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Tag Archives: Court of Appeal

Children giving evidence

 

This is a Court of Appeal decision, arising from a private law case in which there was an issue as to whether a child should give evidence as part of the forensic exercise of determining the truth of what happened.

Re B (Child Evidence) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1015.html

 

John Bolch does an excellent summary here

http://www.familylore.co.uk/2014/07/re-b-children-giving-evidence.html

 

The case builds on, but doesn’t change the principles set down by the Supreme Court in Re W  http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKSC/2010/12.html

 

The fundamental difference is that in Re W, the potential child witness was the subject of proceedings (thus the welfare of the child was a legitimate component of judicial decision-making, though not the paramount consideration), whereas this was a sibling/half-sibling of the child in question and thus wasn’t covered by that umbrella of welfare.  Other than in the broader philosophical sense that a Court dealing with the welfare of a particular child ought not to cause harm to another child in that pursuit of a decision. Also, in Re W, the child had given a video interview to the police and that could potentially stand as evidence, in this one, the child had not given any interview and the issue was whether and how the child’s evidence ought to be placed before the Court if at all

 

The original trial Judge had decided that a series of questions ought to be drawn up and the CAFCASS adviser ask them of the child and record the answers, deciding to leave the issue of live evidence to one side until that information was available.

I’m not quite sure why the appeal was brought before that decision was made, or how the Court of Appeal dealt with it so quickly (it feels a bit premature to me, but nonetheless they did)

 

The Court of Appeal backed the decision of the trial judge to proceed in that way, but were keen to stress that this was not sanctioning an opening of the floodgates (as Jack of Kent has pointed out, floodgates opening is actually a good thing contrary to the metaphor – they are SUPPOSED to open).

 

  • I would not expect our endorsement of Judge Cameron’s decision to open the floodgates, leading to a widespread practice of calling children as witnesses in cases such as this one. The Supreme Court did not consider that their decision would lead to children routinely giving evidence, predicting that the outcome of the court’s balancing exercise, if it was called upon to adjudicate upon such matters, would be the conclusion that the additional benefits in calling the child would not outweigh the additional harm it would cause him or her. I am sure that the natural sensitivity and caution of the family courts, which originally generated the now defunct presumption, can be relied upon to ensure that matters are approached in a way which properly safeguards all the interests involved.

 

 

 

  • In addition to the argument that G’s evidence was peripheral, it was also argued on F’s behalf that it was wrong to have embarked upon the Family Court Adviser path because it would (or should) lead nowhere as the shortcomings in G’s evidence rendered that evidence of little value. The shortcomings were said to arise from matters such as G’s age, the lack of a contemporaneous statement from her, the passage of time since the incidents, and the likely influence upon her account of having lived in the meanwhile with M who was negative to F.

 

 

 

  • I recognise the logic in the submission that the court should not involve a child in steps designed to explore the possibility of him or her giving evidence unless satisfied that the evidence is likely to be of value. However I would not take such an absolute position. It can be difficult to take a reliable decision in a vacuum and there can sometimes be merit in a step by step approach which enables more information to be gathered before deciding irrevocably. In deciding what steps to take, the apparent nature, quality and relevance of the evidence are obviously material but the court may not know enough in the early stages to form a concluded view about matters such as this.

 

 

 

In the light of the Court of Appeal’s decision to nuke fact finding hearings in public law from orbit, a decision I respectfully think is something one could happily eat with cheese, I thought these remarks from the Court of Appeal were interesting

The pursuit, in public and private children proceedings, of “the truth” about past events is not an abstract endeavour. What happened in the past is the foundation for informed decisions about the future, including decisions as to what, if any, risk of harm a particular course of action may present to the child who is the subject of the proceedings. The more reliable the court’s findings as to what happened in the past, the more reliable should be the prognosis for the future and the better the court should be able to judge where the welfare of the subject child lies.

 

Quite so.

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)

 

Interim care order appeal (unsuccessful)

 

This is our dear old friend section 37 again, and also a regular topic on these blogs – the bringing of allegations that aren’t proven and the consquences for the person bringing the allegation.

 

Re W (A child)  2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/772.html

 

In this case, private law proceedings were taking place between the two parents about where the child (an 8 year old girl) should live and how much time she should spend with each parent. As part of those proceedings, very serious allegations of sexual abuse were made against the father

[I note, and think it is probably more important than the Court of Appeal treated it, that the Court had previously made findings that the paternal grandfather had sexually abused the child - that sort of thing would probably make any parent hyper-sensitive and vigilant, and also possibly means that the child might act out in a sexualised way as a result of the established sexual abuse which might lead a mother to mistakenly but genuinely think the father had done something. I don't say that this explains and excuses everything, but it is quite an important bit of context]

 

At the finding of fact hearing, the Judge found that none of the mother’s allegations were true, and went on to make an Interim Care Order removing the child from mother’s care – although no public law application by Social Services had been made, the Judge using the power under section 37 of the Children Act 1989 to make an Interim Care Order in the absence of an application (albeit for a maximum of 8 weeks, rather than for whatever duration the Court sees fit as with the new public law regime)

 

 

  • On that day the judge concluded at [246] to [260] of his judgment that all of the allegations that the mother had made against the father were false including, in particular, that he had ever behaved in a sexually inappropriate way towards his daughter. The judge set out his conclusions in considerable detail. The conclusions that were reasoned in the previous 245 paragraphs. He held that the mother:

 

 

 (i) had wrongly suggested that the child did not want to see her father, and was frightened by him;

(ii) had knowingly sought to prevent the child from having a relationship with her father by putting pressure on her about seeing him, and by putting obstacles in the way of contact;

 (iii) had deliberately and wrongly sought to exclude father from school events and being involved in the child’s life;

 (iv) believed that the father was involved in the child’s abuse in London (i.e. the abuse perpetrated by the paternal grandfather), and had informed others of her belief;

 (v) misled the court by saying that it was the child rather than herself who struggled with the grandfather’s abuse;

 (vi) deliberately put the worst interpretation on events to place obstacles in the way of the father’s contact;

 (vii) encouraged the child to make false allegations against her father because of her own fear of contact (which the child did at her mother’s behest despite being a daughter who delights in seeing her father);

 (viii) had told the child about alleged domestic violence on the parties’ separation to influence the child against her father and to cause her to make similar allegations;

 (ix) is out of control, believing her own propaganda and convincing the child of it: creating a situation that is deeply concerning – the child was and is subject to influences which she should not be;

 (x) is worryingly obsessed by the abuse of the child by her paternal grandfather to the extent that she had unfairly taken an adverse view of the father and worked against his contact at every opportunity, save when she could police it herself. Her reluctance to let him develop a natural relationship with his daughter was plain for all to see; and

 (xi) had encouraged the child to have an unhealthy attitude towards her father, to make untrue allegations, to know more about sexual matters and about the case than was good for her with the consequence that her emotional and psychological progress had been damaged.

 

  • The judge concluded that the child could not remain living with her mother before the case was finalised because of the mother’s behaviour, in particular her involvement of the child, and her unjustified convictions, in particular that the father was dangerous and presented a risk of sexual abuse. The judge concluded that the child had suffered significant emotional harm in her mother’s care within the meaning of section 38 CA 1989 and that her psychological safety required her immediate removal from that care.

 

The mother appealed this.

 

The Court of Appeal rejected it. They considered firstly that the Judge had applied the correct test in law

 

 

  • Turning then to the implications of the findings of fact that the judge made. It should be noted that it is no part of this appeal that the judge applied an inappropriate test to the question of removal. That test was set out in Re LA (Care: Chronic Neglect) [2010 ] 1 FLR 80 at [7] by Thorpe LJ:

 

 

13. “separation is only to be ordered if the child’s safety demands immediate separation [...] at an interim stage the removal of children from their parents is not to be sanctioned unless the child’s safety requires interim protection”

 

  • Safety is given a broad construction and includes the child’s emotional and psychological welfare (see, for example, Re B (Care Proceedings: Interim Care Order) [2010] 1 FLR 1211 at [56]).

That test is usually seen in connection with an application by a Local Authority to remove a child under an Interim Care Order, but exactly the same principle and legal test extends to a Judge making an Interim Care Order and his own care plan of removal   [The more difficult issue of how a Judge doing this is becoming both the applicant and the tribunal is something that doesn't get raised - to me, it is a significant problem, but the Court of Appeal when dealing with other section 37 appeals haven't ever felt it was problematic]

 

The next issue was whether the Judge had properly applied the facts of the case to that test, when deciding that the test was met  – and specifically whether the Judge had failed to look at whether removal was proportionate and what other options were available that would have been less interventionist.

 

  • The question is whether the test was wrongly applied to the facts. The judge rejected the mother’s allegations that the father had been involved in or was aware of the sexual abuse of the grandfather or had himself acted in a sexually inappropriate manner. The judge made extensive findings about the inappropriate conduct of the mother which I have summarised by using the analysis that the judge himself constructed at the end of his judgment. The mother’s conduct, even if explicable as a consequence of a psychological or behavioural condition, was inexcusable and highly damaging to the child. The judge’s finding that the mother was “bent on manipulation and encouraging false allegations” was a finding of huge adverse significance in relation to her capability to care for her child. The child had been encouraged by the mother to make allegations against her father despite the child’s own delight in seeing her father in the process of which she had obtained an unhealthy knowledge of sexual issues. On any basis, the risk of further significant harm to the child had to be addressed by the court. Given the prevalence of false allegations made by parents against each other in private law proceedings, conduct at this level by a parent should be understood to be serious child abuse that will usually necessitate intervention by a court.

 

 

 

  • Given that context, the judge was required to consider his child protection duties and powers. The only question that realistically arises on this appeal is whether he exercised them proportionately. There can be no question that the court’s jurisdiction to make orders under sections 37 and 38 CA 1989 was engaged on the facts of this case. The interim threshold for the making of an interim care order was clearly satisfied and there was jurisdiction to make that order. The test for removal was clearly satisfied on the facts as found and that only leaves the question of whether there was a less draconian, i.e. more proportionate order that the judge could and should have considered.

 

 

 

  • I ask the question rhetorically: given the court’s findings, how could the judge leave the child with the mother? No level of sufficient support and necessary protection was described by anyone. To leave the child without protection would have been unconscionable. One has only to consider physical abuse to a child that gives rise to a similar index of harm to understand that such a position was untenable. The submission made on behalf of the mother that her care of the child had in all (other) respects been good or even better than good simply misses the point. More than that level of care was needed to protect this child from her own mother. Each of the alternative orders described to this court would have left the child in that care without any better ability to protect the child than there had been hitherto. The situation might have been different if there could have been effective policing of that care in the interim and before other assessments were conducted but that was not an option addressed to the judge or to this court. I bear in mind that the family court sometimes hears cogent evidence of particular harm that may be caused on the removal of a child from the care of a parent which the court must consider and balance in the welfare analysis and proportionality evaluation, but that was not this case.

 

 

 

  • The distress that had been engendered in the child, as advised by the children’s guardian, sadly made an immediate move to the father impossible. No other relative was immediately available without assessment of the position that relative would take in the highly antagonistic and dysfunctional family relationships that existed (for example, to consider the effect on the maternal family of the mother’s discussions with them that the father was a paedophile). That included the mother’s sister who is now being assessed by the local authority. The only realistic option that remained in this case was the neutral position of short term foster care.

 

 

 

  • The judge described his decision as proportionate at [264] and in accordance with the child’s welfare having regard to the ‘welfare checklist’ in section 1(3) CA 1989. He specifically envisaged a short period of respite care while the local authority explored the possibility of placing the child with her father and/or the obtaining of therapeutic assistance for the mother. Given the need for an assessment of the child’s aunt (who has not challenged the interim conclusion of the judge), there was no immediately available realistic option for the court other than removal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Leading counsel for the father has taken the court through the judgment, identifying the specific points at which the judge came to value judgments about the welfare factors in section 1(3) CA 1989 based on the facts that he found. None of those conclusions is seriously challenged in this appeal and it is not necessary for this court to set them out seriatim. The judge analysed his conclusions by reference to more than 40 written submissions made by the mother. The judge did not specifically address the child’s wishes and feelings in his analysis but he had set out in detail what it was that the child had been influenced to say. It is hardly surprising that there was little more that he could add given the context in which he had to make his decision. It may well have been harmful to ask the child anything else at that stage. Likewise, the judge made ample reference to the situation the child was in and focussed on the unacceptability of its continuation. To that extent the effect of the proposed change of circumstance for the child was regarded as positive and no party other than the mother disputed that.

 

 

 

  • Given that a decision by a court to remove a child into public care, whether in public or private law children proceedings engages article 8 of the ECHR, a welfare analysis and proportionality evaluation are necessary. In any case where there is more than one realistic option it will be necessary for the judge to summarise his conclusions in what is now a conventional balance sheet approach i.e. where there is a choice to be made between two or more realistic options, an analysis of each option by reference to the welfare checklist is required so as to afford paramount consideration to the child’s welfare. The court is then required to evaluate the proportionality of its proposed intervention (and / or that of the local authority) by conducting a balancing exercise in which each of the available options is evaluated by considering the positives and negatives, or the benefits and detriments, of each option side by side. An adequately reasoned judgment must deal with the reasonably available options and give them proper and focussed attention.

 

 

 

  • That was not this case. There were no other realistic options i.e. options that were reasonably available to the court and no more proportionate interference than that contemplated by the judge. Given the stark facts, no further analysis was necessary.

