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Tag Archives: fact-finding

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.

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.

 

 

Concessions and fact-finding

The High Court dealt with these issues in a case called Re AS (A child) 2014.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/606.html

There was to have been an 8 day finding of fact hearing. The central allegation was that the child who was six, had been given excessive doses of insulin, causing him to become very unwell.  Although he had diabetes, his condition and situation had been made worse by this over-medication, and therefore this was a case of Fabricated or Induced Illness.

It was also noteworthy that the mother had told the child, and many other people, that she herself had cancer, when it was clear from her medical records that she did not.

Before the finding of fact hearing began, mother’s legal team talked to her – what is said is obviously confidential, but the end result is that the Judge was told that mother did not make any admissions that she had administered the excessive doses of insulin to her son, but accepted that it was inevitable that at the conclusion of the finding of fact hearing that those adverse findings would be made against her, and thus if certain amendments were made to the Local Authority threshold document, there would be no challenge to the Judge making findings in accordance with that threshold document.

That’s quite a nuanced position, since mother was not making any admissions but simply accepting that the findings were inevitable and not wanting to put everyone through an 8 day process to end up at that result. It is also quite a smart way of avoiding the self-incrimination issue that I’ve previously blogged about, whereby if there were any criminal proceedings being considered the admissions if any made might end up being used in criminal trial as inconsistent statements.

The Judge obviously mulled over this position – on the one hand,mother was making no admissions , on the other there was the need to be proportionate given that the threshold was not actually challenged.

(a) I have read the papers in this case in great detail. I have formed exactly the same view as Ms Henke and Ms Japheth, namely that it was inevitable that I would find, on the balance of probabilities,, that the threshold criteria were established for the reasons given by the Local Authority and, in particular, that I would have concluded that there was induced illness in relation to AS by the Mother secretly giving AS excessive dosages of insulin. At this stage, I do not know why she did so. This will be a matter for the welfare hearing that is fixed for May.

(b) The binary system adopted in this jurisdiction means that my findings become a fact. In other words, it would no longer be open to the Mother to challenge those findings. The case would proceed on the basis that this is what happened. The assessment I have already ordered by Professor A Mortimer, Consultant Adult Psychiatrist will be conducted on the basis that the Mother has indeed induced illness in AS, which was, of course, extremely serious and potentially life threatening. The Mother understands and accepts this.

(c) I have already noted that the Mother has not been able to bring herself to admit to me that she did this. I wondered for a time whether it was therefore necessary for me to conduct a fact finding after all but I concluded that counsel were right when they said I did not need to do so. The Mother is prepared to accept today that I will make the same findings as I would have made if I had heard evidence over eight days. There seems absolutely no purpose therefore in doing so. I have to remember the overriding objective of dealing with cases justly. This includes ensuring that the case is dealt with expeditiously and fairly in a way that is proportionate. I must also consider the need to save expense. I cannot see that it would have served any useful purpose to proceed with a very emotionally draining hearing, which would inevitably have caused immense unnecessary distress to the Mother. I am quite sure there would be no material advantage in doing so as the findings of fact I would have made after a contested hearing would have been exactly the same as the ones I make now. I therefore approve unreservedly the course of action urged upon me.

(d) The fact that the Local Authority has proved its threshold document does not mean that there will inevitably be a final care order. I will have to consider that issue in May, acting on the basis of what is in the best interests of AS.

(e) Finally, I do accept that it has taken considerable courage for the Mother to accept the inevitability of my finding of induced illness. I have already indicated that I am sure she was right to do so. It follows that I commend her for the position she has adopted and confirm that the advice she has received was undoubtedly correct. She is to be praised for having accepted it and taken what I entirely accept will have been a very difficult decision for her.

What the Court want from experts, and other adventures in judicial ass-whupping

The guidance given by the High Court in Re  IA (A Child: Fact Finding: Welfare: Single Hearing : Experts Reports) 2013

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/2499.html

This case covers a LOT of interesting stuff, so although the guidance on expert reports is the highlight, there’s other valuable information within it; including a kicking for the Local Authority (the Judge agreeing that a suggestion that the social worker had been ‘sticking the boot in’ was apt and justified), the fact that the High Court don’t like mother’s being referred to as “mom”  (hello everyone in the West Midlands!)  a finding of fact exercise being completed years after the event, some very important judicial comments about what could be reasonably expected of the mother, a reverse-ferret from the professionals and an unexpected outcome.

There are many sections of the judgment where the Judge could easily have prefaced with a  “Now I’m gonna open up a can of whup-ass”

Let’s start with the expert report.

  1. Dr Rylance’s report
  1. The very last matter for comment arises from Dr Rylance’s report. When I sanctioned his instruction in February, it was on the basis that he should “provide a short report on KA’s clinical presentation following the injuries sustained and …interpret blood test results.” Ms Jacobs letter of instruction explicitly referred to the President’s very recent Practice Direction in relation to Experts. She attached a copy to her letter. Although there is no mention of it with the correspondence, Ms Jacobs informs me that Dr Rylance was requested to confine his report within 10 to 12 pages. He apparently said he was content to do so.
  1. When he gave evidence, Dr Rylance confirmed he was aware of the reforms to the way in which experts are now required to report, that they should be succinct, focused and analytical and should avoid recitals of too much history and factual narrative.
  1. Dr Rylance’s report was 35 pages long. There was a reasonably lengthy section comprising the relevant background information (5 pages) extrapolating material from reports of other doctors and the medical records. Dr Rylance then dealt with the following issues – Timeframe for fractures; Possible / likely mechanism/ causation of rib fractures; Possible / likely mechanism / causation of right tibia metaphyseal fractures; Force to cause the fractures of the 4th and 5th ribs laterally; Force to cause metaphyseal fractures. He devoted about 5 pages to the issues of likely reaction at the time of and in the aftermath of injury and to whether or not a non perpetrator would have had awareness. Over the course of 5 pages, he provided advice upon the potential for there to have been a medical explanation for the rib fractures. Dr Rylance then tackled the explanations given by the parents and gave an opinion on plausibility before turning to consider (on page 25) the post mortem blood test results and their significance. He also provided an opinion as to the likely cause of the rib fractures.
  1. None of the foregoing was requested. Those matters did not form any part of his instruction and for the obvious reason that Professor Malcolm had already reported in relation to them.
  1. On page 27 of his report, Dr Rylance turned to consider and answer the specific questions asked of him, referring as he did so to many of his earlier paragraphs, as relevant, and repeating their content.
  1. In the 1980s and 1990s before it became the norm for experts (particularly paediatricians and psychologists) to produce absurdly lengthy reports, courts were routinely confronted with, for example, radiological reports in the form of letters which extended to about a page and a half. Professor Christine Hall at Great Ormond Street Hospitals was masterly in her ability to distil essential information and opinion within an impressively succinct report.
  1. Her contributions to cases of this kind, and she was but one example of the then general trend in radiology, contained all the judge needed to know about the nature of the injury, mechanism, force required, likely acute and sequential symptoms, whether a proffered explanation was consistent with the injury as revealed or not.
  1. Reports of that kind were singularly helpful. The modern way exemplified by Dr Rylance’s over-inclusive and doubtless expensive report is no longer acceptable. Experts must conform to the specifics of what is asked of them rather than, as here, provide something akin to a ‘paediatric overview.’ I struggle to recall a single instance when such expansive and all inclusive analysis has been of real utility in a case of this kind.

