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Children travelling to join ISIS

The Tower Hamlets case attracted quite a bit of media attention, and the judgment is now out. It contains quite a bit of practical guidance for all agencies where there is a concern that a child is going to be sent or going under their own volition to a country such as Syria with an intention that they join a terrorist organisation such as ISIS.

Tower Hamlets v M and Others 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/869.html

The case was heard, alongside another one mentioned in paragraph 6, by Mr Justice Hayden.

The Judge recognised that the seizure of the children’s passports did not require any evolution or extension of the law, but could be done under existing provisions, but did set out some practical recommendations to be followed.

 

  1. This course, though it arises in circumstances which do not have recent precedent, did not in any way require an evolution in the law itself. For example, the jurisdiction was recognised in Re A-K (Foreign Passport: Jurisdiction) [1997] 2 FLR 569.
  2. Both cases came before me last week on ex parte application. I was satisfied, on the evidence presented to me, both that the measures sought were proportionate and that there were strong grounds for believing the situation was urgent. I remain convinced of both.
  3. The removal of an individual’s passport, even on a temporary basis, be that of an adult or child, is a very significant incursion into the individual’s freedom and personal autonomy. It is never an order that can be made lightly. Where only the State, in this case through the arm of the local authority, appears in court, it must never be forgotten that the court requires a very high degree of candour on the part of all of those involved.

 

The Judge went on to explain that by candour, he did not just mean honesty and that this was a given, but that the evidence presented to the Court for such an application must be the fullest possible, and that even evidence that would seem to be harmful or hinder the application must be shared with the Court.

  1. Rather, I wish to emphasise that the fullest possible information must be placed before the court in an entirely unpartisan way. Both the evidence which supports the application and that which runs counter to its objectives. Nothing less than that will suffice.
  2. This duty, in such an application, extends not merely to counsel and solicitors but to all involved: police; social services; whichever professional capacity.
  3. Moreover, the lawyers involved must take great care to emphasise and reinforce this obligation to their lay and professional clients in clear and unambiguous terms. This very high degree of candour must also be accompanied by careful consideration as to whether the facts present a real degree of urgency, which of themselves necessitate an application being made on an ex parte basis.

There were a couple of points in the Tower Hamlets case that prompted that – the first being that the orders made necessarily required the police to take a number of actions – the Court had understood that the police were aware and supportive, only to learn at a later stage that the police were unhappy about some of the things they had been asked to do.

This was very serious. Counsel for the Local Authority had specifically addressed the Court on this, and his instructions had been plain that the police supported the Local Authority applications and said so unequivocally to the Court twice. [I will make it really plain that the Judge was satisfied that Counsel had been sold a pup, rather than was intentionally misleading the Court]

 

  1. I had been told by Mr Barnes, counsel who appears on behalf of Tower Hamlets, at the first hearing, on 20 March, when the Local Authority appeared alone, that the police supported the Local Authority’s actions. In fact, I twice asked whether that was the case, and twice Mr Barnes reassured me, unequivocally, that it was. I have no doubt at all that those were his instructions.

Hoerver, after the orders were made, it had become obvious that the police had not been as involved in the process as the Court had been led to understand. To the point that the police had been liaising with the High Court tipstaff about wanting to see if the passports could be handed over voluntarily by the families, and the Judge suspended his orders.

 

  1. However, on Saturday afternoon, I received a telephone call from the High Court Tipstaff to inform me that the police considered that they had not had proper chance to evaluate the risk identified in the Local Authority’s application. And insofar as they had, they considered that enforcement of the orders might not be required.
  2. In essence, I was told, they wished to see if it might be possible to secure the surrender of the passports, as contemplated by the orders, by cooperation with the families.
  3. In view of the fact that this information, given to the High Court Tipstaff, came from a team specialist in counter terrorism, and I have been told authorised at very senior level, I ordered the immediate suspension of my earlier order.

 

That is obviously extremely serious, and the Judge rightly explored it further on the return date.

  1. However, during the course of that hearing, Mr Barnes confirmed that a misleading impression had indeed been given by the Local Authority to the court on 20 March.
  2. Whilst it is correct to say that the police had been informed of the applications, as I was told, investigation of how and when they were told, undertaken at my insistence, revealed that they had only been notified of the application at around 2 o’clock on 20 March by email and had, therefore, no real chance to consider their response.
  3. I pause to say that by 3.30 that afternoon the Local Authority were already before me.
  4. I regret to say that I have concluded that the Local Authority consciously misrepresented the extent of the police awareness of this application. I do not reach that conclusion lightly. It is for this reason that I have felt it necessary to restate that which, to my mind, ought properly to be instinctive to every professional in this field, that is to say the very high degree of candour required in applications of this kind.

Very serious indeed.

 

The second was that there had been an issue over whether one of the children’s passports was (a) missing and (b) whether it was expired in any event. This was obviously a very critical point, given that what was being sought was orders to prevent the children leaving the country. The Court had been given information about this, in good faith, that later turned out not to be accurate. (It is all set out at the end of the judgment if you want to know more)

 

I should like to take this opportunity to distil a number of core principles.

(i) The lawyers should take care to draft, at very least in outline, the scope and ambit of the orders they seek and in respect of whom they seek it. This should be undertaken before coming to court. That will not only expedite the subsequent service of the orders on those concerned, it is also a crucial forensic discipline, compelling the lawyers to think in a properly focused manner about the specific orders they seek;

(ii) Thought should be given, from the very outset, as to how quickly the case can be restored on notice. This is the essential requisite of fairness in the process, now buttressed by article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights;

(iii) Even though these cases will, of necessity, be brought before the court in circumstances of urgency, they nonetheless require the instruction of senior and experienced lawyers. The issues have profound consequences, not limited to the individuals concerned, and will frequently require a delicate balancing of competing and potentially conflicting rights and interests;

(iv) All involved must recognise that in this particular process it is the interest of the individual child that is paramount. This cannot be eclipsed by wider considerations of counter terrorism policy or operations, but it must be recognised that the decision the court is being asked to take can only be arrived at against an informed understanding of that wider canvas. It is essential that the court be provided with that material in appropriate detail;

(v) It will never be satisfactory, in applications of this kind, merely to offer verbal assurance, through counsel or any other individual, that the police, security forces or those involved in counter terrorism, are aware of and support the application. There must in future always be ‘hard’ evidence, i.e evidence which is cogent and coherent, placed before the court and capable of being subject to appropriate scrutiny. The format of the evidence may vary from case to case. It may require a police presence in court. There may be the need for police/counter terrorism officers to be represented, written and sworn statements may sometimes suffice. On occasion evidence may be received by secure telephone or video link;

(vi) Justified interference with the article 8 rights of a minor will always require public scrutiny at some stage in the process. In both cases this week, the press attended. It was only necessary for them to withdraw on one occasion, at the request of a very senior police officer present in court, supported by the local authority. The request was made because sensitive issues of policy and national security arose. Transparency, that is to say the attendance of accredited press officials in court, remains the presumption here, as it now is in all aspects of the work of the family justice system;

(vii) Recognising that there will be an urgency to these applications, careful attention, in advance of the hearing, should be given to the framework of reporting restrictions required to protect the child from publicity. In this exercise, it should be remembered that some of the families involved may already have excited a degree of press coverage. Indeed, they may, on occasion, have sought it out. There is a risk that identification of the children might be revealed by piecing together information already in the public domain, i.e. the ‘jigsaw effect’. As, in paragraph 1 above, and for similar reasons, the restrictions contended for should be drafted before coming to court;

(viii) Though it may appear trite to say so, an evaluation of the reporting restrictions, as I have been reminded by the press this morning, should always have at the forefront of the exercise the reality that publicity is not confined to the conventional or recognised media outlets, but extends, with inevitably greater challenges, to the wide range of social media likely to be the primary sources of information for these children, their peers and those with whom they interact more generally;

(ix) The importance of coordinated strategy, predicated on open and respectful cooperation between all the safeguarding agencies involved, simply cannot be overstated. An ongoing dialogue in which each party respects, and I make no apology for repeating the word respect, the contribution of the other, is most likely to achieve good and informed decision making.

 

Diplomatic immunity – it’s just been revoked

 

 

Well, it hasn’t been revoked, but who wouldn’t want the chance to see the classic Lethal Weapon 2 exchange?

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwC_IaY3BmY

 

 

[If any ancillary relief Judge wants to quip in a case involving a millionaire farmer – “You want to be a farmer? Well here’s a couple of acres” then you’d be doing me a solid. Failing that, I’d settle for a “Get to the chopper” line for a case involving a TV chef]

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9-Te-DPbSE

 

This case involves a child whose father has taken one of two twins (I know, that seems redundant, twins do tend to come in twos, but ‘one child of twins’ doesn’t seem great either) to another unnamed country, whilst the other remains with his mother in England.

 

The mother obtained an order for the return of that child. The father asserted diplomatic immunity.

 

I would love to be able to assert diplomatic immunity. If there’s a country out there who wants a diplomat, a country that is prepared to accept that I would almost certainly abuse that privilege, then give me a call. I would be prepared to learn another language (at least to the extent of “sorry sucker, I’m afraid I’ve got diplomatic immunity” in said language)

 

Re MA and Another 2015

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/4730.html

 

There was some debate about whether diplomatic immunity only extended to things which occurred during the carrying out of professional duties or all things, but it is settled as being complete immunity from arrest or detention.

 

A feature of the case is that the father has asserted diplomatic immunity, pursuant to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Immunity, incorporated by the Diplomatic Privileges Act of 1964. It appeared, following the father’s arrest on 14 October 2014, that whilst the diplomatic protection the father enjoys is in effect full immunity from the criminal jurisdiction and in the civil and administrative jurisdiction, it was limited to acts performed only within the course of his duties. As matters have evolved it seems the scope of his protection is more extensive and he remains, it is asserted, inviolable at all time to any form of arrest or detention.

 

 

 

The High Court may retain some powers under the inherent jurisdiction to ask him to think very carefully about what he’s done and why he should say sorry, but that’s about it. Also, I’m adding ‘inviolable’ to a growing list of words I don’t want to try to pronounce for the first time in Court.

 

The father didn’t attend the hearing. He did produce a statement, which the Court wasn’t very impressed with. It wasn’t in a recognisable format and they did not think that a lawyer had been involved in its preparation.

 

[my personal speculation was that his statement was just “sorry suckers, I’m afraid I’ve got diplomatic immunity” in Guarani. Or alternatively, just a CD with a loop of Billy Bragg singing the “your laws do not apply to me” bit from Sexuality]

 

and the Court decided to proceed in his absence and hear evidence from the mother. They repeated the order that he should return the child to the jurisdiction and that the child was wrongfully removed from the mother’s care and out of the jurisdiction.

 

That’s an order that is somewhat toothless, since there is no punishment that the Court can levy against him if he decides not to comply. It is still the right thing to make the order.

 

Enforcement of it is going to be very difficult indeed. Let’s hope that these twins are reunited without any further litigation.

 

Looks like I picked a bad day to give up not being a veracity assessor

 

Wigan BC v M (veracity assessments) 2015 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/8.html

 

Veracity assessments, if you don’t know, is where you have an expert, usually a psychologist, to look at the video interviews of a child’s allegations of abuse and to advise the Court as to the features of that interview that indicate whether reliance can be placed on them.  They went through a brief spell of being popular, and then became unpopular – largely because they go to the ultimate decision of the Judge.  The Judge’s function is to decide who is telling the truth and who is lying, and thus on some level it is a bit of a cop-out to ask an expert to give them the answer.