 

 

[Okay, this may be more widely important, because this is the Court of Appeal accepting the point that some High Court Judges, notably Pauffly J have made about Re B-S, that the Court isn't required to rigorously scrutinise EVERY option, only the realistic ones. The Court of Appeal accept that what is required of a Judge is to analyse each of the REALISTIC OPTIONS.  They say in this case that there were no other realistic options, so the level of scrutiny and weighing up was much lower.  That, to me, is interesting, since I read last week of a Court of Appeal judgment that overturned a Placement Order where BOTH OF THE PARENTS WERE IN PRISON at the time of the final hearing and were going to be there for some years to come, and the Court of Appeal overturned it for lack of proper analysis of the options. Consistent much?    *  I have that on Lawtel as Re T (a child) 2014 but without a bailli report yet, and Lawtel is paywall-y so I can't link]

I would be using Re W (a child) 2014 as Court of Appeal authority for the principle that only the REALISTIC options need to be scrutinised and weighed.  (That raises the question of how you sift the options into realistic and unrealistic without scrutinising them, but y’know, there are degrees of scrutiny  – like for example, mum is not a realistic option to care for her child because she is doing FIVE YEARS IN PRISON)

 

The Court of Appeal here are saying that removal on the facts of the case was such a blindingly obvious outcome that it doesn’t matter if the Judge didn’t spend much time in the judgment setting out the pros and cons, the facts speak for themselves.  [They might regret that, this seems to be something that lawyers could argue about till the end of time - was THIS case bleedin' obvious, or was it finely balanced? We call an expert witness, whose specialist subject is the Bleedin' Obvious, Mrs Sybil Fawlty]

 

So, the mother’s appeal on those first two points failed – the next point was whether this was procedurally fair and whether she had been properly placed on notice that she might face an Interim Care Order and removal of her daughter.

 

  • It is convenient to take the last two propositions first because the whole context of the decision making process needs to be analysed if one is to understand what happened on the day the order was made. At the time the fact finding hearing was being case managed by Judge Cardinal on 21 June 2013 the judge indicated to the parties in the presence of the mother that if it were subsequently to be established that the mother was leading the child to make false allegations against her father, the court would consider making a residence order in favour of the father. At that stage, the judge had identified as a key issue the nature and extent of the harm that was being or would be caused to the child if the mother’s allegations were false and had rightly, in my judgment, identified one of the potentially serious consequences, namely removal of the child and a change of residence away from the child’s primary carer.

 

 

 

  • On 16 July 2013 at a hearing when mother was again present and assisted by an experienced McKenzie friend, Ms Haines, Judge Cardinal repeated his concerns to both parents: the consequences for each parent of the allegations being determined to be true or false were patent. On 18 October 2013 in the presence of Ms Haines, the judge explained to the mother that if he rejected her allegations he would have to very carefully consider the child’s future.

 

 

 

  • On the morning of 28 October 2013 before the fact finding hearing in question began, Judge Cardinal addressed all the advocates and Ms Haines. Entirely properly and to enable the parties to think about their positions, the judge indicated that if the mother’s allegations against the father were subsequently proved, he would have to consider exercising his powers to make a section 37 direction and an interim supervision order because the threshold for intervention would be met and the child would need protective assistance. He also dealt with the converse position. He explained that if the allegations were found to be false (a necessary and logical position on the facts of this case if they were not proved) he would have to consider exercising his powers to make an interim care order on the basis he would approve the removal of the child from the mother’s care. These observations were repeated by the judge more than once during the fact finding hearing.

 

 

 

  • The fact finding hearing was adjourned on 31 October 2013 at the conclusion of the oral evidence. The judge directed the parties to file written closing submissions by 10.00 am on 6 November 2013 in preparation for the resumed hearing on 11 November 2013. The judge directed the local authority as the recipient of his section 37 direction to attend court on 11 November 2013. In order to assist the mother, who did not have a legal representative, the judge identified specific questions for the mother to answer in her written submissions. The questions related to what orders he should make specifically including the options of interim care or supervision orders and residence and contact orders. The mother understood the judge’s intentions at least to the extent that she faithfully replicated his questions in her written submissions.

 

 

 

  • The mother did not answer the questions posed by the judge in her written submissions but as respects the notice she had of the judge’s powers and his realistic options, it is quite clear that she had days not hours or minutes to consider her position. Indeed, as to the key question about the removal of her daughter, she had more than 4 months notice and repeated reminders of the stark position that faced everyone if her allegations were found to be false.

 

 

 

  • As the judge records at [56] of his judgment, the mother’s closing submissions were received and considered after the deadline he set. There were in fact four sets of closing submissions from her, the last of which was received on 11 November 2013 which was the resumed final hearing day. By that time the mother would have been aware of the written submissions of the other parties specifically dealing with removal and inviting the court to take that step. The father asked the court to remove his daughter from the mother’s care and the children’s guardian recommended and reasoned the precise order made by the judge. The guardian also dealt with the difficult position that would arise if the judge decided that the mother’s allegations were false and that she had involved the child in her allegations to the extent that on removal the child would not immediately be able to go to live with her father.

 

 

 

  • At [30] and [31] of his judgment the judge records the following:

 

 

12. “[30] At the outset of proceedings I warned both parents of the serious consequences of pursuing this fact finding exercise. Were the allegations now make [sic] of sexual abuse true, then the court would be finding [the child] had been abused twice over, both by the grandfather and, later, by father. It would almost certainly mean, given [the child's] distress, the need for a section 37 report, and probably an interim supervision order, and very careful evaluation of the need to protect, of a risk assessment, and the need to manage, with care, a deeply damaged little girl.

12. [31] Were the allegations untrue, then mother would be guilty of feeding her with untruthful stories, of an obsessive nature, about sexual abuse. Again, I would almost certainly be directing a section 37 report and making an interim care order, as [the child] would then need speedy removal from an abusive home.”

 

  • Once the judgment had been handed down the judge gave the parties the opportunity to reflect on his conclusions and have discussions including with the local authority who were present in accordance with his earlier direction. Counsel recollect that there was a period from about 12.30 pm to 2.15 pm during which the mother asked the local authority to consider placement of her daughter with the mother’s sister. The local authority would not accept that proposal without an assessment for reasons that are understandable having regard to the content of the judgment. That decision was not at that stage a matter for them but rather for the court and it is of note that from about 2.15 pm to about 3.00 pm the mother was given and used an opportunity to make further oral submissions to the judge about her proposals and the orders that the court could make.

 

 

 

  • Given the judge’s record and that of all counsel in the case and for the reasons set out above, I cannot accept that the mother would have been in any doubt about what the judge was able to do and indeed what he proposed to do if the facts were found against the mother and absent any submissions as to other alternatives. The mother had every opportunity which she used to make proposals about placement including her sister and other members of the family. During oral submissions to this court and for the first time both without written warning or earlier complaint, the mother instructed her counsel to the effect that she had not had notice of the other parties written submissions because she had had computer difficulties and had not been able to open their documents. The process that I have described and the manner in which this complaint is disclosed to this court make it inherently unlikely but even if it is correct, there is ample other material to remain of the firm view that there was no procedural irregularity. This element of the ground of appeal is without merit and is not the case that was put to the single judge when he granted permission. There was no procedural irregularity or unfairness

 

 

There does seem to be quite a few warning shots there, that weren’t picked up on.

 

An argument that was not raised by the mother’s McKenzie Friend which might have been (I think the appeal was doomed, but I would have liked to see how the Court of Appeal tackled this) was the article 6 point. A parent in private law proceedings can be unrepresented – and in this case it seems that the mother was – making use of a McKenzie Friend, because she would not qualify for free legal representation.

In order to assist the mother, who did not have a legal representative, the judge identified specific questions for the mother to answer in her written submissions.

In a case where a Local Authority applies to remove your child, you automatically qualify for free legal representation. Once the Judge was contemplating the possibility of making an Interim Care Order and removing the child,  should the mother not have been entitled to free legal representation in exactly the same way that she would have been in care proceeedings?  From the point of view of a parent’s rights, does it matter whether the Interim Care Order is made by a Judge after a Local Authority apply, rather than by a Judge of his own motion?  The issue is the removal of the child from her care and into foster care, surely?

 

If a Judge is contemplating removal of a child into foster care under section 37,  should a parent not be entitled to free legal advice and representation about that, and be able to challenge it with the benefit of such representation?  Is it a denial of the principles of Airey v Ireland for her to NOT be able to be represented?  Given the warning that the Judge gave to the mother about the risks of the finding of fact hearing, might it have been beneficial for her to have had legal advice?

 

 

 

Private law appeal (unsuccessful)

The Court of Appeal have given judgment in Re H (Children) 2014  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/733.html

 

This relates to an appeal from the decision of Parker J to make an order transferring residence of three children from their mother’s care to their father’s care AT AN INTERIM STAGE – the case is not over and further steps are being taken prior to the final hearing of the private law applications.

 

The interim change of residence followed a finding of fact hearing in which the mother made very serious allegations about the father – including that he had raped her and hit the boys with a belt. The boys had made that allegation during police ABE (Achieving Best Evidence) interviews.

 

The Court of Appeal are quite right, to make sense of the appeal, one needs to look at the context of the litigation, which they set out in summary form

 

  • In order to make sense of what follows, it is necessary to set out the bare bones of the chronological history which catalogues the development of evidence with respect to each of these two core themes.

 

 

 

  • On 4th April 2013 the mother applied for an injunction against the father under the Family Law Act 1986 and made applications for residence and supervised contact orders with respect to the children. In her witness statement supporting those applications the mother did not complain that she was the victim of any physical or sexual violence from the father save for one occasion nearly twenty years earlier prior to their marriage. She did, however, allege that the father was highly controlling and threatening in his manner towards her and that he would regularly assault the children and, in particular, would take a belt to them if he considered that they had misbehaved. The father issued a counter application for contact and specific issue orders regarding the children’s schools.

 

 

 

  • The first court hearing took place on 15th April 2013 before DJ Hodges. At that hearing the mother’s position had changed from one of supporting supervised contact between the children and the father. Her case was that the elder boy, A, opposed the two younger children having direct contact with the father and the mother herself therefore opposed direct contact for any of the children. At the hearing the District Judge explicitly stated that the court would start with the presumption that children should grow up knowing both parents. Some 2 hours after the conclusion of that hearing the mother and A attended the local police station and made allegations about the father’s behaviour. The police record shows that, in addition to the allegations of violence towards the children, the mother alleged that the father had also been violent towards her, but that his abuse of her was “mostly emotional and sexual”.

 

 

 

  • On the following day, 16th April, police visited the mother and the children at the refuge. Notes of that visit indicate that C and A made allegations of physical assault by their father, but that these were not substantiated by B’s account. The mother’s complaint was of emotional and mental abuse. She made an historical allegation that he had raped her and she stated that he had physically abused her, but that this had not happened for some years. In subsequent police interviews (in April and in September) the mother came to make allegations of repeated rape and controlling behaviour.

 

 

 

  • On 23rd April A undertook a formal Achieving Best Evidence ["ABE"] interview with the police in which he made various allegations of physical assault by the father, including the use of a belt.

 

 

 

  • Matters then took a striking turn when, on 30th April, the father filed a statement exhibiting a number of notes and other documents written by the mother which described how she had herself been violent to the children, that she was unable to cope and was unable to control her consumption of alcohol.

 

 

 

  • At his subsequent police interview the father denied the allegations of rape, violence and controlling behaviour. He accepted that during one of A’s violent outbursts he had physically intervened.

 

 

 

  • The first hearing before Parker J took place on 7th May 2013 in which the judge heard oral evidence from the mother, father and paternal grandmother. The judge’s judgment on that occasion indicates that the background material produced by the father, originating as it did from the mother’s own hand, suggested that the father’s case that the mother was emotionally very troubled, was borne out. The judge said that the material that had been produced “worries me in the extreme, particularly the mother’s reference to drinking, Alcoholics Anonymous and being physically out of control with regard to the children”. The case was thus one in which allegations flowed in both directions.

 

 

 

  • Having heard the mother’s oral evidence with regard to the father’s behaviour and, in particular, his use of a belt on the children, the judge was plainly unimpressed with her credibility and stated “I thought that the mother’s evidence with regard to the belting was all over the shop to put it bluntly as to what actually she said had happened and what precisely she knew”. The judge was, however, plainly impressed with the “quite excellent” paternal grandmother who the judge described as being “true as steel, stout as oak”.

 

 

 

  • As a result of this, her first encounter with this case, the judge developed a very clear strategy as to the way forward. Whilst expressing concerns that the mother’s presentation, and the children’s allegations, might indicate that the children had become “recruited children”, in the sense that they had fallen in with their mother’s view of matters, the judge was prepared to accept, for the moment, that these matters were as a result of her troubled emotions and were not deliberate acts. The judge therefore ordered that the two younger children should be made available for contact with their father each Saturday during the day, but that all such contact should be supervised by the paternal grandmother and a paternal aunt. A was free to attend contact with his father and brothers should he desire. The judge fixed a further hearing for the end of June.

 

 

 

  • Three days later, on 10th May, the mother made a without notice application to stay the contact order. Fortunately it was possible for the father and his legal team to attend court on that hearing before Parker J, who, having heard the matter, dismissed the mother’s application. It is apparent that, again, the judge heard oral evidence from the mother on that occasion. The judge records the mother as saying that she was not relying on her serious allegations of domestic violence against herself and the children in opposing contact, but upon the need for the family to “heal” from the difficult marriage and marital circumstances and for the children to repair their relationship as siblings before contact could take place. The judge expressed great concern about what she perceived as the mother’s shifting stance in the proceedings, which did not demonstrate a solidly-founded mindset upon which the court could place any confidence. The mother’s application for a stay was founded upon A refusing point blank to attend any contact with the father and the younger children being said to be visibly upset and awake all night after being told of the proposal for contact. The judge on this second hearing expressed herself as having far more cause for concern as to the extent to which the children had been drawn into adult concerns and adult perceptions. The judge considered that the mother’s “havering and wavering about what her case actually is” supported her view that a firm grip was needed to be taken on contact before there was further opportunity for matters to deteriorate. The judge therefore repeated that she expected contact to take place in accordance with the order.

 

 

 

  • On 28th June all three children were interviewed by police and made allegations of violence against their father.

 

 

 

  • The judge had directed the local authority to provide a report pursuant to Children Act 1989, s 37. In that report, which is dated 26th July, the local authority recommended that no contact with the children’s father should take place “for the time being”.

 

 

 

  • At the end of September, and again in a revised document one week later, the mother filed a detailed schedule of allegations. That second (revised) document raised, for the first time during the court process, allegations of rape “on numerous occasions” from l992 onwards.