In short – keep it short and focussed. And if the Court ask that the expert report is no longer than 10-15 pages, it had better not come in longer than that.

Anyway, the case itself. The mother and father had previously had another child, KA, who died when four months old, and who had had injuries discovered post-mortem. This had happened in 2011, and two years later, no charges had been brought.  As there was no other child at that time, there had been no care proceedings brought.  Thus, when the parents had their second child, IA, there had been no resolution, criminal or civil, as to how KA had died and whether there was any culpability on behalf of the parents.

The father had also had a child EA, and he had received a conviction for fracturing EA’s arm, although he denied that he had done this, he was rather undone by his pre-sentence report where he expressed remorse and contrition for what he had done. He had of course, told his family and the mother, the time-honoured explanation that he hadn’t done it but that his lawyer had told him to plead guilty to get a lighter sentence.  (Naughty criminal lawyers, who always tell people to plead guilty when they are asserting their innocence. Naughty!  /end sarcasm)

The Judge conducted a finding of fact hearing and concluded that the father had caused the injuries to KA and EA.  The Judge also concluded that the injuries to KA had happened at a time when mother was out of the home and father was the sole carer, and that thus mother had had no idea of what had happened and had not failed to protect.

The Local Authority had asserted that mother ought to have separated from the father following KA’s death, and not gone on to have another child with him. The LA had been seeking a plan of adoption, and put their position as baldly as this:-

When the case was opened on Tuesday of last week, the London Borough of Croydon was inviting me to make a care order predicated on a care plan of adoption. It was said that even if the mother was not involved in causing the older child’s injuries and did not know that he had suffered fractures it would nevertheless still not be safe to return the baby to her care. It did not bode well for the mother’s ability to prioritise the child’s needs over her own in the years to come, said Mr Date on behalf of the local authority, that it had taken her two years to come to a position of being able to make concessions in relation to failure to protect.

She separated from the father shortly after the proceedings relating to IA had commenced (this being of course, before any findings were made about the injuries)

This is what the Judge decided about whether mother was culpable in any way in not separating from the father sooner.  (Hint, the Judge doesn’t end up agreeing with the LA)

  1. The circumstances prevailing at the time of and leading up to the period when injury is inflicted are all important. It would be manifestly unjust and inappropriate to look back, with the benefit of hindsight, so as to conclude that a parent had failed to protect because of information which became available him / her after key events occurred.
  1. Thus, in the current context, it becomes crucial to consider what this mother knew or ought to have known by the time that KA came to be injured. There is, in fact, no dispute. She knew only what the father and his loyal family had told her about events involving EA. The mother was led to believe that the father was essentially innocent of wrongdoing, that the broken arm had been caused by EA’s mother and that the father had only pleaded guilty so as to avoid being sent to prison – he’d received advice that imprisonment was altogether more likely if he was convicted after a trial.
  1. The mother described within her written evidence how her relationship with the father began, developed and became secure. He came across as extremely genuine; he respected and treated her well. She relates that in the months leading up to KA’s death, they had laughed a lot; she felt they had a great relationship and thought she had found her ‘soul mate’. She was never shown any violence or aggression. Even when they argued, he did not frighten or worry her. Nor did he ever ‘raise a hand’ to her. The only occasion upon which the mother witnessed the father as aggressive was when, after KA’s death, the father punched her former step father. At that time, as she said, “everything felt very raw.”
  1. Those who knew the father best, namely his family, maintained his version of history. The paternal grandmother struck the mother as someone who would not stand by if she “felt something was not right and would speak her mind.” And yet, when the mother asked her and the father’s sister about his previous relationship with EA’s mother, they supported him, saying it had been turbulent. The mother believed neither the grandmother nor the father’s sister would have been supportive of him if they believed he had done anything wrong.
  1. I do not believe she could be criticised for that which seems to me to be an altogether reasonable assumption, particularly given that the father’s sister has children of her own.
  1. No one opened the mother’s eyes to the realities in relation to EA. She had no access to any of the court papers from the 2007 care proceedings. Nor, indeed, did she know of their existence; and that continued to be the position until the interval between her first and second police interviews in 2011 when there was a conversation with the father in which he had told her about EA’s family proceedings. She had no contact with the probation service because the father’s deliberate ploy was to keep her away from his probation officer. There was no ongoing local authority involvement with the father after the conclusion of the care proceedings in early 2008; and thus no opportunity for the mother to discover the actuality.
  1. It is also relevant that the mother was 21 years old when she met the father and only 22 when KA was born. Should she have asked more questions? I don’t believe it is fair or reasonable to conclude she should. On behalf of the local authority, Mr Date suggests that at the time of KA’s death, the mother’s failure was that she did not recognise the warning signals and too readily accepted the father’s version of past events. I cannot agree, on a dispassionate analysis of the evidence, that those suggestions are apt. There were no warning signals. She was young and very much in love, entitled to trust what she was told by her partner particularly when his behaviour mirrored the notion that he was anything other than a danger to children.
  1. It should be said that the mother, both in her written and oral evidence, has been all too ready to acknowledge that she failed to protect KA. She said that by choosing to get into a relationship with the father, trusting and having a child with him, her son has come to harm. If she had not got into that relationship KA would not have been harmed; and therefore, she said, she has failed her child. As a mother she wanted to do everything she could to protect him so she feels she let her first son down.
  1. I have no doubt as to the mother’s sincerity. She was an extraordinarily impressive, transparently honest witness, revealing the depth of her sorrow time and time again throughout her evidence.
  1. That said, I do not believe she should be as hard on herself as she has been. Standing back as I do, weighing information from all sides, there is in truth nothing to substantiate the claims that the mother should have acted differently, has failed to respond to a developing situation in which the child was placed at risk or otherwise should be seen as blameworthy for what happened to KA. Put shortly and more simply, the mother did nothing wrong. She is not to be viewed as a parent who has failed to protect her son. She is blameless in relation to him.

That is a pretty full exoneration.

The Judge then gives some useful comments about the process by which a parent arrives at a decision to separate from a partner who would be viewed as being dangerous, and applies that process to the facts of the mother’s case. (I have underlined a passage which I think those representing parents may find particularly useful, and which given that we still don’t know how fact-finding cases are going to fit into the PLO seems to me very important. I expect to see it cropping up in position statements quite often)