[There is quite a lot of good research about human beings ability to assess whether people are lying, and we really are quite bad at it. The one I have in mind was specifically about whether a six year old on a video is telling the truth about whether or not they touched a particular toy – and most people who had some ‘professional’ stake in deciding whether or not people are liars did worse than the group of students who did the same exercise as a control group. In fact, people generally do reasonably well when estimating that a statement is true, and are actually slightly worse than chance when estimating that a statement is a lie.  The ‘signs’ that most of us think will be present in a liar actually correlate very badly with actual lying

In a minority of studies, accuracy in detecting lies was computed separately from accuracy in detecting truth. Where this did occur, results show a truth-bias, that is, judges are more likely to consider that messages are truthful than deceptive and, as a result, truthful messages are identified with relatively high accuracy (67%) and deceptive messages with relatively low accuracy (44%). In fact, 44% is below the level of chance, and peoplewould be more accurate at detecting lies if they simply guessed.  http://eprints.port.ac.uk/23/1/SAMJAP.pdf  “Detecting true lies”  Portsmouth University study ]

This is the first veracity assessment case I’ve seen in a few years, and certainly the first one since the test for an expert became ‘necessary to resolve the proceedings justly’

To be fair to the expert in the case, he did exactly what was asked of him and pretty much concluded that there wasn’t a need for a specific veracity assessment  “I have seen nothing to suggest that what these children say requires interpretations by an expert, beyond the accommodation of the factors identified in this report. I hope that I have set out the significant factors and possibilities in this case in such a way that weight can be placed on relevant factors, including any new information that emerges.”

 

In the end, nobody relied on the report, and the Judge at final hearing, Jackson J, indicated that the parties had been premature in seeking such an assessment.  The child in question was a capable witness who could have been called and had questions put to them, and that was a much better way of getting to the truth than having an expert look at things.

The Judge expressed doubts about whether a veracity assessment could meet the current test for expert reports – it might be informative, or useful, but it could hardly be necessary.

Veracity assessments / validation exercises

  1. Having received short submissions from the parties and having consulted the current experience of colleagues, I believe that three principles can be identified:

    1) As a matter of law, there is no bar on the admission of expert evidence about whether evidence is or is not likely to be true. That was the conclusion of the Court of Appeal in Re M and R (Child Abuse: Evidence) [1996] 2 FLR 195, interpreting Section 3 of the Civil Evidence Act 1972. It held that expert evidence dealing with issues, including the ultimate issue, was admissible, subject to the overriding requirement of relevance, which, together with questions of weight, was a matter for the judge. At page 210, Butler-Sloss LJ said: “The modern view is to regulate such matters by way of weight, rather than admissibility. But when the judge is of the opinion that the witness’s expertise is still required to assist him to answer the ultimate questions (including, where appropriate, credibility) then the judge can safely and gratefully rely on such evidence, while never losing sight of the fact that the final decision is for him.”2) The Court of Appeal left open the question of whether and to what extent the court had a power to exclude evidence that was admissible and potentially relevant. That question has now been answered by FPR 2010 Rule 25.4 which dictates that expert evidence can only be adduced if it is necessary to assist the court to resolve the proceedings. The fact that expert evidence is admissible and might be relevant or even helpful in a general way is not enough.

    3) In my view, cases in which it will be necessary to seek expert evidence of this sort will nowadays be rare. While the decision must rest on the facts of the individual case, judicial awareness of these issues has greatly increased, from the Cleveland Inquiry in 1987 to the most recent iteration of the principles of Achieving Best Evidence in 2011. In the two decades since Re M and R (above), understanding has naturally moved on. The process continues to evolve, with the final report of the Children and Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group set up in 2014 by the President of the Family Division expected shortly. The overall result is that judges have been trained in and are expected to be familiar with the assessment of evidence of this kind. The court is only likely to be persuaded that it needs expert advice if it concludes that its ability to interpret the evidence might otherwise be inadequate.

  2. I note that in D v B & Others [2006] EWHC 2987 (Fam), Mr Stephen (now HHJ) Wildblood QC said that “Personally I find veracity evidence of assistance in many cases in this field of exceptional difficulty.” In that case, matters had gone awry after the veracity expert went far beyond her proper remit and then changed her opinion after leaving the witness box. It might be seen as an extreme illustration of the potential pitfalls of admitting evidence of this kind.
  3. I also note the observations of Baker J in A London Borough Council v K [2009] EWHC 850 (Fam):

    “… this case has, to my mind, demonstrated that veracity or validity assessments have a limited role to play in family proceedings. They are, so far as I am aware, unused in criminal proceedings in this country, and I see strong arguments for imposing restrictions on their use in family cases as well. … there is a danger that some courts, faced with these difficult decisions, will subconsciously defer to the apparent expert. That danger has been recognised in a number of cases in which the courts have emphasised the discrete roles of the expert and the court. In the case of the veracity expert, the danger is particularly acute. The ultimate judge of veracity, i.e. where the truth lies, is the judge and the judge alone. He cannot delegate that decision to any expert. I acknowledge that a child psychiatrist… may be able to point out some features of a child’s account that add or detract from authenticity… But, in my experience, many of these features should be obvious to judges in any event. No expert, however experienced and however well briefed about the case, will be in a position to say where the truth lies. Only the judge sees and hears all the evidence.”

  4. I entirely agree with that statement of principle. I acknowledge that judges, however experienced, benefit from the knowledge that experts bring, but that knowledge can be absorbed through judicial training and awareness of the well-known protocols of good practice; it does not have to be imparted case by case with the attendant expense that is bound to arise.
  5. In the present case, the parties now accept that the children’s evidence should have been studied before the question of a ‘veracity’ or ‘validation’ assessment was considered, and that if that course had been taken, it is unlikely that the application would have been made, let alone granted. I agree. In the event, the parties did not refer to the resulting report during the fact-finding hearing, nor did I do so when determining the veracity of the children’s allegations.

 

If your assessment of my veracity when I claimed in the title to be a veracity assessor was that I was lying, then congratulations, you were right. You might want to consider becoming a veracity assessor. Or you might not, given that you’re not going to get any instructions.

 

[I can see some scope for a veracity assessment where there is something about the child’s  background which makes them give their responses in a way that would be consistent with them being a liar when compared with an average person from England, but is more about their culture or disability, but I think that’s more about an assessment of child’s presentation or functioning than about veracity per se]

 

NB, a voracity assessment might be a very different thing, and there might still be a place for those…

I would put this as a must-read (adoption case, dynamite)

 

The case is very fact-specific (the facts are extraordinary) but it is still very important.

 

I’ve written before about the leave to oppose adoption case law and whether this is a meaningful legal right given that there are no reported cases of an adoption being successfully opposed (there’s one law report of a Court being persuaded to make a Residence Order rather than adoption, but the child remaining with the prospective adopters).

 

For it to be a meaningful legal right, there must be some set of circumstances which would result in the opposition to adoption resulting in placement back in the birth family. But, the consequences of that for the recruitment and retention of adopters is massive.

 

As Holman J observed, this case is likely to attract strong opinions on both sides, and it does turn very much on an unprecedented set of facts.

 

Re A and B and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2014/47.html

 

 

 

The child, C, was the subject of Care proceedings and a Care Order and Placement Order were made in August 2013. The child was placed with prospective adopters (A and B) and they duly applied for an adoption order.

 

At the time of this hearing, the child was 20 months old and had lived with A and B for 13 months.

 

The child’s genetic father, who had not been a party to the care proceedings (and who does not hold PR for the child) sought leave to oppose.

 

This is the telling paragraph

 

It is accepted by all concerned in this case that if the father had come forward and the true paternity had been established at any time up to the moment when the child was actually placed with A and B, then he would not have been placed with them and, after due assessment of her, would almost certainly have been placed with the aunt.

 

 

I’d urge you to read the whole thing, but that paragraph is dynamite.

 

As is this one

 

The case and dilemma has provoked divergent professional opinions. The front line social workers for each of the child and A and B support the making of an adoption order. A child psychologist who was jointly instructed to perform a “paper exercise”, but has not met anyone concerned, favours the making of an adoption order. The Director of Safeguarding Children and Families and interim Strategic Director Children’s Services of the local authority (equivalent to the Director of Social Services in this field), who is the decision maker and who expresses the considered opinion and case of the local authority, firmly resists adoption and advocates that the child moves to live with the aunt. The child’s guardian also strongly advocates that outcome.

 

 

That made me blink several times, so I will spell it out. The social workers supported the adoption, but the Guardian AND MORE SIGNIFICANTLY the Director of Social Services supported the child being placed with the paternal aunt.

 

That really is an extremely difficult issue to resolve. As a Local Authority legal hack, the idea of a Director and Social Worker in an intractable difference of opinion makes me shudder. [This Director was clearly very fair minded in not just saying “well, I’m the big boss, so do what I say”]

 

I’m not surprised by what Holman J says at the opening of this judgment.

 

 

I have been a full time judge of the Family Division for almost twenty years. In all that time, apart from cases concerning serious ill health, I have rarely heard a more harrowing case. The hearing was a very painful one for all concerned, and I sincerely thank all parties and the professional witnesses for their attention, dignity and, to the extent possible, good humour. I know, and deeply regret, that my decision will cause intense grief. After hearing all the evidence and argument, and after due consideration, I am, however, clear as to the outcome, which I do not reach narrowly or marginally.

 

 

I’ve read many of Holman J’s judgments over the last few years, and he really has dealt with harrowing, peculiar and emotionally draining cases repeatedly, so to say that speaks volumes.

 

 

This passage will probably appear again – it is how the Court deals with the issue of “speculation” (and I think it is wonderfully constructed)

 

There is one further “legal” matter which it is convenient to mention in this section of this judgment. At times during the hearing, when longer term risks or advantages were being mentioned or considered, Mr Power referred, understandably but somewhat dismissively, to “speculation”. Advocates, and also judges, often do dismiss points as speculative or speculation. However, in relation to adoption, the Adoption and Children Act 2002 very clearly does require courts (and adoption agencies) to speculate. It requires, as the overarching duty, that the paramount consideration must be the child’s welfare throughout his life. This child is still less than two. He is healthy, and his normal life expectancy may be around a further 80 years. It is probable (but speculative) that he and his half sister, F, and his cousin, G, will outlive all the adults in this case by many years. I am required by statute to take a very long term view, but I cannot gaze into a crystal ball. I can only speculate. More specifically, the court is required by section 1(4) (c) of the Act to have regard to “the likely effect on the child (throughout his life) of having ceased to be a member of the original family and become an adopted person.” Whilst that paragraph requires the court to consider only the “likely” effect, any such consideration involves speculation; and (speaking generally) the further ahead one looks (and one must envisage a whole lifetime) the more speculative such consideration necessarily becomes. My decision in this case does include speculation. That is what Parliament has told me to do.

 

 

You may, as I was, be interested in how it was that this aunt was not a feature in the care proceedings. If she had been known about then, the Placement Order would not have been made and the child never placed with the prospective adopters A and B. So why wasn’t she known about?