 

 

 

  • At this stage the father filed additional material including video, audio and photographic evidence which included a film apparently taken by A of a violent assault by C on B. It was apparent that the father was not present in the house and the children were in the care of the mother, who, apparently, can be seen ineffectually attempting to stop the assault and then leaving the room. This material was viewed by Parker J during a hearing on 29th October. That hearing, which had been intended to be a substantial fact finding process, was thwarted in two respects. Firstly, sadly, the mother’s father had died some five days earlier and she was not available to attend for all of the three or four day trial. Secondly, as a result of a failure by the police to respond to orders for disclosure, the court did not have access to key police records. The case was therefore adjourned part heard. However, at this hearing the court again heard evidence from the mother, father and paternal grandmother. In a short judgment given on 30th October the judge concluded that the risk of the children being put under pressure by the mother was very high in the light of the mother’s inability (apparently demonstrated in the witness box) to restrain herself in airing what she says about the father, including allegations of rape, in the children’s presence. The judge concluded that professionally supervised contact was not in the children’s interests, as there was a high risk that the children would understand that they should behave badly at contact so that this behaviour would be seen by the contact supervisors.

 

 

 

  • Although the judge was plain that the fact finding process was not concluded, and that she kept an open mind, she was struck by the fact that the two younger children had not made assertions of being belted by their father until after the judge herself had made her adverse comments relating to the mother’s oral evidence at the May hearing. The judge seriously entertained the view that the younger children may well have sought to provide corroboration for the allegations that were being made by picking up from the mother’s conversation, either directly with them or by overhearing what she said to A, what the issues in the case were. The judge therefore considered that contact should be reinstated to the father as soon as possible for the younger two children. The judge was clear that, because of A’s alliance with his mother, he should not attend those contact visits, but could, if he wished, have supervised contact with the father. The matter was set down to conclude the fact finding process at a two day hearing on 19th December.

 

 

 

  • Between the October and December hearings contact took place, but not without incident. It is not necessary to spell out the details, but in consequence of the difficulties on 4th December the father applied to enforce the contact order and applied for a residence order with respect to the two younger boys.

 

 

 

  • The fact finding hearing concluded on 19th and 20th December with judgment being given on Monday 23rd December. On the first day of the hearing the court ordered that B and C should stay overnight that night with the father. During their stay the two boys received a text message on their mobile phone from their elder brother A encouraging them to disrupt their time with the father. Part of the message read “fight, break stuff and argue to get out of this situation…you know what to do to get out of this situation…if you don’t act [F] will have custody of you after tomorrow. Good luck. Break, destroy and burn.”

 

 

 

  • At the conclusion of the hearing on 23rd December the judge made an immediate order transferring residence of the two younger boys to the father and making a residence order for A to the paternal grandmother. It is against those orders that the mother now seeks permission to appeal.

 

 

The appeal was centred around 3 issues

 

1. That the judge had come to conclusions prematurely about the allegations, making up her mind before hearing all of the evidence. In part because the earlier history of the litigation had set her mind against the mother’s allegations before the evidence was properly tested at a finding of fact hearing.

2. That in meeting the boys whilst the finding of fact hearing was going on, the exercise crossed from the appropriate one of familiarising the children with the Court and the process into an inappropriate one of gathering evidence  (I note, in passing that Parker J was of course the Judge who was recently criticised by the Court of Appeal for just this issue, having asked a child some 87 questions during an hour long interview http://www.familylore.co.uk/2014/05/re-kp-childs-meeting-with-judge-is-not.html )

 

3. That the Judge had decided that the case warranted an expert of particularly high calibre to assist, but then went on to decide that as the expert she had in mind was not available, no expert would be instructed.

 

[For my mind, looking at this purely from the outside, the third point is the best one, but relatively little was made of it]

 

Point 1 – the appellant claimed that the Judge had prematurely reached conclusions and as a result had curtailed mother’s ability to call witnesses and to put matters to those witnesses who had been called (regular readers will know that this is the Jones v NCB point – has the Judge ‘descended into the arena and become a participant in proceedings’ ?

 

This in part is complicated by the fact that the Judge had previously conducted a hearing in the case, and evidence had been heard during that hearing. Was the Judge entitled to rely on the impressions she formed of the evidence in the earlier hearings, thus allowing her to fairly restrict evidence and the extent of the evidence this time around? The Court of Appeal said yes, she was.

 

  • The range of detailed points about the judge’s conduct of the proceedings all, to a greater or lesser extent, come back to the central submission that the judge formed a premature conclusion on the factual material which was adverse to the mother’s case. That the judge had formed a preliminary view by, at the latest, the end of the October hearing, seems clear. In the light of that view, and conscious of the very tight timetable within which the December hearing had to be completed (given that the judgment was in fact handed down on the first day of the vacation), the judge may have been justified in excluding certain matters entirely from consideration in oral evidence, limiting the witnesses and the time available for cross-examination. On this point Mrs Crowley’s core submission is that the judge was wrong to use the early adverse view she had formed of the mother’s evidence to determine the allegations that had been made by each of the three children and to do so without a proper evaluation of the primary material that only became available to the court at the December hearing. That primary material comprised of the disclosure that was received from the police, including, importantly, the records of the various interviews undertaken by the children and the parents together with a DVD recording of A’s ABE interview. In particular, a point is made concerning the judge’s assumption that the younger boys only made allegations of physical assault by their father after Parker J had made adverse observations about the mother’s credibility at the May hearing. That assumption was shown to be erroneous with respect to C on disclosure by the police on the eve of the December hearing of a note of the interview with him undertaken by the police on 16th April. Mrs Crowley submits that the judge simply failed to engage with this new material and did not refer to it in the judgment.

 

 

 

  • In this respect Mrs Crowley is correct. At paragraph 63 of her December judgment the judge deals with the issue in this manner:

 

 

“I have thought very hard, notwithstanding the evidence that I have heard about good contact, whether there could have been incidents when the father had taken a belt to the children, whose behaviour was, as I have said, seriously out of control at this time. But as a result of the combination of the timing; the older boy’s assertions; the fact that the children were taken to the police station, as they must have been, in order to make this disclosure; the fact that I had made comments in my judgment only weeks previously about the lack of any assertion by the boys; I have come to the conclusion that I cannot place any reliance on these allegations. Also, the mother’s case about what she knew at the time has been markedly unreliable and inconsistent. She cannot possibly have not known about beatings at the time had they happened.”

 

  • It can be seen that the judge’s understanding of the timing of the boy’s allegations, coming after her adverse comments in the May judgment, is but one of the factors relied upon by the judge. It must also be borne in mind that the interview with the boys at the police station on 16th April, whilst happening prior to Parker J’s observations, took place within 24 hours of DJ Hodges indicating that the presumption would be for direct contact to take place.

 

 

 

  • In her skeleton argument in response to this application, Miss Pamela Scriven QC for the father submits that the premium now placed upon ensuring judicial continuity in these cases is partly justified by the fact that it is beneficial for a judge, over the course of successive hearings, to form a developing view of the evidence as it unfolds. I entirely agree with that submission, and Mrs Crowley does not seriously dispute it. It is, in my view, wholly artificial to regard one part of the series of hearings conducted in front of Parker J to be, in some manner, a free-standing, fact finding hearing in which the judge must ignore any previous views she had developed as a result of evidence heard on prior occasions. In a case such as this, where, fortunately, judicial continuity had been largely maintained, the proceedings before the judge, at successive hearings, should be regarded as one single process. Before the start of the December hearings this judge had heard the mother give oral evidence on three previous occasions. At the December hearing she received the material that had been disclosed by the police and watched A’s ABE interview.

 

 

 

  • In her judgment the judge rejected the allegations that were made by the mother having expressly referred, once again, to the “marked inconsistencies” in the mother’s accounts. With respect to A’s ABE interview the judge observed that his demeanour was “quite remarkably flat” with no sense at all of any emotional engagement. The judge observed that “there was every sense of giving an account which had been repeated, perhaps in his own mind, on many occasions, rather than being any form of spontaneous recall”. That description is not challenged within this appeal and we have not been invited to view the ABE interview ourselves. The judge concluded that the father may very well have been over-rough with A on one particular occasion, but she observed the difficulties in dealing with a child whose behaviour is physically very challenging.

 

 

 

  • The judge reviewed the evidence relating to allegations made by the boys more generally, and, in particular, about being hit by the father with a belt. I have already set out the judge’s conclusion on this point which is at paragraph 63 of her judgment. The reasons given by the judge, save for her misunderstanding as to the timing of the first allegations made by the younger boys, is supported by the evidence to which she refers and the conclusion to which she came was plainly open to her on that evidence.

 

 

 

  • Once it is established, as I consider it is, that the judge was entitled to form a preliminary view of the veracity of the mother’s core case following hearing her oral evidence at the two hearings in May, I consider that the criticisms of the robust case management that the judge undoubtedly deployed in December must fall away.

 

 

The nub of this is really the timing of the allegation that the father had hit the boys with a belt, which came right on the heels of  DJ Hodge telling the mother that direct contact would be in the interests of the children (no allegations of physical abuse were being made by mother at that hearing, but they emerged immediately after). At the fact finding all of the mother’s allegations were rejected, and Parker J reached a decision that the mother’s behaviour had gone beyond a misguided belief that the children were at risk or over-protectiveness and into darker areas.

 

The change of residence is interesting – the boys were expressing the view that they did not want to live with their father. The social worker did not support a move, nor did the Guardian. (note the criticisms below of the Guardian)

 

  • Neither the social worker nor the Children’s Guardian supported an immediate change of residence. In justifying her conclusion in favour of an immediate change of residence, the judge explained her reasons for disagreeing with these two professionals as follows:

 

 

“72. The social worker, JW, who is warm, caring and committed, urges me to leave the children living with the mother because that is what they say they want. Until I enforced contact she was also saying that there should be no contact, because that is what the boys say they want. The proof of that pudding has been very much in the eating, on present showing. I have more than once stressed in this case, as in others, that the word used in the Children Act about wishes and feelings is “ascertainable” and not “expressed”. “Ascertainable” often means that the Court has to look at actions rather than words. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of these boys have been demonstrated by the evidence that they are more than happy to be with their father. I suspect they may feel some relief being out of the maelstrom. Their grandmother is calm and robust.

 

73. The Children’s Guardian also urged me to do nothing and not to intervene because of what the boys say they are not willing to see their father. She has done remarkably little as a Guardian. She has not read most of the papers, she hardly knows the boys. When it was put to her that if this was a case of parental manipulation and recruitment, then this could be or would be emotionally abusive to the boys, she took that on board seemingly, or at least superficially, but then said, “But the boys say they don’t want to go.” She was reminded that they were fine when they went on contact. “Oh,” she said, “but the boys don’t want to go.”

 

  • At paragraphs 74 to 76 the judge then set out her conclusions:

 

 

“74. I regard parental manipulation of children, of which I distressingly see an enormous amount, as exceptionally harmful. It distorts the relationship of the child not only with the parent but with the outside world. Children who are suborned into flouting court orders are given extremely damaging messages about the extent to which authority can be disregarded and given the impression that compliance with adult expectations is optional. Bearing in mind the documented history of this mother’s inability to control these children, their relationship with one another and wholly inappropriate empowerment, it strikes me as highly damaging in this case. I am disappointed that the professionals in this case are unable truly to understand this message. The recent decision of the Court of Appeal, Re M (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1147 requires to be read by all practitioners in this field. Lady Justice Macur gave firm and clear guidance about the importance of contact. Parents who obstruct a relationship with the other parent are inflicting untold damage on their children and it is, in my view, about time that professionals truly understood this.

75. I am in no doubt that I am entitled to disagree with the view of both the Guardian and the social worker, both of whom, although expressing their own views forcefully, recognise that the decision is for me, having surveyed all the facts and depending upon the findings that I make. I disagree with them because they have not taken into account the degree of parental manipulation and the dangers presented to the younger children from the inappropriate power given to the eldest boy. I am in no doubt that the mother’s track record is such that she cannot safely have unsupervised contact to her two younger boys at the moment. Much though I would like to give these boys a Christmas as they want it, or as they believe they want it, it is unsafe for them to spend Christmas Day with their mother and her family. Quite apart from anything else, the mother accepts that the two younger children should spend Christmas with the father and his family. They should be told that that is now the parental agreed plan.

76. I am in no doubt that the boys must remain living with their father until this case can be looked at again. I see no chance of any significant change to divert me from that view. I am not inclined to bring this matter back before the circuit judge in January, when I am away, unless there is some emergency which needs to be dealt with. There does need to be some form of further investigation. I am not at the moment persuaded, particularly because an expert of proper calibre has not been identified, that there needs to be any form of psychological assessment. That simply detracts from the judicial role and, after all, it is not experts who make findings and decisions; it is the Court. I would like to see how things settle down.”

 

 

Point 2 – the Judge meeting with the boys

 

 

  • On the morning of the second day of the December hearing the judge conducted two judicial meetings with the children, firstly with the younger two and secondly with A. Depending on the circumstances of any given case, a judge may see a child for a variety of purposes. Such purposes are, however, likely to fall under one or both of two heads, namely providing an opportunity for the young person to say anything that they wish to say to the judge and, secondly, providing an opportunity for the judge to explain the process being undertaken by the court and to otherwise enhance the young person’s understanding of, and feeling of engagement with, the court proceedings. Judges are encouraged to adhere to the guidelines issued under the authority of the President of the Family Division by the Family Justice Council (Guidelines for Judges Meeting Children who are Subject to Family Proceedings (April 2010) [2010] 2 FLR 1872). The guidelines make it plain that a judicial meeting is not for the purposes of gathering evidence:

 

 

“It cannot be stressed too often that the child’s meeting with the judge is not for the purpose of gathering evidence. That is the responsibility of the CAFCASS officer. The purpose is to enable the child to gain some understanding of what is going on, and to be reassured that the judge has understood him/her”

 

  • It is clear that the meeting with the judge occurred in consequence of the judge’s conclusion that such a meeting was likely to be beneficial, rather than arising out of any request from any of the children. The judge indicated both at the October hearing and on the first day of the December hearing that she considered a meeting with the children was likely to be useful. Mrs Crowley submits, and the transcript supports her, that the meeting arose from a desire on the part of the judge to inform the children of the process and of the orders that might be made, rather than to ascertain their wishes and feelings, which were well recorded. On 19th December the judge told the parties that she perceived a need to be open with the children and to “put her cards on the table” at that stage of the process.