  1. It is often and wisely said that the enlightenment process for the non abusing parent, particularly those who are not found responsible in any way for what occurred, should properly be seen as ‘a journey.’ It is expecting far too much, indeed it borders on the surreal, to suggest that more or less immediately in the aftermath of whatever defining incident, the innocent and truly ignorant parent should shun the other, depart the relationship and make definitive judgments for herself as to what has occurred.
  1. Here, as the mother movingly relates, it is very difficult to describe what it is like to lose a child. It was for her an “extremely lonely and alienating experience.” “Everyone around her had known her child had died but no one knew what to say.” She had “felt angry and upset that (her own) and KA’s privacy had been invaded when everyone came to watch the air ambulance landing in the local school so that he could be taken to hospital.” People, said the mother, “had not felt able to ask her how she was or how she was feeling.” She became aware she “was making people feel awkward just by being there and being sad.” She had stopped wanting to go out, wore sunglasses if she did to avoid eye contact and “pretended she was invisible.”
  1. The mother explained that she felt the father was really the only one who understood how she was feeling as he was going through the same thing. It had made her unite with him more and she was in no emotional state to start contemplating that he could have been the one who hurt KA.
  1. She goes on to describe how, after KA’s funeral in September 2011, the intensity of the police investigation died down as did her conversations with the father about what had happened to their son. She knew there “remained a huge question mark which (she) would have to confront. However the weeks and months drifted on and (they) continued in a state of limbo.” No one had been asking her to think about what had happened to KA and she “supposed it was easier for (her) to cope with trying to grieve if she did not ask those questions” herself. For about a year the mother, was taking anti depressants and “just about coping.”
  1. When soon after July 2012, she discovered she was pregnant, the mother had mixed feelings, knowing there was every likelihood she would not be given the chance to care for another baby whilst KA’s death was being investigated. She said in evidence she had contemplated an abortion. She had not wanted to bring a child into the world in such unsettled circumstances but she “could not do it – lose one child and then get rid of another.” But she had been “very, very scared.” She added she had “brought her second son into the world, he had been separated from her which was not the normal way.” She feels guilty about letting her first son down and that “will never go away.”
  1. I cannot find the mother culpable or deficient in relation to what she has done or omitted to do since KA died. Reading her statements, listening to her evidence, I was profoundly impressed by her ability to describe her feelings. Nothing she described seemed to me to be anything other than the entirely understandable reactions of a bereaved and grieving mother. Her reactions to a rapidly developing situation after proceedings were begun in February this year, to my mind, were entirely reasonable. I find it impossible to be critical of her responses and choices living through events, as they have unfolded, since KA’s death.
  1. It is noteworthy that, hitherto, most parents in this mother’s situation, have had the opportunity to participate at a two-stage care process – fact-finding followed some weeks, even months, later by welfare determination. Because from the child’s perspective it was vital so to do, those who were found to have failed to protect have been afforded the opportunity for reflection upon the judgment. There was then the potential for establishing whether there were signs of acknowledgment, sufficient to embark upon a process of rehabilitation. In this instance, there has been no such relaxed opportunity – responses were required in advance of fact finding in order to prepare welfare plans.
  1. The impact of the consolidated hearing is that this mother, according to the way in which the local authority puts its case, has been expected to work out causation for herself in advance of the evidence being given, respond accordingly and defend her conduct as far back as August 2011. She is castigated for failing to separate from the father immediately after IA’s birth. Those expectations, to my mind, are profoundly unjust. They elevate what might be expected of a parent into the realms of professional reaction; a professional moreover seized of all relevant information.
  1. All the signs are that the mother is not only capable of protecting IA, she is alert to the reality which is that she finds herself now in more or less the same situation as a first time mother. She described how KA’s death had left her anxious as does the fact that hitherto she has not been IA’s main carer. So she is worried about him settling and grateful to know that the support of her own mother will be right there.

The LA at the start of the case had been seeking the findings, and a plan of adoption. The Guardian had been asking for an assessment of the maternal grandmother, who was putting herself forward as either an alternative carer or as someone who could live with the mother.

After the grandmother gave evidence, the Local Authority had a change of heart

  1. At the conclusion of the grandmother’s evidence, Mr Date announced that the local authority had been “hugely impressed” by her; and that he would no longer be asking me to endorse a care plan for adoption. There was agreement from the local authority that the child should be placed together with his mother in the grandmother’s home. Over the weekend, that plan has crystallised to this – that a residence order should be made either to the maternal grandmother alone or jointly with the mother; and there should be a supervision order for 12 months in favour of a specified local authority in the West Midlands.
  1. In similar vein, when Ms Dinnall (the Guardian) went into the witness box on Friday, she relinquished her recommendation for further assessment, lending support to the suggestion that the child should be looked after by his grandmother and mother together under the auspices of a supervision order.
  1. I have struggled to recall an instance where there have been quite such dramatic changes of position amongst the professionals; and whilst from the family’s perspective (particularly the mother’s and grandmother’s) those shifts were so very welcome, it must also be said that in the weeks leading up to this hearing there have been serious errors of judgment in the care planning exercise.

It is no great surprise that the Court endorsed the plan that mother and grandmother should care for IA jointly.

The next passages deal with the judicial criticism of the LA’s conduct of the case.  The social worker is named in these passages – I don’t know the social worker in question and can’t comment as to whether these criticisms apply across the board or just to this case, but she certainly takes a hell of a kicking.

I report these not just for schadenfreude, but because it touches on issues of expertise and the intention in the PLO of social workers being treated as experts. In order for that to work, the quality of work has to be substantially better than this.  Underlining again mine for emphasis.

  1. 94.   Case handling by the local authority
  1. Turning from the issues for decision to other matters, I cannot leave this case without commenting upon the way in which it has been handled by the local authority.
  1. I take account, of course, of the considerable difficulties drawn to my attention by Mr Date in his final submissions – that the social services department is “an unhappy place;” that Ms Kanii, who had no handover from the previous worker has only been in post for six weeks; that there has been a change of team manager during that time and changes of personnel as well within the legal department. Mr Date accepts that the work of assessment undertaken by Ms Kanii was not as thorough as it should have been and the conclusions reached were incorrect.
  1. All of that said, I should have been in the position of being able to place reliance upon the social work assessment so as to reach proper welfare determinations for IA. I should have had fair, balanced and proportionate advice resulting from a thorough inquiry undertaken over the five months or so since the proceedings were begun in February. I should have been able to view the social workers as experts in relation to the child’s welfare and to repose trust in their decision making.
  1. As it is, I am bound to say that Ms Kanii’s work was of poor quality, superficial and, most worryingly of all, did not reflect the key principles which underpin the workings of the family justice system. I mention just three – first that wherever possible, consistent with their welfare needs, children deserve an upbringing within their natural families (Re KD [1988] AC 806; Re W [1993] 2FLR 625); second, that the local authority’s duty should be to support and eventually reunite the family unless the risks are so high that the child’s welfare requires alternative provision (Re C and B (Care Order; Future Harm) [2001] 1FLR 611); and third that orders ratifying a care plan for adoption are “very extreme” only made when “necessary” for the protection of the children’s interests, which means “when nothing else will do”, “when all else fails.” Adoption “should only be contemplated as a last resort” (Re B [2013] UKSC 33; Re P (a child) EWCA Civ 963; Re G (a child) EWCA Civ 965).
  1. The mother’s second statement refers to the difficulty she encountered in speaking with Ms Kanii. She said she found her “quite intimidating” and she gained the “impression she had formed her opinions before really speaking with (her)”.
  1. I found Ms Kanii to be quite extraordinarily uncompromising. Interested only in repeating her own view and seemingly unwilling to countenance she may have misjudged anyone. Overall, I would have to say she was quite arrogant. She delivered her evidence at breakneck pace and could not be persuaded to slow down notwithstanding several reminders. She referred to the mother throughout as “Mom” which seemed to me somewhat disrespectful. But the most important matter of all is that on any objective analysis, Ms Kanii simply made significant errors of judgment in her appraisal of the mother as well as the maternal grandmother.
  1. In relation to the mother, Ms Kanii said it is “her view that she cannot care for IA. She lacks insight into significant harm. She would fail to protect the baby. She would not be able to prioritise his needs over her own.” Ms Kanii went on to say that the mother would “struggle to prioritise the child’s needs because fundamentally she does not grasp the significance of harm and how that would impact a child.”
  1. As for the maternal grandmother, Ms Kanii’s overall position was that although the grandmother “came across as quite willing, she was not able to prioritise the needs of the child over those of her daughter.”
  1. Challenged in cross examination by Miss Rayson and Miss King, and very properly so, Ms Kanii was essentially unmoved. Her only concession was that in the event the father was found to be the perpetrator then she favoured some further assessment of the maternal family. Although Ms Kanii denied she had “put the boot in” whenever the opportunity to do so had arisen, I’m impelled to say that Miss Rayson’s suggestion was both apt and justified.
  1. Ms Kanii’s written statement and addendum viability assessments, it has to be said, were perfunctory, lacking in balance and indefensibly critical of the mother and grandmother. I was left bemused that such adverse judgments had been made of the mother in particular when the content of her written statements had given me such cause for optimism. My sense was that Ms Kanii could not have read and assimilated the mother’s statements and yet she said she had. More bewildering still was the thought that the mother must have presented very similarly in discussion with Ms Kanii to the way in which she reacted in the witness box. And yet, such harsh judgments were made. It seems to me that Ms Kanii was operating in a parallel universe, intent on securing a placement order whatever the strengths within the natural family.
  1. Finally, in relation to this, two things should be said. First, I strongly believe – though cannot know – that Mr Date as the head of the local authority’s team intervened during the course of last week so as to retrieve an increasingly hopeless situation. If I am right about that, then I would wish to express my gratitude to him or to whichever individual it was who reconfigured the local authority’s position.

