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if legal aid is being refused to people such as this mother I am satisfied that injustices will occur

This is a report of a short judgment from Her Honour Judge Hallam sitting in Middlesbrough, building on a decision from District Judge Reed in the same Court. Huge credit to both of them for calling out the Legal Aid Agency on this dreadful state of affairs   (the LAA in turn are just doing what they are told to do by our Lord  Chancellor)

 

Re H 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B127.html

 

 

This was a private law case, between a mother and a father. The father had legal aid, because the child was known to social services and they were supporting him. The mother did not.   [One could make far more sense of it if it were the other way around - the father had a lesser need of representation because his case was being supported]

 

At a hearing in May 2014, the Court picked up that this mother was not someone who was going to be able to represent herself – there was an assessment of her cognitive abilities that assisted with that

 

She is not sufficiently disadvantaged to say that she does not have capacity to litigate. She has capacity to litigate but in my judgment that is only with the assistance of a solicitor. She has difficulties in hearing, in speech and intellectual difficulties. She is unable to read or write. They are not fanciful difficulties. In previous public law proceedings there has been a report from Dr Cooper, who is a psychologist, informing the court of the mother’s cognitive difficulties and learning difficulties. Having seen the mother in court, I am satisfied that she would not have been able to represent herself in a case as complex as this and therefore, in my judgment, she was, to all intents and purposes, prevented from having access to this court

 

 

At that hearing, D J Reed gave these directions

 

The matter came before District Judge Reed in May of this year, on 19th May. As I say, it was apparent at that stage that the mother opposed the father’s application. Furthermore, it was apparent that the local authority supported the father in his application. There was a recommendation about contact. When the matter came before District Judge Reed, the local authority, Middlesbrough Council, were made a party to the proceedings. At that stage the mother was self-representing and the judge was clearly concerned about that and there is a lengthy preamble to the order that he made in May. That preamble recorded that the attendance of GHu in court to support the mother was not appropriate, given the issue in the case. He recorded that:

 

 

 

‘In the absence of legal aid to secure representation of the mother, it is inevitable that her article 6 and her article 8 ECHR rights will be at risk of being violated, given her evident speech, hearing and learning difficulties, if the case proceeds without further representation.’

 

 

That could not have been a clearer indication of the judge’s opinion and consideration of this matter and therefore he also said that:

 

 

 

‘On its facts and having regard to the surrounding circumstances and, in particular, the recent party status of Middlesbrough local authority, the criteria for assessing an exceptional grant of legal aid are likely to be made out.’

 

 

He went further and said that the local authority involvement in the current proceedings is based largely on public law and child protection issues relating to the respondent mother’s fifth child, subject to public law proceedings which concluded in 2014, resulting in both care and placement orders. He said there is considerable similarity and overlap in the issues which present in both sets of proceedings. That part of the preamble continues with:

 

 

 

‘Furthermore, in the circumstances of this particular case and those of the respondent mother, it would be unrealistic and potentially unjust to expect the respondent mother to be a self-representing person.’

 

 

Therefore he adjourned what was to be a final hearing on that occasion in order for a further application to be made to the legal aid authorities.

 

 

You might think that you could not have a clearer indication (particularly in light of Q v Q) that the State would be breaching mother’s article 6 and article 8 human rights by not allowing her to have free legal representation.

 

You will, however, not be surprised to know that the Legal Aid Agency did not grant her exceptional funding under s10 LASPO. Of course they didn’t. As part of that decision, they considered that there was no risk of article 6 or article 8 breach. Of course they are in a far better position to assess that than the Judge who is seized of all the facts and knows the stakes. Of course they are.

 

The second matter that I am told that Mr Keegan relied upon was that there would be no breach of Convention rights. I find that statement astounding. A district judge had already found, having seen the mother, that undoubtedly her article 6 and article 8 rights would be breached. When I pause to consider the article 6 first of all, which is to ensure that people have fair trials in the courts of this country, and in order to do that should have equality of arms, I cannot see how anyone can come to the conclusion that this mother’s article 6 rights were not in jeopardy. I repeat again the father has the support of a legal representative. The local authority, who are advancing a case contrary to that of the mother’s, has legal representation. Without legal aid, therefore, the mother, on her own, would be facing two advocates pursuing a case against her. On any basis that cannot be equality of arms. She is the party with the least ability, the greatest vulnerability and she should have had the benefit of legal representation. She is faced with the father, who has the greater ability and the support of social services; as I say, both being legally represented. In effect, this vulnerable mother is faced with two advocates running a case against her and she does not even have one. I cannot think of a clearer breach of article 6. Article 8 – this matter is clearly about family life and the mother’s right to family life, whether the children should be in her care or not and what contact she should have. Again, I cannot see any conclusion other than that her article 8 rights were engaged, as the district judge said, in my view, properly, in the court below.

 

 

Fortunately for this woman, someone stepped in to represent her pro bono, but that doesn’t get away from the fact that we simply don’t have a system where s10 LASPO is the safety net that the MOJ claimed that it was when they were getting this awful legislation through Parliament.

 

If a Judge says that a person’s article 6 rights will be breached without representation, that’s a really really really good indicator that they would be. Judges don’t say these things for fun.

 

Ithas been fortunate that she has had the assistance of someone today because this matter has reached agreement. However, it is not right that legal professionals should have to attend a hearing, as complex as this one, without remuneration. The mother still has concerns about the father’s care for the children and many of those concerns are shared by the local authority, so she has not been running a fanciful case. The matter has resolved; it has resolved with an order and a very detailed working agreement. Again, I cannot see how this mother could have entered into that working agreement which has resolved this case without the assistance of Mr Nixon here to help her understand it, consider whether it was right and ultimately agree to it. Therefore, I have given this judgment because I am satisfied that this mother should have had legal aid and should have been represented. Mothers in her situation should have proper and full access to the court with the assistance of legal advice. As I have said, I am going to order a transcript of this judgment, both for the Legal Aid Board and also because I feel that it should be shown to the President of the Family Division to show what is happening in these courts. I am told that since April 2013 there have been only eight or nine cases where exceptional legal aid has been granted. I do not know if that is correct, but if legal aid is being refused to people such as this mother I am satisfied that injustices will occur. Had this matter proceeded without the assistance of Mr Nixon to a fully contested hearing, this court would have been put in an impossible situation. Having said that, I approve the order. I am grateful to everybody for the time they have spent and I am also, as I keep saying, very grateful to Mr Nixon for having attended today.

 

Written Agreements

 

Written agreements in cases involving Social Services are always a tricky thing. It is important that the wording is clear about what is being asked of a parent and what is okay and what’s not. It is also important that they are fair and not  “setting a parent up to fail”

 

These would be my golden rules for parents about written agreements

 

1. Don’t sign one unless you understand every single bit, and you’ve been told clearly what will happen if you don’t stick to it

2. If you have a lawyer, you should ask for legal advice BEFORE you sign it.  If you don’t have a lawyer, say that you want the Local Authority to hold a Meeting Before Action, so that you can have free legal advice about the agreement.

3. If you think that something isn’t fair, say so

4. If you’re willing to do what is being asked, but you want help, ask for that help to be identified and put in the agreement

5. Never ever sign a written agreement if you don’t intend to stick to it – your position is made worse by signing it and not doing it than by not signing it.

 

 

And for social workers

 

1. Be clear

2. Be fair

3. Don’t try to solve every tiny problem – worry about fresh fruit and veg and home-cooked shepherd’s pie AFTER you’ve solved the violent partner hitting the children.

4. It should be a two-way street – what are you doing to help the parent?

 

The Court of Appeal touch on a particular aspect of Written Agreement in Re W (Children) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1065.html

 

There are some important issues in this case, so I will do a follow-up post, but just on the Written Agreement issue.

 

In August 2012 a social worker, Ms Nesbitt, was appointed to the case and in October 2012 began work on a core assessment. On 12 November 2012 the mother and Ms Nesbitt signed a document which described itself as an “Agreement” made between the local authority, the mother and the paternal grandmother. So far as material for present purposes it read as follows:
 

“This is not a legal agreement however; [sic] it may be used in court as evidence if needed.
This agreement has been complied [sic] to ensure that [the mother] agrees for [the children] to remain in the care of paternal grandmother whilst further assessments are completed.
[the mother] agrees to [the children] remaining in the care of paternal grandmother whilst further assessments are completed.

 

[As one of my commentators once had a go at me for [sic]  I will point out that these are the words of the Court, not mine. I loathe the use of [sic], and it isn’t something I would ever do.]

 

Ryder LJ seems to have assumed, and I can well understand why, that the powers the local authority was exercising in and after July 2012 were those conferred on it by section 20 of the Children Act 1989. But the very curious terms of the “Agreement” dated 12 November 2012 give pause for thought. Why was it stated to be “not a legal agreement”? Why was it said that “it may be used in court as evidence if needed”? Whatever it meant, and whatever its true legal status, it was treated by the local authority as enabling it – I decline to say authorising it – in effect to control this mother and her children. And, moreover, to exercise that control without the need to commence care proceedings and hopefully, from its perspective, without exposing the local authority to the various obligations which arise in relation to a child who is or has been ‘looked after’ in accordance with section 20.
 

I express no view at all as to whether this was in law the effect of what was being done, a question on which my Lady’s judgment in SA v KCC (Child in Need) [2010] EWHC 848 (Admin), [2010] 2 FLR 1721, is illuminating (compare the facts in that case as analysed in paras 57-60, 72-74). See also my Lady’s judgment in Re B, Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council v Others [2013] EWCA Civ 964, [2013] Fam Law 1382, and the earlier judgments of Smith LJ in Southwark London Borough Council v D [2007] EWCA Civ 182, [2007] 1 FLR 2181, para 49, and of Baroness Hale of Richmond in R (M) v Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council [2008] UKHL 14, [2008] 1 WLR 535, para 42, to which Mr Boucher-Giles referred us.
 

That is not all. I suspect that the reference to the “Agreement” being “used in court as evidence if needed” can only have been intended to have the effect of warning the mother that if she did not ‘toe the line’ the “Agreement” would be used against her in some way in any proceedings that ensued. I remark that, as Hedley J put it in Coventry City Council v C, B, CA and CH [2012] EWHC 2190 (Fam), [2013] 2 FLR 987, para 27, the use of section 20 “must not be compulsion in disguise”. And any such agreement requires genuine consent, not mere “submission in the face of asserted State authority”: R (G) v Nottingham City Council and Nottingham University Hospital [2008] EWHC 400 (Admin), [2008] 1 FLR 1668, para 61, and Coventry City Council v C, B, CA and CH [2012] EWHC 2190 (Fam), [2013] 2 FLR 987, para 44.
 

Moreover, the “Agreement” was expressed, more than once, to be “whilst further assessments are completed”, yet it seemingly remained in place even after the assessment had been cancelled. And the children were not returned to the mother even after she had asked. If this was a placement under section 20 then, as my Lord pointed out during the hearing, the mother was entitled under section 20(8) to “remove” the children at any time. Why were they not returned to her? I can only assume it was because the local authority believed that the arrangements were not within section 20, so that it was for the mother, if she wished, to take proceedings, as in the event she had to, against the paternal grandmother. But if this was so, why did the local authority arrogate to itself effective decision-making power as to whether the mother’s contact with the children should be supervised or not? And why was the local authority as recently as January 2014 seemingly arrogating to itself decision-making power as to whether or not there should be overnight staying contact?
 

The local authority’s decision to decline Ryder LJ’s invitation to intervene makes it impossible for us to get to the bottom of these issues. The picture we have, however, is disturbing.

 

There are two issues here :-

 

1. The use of the wording that “this is not a Legal Agreement”  and

 

2. Whether a written agreement that is signed as ‘mere submission in the face of asserted state authority’  is fair

 

On the first point, I’ve seen this wording crop up on Written Agreements, and I don’t care for it. It is factually true that the document is not a Legal Agreement – in the sense that the Local Authority can’t sue for compensation or breach of contract or go to Court to MAKE a parent give up heroin because they agreed to it in writing.  But as the Court of Appeal point out, it is a document that would be used in evidence if there was a breach. It is a document that HAS CONSEQUENCES if you don’t stick to it, and those consequences are legal ones.

 

Does writing ‘this is not a Legal Agreement’ on them assist a parent? Well, I think very few parents were signing under the impression that the document was a contract under Contract law.  Does it hinder a parent? Well, if any of them read that message to mean ‘you don’t have to stick to it’, then yes, it does.

 

I can only think that at some time in the distant past, someone or other has said “These Written Agreements have to have written on them ‘This is not a Legal Agreement’, and it got absorbed into practice or philosophy. It might even have been a Judge. I haven’t found an authority to that effect, but it could easily be a small line in a judgment.

 

On the second, the Court of Appeal don’t go as far as saying that written agreements signed in that way should be disregarded   (unless they are a section 20 agreement that the child should live elsewhere, in which case it is established law that this consent must be given on an informed basis and freely, not under duress.