 

 

 

  • The judicial interviews were conducted entirely in accordance with the guidelines. The judge saw the boys in the court room, albeit no doubt in an informal configuration, so that the encounters were recorded and have been transcribed. She was accompanied by her usher, her clerk and the Children’s Guardian. First of all the judge saw the two younger boys together. In addition to hearing the boys give a short account of their wishes and feelings, and their reaction to spending the previous night in the father’s home, the judge used the encounter to describe the possibility that the court might order a change of residence and her expectation that the young people, as would be the case with the adult parties, would co-operate with her decision and abide by it. The boys were plain in stating that they did not want to go to live with their father. During the second interview with A the judge adopted an approach which was commensurate with his age and sought to explain to him that he was not “the man of the family” and that it was the grown ups who had to take responsibility for the arrangement of the affairs of the children.

 

Point 3 – the instruction of an expert

 

 

  • Given the extreme behaviour displayed on occasions by A and given the striking content of the mother’s own handwritten notes reflecting on her own behaviour and emotional stability, the question of whether or not the assistance of a child and adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist inevitably arose for consideration. On the first day of the hearing in December the judge indicated that an expert of a particularly high calibre was required. She indicated that she had a particular expert in mind, but, on the second day of the hearing the judge reported that she had made enquiries which had ascertained that that particular expert was not available to take this case on. The judge therefore concluded that no other expert should be considered and the case would proceed without additional expert involvement.

 

 

 

  • That sequence of events had initially been one of the grounds of appeal   [The Judge went on to grant an application in February 2014 for the instruction of a different expert, so that bit of the appeal falls away]  Although any appeal on the question of whether or not an expert should be instructed therefore falls away, Mrs Crowley criticises the judge’s approach to this matter, on the one hand considering that only an expert of high calibre should be instructed but, on the other, taking it upon herself to assess the situation. She submits that as indicating that the judge went outside the boundary of her judicial role in developing an analysis of the family dynamics which, wrongly it is submitted, supported the decision to make an immediate change of residence.

Even though that point did not have to be determined, since it had fallen away by that stage, the Court of Appeal still say that Parker J was entitled to make that decision and did not need to have expert evidence in order to make her decision that in the interim, the children should move from mother’s care to father’s care.

Although I understand the argument as is so clearly put by Mrs Crowley, I do not consider that the judge’s approach to this matter is open to that criticism. The residence arrangements that are currently in place are plainly interim arrangements pending the further assessment by Dr Asen and the further consideration of the court. Given that the judge was required to make findings of fact in December, and given that those findings were so adverse to the mother, the question naturally arose as to whether the children could be emotionally “safe” if they continued in their mother’s care after those adverse findings had been made. The judge having concluded that the allegations made by the boys were not grounded in reality, it was necessary to consider other explanations to explain the fact that the boys had nevertheless said what they had said to the police. Of the limited range of alternative explanations available, the judge’s conclusion, at that stage of this ongoing process, that the allegations in some manner arose out of a dysfunctional relationship with the mother is not, in my view, seriously open to challenge.

 

Any hearing where the allegations are as strong and vivid as this carries risk for both parents – if the Court finds mother’s allegations proven, then father will have difficulty in establishing any relationship with his children. If the Court finds that mother, as they did here, has made them up and drawn the children into a web of deceit, then a change of residence is a distinct possibility – by that time, the children having taken sides so manifestly are going to find a change of residence very difficult. And of course, worst-case scenario is that a Court eventually concludes that the children are so damaged and the parents so culpable that the children can live with neither parent.  Great care has to be taken over making allegations for tactical reasons, rather than raising  a genuine concern. If the concern is genuine, then it is vital to raise it early on in evidence, rather than filing statements that make no mention of something so serious.

 

 

Who’s surrey now ?

Apologies Surrey, you just happen to be one of the few Councils in the country that have a name that lends itself to song titles.

Surrey County Council v S 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/601.html

 

I’ll zip in and out of this one, because it is an appeal that raises only minor points (though they might BECOME more significant). This from Ryder LJ

  • As the judge records, the care proceedings were pursued at the final hearing on the basis of proposed care plans which included placement for adoption. There were no placement order proceedings before the court relating to the two children with whom this court is concerned and to date none have been issued. That is because the local authority’s ‘agency decision maker’ has not made the decision that is necessary to allow such proceedings to be issued. As I described in LB v LB Merton and LB (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 476, there is a statutory duty upon a local authority to make an application for a placement order in the circumstances set out in section 22 of the 2002 Act. By section 22(1) (c) and (d) those conditions were met in this case i.e. the local authority considered that the threshold conditions in section 31 of the 1989 Act were met and the local authority was satisfied that the children ought to be placed for adoption.

 

  • There was no reason why the local authority could not have obtained the agency decision maker’s decision in this case. They could then have commenced placement order proceedings to run concurrently with the care proceedings. That would have been fairer to the mother who has no automatic legal aid to oppose placement order proceedings. A concurrent hearing of care and placement order applications also helps to prevent the error of linear decision making because the court has all of the evidence about the welfare options before it. Indeed, I would go further: in order for the agency decision maker to make a lawful decision that the children be placed for adoption, the Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 (as amended) must be complied with. For that purpose, the agency decision maker has a detailed ‘permanence report’ which describes the realistic placement options for the child including extended family and friends. The report describes the local authority’s assessment of those options. When a decision is then made by the agency decision maker it is based on a holistic non-linear evaluation of those options. That decision leads to evidence being filed in placement order proceedings. It is good practice for that evidence to include the permanence report used by the agency decision maker, the record or minute of the decision made and a report known as an ‘annex A’ report which is a statutory construct which summarises the options and gives information to the court on the suitability of the adoptive applicants. All of this permits the court to properly evaluate the adoption placement proposal by comparison with the other welfare options.

 

  • In care proceedings where the local authority are proposing a care plan with a view to an adoptive placement, the court is likely to be missing important evidence and analysis if the placement order proceedings are considered separately. Furthermore, without the agency decision maker’s decision, any care plan based on an adoptive proposal cannot be carried into effect. It is likely to be inchoate or at least conditional on a decision not yet made and the outcome of which cannot be assumed. I make no criticism of the key social worker or the children’s guardian in this case. Their materials were of high quality but necessarily, without the agency decision maker’s decision, they could not present a full analysis of the factors in section1(4) of the 2002 Act and could do no more than pay lip service to the proposed adoption plan of the local authority and the interference with family life that it would have entailed.

 

  • Local authorities should be astute to timetable the decision of the agency decision maker so that all matters can be put before the court together without delay. There is no reason why concurrent applications would have caused delay and indeed they must not. It would be wrong to delay a necessary decision about a child’s future. In this case, the local authority should have abided by the directions that the court gave which would have facilitated concurrent hearings. If as the local authority submit the mother was not co-operating in permitting medicals to be undertaken that are necessary for the agency decision maker’s decision, they should have obtained a court order requiring the same. If the placement order evidence had been available to the judge, the local authority’s case about adoption and the comparative exercise expected of the judge would have been much clearer. Although not relied upon by Judge Cushing, the absence of the agency decision maker’s decision in this case and the evidence that would have supported the same is an additional reason why it would have been disproportionate to approve a care plan with a view to adoption.

 

  • I am very aware that in making the additional observations that I have about placement order evidence, the statutory framework and regulations concerning adoptive placements are likely to change this summer. When section 22C(9A) of the 1989 Act comes into force there will be associated with it an amended regulatory regime which will require a different decision to be made by the director of children’s services of the local authority to permit the placement of a child with a local authority foster parent who is also a prospective adopter. Nothing I have said in this judgment touches upon how that decision is to be made or how and when evidence of that decision is to be presented to a court.

 

This raises two points

 

1. That the Court of Appeal have remembered the concept of inchoate care plans, finally ! And that the solution that was being mooted in various cases that in order to “hit 26 weeks” the Court hould make a Care Order and come back at a later point for a standalone SGO application (if the relative who came forward or the work to be done with parents panned out) or a standalone Placement Order application (if it doesn’t) is not procedurally fair (as I have been saying for over a year now)

2. That the CoA seem to want Local Authorities to lodge the Child Permanence Report alongside their other papers in the placement order application. Well, have fun reading them, Judges.  If there’s a duller document outside leases, I’ve yet to read one  (and bear in mind that I once worked in contract law and did liability shield clauses).  It also isn’t going to do much for the much vaunted aim of slimming down the bundles.

 

Why might the first BECOME more important? Well, now that the Court of Appeal have frowned on finding of fact hearings for both physical injuries (fracture disputed by parents) and sexual allegations (sexual assault on 14 year old, disputed by parents), it looks like for those of us who are not Jo Delahunty QC, we are going to instead resolve all of the factual disputes at final hearing. Which means, care plans that are framed as several possible alternatives, which means applications to adjourn to give time to reflect on the judgment, time for risk assessments, time for treatment, time for separation to be effected and tested. So when that happens, and Judges start suggesting that all of that work should be done under a Care Order (finish the proceedings, come back if it all goes wrong), those passages might turn out to be extremely helpful. You’re welcome.

The Local Authority do have to participate in an appeal against orders they applied for

 

I’ll start with this caveat – this judgment involves a neighbouring Local Authority, and also involves members of the bar who I know, and members of the judiciary that I appear before. Writing about it then makes it difficult, without risking injured shins, hurt glances or lost readership.

So with that in mind, I will dispense with my usual snarky attitude and just give the facts and the principles (this case does have a few important things in it, which prevents me from just skipping over it, as was my first instinct)

 

Re S (Children W &T) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/638.html

 

This involved a finding of fact hearing about some very grave allegations of sexual abuse made by a fourteen year old, which had in turn implications for whether two much younger children might be at risk. Those allegations were firmly disputed.  The Judge made the findings, and the mother and her partner (who was the subject of the findings) appealed.

The Court of Appeal begin (and end) with their views about the decision of the Local Authority not to participate in the appeal and to rather send in a document expressing that they were ‘neutral’.   The Court of Appeal did not like that.

 

 

  • Before moving on, I would note that the judge’s order was made in care proceedings brought by the West Sussex County Council, based upon allegations of serious sexual abuse of a 14 year old girl. In a “Position Statement” dated 24 February 2014, the Council stated that they had been kept regularly updated by the solicitors for the mother on the progress of the appeal. In paragraph 2 of that statement, the following is to be found:

 

 

“West Sussex County Council has regularly confirmed in correspondence with the parties that it maintains a neutral stance in relation to the appeal by the mother and father. West Sussex County Council provides this position statement to formally confirm [sic] to the court this neutral stance.”

At the end of the statement, it is said that the Local Authority will be happy to reconsider the question of representation at the appeal hearing “if the court expresses a wish for West Sussex County Council to be represented at the hearing”.

 

  • To my mind, this statement fundamentally fails to grasp what were the proper roles of the local authority and of the court respectively in these appeal proceedings.

 

 

 

  • Having taken the decision to present these allegations to the judge and having secured findings of fact broadly along the lines that it was seeking below, the least the Local Authority could have done would have been to attend before the court to ensure that the findings were not disturbed to the potential prejudice of the children in this case, who the authority had been contending were at risk from what they said had happened to another young girl at the hands of these parents. Non-participation was not an option. It was never the function of the court to advise the parties, still less to advise upon the obvious, namely that the presence of the local authority was required. That was why Ryder LJ’s order (with which no doubt the local authority had been served) had directed an “inter partes” hearing.

 

 

 

  • After the grant of permission to appeal, at a hearing without notice to the potential respondents, the Lord/Lady Justices of the court do not see the papers in the case until a constitution to hear the appeal is identified and the papers are delivered, a matter of days before the hearing, to the assigned judges. For my part, at that late stage on the court’s designated reading day, I was merely puzzled as to why there was no sign of participation from the local authority. For the future, for my part, I would hope that this type of insouciance on the part of local authorities will be avoided.

and at the end, from the President

 

 

  • My final concern relates to what, I am bound to say, was the quite astonishing attitude to the appeal evinced by the local authority. It was neither present nor represented before us. Even more surprisingly it filed a remarkably perfunctory position statement which, without condescending to particulars, simply announced that “it maintains a neutral stance in relation to the appeal” and “in light of its neutral stance … has chosen not to file/serve a Respondents Notice.” I do not understand what the local authority thinks “neutrality” means. A guardian may on occasions, as indeed in the present case, appropriately maintain a stance of neutrality in relation to a fact-finding hearing. The guardian, after all, is not setting out to make a case and prove facts. The local authority, in contrast, had commenced the proceedings, had decided to make a number of allegations – as it happens very serious allegations – and had succeeded in persuading the judge that most of them were proved. How in the circumstances could the local authority be neutral? Had it suddenly become indifferent to the outcome? Surely not. The consequence is that the court was deprived of any assistance by way of response. Even if, in order to conserve taxpayers’ money (as the position statement said), it was appropriate not to send an advocate to attend the hearing, written submissions resisting the appeal and setting out, even if fairly briefly, why it was being said that the appeal should be rejected would surely have been of assistance. I add these observations by way of supplement to what McCombe LJ has already said on the point, comments with which I entirely agree.

 

 

Thus, principle number 1 of the case – Local Authorities need to play a part in the appeal as a respondent, whether they desire to or not.