All in all, I think an important and illuminating case, and one which I expect to see cropping up from time to time. The importance of social workers evidence being balanced and not merely advocating for the desired course of action they recommend is vital, if care proceedings are to be fairly determined.

“If you change your mind, I’m the first in line”

 The Supreme Court decide that a Judge CAN change their mind after delivering a Judgment.

I blogged about the case in the Court of Appeal here :-

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/07/19/it-was-professor-plum-in-the-kitchen-with-a-candlestick-no-it-was-professor-plum-and-miss-scarlett/

 In brief, a Judge heard a finding of fact hearing about an injury to a child, gave a judgment that the father was the sole perpetrator. After judgment, father’s representative sent in some aspects for clarification  (i.e things that they considered had not been properly considered in the judgment) and some months later, at another hearing, the Judge announced that she had changed her view of the case and that it was not possible to exclude mother from having caused the injuries, and stopped short therefore of a positive finding that father had caused the injuries.

 The mother, who had of course, been off the hook, in the initial judgment, appealed.

 The Court of Appeal decided, two to one, that the Judge could not change her mind about the judgment she had given (save for if some fresh evidence had come to light) and that she was bound by her first judgment.

 The father, understandably, having been all the way in, then half-way out, then all the way in again, appealed that.

 The Supreme Court determined the issue in Re L and B (Children) 2013    

 

http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKSC/2013/8.html

 One of the things that troubled me about the Court of Appeal decision was the unspoken but inexorable consequence that although an advocate unhappy with a judgment is told to raise points that needed clarification or exploration with the judge prior to any appeal, if doing so cannot lead to a Judge changing their mind, it seems a rather fruitless exercise.   I think for that reason, the Supreme Court were right in giving the Judge power to change the findings made if the representations swayed her.

 The Supreme Court concluded here that what had happened in reality, was the Judge reconsidering the conclusions reached in the light of the representations made by father’s counsel, and had changed her mind accordingly.

 

  1. Thus one can see the Court of Appeal struggling to reconcile the apparent statement of principle in Barrell [1973] 1 WLR 19, coupled with the very proper desire to discourage the parties from applying for the judge to reconsider, with the desire to do justice in the particular circumstances of the case. This court is not bound by Barrell or by any of the previous cases to hold that there is any such limitation upon the acknowledged jurisdiction of the judge to revisit his own decision at any time up until his resulting order is perfected. I would agree with Clarke LJ in Stewart v Engel [2000] 1 WLR 2268, 2282 that his overriding objective must be to deal with the case justly. A relevant factor must be whether any party has acted upon the decision to his detriment, especially in a case where it is expected that they may do so before the order is formally drawn up. On the other hand, in In re Blenheim Leisure (Restaurants) Ltd, Neuberger J gave some examples of cases where it might be just to revisit the earlier decision. But these are only examples. A carefully considered change of mind can be sufficient. Every case is going to depend upon its particular circumstances.

Exercising the discretion in this case

  1. If that be the correct approach, was this judge entitled to exercise her discretion as she did? Thorpe LJ concluded (at para 56) that she was bound to adhere to the conclusion in her December judgment, having recited (at para 55) the clarity of the conclusion reached, the general assumption that the order had been perfected, the general implementation of her conclusion, her adherence to it at the hearing on 23 January, and the absence of any change in the circumstances and the “general slackness” that left the order unsealed. He was also somewhat puzzled as to why the result of her change of mind was “seemingly to elevate the father from low to first consideration as the primary carer, albeit the rationality of that elevation is not clear to me, given that he remained a suspected perpetrator” (para 56). Sir Stephen Sedley held that something more than a change in the judge’s mind was required, because “it will only be exceptionally that the interests of finality are required to give way to the larger interests of justice” (paras 79, 80). Rimer LJ, on the other hand, held that the judge was “honouring her judicial oath by correcting what she had come to realise was a fundamental error on her part. . . . the judge would be presented with real difficulty in her future conduct of this case were she required to proceed with it on the basis of a factual substratum that she now believes to be wrong. The court should not be required to make welfare decisions concerning a child on such a false factual basis”. It could not be in the interests of the child to require a judge to shut his eyes to the reality of the case and embrace a fiction.
  1. The Court of Appeal were, of course, applying an exceptionality test which in my view is not the correct approach. They were, of course, right to consider the extent to which the December decision had been relied upon by the parties, but in my view Rimer LJ was also correct to doubt whether anyone had irretrievably changed their position as a result. The care plan may have been developed (we do not have the details of this) but the child’s placement had yet to be decided and she had remained where she was for the time being. The majority were, of course, also right to stress the importance of finality, but the final decision had yet to be taken. I agree with Rimer LJ that no judge should be required to decide the future placement of a child upon what he or she believes to be a false basis. Section 1(1) of the Children Act 1989 provides that where a court determines any question with respect to the upbringing of a child the welfare of the child shall be its paramount consideration. While that provision does not apply to procedural decisions made along the way, it has to govern the final decision in the case.
  1. Mr Charles Geekie QC, on behalf of the mother, argues that even if the judge was entitled to change her mind, she was not entitled to proceed in the way that she did, without giving the parties notice of her intention and a further opportunity of addressing submissions to her. As the court pointed out in Re Harrison‘s Share Under a Settlement [1955] Ch 260, 284, the discretion must be exercised “judicially and not capriciously”. This may entail offering the parties the opportunity of addressing the judge on whether she should or should not change her decision. The longer the interval between the two decisions the more likely it is that it would not be fair to do otherwise. In this particular case, however, there had been the usual mass of documentary material, the long drawn-out process of hearing the oral evidence, and very full written submissions after the evidence was completed. It is difficult to see what any further submissions could have done, other than to re-iterate what had already been said.
  1. For those reasons, therefore, we ordered that the father’s appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal be allowed. No party had sought to appeal against the judge’s decision of 15 February 2012, so the welfare hearing should proceed on the basis of the findings in the judgment of that date. We were pleased subsequently to learn that agreement has now been reached that Susan should be placed with her half-brother and maternal grandparents under a care order and, after a settling-in period, have visiting and staying contact with her father and her paternal family. The local authority plan to work with both families with a view to both mother and father having unsupervised contact in the future and it is hoped that the care order will be discharged after a period of one to two years.