But it raises an important point – if the Written Agreement, as so many of them are, is really a  ‘sign this and you get one last chance before we take the kids’ then is the consent to the written agreement just an extension of what the Courts have ruled wrong in s20 cases ?  Remember that the s20 cases are not about the wording of the Act, which doesn’t mention consent at all, but about the wider Human Rights Act principles of proportionality and fairness.

 

Written Agreements can be valid tools for helping a family to change, to solve problems and in some cases to remove the risks that would otherwise make the children unsafe at home, but a degree of thought has to be given about their construction and use if they are instead being ‘sign this or else’

 

The principles in Re CA would be a sensible way to look at Written Agreements  (even when they are not agreements that involve agreement that the child live elsewhere , section 20)

 

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

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

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

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

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

a) Does the parent fully understand the consequences of giving such a consent?
b) Does the parent fully appreciate the range of choice available and the consequences of refusal as well as giving consent?
c) Is the parent in possession of all the facts and issues material to the giving of consent?
vi) If not satisfied that the answers to a) – c) above are all ‘yes’, no further attempt should be made to obtain consent on that occasion and advice should be sought as above and the social work team should further consider taking legal advice if thought necessary.

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

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

a) what is the current physical and psychological state of the parent?
b) If they have a solicitor, have they been encouraged to seek legal advice and/or advice from family or friends?
c) Is it necessary for the safety of the child for her to be removed at this time?
d) Would it be fairer in this case for this matter to be the subject of a court order rather than an agreement?
ix) If having done all this and, if necessary, having taken further advice (as above and including where necessary legal advice), the social worker then considers that a fully informed consent has been received from a capacitous mother in circumstances where removal is necessary and proportionate, consent may be acted upon.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Vulnerable witnesses and parents article 6 rights

 

 

This is a big case anyway, but it particularly struck a chord with me having heard Penny Cooper speak very eloquently at the Westminster Policy Forum yesterday on the shabby way vulnerable witnesses are treated in care proceedings as compared to criminal proceedings.

 

The Court of Appeal in Re J (A child) 2014 overturned a finding of fact by Pauffley J that a vulnerable witness X had been sexually abused by the father in private law proceedings. This had become pertinent in the private law proceedings because X had contacted the mother and told her, and the mother had decided that if what X said was true, the mother didn’t want father around the children.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/875.html

 

The witness in question, X, had been the subject of litigation that went all the way up to the Supreme Court, on the issue of whether father was entitled to see the details of what the allegations were, you may remember it

 

Re A (a child) 2012   http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKSC/2012/60.html

 

The lawyer representing her, Sarah Morgan QC was arguing there that the prospect of X giving evidence in her circumstances was so traumatic that it amounted to an article 3 inhuman and degrading treatment breach.

 

The expert evidence about X was this

“It is my opinion that disclosure of the social services records regarding X to other parties would be potentially detrimental to her health. As above, she appears to manifest psychological distress in physical terms both through medically unexplained symptoms and through the well recognised exacerbating effect of stress on a particular medical disorder. Her physical health has deteriorated considerably recently and, at times, has deteriorated to the point of being life-threatening. There is therefore a significant risk that exposure to further psychological stress (such as that which would inevitably result from disclosure) would put her at risk of further episodes of illness. It would also be working against the current therapeutic strategy of trying to help minimise stress and engage with psychological therapy.”

The Supreme Court didn’t go that far, but were sympathetic

 

This was what happened in relation to X’s evidence at the finding of fact hearing.

 

  1. In the light of the advice of Dr B, X gave evidence in the proceedings over a video link. Throughout she was supported by a trained registered intermediary who sat in the video room with her. It was planned that X would give oral evidence over the course of the Monday and the Wednesday during the first week of the hearing. However, for much of the morning of the first day X felt unable to contemplate answering questions and required discussion with and encouragement from her legal team assisted by the intermediary. Her evidence in chief, which was punctuated by breaks to enable X to re-gather her confidence, occupied the remainder of the first day and much of her second day in the witness box. Frustratingly, the first day of evidence coincided with what the judge described as “quite appalling noise disturbance” coming from road-works outside the video room window.

     

  2. During the morning of the second day a further difficulty occurred. One of the clear ground rules established for the giving of X’s evidence was that at no time should F see X on the television screen. F failed to abide by this ground rule and, on being spotted by the judge craning forward to see X, the evidence was abruptly curtailed. The effect of this event upon X is described by the judge as being “considerable” and that “thereafter, progress was painfully slow”. In the event the judge decided that F should leave the court room. However, by that stage X had become distraught and had locked herself in the lavatories in the court building and was refusing to come out. The court therefore adjourned for the rest of the morning hoping that X’s testimony could be resumed after lunch. X’s evidence in chief then continued until shortly before 3.30 p.m. Thereafter, following a short break, counsel on behalf of F cross-examined for something short of one hour. At 4.25 p.m. the judge concluded the process for the day and also concluded that “it would have been inhuman to have required X to return for a third day”. Cross-examination on behalf of F was thereby cut short and ended at that point. There was also no cross-examination on behalf of the guardian.

 

Clearly the process was pretty ghastly, and also it is clear that the father did not get to have all that he wanted to put to X in cross-examination put to her.

 

This is what Pauffley J said about X’s evidence

 

  1. Under the related heading of “X’s presentation at this hearing” the judge went on to describe X’s presentation during her evidence in striking terms:

     

    “I should say at once that I have never before witnessed anyone of any age demonstrate such emotional turmoil and distress whilst participating in a court hearing. If one phrase encapsulates the whole experience, it is that watching and listening to X was harrowing in the extreme.”

  2. That observation, coupled with the detailed description that the judge gives in the ensuing paragraphs, is a matter to which I give the greatest regard. This court frequently, and rightly, reminds itself of the substantial premium that must attach to the analysis of a trial judge who has had the experience, not available to those who sit on appeal, of observing the key witnesses give their testimony live at the court hearing. When the judge in question is a tribunal of the experience and standing of the judge in the present case, the level of respect and the premium that attaches to her observations must be of the highest order.

 

When a High Court family Judge describes hearing evidence as harrowing in the extreme, that is not something one can take lightly. The tolerance that High Court judges have for hearing things that would make most people faint or run out of the room to avoid is very high indeed.

 

Sarah Morgan QC described the process of X’s evidence like this

Miss Morgan submitted, and I readily accept, that the transcript of X’s evidence gives no real impression of the quality of her presentation over the video link. She told the court, and again I accept this, that this case was one that would stay in the minds of all of the professionals who had been in the court room “for decades”.

 

The whole thing was rather compounded by the father not being able to get legal aid, for one reason or another, and then that the barrister paid for by the Local Authority to represent him  (as the alternative would have been him cross-examining X himself) not realising until very late on that she was in conflict and someone fresh having to pick up the papers.

 

During the fact finding hearing, the Guardian’s team took on an almost amicus role to assist with this, putting both sides of the case and making extremely detailed submissions of the pros and cons of the evidence and the considerations that the Judge had to make.

 

And did so similarly at the appeal

On behalf of the children’s guardian Mr Paul Storey QC and Ms Camille Haboo have, through their submissions, continued to provide the court with assistance which is of the highest quality. At the stage of the conclusion of their written submissions they retained a neutral position as to the outcome of the appeal. Their helpful oral submissions included the following points:

 

a) In a case where there is no direct physical evidence or other clear “diagnostic” proof of sexual abuse, the process of judicial evaluation requires great subtlety;

b) There was an inevitable imbalance in the court process as a result of the inability of any party to cross-examine X;

c) There was a need for the judge, who obviously found X to be a very impressive witness, to exercise caution in relying upon such an impression where the full process of ordinary forensic evaluation has not been seen through;

d) Where, as here, the process of cross-examination has been halted, it is incumbent upon a judge to explain the approach that she has adopted to that factor in her overall evaluation. That is especially the case where the alleged perpetrator is a litigant in person for much of the hearing;

e) The fact that F was a litigant in person meant that he had no one to call him to give evidence in chief, he had to undertake his own closing submissions and was therefore much more on display before the judge than would be the case if he were represented.

 

 

Where the Court of Appeal were critical of Pauffley J was that in her analysis of the factors, all of them were factors which were supportive of the findings being made and none setting out that counterbalance of the reasons not to make the findings and particularly not the difficulty in X’s evidence and the risk of placing weight on the emotional content and impact on it over and above the forensic issues.

 

  1. Despite the very valuable support given to X by NM, a registered intermediary, who was described by Pauffley J as extremely impressive, it is clear that X found the process of discussing these matters to be highly distressing. As I have explained, her evidence was halting, truncated by the need for breaks and, in the end, concluded in the early stages of questioning on behalf of F.

     

  2. Within this appeal, no criticism has been made of the sequence of decisions which led to the choice of these particular arrangements, as opposed to other less direct methods, for the court to receive evidence from X. As Baroness Hale explains, in any case there will be a scale of options, running from no fresh input from the witness into the proceedings, through written answers, video-recorded questioning by trained professionals or live questioning over a video-link, to full involvement via oral evidence given in the normal forensic setting. The aim, again as Baroness Hale says, is to enable witnesses to give their evidence in the way which best enables the court to assess its reliability. It must be a given that the best way to assess reliability, if the witness can tolerate the process, is by exposure to the full forensic process in which oral testimony is tested through examination in chief and cross-examination. Just as the sliding scale of practical arrangements rises from ‘no fresh involvement’ to ‘the full forensic process’, there will be a corresponding scale in which the degree to which a court may be able to rely upon the resulting evidence will increase the nearer the process comes to normality. In each case, where a vulnerable witness requires protection from the effects of the full process, it will be necessary for the court to determine where on the scale the bespoke arrangements for that witness should sit with a view to maximising the potential reliability of the resulting evidence, but at the same time providing adequate protection for the particular vulnerabilities of that witness.  
  3. Where special measures have been deployed it is, however, necessary for the judge who is evaluating the resulting evidence to assess the degree, if any, to which the process may have affected the ability of the court to rely upon the witness’ evidence. Where, for example, the witness has simply been unable to play any active part, the court will be required to fall back upon hearsay records of what has been said outside the court context on earlier occasions and without any challenge through questioning.  
  4. In the present case it is clear that even the process of X giving evidence in chief encountered a range of difficulties, some entirely outside the court’s control, which made progress painfully slow and, at times, came to a halt. Cross-examination was very limited and was, for good reason, brought to a premature conclusion. Despite these difficulties, which the judge describes in full, the judgment does not contain any evaluation of the impact that this compromised process had upon the court’s ability to rely upon the factual allegations that X made within her evidence as a whole. This was a case where, partly as a result of the limitations on her ability to give evidence in the normal court process and partly because of the difficulty in fully understanding what she was explaining, the court only experienced X’s account ‘through a glass darkly’ because of the number of filters (both psychological and forensic) in place between X and the judge. In assessing the reliability of X’s account it was, in my view, necessary to acknowledge these difficulties and give them appropriate weight within the overall analysis.

 

 

 

The Court of Appeal felt that they had to overturn the findings

  1. It is with the heaviest of hearts that I now contemplate the conclusion that must inevitably flow from the serious detriments that I have identified in the fact finding analysis conducted by Pauffley J in this case. My reluctance arises primarily from consideration of what must follow from a decision to allow this appeal, thereby setting aside the judge’s finding of sexual abuse. I have also, at every turn, been acutely aware of Pauffley J’s enormous experience of conducting these exquisitely difficult cases.

     

  2. Despite giving every possible allowance for the factors that I have identified which either support the judge’s finding, or properly caution against the appellate court from interfering with that finding, for the reasons that I have given, the judge’s determination cannot be upheld. In summary the factors that have led me to this view, taken together, are:  

    a) The only evidence of sexual abuse came from X’s accounts given in 2009/10, as confirmed by her to be true during oral evidence. No other evidence directly supported or corroborated X’s allegation of sexual abuse. The evidence around the ‘trigger event’ established that, in at least one central respect, X’s accounts in 2009/10 were not reliable. Whilst the unsupported testimony of a single complainant is plainly capable of establishing proof of what is alleged, where, as here, there were a number of factors that detracted, or may have detracted, from the degree to which reliance could be placed on X’s testimony, a finding of fact should only be made after those factors have been given express consideration and due weight in the judicial analysis.

    b) X’s emotional presentation in 2009/10 and over the video-link was a relevant factor, but the weight given to the emotional presentation was unjustified and was disproportionate in the absence of a corresponding analysis of the detail of what she was actually saying together by undertaking a process, similar to that presented on behalf of the guardian, of balancing the factors either for or against the making of a finding.

    c) Once it was established that the ‘trigger event’ of X informing M had never occurred, despite being reported by X on a number of occasions in 2009/10, it was necessary to conduct a full appraisal of the impact of that highly material change in X’s account.

    d) The judge’s conclusion that the ‘prohibitions’ went so far as to provide a ‘complete answer’ to the lack in X’s account of any of the detail identified by Mr Storey was a conclusion that was unsupported by any expert evidence and was not open to the judge. This is particularly as the ‘prohibitions’ themselves were shadowy and only partially understood.

    e) In the light of the expert evidence concerning the difficulty encountered in determining a psychological link to X’s physical symptoms, and, particularly where some of those symptoms may be consciously generated, great caution was needed before concluding that X’s account provided a reliable foundation for the finding of fact.

    f) The judicial analysis should have included assessment of the impact of the lack of any ABE interview and/or narrative statement in 2009/10.

    g) The judicial analysis should have included assessment of the impact of the, necessarily, limited forensic process around X’s oral evidence.