 

 

This is the most fact-specific bit of the case, I think. (It is not THAT unusual for a birth father to be untraced during the proceedings and to appear later, it is the WHY that is significant here. Mr E here is NOT the genetic father, but he is the man who appears on the birth certificate as the father, and who was treated as the father in care proceedings)

 

The mother is a young woman of white ethnicity who is still in her very early twenties. She has had problems with both alcohol and drugs. While a teenager she had already had two children by different fathers. They are now aged about 5 and nearly 4. They were removed into care and have since been adopted together by one adoptive family. (I will refer to them later as the adopted maternal half siblings.) The mother began a relationship with Mr E. He, too, has had an unstable past and has a criminal record for a range of offences of both violence and dishonesty, and a recorded history of drug abuse. In March 2013 the mother gave birth to C. He was a normal, healthy baby, and is now a normal, healthy young child. As had already been pre-planned by Rotherham, care proceedings were immediately commenced and the baby was removed from the mother five days after his birth and placed with foster parents. Neither the mother nor Mr E engaged with the care proceedings nor, effectively, with the local authority. However, the mother and Mr E jointly registered the birth on 18 April 2013, jointly stating and signing that Mr E was the father to the best of their knowledge and belief.

 

[Keep that in mind – the mother was white]

 

 

The child’s social worker, from the end of March 2013 and still now, is Miss Claire Fogwill. She did not know or meet Mr E for some time. She did, however, see the baby. I have seen photographs taken of him shortly after his birth, including the original colour photograph which is part of the later formal application form for the placement order. Although not black, the baby is very obviously very brown and has obvious negroid features. These are not racist comments. They are relevant facts. As all concerned with the case agree, he very obviously appeared to be of mixed race. Miss Fogwill said in her oral evidence that “when [she] first saw him as a baby he seemed obviously to have a black parent or at any rate a strong black/negroid genetic strain.”

 

Miss Fogwill was finally able to meet Mr E, who was in prison, on 22 May 2013. She said that she was expecting to meet a black man and “was quite shocked” when he came into the room, since he appeared to be an entirely white man. She asked him whether he was the biological father. He said that he was. (It is, of course, entirely possible that the mother had assured Mr E that he was the father, if she had never confessed to him that she had been having sex on the side with the actual father. As I have no evidence at all from either the mother or Mr E, I simply do not know.) Miss Fogwill questioned Mr E further and, according to Miss Fogwill, he told her that the baby was very brown because he, Mr E, had a Burmese mother, and added that the baby would become paler with age. Neither Miss Fogwill nor, so far as I am aware, anyone else, took any steps to seek to verify whether in truth Mr E has a Burmese mother. I personally do not have the slightest idea. Miss Fogwill claimed that she was “not able to meet the mother again to ask her about paternity”, but in truth she made little effort to do so, and she made no enquiries of the mother’s own mother whose whereabouts were settled and known.

 

Miss Fogwill made reports to Looked After Reviews on 12 April, 13 May and 11 July 2013. Also present at, and chairing, these reviews was the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). The minutes of the first two reviews record that the child “… is a child of mixed heritage. His mother is white British … the social worker is, to date, unclear of father’s ethnicity and has asked [sic] father to clarify this …” The minutes of the review on 11 July, also chaired by the IRO, record that “… the social worker has clarified with father that he is dual heritage as his mother is Burmese … the parents wished for the child to be referred to as White British, despite his presentation not reflecting this. Father [viz Mr E] informed the social worker that he expected the child’s skin colour to change with age …” There is no hint in those minutes that the IRO queried the account of paternity or suggested that further enquiries should be made. I do not make a criticism of the IRO for she has not been involved in this hearing and has had no opportunity to state her own point of view, but I accept the point made by Mr Prest that the responsibility of Miss Fogwill appears to have been shared with others. Miss Fogwill has, however, accepted that she made a serious error in swallowing the explanation of the Burmese mother (i.e. the child’s grandmother) and not investigating paternity further, and she has apologised from the witness box to both the true paternal family and the applicants for adoption. Miss Fogwill’s formal report to the court dated 28 June 2013 in support of the application for a placement order depicts a photograph of the child as I have already described, and refers to his having black hair and brown eyes and a dark complexion. It continues that the mother is white British and Mr E is half white British and half Burmese as his mum was Burmese and father white British. “[C’s] skin is quite dark however [Mr E] states that as [C] becomes older his skin will become paler. [Mr E’s] skin is white.”

 

The present guardian, Mrs Sheila Hassall, also acted in the care and placement proceedings. In her report dated 19 July 2013 she describes Mr E as “White British Burmese” and says at paragraph 12 “[C’s] paternal grandmother is Burmese, although I understand his father [viz Mr E] views himself as white British. At present [C] has the appearance of a baby who is not white British …” As I understand it, the guardian herself never actually met either the mother or Mr E. So she merely accepted the story via the social worker. She said that she only ever saw a blurred black and white photocopy photograph of the child. She said that she visited the baby once at the home of the foster mother. However he was asleep, face downwards, with his head largely covered. She only saw one arm sticking out. The arm looked brown but she did not examine the baby further. Mrs Hassall accepted her share of responsibility. She said during her oral evidence: “I make a heartfelt apology we are in this situation. I feel desperately sorry for all those involved.”

 

I have already referred to the report to the court for the application for a placement order. I do not know whether the circuit judge saw the original with the colour photograph which, as I have described, very clearly depicts a brown child of mixed race with negroid features; or whether he saw a black and white photocopy, one version of which I have seen, which shows the child’s face as a barely distinguishable large black blob like a large blob of spilt ink. At all events, the judge appears not to have raised any question about true paternity at the, probably short, hearing when he made the care and placement orders.

 

 

If you are following this, Mr E was named as the father on the birth certificate, the mother said that he was the father, and he said he was the father. The contradictory evidence (of people’s eyes) was firstly an area that people feel uncomfortable with – that of colour, and secondly Mr E had given an explanation for it that was accepted. On that first point, just reading the paragraph, even when said by a Judge, it made me feel uncomfortable to read that ‘n’ word.

 

So a last opportunity seriously to question paternity and consider obvious avenues of further enquiry was lost. I accept, of course, that such enquiries might not necessarily have uncovered the true father, but they well might have done, for the affair between the true father and the mother was well known in the community and circle within which they lived. The mother’s own mother certainly knew the true facts, as will later appear.

 

 

Let’s also not forget that in a culture of 26 weeks, no delay, and assessments only being done if they are ‘necessary’, it might have taken some persuasion to get the DNA test of Mr E done. If it had been done, the proceedings would have been delayed, but an inordinate amount of time and pain would have been avoided.

 

How did the real father ever find out about this? Deep breath, because this is quite complicated too.

 

The father was in a long-term relationship with someone else, Miss D. When he had been sleeping with the mother, he was cheating on Miss D. There had been speculation in the community and gossip, and someone came up to Miss D and showed her a photograph of the child as a baby.

 

Soon after the child was born someone showed Miss D a photograph of the baby. She could see that the colour and the features looked like her own daughter, F, and also like the father. She told him “I really think he is your child.” He continued to deny to her that he had had sex with the mother and that, therefore, he could be the father.

 

It seems, though this is not explicit, that these suspicions continued and finally the father’s sister (the aunt in question) approached the Local Authority in March 2014   to say that she thought her brother was the true father of this child. (For timing purposes, that’s seven months after the Placement Order, and two months after the prospective adopters had made their application to adopt)

 

On 6 March 2014 the aunt first contacted the social services and said that her brother might be the father of the baby. Miss Fogwill was shocked and surprised by this news. She and a more senior colleague interviewed the father on 14 March 2014. She then immediately arranged for DNA sampling and testing of the baby and the man, and a report dated 24 March 2014 established a 99.9999 per cent probability that he is indeed the father. All parties including A and B accept that he definitely is the father and the case has since proceeded on that basis. The father is a black African who was born and brought up in that continent. He is now aged 32. His own father died when he was young. He himself travelled to England in 2001 and claimed asylum. He has lived here ever since and has indefinite leave to remain. He is the seventh of a large family of eight children. His own mother, now aged 64, now lives in the Midlands. Two brothers live in the Midlands and South Wales. A sister lives in East Anglia, and his youngest sister, the aunt, lives in the Home Counties. The brothers and sisters in England and Wales have between them eight children who are paternal first cousins of C. Some of them are of mixed race, having also a white parent. The father’s three other siblings live variously within Africa and Canada. There is, therefore, a considerable extended paternal family, mostly located within England and Wales.

 

 

But hold on a minute – this all happened within a small community, and whether the father knew or not that he was the genetic father of this baby, he must surely have known that as he had been sleeping with the mother, there was a chance that he might have been?   The Judge found that he was aware of that.

 

And did he know that the baby was in care?

 

This evidence as a whole satisfies me that, within a very few weeks of the birth at the latest, the father knew perfectly well that it was highly likely that he was the father of the baby. He could not of course be certain, since he knew also that the mother had had other sexual partners. But she told him, in effect, that the baby was half black and that he had been her only black partner. Short of DNA testing, the likelihood was obvious.

 

He took no action at all. He showed no real interest in the baby, or even much interest in seeing him, although he did ask the mother if he could do so. I do not know why not, but it was probably due, at least in part, to his continuing stance of denial to Miss D. Whatever the reason, it is a significant part of the history of this case that for almost a year the father showed no interest at all in, or commitment at all to, the child, and denied rather than asserted that he was the father. So as well as the responsibility of Rotherham, the guardian, and possibly the court, for not investigating paternity further, a very heavy responsibility for events lies upon the father. If he had shown any real interest in the baby and put himself forward in any way as the likely father, then the true facts would probably have emerged much earlier and the baby would never have been placed with A and B.

 

A separate and distinct question is when the father first learned that the baby was in care. His case is that he learned this for the first time at the beginning of March 2014. He said that he saw the mother’s mother in the town. He asked her where the child was. The mother’s mother said that he was in care and that the mother had lied to him. He then immediately spoke to and told his sister, the aunt, and at his request she immediately contacted the social services. He says that in the first weeks after the birth he had indeed asked the mother if he could see the baby and she had fobbed him off by saying that the baby was staying with her mother or sister. She also misled him into thinking that she was caring for the baby by asking him on a few occasions for money for nappies.

 

To the very end of his evidence, even when recalled and admitting what I have recorded above with regard to his knowledge of paternity, the father remained adamant that it was only around early March 2014 that he first learned that the baby was in care, and that he at once informed the social services and requested that he or his family could care for the baby.

 

 

This last point might be critical – if the father knew that he was probably the baby’s father, he could have legitimately kept quiet not to rock the boat and jeopardise his relationship with Miss D UP UNTIL he knew that the baby was in care, whereupon it was time to speak up.

 

The Court concluded that his evidence that he had not known until shortly before his sister approached Social Services should be accepted.

 

I have to decide whether I am satisfied on a balance of probability that the father knew that the baby was in care as early as about April 2013, as the local authority allege; or only in early March 2014, as he himself claims. On this issue there is force in the point Miss Ford makes on the third page of her written closing submissions dated 21.11.14, and as she elaborated orally. The father’s case is that he first learned that the baby, of whom he was likely to be the father, was in care in early March 2014. He immediately contacted the social services (initially via his sister) and has, unquestionably, strenuously sought the move of the child to live with him or his family ever since. It was only later that he learned that the child had actually been placed for adoption or that there was a current application to adopt him. So, as Miss Ford puts it, his conduct by contacting social workers in March 2014 can only be explained by his having only recently learned that the child was in care. No other event or trigger has been identified as to why, having done nothing and shown no interest for so long, he suddenly did then make the contact which he did. Miss Ford asks, rhetorically: Assuming that he had known that the child was in care from, say, mid or late April 2013, why did he suddenly do something and with such resolve in March 2014? She submits that the activity in and after March 2014, for which there is no known other explanation, is really only consistent with his having recently learned in March 2014 that the child was in care.

