consideration. Even if it were suggested that in some way the son might be harmed by disclosure (though the suggestion was rather that having to keep his sister’s allegations secret would be harmful to him), that possibility had to be weighed against the grave injustice which would result from non-disclosure. So even in a case where the third party was a child, it was the interests of the subject child which might have justified non-disclosure.

23.We therefore have to look outside those authorities for the source of any power to withhold such information in the interests of a third party. As the common law stands at present, in the absence of a statutory power to do so, the choice is between the case going ahead without the court taking account of this material at all and disclosing it to the parties.

 

The Court went on to consider the human rights implications, and chief amonst these was whether there were article 3 and article 8 rights attaching to the referrer who wished to be anonymous, to be weighed against the article 6 rights of the parents facing allegations about which they did not have full information

24.To what extent, if at all, are these principles affected by the Human Rights Act 1998? In A Local Authority v A [2009] EWCA Civ 1057, [2010] 2 FLR 1757, the Court of Appeal accepted that the principles of non-disclosure might now have to be extended to other people whose Convention rights might be violated by disclosure.

25.It is common ground that several Convention rights are, or may be, in play in this case. There are the article 6 rights of all three parties to the proceedings, A, M and F, to have a fair trial in the determination of their civil rights. The right to a fair trial is absolute but the question of what is fair may depend upon the circumstances of the case. There are the article 8 rights of A, M and F to respect for their private and family lives. There is also the article 8 right of X to respect for her private life. Article 8 rights are qualified and can be interfered with if it is necessary in a democratic society in order to protect the rights of others.

26.However, Miss Morgan on behalf of X has relied principally (as did the mother in A Local Authority v A) upon her article 3 right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment. Requiring X to give evidence in person would, she argues, amount to treatment for this purpose, but so too would the act of disclosure because of the effect that it would have upon X. Dr W was specifically asked to distinguish between the effect of disclosure and the effect of giving evidence (see para 6(vi) above). She replied that disclosure alone would potentially be detrimental to her health. She pointed out that her condition had deteriorated considerably recently, to such an extent as to be life-threatening. Disclosure would
inevitably subject her to further stress. There was therefore a significant risk that exposure to further psychological stress would put her at risk of further episodes of illness. That, argues Miss Morgan, is sufficient to bring the effects of the treatment up to the high threshold of severity required by article 3. X has therefore an absolute right not to be subjected to it.

27.The other parties to these proceedings question whether mere disclosure can amount to treatment within the meaning of article 3. They also support the conclusion of the Court of Appeal that the effects of disclosure alone would not reach the minimum level of severity required to violate article 3. Indeed, Peter Jackson J, while concluding that requiring X to give evidence would probably reach that high threshold, did not hold that disclosure alone would do so. He did not say that it would not, but it is clear, not least from the questions he asked of Dr W, that he was fully alive to the distinction between the effects of disclosure and the effects of giving evidence.

28.If her argument on article 3 is not accepted, Miss Morgan’s secondary case on behalf of X is that the invasion of her private life which would result from disclosure of this material in these proceedings is so grave that it would be disproportionate to disclose it. The court should therefore contemplate some form of closed material procedure, which would enable the material to be put before the court and tested, without disclosing either her identity or the details to the other parties.

 

That suggestion is broadly what had happened in the original High Court case, the Judge had seen the information and determined that it was not something on which a finding of fact hearing was required, and put it out of his mind – one major issue for the Court of Appeal was whether the Judge who had undertaken that process and set the information out of his mind could genuinely do so and was in a position to conduct the remainder of the case without the parties having the impression that evidence not seen by them might be influencing him in some way.

29.If we were dealing with the common law principles alone, the answer would be clear. There is an important public interest in preserving the confidence of people who come forward with allegations of child abuse. The system depends upon the public as its eyes and ears. The social workers cannot be everywhere. The public should be encouraged to take an interest in the welfare of the children in their neighbourhoods. It is part of responsible citizenship to do so. And that includes victims of historic child abuse who have information about the risks to which other children may now be exposed.

30.But many of these informants will not be required to give evidence in order to prove a case, whether in criminal or care proceedings, against the perpetrators of any abuse. Their information will simply trigger an investigation from which other evidence will emerge. Their confidence can be preserved without harming others. In this case, however, that is simply not possible. We do not know whether A is at risk of harm from her father. But we do know of allegations, which some professionals think credible and which would, at the very least, raise the serious
possibility of such a risk. Those allegations have to be properly investigated and tested so that A can either be protected from any risk of harm which her father may present to her or can resume her normal relationship with him. That simply cannot be done without disclosing to the parents and to the Children’s Guardian the identity of X and the detail and history of the allegations which she has made. The mother can have no basis for seeking to vary the arrangements for A to have contact with her father unless this is done. If this were an ordinary public interest immunity claim, therefore, there would be no question where the balance of public interest would lie.

31.It is, of course, possible that the harm done to an informant by disclosing her identity and the details of her allegations may be so severe as to amount to inhuman or degrading treatment within the meaning of article 3. The evidence is that X suffers from a physical illness which is at times life-threatening and that her condition deteriorates in response to stress. The father does himself no credit by belittling this. There was some discussion about whether we were here concerned with the duty of the state to take positive steps to protect her from harm (under the principles explained in Osman v United Kingdom (1998) 29 EHRR 245) or with the duty of the state to refrain from subjecting her to harm. As we are here considering the actions of the state – whether the state should disclose to others information which she gave it in confidence and, in future, whether the state should compel her to give evidence in these proceedings – I have no doubt that we are here concerned with the primary, negative, duty of the state to avoid subjecting her to inhuman treatment.