 

 The Supreme Court then took a look at the issue of whether a Judge could change her mind post the order being sealed. (In this case, the sealing of the order had taken place long after the judgment had been given, or maybe it did, and there is authority to suggest that a judgment cannot be changed after the order is sealed or maybe there isn’t)

 

  1. On the particular facts of this case, that is all that need be said. But what would have been the position if, as everyone thought was the case, the order made by the judge on 15 December 2011 had been formally drawn up and sealed? Whatever may be the case in other jurisdictions, can this really make all the difference in a care case?
  1. The Court of Appeal, despite having themselves raised the point, do not appear to have thought that it did. Sir Stephen Sedley said that it seemed to be of little or no consequence that the order recording the first judgment had not been sealed or that a final order in the case remained to be made (para 74). Both Thorpe and Rimer LJJ held that the relevant order in care proceedings is the final care order made at the end of the hearing. They expressly agreed with Munby LJ in In re A (Children: Judgment: Adequacy of Reasoning) [2011] EWCA Civ 1205, [2012] 1 WLR 595, para 21. This was a case in which the mother challenged the adequacy of the judge’s reasons for finding her complicit in the sexual abuse of her daughter in a fact-finding hearing in care proceedings. Having quoted my observation in In re B (Children: Care Proceedings: Standard of Proof) (CAFCASS intervening) [2009] AC 11, para 76, that a split hearing is merely part of the whole process of trying the case and once completed the case is part-heard, Munby LJ continued, at para 21:

“Consistently with this, the findings at a fact-finding hearing are not set in stone so as to be incapable of being revisited in the light of subsequent developments as, for example, if further material emerges during the final hearing: see In re M and MC (Care: Issues of Fact: Drawing of Orders) [2003] 1 FLR 461, paras 14, 24.”

  1. This court has since agreed with that proposition. In Re S-B (Children)(Care Proceedings: Standard of Proof) [2009] UKSC 17, [2010] 1 AC 678, all seven justices agreed that:

“It is now well-settled that a judge in care proceedings is entitled to revisit an earlier identification of the perpetrator if fresh evidence warrants this (and this court saw an example of this in the recent case In re I (A Child) (Contact Application: Jurisdiction) (Centre for Family Law and Practice intervening) [2010] 1 AC 319).” (para 46)

  1. There are many good reasons for this, both in principle and in practice. There are two legal issues in care proceedings. First, has the threshold set by section 31(2) of the 1989 Act been crossed? Secondly, what does the paramount consideration of the child’s welfare require to be done about it? Much of the evidence will be relevant to both parts of the inquiry. It may be very helpful to separate out some factual issues for early determination, but these do not always neatly coincide with the legal issues. In this case, for example, there was no dispute that the threshold had been crossed. Nevertheless, it was convenient to attempt to identify who was responsible for the child’s injuries before moving on to decide where her best interests lay. In such a composite enquiry, the judge must be able to keep an open mind until the final decision is made, at least if fresh evidence or further developments indicate that an earlier decision was wrong. It would be detrimental to the interests of all concerned, but particularly to the children, if the only way to correct such an error were by an appeal.
  1. This is reinforced by the procedural position. As Munby LJ pointed out in In re A [2012] 1 WLR 595, para 20, in the context of a fact-finding hearing there may not be an immediate order at all. It was held in In re B (A Minor) (Split Hearings: Jurisdiction) [2000] 1 WLR 790 that the absence of an order is no bar to an appeal. Nevertheless, it would be very surprising these days if there were no order. In Re M and MC (Care: Issues of Fact: Drawing of Orders) [2002] EWCA Civ 499, [2003] 1 FLR 461, the Court of Appeal ruled that the central findings of fact made at a fact finding hearing should be the subject of recitals to an order issued there and then. But this is merely a recital in what is, on any view, an interlocutory order.
  1. Both the Civil Procedure Rules and the Family Procedure Rules make it clear that the court’s wide case management powers include the power to vary or revoke their previous case management orders: see CPR r 3.1(7) and rule 4.1(6) of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 (SI 2010/2955). This may be done either on application or of the court’s own motion: CPR r 3.3(1), rule 4.3(1). It was the absence of any power in the judge to vary his own (or anyone else’s) orders which led to the decisions in In re St Nazaire 12 Ch D 88 and In re Suffield and Watts, Ex p Brown 20 QBD 693. Where there is a power to vary or revoke, there is no magic in the sealing of the order being varied or revoked. The question becomes whether or not it is proper to vary the order.
  1. Clearly, that power does not enable a free-for-all in which previous orders may be revisited at will. It must be exercised “judicially and not capriciously”. It must be exercised in accordance with the over-riding objective. In family proceedings, the overriding objective is “enabling the court to deal with cases justly, having regard to any welfare issues involved”: rule 1.1(1) of the Family Procedure Rules. It would, for the reasons indicated earlier, be inconsistent with that objective if the court could not revisit factual findings in the light of later developments. The facts of in In re M and MC [2003] 1 FLR 461 are a good example. At the fact finding hearing, the judge had found that Mr C, and not the mother, had inflicted the child’s injuries. But after that, the mother told a social worker, whether accurately or otherwise, that she had inflicted some of them. The Court of Appeal ruled that, at the next hearing, the judge should subject the mother’s apparent confession to rigorous scrutiny but that, if he concluded that it was true, he should alter his findings.
  1. The question is whether it makes any difference if the later development is simply a judicial change of mind. This is a difficult issue upon which the arguments are finely balanced, not least because the difference between a change of circumstances and a change of mind may not be clear-cut.
  1. On the one hand, given that the basis of the general rule was the lack of a power to vary the original order and there undoubtedly is power to vary these orders, why should it make any difference in principle if the reason for varying it is that, on mature reflection, the judge has reached a different conclusion from the one he reached earlier? As Rimer LJ said in the current case at para 71, it cannot be in the best interests of the child to require the judge to conduct the welfare proceedings on the basis of a false substratum of fact. That would have been just as true if the December order had been sealed as it was when it had not.
  1. In this respect, children cases may be different from other civil proceedings, because the consequences are so momentous for the child and for the whole family. Once made, a care order is indeed final unless and until it is discharged. When making the order, the welfare of the child is the court’s paramount consideration. The court has to get it right for the child. This is greatly helped if the judge is able to make findings as to who was responsible for any injuries which the child has suffered. It would be difficult for any judge to get his final decision right for the child, if, after careful reflection, he was no longer satisfied that his earlier findings of fact were correct.
  1. Mr Geekie, on behalf of the mother, also argued that the sealing of the order could not invariably be the cut-off point. If a judge is asked, in accordance with the guidance given in English v Emery Reimbold & Strick Ltd (Practice Note) [2002] EWCA Civ 605 [2002] 1 WLR 2409, as applied to family cases in In re A [2012] 1 WLR 595, to elaborate his reasoning and in doing so realises that his original decision was wrong, should he not, as part of that process, be entitled or even required to say so? The answer to this point may very well be that the judge should indeed have the courage to admit to the Court of Appeal that he has changed his mind, but that is not the same as changing his order. That is a matter for the Court of Appeal. One argument for allowing a judicial change of mind in care cases is to avoid the delay inevitably involved if an appeal is the only way to correct what the judge believes to be an error.
  1. On the other hand, the disconcerting truth is that, as judges, we can never actually know what happened: we were not there when whatever happened did happen. We can only do our best on the balance of probabilities, after which what we decide is taken to be the fact: In re B (Children) (Care Proceedings: Standard of Proof) [2008] UKHL 35, [2009] AC 11, para 2. If a judge in care proceedings is entitled simply to change his mind, it would destabilise the platform of established facts which it was the very purpose of the split hearing to construct; it would undermine the reports, other evidence and submissions prepared on the basis of the earlier findings; it would throw the hearing at the second stage into disarray; and it would probably result in delay.