  3. In the circumstances, the appeal must be allowed and the judge’s findings of fact set aside.

 

 

Lady Justice Gloster went even further and accepted the submissions made by father that the process had been a breach of his article 6 rights

  1. However I should also add that I accept Ms Branigan’s submission (as referred to at paragraph 52 above) that the trial procedure, so far as F was concerned, was unfair to him.

     

  2. The allegations being made against him were extremely serious. If established they might well have led to him being deprived of contact with his daughter, to the possibility of criminal proceedings against him, and resulted in an indelible scar to his reputation and character, with potential consequences for his future employment and personal relationships.  
  3. Whatever the difficulties surrounding X’s position as a witness, F was nonetheless entitled to a fair trial of these allegations. For the following reasons, in my judgment he did not receive one:  

    a) First, there was no equality of arms. For various reasons, he received no legal aid, and the only legal representation which the local authority agreed to fund was a barrister solely for the anticipated 3 days of cross-examination of X and her mother (see paragraphs 17 and 18 above). This might be thought to have been designed more in order to protect X from direct cross-examination by F, than for the purpose of assisting F in the presentation of his case.

    b) Second, because of the conflict of interest problem (see paragraph 19 above) his counsel was instructed on absurdly short notice for what was, necessarily, going to be an extremely difficult cross-examination.

    c) Third, whilst one can readily understand the reasons why the judge terminated X’s cross-examination, the consequences of that decision so far as F was concerned were clearly highly significant. In my judgment the judge should, at the very least, have considered whether in those circumstances, where there had been no full or adequate cross-examination of X on behalf of F, it remained possible to reach any fair outcome of the determination of the issue so far as F was concerned.

    d) Finally, F’s exclusion from the court room when X was being cross-examined, meant that it was extremely difficult for him, when he came to make his final submissions, to know what X’s evidence had been. I find it difficult to understand how he was expected to have successfully deployed what his counsel may have told him about X’s evidence in his own final submissions as a litigant in person. Whatever the perceived egregiousness of F’s conduct in “craning his neck” to see X on the screen, I cannot believe that practical arrangements could not have been made which would have enabled him to remain in the court-room but nonetheless would have prevented him from repeating his attempts to see X on screen. To exclude a litigant in person from the courtroom in such circumstances was a very serious step.

  4. It is obviously important in trials with vulnerable witnesses that the trial process should be carefully and considerately managed in such a way as to enable their evidence to be given in the best way possible and without their being subjected to unnecessary distress. But that should not come at the price of depriving defendants and others, who claim that they have been falsely accused of criminal conduct, of their right to a fair trial in which they participate and a proper opportunity to present their case in accordance with natural justice and Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  
  5. It does not surprise me that, in the light of the history of this litigation, F has on occasions, as set out in paragraphs 133-136 of the judge’s judgment, expressed his dissatisfaction with the court process in strong, emotional terms. That should not, in my view, have been relied upon by the judge (as it apparently it was at paragraphs 133-137 of her judgment) as a basis for reaching adverse findings as to F’s credibility. It is not difficult to see, given the long history of this matter and the actual and potential personal consequences for F, why he might have found it difficult to refrain from making comments of this sort, or might have behaved in an inappropriate manner in what no doubt he perceived to be a hostile court environment.  
  6. Whilst I consider that the trial process was unfair to F, it is not necessary in the light of the Court’s main conclusion in relation to the inadequacy of the evidence upon which the judge based her conclusions, to consider whether this ground alone would have sufficed as a reason for allowing this appeal.

 

 

The question then arose as to what the Court of Appeal should do. The idea that the case would be reheard seemed deeply unattractive to everyone – I’m sure that the advocates involved did not relish the idea of taking X’s evidence again

  1. Finally, there is a need to determine whether a re-trial of the issue of sexual abuse should now take place. For my part, and in the light of the material to which this court has now been exposed in full detail, and even allowing the fullest justifiable weight to X’s demeanour, I do not consider that a finding of fact against F was open to the court on the evidence as a whole.

     

  2. It seems highly unlikely that X will be able to engage to a greater extent in the forensic process than she did before Pauffley J; indeed powerful submissions were made by Miss Morgan and by M to the effect that it would be abusive and/or untenable to expect X to take part in a further hearing.  
  3. In the circumstances, and whilst fully accepting that this leaves A, M, and indeed F, in the very difficult situation that M so clearly described, I consider that no greater clarity is likely to be obtained by a retrial and that this court should therefore now put a stop to the evaluation of X’s 2009/10 allegations within these proceedings.  
  4. As a result, the private law proceedings relating to A must now proceed on the basis that there is no finding of fact against F (arising from X’s allegations). The Family Court will therefore make any determination as to A’s welfare on the basis that F has not engaged in any sexually inappropriate behaviour with X.

 

 

This all leaves vulnerable witnesses very erm, vulnerable. X was about as vulnerable as anyone could get, as a reading of Re A would show – she was almost suicidal at the idea of father even seeing what she had said about him, let alone giving evidence. She had strong expert evidence about the harm that the process might do to her. I never felt reading Re A that she would get anywhere near to giving evidence.

But she did so, and the measures that the Court put in place still weren’t enough.

Adding what we know about X from Re A with the judicial comments that the process of her giving evidence was harrowing in the extreme almost turns your stomach, even at this remove.

And the remarks of Lady Justice Gloster even call into question whether a Court can safely make those protective measures without risking an article 6 breach.

 

So where does this leave a vulnerable witness who doesn’t have such a compelling and rich case as to vulnerability as X did here? I know that the President has been speaking about this issue, and I’m sure that some guidance is going to come our way. (For once, this is a piece of guidance that I will welcome, as I think Re J throws huge doubt on where a Judge should draw the line between protecting the witness and protecting the article 6 rights of those accused)

 

Getting an expert report in private law proceedings

 

The Court of Appeal (almost a year after the High Court ruled otherwise) have decided in JG v the Lord Chancellor and Others 2014, that a Court can lawfully decide that the costs of an expert report be bourne by one party (the one who is receiving public funding) rather than split between everyone.

 

I wrote about the original decision here http://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/04/11/not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper/  with quite a bit of disappointment in my heart, so I am pleased that the Court of Appeal have taken a different view.

 

Quick bit of context first – up until LASPO  (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Prosecution of Offenders Act) came into force, most private law proceedings (i.e mum and dad arguing about where a child should live, or how much time the child should spend with each parent) had at least one of the parents, sometimes both, receiving legal aid (free legal advice). That legal aid could be used to pay for expert reports  – for example, if there was a dispute over paternity, a DNA test, if one person alleged the other had an alcohol or drug problem, testing, if the child was displaying unusual behaviour an expert to help understand that.

After LASPO, people now only get legal aid in exceptional circumstances  – it doesn’t matter if they are on benefits, or have learning difficulties, they won’t get legal aid unless they fit some very narrow prescribed criteria.

Next bit of context – in particularly tricky cases, the Court appoint a Guardian (which we call a Rule 16.4 Guardian, after the bit in the Family Procedure Rules that governs it) to assist the Court in reaching decisions. The Rule 16.4 Guardian GETS legal aid.

That led to a situation in which if an expert report was needed and the parents could not afford it, the Court would order that the costs be met entirely by the Rule 16.4 Guardian (and hence legal aid).  The Legal Aid Agency cottoned on to that, and started refusing to pay (even after the expert had done the report and the Guardian’s lawyers had written the expert the cheque, leaving the lawyers out of pocket and thus reluctant to take on such cases in the future).   One such refusal was judicially reviewed, and Ryder J (as he then was, he is now Ryder LJ) refused the judicial review and said that the Legal Aid Agency was entitled to take a position that any expert costs should be divided equally between all of the parties and that the costs should not all be loaded on to the Guardian’s public funding.   [It is a little like three people going out to dinner, and putting the bill on the person who has an Expense Account, if that makes sense, and then the firm paying the Expense Account saying  "Hey, we don't mind paying for YOUR dinner, but not for the other two"]

Ryder J did say that in an exceptional case where the parent could not possibly pay anything towards the cost of the report, and the Court considered it was vital, things might have to be looked at differently.

So, the Court of Appeal disagreed with Ryder J’s decision – but not in a way that gives carte blanche for all reports to be loaded on to the Guardian’s public funding certificate (actually the Child’s) and the parents to pay nothing. It is a bit more nuanced than that.

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/articles/jg-v-the-lord-chancellor-and-others-2014-ewca-civ-656

 

There were basically two sides to this (because it had now become an issue about principle, rather than the parents own case) – the Law Society, arguing that the Court should have the power to decide how costs should be apportioned and particularly where failure to have the report would breach article 6 (right to fair trial) or article 8 (right to family life),  and the Lord Chancellor – arguing that this should only be in a situation where the Legal Aid Agency deemed itself that it was appropriate. It’s a fundamental question of who is in charge, the Court or the Legal Aid Agency.

 

Law Society to throw first

a) The appellant’s and the Law Society’s case on the general question
67. The appellant adopted the Law Society’s submissions on the general question. The Law Society submitted that where expert evidence was necessary in the circumstances set out in the question, the court should direct the child, through her guardian, to obtain the evidence and give the child permission to adduce it, although in instructing the expert, the guardian should normally seek to agree with the other parties, if possible, which expert is to be instructed and the instructions to be given to him. The court’s direction should be subject to any prior authorisation or increase in costs limitation that may be required for the purpose. The Law Society submitted that those responsible for administering legal aid could not refuse to give such approval as refusal would be incompatible with articles 6 and 8 of the ECHR and would deprive the court of the assistance it needs to enable it to determine what the welfare of the child requires, thus being “incompatible with the object and purpose of the legislation for the protection of children involved in private law family proceedings”. There is no point, submitted the Law Society, in funding the representation necessary to protect a child’s interests in the private law proceedings yet denying the funding required to enable the evidence to be provided that is necessary to establish what the child’s welfare requires.
68. It was submitted that a requirement, such as that favoured by Ryder J (see §§75 et seq of the judgment), for a “robust scrutiny of … means” with reference to a party’s financial eligibility for legal aid prior to the instruction of the expert would present the courts with a task for which, unlike the Legal Aid Agency, they are not equipped and which would import harmful delay whilst investigations were carried out. The Law Society’s proposal was therefore said to be a better alternative because the expert could be instructed without delay on the basis that the cost of the report could be met as a disbursement on the child’s certificate, leaving the parties’ respective liability for the fees to be dealt with by means of a costs order, if appropriate.

 

Lord Chancellor, you require forty  (sorry, to go next)

b) The Lord Chancellor’s case
69. The Lord Chancellor accepted that “if there were a case in which a report was genuinely sought by the publicly funded party alone, for reasons affecting that party, and the other parties did not agree with or seek to make use of the report, then the court might direct that the cost[s] were borne by that party alone and it would be legitimate for the legally aided party to bear the full costs of that report” (§61 of the Lord Chancellor’s skeleton argument). In those circumstances, he said, the legally aided party would have to formulate the instructions without the involvement of the other parties. That set of circumstances was not what he was addressing in his main submissions.
70. In cases where expert evidence was necessary but the report was not genuinely sought by the publicly funded party alone, the Lord Chancellor submitted that the judge’s solution, which had of course largely been put forward by him, was correct. Only in “very exceptional cases” could the court depart from the norm of a single joint expert whose fees would be apportioned equally between the parties, it was submitted. Two conditions had to be satisfied:
i) “a party’s means, assessed following a robust process, are such that he or she cannot afford to pay for his or her share of the report”
and
ii) “an order for equal apportionment would involve a breach of a party’s Convention rights in the family proceedings because it would prevent an expert report which the court considered necessary to the proper resolution of the case from being adduced”.
If the two conditions were satisfied, the Lord Chancellor’s case was that the court should still order a single joint expert but could visit a greater share of the costs on the legally aided party than normal, although whether the legally aided party would have to pay all the costs would depend on the circumstances.

 

The Court of Appeal then distil the arguments down to common ground and areas of difference

c) Points in common and points of difference
71. It can be seen that all parties agreed that there may be situations in which an order can be made which does not apportion the cost of an expert equally between the parties in a case. It was common ground that where this was a departure from the apportionment that would normally have been ordered, the justification for this would be that otherwise there would be a breach of a party’s Convention rights. It was also common ground that in these circumstances, section 22(4) would not present an obstacle to the order being made. The absolutist position which I think was adopted by the LSC in front of Ryder J, namely that there were no circumstances in which the LSC could be ordered to pay experts’ fees “beyond a proportion that represents the proportion of legally aided parties” (see §79 of Ryder J’s judgment), was not advanced before us.
72. Underlying matters of detail were not agreed. There was debate as to whether it was necessary to impose a requirement of exceptionality, as to when and how a party’s inability to pay should be established and, an allied question, as to whether the proper way in which to regulate the parties’ share of the fees was by regulating their contractual liability to the expert or by means of conventional costs orders. Another major difference between the parties was that the Lord Chancellor was wedded to the idea of a single joint expert (and utilised that as a significant part of the foundation for his arguments) whereas the other parties contemplated that the expert could be instructed by the child/guardian alone, albeit with input from the other parties to the instructions.