 

Principle number 2 – we have a repeat of the clear message that fact-finding hearings are politely discouraged

 

 

  • My first concern relates to the decision that there should be a separate fact-finding hearing. I make no criticism of those involved, who were conforming with what was then understood to be appropriate practice. But for the future judges and practitioners considering the use of a separate fact-finding hearing in a care case must bear in mind the current approach, which is to discourage their use except in a relatively limited group of cases. In Re S, Cambridgeshire County Council v PS and others [2014] EWCA Civ 25, Ryder LJ made clear, para 29, that a split hearing in a care case will usually be appropriate only in either “the most simple cases where there [is] only one factual issue to be decided and where the threshold for jurisdiction in section 31 CA 1989 would not be satisfied if a finding could not be made” or “the most complex medical causation cases where death or very serious medical issues had arisen and where an accurate medical diagnosis was integral to the future care of the child.” He went on, “For almost all other cases, the procedure is inappropriate.” I agree. This is not the kind of case in which, in future, a split hearing should be ordered.

 

 

[I'm sorry, I have tried to do whatever the typing equivalent of biting your tongue is, but I  am struggling]

 

Principle number 3 – a reminder of the importance of complying with Court orders – in this case, the  order made that the Local Authority should produce and lodge for judicial approval a schedule of the findings that were made did not happen. That left the Court of Appeal looking at a schedule of findings that were the draft findings sought, and not a schedule of what the Court had actually found.

 

The simple fact is that, even now, the court’s order has not been complied with. Yet worse, there is, even now, no authentic, definitive, record of precisely what findings the judge made. This is simply shocking. It is, I regret to say, yet another manifestation of a deeply rooted culture in the family courts which I had occasion to condemn in Re W (A Child), Re H (Children) 2013] EWCA Civ 1177, paras 50-51: “the slapdash, lackadaisical and on occasions almost contumelious attitude which still far too frequently characterises the response to orders made by family courts.” Despite our inquiries, I was left wholly unclear as to how this deplorable state of affairs had been allowed to persist for so long. It must be remedied without delay: the parties as soon as possible must put before the judge for her approval an agreed schedule of the findings she made. For the future, there must be no repetition.

 

Principle number 4 – the appeal turned in large part on the appellant’s claim (which was rejected) that the Judge in her interventions had ‘descended into the arena’

 

The lead case on this, as we know, is Jones v National Coal Board, way back to Lord Denning’s time.

And it is for the advocate to state his case as fairly and strongly as he can, without undue interruption, lest the sequence of his argument be lost: see Reg. v Clewer. The judge’s part in all this is to hearken to the evidence, only himself asking questions of witnesses when it is necessary or left obscure; to see that the advocates behave themselves seemly and keep to the rules laid down by law; to exclude irrelevancies and discourage repetition; to make sure by wise intervention that he follows the points that the advocates are making and can assess their worth; and at the end to make up his mind where the truth lies. If he goes beyond this, he drops the mantle of a judge and assumes the role of an advocate; and the change does not become him well. Lord Chancellor Bacon spoke right when he said that : “Patience and gravity of hearing is an essential part of justice; and an over-speaking judge is no well-tuned cymbal.”

………

…..[I]t cannot, of course, be doubted that a judge is not only entitled but is, indeed, bound to intervene at any stage of a witness’s evidence if he feels that, by reason of the technical nature of the evidence or otherwise, it is only by putting questions of his own that he can properly follow and appreciate what the witness is saying. Nevertheless, it is obvious for more than one reason that such interventions should be as infrequent as possible when the witness is under cross-examination. It is only by cross-examination that a witness’s evidence can be properly tested, and it loses much of its effectiveness in counsel’s hands if the witness is given time to think out the answer to awkward questions; the very gist of cross-examination lies in the unbroken sequence of question and answer. Further than this, cross-examining counsel is at a grave disadvantage if he is prevented from following a preconceived line of inquiry which is, in his view, most likely to elicit admissions from the witness or qualifications of the evidence which he has given in chief. Excessive judicial interruption inevitably weakens the effectiveness of cross-examination in relation to both the aspects which we have mentioned, for at one and the same time it gives a witness valuable time for thought before answering a difficult question, and diverts cross-examining counsel from the course which he had intended to pursue, and to which it is by no means easy sometimes to return.”

 

 

The shorthand for this is usually, has the Judge descended into the arena and started to participate in the litigation, rather than asking such questions as are needed for clarification.

The Court of Appeal in this case were clear that this Judge had not stepped over that line, but do add that where the witness being asked questions is vulnerable, it may be that a Judge has more leeway with the nature and type of interventions than with other witnesses.

 

The Court also suggest that as part of the new culture, Judges might well be more active in the proceedings than would have been at the time of Jones. But that if a Judge does overstep the mark, the Court of Appeal would intervene.

The first concerns reliance on Jones v NCB. That was a very extreme case on the facts. Moreover, since 1957 when that case was decided there has been a culture change in the conduct of litigation. More attention is now given to the criteria of proportionality, expedition and the allocation of an appropriate share of the court’s resources to any individual case. This is true both of civil litigation (see CPR Part 1.1) and family proceedings (see FPR Part 1.1). One of the corollaries of this new culture is that a judge is expected to take a more active part in the proceedings than would have been the case half a century ago: see Jemaldeen v A-Z Law Solicitors [2012] EWCA Civ 1431; [2013] CP Rep 8. That said, if a judge does overstep the mark, even in a family case, this court will intervene. Thus in Re J (A child) [2012] EWCA Civ 1231; [2013] 1 FLR 716 counsel was prevented from pursuing a line of relevant cross-examination. She rightly objected to the judge that she was being denied the opportunity to put her client’s case, but the judge did not accede to her objections. This court ordered a new trial.

 

This development is likely to crop up again, as one can see from reading paragraph 28 of the new Practice Direction 12J (dealing with fact-finding hearings in private law proceedings) to reflect the reality that in a post LASPO world, we are likely to have unrepresented parties cross-examining one another

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/system/uploads/attachments/0008/5109/PD12J.pdf

 

The relevant portions being:-

 

“Victims of violence are likely to find direct cross-examination by their alleged abuser frightening and intimidating, and thus it may be particularly appropriate for the judge or lay justices to conduct the questioning on behalf of the other party in these circumstances , in order to ensure both parties are able to give their best evidence”

 

That guidance does not refer to the principles in Jones v NCB, but they would probably be worth referring to before such an exercise occurred. It seems that this is likely to be a particularly difficult balancing act. As we know, in any finding of fact hearing, at least one party walks away unhappy, and if they are unhappy about the way the Judge conducted that questioning (either too harsh, or too soft, too long or too short) an appeal might well arise.

 

Principle 5 – there were a number of matters about the conduct of the hearing that the appellants sought to rely on, and each of those was quashed by the Court of Appeal, largely on the basis that applications were not made AT THE TIME about whether this particular course should or should not be followed. You do run the risk, if you bite your tongue and press on regardless, of not being able to rely on those case management decisions made by a Court in a later appeal.

 

 

 

Role of the appellate Court

This case was decided in December but only just reported. It relates (of course) to an appeal arising from a failure of the Court at first instance to properly balance the issues and pros and cons in a Placement Order case.

 

Re B (A child) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/565.html

 

This one is interesting because it involves an appeal initially from what was the Family Proceedings Court (and is now Tier One of the Family Court, or Tier Three of the Family Court, nobody seems absolutely sure whether a higher number is good, or bad, we just know that District Judges are in the middle and are Tier Two).   It was one of my Burning Questions post Re B-S months ago, as to whether the expectations of Re B-S bore down on the Justices as they did on the Circuit Judge  (which seems to be common sense, but there’s existing authority that you can’t expect the same degree of analysis and rigour from three lay Justices as from one Judge).

The first time this issue came up in appeal, it wasn’t decided because the Court of Appeal wisely and sagely decided that the Justices reasons were marvellous rather than flawed  (one of those moments when you know you’ve lost your appeal in the first ten seconds), and the case wasn’t a reported one.

However, second time lucky

 

It is common ground that the FPC’s Reasons did not involve a sufficient analysis of the evidence that they had heard and read and in particular, did not set out with any sufficient particularity a welfare analysis which identified the benefits and detriments of the realistic welfare options. There was an insufficient proportionality evaluation that is, an evaluation of the interference with the article 8 ECHR [Convention] right to respect for family and private life that the local authority’s care plan and the court’s orders would involve. As I shall describe, in fairness to the magistrates, the evidence before the court did not contain the material that would have been necessary to conduct that analysis and evaluation. Furthermore, as the magistrates’ Reasons betrayed, the FPC adopted a ‘linear approach’ to decision making thereby excluding the parents as carers without any comparison of them with the other realistic options for B’s long term future care.

 

  • It is common ground in this appeal that Judge Clarke held and was entitled to hold that, among other errors, the FPC were wrong in law in the following respects:

 

 

i) they adopted a linear approach to their decision making;

ii) they failed to carry out a welfare analysis of the realistic options for B’s long term care; and

iii) they failed to conduct a proportionality evaluation of the proposed interference in the family life of B and his parents.

 

  • In this case and having regard to the first court’s Reasons, which this court has had the opportunity to consider, I can take these conclusions as read. Furthermore, it is not suggested that the magistrates’ failings led to their analysis and evaluation being other than wrong within the meaning of Lord Neuberger’s formulation at [93 (v) to (vii)] and [94] of In the Matter of B (A Child) [2013] UKSC 13 [Re B]. On that basis alone, it was open to Judge Clarke to have considered allowing the appeal and if she had set aside the orders, to have directed the applications be re-heard. She did not do that, but instead undertook her own welfare analysis and proportionality evaluation. Although that analysis is itself criticised for a lack of reasoning and detail in the necessary comparative exercise, the judge felt able to come to the same conclusion as the FPC and dismissed the appeal.

 

That’s pretty damn clear authority for the fact that Justices Facts and Reasons in an adoption case had better damn well cover all the requirements of Re B and Re B-S, otherwise they have done it wrong.  [It has taken SIX MONTHS for any of my Burning Questions http://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/11/01/burning-questions/ to be answered, and now I've had two in a week]

 

Anyway, the Court of Appeal was far less interested in satisfying my innate curiousity and more interested in the actual appeal in question, which was – having found that the Justices had got their decision wrong on a number of levels, should the Circuit Judge who heard the appeal have sent the case for re-hearing, or just made the decision herself and done it right? What happened in this case was that the Judge did deliver a judgment, containing all of the necessary ingredients, had done the job properly and made orders, that the father, though Mr Weston QC appealed.

 

Mr Weston, for the father was arguing broadly that having not heard the evidence, the County Court ought to have stopped at the point where they resolved to grant the appeal and that the Justices reasons were so flawed as to make their decision wrong, and not go on to “fill in the gaps”  themselves.  And further that even if the Judge was right to attempt it as a general principle, to do so in this case ignored the gaps in the evidence that would make such a process unfair.

 

  • In this case, Judge Clarke held that the magistrates reasoning was insufficient and thereby wrong and the question arises whether a judge was permitted to ‘fill the gaps’, provide her own reasoning or substitute her reasons for those of the first court.

 

 

 

  • Mr Weston for the appellant makes a strong and clear case about what he submits was the irregularity of what happened. He submits that the judge rightly decided that the FPC had to consider the substance not just the letter of the statutory provisions. They had to undertake an analysis rather than pay lip service to the words. He submits that the FPC could not do that because the evidential materials were missing. Not only were they missing in the FPC, but at the hearing where the judge conducted her own analysis and evaluation, the evidence was still missing. Any new evidence relating to new issues of fact and changes of circumstance (and there was at least one new and potentially significant allegation that may have been relevant) or the implications of the same for the welfare analysis and proportionality evaluation, was also missing. Furthermore, the benefit of listening to and appraising the witnesses including the parents was lost in a procedure which was not a true re-hearing. Mr Weston accordingly submits that the procedure adopted was wrong and that its consequence was a welfare analysis and a proportionality evaluation that were inevitably flawed.

 

 

 

  • Mr Weston also submits that a judge conducting a review has a decision to make as respects any evidence that needs to be heard or re-heard when a determination is wrong as a matter of substantive or procedural law. He or she may conduct a limited re-hearing on a discrete point if the material exists to enable that to be done. That may involve considering an application to adduce additional evidence but in any event will involve a careful appraisal of whether the evidence exists to decide the issue in question and how that exercise is to be conducted to ensure procedural regularity.

 

 

 

  • Mr Weston’s final point is that the evidence in these proceedings was so defective on the point that it was not available to the judge to fill the gaps that existed. Accordingly, even if she had allowed the appeal and moved to re-hear the case, she could not have done so immediately without the benefit of case management to ensure that the court had the evidence that it needed to conduct its own analysis and evaluation.

 

 

 

  • Mr MacDonald like Mr Weston carefully identified the difference between a review and a re-hearing but was astute to identify cases in which a review and a re-hearing may be a continuum. He submitted, correctly, that the duty of the judge conducting a first appeal is to decide whether the proportionality evaluation of the first court was wrong. A proportionality evaluation is not a discretionary decision: it is either right or wrong and whether a decision based upon it should be set aside on appeal depends upon an analysis of the kind formulated by Lord Neuberger in Re B at [93] and [94]. Mr MacDonald submitted that the judge on appeal having identified the deficiencies in the first court’s decision making was obliged to consider whether the proportionality evaluation was thereby or in any event wrong. In an attractive submission he demonstrated that in every case where the first court has made an error in the welfare analysis (even where that analysis is based on a sufficient evidential base) the proportionality evaluation will be affected such that it may have to be re-made. He rhetorically asks the question whether in every such case the appeal court is required to remit the proceedings for a re-hearing when everything else in the case is intact and procedurally regular.

 

 

 

  • The continuum described by Mr MacDonald is very real in two senses: a) the welfare analysis and proportionality evaluation are intimately connected because an error in the analysis will inevitably have an effect on the evaluation with the consequence that an appeal court has to consider them together and b) the appellate court’s review of welfare and proportionality will involve having to consider whether there would be any difference in the ultimate conclusion, that is the order made, if the welfare analysis and proportionality evaluation were to be re-made. Aside from other considerations, that is because an appeal lies against an order and not the reasons for it (see Lake v Lake [1955] P 336). That at least involves, where practicable, a hypothetical exercise in seeing what the evaluation would be if it were to be re-made on a correct welfare basis.