32.However, when considering what treatment is sufficiently severe to reach the high threshold required for a violation of article 3, the European Court of Human Rights has consistently said that this “depends on all the circumstances of the case, such as the nature and context of the treatment, the manner and method of its execution, its duration, its physical or mental effects and, in some instances, the sex, age and state of health of the victim”: see, for example, Kudla v Poland (2000) 35 EHRR 198, para 91. The court has also stressed that it must go beyond “that inevitable element of suffering or humiliation connected with a given form of legitimate treatment or punishment”: para 92. Thus the legitimate objective of the state in subjecting a person to a particular form of treatment is relevant. A well-known example is medical treatment, which may well be experienced as degrading by a patient who is subjected to it against his will. However, “A measure which is therapeutically necessary from the point of view of established principles of medicine cannot in principle be regarded as inhuman and degrading”: Juhnke v Turkey (2008) 49 EHRR 534, para 71, citing Herczegfalvy v Austria (1992) 15 EHRR 437, para 82. Obviously, the ends do not justify the means. But the context in which treatment takes place affects the severity of its impact. The context here is not only that the state is acting in support of some important public interests; it is also that X is currently under the specialist care of a consultant physician and a
consultant psychiatrist, who will no doubt do their utmost to mitigate any further suffering which disclosure may cause her. I conclude therefore, in agreement with the Court of Appeal, that to disclose these records to the parties in this case will not violate her rights under article 3 of the Convention.

33.However, that may not be the end of the matter, for to order disclosure in this case would undoubtedly be an interference with X’s right to respect for her private life. She revealed what, if true, would be some very private and sensitive information to the authorities in the expectation that it would not be revealed to others. She has acquiesced in its disclosure to her legal advisers and to the court in these proceedings, but that can scarcely amount to a waiver of her rights. She had no choice. Clearly, her rights are in conflict with the rights of every other party to these proceedings. Protecting their rights is a legitimate aim. But the means chosen have to be proportionate. Is there, therefore, some means, short of full disclosure, of protecting their rights?

 

The Supreme Court here are agonising with the irresistable force of not wanting to cause harm to a vulnerable individual who made an allegation in an expectation of anonymity, and the immovable object of article 6 and the right to a fair trial. They have a quick look at whether they can avoid the irresistable force hitting the immovable object by digging a hole to divert the path. Will it work?

 

34.It is in this context that it has been suggested that the court might adopt some form of closed material procedure, in which full disclosure was made to a special advocate appointed to protect the parents’ interests, but not to the father himself. It faces two formidable difficulties. The first is that this Court has held that there is no power to adopt such a procedure in ordinary civil proceedings: Al Rawi v Security Service (JUSTICE intervening) [2011] UKSC 34, [2012] 1 AC 531. That case can be distinguished on the ground that it was the fair trial rights of the state that were in issue, and the state does not enjoy Convention rights. It is arguable that a greater latitude may be allowed in children cases where the child’s welfare is the court’s paramount concern. But the arguments against making such an inroad into the normal principles of a fair trial remain very powerful. The second difficulty lies in the deficiencies of any closed material procedure in a case such as this. We have arrived at a much better understanding of those difficulties in the course of the control order cases, culminating in Secretary of State for the Home Department v AF (No 3) [2009] UKHL 28, [2010] 2 AC 269. The essential requirement of any fair procedure is that the person who stands to lose his rights has an opportunity effectively to challenge the essence of the case against him. There may be cases in which this can be done by offering him a “gist” of the allegations and appointing a special advocate to scrutinise the whole of the material deployed against him. In a case such as this, however, it is not possible effectively to challenge the allegations without knowing where, when and how the abuse is alleged to have taken place. From this information it is inevitable that X’s identity will be revealed. Even if it were theoretically possible to devise some form of closed material procedure, therefore, it would not meet the minimum requirements of a fair hearing in this case.

35.The only possible conclusion is that the family life and fair trial rights of all three parties to these proceedings are a sufficient justification for the interference
with the privacy rights of X. Put the other way round, X’s privacy rights are not a sufficient justification for the grave compromise of the fair trial and family life rights of the parties which non-disclosure would entail.

No.

And they therefore have to conclude that the immovable object of article 6 is indeed immovable, and the irresistable force of articles 3 and 8 and PII will just have to be resisted. The parents have a right to see the details of the referrer.

 

They do go on to assess how the article 3 and 8 rights might be massaged a bit, and that disclosure of the referral and identity of the referrer does not necessarily mean the referrer giving evidence, that would be a separate issue as to whether she was fit to do so.

 

The cynic in me suggests that we might well see an end to the days when the Local Authority took the names of the referrer who wished to be anonymous. That obviously sidesteps any issue of disclosure of their identity. But Local Authorities will certainly need to arrive at a proper script in the light of this case for what is told to people who ring up wanting to make a referral and who wish to be anonymous.

Because if they are told now “It’s okay, your name will be kept out of it and the family won’t know it was you” then it seems to me that there’s a prospect of satellite litigation about whether the LA properly informed them of the consequences of their action.

Additionally, it is not clear to me whether the LA are supposed to cough up the name and just waive PII (which poses some, but not insurmountable problems in PII law), or whether they place the matter before the Court and for the Court to order that the interest of justice override PII, or whether the procedure here where the referrer get intervenor status and a chance to argue article 3 and article 8 is the right one.

 

One thing is for sure, seeing the words “Anonymous referral” in a social work chronology is now not the end of the story, but the start of a whole new diverting chapter of litigation.

 

 

 

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