 

 

A major part of the argument was whether the report being commissioned was really one being commissioned solely on behalf of the Child, or whether it was really one for the benefit of all parties and just pretending to be a sole instruction to get the free funding   (To go back to the dinner analogy – was this really a business meeting that the Expense account could pay for legitimately, or were two people getting a free lunch?)

The Court of Appeal consider some hypothetical situations but eventually come down to this

 

84. Doing the best I can to forecast the sort of situations that may arise, it seems to me that it may not be all that infrequent that an application by a child/guardian for permission to instruct an expert will genuinely be for an expert on behalf of the child, as opposed to a single joint expert, notwithstanding that the other parties have some input into the process of approval by the court and into the format of the expert’s instruction. Section 22(4) will then present no obstacle to the cost of the expert being met by the child’s public funding.

 

But going on to say that even if it is really a joint report, and the parents can’t pay, the Court still have to consider what is right and fair

 

When the expert is not solely the child’s expert
85. If the expert is not in fact the child’s expert but is a single joint expert, and the other parties are unable to contribute to the cost of the expert, it is necessary to consider in what circumstances public funds can be required to meet the whole cost. Once again, I will confine myself in this discussion to the current provisions of the 2010 Rules.

 

The Court then looked, in a lot of detail, about whether there was a presumption in law that any report would have the costs split equally –  there is a provision in the Family Procedure Rules that says that this is what will happen in the absence of the Court saying otherwise.  Does that mean that the Court have to have reasons for deviating from an equal split, or does it just mean that if the Court is silent, that’s what happens?

92. This provision received quite a lot of attention in argument in front of us. It is perhaps rather an odd provision to find in procedural rules, appearing to concern itself with the contractual relationship between the parties and the expert. It needs to be read with Rule 25.12(4)(a) which provides that the court may give directions about the expert’s fees and expenses. It is quite clear from that, and from its own terms, that Rule 25.12(6) is not intended to be prescriptive and merely establishes a default position as to liability to the expert in the event that the court does not direct otherwise. I do not see it as setting up a “normal rule” that the cost is to be apportioned equally, any more than the Calderdale case did.
93. None of the authorities which I have just cited turned on the impecuniosity of the parties. Although they differ from the present case in that they were care cases, they are capable of providing assistance as to “the principles on which the discretion of [the] court is normally exercised” in relation to the cost of expert evidence. As I have explained, to my mind, they do not reveal the existence of a normal rule that costs be apportioned equally any more than Rule 25.12(6) does. Accordingly, in so far as the Lord Chancellor’s submissions proceed upon the basis that equal apportionment is the norm, I would question the premise. In order to decide whether a court order has fallen foul of section 22(4), a more sophisticated exercise is required. It is necessary to ask what order the court would make in its discretion on the particular facts of that case, leaving aside any resources problems. The answer may not uncommonly be an order for equal apportionment of the costs but that cannot be assumed. It may be that a full consideration of the circumstances of the case produces the result that the publicly funded party should be paying a greater share of the costs in any event, quite irrespective of any financial difficulties that the other parties may have in sharing the cost of the expert. In such circumstances, section 22(4) does not prevent the court from making an order accordingly, because the order is in no way affected by the fact of public funding.

 

That’s quite dense, but basically, what the Court of Appeal say there is that there may be circumstances (even if there is no issue over the parties ABILITY to pay) where the costs of the report might be met by one party exclusively or where one party may make a larger share, and the Court has the legitimate power to do that.

[That, to make it explicit, is the Lord Chancellor losing an argument]

 

Next – what about a situation where the Court thinks that it is FAIR to split the costs equally, but one or more parties has resource issues (impecuniosity – or in layman’s terms, they are skint)

95. In the light of what I have said in the preceding section, I would reformulate the Lord Chancellor’s submission so that, rather than focussing upon whether the court can depart from equal apportionment of the expert’s fees, it focusses upon whether the court can depart from the order that it would have made but for the resources problem (to which I will refer in shorthand as “the normal order”). The Lord Chancellor sought to impose what, for the purposes of the discussion that follows, I will treat as three conditions for such a departure from the normal order although I accept that he may well not have intended the third one to be a condition as such. The three “conditions” are that it must be established that the other party could not pay his share of the cost; the normal order would involve a breach of a party’s Convention rights; and the case must be a “very exceptional” one.

 

Condition 1  (remember these are the conditions proposed by the Lord Chancellor) – an equal split would involve a breach of the party’s convention rights  – there’s a lot of this, so I have skipped to the conclusion

108. The Lord Chancellor’s argument seems to me to risk prejudicing the child in order to prevent a parent who is not otherwise entitled to legal aid deriving a benefit from a report which has been paid for by public funding. I have already emphasised that FPR 2010 acknowledge that a party may benefit from a report produced by another party’s expert without that expert becoming a joint expert. Anyone who has ever conducted or watched a successful cross-examination of an expert knows this perfectly well. The fact that a party who is not publicly funded will or may benefit from the expert’s input is likely to be a material factor in the court’s discretion as to the cost of the expert but it is not a reason to conclude, as I think is the conclusion to which the Lord Chancellor’s submissions would logically lead, that even though the child’s Convention rights would be violated by the inability to obtain the expert advice that the court had concluded was necessary to assist it, the expert could not be paid for on the child’s public funding certificate because that would benefit one or both of the parents as well.
109. It is as well to remember that cases in which the child is joined as a party are far from commonplace, as can be seen from the various provisions which I outlined earlier in this judgment starting at §39. They will be cases in which there are particular challenges in determining what is in the best interests of the child or in actually achieving the right solution in practice. The role of the child’s guardian is directed very firmly at achieving a resolution that is in the best interests of the child. His or her duties are defined and circumscribed as I have described earlier. His or her decisions must be made for the benefit of the child and he or she must make such investigations as are necessary to carry out his or her duties including obtaining such professional assistance as he or she thinks appropriate. By the time the guardian has endorsed the instruction of an expert as appropriate and the court itself has approved it as necessary, there will be the beginnings of a strong foundation for an argument that the child’s Article 8/Article 6 rights will be violated if the court cannot be provided with that expert assistance. Whether the argument will ultimately succeed will depend, of course, upon the precise nature of the decision to be taken in relation to the child.

 

It will be necessary for the parties to persuade the Court that an equal split (if that means the report can’t be obtained) would result in an article 6 or article 8 breach, but that’s not as much of an uphill struggle as the Lord Chancellor would have hoped – the parties start partway up that hill.

I reckon the Lord Chancellor   (apologies for not continually putting that title in quotation marks, since he isn’t a Lord Chancellor in the way that any lawyer or historian would recognise the role) lost that one as well

 

b) A very exceptional case
110. It is understandable that the Lord Chancellor should seek to confine the cases in which the cost of the expert would be apportioned unequally to avoid a breach of Convention rights by stressing that this could apply only in “very exceptional cases”. This approach ties in with the language of section 10 of LASPO 2012. However, whatever the immediate impact on the reader of the reference in section 10 to an “exceptional case determination”, the definition in section 10(3) makes it clear that “exceptionality” is not in fact an extra requirement and that what lies beneath the label is simply that if the services are not made available to an individual, there would (or sometimes might) be a breach of his Convention rights. I see no more justification for introducing a specific exceptionality requirement in the context we are considering here than the draftsman appears to have seen in relation to section 10 and it seems to me that it would distract attention from the central question. Granted, we are concerned with a departure from the way in which the court would otherwise have catered for the costs of the expert, so to that extent the order would be exceptional. That is a description, however, not a test or an additional hurdle.

 

That’s an indisputable loss for the Lord Chancellor.

 

c) Impecuniosity
111. It was common ground that the court would not be considering departing from the normal order unless the parties who would normally have to share the cost of the expert were unable to do so. There was debate, however, as to when and how impecuniosity would be determined.

 

There’s a risk of course, that the Court spends so long gathering information about whether or not someone is genuinely impecunious (as opposed to not keen on paying £2000 for a share of a report, which would apply to pretty much everyone) that the child’s welfare is prejudiced by delay.  There’s a difficult balance to be struck here.

112. Ryder J held, accepting the Lord Chancellor’s submissions, that “a robust scrutiny” was required of the party’s means, and said that what was a robust scrutiny would depend on the circumstances of the case but “an important consideration …. should be the party’s eligibility for legal aid where that still exists” (§76). He considered that if the party would not qualify for legal aid on the basis of their means, that was a factor that should point very strongly in favour of that party having to pay their full share of the cost of an expert’s report whereas, in contrast, if the party would qualify for legal aid, it may suggest that they should pay less than a full share, although paying nothing at all should be exceptional, bearing in mind that legally aided parties often have to pay a contribution (§77).
113. A particular concern of the Law Society was that the assessment of impecuniosity should not delay the proceedings. They were right to be concerned about that. Section 1(2) CA 1989 (see above) requires the court to have regard to the general principle that any delay in determining a question with respect to the upbringing of a child is likely to prejudice the child’s welfare. Furthermore, delay in resolving matters is capable, itself, of giving rise to breaches of Convention rights. What has happened in this case amply demonstrates that wrangles over the extent to which an expert’s costs should be met from public funds can introduce huge delay. The proceedings relating to this child were commenced in 2006, the guardian first sought a report in 2008 and the question of the payment of the expert remained unresolved in 2012 when we can see that the debate was impeding a final hearing of the case. It is quite possible that there were other problems as well as the expert’s fees but this is quite an indictment of the system. It leads me to the view that whatever system is operated must be one which is practical and not over technical and which avoids delay wherever possible.
114. The Law Society’s proposal that the child should be directed to obtain the expert evidence in the first instance with the ultimate liability for the expert’s fees being distributed between the parties by means of a costs order later in the proceedings therefore has considerable appeal.
115. The Lord Chancellor challenged it on a number of bases. Some of the arguments raised against the proposal amalgamated the issues of a breach of Convention rights and impecuniosity whereas I have dealt with these separately. Some covered the ground which I have examined when considering whether or not an expert is properly the child’s sole expert. I only reach the question of impecuniosity on the basis that the Lord Chancellor’s condition that the normal order would involve a breach of a party’s Convention rights is satisfied and, as I have explained, in my view there is no third condition of “exceptionality”
116. I sensed that an understandable concern of the Lord Chancellor was that joining the child as a party and using the child’s public funding to pay for an expert would become a widely used device – a back door to public funding for parents who would not otherwise have it – and I think he saw the Law Society’s proposed scheme as a way in which to have all the benefits of a single joint expert without the non-legally aided parties having to bear the cost. He did not, however, go so far as to suggest that only those who would in fact satisfy the financial criteria for legal aid should be treated as impecunious for the present purposes but submitted that eligibility might be a useful starting point and yardstick.
117. Ryder J also saw financial eligibility for legal aid as a relevant factor and I do not disagree. In my view, the Lord Chancellor was right not to argue that satisfying the financial eligibility criteria is a necessary qualification, not least because it may well place the family courts in considerable difficulty if they had to carry out the sort of detailed and technical assessment that the LSC would use to determine financial eligibility. The challenges facing the courts in private law cases in the new post-legal aid regime are evident and they are also working hard to process care cases with expedition. It is difficult to envisage them having the resources to assess a party’s eligibility for legal aid as the LSC would do, without seriously holding up the individual case or prejudicing the rest of their work or both. But in so far as financial eligibility can be ascertained, it must be relevant. If the party in question would not qualify for legal aid, that may count heavily against an argument that they could not pay their full share of the cost of the report whereas, conversely, if they would qualify, then that may suggest that they cannot pay a full share. As Ryder J rightly pointed out, it is not all or nothing. It may be that a party could not pay a full share but could pay something towards the expert’s costs, just as they could be required to pay a contribution towards their legal aid.
118. It is difficult to forecast what financial information will be available to the court and at what stage in the proceedings. There may be cases in which a party has already been assessed for financial eligibility for legal aid and no doubt it would be appropriate to have regard to the outcome of such an assessment in those cases. In some cases, as in the present case, financial information is available because there are or have been ancillary relief proceedings. In other cases, directions will have to be given to secure the necessary information from the parties.
119. The stage at which the court can reach a final determination as to whether a departure from the normal order is required for Convention reasons is likely therefore to vary, depending on the facts. There may be cases in which the decision can be taken before the expert is even instructed, with the parties’ shares of the cost being settled from the outset. There may be others in which that would or may import harmful delay into the proceedings and in which there is no option but to adopt the Law Society’s solution of requiring the guardian to instruct the expert in the first instance, but with the intent of revisiting the question of cost, on proper financial information, later by means of a conventional costs order. The court would, not, of course, embark on that route without some cogent evidence that the other parties would not be able to pay their way in the instruction.