 

 

 

  • Mr MacDonald acknowledged that the decision by an appeal court whether to re-make a welfare analysis and proportionality evaluation or remit for a re-hearing is itself a discretionary exercise. He identified the question which the appeal court needed to ask in relation to that discretionary exercise as being: “is the error rectifiable by the appeal court or is it too big?” That tends to suggest that there is an identity of approach by the appellant and the respondent to the question this court is asked to answer.

 

 

This is a big issue – if during the process of an appeal, the appellate Court is satisfied that the original decision was made wrongly, what are they supposed to do about it? Granting the appeal is easy, but that’s only half the story. Do you send it back for re-hearing, or give your own subsituted judgment addressing all of the issues? Which is the right thing to do? If either are possible in certain circumstances, what are those circumstances?

Conclusion in principle:

 

  • I have come to the following conclusion about the question asked of us. On an appellate review the judge’s first task is to identify the error of fact, value judgment or law sufficient to permit the appellate court to interfere. In public law family proceedings there is always a value judgment to be performed which is the comparative welfare analysis and the proportionality evaluation of the interference that the proposed order represents and accordingly there is a review to be undertaken about whether that judgment is right or wrong. Armed with the error identified, the judge then has a discretionary decision to make whether to re-make the decision complained of or remit the proceedings for a re-hearing. The judge has the power to fill gaps in the reasoning of the first court and give additional reasons in the same way that is permitted to an appeal court when a Respondent’s Notice has been filed. In the exercise of its discretion the court must keep firmly in mind the procedural protections provided by the Rules and Practice Directions of both the appeal court and the first court so that the process which follows is procedurally regular, that is fair.

 

 

 

[Suesspicious Minds interruption - this is saying that the appellate Court have the power to do either - to remit for rehearing OR make their own decision, but they have to be sure that the course that they take is FAIR]

 

  •  If in its consideration of the evidence that existed before the first court, any additional evidence that the appeal court gives permission to be adduced and the reasons of the first court, the appeal court decides that the error identified is sufficiently discrete that it can be corrected or the decision re-made without procedural irregularity then the appeal court may be able to rectify the error by a procedurally fair process leading to the same determination as the first court. In such a circumstance, the order remains the same, the reasoning leading to the order has been added to or re-formulated but based on the evidence that exists and the appeal would be properly dismissed.

 

 

 

  • If the appeal court is faced with a lack of reasoning it is unlikely that the process I have described will be appropriate, although it has to be borne in mind that the appeal court should look for substance not form and that the essence of the reasoning may be plainly obvious or be available from reading the judgment or reasons as a whole. If the question to be decided is a key question upon which the decision ultimately rests and that question has not been answered and in particular if evidence is missing or the credibility and reliability of witnesses already heard by the first court but not the appeal court is in issue, then it is likely that the proceedings will need to be remitted to be re-heard. If that re-hearing can be before the judge who has undertaken the appeal hearing, that judge needs to acknowledge that a full re-hearing is a separate process from the appeal and that the power to embark on the same is contingent upon the appeal being allowed, the orders of the first court being set aside and a direction being made for the re-hearing. In any event, the re-hearing may require further case management.

 

 

 

  • The two part consideration to be undertaken by a family appeal court is heavily fact dependent. I cannot stress enough that what might be appropriate in one appeal on one set of facts might be inappropriate in another. It would be unhelpful of this court to do other than to highlight the considerations that ought to be borne in mind.

 

 

 

 

Thus, if the error that led to the appeal is sufficiently narrow or discrete that the appellate Court can fairly make their own decision, then they can do so, but if it is wife and arises from missing evidence or the failure to answer a key question, or the credibility of witnesses is at issue, then a re-hearing would be the right outcome.

 

Application of the conclusion in this case:

 

  • Mr MacDonald’s primary submission is that at least initially Judge Clarke correctly identified what was required of her in this passage of her judgment at [50] that I have cited at [10] above. Later in judgment and perhaps as a consequence of a discussion on the transcript to which this court has been taken, Judge Clarke appeared to conflate the issues she had so carefully identified by regarding McFarlane LJ’s analysis in Re G at [69] as being a mandatory requirement to re-make a proportionality evaluation where errors are identified which vitiate a first court’s analysis. I do not read that part of McFarlane LJ’s judgment in that way. He was identifying the logical consequence that errors in the decision making process would necessarily have an effect on the proportionality evaluation rather than that in every case the appeal court should substitute its own proportionality evaluation for that of the first court. The latter formulation would be contrary to the dicta of the majority of the Supreme Court in Re B. Had Judge Clarke not been deflected from her task, she would have reached the point where the discretionary decision identified should have been made. Mr MacDonald submits that had she done so, she had all the material she needed to re-make the decision. He submits that the error of the FPC was not critical to the determination because the evidence existed in support of a welfare analysis and a proportionality evaluation that were and are coincident with the orders made by the FPC. To that extent, he says, the judge was able to fill-in the gaps and avoid a full re-hearing that would have involved inevitable delay. He has taken this court through the judge’s decision making process in an attempt to support the exercise she undertook.

 

 

 

  • The final evidence of the social worker does not include any welfare analysis or balance. It also fails to deal with why the adoption of B was necessary or required. The local authority’s permanence report which was exhibited to their Annex B report in support of the application for a placement order ought to be one of the materials in which a full comparative analysis and balance of the realistic options is demonstrated. I need say no more than that both reports are poor and demonstrate a defective exercise in identifying the benefits and detriments for the child of the realistic long term options for the care of B. That was necessary not just for the court’s purposes but also for the local authority’s (adoption) agency decision maker whose decision is a pre-requisite to a placement application being made. The revised care plans and statements of evidence filed after the local authority changed its mind contained statements relating to their concerns about whether the parents had the capability to work openly and honestly with them. Beyond that they are devoid of any welfare analysis of the alleged change of circumstances or of the options for the long term care of B. There is no evidence relating to the proportionality of the plan proposed.

 

 

 

  • Although the children’s guardian’s analysis makes reference to both exercises and supports the local authority’s plan for adoption, it likewise does not descend to an analysis of the welfare of B throughout his life except for just one opinion in one of 36 paragraphs where she says: “My own view until very recently was that this is a finely balanced case; although I had significant concerns about the parents’ ability to work in partnership with professionals. I balanced against that the potential loss to [B] of the opportunity to live in the care of his birth family if such an outcome could be achieved. I was particularly mindful of his right to family life and the loss to him of a relationship with his siblings.” So far as it goes, that is a relevant opinion, but in my judgment not a sufficient analysis for the purposes of the ACA 2002 or the authorities. There is no evidence directed specifically to why it is necessary to dispense with the consent of the parents to adoption.

 

 

 

  • With the benefit of access to the original evidence that this court has had, it is clear that that evidence could not in itself have supported the conclusions reached by the FPC had it been adopted as the reasoning for the same. In particular, there is no comparison of the benefits and detriments of the realistic welfare options for B upon which the FPC could have relied. In the absence of a sufficient welfare analysis by the FPC, there was simply no analysis at all. Accordingly, there was nothing of substance to be evaluated to decide whether or not it was proportionate. Judge Clarke did not hear any additional evidence with the consequence that the evidential basis for the orders remained as defective in the County Court as it had been in the FPC. No amount of elegant language could disguise that fact. It is of course open to a specialist judge to construct an analysis required by statute from the evidence of fact, expert opinion and evaluative judgment that she has heard and that is a distinct exercise from a professional assessment that is required because it is outwith the skill and expertise of the court: Re N-B (Children) (residence: expert evidence) [2002] EWCA Civ 1052, [2002] 3 FCR 259. In this case there was no evidential basis for that exercise.

 

 

 

  • Where the appeal court cannot comfortably fill the gaps in the analysis and evaluation of the first court and where as a matter of substantive or procedural law the decision has been demonstrated to be wrong, the appeal court should allow the appeal and remit the applications to be re-heard. There is a continuum between the functions of the appeal court to review the proceedings of the first court and to conduct discrete decision making functions that fill identified gaps in analysis or evaluation that represents an appropriate exercise provided it not be used so as to create a situation of procedural irregularity. It is not helpful for this court to be prescriptive. Each appeal will have its own matrix of fact and value judgments. In this appeal, the evidential shortcomings could not be corrected by what were no doubt the good intentions of the appeal judge.

 

 

 

  • At the conclusion of the appeal we allowed the appeal with reasons to follow. We set aside the care and placement orders and remitted the proceedings for a re-hearing of the welfare decision relating to B by a different judge in the County Court who had already been allocated to consider the local authority’s applications relating to the parents’ new baby.

 

 

That all seems perfectly proper to me, and it is nice to have it clarified. My suspicion is that we will see more re-hearings than substitutions of judgment. That does raise its own question, as to what happens with very time-sensitive decisions (like an ICO removal) where hearing-appeal-rehearing seems to build in quite  a delay – and if the first court granted the removal, is the child to be returned after the successful appeal pending the rehearing? It will probably be case specific.

 

Terminating parental responsibility – the appeal

Re D (A Child) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/315.html

 

In this case, the Court of Appeal were hearing father’s appeal against Baker J’s decision to use the power in s4(2A) of the Children Act 1989 that a father’s parental responsibility can be removed from him by order of the Court.

 

John Bolch over at Family Lore has done a good piece on this.

http://www.familylore.co.uk/2014/03/d-child-fathers-appeal-against-order.html

 

The legal power is

4(2A) A person who has acquired parental responsibility under subsection (1) shall cease to have that responsibility only if the court so orders.

 

The father in this case was not the most edifying man. He is serving a prison sentence for sexual offences against women. The mother, having ended that relationship wanted nothing to do with him, but from prison the father was making applications for contact with their child.

There are two big arguments in this case  (a) If that s4(2A) power exists, then there must be circumstances in which the Court can use that power, and why not in a case like this?   OR (b) the power in the Act is draconian AND discriminatory, since it presently allows for a mother to ask the Court to discharge father’s PR for bad behaviour, but a father can never do the same against the mother.

[It is for the latter reason that I find myself on father's side as a matter of law, although my sympathies in this case all lie with the mother]

 

The problem for dad’s team was that the nub of that argument, that s4(2A) is discriminatory to men has already been shot down by the European Court of Human Rights

 

The question of the differential treatment of married and unmarried fathers by the statutory scheme is not before this court for consideration. Neither mothers nor married fathers can have their parental responsibility removed. That was the issue in Smallwood v UK (29779/96) (1999) 27 EHRR CD 155, an admissibility decision of the Commission in which it was held that the difference in treatment between mothers, married and unmarried fathers in the context of the jurisdiction of the court to make an order which removes an unmarried father’s parental responsibility is not a violation of article 8 ECHR [the Convention] taken in conjunction with article 14. On that basis the father in this case was refused permission to appeal on the question of whether the differential treatment was proportionate and whether section 4(2A) CA 1989 was incompatible with the rights set out in articles 8 and 14 of the Convention.

 

Damn. So dad’s team had to take a different tack

 

 

  • The grounds of appeal upon which permission was granted are that:

 

 

 

i) the judge failed to distinguish Re P to have regard to the principles set out in the Human Rights Act 1998 [HRA 1998], the ACA 2002 and the changing social norms over the 18 years since Re P; 

ii) the judge failed to consider whether the mother had discharged the burden of proof so as to establish the allegation that the father was “a sexual recidivist”; and

iii) the judge failed to make a proportionate order or take into account the asserted policy consideration that applications of this kind should not be allowed to become “a weapon in the hands of a dissatisfied mother”.

 

[i.e that "there might be some cases in which it is proportionate and necessary to terminate father's PR but (a) they should be very very rare and (b) this isn't it"]

 

Having had to fight, as a result of Smallwood v UK, with one hand tied behind their back, it is not surprising that dad’s team did not succeed.

On the final point, the ‘this could open the floodgates’ one, the Court of Appeal archly point out that two such orders in 25 years doesn’t suggest that the family Courts are about to be besieged by s4(2A) applications.

 

The burden of proof thing is an unusual and intricate argument – in effect it is that the burden of proof falls on the person making the allegation (they have to prove it, the subject of the allegations doesn’t have to disprove it  – a concept that seems entirely lost in LASPO…).

These are the facts that Baker J found, having heard all of the evidence (the important thing here is that some of these findings were his own conclusion rather than mum making allegations and the Court finding them proven)

 

  • The second ground of appeal relates to the judge’s findings of fact and the value judgments he came to upon which he based his ultimate conclusion. So far as the former is concerned this court would have to be satisfied that the judge was plainly wrong in the factual determinations to which he came, that is that there is no objective basis for the same on the evidence that he heard and read, otherwise they will be immune from review. The judge had the benefit “of reading and hearing all of the evidence, of assessing not only the credibility and reliability of the witnesses but also their characters and personalities and the professionalism of the professional witnesses, of living and breathing the case over so many days …” (Re B above at [205]). This court will be very hesitant indeed to interfere in that process.

 

 

 

  • It is plain from the transcript that Baker J carefully considered the factual and opinion evidence in coming to his conclusions. It cannot be said that he was wrong to reject the expert evidence that he heard from the jointly instructed psychologist having found that his evidence was naive, complacent, unreliable and at times misleading. He made the following findings about the father:

 

 

 

i) the nature and extent of the facts associated with the father’s criminal convictions included penetrative sexual abuse, inciting a child to engage in penetrative sexual activity, engaging in sexual acts with a child, causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity and three sexual assaults; 

ii) he had vacillated over the years between accepting the truth of those facts and asserting his innocence and was presently again asserting that he had been wrongly convicted;

iii) his account of what he called a false confession was wholly unconvincing with the consequence that he had not satisfied the burden under section 11(2) of the Civil Evidence Act 1968 of proving that he had not committed the offences for which he was convicted;

iv) his persistent denials of the validity of the convictions meant that he had repeatedly lied to professionals and to the court (and by implication to his family including his son as that was the factual basis upon which he presented himself to the court);

v) he had lied when he denied giving a previous account to the respondent when he told her that he had been abused in the past by his brother;

vi) having regard to the Lucas direction which the judge gave himself, the father’s lies called into question his reliability as a witness (see R v Lucas [1981] QB 720).

