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A witness talking over the lunch adjournment

I don’t often write about ancillary relief cases, but this one

 

JE (Husband) v ZK (wife) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B87.html

threw up an issue that we all trot out to witnesses on a daily basis and when I asked on Twitter about six months ago where you can find that actual rule written down, nobody was entirely sure.

When a witness is part way through their evidence, and the case comes to a break (either at the end of the day, or lunch), the witness is generally warned by the Judge “You should not discuss the case with any one, and you are still under Oath”

The still under Oath part must be right, since when the witness resumes, they do not have to take the Oath again.  Therefore, during that break in the evidence, the witness is still bound to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – technically, if the witness goes for a haircut and the hairdresser does that thing with a mirror where they show you the back of your own head, rather than the stock response of   :- nod “mmm, that’s great thanks” the witness ought to answer “I have no idea why you show me that, what is the point? Whatever you’ve done, it is too late to fix, and I don’t care what the back of my head looks like”

 

[Even worse, if you are still under Oath, and your new partner asks you “does my bum look big in this?”, you could be in for a world of trouble. Best to not talk to anyone at all]

The not discussing the case with anyone makes perfect common sense (which is unusual in law).  If you could talk about your evidence with someone whilst you were in the middle of giving it, they could be influencing what you say, or giving you tips as to how to do it better.  And if someone else in the case saw the witness talking to their lawyer or another party, they might well SUSPECT that this is what was happening, even if it wasn’t. So best not to do it.

The hard bit is finding where that rule is actually written down, and what the Judge is supposed to do about it.

 

Here, what happened was that the original Judge heard evidence that the husband, having given part of his evidence and then needing to come back over lunch, had been seen in the Court waiting room talking to his colleague NC (his colleague was also someone whom the husband had been renting accommodation from AND someone who was said to owe the husband £15,000, so it COULD be said that the conversation might have a bearing on financial matters)

The husband’s evidence was that he had asked NC about “Ironman” competitions and personal trainers, and nobody disputed that.

 

The District Judge had found that the father was in contempt, and said in his judgment

Is it relevant? I can hear being said! Well, yes, for this is the same man who remortgaged 141 Kings Road after having said through his solicitors that there were no grounds for saying that he was going to. Like that, his behaviour at the lunchtime was unacceptable’.

Now, importantly, this was a hearing where a financial order was made, concluding the financial arrangements. The District Judge was now in a pickle, because whilst saying that it was ‘relevant’  it clearly wasn’t conduct that could legitimately be taken into account for the purposes of the Matrimonial Causes Act.

The District Judge then made a clarifying note

In his clarifying note at B26 the District Judge said that he did not take the husband’s conduct in speaking to NC into account in his conclusion and that he ‘would have thought that was clear. It just had to be mentioned, it as so blatant’.

 

Part of the husband’s appeal was that the judgment was thus blurred about whether or not this issue had weighed on the judicial determination of finances.

 

Dealing with the appeal, His Honour Judge Wildblood QC said this:-

  1. Quite plainly, that conversation between the husband and NC had absolutely nothing to do with the correct outcome of the financial remedy applications. It was a complete irrelevance, as far as the solution to the case was concerned. It certainly was not conduct that the court could possibly take into account when deciding upon the correct outcome. It had no relevance under any of the other factors under section 25 of The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and cannot be salvaged by reference to ‘all the circumstances of the case’ in s 25(1) of The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.
  2. I accept that the District Judge does not then tie in the finding that this issue was ‘relevant’ when later explaining his conclusions. At B15 he says that he is departing from quality bearing in mind the wife’s need for her to provide a home for the children. Further, at B6 he says: ‘there are two aspects of the husband’s affairs which I take into account within all the circumstances of the case and which make me satisfied that my decision is appropriate. First the dissipation of assets referred to in paragraph 4 above and, secondly, the opaque business relationship with Mr Clarke’. Although there are obvious difficulties with that past passage to which I must return, he does not say that the ‘contempt’ finding is relevant in that later passage.
  3. The difficulty is this. If a judge says that something is relevant in the sort of strong terms used by the District Judge he must mean what he says. A judgment has to be capable of being understood on its face and a party to the proceedings must be able to understand the methodology of the court. It seems highly likely that, at the time that he wrote the judgment, the District Judge did regard this issue as relevant to how the capital should be divided (because he said so himself at B15). I do not accept Ms Allen’s clever submission that he meant ‘Is it relevant for me to mention it?’ at B15; that interpretation does not fit in with the context of what he was saying. He associated it with the husband’s conduct in re-mortgaging the property at Kings Rd [B15] and, later took that remortgage into account at B16. The reality is that the District Judge was making findings of conduct and saying that he treated them as relevant. He was incorrect to do so and a clear statement in a judgment that something is treated as relevant cannot be cured by a clarifying note.

 

 

[This Judge was more sanguine about the incident itself than the DJ had been

 

iii) The finding of contempt was inappropriate and unnecessary to the exercise that the District Judge had to perform. The husband was wrong to speak to NC over lunch having been warned not to do so but the conduct complained of (speaking about personal trainers and an Ironman competition) had nothing whatsoever to do with the outcome of the case but was described by the District Judge as ‘relevant’ to it. I know the Gloucester waiting area well having appeared there as an advocate myself in my 27 years at the bar, and can well imagine what occurred (and what did occur happened in the full view of the lawyers and was not remotely surreptitious).   ]

 

His Honour Judge Wildblood QC, with some reluctance, had to allow the appeal and discharge the financial order that had been made. I say with reluctance, because the Judge had earlier expressed substantial dismay that two people who had once been in love had spent a “Scandalous” amount of money in ligitation

 