 

I wouldn’t call that an outright victory for either side – it seems that before a Court decides that a party is impecunious (and thus couldn’t pay an equal share, and thus the report wouldn’t be obtained) it has to decide what information about finances is reasonable to inspect – if they can be obtained swiftly then it would be considered before the expert report is comissioned, if not, then the Court may make an order that the report be paid out of the Child’s public funding, and then remedy that with a later order once the financial information is available.

 

In the individual case, the Court of Appeal decided that it was right that the costs should have been met through the Child’s public funding /legal aid, and that they differed from Ryder J’s decision.

 

For broader cases, the Court of Appeal say this

 

132. I would simply add that when judges are called upon to deal with the sort of difficult issues that have arisen here, it would be prudent for them to explain their reasons for each decision that they take in a short judgment and for their orders to be precisely spelled out.

 

[All of this boils down to a Britney Spears type exhortation -  You want an expert? You want a 16.4 guardian? You want the costs of the expert to be paid by the child's legal aid? You want the court to say you're impecunious?   You better work bitch]

 

 

 

 

 

the article 8 right is to family life, not a happy family life

 

Another case involving unregulated artificial conception of a child, and the difficulty in resolving the fall out afterwards

 

L v C 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2014/1280.html

 

L and C were a same sex female couple. L was English, C Irish. They decided to have a baby together, and a male donor was found. C conceived and had a baby, G.   G was born in October 2013.

Between August and December 2013, L and C lived together in England, and from Oct-Dec 2013 they shared in the care of G.  They then split up, rather acrimoniously. C took G back to Ireland to live, and L has not seen her since.  L made an application in the English Courts – believing that she would have no rights to make any applications in Ireland.

 

    • For permission to apply for a residence order and a contact order under the Children Act 1989.

 

 

  • For declarations that at the point of G’s departure from England, L v C was acting as her ‘psychological parent’ and that they shared family life within the meaning of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights

 

Before the Court could hear the application on residence and contact, they had to consider jurisdiction. At the time the application was issued, G was back in Ireland with C, her biological mother.

 

  • Jurisdiction in respect of the Children Act application falls under the Family Law Act 1986 and the Council Regulation (EC) No. 2201/2003 (‘Brussels II Revised’ or ‘BIIR’) which, as its title states, concerns among other things ‘matters of parental responsibility’.

 

 

 

 

  • The effect of this regime is that this court will only have jurisdiction to entertain the application if G was habitually resident here on 25 February: Family Law Act 1986 ss. 2 and 3 and Arts. 8 and 16 BIIR.

 

 

 

 

  • If the court concludes that it does not have jurisdiction, and that the Irish court does, it must declare that it has no jurisdiction: Art. 17 BIIR.

 

 

 

 

  • If G’s place of habitual residence cannot be established, the Irish court will have jurisdiction on the basis that she is present there: Art. 13 BIIR.

 

 

 

 

  • The meaning of habitual residence has been considered by the European Court of Justice, by the Supreme Court and by the Court of Appeal.

 

 

 

 

  • In Re A (Jurisdiction: Return of Child) [2013] UKSC 60, the Supreme Court reviewed the European decisions in the cases of Re A (Area of Freedom, Security and Justice) (Case C-523/07) CJEU and Mercredi v Chaffe (Case C-497/10) CJEU. Baroness Hale, summarising at [54], emphasised that habitual residence is a question of fact and not a legal concept. The test is ‘the place which reflects some degree of integration by the child in a social and family environment’ in the country concerned. This depends on numerous factors. The environment of an infant or young child is shared with those upon whom she is dependent. Hence it is necessary to assess the integration of that person or persons in the social and family environment of the country concerned.

 

 

 

 

  • In Mercredi v Chaffe the European Court referred to the factors that must be taken into consideration as including, first, the duration, regularity, conditions and reasons for the child’s stay in the State in question and for the mother’s move there and, second, with particular reference to the child’s age, the mother’s geographic and family origins and the family and social connections that the mother and child have with that State.

 

 

 

 

  • The facts of the Supreme Court case of Re A are not at all similar to the present case. However, the facts of Mercredi v Chaffe are. A French mother and a British father cohabited until five days after the birth of the child. The father did not have parental responsibility. When the child was two months old, the mother unilaterally took him overseas. The father began proceedings in England and the mother began proceedings in France. Following the reference to the European Court, the Court of Appeal (at [2011] EWCA 272) held that the removal of the child had been lawful, that the English court’s jurisdiction was at best doubtful and in any event should not have been exercised in competition with that of the French court.

 


 

  • Applying the guidance to be found in these decisions, I find that when L v C’s proceedings were issued G was not habitually resident in England and Wales:

 

 

 

    • G had by then been living in Ireland for over seven weeks, a significant period for a baby then aged four months.

 


    • She was dependent on her mother, who was then habitually resident in Ireland, to which she had returned with the intention of remaining permanently and where she has deep, longstanding family and social connections.

 

 

  • G’s removal to Ireland by Ms C was lawful, a fact conceded by L v C.

 

 

  • I reach this conclusion despite accepting that:

 

 

 

    • Ms C was quite possibly habitually resident in England between August 2013 and G’s removal. (For what it is worth, the facts do not appear to sustain her argument that this four-month period of residence in England was the result of duress. Duress requires a complete overbearing of the will: see Re T [2010] EWHC 3177 (Fam) at [31]. That is not alleged here.)


    • G had not been outside England for the first 11 weeks of her life and was very likely habitually resident here during that period.

 

 

    • L v C has been habitually resident in England throughout.

 


    • L v C had had full parental involvement in G’s life up to the point of her removal.

 

 

 

  • In accordance with Art. 17 BIIR, I must therefore declare that this court has no jurisdiction in relation to matters of parental responsibility concerning G

 

Because G was not habitually resident in England at the time of the application and had not been unlawfully removed, the Court had no jurisdiction on residence or contact.  (I think that where the judgment says “L v C” it means “L” and this has been some sort of find-and-replace snafu in anonymising the document)

 

That left the issue of whether L had acquired family life (and thus article 8 rights) with G in the period between October-December 2013.

 

There was firstly the argument about jurisdiction to consider – C was arguing that as all matters regarding G ought to be dealt with in the Irish Courts, the English court should stay out of this.

Ms Guha argues that the court does not have carte blanche to consider L v C application. She raises two objections. The first (which I shall call the ‘territorial’ objection) is a submission that the court cannot interfere in matters that are properly within the province of the Irish courts. The second (the ‘procedural’ objection) is that the court cannot make a free-standing declaration of human rights in the absence of substantive proceedings concerning the child. Ms Guha further argues that even if jurisdiction exists it should not be exercised in the circumstances of the case, and that if the court was considering doing so it would need to hear oral evidence.

 

On the ‘territorial’ argument, the Judge found against C

 

  • What is at issue here is the competence of this court to rule upon a specific situation that existed in England in respect of a child who had never lived anywhere else, involving the nationals of two contracting states, one of them English and all of them resident in England at the material time. As to the existence of an alternative forum, I entirely accept that this court should not trespass upon matters that would fall within the territorial jurisdiction of the Irish court. For example it would, as I have already held, be improper for this court to make orders about future arrangements for the child. But I do not accept that the declaration that is being sought would encroach upon the Irish court’s territorial jurisdiction. In fact there is as yet no indication that there will be proceedings in Ireland, that jurisdiction not having been invoked by either party at this point. And even if proceedings were taken in Ireland, their central focus would be on the child’s actual situation and not upon declarations as to past events. Nor do I accept that the issue of Art. 8 rights can only be determined by a court considering substantive remedies relating to the child. As discussed below, I would hold the question of whether such rights existed to be independently justiciable.

 

 

 

 

  • In the circumstances, while I understand the logic of Ms Guha’s objection, I would hold that there is no territorial obstacle to L v C’s application for a declaration being considered by this court.

 

 

That left the ‘procedural’ argument, that the Court could not consider article 8 rights purely in isolation with no substantive application. The Court was more sympathetic on that, but found against C

 

  • I turn then to Ms Guha’s ‘procedural’ argument. This is that the court cannot make a free-standing declaration of human rights in the absence of substantive proceedings. The argument is based upon s.7(1) of the Human Rights Act, which provides that a person who claims that a public authority has acted (or proposes to act) unlawfully may bring proceedings against the authority under the Act in the appropriate court or tribunal, or rely on the Convention right in any legal proceedings, but only if he is (or would be) a victim of the unlawful act. It is argued that L v C’s application falls outside the ambit of s.7 because she is not claiming unlawfulness by a public authority, nor relying on her Convention rights in any substantive proceedings.

 

 

 

 

  • The relief L v C actually seeks is a free-standing declaration as to her Art. 8 rights. This is not a claim falling within s.7 of the Act, even though her claim has on a number of occasions been described as being brought ‘under the Human Rights Act’. Likewise, Ms Markham has suggested that the court could invoke its inherent jurisdiction to enable it to hear the application. In my view, recourse to the inherent jurisdiction would not add anything of substance. Lastly, the suggestion that the application for a declaration might gain a sound jurisdictional foundation as a result of being made alongside the ill-founded Children Act application cannot be right.

 

 

 

 

  • I therefore have some sympathy for Ms Guha in having had to respond to these distractions from the main point: that is whether a free-standing declaration as to human rights is possible or whether s.7 prevents this.

 

 

 

 

  • It is true that the Human Rights Act is normally deployed to challenge allegedly unlawful acts by public authorities (s.6) by making the claim within judicial proceedings (s.7) for a specific remedy (s.8). This provides a route for the enforcement of Convention rights, but it does not provide a statutory route by which their existence can simply be asserted in an appropriate case.

 

 

 

 

  • The whole tenor of the Human Rights Act is the protection of Convention rights domestically. There being nothing explicit within the Act to state that declarations cannot be granted in the absence of proceedings brought under s.7, there is no good reason to infer such a restriction. (I would add that I do not find that s.11, entitled ‘Safeguard for existing human rights’, assists on this issue. Its purpose is not procedural in relation to Convention rights but protective of rights arising outside the Convention.)

 

 

 

 

  • My overall conclusion is that the terms of the Act do not exclude the court’s power to make free-standing declarations as to Convention rights in appropriate cases and that such an application can be approached in the same manner as any other application for a declaration.

 

 

 

 

  • Rule 40 of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 provides that the court may make a binding declaration whether or not any other remedy is claimed, or can be claimed. As stated in Financial Services Authority v Rourke [2002] C.P. Rep. 14 (Neuberger J), the power to make declarations is discretionary. The court can grant a declaration as to their rights, or as to the existence of facts or as to a principle of law. When considering whether to grant a declaration, the court should take into account justice to the claimant, justice to the defendant, whether the declaration would serve a useful purpose and whether there are any other special reasons why the court should or should not grant the declaration.

 

 

  • Standing back, a conclusion that this court is impotent to make human rights declarations arising from past events occurring within its territorial jurisdiction would to my mind be capable of leading to a denial of justice. This casts doubt upon the correctness of such a conclusion.

 

 

 

 

  • For the above reasons, I would therefore hold that this court has procedural jurisdiction to entertain L v C’s application for a free-standing declaration.

 

 

All that this means is that the Court could legitimately consider L’s application for a declaration that she and G had family life, not that it had agreed that she had.  That comes next

 

 

  • The first matter of relevance to the question of justice to the parties and to G is the degree of cogency of L v C’s argument in favour of her family rights. As to that, it is to be noted that there is no precise definition of ‘family life’ in Convention case law. It is a question of fact and one of substance, not form. There need to be close personal ties but these need not yet be fully developed provided there is potential for them to develop. There is no pre-determined model and family life must be interpreted in the light of modern trends. (See Clayton and Tomlinson ‘The Law of Human Rights’ 2nd ed. 13.04 -13.06). With less conventional family structures, the courts have taken a broad purposive approach. So it was held that a family relationship did exist in X, Y and Z v UK 1997 24 EHRR 143 between a woman, her female-to-male transsexual partner and the child she had conceived by artificial insemination. The court emphasised that the notion of family life is not confined to families based on marriage and can depend on a number of factors including whether the couple lived together and whether they demonstrated their commitment to each other by having children or by any other means (see Clayton and Tomlinson at 13.134 and 13.145 and Lester, Pannick and Herberg ‘Human Rights Law and Practice’, 3rd Ed. at 4.8.49).

 

 

 

 

  • Applying these principles to the present case, L v C’s claim that family life existed is a compelling one. A balancing of these rights against the Art. 8 rights of Ms C and G is not a precondition to determining the rights of L v C. The fact that all such rights are qualified and would have to be balanced against each other in any welfare determination should not be confused with the question of whether they exist in the first place.