 

  • On the facts that he found, the judge was entitled to conclude (at [51]) that:

 

 

“as he continues to deny his culpability for the devastating acts of abuse he perpetrated on the family, I think it highly unlikely that he appreciates the damage he has caused to every member of the family, or the danger of further damage should he have any further involvement with the family”

 

In this case, it was Baker J who made the finding that father was a sexual recidivist, and the argument was thus that mum (who benefited from the finding) hadn’t had the burden of proof in establishing it.  It would be fair to say that the Court of Appeal didn’t care for that submission.

 

  • It is superficial to say that in this case D’s father has not inflicted harm directly on his child and that therein lies a distinction with Re P which ought to have led to a different conclusion. D’s father inflicted devastating emotional harm on the whole family including D which he continues to deny. It is difficult to see how in that circumstance and in the absence of any other positive factors, the father can be said to be capable of exercising ‘with responsibility’ his parental rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority.

 

  • It is likewise wrong to say that the mother has failed to satisfy the burden of proof of facts relating to father’s alleged sexual recidivism. That is a submission that is becoming ever more prevalent in this court with the advent of parties who are not represented at first instance and who can be excused for not understanding the significance of either the burden or standard of proof. So the submission goes, if a party who has the benefit of a finding from the court has not been put to the obligation of proving it, what the court has done is to subtly reverse the burden of proof. I make it clear this is a distinct submission from one which calls into question whether someone has not had the benefit of procedural protections to which they are entitled.

 

  • Provided that procedural protections are identified and used by the court, the process of fact finding in family proceedings is quasi-inquisitorial. The welfare of a child may sometimes require a judge to make decisions about facts and/or value judgments that are not asked for by either party. A judge cannot shrink from doing so. That is his function. He must identify such questions and where necessary decide them. Although identified in relation to a different supervisory jurisdiction, the quasi-inquisitorial process to which I have referred was considered and approved in its use by the family courts in public law children proceedings and must as a matter of good practice be available to the same inquiry in private law children proceedings: In the Matter of W (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 1227 at [36]:

 

“Although it is conventional to speak of facts having to be proved on the balance of probabilities by the party who makes the allegation, proceedings under the 1989 Act are quasi-inquisitorial (quasi-inquisitorial in the classic sense that the court does not issue the process of its own motion). The judge has to decide whether sufficient facts exist to satisfy the threshold (the jurisdictional facts) whether or not the local authority or any other party agree. Furthermore, the basis upon which the threshold is satisfied is a matter for the judge, not the parties. To that end, if the judge directs that an issue be settled for determination, then absent an appeal, the issue will be tried whatever any party may think about that. As Pitchford LJ said in R (CJ) v Cardiff City Council [2012] 2 All ER:

[21] … The nature of the court’s enquiry under the 1989 Act was inquisitorial. To speak in terms of a burden of establishing precedent or jurisdictional fact was inappropriate.

[22] … I am persuaded that the nature of the inquiry in which the court is engaged is itself a strong reason for departure from the common law rule which applies a burden to one or other of the parties … The court in its inquisitorial role, must ask whether the precedent fact existed on a balance of probability.”

 

Interesting – the suggestion there is that if mum had alleged that father was a sexual recidivist, the burden of proof would be on her, but where as here, the Judge makes the finding of his own motion arising from the evidence heard, there is no burden of proof – it is just the STANDARD of proof that we are concerned with. Was it more likely than not to be the case, and the Court of Appeal saw no reason to deviate from this.  [It is such a narrow technical point that I don't see it coming up very often, but the Court of Appeal have slammed that door shut]

 

Of course, the sort of circumstances (Father injured a child, father is a sexual offender) found here in the two cases where PR was removed don’t come up all that often in private law, but they are rather more common in care proceedings – where of course the mother is represented, will have the powers of s4(2A) explained to her and might be under pressure from professionals to distance herself from father. Might we see that more often in care proceedings?

 

There’s Norway you are serious about a costs order

 

The Court of Appeal in Re S (Children) 2014 set aside another Care Order and Placement Order and sent the case back for re-hearing because the judgment was not sufficiently rigorous and “B-S compliant”. No great surprise there – it is something of a novelty these days when the Court of Appeal uphold a judge who makes these orders. What is a bit peculiar is making an order that the LA pay the appellants legal costs, nearly fourteen thousand pounds.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/135.html

You may recall that the Supreme Court in Re T *dealt with the temptation to make Local Authorities pay costs to parties who won their case but had to pay for their own legal advice, rather than getting it for free, and were very plain that in the absence of bad conduct by the Local Authority, Courts should not make costs orders against Local Authorities just because they have money and the other side had bills.

 

* http://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/08/07/when-they-begin-to-intervene/   is the Re T blog

Why is this one, which involves a series of complex international issues and the father moving to Norway to live permanently during the hearing, different to Re T? Well, I can’t work out why not, reading the judgment.

There was an appeal recently  (Re C 2014 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/70.html ) where a Local Authority got stung for costs, but in that one it was chiefly as a result of the LA counsel having a series of peculiar email exchanges with the judge at first instance, not being properly frank with the High Court judge during their own appeal and not having properly accepted that the evidence at first instance had sunk their case. That, in the view of the Court of Appeal had amounted to bad conduct, and thus a costs order could legitimately be made

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/02/06/a-word-in-your-shell-like/

 

In this one though, the judge at first instance is criticised for not giving full enough reasons for refusing further assessment of the father and for not robustly tackling the Re B-S issues in the judgment. That’s not the fault of the Local Authority, that’s due to the Judge.

    1. The father has funded this appeal privately and seeks his costs in the sum of £13,787.70. He does not aver that the local authority have engaged in reprehensible behaviour or took an unreasonable stance in the hearing at first instance to justify a departure from the normal rule that costs are not awarded in children’s cases. However, Mr Bainham argues that the judgment in Re T (Children) [2012] UKSC 36 to this effect is directed at first instance hearings where public policy considerations militate against any possible financial deterrent to an authority taxed with the responsibility of protecting children from pursuing proceedings. Likewise, in the case of an appeal neither should a parent be deterred from challenging decisions which impact upon the most crucial of human relationships. Ms Markham argues the case is not so restricted and resists the application.

 

    1. I consider the question of costs in the appeal to be of a discrete category and the discretion of the Court broad. Re T is distinguishable for the reasons argued by Mr Bainham.

 

  1. In this case, Ms Markham has been forced to recognise the deficiencies of the judgment of the lower court but nevertheless has resisted the appeal. In the circumstances of the father’s limited means, already decreased by his travel from Norway to the United Kingdom to exercise contact, I would grant his application and order costs in the sum of £13,787.70.

 

It is that difficult sum which means that the costs of taking this case to the Supreme Court to correct that decision (which I respectfully suggest is wrong)  dwarf the amount ordered, so the decision will only be appealed if the LA involved decide that there’s an issue of principle involved.  As a long-standing advisor to Local Authorities, I know well that whilst someone at the coalface will say “It’s not the money, it’s the principle of the thing, let’s appeal”, someone higher up the chain of command who makes that decision will say “It’s not the principle, it’s the money, let it go”.   I can see why the Court of Appeal made that decision – the father had won his appeal and yet was out of pocket, Local Authorities (in the eyes of the Courts) have bottomless pockets – job done; but I think it flies in the face of Re T.

I hope they do appeal, and I think they would win; but I suspect pragmatism will win out over the principle of the thing.

If father incurs costs as a result of a flawed judgment, why aren’t his costs paid for by the Court service?  Don’t ever see the Court of Appeal deciding that…

 

The other unusual element here is the Court of Appeal suggestion that the Lucas direction (just because a person lies about X, doesn’t mean that they are lying about the major issue in the case) ought to be expanded

It has become de rigueur for a trial judge expressly to articulate their self direction in accordance with R v Lucas [1981] QB 720 in fact finding hearings. That is, the significance that may or may not attach to the lies told by a party in relation to the injury/ behaviour in question. There is none such in this judgment which deals with outcome. A specific reference to the same is unnecessary but I do consider that it was unrealistic for the judge, and the professionals not to have appraised the same exercise in the context of the non disclosure and/or deceit in question. The fact of a parent’s non disclosure or deceit is not necessarily determinative of parenting capacity or, depending on the circumstances, an ability to co-operate with the authorities.

You have been warned.

[The list of things that need to go into a final judgment now to make it bullet-proof is swelling - good news for those transcription firms that are charging by the page]

Split-hearings and “non-accidental injuries”

The Court of Appeal decision in Re S (A child) 2014.

 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/25.html

 

 Very quick summary, to persuade you that this case is worth reading

 

  1. Guidance on whether split-hearings are needed and when (hint, the new Court of Appeal isn’t keen on them any more – expect to be taken to this case during any Case Management Hearing where the issue is physical injury or sexual harm)
  2. Confirmation that for “findings of fact” the appeal test is PLAINLY WRONG, not wrong.
  3. Really important stuff about threshold criteria and notably criticism of the phrase “non-accidental injuries” and the need to go to the statutory construction of the threshold criteria

 

If you aren’t familiar with the term, “split-hearing” is what happens when there is a narrow (although sometimes complex) factual issue to determine in a case involving children, and that resolving that factual dispute is done at a hearing with evidence and cross-examination and a judgment AND THEN the case goes on to a hearing to decide what the Court should do about those facts that have been proved or disproved (what is usually called the Welfare stage)

 

For the majority of children cases, the hearing about the factual dispute and the welfare dispute (What happened, what should happen next) are all dealt with together, but there are some cases where historically the hearings have been split in two (hence “split hearing”) and had a hearing to decide “What happened” first and then “What should happen next” later.

 

Indeed, for a while, split-hearings were very much in vogue and the higher courts were keen on them and critical where they had not happened. There are a few reasons for that

 

  1. If a parent is accused of injuring a child and it can be proved that they didn’t, the sooner that happens the better
  2. Everyone can plan for the future of the child KNOWING what happened, rather than speculating about what might have happened and ending up with plans that are “If X, then what should happen next is…. But if Y, then what should happen next is”
  3. If the Court finds that one parent injured the child and the other didn’t, then the parents have an opportunity to think about whether they want to stay together or split up
  4. If the Court finds that the parent injured the child, there can then be an assessment of whether that is likely to happen in the future – maybe there would be treatment, maybe having had the Court make those findings frees people up to talk about how the injury happened and those discussions can potentially identify the stress points and triggers and avoid it happening in the future.

 

Well, over the last year, it seems that the Courts have been getting cold-feet about split-hearings with hints being dropped that they were being used in too many cases and that Courts must be carefully to ensure that they are only used in cases where it really helps.

 

And of course, nobody has a real clue how a “split-hearing” works in the rigid 26 week timetable – the PLO guidance is clear that the fact that a split hearing is needed or the case involves physical injury isn’t itself a reason to go beyond 26 week. At the moment, it is a struggle to get ONE hearing done within 26 weeks, never mind two.

The Court of Appeal looked at this in Re S, and go the farthest that they have done since the concept of “split-hearings” was introduced to suggest that they have had their day.

 

To give the background, the care proceedings were issued because of an injury to the head of a one year old child, resulting in two skull fractures. The Local Authority considered that the parents had caused/contributed to the injury (more of this later), the parents saying that this was an accident or some other medical explanation.

 

In the case, there was an account of the evening leading up to the injury which was demonstrated to be false  (as the Judge and the Court of Appeal remind us, just because a person is caught out in a lie on one thing does not mean that they are lying about everything else)

 

This was an appeal by the Local Authority, because the Judge concluded this

 

The judge concluded that S suffered significant harm while in the care of her parents and that the harm was caused by an injury. He was not satisfied that either of the parents had deliberately inflicted the injury

 

They lost the appeal, the Court of Appeal found that it was misconcieved and there was no reason to interfere with the findings. [In essence, the LA had put all of their eggs in the "deliberate harm" basket and didn't satisfy the Judge of that, and hadn't sufficiently explored the possibility that there could have been some form of negligence or carelessness without a deliberate element] 

 

Guidance on split-hearings

 

 