 

 

 

They then realise that this is really really really difficult, and sidestep the question in a way that any rugby fan would admire.

 

The arguments outlined above are so finely balanced that we shall refrain from expressing even a provisional view upon it. In our view the preferable solution would be to avoid the situation arising in the first place.

 

That, for my mischievous mind, raises the interesting question of what happens if a Judge delivers a finding of fact judgment, and instantly in front of the parties, produces an order that she has prepared setting out the findings that were made and stamps it. 

It seems that the judgment is then frozen, and can’t be altered, and that she would not be entitled to change her mind despite any representations, and is simply inviting the wounded parties to put up and appeal, or shut up.   That’s probably grounds for appeal in itself.

Probably good practice is for a short window of opportunity (say the appeal window) to be given, before the order is then stamped, and the Judge considers only representations made within that window.

But, what if, as happened here, father makes representations, and the judgment changes? Does mother then get a second window to make her own representations, to try to change the judge’s mind a second time?  Her window of appeal must, it seems to me, start from the time that the Judge settles an order arising from the judgment  (you appeal orders, not findings). 

And if mother succeeds, is that the end of it, or does father get another crack at it?

Could we end up with an interminable oscillation between judgment and representations to alter that judgment?

“An unhelpful cocktail”

 

The interesting case of Re A (A Child) 2013.

 

The Court of Appeal dealt here with a case where some pretty appalling case management occurred with the appellants legal team, and whether a costs order should flow from that. They determined that in the absence of being able to show that costs had been incurred by the other parties for which they could be compensated, one could not make a wasted costs order purely as a punitive measure, no matter how awful the litigation conduct.

 

But it is worth looking at the litigation conduct, just because it is a dull day indeed when one isn’t interested when “I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres. Thy knotted and combined locks to part, and each particular hair to stand on end. Like quills upon the fretful porpentine…. “

 

 

Lo, the case is here:-

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/43.html

 

 

The appeal related to a serious finding of fact hearing in care proceedings, a significant number of fractures on a very young baby, where the Judge found that these were caused non-accidentally.

 

Some time after those findings, the solicitors representing the parents became aware of the decision in London Borough of Islington v Al Alas and Wray [2012] EWHC 865 (Fam)    and legitimately considered the findings again in the light of that case, particularly whether there was an alternative medical explanation along the lines of vitamin D deficiency and rickets.

 

They sought leave to appeal from the trial judge, who refused.

 

They then applied to the Court of Appeal, primarily asking whether leave to instruct an expert to look at the case was required. The Court of Appeal considered the case, felt that a fresh expert assessment was desirable and granted that leave, then listing a Permission to Appeal hearing to take place after the expert assessment could be considered.

 

All of that is perfectly fine and proper.  

 

[I blogged about that appeal hearing HERE   http://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/11/22/more-on-vitamin-d-and-rickets/ 

 

In short, the Court of Appeal did not consider that the Judge at first instance was wrong, let alone plainly wrong, and that the medical evidence, including the fresh report came nowhere near substantiating a medical explanation for the fractures. ]

 

 

But this particular judgment comes about as a result of the Local Authority and Guardian feeling so aggrieved by the parents litigation conduct that they asked for a costs hearing.

 

This is why :-

 

 

  1. 6.       a) At the first, without notice, oral hearing the solicitors failed in their duty to provide the court with full and frank disclosure of all relevant material. In particular the bundle submitted did not include the original fact finding judgment or the section of the trial bundle that included the expert medical evidence;

b) The court was misled by an assertion in the grounds of appeal that the solicitors had had to prepare the case in a limited time period, whereas the reality was that they had the papers in the case for 18 weeks prior to filing their grounds of appeal;

c) After the September hearing the solicitors failed to disclose any relevant and necessary information to the Local Authority and the solicitors for the child until 16th October. The information withheld included a note of the 19th September hearing, the letter of instruction to Professor Nussey, Professor Nussey’s report (which had been received on 3rd October), the progress report sent by the parents’ solicitors to the Court of Appeal on 3rd October in accordance with my direction and any detail of the extensive supplementary questions and communications passing between the parents’ solicitors and Professor Nussey;

d) Professor Nussey was not instructed in a manner that would comply with the Family Procedure Rules 2010, Part 25 and the associated Practice Direction governing the instruction of experts. In particular, the Professor was not furnished with a copy of the 2010 fact finding judgment and/or the expert medical reports upon which the judge had relied. Instead the Professor was, for example, provided with the parents’ solicitors’ critique of that judgment setting out some 26 points which they said supported a benign medical explanation for the fractures that had been detected;

e) Once Professor Nussey’s report was available to the parents’ legal team, a clear view should have been taken that there was no longer any prospect of achieving permission to appeal. The decision to press on and mount arguments which this court ultimately found were unsustainable, went beyond the bounds of pursuing a hopeless case and amounted to an abuse of the court process.

  1. Ms Jo Delahunty QC, representing the child, supports the criticisms made by the Local Authority and seeks to stress the substantial degree to which, in her submission, the parents’ solicitors fell short of their duty to comply with the ordinary standards of transparency and co-operation required of those engaged in child protection proceedings in the Family Division. In particular, she points to the fact that the non-disclosure for nearly a month of information relating to the without notice hearing in September was not a result of inefficiency or incompetent administration, but arose from the deliberate assertion by the parents’ solicitors that the other parties were simply not entitled to any of this material unless and until permission to appeal is granted. She is also particularly critical of the way in which the expert was unilaterally lobbied by the parents’ legal team with, it is suggested, the aim of turning his initial adverse opinion into one which was more favourable to their case.
  1. In addition to the criticisms made of the litigation actions in the period between 19th September and 1st November, both counsel for the Local Authority and counsel for the child draw the court’s attention to the stance taken by the parents’ representatives at this hearing. Mr Prest drew attention to what he regarded was the startling difference between the world view in relation to these matters taken by the parents’ representatives and the reality of the approach required by the Family Justice System. In similar terms Ms Delahunty submitted that, in seeking to explain their behaviour and avoid adverse criticisms, counsel for the parents’ solicitors, Mr Michael Shrimpton, in his skeleton argument, was simply not speaking in the same language as the lawyers representing the Local Authority and the child. In particular Ms Delahunty points to the fact that, rather than offering an acceptance of poor case management and an apology to the court, Mr Shrimpton’s skeleton argument seeks to meet each of the matters raised head on and to question their validity. For example the case for the parents’ solicitors, who are a well known Birmingham firm of family specialists, questions the validity and legitimacy of FPR 2010 Part 25 insofar as it applies to Family Proceedings at first instance and asserts that, in any event, those provisions have absolutely no application to a pending appeal. They assert that the instruction of an expert in the course of an application for permission to appeal may be undertaken in total disregard of the Family Procedure Rules and the practice otherwise applicable to a family case.