 

 

 

 

  • I next consider the question of fairness to Ms C and to G. Ms C undoubtedly dislikes any recognition of L v C’s role, saying hyperbolically that ‘she destroyed my and my baby’s family life’, but this does not translate into any unfairness towards her arising from the court evaluating the circumstances objectively. G’s own position is of great importance and in my view fairness to her calls for the circumstances of her conception and neonatal period to be reflected as accurately as possible amidst the adult discord.

 

 

 

 

  • This is also relevant to the question of whether a declaration would serve a useful purpose. There are two ways in which it might: first, as an objective contribution to G’s future wellbeing, and secondly as a record that may be useful to any other court considering her situation. Ms Guha argues that such a declaration would be meaningless in isolation from substantive proceedings in respect of the child. I accept that this might be the case, but it equally might not and I cannot see any detriment arising from the existence of an accurate declaration, any more than it would arise from an accurate judgment.

 

 

 

 

  • In the course of her argument, Ms Markham submitted that one reason why a declaration should be granted is that there would otherwise be a lacuna in English law in failing to protect L v C’s rights, and that there is positive obligation on the State to remedy this. I am not influenced by this argument. There is in my view no such gap in the law. Had the matter come before the court at a time when G remained in England, there are a number of legal remedies that might have been available to L v C, whether or not she had the support of Ms C. Nor can it persuasively be said that the law is failing in its treatment of the non-biological partner (male or female) of a biological parent who conceives as a result of informal arrangements. There would be many difficulties in seeking to equalise the legal consequences of licensed and unlicensed arrangements, fuller consideration of this issue being far beyond the scope of this judgment.

 

 

 

 

  • The international element is undoubtedly a special feature of the case, but I do not find that it provides a reason for declining to make a declaration. As stated above, the matter arises from events in England. It has been capably argued before this court, and there are no existing proceedings in Ireland. The limited nature of the declaration in question would not trespass on any potential Irish proceedings, and might even assist if there were any. It is said on Ms C’s behalf that an alternative legal remedy is available to L v C in the Irish courts, but this rests on the doubtful assumption that she has the emotional and financial resources to pursue that course in practice.

 

 

 

 

  • I do not consider that oral evidence is required to enable a decision to be reached in this matter. There is a mass of written material from which the picture is clear in all material respects. Both women speak of unhappy features of their relationship and ascribe responsibility for them to the other. But given the extent of the agreed facts, this difference in perception cannot colour the question of whether family life existed. What is in issue is the existence of family life, not the existence of happy family life, nor the reasons for unhappiness.

 

 

 

 

  • Drawing all these matters together, I shall refuse L v C’s applications except to the extent that I declare that at the date of G’s removal from England on 3 January 2014 family life within the meaning of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights existed between G and L v C.

 

 

It is another important example that if you are in a situation where a child is being concieved by non-traditional means, you should think long and hard about how everyone involved feels about it, what they want, whether they should play a role in the care of the child, whether they should have parental responsibility, how legally you would acquire that, and what might happen if your non-nuclear family breaks up at some point in the future.

journalist’s right to private and family life with her source

A very interesting decision by the President sitting in the Court of Protection in Re G (an adult) 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/1361.html

 

This is the 3rd judgment in relation to this 94 year old woman in the last two months. I’m going to try here, not to get too far into the controversy (I’m sure the comments will descend into that, but let’s TRY to focus on the principles and issues in THIS judgment)

THIS judgment relates to the application by the Daily Mail news group (ALN) to be joined as a party to the Court of Protection proceedings, to have an input into the questions to be posed to the expert, and ultimately to have the chance to cross-examine everyone. That’s a unique application, and the reasoning behind the decision is therefore interesting.

We do need SOME historical context though, so we need to know that the decisions being made by the Court of Protection are controversial, that G is 95 and that C her live-in carer is very actively campaigning about the controversial decisions and unfairness, part of that campaign includes involving the Press (the ubiquituous Mr Booker, and this time Ms Reid of the  Mail on Sunday). G has talked to those journalists, and at times been very keen to tell her story, at other times it is said that she finds the press involvement intrusive.  The Press want to report on the injustice that G and C may have suffered, and want to report as much as possible. In the second judgment, Cobb J ruled that there were doubts about G’s capacity to talk to the Press and that there needed to be an assessment of that and in effect a cease-fire on the Press talking to G until it could be established whether she (a) had capacity to do that and (b) if not, would it be in her best interests to do so.

 

If you want to skip to the chorus, it is HEARING THREE heading

 

Hearing one

The first judgment, 26th February 2014   was decided by Russell J.  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/485.html

That case was brought by the Local Authority, who had become concerned about the influence that C (the carer) was having over G, and particularly that G was being influenced to change her will to the benefit of C.  (These allegations are all disputed by G)

This is the judge’s summary

 

  • In this case the local authority were under a duty to investigate the circumstances of an old and frail lady following reports regarding the behaviour of C and F and their influence over G, her home and her financial affairs and with respect to her personal safety from multiple sources including private citizens and professionals, from agencies providing care support and from a lawyer engaged by C to act for G (to change her will in C’s favour). The complaints came from G too; although she would later retract them. The obstruction met by the social worker when she tried to carry out her duties led to the attendance of the police more than once.

 

 

 

  • The local authority had no alternative but to visit on numerous occasions and to attempt to see G on her own. Anything else would have been a dereliction of their duty to her as a vulnerable person about whom they had received complaints about possible financial predation. Local authority staff must be permitted to carry out their duty to investigate reports relating to safeguarding unhindered.

 

 

 

  • The court has decided for reasons set out in full below that G lacks capacity under the provisions of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and that further investigation needs to be carried out to decide how her best interests will be met and her comfort and safety assured. Her wishes and feelings will be taken into account at every stage as will her desire to remain in her own home. It is the court’s intention that every measure that can be put in place to secure her in her own home is put place. There is an equal need to ensure that she is not overborne or bullied and that she can lead her life as she wants it led.

 

 

 

  • All the expert evidence put before the court was of the opinion that G was a vulnerable person who lacked the capacity to conduct this litigation and to decide on her financial affairs and the disposition of her property without the assistance of an independent professional appointed by the court. There was disagreement as to the reason for the lack of capacity; the court decided, on the balance of probabilities, that it was due to a impairment of G’s mind or brain.

 

 

That judgment made reference to the press reporting of the case to that point, and that the press were present in Court

 

At the outset of the hearing it was drawn to my attention that there had been a very short article on Sunday in the press which, thankfully, did not name G. I have held these proceedings in open court but have restricted the publication of the names of the parties, and at this stage, of the local authority and the expert witnesses. This will be subject to review. I have done so to protect the privacy of G who is old, frail and vulnerable. She has repeatedly told me she wants no further intrusion in her life. The purpose of this order is to protect her privacy and to protect her from intrusion. As the case was heard in open court I have to make an order restricting publication of identification of G and the other parties to put that protection in place. Members of the public and the media were present in court through out the hearing.

 

G had a degree of dementia. She was assessed by an Independent Social Worker  (underlining mine)

 

 

  • Mr Gillman-Smith, the independent social worker (ISW) was instructed to carry out an assessment of capacity and the nature of any lack of capacity such as by undue influence. Mr Gillman-Smith was asked to prepare a report in which he was to ascertain the true wishes and feelings of G in respect of her care arrangements; her living arrangements and her property and affairs. He was asked to consider nine questions the last being whether any lack of capacity was due to G not meeting the criteria of the MCA or because of undue influence. Orders had been made prior to his instruction that C and AF leave the property and allow the assessments to be carried out.

 

 

 

  • On this occasion G had an advocate present in the person of D (D attended these proceedings and sat in court) who left and allowed Mr Gillman-Smith to interview G alone. G had difficulties in remembering her relatives; she could not remember the name or her relationship to her relative in the Netherlands. She was quite forthcoming about C and F describing C as bossy and herself as like the fly in the spider’s web, “and the spider eats you up.” C she indicated to be the spider.

 

 

 

  • G was at best ambivalent about C; as she said “she works well” but that she threatened to walk out and then F would look after her if G did not do what C was asking; she does house work “but what is in her mind?” G described her as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. She also said this of church members. C would not let her sleep during the day; she said C physically shakes her sometimes; dresses her and then undresses her replacing her clothes with the same ones. She said she was rough with her; She repeated that she was shaken and like the fly in the spider’s web. She repeated the belief that the court proceedings had been brought by H.

 

 

There was also an expert, Dr Lowenstein, who reported.  Again, underlining mine for emphasis

 

 

  • The evidence of Dr Lowenstein was undermined by his having no instructions; he said in his oral evidence that he deduced them from what was said to him by C. G herself was brought to see him in his place of work by C. How his report came into being is a matter of concern, it appears to have been instigated by C, who paid for it; where she got the funds to pay for it is not known. C was given Dr Lowenstein’s name by a third party active in family rights campaigns.

 

 

 

  • When Dr Lowenstein saw G she was over two hours late and had been travelling for some time, he then interviewed her in the presence of C for some 3 hours. Dr Lowenstein had no knowledge of the background to the case at all except that there were court proceedings and that C and G were saying she, G, did not lack capacity. He was introduced to C as G’s niece. When he discovered during his evidence that this was not the case and their relationship was not lengthy he was very surprised. Dr Lowenstein took no notes of what was said to him by C prior to his interviewing G and preparing his report and he could not remember what was said. He said that he fashioned his instructions from those given to Dr Barker and set out in his report.

 

 

 

  • His evidence was further undermined when it became clear that he had not, as he said, read and assimilated the documents disclosed to him by C (without leave of the court ) namely the social worker’s statement, the report of the ISW and Dr Barker’s report for, had he done so, he could not have failed to pick up that G, C and F are unrelated and have known each other for a relatively short time. He would have been better aware of the extent of the concerns about C’s influence and control over G. As it was, he accepted that it would have been better for him to interview G on her own, without anyone being present. This is a matter of good practice, a point that Dr Lowenstein accepted, conceding that it was all the more necessary when he realised that the close family relationship as it had been presented to him was false.

 

 

 

  • Dr Lowenstein brought with him some of the results of tests he carried out with G; tests which indicated some low results indicating a lack of ability to think in abstraction and decision making. He did not accept the need to think in abstraction to reach decisions but did accept that in order to make decisions one had to retain information and that there was evidence that G was not able to do so. I do not accept this evidence it is part of the essence of reaching complex decisions that one is able to think in the abstract.

 

 

 

  • Dr Lowenstein lacked the requisite experience and expertise to make the assessment of capacity in an old person as he has had minimal experience in working with the elderly, has had no training in applying the provisions of the MCA and very little experience in its forensic application, this being his second case. He is a very experienced psychologist in the field of young people, adolescents and children but has no expertise in the elderly. In the tests results he showed the court G consistently had very low scores but he frequently repeated that G was “good for a person of 94″; any tests in respect of capacity are not modified by age and must be objective. If, as appeared to be the case, he felt sympathy for her and did not wish to say that she lacked capacity that is understandable but it is not the rigorous or analytical approach required of the expert witness. When questioned about capacity he seemed to confuse the capacity to express oneself, particularly as to likes and dislikes, with the capacity to make decisions.

 

[The Court of course, did not HAVE to consider Dr Lowenstein's evidence at all, since it had been obtained without leave of the Court, but they did so]

 

Russell J’s conclusions on G’s capacity were these

 

  • In respect of financial matters there is evidence that G is unaware of her financial situation, of her income and expenditure. While there is good reason to believe from what she herself has told others, that this information is being kept from her and that she is fearful of C should she try to regain control, there is also evidence that she has difficulties in retaining information and formulating decisions as described by Dr Barker [46]. Both he and Mr Gillman-Smith considered the influence and controlling behaviour of C and F to make decision making even more difficult for G; it is obvious to this court from what she has said that she is at times almost paralysed by the threats regarding her removal to a care-home or to have F take over her personal and intimate care.

 

 

 

  • The impairment of G’s brain has affected her ability to retain information relevant to the decisions she has to make, as described by Dr Barker. She has difficulty in understanding the necessary information and to use and weigh the information. G could not remember the details of her will, and did not know the name of the advocate present when she saw Dr Barker or why he was there, despite having told Dr Barker his name the previous week. G referred to C and F as H and R (the previous carers) and expressed paranoid ideas about social services and previous friends from the church saying they were after what they could get from her.

 

 

 

  • There is evidence that G understands some of the information relevant to decision making, for example she well understands that she is frail and needs assistance with her personal care and house-work to be able to remain in her home and that C provides that care. At the same time G is either unaware of or unable to remember details of C’s and F’s backgrounds; she could not, for example, say how old they were. She also understands that C and F have taken control of her finances and has complained about being shouted at and physically shaken but she is unable to use the information to make a decision about her own welfare and care and allows them to remain in her home. This information about C and F living with her or not is relevant for the purposes of s3 (4) as it includes the reasonably foreseeable consequences of deciding one way or another or failing to make the decision. The decision as to contact with others and whether or not she should see other people falls into this same category. She does not foresee that to allow visitors would have benefits including oversight of her care and treatment at the hands of others. I accept that the influence and controlling behaviour of C and F described by the witnesses and in the documentary evidence before the court will have further compromised the ability of G to make decisions and understand what is happening to her.