 

I take into account the demeanour of the father in the witness box when he was recalled. At the same time as now admitting that soon after the birth the mother herself had told him that he was the father, he maintained his account, apparently convincingly, that he only knew that the baby was in care almost a year later, and said that the social worker must have misunderstood him. I also accept the force of Miss Ford’s point as described in the previous paragraph. There was room for misunderstanding, and I am not satisfied on a balance of probability that the father knew that the baby had been taken into care earlier than early March 2014, when he took action at once.

 

 

 

So, that’s how this situation arose. The person who had been treated as the father in the care proceedings was not the real father, and the real father had not known of the care proceedings because nobody had thought to tell him. The only person who knew both key sets of facts was the mother, and she had taken no action.  [The maternal grandmother might have known, by my reading, but whether that is definitive is hard to say]

 

 

The judgment then talks about the various assessments, but the long and the short of it is, the options available were to make an adoption order to A and B, or to remove the child from A and B and to place with the paternal aunt.

 

A and B were clearly very good, capable and loving people, well capable of caring for the child. The Judge said this about them :-

 

 

Even before C was matched with them, A and B prepared themselves very thoroughly as prospective adopters. They read widely. They attended courses. They learned about the importance of attachment, stimulation and other parenting qualities. This stood them and him in good stead. I accept unreservedly the current assessment by Miss Lancaster that A and B are the “perfect” adoptive couple. She said in her oral evidence that in spite of all the challenges they are remarkable people. They are excellent adopters doing a remarkable job. If she could paint the ideal adopters they are not far from the mark. They have an excellent understanding about attachment, about which they were trained. The have a very good understanding about the impact of loss and trauma. They have great appreciation of the kind of parenting styles that work well.

 

I accept unreservedly that C is now very well attached to A and B. He feels, and is, secure with them. They provide an excellent home. They are also undoubtedly deeply attached to him. B said very movingly “He is such a happy, settled, loving little person who knows who we are … I am so proud of him. I love him so much. I will always love him. He will always be my son.” C is also a familiar and much loved member of the extended families of both A and B.

 

There is no doubt that if the true paternal family had not emerged and put themselves forward in the way that they have, an adoption order would have been made several months ago.

 

 

And the Aunt?

My own impression of the aunt was very favourable. She is much more articulate than her brother, the father. She appeared to be thoughtful and flexible, and insightful and understanding of the issues in this case. She said that she has prepared her own son, G, for the possibility that he might be joined by another, younger, boy. She talks to G about C, and G would not be surprised if C became part of their family. She said that G himself is a lovely boy, very caring and very sharing, who plays very well with other kids. She paid generous and sincere tribute to A and B although of course she has never met nor seen them. She said she was just so grateful for what they have done. It is beautiful. They have taken very good care of him.

 

 

Even the social workers who were supporting the child being adopted by A and B were not critical of the aunt, just feeling that the child ought not to be moved.

 

 

[I will quickly note that the Aunt and Miss D were represented pro bono by counsel and solicitors, which was an extremely helpful and generous thing]

 

Holman J made it plain at the outset and repeatedly, that he was not approaching the case in a narrow “nothing else will do” manner, due to the recent authorities, but in weighing everything up as to what order would best meet the child’s needs throughout their lifetime.

 

 

The legal framework as I have so far described it is agreed by all the advocates in the case, including that I must apply all the relevant parts of section 1 of the Act. In their written skeleton arguments and written final submissions, as well as in their brief oral final submissions, there has been some debate between the advocates as to whether, in applying section 1, I should adopt the approach that I should only make an adoption order if “nothing else will do”. This led to some brief examination of the judgments of the Supreme Court in Re B (a child) [2013] UKSC 33, and some later judgments of the Court of Appeal in which that court appears to have been exercised by what the Supreme Court actually meant by what they said in Re B (most recently the judgments delivered by the Court of Appeal only two weeks ago on 18 November 2014 in CM v Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council [2014] EWCA Civ 1479).

 

In my view that is a debate and territory into which I need not and should not enter. The legal and factual situations in those cases were different. In the present case, the child has already been lawfully and appropriately placed for adoption with A and B for over a year. A range of rights under Article 8 of the ECHR is engaged. There is a continuing legal relationship between the child and his paternal genetic family, with whom he has a father, grandmother, aunts, uncles and a paternal half sibling, but no current psychological relationship. He has never met any of them. (He also has several cousins but they are outside the definition of “relative” in section 144 (1) of the Act.) In this case the child unquestionably also has a private and family life and a home with A and B, and they with him, for which all three of them have the right to respect under Article 8. With so many Article 8 rights engaged and in competition, it does not seem to me to be helpful or necessary in the present case to add a gloss to section 1 of only making an adoption order if “nothing else will do”. (Indeed Mr Nicholas Power might have argued on behalf of A and B, but wisely chose not to do so, that there could now be no interference with the Article 8 rights as between A and B and C mutually except if “necessary” within the meaning of Article 8(2).) Rather, I should simply make the welfare of the child throughout his life the paramount consideration; consider and have regard to all the relevant matters listed in section 1(4) and any other relevant matters; and make an adoption order if, but only if, doing so “would be better for the child than not doing so”, as section 1(6) requires. If the balance of factors comes down against making an adoption order, then clearly I should not make one. If they are so evenly balanced that it is not possible to say that making an adoption order would be “better” for him than not doing so, then I should not do so. If, however, the balance does come down clearly in favour of making an adoption order, then, in the circumstances of this case, I should make one. I do not propose to add some additional hurdle or test of “nothing else will do”.

 

 

 

The parties had all drawn up balance sheets, and the Judge said something that I find very helpful when looking at balance sheets.

 

I have read and re-read those “balance sheets” and all the written closing submissions, and I have all the points listed there in mind. Judges frequently use the language of “balance” and “balance sheets” (and I do myself. I think lists such as the above are indeed very helpful). But the analogy with balancing scales may be misleading. When weights or objects are put on either side of a scale, their individual precise weights are known, or ascertainable. You can put four objects in one scale pan and seven in the other, and the scales will come down one way or the other due to the aggregate of the individual precise and ascertainable weights on each side. In a case such as this, however, none of the factors have precise weights. All that may be said of any individual factor is that, as a matter of judgment, it is more or less important or weighty than another. Mr Power’s list is long on the advantages of adoption and short on the disadvantages. It is not, however, the number of factors which counts but their respective importance. The Adoption and Children Act 2002 does not itself use the language of balance. It requires the court to “have regard to” all relevant matters, including those specifically referred to in section 1(4). The effect of section 1(6) is that the court must then make a judgment (applying section 1(2) and the paramountcy of welfare throughout the child’s life) whether making (in this case) an adoption order “would be better for the child than not doing so.”

 

 

 

I often read judgments from the High Court and thank my lucky stars that I am not, and never will be a Judge called upon to decide between two impossible situations. This was one of those occasions.

 

My condensing of this judgment is not, and could not be, a fair reflection of the deliberation that the Judge undertook. I would urge you to read the whole judgment to get a proper reflection of the complexities of this matter.

 

Nonetheless, you want to know the outcome, and I need to give it to you, so that debate can occur.

 

 

This case clearly requires taking both a short term and a long term view. C is currently very well placed with “perfect adopters”. They are a well trained couple with whom he is very well attached. He is of mixed race. They are both white and share with him that half of his ethnicity. A and B are “tried and tested” as has been said. His aunt and the principal members of the paternal family are black and share with him that half of his ethnicity. The aunt is a single person. She has not been “tried and tested” as a carer for C, but she has been observed as a carer of her own child, G, and thoroughly assessed as entirely suitable to care long term for C. There would be likely to be short, and possibly long term harm if he now moves from A and B to the aunt, but that is mitigated by his embedded security and attachments with A and B, and can be further mitigated by specialist training and support for the aunt, which she will gladly accept. The unquantifiable but potentially considerable advantage of a move to the aunt is the bridge to the paternal original family.

 

It is my firm judgment and view that it is positively better for C not to be adopted but to move to the aunt. In any event, I certainly do not consider that making an adoption order would be better for C than not doing so. Accordingly I must, as I do, determine not to make an adoption order and must dismiss the adoption application. Pursuant to section 24(4) of the Act, I exercise a discretion to revoke the placement order made in respect of the child on 2 August 2013.

 

The care order made on 2 August 2013 now once again has effect. Rotherham, in whose care C again now is, must engage intensively with all the relevant parties, and file and circulate within three weeks a written care plan setting out their plan for C and how they will implement, in the least damaging way, the process of his move from A and B to the aunt. It is impossible for me or any court to micro-manage that plan and process, and inconsistent with the respective roles and duties of the local authority and the court that I or the court should attempt to do so. If (as I sincerely hope will not be the case) any further resort to the court is necessary, application must be made locally to the designated family judge in Sheffield. A copy of this judgment must be given to, and read by, the Independent Reviewing Officer and all social workers having any continuing role with these families.

 

I have found this decision extremely painful, for I sincerely and deeply appreciate the intense grief it will cause to A and B and to their extended families and friends. But I have not, in the end, found it difficult; and, as I said at the outset of this judgment, it is not one which I reach narrowly or marginally. At the directions hearing in Leeds, when I had read few of the papers (and there were several key documents still to come) and before I had heard any of the oral evidence or argument, I described this as a finely balanced case. By the end, I do not think that it is. I am clear that the welfare of C throughout his life decisively requires that he is not adopted but moves to live with the aunt. It is my duty to make that welfare paramount.

 

 

 

There are a lot of very fact specific components to this case – it is unlikely that another case with exactly these issues will ever appear again. So it is not a definitive ruling for anything other than a case with these particular facts.

 

Nonetheless it is

 

 

  • The first successfully opposed adoption that I have seen since the 2002 Act came into being (and I didn’t find any reported ones going back to the 1976 Act, though I could have missed them)

And

 

  • Potentially significant – here, the assertions of mother and Mr E that Mr E was the father was accepted, and a true father emerged later. That particular set of circumstances (stripped of all of the ethnic features and clandestine affairs) is probably not that unusual. Local Authorities and Courts are somewhat dependent on a mother telling them that there is more than one putative father. Will we see successful challenges to adoption on that narrower aspect? Will we see Courts being more inclined to DNA test putative fathers even where mother is saying that there is only one putative father?

Tarama-TOLATA

 

I don’t normally write on financial cases, but this one is rather significant (and one can see that it might end up bleeding into other areas)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/4110.html

 

Seagrove v Sullivan (Practice Directions re bundles and citations of authorities) 2014

 

This was a case in which Mr Sullivan had lived with Ms Seagrove for over twenty years and they had had children together, but never married. The youngest child was ten. Mr Sullivan owned a house, valued at around £2,300,000.

 

The equity in that property amounted to about £1 million.

 

Ms Seagrove had made a claim under TOLATA Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996, and under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 to seek a financial interest in that property and its 14 acres of land, as there was no marriage ancillary relief was not an option.

 

The case came before Holman J.

 

He was, well aghast doesn’t seem to overstate it. This former couple were litigating about whether Ms Seagrove was entitled to a half share in a property whose equity is worth a million, so the sum of money in dispute is £500,000.

 

For reasons that are unintelligible (unless you do cases involving financial disputes between former lovers where things have gone sour), they’ve spent £1,300,000 so far, arguing about £500,000.

 

Since she first instructed solicitors following the breakdown of their relationship, Sandra has incurred (including her estimated costs to the end of a fully contested current hearing) costs of about £800,000 inclusive of VAT. She, indeed, currently appears to be heavily in debt as a result. Larry has incurred costs of about £506,000, inclusive of VAT. So, between them, these two parties, who lived together for over 20 years and bore three children, to whom I am sure they are each devoted, have now incurred, or anticipate incurring, expenditure of about £1,300,000 on legal costs.