  1. The District Judge said that the costs were scandalous. I agree. The total that has been spent in legal costs now is as follows:
    Wife’s costs before the District Judge 62,171
    Husband’s costs before the District Judge 28,799
    Husband’s appellate costs 12,849.26
    Wife’s appellate costs (at least) 20,000
    Total 123,819.26
  2. This is not a complex case. It involves a home, a working husband who is effectively a sole trader, a few modest assets, considerable liabilities, two children and a depressed wife. For money to have been wasted on such disproportionate costs is truly scandalous. Further, these parties have two children – what sort of example do they set their children when they spend so much of the money that should be directed to their children’s welfare on blinkered and self validating litigation?
  3. I am particularly critical of the level of this wife’s costs. They are double those of the husband and nothing that I have seen gets anywhere near justifying that. I have myself witnessed two wholly unnecessary applications being brought by the wife: a) for transcripts of all of the evidence before the District Judge to be ordered at the husband’s expense for the purposes of the appeal, an application which I did not allow and b) a full legal services application, when the correct application should have been for a partial release on a stay which, when I suggested it, was agreed on the evening before a hearing of the legal services application brought by the wife and only after considerable cost expenditure (W’s claimed costs £3875.70). Further, I consider that money has been wasted on obtaining expert evidence about the suggested value of the husband’s business when that capital value was abandoned (rightly) at trial and was never going to have the sort of relevance originally suggested. That expenditure on costs took place against the backcloth of strong complaint made by the husband before the District Judge about the wife’s costs expenditure (see A1 – no trial bundle, no open offer, no updating disclosure and a late production of her s 25 statement that had been prepared three months before the hearing started but was filed seven days before the hearing started).
  4. The above remarks must be before any judge assessing costs in this case and I ask that there is very careful scrutiny of the costs that are being claimed by the wife’s legal team. It cannot be right that this level of cost expenditure occurs in a case of such modest assets. The costs claimed are about 36% of the total assets held, according to the District Judge by the parties. The burden that this now creates upon the parties, especially the wife must be immense.
  5. The District Judge found that the total pot of capital in the case was £345,686

 

Towards the end of the judgment, HH J Wildblood QC set down a marker for future litigation conduct

86….I wish to make it plain that, if I find any more money is being wasted by this wife on costs, I will impose costs sanctions – if she, or the husband, pursues any more pointless or unmeritorious issues I will reflect that in a costs order (and I say that without prejudice to any arguments and applications that may be advanced about existing cost expenditure). It seems to me at least highly possible that past dissipation of assets (which in a big money case can be of obvious importance) may be regarded as totally overshadowed now with the exigencies of the current very limited financial circumstances of these parties with the true focus of this case now being on the limited issues that I have set out above – especially relevant will be these questions: i) Where are these people to live and ii) what incomes are these people to have?.

  1. Although I am not in any way deciding the point now, I foresee that the husband will have a difficult task in contending that this wife should face a time limit to any order for periodical payments particularly if it involves a s28(1A) bar but even without such a bar.
  2. I intend that the above issues must be adhered to. There will be no more profligate expenditure on legal costs. To that end I wish to record that any District Judge assessing the costs of either party from this point on until conclusion of the rehearing should disallow that parties’ costs insofar as the costs of any party (from this point onwards) exceed £7,500 unless a) any party has made submissions to me that I should revise that figure or b) the judge carrying out the assessment considers that an extension beyond that figure was genuinely necessary.
  3. I strongly recommend now that the parties make every effort to resolve their differences without the need for the rehearing to take place.
  4. I reserve the costs of the appeal until conclusion of the rehearing. Both of these parties know what their own financial circumstances are and, with the level of costs that she has incurred, the wife should know about her tax credit position (and, if she doesn’t she needs to find it out hurriedly). Although I do not know what the husband’s income is, he does. If it were to be shown on fresh evidence that the District Judge was correct about his income, that would be bound to have an impact on the orders for costs that I would make.

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

The LASPO safety net is a fig leaf

Oh, you’re going to like this one.

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

 

MG and JG v JF 2015

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

 

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

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

 

The child is born, and named John Fitzgerald Grey.

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

How much money were we looking at?

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeking costs against the Public Guardian in a financial safeguarding case

 

The Public Guardian and CT and EY 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/51.html

 

As District Judge Lush observed, this is the first reported case where a costs order has been sought against the Public Guardian.

 

By way of quick background, CT is 85 and had a stroke a year ago, which later led to a diagnosis of dementia. There has been a considerable family schism, and CT is close to his daughter EY but not close to much of the rest of his family.

 

A month after his stroke, he entered into a Lasting Power of Attorney arrangement, appointing EY as his sole attorney.

 

In July 2014, the Public Guardian, having received a referral that EY was misusing the Lasting Power of Attorney, conducted an investigation and made an application to the Court of Protection under s48 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 for declarations about whether CT had capacity and if not what directions / declarations should be made about his affairs.

 

  1. The application was accompanied by a witness statement made by David Richards, an investigations officer with the OPG, who said that:

 

 

(a) in September 2013 CT’s son and daughter-in-law had raised concerns with the OPG.

 

(b) on 13 June 2013 CT had severed the joint tenancy of the matrimonial home and the adjoining property, which he and his wife also own.

 

(c) CT had ceased paying the utility bills on the matrimonial home; had stopped transferring housekeeping money to his wife, and had closed their joint bank account.

 

(d) in September 2013 CT applied to the Land Registry to register the matrimonial home in his sole name.

 

(e) on 30 September 2013 a Court of Protection General Visitor, Emma Farrar, saw him at Grays Court Community Hospital. She thought that CT possibly could suspend or revoke the LPA, but that he would require considerable support in doing so.

 

(f) Havering Social Services had raised a safeguarding alert.

 

(g) the OPG asked EY for an account of her dealings.

 

(h) EY replied her father still had capacity and that the OPG’s enquiries were an invasion of his privacy.

 

(i) in January 2014 the OPG commissioned a visit from a Court of Protection Special Visitor (Dr T.G. Tennent, DM, FRCPsych) but EY and her partner, who is employed by Moss & Coleman Solicitors, refused to let him visit CT.

 

(j) Dr Tennent was, nevertheless able to examine CT’s medical records, and in his report, dated 31 March 2103, he came to the conclusion that CT had capacity (a) to make the LPA and (b) to sever the joint tenancies, but that it was “impossible to offer any opinion as to Mr Todd’s current capacity in relation to the queries (c) to (j).”

 

 

There then follows a somewhat complex history, but the substance of it was that the expert who examined CT, Professor Jacoby, was of the view that CT’s capacity fluctuated, but that there were times and had been times when he had had capacity to make his own financial decisions (and thus the LPA wasn’t being used at all at those times)

 

  1. Professor Jacoby prefaced his assessment of CT’s capacity with the following preliminary remarks:

 

 

 

“I shall deal with the separate capacities as set out in my instructions which were taken from the directions order of 20 August 2014. Before doing so I wish to stress that I am relying on CT’s mental state as I observed it on 2 October 2014. However, I believe his mental state fluctuates both as regards his dementia and his episodes of delirium. I should make the following preliminary remarks:

 

 

(a) When he is delirious, in my opinion, he does not have any of the capacities listed below.