 

 

 

  • I have found, on the balance of probabilities, that G lacks capacity under sections 2 and 3 of the MCA 2005 and accordingly this case falls under the jurisdiction of the Court of Protection. I do not consider it necessary to rule on any application under the inherent jurisdiction.

 

 

A request was made for an order that C not exercise any of her powers under the Lasting Power of Attorney to manage G’s affairs and finances, and the Court agreed with this.

 

[Everything that the Judge decided is very hotly contested by those lobbying on C's behalf, and indeed the journalists who have spoken to G, but the judgment was not appealed]

 

Hearing two

 

This was before Cobb J on 26th March 2014   http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/959.html

 

This hearing was particularly about whether G had the capacity to give interviews to journalists or be interviewed with a view to stories being reported.  G remained living in her own home, with C as her carer (the only real change from the previous hearing was that C was no longer in a position to manage G’s finances)

Cobb J begins by remarking that members of the Press are present and that they are welcomed. He does pass comment on the reporting of the Russell J decision

 

  • I should like to emphasise that I recognise that access to the press and freedom of parties to litigation to communicate with the press engages powerfully the competing rights under Article 8 and Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. There is, in my judgment, a legitimate public interest in the reporting of proceedings in the Court of Protection concerning our vulnerable, elderly and incapacitous. There is a separate legitimate public interest in the court protecting the vulnerable, elderly, and the incapacitous from public invasion into their lives. These are, in stark terms, the competing considerations at play.

 

 

 

 

  • Of note, but not specifically influential in my decision-making today, is the fact that some of the press reporting of these proceedings thus far, as is apparent from the three reports which I have read, does not provide a balanced account of this case, nor does it faithfully or accurately, in my judgment, reflect the substance of Russell J’s judgment or the evidence heard by the court. That is highly regrettable.

 

Cobb J felt that the issue of whether G had capacity, and if not, whether it was in her best interests to talk to the Press required some specialised assessment and evidence

 

  • Having heard these submissions, I invited all counsel to consider whether the first question which I should in fact be considering in this case on these issues is whether G has capacity to communicate directly with the press now. Given the press interest (it is, after all, here both in the form of a court reporter and as an interested party, represented) the sooner there is a capacity assessment available on that issue the better. After an adjournment for parties to take instructions, the London Borough of Redbridge indicated that it accepted this approach and refined its position to seeking an adjournment of today’s application in order to commission a further issue-specific capacity assessment by Dr. Barker. It was said that this could be completed within two weeks; it proposed that the matter should then be relisted for consideration. It invited me to make interim orders, as holding orders, in the meantime.

 

 

 

 

  • This approach was supported by the Official Solicitor in all respects.

 

 

 

 

  • Those orders were opposed by C, who asserted that there was no proper basis on which I could or should go down this route. F associated himself on this issue (as on all issues) with C.

 

 

 

 

  • It is self-evident that the question of G’s capacity to engage with members of the press (with a view to sharing her story publicly) has to be assessed properly and expertly before the court could reach any informed view as to whether it is in G’s best interests that she should in fact do so. In those circumstances, I propose to accede to the application to adjourn the Local Authority’s application for substantive relief in this respect, and shall re-list this application on the first available date, which is 2nd May 2014, before Russell J. I shall give the Local Authority leave to instruct Dr. Barker to undertake the capacity assessment specifically directed to the question of whether or not G has the capacity to communicate, and engage, with members of the press, with all the implications of so doing.

 

 

 Having made the decision to get expert evidence from Dr Barker on those issues, the only issue remaining was what should happen in the interim – should the Press be talking to G, or should those legitimate journalistic desires to get the story be put on hold until the Court could decide whether G had capacity to make that decision for herself?

 

  • I have “reason to believe” that G does indeed lack the capacity in relation to decisions concerning communications with the press.

 

 

 

 

  • There is no doubt that in relation to section 48(b) the question of her discussions or communications with the press is indeed a matter (perhaps unprecedented) on which the Court of Protection can be invited to exercise its powers under the 2005 Act.

 

 

 

 

  • As to section 48(c), I have to do my best to weigh up on the evidence available to me whether it is in G’s best interests that I should make such an order.

 

 

 

 

  • On the one hand, there is evidence before the court that G indeed wishes to communicate with the press. That evidence is provided not only by G herself, but also by Ms Reid, a journalist who has now met with G on one occasion at her home. Furthermore, in a discussion with Miss Moore, G is reported to have said that she was “happy” that the article written by Ms Reid had indeed been written: “… it let them know what they do to the elderly“.

 

 

 

 

  • Of course, at present the press is circumscribed in what they can report of what G says about the proceedings. In my judgment there is indeed a powerful case for permitting G to communicate with the press at will, the court being reassured (pending the specific capacity assessment) that at present there are justified limits on what the press can report of this process and of matters germane to G’s private and family life.

 

 

 

 

  • On the other hand, it is clear from the attendance notes helpfully provided by Miss Moore that at other times G has expressed less than positive views about the involvement of the press in her life. She has said: “The newspaper trying to say I am crazy when I am not crazy…” She has gone on to say, when asked about the article in the Daily Mail: “I don’t know how happy I would be about that. I don’t want anybody from the press. They put what they like. They put in details that are not correct.” She also told me that she valued her privacy.

 

 

 

 

  • There is evidence, but I make no finding about it, that G is being used as the instrument of others to pursue publicity in relation to her particular situation, and that she is not exercising her free-will at all. I specifically reference the fact that she has, in discussions with Miss Moore, graphically described herself as the fly “in the spider’s web … the fly cannot get out of the spider’s web“. She has confirmed elsewhere and to others that C is “the spider“.

 

 

 

 

  • There is a concern that while Ms Reid has indicated to me that she has made but one visit to G’s home, others may have visited or repeatedly phoned G. G told Miss Moore, on her most recent visit yesterday:

 

 

 

She said reporters are always at her home or phoning her“.

 

That said, she added:

 

She said she wants people to know what is happening to her and that it has gone all around the world already.

 

And

 

I asked her if she remembered the name of anyone she had spoken to. She said she did not.

 

  • I bear in mind, when considering G’s best interests in this regard, that there is now clearly signalled a likely application by Associated Newspapers to relax the Reporting Restriction Order. The press will argue for a wider ability to report on G and her situation.

 

 

 

 

  • It seems to me that, weighing these matters one against the other, it is not in G’s best interests for her to be able or permitted to communicate with the press at this stage; she has expressed at least ambivalent feelings, it appears, about the engagement of the media. I am further concerned that any private information which G vouchsafes to a journalist at this stage may, of course, be exposed to more public examination in the event that the Reporting Restriction Order is subsequently varied or discharged. Until the court can take a clearer view about G’s capacity to make such relationships with the press it is, in my judgment, clearly in G’s best interests that I should make an interim order that she should not make such communications. It follows that the injunctive order sought by the London Borough of Redbridge, shall be granted (in paragraph 3 of the draft order as earlier recited) until 2nd May.

 

 

  • I shall require Dr. Barker carefully, as he has in the past, to perform the functionality test in relation to this difficult question, inviting him to consider the implications for G’s decision-making, on the basis alternatively that (a) the Reporting Restriction Order remains in place, and/or (b) the Reporting Restriction Order is varied or discharged. Plainly, G is provided with not insubstantial protection from invasion into her private and family life for as long as the Reporting Restriction Order is in place. But that protection may be dismantled if the court, undertaking the competing Article 8 and 10 review, reaches the conclusion that the Reporting Restriction Order cannot or should not stand in its present form

 

 

 

Readers may also be interested in the paragraphs dealing with C taking G to protest at Parliament.

The other issue was that C was resistant to social workers visiting G

 

  • I am satisfied on what I have read that it is indeed necessary for G to be monitored as to her welfare in her home at present. I wish to make clear that there is no evidence whatsoever but that the home is well-maintained, comfortable, and that G has adequate food and nutrition. But, as I have indicated in my judgment (and as is clear from the judgment of Russell J), there is considerable scope for the view that C, and to a lesser extent F, are not just failing to meet G’s needs but are actually abusing her within her home. C and F, it should be noted, strenuously deny this. Monitoring in those circumstances in the interim period is, in my judgment, vital. I do not believe that the neighbourhood team proposed by Ms Hewson would adequately or appropriately discharge the function of monitoring as I envisage it should be delivered. I was advised that the neighbourhood team:

 

 

 

were not in a position to act as a substitute for Social Services … she” [that is a representative PCSO from the Redbridge Neighbourhood Team] “…did not think they had the resources to commit to twice-weekly visits … the Neighbourhood Team did not want to get drawn into court proceedings but would agree to resume visits to [G's home] on an ad hoc basis … the team could not commit to a weekly visit but would ‘pop in every so often and have a chat with G for ten minutes’.”

 

 

  • For those reasons it is self-evident that the Neighbourhood Team could not discharge the responsibility which I regard as important in order to safeguard G’s welfare within the home.

 

 

 

 

  • I therefore propose to accede to the application of this Local Authority which will require C and F to facilitate visits by the London Borough of Redbridge social workers, going forward.

 

 

Again, this is all hotly contested, but the judgment has not been appealed

 

Hearing Three

 

This one was before the President, on 1st May 2014  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/1361.html

Apologies in advance, some of this is going to have to get technical.

There were two issues raised

1. Was Ms Reid, journalist for the  Mail on Sunday, in any trouble?  And latterly, did she have an article 8 right to private and family life that allowed her to visit G and have a say in her life?

 

2. Should Associated Newspapers Limited ( the Mail) be joined as a party to the proceedings, as per their application, and could they have an input into the questions to be put to Dr Barker following Cobb J’s judgment above?

 

The first is thankfully pretty short. Cobb J of course said that until the next hearing when Dr Barker’s report was available, journalists should not interview G, that it was not in G’s interests to talk to the Press and that “until further order C be forbidden, whether by herself or instructing or encouraging others, from taking G or involving G in any public protests, demonstrations or meeting with the press relating to any aspect of these proceedings … “

What happened, allegedly, after that judgment was given, was that Sue Reid from the Daily Mail spoke with G and in effect said that she was not allowed to interview her anymore, but would visit her as a friend. (I say alleged, because of course the Court has not made any findings or heard any evidence, and this assertion might be complete nonsense. One has to be fair.  All I can see is that from THIS judgment, the President does not say that the allegation is denied. It could well have been, but it just did not get recorded in the judgment. So it is an allegation only.

 

  • On 2 April 2014, solicitors acting for the Official Solicitor wrote a letter to ANL which, after referring to Cobb J’s judgment, continued as follows:

 

 

“After the hearing Ms Reid was heard outside court telling G that as the judge had stopped Ms Reid contacting her, Ms Reid would have to make social visits to G instead. Clearly this would be completely inappropriate in view of the judgment of Cobb J. The court heard that Ms Reid has only met with G at her home on one occasion and we assume that this was for the purpose of publishing her article dated 20 February 2014. We are not sure why Ms Reid would seek to make social visits to G

We write to clarify that Ms Reid will not seek to circumvent the Order of Cobb J by making social visits to G. Please respond urgently confirming that Ms Reid will not attempt to visit G before this matter returns to Court on 2 May 2014.”

ANL replied on 3 April 2014. Its response prompted the Official Solicitor’s solicitors to write again on 8 April 2014:

“We write further to your letter dated 3 April 2014. The Official Solicitor remains concerned about your client’s proposed actions and note that you have not provided an assurance that Miss Reid will not seek to visit G before the matter is again before the Court on 2 May 2014. We refer you specifically to paragraph 40 of the Judgment of Mr Justice Cobb dated 26 March 2014.

We enclose a sealed copy of the Order of Mr Justice Cobb dated 26 March 2014. In view of this please can you confirm whether your client has made any social visits to G since the hearing on 26 March 2014 and whether she intends to make any visits in the future?”

In the interests of fairness, I shall report that whether those allegations were true or not did not trouble the President, since even if they were true, he didn’t think they raised any concern that should worry the Court.

  • As I remarked during the hearing, I do not understand the basis upon which these letters were written. The complaints they contain are made by reference to Cobb J’s judgment. But nothing that Ms Reid was alleged to have done amounted to a breach of anything contained in Cobb J’s order. If the basis of complaint was that Ms Reid’s conduct was somehow rendered improper by the terms of the declarations which Cobb J had made, there is in law no foundation for any such contention: see A v A Health Authority, In re J (A Child), R (S) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2002] EWHC 18 (Fam/Admin), [2002] Fam 213, paras 118-122. The frailty of the argument, whatever it be, is demonstrated by the revealing use of such phrases as “completely inappropriate” and “seek to circumvent”. The approach set out in the letters is somewhat reminiscent of the approach on which I had occasion to comment in E (by her litigation friend the Official Solicitor) v Channel Four; News International Ltd and St Helens Borough Council [2005] EWHC 1144 (Fam), [2005] 2 FLR 913, paras 115-120.