 

 

What are they arguing about? They are arguing about a claimed half share in an asset that may be worth around £1 million. So they are arguing about £500,000. What they have incurred in costs is not far short of three times the amount in dispute. Others might use other words of description, but as this is a judgment in a courtroom, I will merely say that the costs, and also the scale and intensity of this litigation, have been, and are, completely disproportionate.

 

 

Holman J was also considerably irritated at the volume of papers lodged in the case.

 

Having referred to the completely disproportionate costs that have been incurred, I turn now to the documentation which underlines the scale and intensity of this dispute. There were delivered to the court yesterday, or the day before, five large lever arch bundles of documents, which comprise over 2,000 pages, inclusive of the respective skeleton arguments, which are each just under 25 pages. There were also delivered to the court two large bundles and one more slender bundle containing no less than 32 authorities. As if that were not bad enough (as I will later describe), I was, frankly, flabbergasted this morning when the solicitors arrived at the court at about 10.10 am with another large cardboard box containing an additional five large lever arch files of additional documents (these are the ones with lavender coloured card on their spines). I have been told that those additional five bundles contain around a further 1,500 pages of documents. So, in aggregate, at the outset of this hearing, these parties are expecting consideration of all or part of 3,500 pages of documents as well as all or part of the 32 authorities. This needs to be considered within the framework that rule makers and the most senior judiciary have endeavoured to establish in order to ensure the proportionality of litigation.

 

 

It has been many years since I did a TOLATA claim, but a quick look at the Court fees schedule suggests that the fee is probably £255 (treating it as a family financial application), but no higher than £2,000 (treating it as a money claim).

 

I don’t know Holman J’s hourly rate, but to read 3000 pages is a considerable expense to the taxpayer, which is in no way covered by that standard fee.

 

I can imagine the baleful look that the solicitor got when he or she came in with a box of five further lever arch files.

 

 

Building on Mostyn J’s recent decision in Re J, Holman J reminded everyone about the Rules on bundles

 

 

In order to try to exert some control over documentation, which always has a considerable knock-on effect on the length and complexity of hearings, numerous practice directions have been made over the years by Presidents of the Family Division and other heads of divisions. The current practice direction in relation to bundles and documents is Practice Direction 27A, which is itself part of Part 27 of the Family Procedure Rules. This practice direction was issued by the President of the Family Division in April 2014. It was issued after a process of consultation with the well known professional organisations and associations of both the solicitors’ and barristers’ branches of the profession. It did not come out of the blue, and its existence has patently been well known now for an appreciable period of time by all the lawyers engaged in this case.

 

 

Of most relevance to the present situation is paragraph 5.1. That was specified by paragraph 13.2 to “have effect from 31 July 2014″. We are now four months on from 31 July 2014. Paragraph 5.1 provides as follows:

 

 

“Unless the court has specifically directed otherwise, being satisfied that such direction is necessary to enable the proceedings to be disposed of justly, the bundle shall be contained in one [I emphasise the word, one]A4 size ring binder or lever arch file limited to no more than 350 sheets of A4 paper and 350 sides of text.”

 

A later “statement”, to which I will shortly refer, makes plain that the 350 sides of text must be inclusive, not exclusive, of the sides of paper in counsel’s skeleton arguments

 

 

That’s right – unless the Court has specifically directed so, there is to be ONE bundle, of no more than 350 pages (including skeletons)

 

Holman J noted what Mostyn J had said when deprecating the practice which has sprung up of the parties agreeing the contents of that one bundle between themselves, but then lodging loads of supplementary bundles on the basis that the Court would be bounced into allowing all of that material, and agreed.

 

 

Mostyn J continued in a very important passage:

 

 

‘I also deprecate a practice of circumvention of which I have become aware. That is for the lawyers for both sides to agree a single “core” bundle and, in addition, an archive of many volumes of expensively prepared secondary or background material. This archive is then brought to trial in the confident belief and expectation that the trial judge will grant permission pursuant to PD27A para 5.1 at the final hearing itself to use documents from the archive. This is no better than the old regime which the new prescription was designed to stamp out … It is possible, of course, that, unexpectedly, further documents may be need to be deployed at the final hearing; but the starting point, and the usual finishing point must be that all the relevant documents should be in the single bundle …”

 

 

The advocates attempted to argue that a previous direction given in the proceedings that

 

Bundles are to be agreed between the solicitors (in consultation with counsel) and prepared by no later than 14 days before the final hearing.

 

Was in effect a direction that the parties could lodge such documents as they agreed amongst themselves.

 

“I thought we had Cate Blanchett?”

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDUoTHj8AJ4

 

Holman J manifestly disagreed

 

The argument was that, by saying that “bundles are to be agreed between solicitors”, Moor J was giving some apparent carte blanche to the parties, through their solicitors, to include in the bundles anything that they wished to do so. Mr Wagstaffe denied that he was advancing such an argument, but, frankly, that is what his argument amounts to. He submits that the use of the words “bundles are to be agreed between solicitors” amounted to a “specific direction otherwise” and authorised bundles to exceed a total of 350 sides of text. Logically, his argument does mean that all and any documents that the solicitors “agreed” could go into the bundles could indeed be included, no matter how many or how long.

 

 

To my mind, that argument is spurious. It is inconceivable that, at the same time as ruling, by paragraph 10 of his order, that skeleton arguments were not permitted to exceed 25 pages, Moor J could have intended, or for a moment contemplated, that he was giving carte blanche * to these solicitors and parties to put in whatever documents they liked, no matter how many pages. In my view, there is no “specific direction” otherwise in this case and, as castigated by Mostyn J at paragraph 47 of J v J, the lawyers in this case have approached the case as if the terms of the practice direction “just did not apply to them”.

 

 

The courts have to exert discipline in relation to this. I stress, as Mostyn J did in J v J at paragraph 53, that if parties wish, at their own expense, to litigate to their hearts’ content, with thousands and thousands of pages of documents, there is a mechanism available to them known as private arbitration. But litigation within the courts has to be the subject of much more rigorous discipline and structure, precisely because the courts have a duty to ensure that an appropriate, but only an appropriate, share of the court’s resources are allocated to any one case. The same judges have to deal also with an enormous number of very difficult cases involving the future of vulnerable children, and the care and treatment of sick people, including mentally incapacitated people. It is simply not tolerable that we go on and on affording to people like Sandra and Larry an estimated eight days of court time on a dispute that ultimately is measured in something not exceeding about £500,000.

 

 

The cost of running these courts is not inconsiderable. I cannot specify what the daily cost is, for I do not know, but the state has to provide and pay for the judge, the court staff, the “back office” staff, the provision of the courtroom, the maintenance of the courtroom and all the other associated costs. It is obvious that the daily running costs of a court and courtroom such as this run into several thousands of pounds. Multiply that by eight and one can see at once that there is an expectation that this state, which as we all know is struggling still to rein in the deficit following the recession, should expend completely disproportionate amounts on resolving issues and disputes of this kind.

 

 

[* the Judge clearly meant “Cate Blanchett” here]

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDUoTHj8AJ4

 

 

The Judge also looked at the timescales for the final hearing

 

 

 

A large part of the ridiculous time estimates in this and other financial cases is referable to the sort of volume of documents, including authorities, that parties still assemble and marshal. This case was given an estimate of eight days, with a detailed trial template. That template contemplates that, after one day of reading and six days of evidence and argument, the judge should be able to give an ex tempore judgment on the afternoon of the eighth day, after merely the morning of the eighth day for consideration. It is fair to the parties and their lawyers to say that that “trial template” was annexed to the order made by Moor J on 11 June 2014. It may be that that particular judge has the mental capacity to listen to seven days of evidence and argument, to absorb up to 3,500 pages of documents and 32 authorities, and still give an ex tempore judgment in what, on that scenario, would be a very detailed case, after merely one morning of consideration. Frankly, I doubt it.

 

 

Currently, this estimate is an unrealistic estimate for a case on the scale that the parties or their lawyers contemplate. If this case were to run, including all the evidence and submissions, to the end of day seven, it would manifestly require at least two days for preparation of a detailed, considered judgment, and then a day for delivery of the judgment and working out the aftermath. In other words, frankly, as things stand, the estimate that the parties are putting forward is one not of eight, but of ten days.

 

 

If you think that Holman J was about to take ten days of litigation over £500,000 when the parties had already blown £1,300,000 arguing about it, then I have a bridge that I am interested in selling you.

 

I am absolutely determined, in this case, not to allow that to happen. There has been wholesale breach of the practice direction and of Mostyn J’s statement with regard to documents, and total disregard of the Lord Chief Justice’s direction with regard to the citation of authorities. I propose to deal with it, in this case, as follows. Except for the two skeleton arguments and the chronology, every single piece of paper that has so far been lodged will be taken away from this courtroom now. All the bundles of authorities will be taken away from this courtroom now.

              

 

I will adjourn this case now until 10.30 tomorrow morning. At 10.30 tomorrow morning, unless by then the parties have reached an overall settlement of this case, they must attend with one, single, composite bundle, containing not more than 300 pages as the President’s direction requires. I say 300, for I am excluding and retaining the two existing skeleton arguments, which, as I have said, extend to about 50 pages. There must be only one bundle of not more than five authorities.

 

 

If the parties cannot agree as to the contents of the documents bundle, then each side can select 150 pages of their own choosing, thereby making the total of 300. If they cannot agree on authorities, then they must at least agree on one essential authority (probably Jones v Kernott) and they may each include two further authorities of their own choosing.

 

 

On the skeleton authorities, Holman J was perplexed to see a bundle of 32 authorities, given that the two leading authorities are from the Supreme Court and that those authorities marshall and draw together all of the previous jurisprudence.

 

This morning, Mr Christopher Wagstaffe QC, on behalf of Sandra, and Mr Richard Todd QC, on behalf of Larry, have endeavoured to address these matters and, to some extent, to justify their positions. It is fair to say that, on behalf of Larry, Mr Todd immediately said that it was “absolutely right that the costs are disproportionate” and indicated that he and his side share my concern about the scale of the documentation. But even Mr Todd, in relation to the assembly of the 32 authorities in apparent disregard of the Lord Chief Justice’s practice direction, sought to justify his position. He fastened on the words “unless the scale of the appeal warrants more extensive citation”. He suggested in a general way that the law in relation to the topic of beneficial interests is complex, so that, somehow, the scale of this case warrants the citation of no less than 32 authorities.

 

 

I completely reject that suggestion. When the Lord Chief Justice referred to “the scale of the appeal”, which may be paraphrased as meaning, in this context, “the scale of the case”, that does not simply refer to legal complexity, but to the actual scale of the underlying litigation. This is not litigation about tens of millions of pounds. It is litigation about a half share in the former home in which these parties lived with their three children, having an equity of around £1 million and a half share, therefore, of around £500,000. In the context of family financial litigation, this is, in fact, a relatively small scale case these days.

 

 

The whole topic of beneficial interests following cohabitation has been the subject of recent consideration by the Supreme Court, in particular in the well known cases of Stack v Dowden [2007] UKHL 17 and Jones v Kernott [2011] UKSC 53. It would be surprising, frankly, if it was necessary to look beyond those two authorities; but most certainly, when the Supreme Court has, on more than one recent occasion, traversed all the historic law in relation to this topic, it is quite ridiculous and completely disproportionate to produce bundles of no less than 32 authorities. I know that some of Mr Todd’s authorities relate to some separate argument that he wishes to run with regard to “laches” and limitation, but that does not provisionally strike me as a very promising line of argument in this case.