 

(b) When he is not delirious, but his dementia is more prominent, his capacities are weaker than when he is at his best.

 

(c) When he is at his best he does retain some capacities as described below.

 

(d) When he is at his best he is able to communicate his decisions, and I shall not comment further on this fourth limb of section 3(1) of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

 

(e) When at his best I believe that his capacities can be enhanced by assistance in line with the judgment of Gibson LJ in Hoff et al v Atherton [2003] EWCA Civ 1554, in which he stated “it is a general requirement of the law that for a juristic act to be valid, the person performing it should have the mental capacity (with the assistance of such explanation as may have been given [my italics]) to understand the nature and effect of the particular act (see, for example, Re K (Enduring Powers of Attorney) [1988] Ch 310 at p. 313 per Hoffmann J.).” As I understand it, although I may be corrected by the court, giving assistance to persons with marginal capacities in order to enhance them is within the spirit of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.”

 

 

  1. Professor Jacoby concluded his report as follows:

 

 

 

“In my opinion, when CT is at his current best and not in an episode of delirium, he retains the capacity to manage his affairs and to revoke or make an LPA, but that his capacities would be enhanced by disinterested advice. His capacity to litigate is not totally lacking but is, in my opinion, below a sufficient threshold, and he would, therefore, require a litigation friend.”

 

If CT had capacity at the time when he made decisions to sever the tenancy, stop paying money to his estranged wife and so on, then this was not a matter for the Court of Protection. As we know, if a person has capacity, then they can make decisions for themselves that another person might consider foolish or ill-conceived.

 

EY sought that the application be dismissed and sought that the Office of the Public Guardian should pay the costs.

 

  1. On 14 August 2014 EY filed an acknowledgment of service, accompanied by a witness statement, in which she objected to the application and said that:

 

 

 

“The evidence in the attached witness statement shows unequivocally that CT had the capacity to make complex decisions in relation to his finances and property in September 2013. He underwent a further capacity assessment in November 2013 prior to discharge from hospital after nearly six months treatment and he was again assessed as having the capacity to make the very difficult and important decision as to his destination and future place of residence following his discharge. There has been no stroke activity since the incident in May 2013, nor any other event which might cause or signal a material change in his capacity since the last test was carried out some nine months ago. There is therefore no valid reason why he should not be presumed to have capacity at this time.”

 

 

  1. EY proposed that “the application be dismissed and the OPG be ordered to pay the respondents’ costs (including the costs of taking legal advice).”

 

 

In most financial disputes, the person who loses the case is at risk of being ordered to pay the other side’s legal costs. It is a little different in Court of Protection cases.

 

Firstly, the Court of Protection have a general discretion (subject to other Rules) Section 55(1) MCA 2005 provides that “Subject to Court of Protection Rules, the costs of and incidental to all proceedings in the court are at its discretion.”

 

In terms of those Rules, they are set out in the Court of Protection Rules 2007 – they can be simplified like this:-

 

  • Normally if the proceedings relate to property of a vulnerable person, the costs of the proceedings are paid by that person or his estate
  • That starting point can be departed from if the Court thinks it is justified, and can take into account the conduct of the parties.
  • Conduct can include a wide variety of things, including before proceedings began.

 

 

Property and affairs – the general rule

 

 

  1. Where the proceedings concern P’s property and affairs the general rule is that the costs of the proceedings, or of that part of the proceedings that concerns P’s property and affairs, shall be paid by P or charged to his estate.

 

 

Departing from the general rule

 

 

  1. – (1) The court may depart from rules 156 to 158 if the circumstances so justify, and in deciding whether departure is justified the court will have regard to all the circumstances, including:

 

(a) the conduct of the parties;

(b) whether a party has succeeded on part of his case, even if he has not been wholly successful; and

(c) the role of any public body involved in the proceedings.

 

(2) The conduct of the parties includes:

 

(a) conduct before, as well as during, the proceedings;

(b) whether it was reasonable for a party to raise, pursue or contest a particular issue;

(c) the manner in which a party has made or responded to an application or a particular issue; and

(d) whether a party who has succeeded in his application or response to an application, in whole or in part, exaggerated any matter contained in his application or response.

 

(3) Without prejudice to rules 156 to 158 and the foregoing provisions of this rule, the court may permit a party to recover their fixed costs in accordance with the relevant practice direction.

 

 

 

In this situation, EY argued that the Office of the Public Guardian had really jumped the gun – they had brought a case based on EY misusing the Lasting Power of Attorney, when closer investigation would have shown that the decisions complained of had been made by CT himself. If the Public Guardian had conducted the investigation properly, there would have been no application and thus CT and EY would not have incurred any legal costs.

 

District Judge Lush felt that things were more complicated than that – the assessment of capacity had shown that CT’s capacity fluctuated and thus there had been times when EY was (or ought to have been) exercising the Lasting Power of Attorney.

 

The Judge also felt that EY had been obstructive in the investigation, causing some of these problems as a result of her own actions.

 

  1. EY makes the point that she was not using the LPA because CT still had capacity, but even this is disingenuous. Professor Jacoby states in his report that “He is subject to recurrent episodes of delirium. … When he is delirious, in my opinion, he does not have any of the capacities listed below.” She should have been using the LPA during the recurrent episodes when CT lacked capacity.

 

 

  1. The point is made that CT’s capacity should have been presumed. The precise wording of section 1(2) of the Mental Capacity Act is that “a person is assumed to have capacity unless it is established that he lacks capacity.” The Court of Protection General Visitor believed that CT possibly could suspend or revoke the LPA, but that he would require considerable support in doing so. The reason why the OPG asked a Special Visitor to see CT was so that a specialist could look for objective evidence that would be sufficient, on the balance of probabilities, to establish whether CT had capacity or not and, accordingly, whether the Court of Protection had jurisdiction or not.

 

 

  1. EY would not allow the Court of Protection Special Visitor to examine CT because she mistrusted anything to do with the OPG. The Special Visitor’s report would have been provided to CT free of charge, from public funds, but EY insisted on instructing an independent expert, instead. This resulted in the proceedings being more expensive and protracted than they need have been.