 

 

 

Let me just flesh that out, because it may be so peculiar that it does not quite sink in – they obtained permission to appeal saying that they had had ‘limited time to prepare their case’ (when they had in fact had 18 weeks – some people, not me, but some other people, might actually go so far as to say that this is not a generous interpretation or disingenuous, or misleading, but a straight downright lie)

 

having obtained the permission of the Court of Appeal to instruct an expert, the parents solicitors then don’t give the expert the medical reports AND Judgment in the fact finding hearing, but instead a sprawling 26 point submission prepared by them as to why rickets is the cause of the injury, they don’t try to agree a letter of instruction or include any questions that the other sides would like asked, they don’t initially disclose the report of that expert to the other sides, they try to get the expert to change his mind after seeing his report, and when all of this is highlighted to them, they argue that the Family Proceedings Rules don’t apply to appeals in, erm family proceedings.

 

 

I also like this bit – the parents solicitors, in another case (oh my god) had gone off to get an overseas expert without leave of the court and then (once it was favourable to rely on it)

In January 2012 the parents’ solicitors acted for different parents in an application for permission to appeal which is now reported as Re McC (Care Proceedings: Fresh Evidence of Foreign Expert) [2012] EWCA Civ 165; [2012] 2 FLR 121. In that case, without the knowledge of, let alone the leave of, the Court of Appeal, the parents’ solicitors obtained a medical report from an American paediatrician and sought leave to adduce it as fresh evidence to support a proposed appeal. In his judgment refusing permission to adduce the evidence, with which the other two members of the court agreed, Thorpe LJ said:

 

“14. There are many reasons for refusing this application. It does not begin to satisfy the conditions identified in the well known case of Ladd v Marshall [1954] 1 WLR 1489. It is a report which is deeply flawed in the manner of its production. The respondents to these proceedings were given no notice of the intention to go elsewhere and to knock on another expert door. No permission was sought from this court either to instruct another expert or to release documents from the case to that expert and such documents as were released were not comprehensive and were apparently partisan.

15. I would have absolutely no hesitation in refusing this application but I do want to emphasise that there is, in my judgment, an obligation on an applicant for permission, or an appellant who has obtained permission, to seek leave from this court before instructing a fresh expert and releasing court papers to that expert for the purposes of the hearing of either an adjourned application for permission or an appeal.

16. I would also emphasise the importance of the Guidelines for the Instruction of Medical Experts from Overseas in Family Cases, endorsed by the President and published by the Family Justice Council last month. They must by extension apply to appellate proceedings although the guidelines are of course written specifically in contemplation of proceedings at first instance.”

 

  • Mr X submits that both he and his instructing solicitors were unclear as to the meaning of those passages from Thorpe LJ’s judgment in Re McC. He tells me that they did not understand whether or not it was incumbent upon them to apply for the leave of the Court of Appeal before seeking to instruct an expert to provide a report for use in support of their application for permission to appeal. In their minds, therefore, the purpose of the 19th September hearing was simply to seek the direction of the Court of Appeal on whether or not a full blown application for leave to instruct an expert, which Mr X tells me would have been on notice to the other parties, should be made. 
  • I confess that I am at a loss to understand that submission and ask, rhetorically, how Mr X and the Solicitors Firm could fail to understand the words “there is …. an obligation …. to seek leave from this court before instructing a fresh expert”. The account given in the Notice of Appeal to the effect that the Court of Appeal decision in Re McC, from which I have quoted, had simply ‘expressed some sympathy’ with the view that leave to instruct an expert was required and that the decision had not by that stage been reported is, on the facts, plainly unsustainable. 
  • The words of Lord Justice Thorpe are entirely plain and clear and, for the record, I regard his words as being entirely uncontroversial. The general approach, if not indeed the detailed requirements, of the Family Procedure Rules must, as Thorpe LJ holds, by extension apply to appellate proceedings.

 

So even though the firm of solicitors had been slapped by the Court of Appeal for getting a back door expert, and the Court of Appeal had given clear guidance on this exact point, they didn’t understand what it meant?

 

But all of that is okay, because the counsel representing them (although not a care lawyer, or indeed a family lawyer) is :-

 

 

a member of British Mensa and that he ‘by definition brings a Mensa-level intellect to the analysis of complex scientific and legal issues’

 

 

[If you are wondering, the quotation marks do indeed indicate that the Court of Appeal are quoting directly from counsel’s own skeleton argument. Yes, in a costs hearing in the Appeal Court, before Lord Justice McFarlane, this barrister put in writing that he was clever…. – not just in writing, but orally, and not just once, but “on a number of occasions”]

 

 

Oh. My. God.

 

If you aren’t cringing, writhing a tiny bit and dying a little bit inside on behalf of this man, you are a crueller person than even I am.

 

 

  1. Mr X’s approach to these proceedings readily supports the submissions that I have recorded from both of the opposing counsel to the effect that the case he presents comes from a totally different ‘world view’ and speaks in a ‘different language’ from that of the local authority and the child’s legal team. Mr X is a brave and confident advocate who gives the strong impression of believing the cause for which he advocates. These various factors, high intellect, a lack of understanding of the justification for the approach taken in family proceedings and the brave championing of a cause, are, in my view, the unhelpful cocktail of elements which have come together in counsel’s presentation of the parents’ case in these proceedings. The local authority seeks to hold the parents’ solicitors responsible for this on the basis that they selected the particular counsel for these hearings. That submission is, in my view, not sustainable when it is clear, as it is, that the argument that became the focus of the application and was then sustained on to the second hearing was crafted by counsel and not by the solicitors. Mr X told the court that, following receipt of Professor Nussey’s report, the solicitors sought his advice on the future viability of the application for permission and that as a result of that advice the case continued. An indication of counsel’s faith in his clients’ case at the second hearing was the very surprising information, as reported to me during the hearing, that Mr X had approach Ms Delahunty outside court to enquire if the children’s guardian was going to support the application for permission to appeal.
  1. My clear conclusion is that the manner in which the application for permission was pursued, after receipt of Professor Nussey’s report had removed from it any true validity, arose almost entirely from the wholly over optimistic judgment of counsel and not from any improper or unreasonable act or omission of the solicitors. By the end of the present hearing this understanding of events seemed to be shared by Mr Prest for the local authority when, after all of the submissions were complete, he made an application to include Mr X in the wasted costs application. I refused that application on the basis that the case had by then been heard and concluded on the basis that Mr X was not in the frame and that it would by that stage be oppressive to alter the focus of the application to include him.

 

 

Oh, I want to look at that again, let’s just do this one bit

 

Mr X is a brave and confident advocate who gives the strong impression of believing the cause for which he advocates. These various factors, high intellect, a lack of understanding of the justification for the approach taken in family proceedings and the brave championing of a cause, are, in my view, the unhelpful cocktail of elements which have come together in counsel’s presentation of the parents’ case in these proceedings

 

 

He was SO lucky to escape without a cost order.