 

 

Mr Wagstaffe began by referring to the undoubted fact that, in the recent authorities to which I have just referred, the Supreme Court have said one has to have regard to the whole course of dealing between the parties; and of course I accept that. In a general way, one does indeed have to begin at the start of the relationship between Sandra and Larry in 1989 and look at their financial dealings since then. That is why, provisionally, it does not seem to me that Mr Todd’s argument based on laches and limitation is on very fertile ground.

 

 

The Supreme Court, by what they said in those authorities, cannot have intended courts to disregard the overriding objective in both the Civil Procedure Rules and the Family Procedure Rules; nor to disregard such an integral part of the Family Procedure Rules as the practice direction with regard to court bundles. The court must, from first to last, have regard to proportionality and all the other non-exhaustive matters listed in rule 1.1(2). So I do not accept for one moment that there is something about the facts or legal context of this case which enables or requires proportionality and the practice direction to be disregarded.

 

 

The Judge invited the parties in very strong terms to stop throwing their money at lawyers and come to a sensible agreement, which they duly managed the next day.

 

If you have a Court hearing next week before Holman J and you have ten bundles, I’d get on the phone to the other side and get 300 pages agreed, pronto.

Relinquishing for adoption and nothing else will do

This is a High Court case, decided in April, but the report of judgment has only recently come out. I’m grateful to Celtic Knot for ensuring that it came to my attention
I touched on the (at that time unresolved) issue of whether the raft of jurisprudence on ‘non-consensual adoptions’ also applied to step-parent adoptions and relinquished babies where the mother was giving the child up for adoption but the father was not identified/told.

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/04/12/step-parent-adoption-telling-the-birth-father/
and this High Court case Coventry City Council and A 2014 deals with the relinquished adoption issue (and my next blog post will deal with the Court of Appeal’s decision on step-parent adoptions)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/2033.html
If you want the Too Long; Didn’t Read version – it is that I would be very cautious about relinquished adoptions particularly if there is any international element. If either parent is from another EU country, I would strongly urge you to read the judgment in Coventry CC and A. I suspect that it will make ‘relinquished adoptions’ considerably more protracted, complicated and expensive.
This case took nearly a year to resolve (with a baby that mother wanted to give up for adoption – so twice as long as fully contested care proceedings are intended to take)

Part of the reason why is that the mother was Romanian, and the High Court embarked on a process of notifying the Romanian authorities about the existence of the child and the potential order that would be made in the UK courts.

Let’s look at what mum had to say about her extended family

The hospital was able to contact the mother through her friend, Z, via a mobile phone and a meeting was arranged with the mother to attend the hospital on 7th June. Initially the mother failed to return but, ultimately, after some persuasion, she did so with her friend Z. She was spoken with through an interpreter speaking Romanian. At this meeting she gave her baby a name after some prompting with the social workers and held the baby for the first time showing some emotion in doing so. The mother gave information about her and her baby’s background. She said that the father was Romanian Roma but she was herself Romanian. She refused to provide the father’s name. She said that her family were not aware of her pregnancy. She had not told them about it or her relationship with the father and she had concealed the pregnancy from them. She said that her family would not approve of the relationship with the father as he was Roma and her mother would disown her if she knew. She wanted the baby to be adopted. She intended to return to Romania as soon as possible after she received her new travel documents.

She said she was from a named village in Romania, that she had two other children residing there, a son aged nine and a daughter aged ten and they were being cared for by their maternal grandparents. She had no money to support a baby. She said the father was aware of the pregnancy but was not interested and he was not aware that the baby had been born. She had come here on holiday to see her friend, Z, who came from the same area as the maternal grandparents. She had not told Z about the pregnancy until her waters broke. She said she had no fixed abode, she moved between the homes of various friends and had been evicted the evening before and was at that time staying with a friend of Z.

That seems, to me, to be a very clear message that the mother did not want her relatives approached or told of the existence of the baby.

Unfortunately, mother did not help herself because she didn’t attend the appointment with a CAFCASS officer to sign the adoption forms. Nor did she attend the second such appointment, and then she vanished.

The baby was thus not, in law, relinquished. Mother had agreed to give the baby up for adoption but had not signed the paperwork that would be a vital part of the process. That meant that rather than being a relinquished baby adoption, this had to go into care proceedings.

And, the case having gone into care proceedings, efforts had to be made to find and serve the mother.

[HUGE LESSON here – if you are dealing with a mother who wants to relinquish her baby, it is vital that she is made to understand that not filling out the forms is going to make life much worse for her. Fine to decide ‘I don’t want to sign them because I want the child back’, but ‘I don’t want to sign the forms because I want to stop thinking about this’ is just going to make things much much worse]

It made things much much worse for this mother here, because a process server was sent out to look for her in a Romanian village near Bucharest

The process server met with the mother’s own mother who is Romanian, who told him she is looking after the children at the family home, that the mother was not in Romania, she had left a few months ago to go to the United Kingdom. She said that the family believed she was working as a prostitute in the United Kingdom and recently had had problems and had been in hospital. The process server was unable to gain any further information but was able to say that the address in Coventry, which the mother had given to the local authority, did not exist.
In the second report, dated 30th November, the process server described the village as being small, about 100 kilometres from Bucharest, with “a majority gypsy population very poor and simple peoples.” He met with the mother’s own mother again who was shown a photograph of the mother. Initially she denied recognising the mother but later produced a copy of the mother’s ID card with a photograph of the mother. Whilst there, a niece of the mother identified the photograph as the mother and a sister of the mother did so as well. The grandmother then returned with a copy of the mother’s ID card and was able to confirm that the photograph with the process server was that of the mother. The process server then showed a photograph of the mother to a village policeman who identified it as that of the mother and said that she had been registered as missing but had returned to the address and was declared not missing. It seems he thought that she was probably in the United Kingdom and said that she did not have a relationship with her family. The local authority have been unable to trace the mother and has no information as to the father’s identity or whereabouts.

Remember, of course, that this mother did not want her family to know anything about the baby or to become involved. So that worked out marvellously for her. (I also dread to think how much Coventry had to pay for the Romanian equivalent of Jim Rockford to go out flashing this photograph of the mother around, including showing it to a village policeman)
The final upshot though, was that the mother was not found, and the care case thus proceeded in the absence of the mother, or a father.

What then happened was that the Court caused the Romanian authorities to be informed of the case. It took a while to get any response out of them, but once they started to respond, they got highly responsive, ultimately saying that they wanted the case transferred to Romania and were wholly opposed to a child of Romanian parents to be adopted, even where the mother herself was not opposing it.

 

the Romanian authorities have been informed as to the existence of A and the existence of these proceedings and the care plan for adoption. The care proceedings were issued on 9th August last year and the application for the placement order was on 14th October. These applications were transferred from the Coventry Family Proceedings Court to the Coventry County Court on 18th November 2013 due to the complexity of the international aspects. On 20th November her Honour Judge Watson directed that the Romanian central authority be invited to attend the next hearing on 4th December. On 4th December, although the Romanian central authority had been notified, no representatives attended but on 2nd December the Romanian Directorate for International Law and Judicial Cooperation wrote saying that the correspondence had been forwarded to the child protection directorate and that a response was awaited.
On 4th December Judge Watson invited the Romanian central authority to write to the local authority by 23rd December informing the local authority of its position concerning the baby and the substance of any representation or applications that they were intending to make to the court. A further invitation was made to the Romanian central authority to attend at the next hearing on 13th January, it being noted that the court may make such an order on that date in the absence of any representation and the court considered that sufficient notice had been given. Judge Watson also ordered that the local authority do have permission to disclose this order and other relevant documents suitably redacted to the Romanian central authority before forwarding it to the Romanian child protection directorate that a warning of the confidentiality of the court proceedings would need to be maintained until further order.
The local authority was ordered to send a copy of the order to the Romanian central authority under cover of a letter explaining that their attendance is requested at the next hearing when final orders may be made in their absence. Judge Watson ordered that the Romanian authorities should not disclose the birth of the baby to the maternal family without the permission of the court. She gave leave to the Romanian central authority to apply to discharge parts of the order.
The matter was restored to her Honour Judge Watson on 13th January. The Romanian central authority had been invited but made no representations and was not in attendance on that day. However, the court read a letter from the Romanian directorate for International Law and Judicial Cooperation and another letter from the director of the Romanian child protection department and noted that the child protection department was content not to inform the maternal family about the birth of the baby and the judicial proceedings whilst A’s best interests were considered.
The child protection department does not consider the adoption of the child as justifiable and that it seeks the return of the child to Romania. Various directions were made and the matter was transferred to Mrs Justice King to be heard in the Royal Courts of Justice in London on 17th January 2014. The Romanian authorities were invited to make representations to Mrs Justice King. It was noted that such attendance is essential if the court is to consider the Romanian authority’s opposition to the local authority’s application for care and placement orders. By paragraph 4 of the order if the Romanian authorities wish to oppose the local authority’s application for care and placement orders they are invited by the court by 16th January to file and serve a document setting out their case in detail whether questions regarding the child’s welfare are subject to determination under the United Kingdom or the Romanian law; however, the courts in England have powers of jurisdiction to determine the questions relating to the child’s welfare and any points they make in opposition to the local authority’s plans for the child, any points they wish to make in support of a plan for the child to be returned to Romania, and the plan they propose for the child’s care including how her medical needs would be met. The Romanian central authority was to be served forthwith.
The letter of 9th January which was before Judge Watson came from the Directorate of International Law and Judicial Cooperation addressed to Coventry City Council, “Please find attached letter of response from the child protection directorate concerning the child. The Romanian child protection considers that the international adoption of a child is not justified as Romanian national law provides specific and limited situations when international adoption can take place. The child protection directorate requests repatriation of the child to Romania where the local child protection agency will be available to make the necessary investigations and to adopt protective measures for the child.”
The directorate also wrote on 16th January again to the local authority, “Further to your message of 13th January, we are sending you attached the answer provided by the child protection directorate dated 15th January. With regard to the question raised by the Coventry County Court on the question of jurisdiction, it is our opinion that Article 13 of the EC council regulations number 2201 of 2003 is applicable, that the Royal Courts of Justice could also take into consideration and apply the provisions of Article 15 of Brussels II (Revised). As to the question of consent and participation by the Romanian representative at the hearing on 17th January our office cannot confirm that at this time.”
The letter that was enclosed came from the Directorate of Child Protection which is dated 15th January; “Further to your request for an opinion regarding the case of A, we believe that we should make the clarifications below. As you are aware from the information provided by the British authorities, the Romanian side has been asked to observe confidentiality about the situation of the child and the identity of the parents. It has been mentioned in our previous correspondence that there is a complete provision for Romanian local authorities to support and assume repatriation of the child considering that she is a Romanian national. However, given that the British authorities have only provided us with extremely brief information about the situation, we believe that their request dated 4th January that a series of documents should be made available by the 16th which should present a proposed plan for the child including the manner in which her medical situation would be handled and any other arguments meant to challenge the decisions made by the local authority that the child is adopted are unrealistic considering that any serious assessment must be based on documents that affect both the social background and they affect the medical condition of the child and the family environment of the natural extended family of the child in order to make a substantiated decision about setting up a measure of special protection. Under the circumstances in relation to the recent request by the British court we wish to mention that our institution upholds its opinion about the Romanian local authorities assuming the responsibility of repatriating this child to Romania and that the specialised documents will be prepared by the general directorate of social assistance for child protection from the country of domicile after the British Social Services provide us with the documents that describe the current situation. Whether a representative of the Romanian Embassy will appear on 17th January, please be advised that we cannot issue an opinion about the designation of the representative who will participate.” Then it was signed off