 

 

  1. I have no real concerns about the OPG’s conduct. Any investigation will seem heavy-handed to the person under the spotlight, but the OPG’s conduct was by no means disproportionate and does not even approach the threshold identified by Mr Justice Jonathan Baker in G v E (Costs). The OPG certainly did not act in blatant disregard of the Mental Capacity Act processes or in breach of CT’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. Having regard to all the circumstances, it would be unjust to penalise the OPG by way of a costs order.

 

 

 

Bearing in mind the usual rule, the legal costs of all of the proceedings would be met by CT. The Judge, having been invited to look at costs, had to consider whether that approach would be fair and just, given the actions of EY.

 

(This must have caused a bitter taste – having asked for the Public Guardian to pay the costs, EY found herself at risk of having to pay a portion of the costs herself)

 

  1. There is no doubt about it. EY and her partner refused, without reasonable cause, to let the Special Visitor visit CT or even speak to him over the phone. Dr Tennent’s report of 31 March 2014 stated:

 

 

 

“Over the course of these conversations EY referred everything to her partner. Quite politely they told me that CT did not want to see me but would not permit me to speak directly with him. They would not provide me with the name or address of CT’s current general practitioner. As I understood it, they were of the view that although CT had made an LPA he was still capable of managing his own affairs and they were not using the LPA and therefore the OPG should not be involved with his affairs. They told me that they were in correspondence with the Office of the Public Guardian about the matter and that until this had been resolved they did not want me to visit their home.”

 

 

  1. EY’s insinuation that a Court of Protection Special Visitor is neither independent nor impartial is both unwarranted and offensive.

 

 

  1. For me, the most striking feature of Professor Jacoby’s report was the repetition of a theme, which, like Ravel’s Boléro, rises in a continuous crescendo.

 

 

  1. In response to question (2) he said:

 

 

 

“Again, I consider that he would benefit from disinterested advice before making this decision.”

 

 

  1. He deliberately highlighted the word ‘disinterested’ by italicising it.

 

 

  1. In response to question (4), he said:

 

 

 

“Where more complex decisions are required he would, in my opinion, benefit from disinterested advice.”

 

 

  1. In his reply to question (5), Professor Jacoby said:

 

 

 

“I consider that at his best CT does retain the capacity to give instructions to his attorney in relation to his property and affairs, and that he would benefit from disinterested advice for more complex decisions.”

 

 

  1. In his conclusion, which I have set out in paragraph 23, he said:

 

 

 

“… his capacities would be enhanced by disinterested advice.”

 

 

  1. And in response to question (4) again, the professor actually ventured to say that:

 

 

 

“I am not making any comment here about the quality of the advice he now gets from EY because this is beyond my remit and I have no information on it anyway. However, because he is now dependent on her for his day to day care he might be more likely to accept her advice without more careful consideration.”

 

 

  1. I have never before read a report on someone’s capacity that has contained so many references to the need for ‘disinterested advice’. The only interpretation of this can be that Professor Jacoby believed that, although CT still has capacity in certain areas, he is being influenced by his daughter, and her advice is anything but disinterested.

 

 

[

 

The Judge decided that it would be wrong for CT to be ordered to pay EY’s legal costs, and EY would be responsible for her own costs

 

 

Decision

 

 

  1. If I were to apply the general rule for costs in a property and affairs case (rule 156), I would be required to order CT to pay the costs of these proceedings.

 

 

  1. The Public Guardian was seeking no order as to his own costs, whereas EY was seeking an order that her costs should be paid by the Public Guardian.

 

 

  1. For the reasons given above, and having regard to all the circumstances, I consider that a departure from the general rule is justified and I shall order EY to pay her own costs because her conduct, before and during the proceedings, has been aggressive and disingenuous and has resulted in both sides’ costs being far greater than they would otherwise have been.

 

 

  1. The overall effect is that I shall make no order for costs, though, having agreed to commission a report from a single joint expert, the Public Guardian and EY are jointly liable to pay a half of Professor Jacoby’s fee of £2,200 (£1,850 + VAT) for reading the documents, travelling from Oxfordshire to Essex, examining CT, and writing his report.

 

 

 

There is scope for a costs order to be made against the Office of the Public Guardian, if they behaved unreasonably in the course of the litigation, but this was not the case for it.

 

As my old law tutor used to say about Equity – “he who comes to Court must come with clean hands”

 

Beware the PLO my son! the jaws that bite, the claws that catch (Is the PLO coming to Court of Protection?)

 

Having opened with Lewis Carroll, I’ll digress to Bruce Springsteen – if you practice in the Court of Protection –  “You’d better not pout, you’d better not cry, you’d better watch out, I’m telling you why – the PLO is coming to town”

 

Cases A and B (Court of Protection : Delay and Costs) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/48.html

Mr Justice Peter Jackson  (I know, it is supposed to be Jackson J, but when there are two Jackson J’s, that just causes confusion) gave a judgment in two linked Court of Protection cases that had gone on an inordinate length of time and cost an inordinate amount of public money, and ended with this exhortation to the President  (who of course wears those two hats of President of the Family Division And President of the Court of Protection)

 

The purpose of this judgment is to express the view that the case management provisions in the Court of Protection Rules have proved inadequate on their own to secure the necessary changes in practice. While cases about children and cases about incapacitated adults have differences, their similarities are also obvious. There is a clear procedural analogy to be drawn between many welfare proceedings in the Court of Protection and proceedings under the Children Act. As a result of the Public Law Outline, robust case management, use of experts only where necessary, judicial continuity, and a statutory time-limit, the length of care cases has halved in two years. Yet Court of Protection proceedings can commonly start with no timetable at all for their conclusion, nor any early vision of what an acceptable outcome would look like. The young man in Case B is said to have a mental age of 8. What would we now say if it took five years – or 18 months – to decide the future of an 8-year-old?

 

I therefore believe that the time has come to introduce the same disciplines in the Court of Protection as now apply in the Family Court. Accordingly, and at his request, I am sending a copy of this judgment to the President of the Court of Protection, Sir James Munby, for his consideration.

 

Brace yourselves, Court of Protection folk, for “streamlining” and “case management” and “standardised documents” most of which will make you wish that you had taken a different career path – for example, rather than “Law” that you had decided to become a practice subject for CIA agents working on their interrogation techniques.