 

 

It must have been fairly close as to whether the costs of the appeal hearing itself, were incurred as a result of advice which could not be sustained on the evidence.  It was in part, I think, the fact that it was counsel’s clear advice and driving of the process that absolved the solicitors from blame in not abandoning their appeal once the expert they had instructed (and attempted to nobble) hadn’t supported them.  If you can’t persuade an expert who you have blatantly tried to manipulate into supporting your case to support you, you really don’t  have a winnable case and that would be the time to abandon the appeal. They didn’t. They pressed on.  One can see from the previous blog and judgment just how much work went into that appeal hearing, particularly from leading counsel for the child, Ms Delahunty.

 

 

Of course, I could be wrong – perhaps the Mensa level intellect which counsel brought to bear in the case foresaw that as the Guardian and LA hadn’t included him in the wasted costs application, he could save his solicitors from a wasted costs order that was otherwise heading their way by convincing the Court that all of the faults were of his making. Perhaps he was nobly falling on his sword and was in reality blameless.

 

I would politely suggest that any counsel who are card-carrying members of Mensa to eschew the desire to flaunt this in front of the Court of Appeal in any future hearings.

 

 

[I’m sure 95% of Mensa members are witty, suave, urbane, good company, romantically successful, essentially happy, well-balanced, productive, helpful and fascinating, and that I have just been very  unlucky in meeting the small proportion who spoil it for them….   I did also remove an “a bit like the American Express advert – it’s four letters too long”  joke from this piece, but I’m sure you can work it out for yourselves]

 

 

If you are interested in instructing an overseas expert in care proceedings – perhaps you like paperwork, perhaps you enjoy the game of Russian Roulette that is incurring costs that the LSC might or might not underwrite, perhaps you just enjoy having telephone calls at 4.00am, there’s some guidance about how to do it, here :-

http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/JCO%2FDocuments%2FFJC%2Ffjc_guidelines_for_overseas_experts_Dec2011.pdf

 

 

 

“A Judge too far”

 

 

A quick discussion on the Court of Appeal decision in Re J-L (Children) 2012

 

 

 

The Court of Appeal sat in a very short hearing to determine a case where a Judge, when dealing with a fact-finding hearing in care proceedings, made a particular set of findings that deviated from the schedule of proposed findings drawn up by the Local Authority and found that the children had witnessed inappropriate sexual behaviour whilst in the care of their mother.

 

 

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed111465

 

 

 

I blogged about this one prior to the full transcript being up, here:-

 

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/12/05/i-still-havent-found-what-im-looking-for-or-going-off-menu/  

 

 

based on the family law week summary that suggested that the Court of Appeal had ruled that it was not open to a Judge to make findings that were not on the menu / schedule of findings placed before him.

 

Reading the full transcript, I don’t think the Court of Appeal go that far at all. There is not, in my view, such a principle established by this case.

 

 In fact, although it is a short one page judgment, I can’t find a single sentence that hints at the Court of Appeal determining whether or not a Judge can go “off-menu”  – it simply didn’t fall to be determined as a result of matters I set out below.   

 

 [What they do say is that on the EVIDENCE before the Court, the particular finding made wasn’t one open to the Judge to find. 

 

It does seem plain to me that the judge understandably was very concerned about these three very young children living in the mother’s care for those two or three months in early 2008 and was concerned about the general adult behaviour that they will have been exposed to.  But it is plain from the material available to the judge that it was not open to him to go further and explicitly find, albeit on the balance of probabilities, that the children had actually been exposed to and witnessed sexual acts between the young people and adults attending the property

 

[It being fairly pertinent that there was no material or allegation or disclosure before the Court that the children had witnessed this sort of thing. There is nothing unusual about the Court of Appeal saying that a Judge couldn’t make findings on the evidence before them, nothing new to see there.  But wait around, because the next bit is good]

 

 

 

By the time of the hearing, each of the parties had reached a decision that the finding the Judge made in relation to those matters was a step too far, and that it would be appropriate for that particular finding to be struck out. Indeed, the Local Authority had been in liaison with the other parties to try to formulate some wording which would be acceptable to all.

 

The Court of Appeal were rightly pretty irascible about  the need for an Appeal hearing at all, given that all parties were of the view that the findings needed to be adjusted and the offending paragraphs struck out

 

6. The outcome of that is that there is effectively no opposition to the appeal and I, having read the judgment and the documents that have been filed, readily accede to that position.  It does seem plain to me that the judge understandably was very concerned about these three very young children living in the mother’s care for those two or three months in early 2008 and was concerned about the general adult behaviour that they will have been exposed to.  But it is plain from the material available to the judge that it was not open to him to go further and explicitly find, albeit on the balance of probabilities, that the children had actually been exposed to and witnessed sexual acts between the young people and adults attending the property. 

7. Why is it, I would ask rhetorically, that the court has had to sit this morning and counsel and those who attend them for the mother and the local authority have come from the north of England to London for a hearing which has taken a very short time and which is effectively not contested?  We were told that attempts were made to find an alternative form of words that all parties would accept in place of the words that this order from this court will now strike out.  That has not been possible and we were told by Mrs Clark for the local authority that the principal hurdle preventing that being accomplished was that the father’s legal team had failed to engage in the process in a way that either indicated total opposition or came up with a formula that they would have agreed to.  I understand what is said.  It is regrettable that nobody communicated with this court at an earlier stage to identify the fact that the appeal was not contested.  This court could have directed compliance if necessary from the other parties in a process of drawing up an agreed order.

8. That said, it seems to me that if any words are now to be put back into the gap that has opened up through the excision of the quoted words we are going to delete today, that is a matter for the parties and the lower court and not for the Court of Appeal, in the absence of any agreement.

 

 

 

I think it would be a risk, in any future appeal where some of the parties are seeking to avoid the need for an appeal by reaching a consensus to be the one lone wolf not engaging in that process.   (Of course, it is different if the party has a different view to the attempted consensus and there is a chasm which can’t be bridged, even following attempts, but here, it seems as though father’s team just sat out those discussions)

 

 

The Court of Appeal don’t really address what would actually happen in this situation on the ground.  There’s almost an implication that an appeal hearing isn’t needed if all of the parties could agree a form of wording on the finding in dispute.

Now, imagine that the Judge makes a string of findings, lets say 8 in all, and the parties then write to her after the Judgment and say  “None of us agree with you on finding 7, and we think you should say X”

 

 

There’s a bit of a difference in the parties doing that of their own accord, and the Court of Appeal having approved that. In the latter case, the Judge has been told that finding 7 won’t wash, and needs to be sorted out.

 

In the former, I can think of many Judges who would say “Well, thank you for your kind interest in my judgment, and contribution to it after the event”,  and then in tones similar to Miranda Richardson in Blackadder, add  “Who’s Judge?”

 

[If the Court of Appeal instead mean that the parties in this sort of situation in the future could have lodged their revised wording to finding 7 and the Court of Appeal could have just agreed it without a hearing, that also seems iffy to me.  A Judge wasn't necessarily wrong, let alone plainly wrong, just because all four advocates think they were, and a determination as to whether they were ought to be for the Appeal Court, not just to rubber stamp an agreeement between the parties as to what the judgment OUGHT to have said. But I am, perhaps, old-fashioned in that regard. ]

 

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