  1. It is by no means clear why it was thought appropriate to have a ‘split hearing’ where discrete facts are severed off from their welfare context. Unless the basis for such a decision is reasoned so that the inevitable delay is justified it will be wrong in principle in public law children proceedings. Even where it is asserted that delay will not be occasioned, the use of split hearings must be confined to those cases where there is a stark or discrete issue to be determined and an early conclusion on that issue will enable the substantive determination (i.e. whether a statutory order is necessary) to be made more expeditiously. The reasons for this are obvious: to remove consideration by the court of the background and contextual circumstances including factors that are relevant to the credibility of witnesses, the reliability of evidence and the section 1(3) CA 1989 welfare factors such as capability and risk, deprives the court of the very material (i.e. secondary facts) upon which findings as to primary fact and social welfare context are often based and tends to undermine the safety of the findings thereby made. It may also adversely impinge on the subsequent welfare and proportionality evaluations by the court as circumstances change and memories fade of the detail and nuances of the evidence that was given weeks or months before.
  1. I ought to emphasise for the avoidance of doubt that although parallels can be drawn between the use of fact finding hearings in public and private law children proceedings, the appropriate and measured use of fact finding hearings in private law proceedings which are often safety cases, for example involving recent domestic abuse between parents, are not the subject of this court’s consideration in this judgment. An example of this court’s guidance in relation to those proceedings can be found in In the matter of C (Children) [2009] EWCA Civ 994. In private law proceedings it is the court that is defining an aspect of parental responsibility in its determination of the arrangements that are put in place for the child and findings of fact are appropriate, where necessary, to inform that process by reference to the factors in section 1(3) of the 1989 Act and in particular where safety issues have arisen which justify the court’s interference with the article 8 ECHR rights of the family members. In public law children cases where a care order is in issue, the court is being asked to sanction an agency of the state, namely the local authority, being permitted to exercise parental responsibility for a child. The jurisdiction in the court to undertake that task has to be based upon the existence of facts (primary and / or secondary) that satisfy the threshold in section 31 CA 1989. Accordingly, concessions or findings of fact relevant to the threshold question will always be necessary in public law cases alongside such further findings of fact as are necessary to inform the welfare evaluation.
  1. It ought to be recollected that split hearings became fashionable as a means of expediting the most simple cases where there was only one factual issue to be decided and where the threshold for jurisdiction in section 31 CA 1989 would not be satisfied if a finding could not be made thereby concluding the proceedings (see Re S (A Child) [1996] 2 FLR 773 at 775B per Bracewell J). Over time, they also came to be used for the most complex medical causation cases where death or very serious medical issues had arisen and where an accurate medical diagnosis was integral to the future care of the child concerned. For almost all other cases, the procedure is inappropriate. The oft repeated but erroneous justification for them that a split hearing enables a social care assessment to be undertaken is simply poor social work and forensic practice. The justification comes from an era before the present Rules and Practice Directions came into force and can safely be discounted in public law children proceedings save in the most exceptional case.
  1. Social work assessments are not contingent on facts being identified and found to the civil standard (see, for example Oldham MBC v GW & PW [2007] EWHC 136 (Fam), [2007] 2 FLR 597 and Re S (Sexual Abuse Allegations: Local Authority Response) [2001] EWHC Admin 334, [2001] 2 FLR 776 per Scott-Baker J at [34] and [35]). That is the function of the court not a social worker (Dingley v Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police [2000] UKHC 14 per Lord Hope of Craighead at [120] and [122]). Social work assessments are based upon their own professional methodology like any other form of professional risk assessment. In care cases, an appropriate social work assessment and a Cafcass analysis should be undertaken at the earliest possible opportunity to identify relevant background circumstances and context. In so far as it is necessary to express a risk formulation as a precursor to an analysis or a recommendation to the court, that can be done by basing the same on each of the alternative factual scenarios that the court is being asked to consider (see, for example, In the matter of W (Children) [2009] EWCA Civ 644 at [33]).
  1. It may be helpful to highlight the fact that a decision to undertake a split hearing is a case management decision to which Part 1 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 [FPR 2010] and Pilot Practice Direction 12A ‘Care, Supervision and Other Part 4 Proceedings: Guide to Case Management (the PLO)’ apply. A split hearing is only justifiable where the delay occasioned is in furtherance of the overriding objective in rule 1 FPR 2010, that is:

i) as a consequence of active case management by the court which includes in accordance with rule 1.4:

“(a) setting timetables […],

(b) identifying at an early stage […] the issues,

(c) deciding promptly (i) which issues need full investigation and hearing and which do not; and (ii) the procedure to be followed in the case;

(d) deciding the order in which issues are to be resolved;

[…]

(i) considering the likely benefits of taking a particular step justify the cost of taking it;

(j) dealing with as many aspects of the case as it can on the same occasion;

[…]; and

(m) giving directions to ensure that the case proceeds quickly and efficiently.”

ii) in accordance with the child’s welfare having regard to the timetable for the child within the meaning of that concept in para [5] of pilot PD12A; and

iii) in accordance with the timetable for proceedings within the meaning of that concept in para [5] pilot PD12A.

  1. On the alleged facts of this case, there was no discrete issue which was appropriate for trial without its social or welfare context and delay was the inevitable consequence of the decision to have a split hearing. Given that by rule 1.3 FPR 2010 the parties have a duty to help the court to further the overriding objective, it is all the more surprising that one of the submissions made to this court was that a split hearing was inappropriate. That professional analysis should have been offered to the court below. The benefits and detriments of such a course, if proposed, should be analysed by the children’s guardian. In future, a decision to undertake a split hearing should be reasoned in court at the case management hearing and the reasons should be recorded on the face of the Case Management Order alongside what has always been the good practice of the court which is to settle the issue to be tried on the face of the order

 

 

Of course it must be right that the Court ought to have clear thinking and rigour before listing a split hearing and deciding what the benefits are, that’s hard to argue against. But this seems to be a heavy hint that split hearings will rarely be effective.

 

I have to say that I struggle with this – there clearly was a discrete issue here. If the parents had done nothing wrong, there was clear advantage for everyone in deciding that as soon as possible. If there had been some wrong-doing, then it was important to determine what that was and allow the parents to make decisions about what they put forward as the best future care of the child at the earliest opportunity. 

 

This is exactly the sort of case that split-hearings were meant for, and one has to ask – if the Court of Appeal think a case like this isn’t right for a split hearing, is one left with any split-hearings in public law cases?

 

Probably not.

 

So, at a final hearing on week 26, when the Court decide that a child suffered a skull fracture and that this was caused by dad but mum didn’t know about it and did nothing wrong, what exactly is supposed to happen?

 

Are the Courts going to say that mum ought to have separated from dad and gone it alone months before the Court made its decision? Or is mum to be given half an hour with her lawyers to make a decision whether to leave dad or not?

 

 

 

Non-accidental injury

 

Another interesting and potentially important development in the case is the discussion about “non-accidental injury”.

 

What the Court was interested in was whether this term was being used in a sloppy, “catch-all” fashion, and indeed being used differently by the medical professionals and the social work professionals.

 

When the phrase “non-accidental” is being used, is what is meant simply that the injury is not a result of an action, or does it mean that the parent is culpable, or that the injury was caused deliberately? 

 

It seems that the Local Authority in the case were putting the case on the basis that if the medical evidence was that this was a “non-accidental injury” that the parents had thus inflicted the injury.

 

Going back to the judicial finding, it is obvious that the Judge at first instance (and the Court of Appeal did not interfere with his discretion) did not make THAT finding

 

The judge concluded that S suffered significant harm while in the care of her parents and that the harm was caused by an injury. He was not satisfied that either of the parents had deliberately inflicted the injury

 

 

On the face of it, that seems unsatisfactory to both sides. If there was an accidental or “innocent” explanation for the injury, then the threshold criteria ought not to have been made out –  whilst the skull fractures were significant harm, the harm is not attributable to the care given or not given by the parents not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give. So  from the parents viewpoint, why did the Judge find that threshold was met? And from the LA viewpoint, if the Judge did not consider that there was an accidental explanation and found threshold met,  how had the injuries occurred? How can anyone plan for the future on that basis?

 

 

 

Is there anything else that the Judge found that helps in understanding what happened to this child, and from there to see whether there is any future risk?

 

  1. It was a conceded fact before the judge that a false history of how the harm occurred had been given at the hospital. The false history was subsequently repeated in various degrees of detail to suggest that the child had been in a bouncer suspended from a door in the flat at a height of about half a metre from the ground when a strap broke, the bouncer fell and the child hit her head. That false history was discarded by the family when the child’s father voluntarily went to the police and said that the history previously given was not true. It was also discovered that the strap had been cut (it is said by grandmother) to make it look like it had snapped. A new history was then proffered by the family which was given to the judge in evidence. The evidence was that father was standing holding S in the kitchen behind mother and grandmother when S wriggled and in some way fell to the floor.
  1. With the possible exception of grandmother’s partner, who was not said to have witnessed anything of relevance, the judge found the family’s account of what happened on the night in question including the timings to be wholly unconvincing. He regarded the grandmother as a particularly unconvincing witness and was satisfied that father, mother and grandmother had conspired to attempt to exculpate father from what had occurred.
  1. The judge’s ultimate finding was that the grandmother and the parents had lied to the hospital and again to the police and the court i.e. both histories were untrue. He found as a fact that the court had not been told the truth about what had occurred. He found as a fact that something happened to S in the care of her parents (i.e. that the harm was not a true accident) but did not find that either of the parents deliberately injured their child. Having read and heard the evidence he was not satisfied on the balance of probabilities that either parent had deliberately inflicted the injury. That was not a positive finding that exculpated the parents or indeed any other adult. The case management order which purported to record the findings is erroneous if it was intended to suggest otherwise.
  1. The judge’s conclusion left open the question of how the injury occurred. The judge put down a marker to himself for the future welfare hearing that what had happened “may well involve negligence”. It is clear from the terms of the judgment that he did not find that the parents or any of the adults had been negligent but he opened up that possibility no doubt for future examination in the light of any other evidence that the court may consider at a subsequent hearing.

 

 

This is what the Court of Appeal had to say  [underlining mine for emphasis]

 

  1. It may be obvious to the interested bystander that there was a theoretical range of possibilities relating to what had happened to S: from accidental harm through to deliberate infliction of injury, but that was not the way the case developed in evidence. The neuroradiologist who gave evidence to the court gave his opinion about the range of possibilities in the following terms:

“The skull fracture can occur as a result of accidental injury. In this context fracture most commonly arises from a fall from a carer’s arms and results in an un-displaced unilateral fracture most often of parietal or occipital bone. Skull fractures may also occur as a result of impact in the context of non-accidental head trauma. If the injury is non-accidental, a fracture may also be displaced, comminuted, involves (sic) more than one bone or if there are multiple fractures in the same bone, it is more likely that the injury is non-accidental in origin”

  1. The local authority chose to pursue deliberate infliction of injury with the witnesses at the hearing and both at that hearing and before this court equated the term non-accidental injury with infliction. The local authority submitted that infliction was not necessarily deliberate infliction, but it is by no means clear that anyone else defined the terminology in that way and that characterisation of the evidence ignored the statutory formulation that the local authority needed to prove. This court was helpfully taken by counsel to the questions put to the witnesses which appear to demonstrate that the local authority assumed that ‘non-accidental injury’ if proved would be deliberate. They did not adequately explore the circumstances of the adults’ care other than to cast doubt on both of the histories that had been given nor did they explore what has come to be known as the attributability element of section 31(2) of the Act. Whether there had been reckless or negligent acts and omissions or what the neuroradiologist meant by the terminology that he had used or the causative mechanisms he had described remain in doubt.
  1. This court has sympathy both with the judge and the advocates in a situation where the direct evidence from those who were present is false and the local authority rightly assumed the burden of demonstrating that. In doing so, however, they appear to have lost sight of the rest of the case and of the statutory formulation in section 31(2) of the Act.
  1. The term ‘non-accidental injury’ may be a term of art used by clinicians as a shorthand and I make no criticism of its use but it is a ‘catch-all’ for everything that is not an accident. It is also a tautology: the true distinction is between an accident which is unexpected and unintentional and an injury which involves an element of wrong. That element of wrong may involve a lack of care and / or an intent of a greater or lesser degree that may amount to negligence, recklessness or deliberate infliction. While an analysis of that kind may be helpful to distinguish deliberate infliction from, say, negligence, it is unnecessary in any consideration of whether the threshold criteria are satisfied because what the statute requires is something different namely, findings of fact that at least satisfy the significant harm, attributability and objective standard of care elements of section 31(2).
  1. The court’s function is to make the findings of fact that it is able on the evidence and then analyse those findings against the statutory formulation. The gloss imported by the use of unexplained legal, clinical or colloquial terms is not helpful to that exercise nor is it necessary for the purposes of section 31(2) to characterise the fact of what happened as negligence, recklessness or in any other way. Just as non-accidental injury is a tautology, ‘accidental injury’ is an oxymoron that is unhelpful as a description. If the term was used during the discussion after the judgment had been given as a description of one of the possibilities of how the harm had been caused, then it should not have been; it being a contradiction in terms. If, as is often the case when a clinical expert describes harm as being a ‘non-accidental injury’, there is a range of factual possibilities, those possibilities should be explored with the expert and the witnesses so that the court can understand which, if any, described mechanism is compatible with the presentation of harm.
  1. The threshold is not concerned with intent or blame; it is concerned with whether the objective standard of care which it would be reasonable to expect for the child in question has not been provided so that the harm suffered is attributable to the care actually provided. The judge is not limited to the way the case is put by the local authority but if options are not adequately explored a judge may find a vital piece of the jigsaw missing when s/he comes to look at all the evidence in the round.
  1. This court has not been addressed about the volume of guidance in materials issued by professional bodies (including the medical Royal Colleges) and Government which makes reference to ‘non-accidental injury’. Indeed, counsel for the local authority went so far as to submit that none of that material provided a generally accepted medical or legal definition of the term. Whether that is right or not, it is not necessary for this court to analyse that material because all that is required in a case of this kind is for the court, legal practitioners and experts to have regard to the statutory formulation with which the court is concerned. If other terminology is used in evidence its meaning should be precisely ascertained so that the court knows what is being alleged and advised.
  1. In this case, the judge was careful to sever the question of whether the harm was an example of a true accident i.e. a chance happening that is by definition unexpected and unintentional, from the question of attributability which in the circumstances of this case was said to include perpetration of harm and lack of protection from harm. The local authority’s case was of (deliberate) infliction by one or the other parent and that was the case they put. They did not succeed in establishing that case. No other possibilities were sufficiently examined to enable the judge to make conclusions upon them. The medical expert had left open the possibility of an accidental cause, albeit that it was unlikely and in that circumstance anything between accident and deliberate infliction must also have been possible. Accordingly, there was no inconsistency between the findings and the evidence and the local authority’s description of the findings in the grounds of appeal are misconceived.
  1. The judge examined what were conceded before him to be the false explanations for the injury given by those who took S to the hospital which were subsequently repeated by other members of the family and also what was said to be the true history of the events of the night in question which he decided was also false. He directed himself to consider that there may be innocent explanations or explanations that do not attract responsibility for telling an untruth about a fact in issue: the so called Lucas direction (R v Lucas [1981] 1 QB 720). Far from failing to consider drawing an inference of attributability from the repeated lies that were told, the judge overtly considered the options and having given himself a Lucas direction concluded that the lies were more likely to be related to their inexperience as parents. Having heard the parents in evidence the judge declined to draw the inference that they had deliberately inflicted injury but did draw the inference that they had failed to protect S by delaying the obtaining of medical treatment.

 

 

There is a big hint here for advocates, particularly Local Authority advocates that in any case where harm is disputed, one has to avoid tunnel vision and just exploring the binary possibilities  (the parents deliberately injured the child v this child had an accident which simply could not have been helped) and to explore all of the middle ground, and focus particularly on not just the harm but how that harm might, or might not, have been attributable to the parents care.

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