The Judge has a point here, we absolutely would not tolerate cases involving a vulnerable 8 year old taking 5 years* (*although see case after case of private law children cases that drag on for years and years) and costing this sort of money.

 

  1. In Case A, the proceedings lasted for 18 months. In round figures, the estimated legal costs were £140,000, of which about £60,000 fell on the local authority, £11,000 on a legally-aided family member, and £69,000 on the young man himself, paid from his damages.
  2. In Case B, the proceedings lasted for five years. In round figures, the estimated legal costs were £530,000, of which about £169,000 fell on the local authority, £110,000 on a family member (who ran out of money after three years and represented himself thereafter), and £250,000 on the young man himself, paid for out of legal aid.
  3. These figures are conservative estimates.
  4. Each case therefore generated legal costs at a rate of approximately £9,000 per month.

 

The Judge draws a comparison between taxi drivers and advocates (and not the usual “cab-rank principle” one)

  1. Just as the meter in a taxi keeps running even when not much is happening, so there is a direct correlation between delay and expense. As noted above, the great majority of the cost of these cases fell on the state. Public money is in short supply, not least in the area of legal aid, and must be focussed on where it is most needed: there are currently cases in the Family Court that cannot be fairly tried for lack of paid legal representation. Likewise, Court of Protection cases like these are of real importance and undoubtedly need proper public funding, but they are almost all capable of being decided quickly and efficiently, as the Rules require.
  2. In short, whether we are spending public or private money, the court and the parties have a duty to ensure that the costs are reasonable. That duty perhaps bites particularly sharply when we are deciding that an incapacitated person’s money should be spent on deciding his future, whether he likes it or not.

 

It is very hard to argue against that, and there can be little worse than burning through a vulnerable person’s money in order to protect them from financial or alleged financial abuse (see for example Re G, and the “94 year old woman subject to gagging order” case)

 

What drives up those costs? The Judge identified two major things – a search for a perfect solution, rather than a decent solution that carries with it some imperfections, and a tendency to deal with every concievable issue rather than to focus on what really matters.

 

A common driver of delay and expense is the search for the ideal solution, leading to decent but imperfect outcomes being rejected. People with mental capacity do not expect perfect solutions in life, and the requirement in Section 1(5) of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 that “An act done, or decision made, under this Act for or on behalf of a person who lacks capacity must be done, or made, in his best interests.” calls for a sensible decision, not the pursuit of perfection.

Likewise, there is a developing practice in these cases of addressing every conceivable legal or factual issue, rather than concentrating on the issues that really need to be resolved. As Mrs Justice Parker said in Re PB [2014] EWCOP 14:

“All those who practice in the Court of Protection must appreciate that those who represent the vulnerable who cannot give them capacitous instructions have a particular responsibility to ensure that the arguments addressed are proportionate and relevant to the issues, to the actual facts with which they are dealing rather than the theory, and to have regard to the public purse, court resources and other court users.”

  1. There is also a tendency for professional co-operation to be dissipated in litigation. This was epitomised in Case A, where the litigation friend’s submission focussed heavily on alleged shortcomings by the local authority, even to the extent that it was accompanied by a dense document entitled “Chronology of Faults”. But despite this, the author had no alternative solution to offer. The role of the litigation friend in representing P’s interests is not merely a passive one, discharged by critiquing other peoples’ efforts. Where he considers it in his client’s interest, he is entitled to research and present any realistic alternatives.
  2. The problem of excessive costs is not confined to the Court of Protection. In his recent judgment in J v J [2014] EWHC 3654 (Fam). Mr Justice Mostyn referred to the £920,000 spent by a divorcing couple on financial proceedings as “grotesque”. In V v V [2011] EWHC 1190 (Fam), I described the sum of £925,000 spent by a couple who had not even begun their financial proceedings as “absurd”. Yet everyday experience in the High Court, Family Court and Court of Protection shows that these are by no means isolated examples: in some case the costs are even greater. There is a danger that we become habituated to what Mostyn J called “this madness”, and that we admire the problem instead of eliminating it.
  3. The main responsibility for this situation and its solution must lie with the court, which has the power to control its proceedings.

 

I hope that if there is going to be a committee or working group on solving some of the problems in the Court of Protection that they can co-opt Mr Justice Peter Jackson and District Judge Eldergill onto it – both of them are extremely sensitive and sensible Judges and the Court of Protection could do a lot worse than have its future steered by them.

Everyone really ought to read Re D

 

I had meant to write about this over the weekend, but the Muse just never came to me.

 

Re D 2014

 

http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/re-child-d.pdf

Please read Allan’s excellent piece here

http://celticknotblog.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/if-the-state-wants-to-take-your-child-be-prepared-to-represent-yourself/

 

Basically it is a judgment by the President, building on Q v Q, and also the decision of Baker J in Re D.  The case involved a child who was at home with parents under a Care Order – the LA felt it had gone wrong and removed the child. Baker J heard a case where the parents (the father lacked capacity) wanted to challenge that, and the only option seemed to be an application to Discharge the Care Order. Baker J found that the other option is an application under the Human Rights Act.

The parents did not qualify for legal aid as a result of LASPO, and thus were represented by counsel acting for free. Not ideal, because that is dependent on a man with learning difficulties (a) KNOWING that there’s something he can do and what it is and (b) convincing a lawyer to do the case for free for him.

 

Deep breath.

 

Next, what happened was that the Local Authority decided that they were not going to rehabilitate the child to the parents care and a Judge agreed. Due to the age of the child, the alternative plan was adoption. The Local Authority applied for a Placement Order, which authorises the child to be placed for adoption.

 

You will recall all of the Court of Appeal decisions this last year about how serious an order adoption is, so of course, if a parent is facing a plan to adopt their child, they get free legal advice and representation to fight the case, right?

 

Wrong.

 

IF THE PLACEMENT ORDER application happens WITHIN care proceedings, the parent has free legal advice and representation to fight the case. BUT, if the Placement Order is a stand-alone application (i.e the Care Order has already been made) then they do not qualify automatically for legal aid.

 

Instead they rely on the Legal Aid Agency deciding that their case is exceptional and that their human rights would be breached if they were not represented.  That’s the s10 LASPO powers that the LAA repeatedly fail to use, even when Judges tell them that if it is not used in a particular case it would breach the parents article 6 rights.