 

Yes, I have left out of my opening remarks that this case is going to involve Brussels II, but sadly it does. I just didn’t want to put you off reading it at the outset, apologies for my deception.
It gets worse, because then the Romanian authorities began to get cold feet about whether the mother was in fact Romanian, and that debate went on for ages and ages. Their position was that IF the baby was Romanian, then they would want the case and would oppose adoption, but in the absence of documentary proof about the mother’s nationality they wanted no part of it (and they weren’t accepting the process server’s detective work at finding family members and a policeman who confirmed that mother was from a village in Romania)

On 13th March the child protection department wrote the following: “Taking into consideration that child citizenship is still to be clarified, we would like to state that if the court would confirm the child is a Romanian citizen, then the Romanian local authorities from the county where the child’s natural family has residence would issue all the required documentation to return the child to Romania specifying also detailed measures and individual protection plan under which the child’s best interests would be protected. We would like to mention that repatriation procedure as well as the background checks are carried out by the Romanian authorities would be based on the government decision number 1443 of 2004 regarding procedures for the repatriation of unaccompanied children providing the child’s best interests would be protected. If, following the assessment made in relation to the child’s extended family or natural parents, it would be decided that the family re-integration is not an option, then a Romanian competent authority would recommend the child be placed in a foster care based on a court order. The child’s placement would be done by the panel for child protection in the county of residence thought necessary by the court depending on the evidence presented if special protection measures are necessary. Taking into consideration the child’s age, the foster care placement would be the solution to be considered by the Romanian authority as under the current Romanian law, a child under the age of two cannot be placed in a residential institution (orphanage). We would like to emphasise that for the moment the Romanian authorities have been unable to identify the child’s extended family members due to the confidentiality of this case. If the citizenship of the child and the mother are established as Romanian then the Romanian authorities will assume true responsibility for its repatriation be handling the case under Romanian laws.”
That was the final word from the Romanian authorities and the note that sets out the general picture, that letter does not give a timescale as to what would be done, when it would be done and when the child could be placed. There is a lacuna as to what actually would be done in fact and the timescale was not set out.

The Court had to consider the factual matrix to decide whether this baby was habitually resident in England, thus giving the English Court jurisdiction, and decided that she was.

I accept that it is likely that the mother and the little girl are both Romanian. I cannot say that I am one hundred per cent certain but the evidence firmly indicates that likelihood. The mother seemed to speak Romanian as her first language. She talked about Romania and said she was returning to Romania. It seems that we have located her family. I am not making a clear finding of that because all I can do is to look at the evidence before me and the mother is not here. The little girl was born here and the mother wanted her to be adopted here. There was no pressure on her to reach this conclusion. It was her conclusion and she gave her reasons. She said that she had no money to support the child; that her family did not approve of her relationship with the father, that they would disown her and they would not support her and that the father himself was not interested. She herself had concealed the pregnancy from her family and from her friend, Z. The mother has effectively abandoned A to her fate here. She wanted her to be adopted in the United Kingdom, hoping that she would find a good home.
Effectively the mother has left her daughter. Since the birth, A has been here, she has never left this country, she has been in hospital for good reasons after her birth and then when she was ill in July. She only left hospital in September when she was placed with her foster carers and she has not left their care since. She looks on them as her carers, as her family, their home is her home, she knows nothing else, she is only ten months old but she is comfortable, seemingly happy and settled in that environment. If she has a language, it is English. It is not Romanian. No doubt she is familiar with the sound of English. She may now be understanding a lot of things, I know not, but if she has a language it is English. Her culture is that of her carers. The environment in which she lives is that of her carers. She has accessed the United Kingdom’s health system. She moves around her carers’ home area with her carers. She will know their friends and her environment is that of her carers who are British, living somewhere in this country, although I am not sure where; that is where she is and that is her environment. She has had no contact with her mother since 7th June when she was still very, very small. It is clear to me that there is a distinct level of integration for this little girl in the social and family environment in this country with these carers. She has no connection from a practical day to day point of view with Romania. It is clear to me that she is habitually resident here and I make that finding.

In that sense, there is no need for me to consider Article 13 and I have jurisdiction because she is habitually resident here but if I am wrong on that, Article 13 would kick in. Where a child’s habitual residence cannot be established and jurisdiction cannot be determined, the courts of the Member State where the child is present shall have jurisdiction. I am saying that Article 8 applies, this child is habitually resident in this country and by that means I have jurisdiction
The next issue, then, was whether the appropriate venue for decisions to be made was England or Romania, applying article 15 of Brussels II

The Court decided not to transfer the proceedings to Romania (and if you are some sort of Brussels II addict, then the specific paragraphs are 44-50.

The NEXT issue was whether there should be an approach made to the extended family in Romania, and HERE for the first time is a live debate between parties to the proceedings. The Local Authority wanted to respect mother’s clear wishes, the Guardian wanted to explore the extended family so that adoption would only be the outcome if it was the last resort.

This has long been a difficult philosophical issue, and it is difficult to ever find a decision on this point that most people would agree on.

The Court here decide that it IS in the child’s interests for that exploration to be made, and place reliance on ‘nothing else will do’ (although it is quoted as ‘nothing less will do’). That, I suspect, is likely to be the conclusion of such debates in the future, unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary.

It does, as the Local Authority submitted, raise the spectre of mothers not coming to Local Authorities to relinquish where they don’t want their family involved or contacted, but going back to the bad old days with babies being left in wicker baskets outside hospitals or police stations.

I move on to the last issue before me which is should enquiries be made of the maternal family in Romania and that this would entail a breach of the mother’s confidentiality. The local authority have said that there should be no more enquiries, that it would not be in A’s best interests. It would delay the proceedings here and it would delay the making of a care order and a placement order. The guardian is of a different view and says that there should be enquiries because it would be in A’s best interests if those enquiries are made.
It is never an easy point to breach the confidentiality of a mother who has given birth in difficult circumstances and I recognise that she does not want her family to know about the child and she has given her reasons. It has been said by the local authority that if it became known by a mother in similar circumstances, and if she felt that her confidentiality would be broken, she may not seek the assistance of medical help in giving birth; she may seek “a back street abortion” or give birth secretly which would endanger the mother and the child. The reality is that each case depends on its own facts. The matter is within my discretion.
Under the Children Act my task is to consider the child’s best interests and that must be my paramount consideration. It then sets out the checklist required by section 3 as to whether I make an order or relating to the welfare and best interests of the child. Under the Adoption of Children Act 2002, section 1(2) the paramount consideration of the court must be the child’s welfare throughout his or her life and I am referred to the checklist and things that I have to consider all relating to the future welfare of the child. The care plan here is for adoption. Romania, I acknowledge, does not have the same rules for adoption and their position for placing children is different from ours. Here, recently adoption has been described as the last resort for a child when all else fails and that was said in Re B [2013] UKSC 803 or, as Lady Hale said, it is “when nothing less would do”.
It is a last resort at the end of the day because it is the curtailment of a child belonging to his or her natural family. By adoption the child legally becomes a member of another family and is incorporated into that family on an everyday basis. She would become a full member of that family legally, practically, and emotionally. It is a change of identity of lifestyle, environment, a change of everything in a child’s life. It is a cutting off for the child from her background or the knowledge of the family and the environment in which she came from and it is a cutting off in law as well. The President in the recent case of Re B indicated that it should only be done on very clear evidence and there must be proper evidence both from the local authority and from the guardian and the evidence must address all issues and must contain an analysis of the arguments for and against each option. There must be clear evidence and proper information or as much as can be garnered. All options must be considered before a care plan for adoption can be accepted, with a placement order being made or an adoption order being made.
The court has a duty to ensure that full and proper enquiries have been made of the child’s family. Herein lies the problem, the tension between the little girl’s interests and rights and those of the mother. The mother is not present because she cannot be found and she is not here to put her view and her voice cannot be heard but she made her wishes and intentions for her daughter clear. She wanted the little girl to be adopted and she wanted full confidentiality and had concealed the pregnancy. It is not known how the maternal family would react or what the consequences might be either within the family or to the mother if it became known by the family that the mother had given birth to this little girl and had effectively abandoned her in a foreign land. That we do not know. All we have is the indications by the mother that the family was disapproving of her relationship with the father and she felt that they would not support her in keeping the baby, that the father was not interested. We do not know the consequences that might arise if the family knew about it. All we know is that she wanted confidentiality for her own reasons.
Against that, the little girl has her rights and rights that should be considered before she is adopted here by her current carers. Enquiries should be made to see if she can be returned to her family, her culture, her birth environment, the country of her origins and those are her rights. Both sides, the mother and the daughter, can claim their right to Article 8 of the Human Rights which is that everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of respect except such as in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety, and economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. In other words, in a case like this, there is to be respect for the individual’s private and family life and that the court and others should not interfere with that right.
I must also remember that if the information is correct, there are other members of her family, the grandmother, and there may be a grandfather, the half-siblings, and the father himself would have rights to know about this child, to have a voice in that child’s upbringing, if only to say, “We are not interested,” but they have rights.
It is established law that if there are conflicting interests between a child and adults that after careful consideration of all the interests and consequences of any order, and the child’s interests are paramount and they prevail over others.
On the one hand, we have the mother’s position, as she set out and her wishes and her intentions for her daughter. On the other hand, we have the little girl’s interests. Very little is known about her mother or her maternal family or their circumstances and even less about the father who has not been identified. The guardian, on behalf of A, says that it is important to carry out further enquiries and investigations to see if there is a long-term family member available in Romania, if there is a possibility of direct or indirect contact in the future if she is to remain here and to be adopted; and, if she is to be adopted, more information as to her background would be useful as to her family, their background. Such information may be of value to her in the future to know who she is, to know her background and to give her some sense of identity as to where she came from. Her guardian says that eventually if she is to be adopted, she will grow up to know that she has been adopted but she needs to know before she is adopted that everything was done that should have been done before a decision is made and that will be of value to her in her adult life. The guardian accepts that if there are to be further enquiries, there must be no delay.
There was a window of opportunity in February, it has narrowed in the last few weeks and there is very little time left if those enquiries are to be made. If I allow enquiries to be made, they should be strictly time restricted. The local authority say that there is enough information for this court to proceed, that this child needs to be settled quickly, decisions should be made and there should be no more delay given that the mother’s wishes are clear.
I accept, if there is to be further investigation, that delay is an issue. Fortunately she is well placed. If she is to be adopted there will be no move and therefore she herself from a day to day point of view will remain settled until more is known and further decisions can be made but against that, the stress and strain on the carers must be huge. They love her and are committed to her and want to commit to her long term. They need certainty now or very soon from now. It is not fair on them to make them wait for ever. I bear that very much in mind because they are doing a good job and the little girl is benefiting from their care. Anxiety within the home never is good. It will or potentially could impact upon their care and that is what worries me.
I have thought about this and it is not an easy issue but I have come to a decision. I have come to the view that it would be in A’s best interests to make further enquiries in Romania about her family and for the reasons set out by the guardian but those enquiries should be strictly time limited. There should be a strict timetable as to when they should be concluded. If they are not concluded in the timescale because it has not been possible, then decisions will have to be made in this court to conclude these proceedings. I think there should be one last attempt to make further enquiries of the mother’s family and of the father’s if he can be identified and of the provision and systems for child care in the Romanian locality.

 

As I said at the outset, this was not strictly a relinquish case, because mother didn’t sign the forms, but it is on any reading a case where that was her intent, and the High Court here apply “nothing else will do” as a rationale for not making the order, delaying the proceedings and making further enquiries about family members.