 

So there you go, whether Ms Reid had said this or not, it would have been fine if she had said it, and it would have been fine if she had in fact gone to visit G as a friend.  [I might myself have had a different view as to the true purpose of those visits, but what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander - the Judge has said it, nobody has appealed it, so the issue is settled]

 

On the secondary issue, whether Ms Reid had article 8 rights in relation to G

I deal finally with the separate argument based on Ms Reid’s asserted Article 8 rights. There are, in my judgment, two short answers to this. In the first place, there is no application by Ms Reid; the application is by ANL. Secondly, and more fundamentally, for reasons I have already explained, it makes no difference whether the argument is put on the basis of Article 10 or Article 8. Neither provides any foundation for the grant of relief of the kind being sought by Mr Wolanski.

 

[In a case that is already peppered with D and G, and F and H, the Judge explained all of the article 8 issues by use of X andY, which makes it hard going. In effect what he says is that G can have an article 8 right that she wants to spend time with Sue Reid, but if G doesn't want to spend time with Sue Reid (or lacks capacity and the Court have to rule on her best interests) then Sue Reid doesn't have an article 8 right to access to G. It is more complex than that, I've reduced it to a manageable form because there are real people reading this blog]

 

The big stuff then – should ANL be made a party?  Having already dragged X and Y into the alphabet soup, we broaden out by introducing here S (the subject – here G) and J (the journalist, here Sue Reid).

  • Where no relief going beyond the existing reporting restriction order is being sought against ANL, the issues are quite different. There is, for example, no application for any order restraining ANL from publishing any information it has already received from either G or her carers. Nor, despite some of the rhetoric deployed by ANL, is there anything in Cobb J’s order or in the relief now being sought by the local authority which bears upon ANL’s freedom to report any court proceedings. From ANL’s perspective, leaving the existing reporting restriction order on one side, this is, as Mr Millar correctly submits, not an ‘imparting’ case, it is at best a ‘receiving’ case. And, as he goes on to submit, the problem which therefore stands in ANL’s way is the Leander principle.

 

 

 

  • The starting point is that if S, as a competent adult, declines to disclose information to J – if S, as it were, shuts the door in J’s face – then that is that. S is deciding not to allow J into S’s ‘inner circle’. S’s right to be left alone by the media, if that is what S wishes, is a right which, as I have already explained, is protected by Article 8 (see Re Roddy) and it trumps any rights J may have, whether under Article 8 or Article 10. J cannot demand that S talks to him and, as Leander shows, J’s reliance on Article 10 will avail him nothing. From this it must follow that S’s refusal to talk to or impart information to J cannot give rise to any justiciable issue as between J and S.

 

  • But what if, as here, S – in the present case, G – arguably lacks capacity? At this point I can usefully go to the analysis in E (by her litigation friend the Official Solicitor) v Channel Four; News International Ltd and St Helens Borough Council [2005] EWHC 1144 (Fam), [2005] 2 FLR 913, paras 57-59.

 

 

 

  • In that case, the Official Solicitor, as Pamela’s (E’s) litigation friend, sought an injunction to restrain the broadcasting of a film featuring Pamela which Pamela wished to be broadcast. I summarised the proper approach as follows (para 59):

 

 

“in a case such as this there are in principle three questions which have to be considered:

(i) Does Pamela lack capacity? If yes, then

(ii) Is it in Pamela’s best interests that the film not be broadcast? If yes, then

(iii) Do Pamela’s interests under Art 8, and the public interest in the protection of the privacy of the vulnerable and incapable, outweigh the private and public interests in freedom of expression under Art 10.”

 

  • The first question for the court goes to capacity. There are two reasons for this: first, because the Court of Protection has jurisdiction only in relation to those who lack capacity; second, and more fundamental, because if S does have capacity then the decision as to whether or not to impart information to J (or, if the information has already been imparted by S to J, the decision by S as to whether or not to bring proceedings against J) is exclusively a matter for S.

 

 

 

  • Assuming that S lacks capacity the next question for the court is whether or not it is in S’s best interests to impart the information to J (or, if that has already happened, whether or not S’s best interests require that an injunction is granted against J). This is because best interests is the test by which the Court of Protection or, as in E, the High Court exercising its inherent jurisdiction, takes on behalf of S the decision which, lacking capacity, S is unable to take himself.

 

 

 

  • Pausing at this point in the analysis, and for essentially the same reasons as in relation to Article 8, it follows in my judgment that the identification by the Court of Protection of S’s best interests does not give rise to any justiciable issue as between J and S. Nor is there any justiciable issue as between J and S in relation to the question of S’s capacity.

 

 

 

  • As Mr Millar puts it, and I agree, the reason for this is simple: before J’s right to receive information from S arises, S must, to use the language of Leander, “wish or be willing” to impart the information to J. Where S lacks capacity, what the court is doing when deciding whether or not it is in S’s best interests for the information to be imparted to J (or, if already imparted to J, whether or not it is in S’s best interests for it to be imparted by J to others), is doing what, if S had capacity, S would be doing in deciding whether or not to impart the information to J (or, as the case may be, in deciding whether or not to seek an injunction to restrain J imparting it to others). As Mr Millar points out, J would have no right or interest in relation to such a decision by S, if S had capacity. Why, he asks rhetorically, should it make any difference that, because S lacks capacity, the very same decision is being taken on behalf of S by the court. I agree. Nor can J have any right or interest in the prior decision by the court as to whether or not S lacks capacity. Ms Burnham characterises the capacity issue as a “gateway” to giving effect to what she says is J’s right to receive information from S if she were willing to impart it. So it may be, but the argument breaks down, both on the Leander point and because it overlooks the true nature of what is happening when the court decides on behalf of S where S’s best interests lie.

 

 

 

  • Of course, the court’s best interests decision in relation to S is not necessarily determinative. If the court decides that it in S’s best interests for information to be imparted to J (or, if that has already happened, that S’s best interests do not require the grant of an injunction) then that is the end of the matter. There is no conflict between S’s best interests and J’s rights. If, however, there is a conflict between S’s best interests as determined by the court and J’s rights as protected by Article 10, the court moves on to the third and final stage of the inquiry. But at this stage S’s best interests are not determinative. There is a balancing exercise. The court is no longer exercising its protective jurisdiction in relation to S but rather its ordinary jurisdiction under the Convention as between claimant and defendant. Accordingly it has to balance the competing interests: S’s interest under Article 8 (as ascertained by the court), and therefore her right under Article 8 to keep her private life private, and J’s rights under Article 10. And at this stage, if relief is being sought against J (or against the world at large), J’s Article 10 rights are directly implicated. So J will be entitled to be heard in opposition to the order being sought.

 

 

 

[That's very considered and dense stuff - basically the Judge is saying that people get party status to litigate if there is a conflict between them and the other parties that gives right to an argument that the Court has power to resolve and needs to resolve. There isn't that here.  ANL have legitimate interest in any application for Reporting Restriction Order or injunctions against them or their staff, but they don't have a legitimate interest in the argument between G, C and the Local Authority.  They might be interested IN IT, but that's not the same thing]

 

  • ANL’s first application is to be joined as a party. Mr Millar and Ms Davidson submit that the application is misconceived. I agree.

 

 

 

  • In the first place, and as I have already explained, the relief being sought by the local authority gives rise to no justiciable issue as between ANL and G, or between ANL and anyone else. So there is no reason for ANL to be joined.

 

 

 

  • Secondly, and following on from this, ANL cannot bring itself within either CoPR 2007 rule 75(1), upon which Mr Wolanski relies, or within rule 73(2). Rule 73(2) permits the court to order a person to be joined as a party “if it considers that it is desirable to do so for the purposes of dealing with the application”, and rule 75(1) permits “any person with a sufficient interest [to] apply to the court to be joined as a party to the proceedings.” Mr Wolanski’s application was put forward on the footing that ANL has a “sufficient interest” within the meaning of rule 75(1). In my judgment it does not.

 

 

 

  • The meaning of these provisions was considered by Bodey J in Re SK (By his Litigation Friend, the Official Solicitor) [2012] EWHC 1990 (COP), [2012] COPLR 712, paras 41-43, a case relied upon by Ms Davidson, in a passage that requires to be read in full. For present purposes I need refer only to Bodey J’s statement (para 41) that “sufficient interest” in rule 75(1) “should be interpreted to mean “a sufficient interest in the proceedings” as distinct from some commercial interest of the applicant’s own” and that “an applicant for joinder who or which does not have an interest in the ascertainment of the incapacitated person’s best interests is unlikely to be a “person with sufficient interest””, that (para 42) the “clear import” of the wording of rule 73(2) is that “the joinder of such an applicant would be to enable the court better to deal with the substantive application”, and that (para 43) the word “desirable” “necessarily imports a judicial discretion as regards balancing the pros and cons of the particular joinder sought in the particular circumstances of the case.” I respectfully agree with that approach. In my judgment, ANL does not, in the relevant sense, have a “sufficient interest”. Nor is its joinder “desirable.”

 

 

 

  • Finally, even if ANL’s rights under Article 10 were to be engaged (as they plainly are in relation to the reporting restriction order), that would not give ANL a “sufficient interest” in the proceedings, as distinct from the discrete application within the proceedings, nor would it make it “desirable” to join ANL as a party to the proceedings. On the contrary, it would be highly undesirable for ANL to be joined, because as a party it would be entitled to access to all the documents in the proceedings unless some good reason could be shown why it should not, and the grounds for restricting a party’s access to the documents are very narrowly circumscribed: see RC v CC and another [2014] EWHC 131 (COP). Nor, as I have pointed out, would there be any need for ANL to be joined as a party. It would, as Mr Millar concedes, be entitled to be heard as an intervener.

 

 

 

  • I should add that this is an area of the law where there has been, initially in the Family Division and more recently also in the Court of Protection, very extensive forensic activity involving the media for at least the last twenty-five years. I am not aware of any case, nor were either Mr Millar or Mr Wolanski with their very great experience of such matters able to point me to any case, where a journalist or media organisation has been joined as a party to the proceedings, as distinct from being permitted to intervene. This is surely suggestive of a well-founded assumption that joinder is as unnecessary for the protection of the media as it is undesirable from the point of view of the child or incapacitated adult whose welfare is being considered by the court.

 

 

 

  • In the light of my decision in relation to ANL’s first application, its two other applications fall away. In the first place, if it is not to be joined as a party, what is the basis of its claim either to see Dr Barker’s full report or to ask him questions? There is none. Moreover, and as I have explained, Dr Barker’s report does not go to any justiciable issue as between ANL and G, or between ANL and anyone else. If some relief is sought against ANL, then the application will have to be assessed on its merits, having regard to whatever evidence is relied upon, whether in support of or in opposition to the application. That is the point at which ANL’s Article 10 rights are engaged. And at that point ANL will be able to contest the application, whether by challenging the evidence relied on by the applicant or by adducing its own evidence.

 

 

 

  • I should add this, in relation to the insinuation by ANL that it should be joined as a party or allowed to intervene in relation to the issues of G’s capacity and best interests because otherwise relevant arguments may not be adequately put before the court. There is no basis for this. Quite apart from the rejection by those to whom this comment appears to be directed of any factual foundation for what is being said, this cannot be a ground for being allowed to participate in the proceedings. Either ANL has some basis for being joined as a party or it does not. If it does, all well and good. If it does not, then it is a mere interloper, an officious busybody seeking to intrude in matters that are of no proper concern to it, seemingly on the basis that it can argue someone else’s case better or more effectively than they can themselves. Moreover, if it is to be said that the Official Solicitor is, in some way, not acting appropriately in G’s best interests, then the remedy is an application for his removal as her litigation friend, not the intrusion into the proceedings of a self-appointed spokesman for G.

 

 

 

(I will conclude by saying that whilst I too think that the ANL application was misconcieved in law, I can see why in practice they made it.  IF their story is (and it pretty much is) that the Court of Protection is a wicked terrible body, interfering with people’s freedoms and ignoring what dear old G wants, then I can see why they think that the Court of Protection DECIDING whether G should talk to the Press is something of a conflict of interest.  Imagine for a moment that it had been Maria Miller’s decision and it had been solely up to her whether any of the Press were allowed to report her expenses scandal. As the ANL think that the expert is going to be set up to say “Don’t let G talk to the Press, it isn’t good for her” they wanted to have an input into what he was asked and to have the chance to cross-examine him if that’s what he said.  That somewhat ignores the fact that C is already a party and is able to have that input and cross-examine Dr Barker, but I can honestly see why the Mail made this application from an emotional and journalistic perspective.   They couldn’t have got a judge who was more keen on transparency and openness though, so if they couldn’t persuade the President, it was a hopeless application)

I will add that I think that Sue Reid genuinely believes that what is happening here is an outrage and a miscarriage of justice, and that she is reporting what C and G are saying to them with absolute sincerity.  It is absolutely right that she follow her journalistic instincts and that if there is something rotten in the State of Denmark that this be exposed.

 

 

 

 

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.

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