 

Even worse than that, because the father had no capacity, the Official Solicitor has to be invited to represent him. Without public funding, the Official Solicitor is potentially exposed to any costs order. So, in this case, the lawyers representing father (who, remember, aren’t earning a penny out of the case) had to give the Official Solicitor an INDEMNITY  – a legally binding promise that if the Court eventually made a costs order against the father that the other sides costs be paid, those would be met by the lawyers out of their own pockets rather than by the Official Solicitor.

 

If you think that it might be tricky to find a lawyer to represent you for no payment, it is, but it is possible. But I’ve never heard before of a lawyer representing someone for no payment who also took on a financial risk of paying the other sides costs. These were extraordinary people.

 

So, the case got before the President, it being one of those case post Q v Q, where the Court might consider who should pay for the parents legal costs.

 

The judgment DOES NOT deal with the merits of the case, or why the child was removed, or whether adoption is right or wrong – it is purely dealing with whether a system that simultaneously says “Adoption is the most draconian order available in the law” and “you can’t have a lawyer to fight it, even if you can’t read” is a fair system.

 

In the circumstances as I have described them, the parents’ predicament is stark, indeed shocking, a word which I use advisedly but without hesitation.

31. Stripping all this down to essentials, what do the circumstances reveal?

i) The parents are facing, and facing because of a decision taken by an agent of the State, the local authority, the permanent loss of their child. What can be worse for a parent?

ii) The parents, because of their own problems, are quite unable to represent themselves: the mother as a matter of fact, the father both as a matter of fact and as a matter of law.

iii) The parents lack the financial resources to pay for legal representation.

iv) In these circumstances it is unthinkable that the parents should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation. To require them to do so would be unconscionable; it would be unjust; it would involve a breach of their rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the Convention; it would be a denial of justice.

(v) If his parents are not properly represented, D will also be prejudiced. He is entitled to a fair trial; he will not have a fair trial if his parents do not, for any distortion of the process may distort the outcome. Moreover, he is entitled to an appropriately speedy trial, for section 1(2) of the 1989 Act and section 1(3) of the 2002 Act both enjoin the court to bear in mind that in general any delay in coming to a decision is likely to prejudice the child’s welfare. So delay in arranging for the parents’ representation is likely to prejudice the child. Putting the point more generally, the court in a case such as this is faced with an inescapable, and in truth insoluble, tension between having to do justice to both the parents and the child, when at best it can do justice only to one and not the other and, at worst, and more probably, end up doing justice to neither.

vi) Thus far the State has simply washed its hands of the problem, leaving the solution to the problem which the State itself has created – for the State has brought the proceedings but declined all responsibility for ensuring that the parents are able to participate effectively in the proceedings it has brought – to the goodwill, the charity, of the legal profession. This is, it might be thought, both unprincipled and unconscionable. Why should the State leave it to private individuals to ensure that the State is not in breach of the State’s – the United Kingdom’s – obligations under the Convention? As Baker J said in the passage I have already quoted, “It is unfair that legal representation in these vital cases is only available if the lawyers agree to work for nothing.”

 

The President very neatly identifies the problem, but is there a solution?  (well, there’s an immediate one – declare s10 LASPO incompatible with article 6 – it is not being implemented as it is written, and in any practical sense it is now incompatible. Also the schedule in LASPO that does not provide for Placement Orders to attract non-means non-merit funding is incompatible with article 6)

 

We’re not going down that route yet though. Instead, the President keeps inviting the knuckle-heads who have got us into this mess to come up with a solution.

 

 

  • What then is the appropriate way forward?
  • If legal aid is not available for the parents then I need to explore whether there is some other public pocket to which the court can have resort to avoid the problem. There are, in theory, three other possible sources of public funding. As I said in

 

  1. Q v Q [2014] EWFC 7, para 18:

“In a public law case where the proceedings are brought by a local authority, one can see a possible argument that failing all else the local authority should have to pay. In a case … where one party is publicly funded … it is, I suppose, arguable that, if this is the only way of achieving a just trial, the costs of the proceedings should be thrown on the party which is in receipt of public funds. It is arguable that, failing all else, and bearing in mind that the court is itself a public authority subject to the duty to act in a Convention compliant way, if there is no other way of achieving a just and fair hearing, then the court must itself assume the financial burden, as for example the court does in certain circumstances in funding the cost of interpreters.”

I continued (para 19):

“May I be very clear? I am merely identifying possible arguments. None of these arguments may in the event withstand scrutiny. Each may dissolve as a mirage. But it seems to me that these are matters which required to be investigated”.

The need for such investigation in the present case is, if anything, even more pressing than in

Q v Q.

I have accordingly directed that there be a further hearing at which, assuming that the parents still do not have legal aid, I shall decide whether or not their costs are to be funded by one, or some, or all of (listing them in no particular order) the local authority, as the public authority bringing the proceedings, the legal aid fund, on the basis that D’s own interests require an end to the delay and a process which is just and Convention compliant, or Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, on the basis that the court is a public authority required to act in a Convention compliant manner.

Copies of this judgment, and of the order I made following the hearing on 8 October 2014, will accordingly be sent to the Lord Chancellor, the Legal Aid Agency, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, inviting each of them to intervene in the proceedings to make such submissions as they may think appropriate. If they choose not to intervene, I shall proceed on the basis of the conclusions expressed in this judgment, in particular as I have set them out in paragraph 31.

In the meantime, bear in mind that any plan of the child being at home with a parent, or with a relative under a Care Order carries huge risks for all involved.

The parent may find themselves, if all goes wrong, faced with a removal that they haven’t got legal aid to fight, and a Placement Order application that they haven’t got legal aid to fight.

And a Local Authority may find themselves, depending on the outcome of the next stage, facing the prospect of paying parents lawyers to litigate against them in a future application for a Placement Order if it all goes wrong.

[I have a loophole solution to this, which I am happy to share with any lawyer who contacts me – I’m not going to put the solution up online to tip off the LAA as to the loophole though]

 

LASPO and article 6 – a huge case

The President has given his judgment in Q v Q, and it is a helluva read.

If you want the “Too Long: Didn’t Read” version – in a case where the Judge concludes that it is necessary for a party to be legally represented or to have the costs of an expert paid for and that failure to do so would be a breach of article 6, and the Legal Aid Agency refuse to use their power under s10 LASPO to grant exceptional funding,  the Court would be entitled to order that Her Majesty’s Court Service pay for the legal representation.

 

The original Q v Q I wrote about here :-  http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/06/09/q-v-q-an-impasse/

 

The facts broadly are that a father was seeking contact with his child, an expert assessment as to future risk had been obtained, he disagreed with the conclusion and wanted to challenge it by way of cross-examination, but wasn’t in a position to do that himself, it was a task that would have been beyond him.  At the end of the judgment, the President floated the idea that if the Court considered that a party’s article 6 right to a fair trial was being breached, and the Legal Aid Agency wouldn’t pay for representation, then the Court Service might well have a duty to.  He didn’t finally determine that, giving the Ministry of Justice a chance to intervene and make representations as to why not  (they didn’t take that chance, because they are not the brightest crayon in the box)

 

The President also bundled up with Q v Q two private law cases where serious sexual offences were being alleged against the father and the Legal Aid Agency’s refusal to grant exceptional funding was going to place the Court in a position where the father might have to cross-examine in person the alleged victim. One of those,  D v K and B 2014   I wrote about here http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/03/14/equality-of-arms-d-v-k-and-b-2014/

 

The judgment in Q vQ 2014 is here

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2014/31.html

 

I have not been, over the last few years, the biggest flag-waver for the President – many of my grumbles are about his performance as a reforming administrator rather than a Judge; but he delivers for justice here.  And puts a target on his head, because this won’t be a popular decision in the Ministry of Justice, who are probably in a room now with a flip chart drawing up battle-plans and watching old episodes of  Judge John Deed to try to pick up some tips for when the MOJ are at war with a ‘rogue’ Judge.

 

Let’s have a quick look at why the MOJ, when placed on notice that the President was contemplating making a decision that would in effect be – “either the LAA write a cheque or HMCS write a cheque, but a cheque’s going to get written”, decided not to get involved

I decided to invite the Secretary of State for Justice (para 20) to:
 

“intervene in the proceedings to make such submissions as are appropriate in relation, in particular, to the argument that in a situation such as this the expenditure which is not available from the Legal Aid Agency but which, in the view of the court, if it be the view of the court, is necessary to be incurred to ensure proceedings which are just and fair, can be met either from the Legal Aid Agency by route of the other certificate, the mother’s certificate, or directly at the expense of the court.”
On 25 June 2014 I received a letter from Shailesh Vara MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice in the Ministry of Justice. After an opening paragraph the letter reads as follows:
 

“I am very grateful for the opportunity to intervene but the Ministry of Justice does not propose to do so in this case.
Ministers have no right or power to intervene in individual legal aid funding decisions made by the Director of Legal Aid Casework. The independence of the Director is an important statutory measure, which ensures impartiality in decision making. From the information recorded in your judgment, it is clear that the father in this case failed to satisfy the statutory merits criteria required to access funding. The merits test is a fundamental and long established part of the legal aid system, and ensures that limited public money is focussed on sufficiently meritorious cases and is not available in cases lacking sufficient merit. It is clearly established that it is legitimate for the Government to focus limited public resources through applying a merits test.
As you record in your judgment, there is expert evidence in the case (one report plus addenda commissioned by the father and one plus addendum commissioned jointly by the mother and the father) which set out unequivocally that the son would not be safe in his father’s presence and that at the moment there should be no contact between the father and the son. There have always been litigants in person in family proceedings, whether because individuals do not qualify for legal aid or choose to represent themselves, and the Courts have been able to resolve such proceedings justly and fairly.
I agree with you that further delay should be avoided in this case and, in the absence of a mechanism for funding the appearance of the experts or representation for the father, you will have to decide this issue in the absence of the cross examination you refer to in your judgment.”

 

So, we’re not coming, and if you can’t find a lawyer to do the cross-examination for free, then you’ll just have to decide the case without any cross-examination.

 

Do you remember in 1984 how Orwell talks about the Ministries in Airstrip One being named for the opposite of what they really do? So their Ministry of Peace was really a Ministry of War and so on?   Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Ministry of Justice.  Bravo, bravo.

 

The President goes through the various options, looking chiefly at the cases involving an allegation of rape in private law proceedings which is challenged and where the ‘accused’ has no lawyer.  In short they are ‘pro bono’,  the Guardian conducting the cross-examination, the father doing it in person or the Judge doing it and shows why each are insufficient and flawed.

 

He then establishes that as a result of European jurisprudence, notably  Airey v Ireland, and the Human Rights Act, the Court itself is bound by article 6 and fair trial and would itself be breaching the person’s right to a fair trial if it were to conduct the trial in a way that it considers to be unjust

 

46. The court is a public authority for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998 and is therefore required, subject only to section 6(2), to act in a way which is compatible with Articles 6 and 8 of the Convention. So far as is material for present purposes Article 6(1) provides that “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations … , everyone is entitled to a fair … hearing within a reasonable time”. Article 8, which guarantees “the right to respect for … private and family life”, also affords significant procedural safeguards in relation to the court process. As the Strasbourg court said in McMichael v UK (1995) 20 EHRR 205, para 87, “the decision-making process leading to measures of interference must be fair and such as to afford due respect to the interests safeguarded by Article 8.”
 

47. It is necessary also to have regard to Article 47 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights:
 

“Everyone whose rights and freedoms guaranteed by the law of the Union are violated has the right to an effective remedy before a tribunal in compliance with the conditions laid down in this Article.
Everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law. Everyone shall have the possibility of being advised, defended and represented.
Legal aid shall be made available to those who lack sufficient resources insofar as such aid is necessary to ensure effective access to justice.”
I do not take up time considering whether this is applicable in cases such as those before me. In any event, it is not clear that it creates any greater right than arises under Articles 6 and 8 of the Convention: see Gudanaviciene and others v Director of Legal Aid Casework and another [2014] EWHC 1840 (Admin), paras 36-37.

48. Article 6 guarantees the right of “practical” and “effective” access to the court. In the case of a litigant in person, the question is whether, without the assistance of a lawyer, the litigant will be “able to present her case properly and satisfactorily”: Airey v Ireland (Application no 6289/73) (1979) 2 EHRR 305, para 24. In that particular case, the court held that Ireland was in breach of Mrs Airey’s Article 6 rights because it was not realistic in the court’s opinion to suppose that, in litigation of the type in which she was involved, she could effectively conduct her own case, despite the assistance which the judge would afford to parties acting in person. In DEB v Germany [2011] 2 CMLR 529, para 46, the CJEU summarised the Strasbourg jurisprudence in this way:
 

“Ruling on legal aid in the form of assistance by a lawyer, the ECtHR has held that the question whether the provision of legal aid is necessary for a fair hearing must be determined on the basis of the particular facts and circumstances of each case and will depend, inter alia, upon the importance of what is at stake for the applicant in the proceedings, the complexity of the relevant law and procedure and the applicant’s capacity to represent himself effectively.”

49. Mantovanelli v France (Application no 21497/93) (1997) 24 EHRR 370, indicates the significance of the right to an adversarial hearing guaranteed by Article 6 specifically in the context of an expert’s report which is “likely to have a preponderant influence on the assessment of the facts by [the] court.”

 

 

The President also looked at section 31 G (6) of the  amended Matrimonial and Famly Proceedings Act 1984

 

33….section 31G(6) of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984, set out in Schedule 10 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which came into effect on 22 April 2014:
 

“Where in any proceedings in the family court it appears to the court that any party to the proceedings who is not legally represented is unable to examine or cross-examine a witness effectively, the court is to –
(a) ascertain from that party the matters about which the witness may be able to depose or on which the witness ought to be cross-examined, and
(b) put, or cause to be put, to the witness such questions in the interests of that party as may appear to the court to be proper.”

 

And in conclusion

 

75…does section 31G(6) operate to confer on a judge of the Family Court power to forbid a party who wishes to conduct his own case from examining or cross-examining a witness? Again I have heard no sustained argument, but my inclination is to think that the answer is, no it does not, for principle suggests that such an important right is only to be cut down by express words or necessary implication, and neither is very obviously to be found in section 31G(6): see again General Mediterranean Holdings SA v Patel and Another [2000] 1 WLR 272. As against that, I can see the argument that there may be cases where to expose the alleged victim to cross-examination by the alleged perpetrator might engage the alleged victim’s rights, whether under Article 8 or Article 3, in such a way as to impose on the court an obligation under the 1998 Act to prevent it, so that in such a case section 31G(6) has to be read as giving the court the appropriate power to do so.
 

76. The second thing which is unclear is this: what, in contrast to the word “put” in section 31G(6), do the words “cause to be put” mean? When section 31G(6) provides that in certain circumstances “the court is to … put” questions, that must mean questioning by the judge or magistrate. In some – probably many – cases that will be entirely unproblematic. But in cases where the issues are as grave and forensically challenging as in Re B and Re C, questioning by the judge may not be appropriate or, indeed, sufficient to ensure compliance with Articles 6 and 8. There is, in my judgment, very considerable force in what Roderic Wood J and Judge Wildblood said in the passages in their judgments (respectively, para 24 and paras 6(iii)-(v)) which I have already quoted.
 

77. The words “cause to be put” must, in contrast, contemplate questioning by someone other than the judge. Now that someone else might be an advocate whom the court has managed to persuade to act pro bono. It might be the guardian, if there is one, or the guardian’s advocate. But there are, as both Roderic Wood J and Judge Wildblood understandably pointed out, great difficulties in expecting the guardian or the guardian’s advocate to undertake this role – difficulties which were expounded also in the argument before me. I agree with what Judge Wildblood said (para 6(ix) quoted above). The point applies with equal force in the circumstances of both Re B and Re C.
 

78. What then is the court to do if the father is unable to pay for his own representation and “exceptional” legal aid is not available?
 

79. In the ultimate analysis, if the criteria in section 31G(6) are satisfied, and if the judge is satisfied that the essential requirements of a fair trial as required by FPR 1.1 and Articles 6 and 8 cannot otherwise be met, the effect of the words “cause to be put” in section 31G(6) is, in my judgment, to enable the judge to direct that appropriate representation is to be provided by – at the expense of – the court, that is, at the expense of HMCTS.

 

 

Now, some caveats  – the President is careful to say that these were cases with particular characteristics, each involving allegations of sexual offences and two involving allegations of rape, and that he had been looking at these cases in particular not s10 LASPO in general.   And also we need to bear in mind that  (a) the LAA might appeal this decision, as they are threatening to do with Gudanaviciene and others v Director of Legal Aid Casework and another [2014] EWHC 1840 (Admin),  and (b) hardly anyone at the LAA seems to have taken on board Gudanaviciene so far, as can be seen from the Smackdown judgment from HH Judge Bellamy I wrote about yesterday.     The criminal bar were all cock-a-hoop about the  Op Cotton judgment and the rug was pulled out from under them by the Court of Appeal.

 

Here are the President’s own caveats   (and if you are a Local Authority lawyer or budget-holder note the chilling implications of the LA funding intervenors or grandparents to litigate against them)

 

Three caveats

In this judgment I have been concerned only to consider the problems that may arise in private law cases. I have therefore not had occasion to consider any further the point I made in Q v Q (para 18), where I suggested that “In a public law case where the proceedings are brought by a local authority, one can see a possible argument that failing all else the local authority should have to pay.” That is a matter for another day.
 

I have concluded that there may be circumstances in which the court can properly direct that the cost of certain activities should be borne by HMCTS. I emphasise that (the provision of interpreters and translators apart) this is an order of last resort. No order of this sort should be made except by or having first consulted a High Court Judge or a Designated Family Judge.
 

I emphasise also that the allegation in each case is one of sexual assault, in two of the cases an allegation of rape. It may be that a similar approach is appropriate in cases of serious non-sexual assault. It may be that it will not be appropriate in less serious cases. I express no concluded views, beyond drawing attention to the trite observation that everything will, in the final analysis, depend upon the particular facts of the specific case.
 

Concluding observations

The Ministry of Justice, the LAA and HMCTS may wish to consider the implications. That is a matter for them. For my part I would urge the early attention of both the Children and Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group and the Family Procedure Rules Committee to those aspects of the various matters I have canvassed that fall within their respective remits.

 

In both of the live cases, the Judge gave the Legal Aid Agency one last chance to see sense and grant the funding under LASPO, but gave the clearest of indications that to proceed without representation would be an article 6 breach and that the Court would have to consider its own duty to fund such representation.

 

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