Surrey seems to be the hardest word

 
The High Court decision in Surrey County Council v AB and Others 2014
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/1115.html

This is a judgment which might be pertinent for an elephant in the room issue since the Family Justice Review started moving us away from independent experts. Once you take that expertise out of court rooms and decisions about families, what is filling that gap? Is it sufficient to treat all social workers as experts without considering the huge differences between an experienced and analytical social worker and a relative newcomer?

The writer is aware of a pending article for Family Law Week prepared by Miss Battie of counsel, which touches on this very issue.

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed128671

In this case, the Local Authority ended up apologising, in writing, to the parents and grandparents because the social worker they had been allocated was “at the bottom of her learning curve”

[Just like any profession, newcomers start out new and have to gain experience by doing it. Every social worker has to have a first case, a first contested case, a first adoption case. The significance of course is that adoption(or separation of a child from birth parents permanently) is, as the Supreme Court reminded us last year, the most dramatic order that can be made in family Courts and it requires a robustness and rigour in the analysis and decision-making if it is to be done fairly. I don’t mean to suggest that all experienced social workers get everything right, nor that all new social workers get everything wrong, rather that when you are looking at a social worker having the entireity of the assessment process on their shoulders rather than having experts to consult with, the individual ability of that social worker comes into play far more than it did two years ago.]

“That document repeats the apology given to the parents and paternal grandmother for them being at the bottom of the “learning curve” for the allocated social worker.”

[Any underlining is mine, for emphasis]

The child in this case was 2 ½ years old. He had significant needs

X has complex health needs. He was born with hypertonia, suffers from a visual impairment Peters Anomaly Type 1/Anterior Dysgenesis Anomoly, has significant motor delay, scoliosis of the spine and suffers from digestive difficulties. As a result of these health difficulties he requires a standard of care that enables his particular health needs to be met. Such care includes 24 hour postural support, careful monitoring of his diet and significant care when feeding and essential auditory and tactile stimulation to ensure his emotional needs are met and to compensate for his loss of other senses. He has been placed with foster carers since May 2012 under a section 20 agreement.
The parents also had significant needs

10. His parents have their own health difficulties. His mother has cerebral palsy involving weakness in one arm and both legs and a possible mild learning disability. The father was diagnosed as a child with ADHD and is said to have Asperger-like symptoms, although there is no formal diagnosis.

The quality of the assessment and interventions that the parents received were a critical part of the case (and given that the Local Authority apologised in writing, you can make an informed guess that there was some judicial criticism of them)

11. One of the central issues in this case has been the adequacy of the assessments of the parents as to their capacity to care for X. Put simply the parent’s case was that the local authority comprehensively failed in their duties to support X’s continued placement with his parents. It is submitted there has been an unfair process resulting in a catalogue of missed opportunities and inadequate assessments, which have resulted in the parents now being at a significant disadvantage in putting themselves forward to care for X.
12. The local authority acknowledges some of their procedures and assessments have been inadequate, but submit the basic factual background has not changed. This is a young boy who needs exceptional care due to his particular needs and the combination of the parent’s volatile relationship and the father’s inability to provide emotional care for this young boy mean his parents were unable to provide the care he needed.

The Judge follows through the chain of mistakes and missed opportunities
Core assessment
17. A core assessment was started on 23 March 2012 and completed on 25 April 2012. Curiously the core assessment under “Agencies contributing to core assessment” records “No Key Agencies identified”. Under the section asking whether there were any disability or communication issues for the child or parents are to be recorded the box is left blank. This is despite it then being known about some of X’s health difficulties and the body of the assessment refers to his ‘global delay’, the mother having cerebral palsy and learning difficulties and the father Aspergers. The assessment also records in relation to the mother that she was ‘unable to use public transport due her physical disability’. The assessment goes on to record under parents’ views ‘[the parents] do not believe that their difficulties will impede on their capacity to care for or meet their son’s needs and their wish for him to be returned to their care in the very near future’. The parents are recorded as not agreeing with the local authority’s recommendation that X be made the subject of a child protection plan, however it goes on to record that both parents ‘are keen to work with all agencies so that they will be able to care for their son’. In the decision section the ‘No further action’ box was ticked.
18. This was not a promising start. On the face of the document it seems incomprehensible that the core assessment failed to identify the disabilities and communication difficulties that were obvious on the face of the assessment. Of the ‘tick box’ decision options there was included ‘specialist assessment’ and ‘referral to other agency’ yet despite identifying difficulties which required further assessment and the parents expressing their willingness to work with agencies no further action was taken. It is suggested that this was one of the first lost opportunities to support the parents in their wish to care for X. I agree.
Core group meeting
19. There was a core group meeting on 27 April 2012 attended by the parents, maternal grandparents, allocated social worker Ms Perrin, the ATM Mr Taljaard, Ms Livingstone the health visitor and Ms Murdoch (described as other social care staff). The minutes dated 8 June 2012 (some six weeks later) record ‘a residential unit for AB and X was discussed with AB stating that she is not keen for this to happen as this would put further stress on [the parents] as a couple’.
20. At this time X remained in the care of the mother in the maternal grandparents’ home. After the parents reported the mother’s brother’s use of pornographic sites X was placed with foster carers pursuant to section 20. There is no evidence of what, if any, other options within the wider family were explored to enable X to remain being cared for by his mother.
Allocation of new social worker

21. Ms Kim Horrox became the allocated social worker on 29 June 2012. She took over from Claire Stevens. Garth Taljaard was the ATM and remained so until Ms Grindon took over in January 2013, she remains the ATM to date. Ms Horrox qualified in 2011 although she had some previous social work related experience. This was her first case that resulted in care proceedings. By this stage X had been with the foster carers for six weeks.
22. Ms Horrox was clear in oral evidence that at the handover meeting in June 2012 she was informed that a residential assessment had been refused by the mother and was not being further explored. However, this is not consistent with other documents at the same time which seemed to indicate this issue was being actively pursued. There is a record of a discussion with the mother on 15 May 2012 in which she says she would rather go to a mother and baby foster home or residential unit than go back to her parents’ home for further assessment. A letter from the paediatric dietician to the consultant paediatrician on 24 May records that the mother was ‘awaiting a mother and baby placement in foster care for her and X’, it was mentioned as being the preferred plan in a meeting with the safeguarding nurse Mel Baxendale on 29 May 2012 and on 22 June 2012 there is an email from Mr Taljaard ATM after the review CP conference stating that the team manager and area manager have agreed a care plan that allows mother and baby to be placed in an appropriate residential unit for further assessment. This is said to be a further lost opportunity, I agree.
Assessment by the new social worker

24. Ms Horrox stated that on taking the case over she wished to conduct her own assessment of the parents and make her own judgment. She met with the parents on 3 July and on 17 July a youth support worker informed Ms Horrox that the mother was declining support from adult services. Ms Horrox accepted in oral evidence that she should have been more creative in helping the mother access appropriate support.
Assessment of the parents

29. In February/March 2013 there was a referral by Ms Horrox to the adult services team for an assessment to be conducted as the parents were said now to be consenting to such an assessment. It is accepted by Ms Horrox that this referral was not accepted by the relevant team until 23 September 2013 some 7 months later. Ms Horrox said in evidence that having made the referral she chased it three times and on the third time was told it needed to be sent to the ‘transition team’, that required a different referral form which she completed and sent. That was apparently deleted by mistake, once that was discovered a further referral was sent and then, finally, it was ‘actioned’. I agree this was another lost opportunity.

 

Delay in issuing / drift in section 20
30. The care proceedings were issued on 25 March 2013, 10 months after X had been placed with foster carers and over 4 ½ months after the local authority issued letters of intent to the parents informing them of their intention to issue proceedings. Ms Horrox frankly accepted in evidence this delay was unacceptable, she acknowledged it was her first case where care proceedings had been issued and had been a ‘steep learning curve for her’. She agreed with Ms Jenkins on behalf of the father that it was not fair the parents were at the bottom of this learning curve she said ‘I apologise for it being at the expense of this family’.
Lack of supervision of the social worker
31. Despite the volume of material in this case and the length of the social work statements there is little, if any, evidence of effective supervision of Ms Horrox between June 2012 and September 2013. If there had been it would have been expected such unacceptable delays would have been picked up and effectively managed.

 

Failure to consider of all of the options
32. The local authority care plan at the time the proceedings were started was, in reality, adoption, although Ms Horrox said she kept an open mind. The discussions she had had with the mother at the PLO meeting in November was in the context of long term placement with Mr and Mrs SG, either under a care order, adoption or SGO. In her evidence Ms Horrox kept talking about ‘parallel planning’ but there was no evidence of any effective parallel assessment of the parents’ ability to care for X at the same time as investigating alternatives in the care of the local authority. That is what parallel planning means. It is right the mother is recorded at the meeting in November as effectively supporting the long term placement of X with Mr and Mrs SG but that was without legal advice and in circumstances where there was no evidence of any alternative involving X being cared for by his family being actively discussed at that time.

The social work assessment in proceedings being flawed

33. Following transfer of the proceedings to the County Court the first effective hearing was not until 13 August. HHJ Cushing case managed the four significant hearings between then and 17 October 2013 when the deficits in the assessments undertaken by the local authority became clear. In essence a parenting assessment had been undertaken by Ms Horrox without the benefit of any assessment from adult services, and the subsequent assessment by adult services was accepted by the local authority to be inadequate. The care plan filed by the local authority on 6 September sought care orders and placement orders with contact with the birth family 4 times a year and made no mention of any outstanding assessments
The failure of the professionals meeting to answer the agreed questions
34. The Professionals Meeting convened on 2 October 2013 was, unfortunately, not a good example of how such a meeting should be structured. The minutes record at the beginning the 8 questions that were described as the purpose of the meeting, which included such matters as what are the identified needs of the Mother and Father, now and in the foreseeable future? What services are required to meet those needs? How can those serves be provided? What services are therefore required to allow the parents to meet X’s needs? This is followed by 9 pages of typed notes of the discussion with a record at the end as follows:
Meeting confirmed that
1) X’s needs are such that he needs consistent care
2) CWD will not offer a service
3) SSD to arrange another TAC meeting (team around the child)
35. In her evidence Ms Horrox agreed with Ms Wiley, on behalf of the mother, that this meeting did not answer the questions at the beginning, although it is clear from the record of the meeting that both the CWD team and the AWD team informed the meeting that they could only do assessments of the parents if X returned home, which seemed an unnecessarily unhelpful and rigid position to take. This was another lost opportunity.

 

 
The failure of the community based assessment

 

37. The matter came before Mostyn J on 22 October 2013. He transferred the case to the High Court and the order provides for further comprehensive community assessments to be conducted with a recital recording that ‘the court indicating that there should be an independent element to the assessment and that if a different person from both the Children with Disability Team and the Adult Team undertake the assessment, this would constitute that independent element’.
38. A 6 week community based assessment plan was devised at the end of October which included the children with CWD and AWD teams. The assessments were completed in early December 2013 and involved nearly 100 hours of observed assessment by the various teams. The matter came before me on 18 December. I made directions leading to the final hearing on 12 March 2014. It transpired that Ms Gomesz carried out one of the assessments. She had been part of the earlier assessments, this was not made clear by the local authority in the evidence they filed. When the Children’s Guardian made enquiries she was informed there was no one else available and, in any event, it was too late to do anything about it. Whilst there is no criticism of the work undertaken by Ms Gomesz it was not what was intended by the order made by Mostyn J.
By the end of all of this (and a further independent social work assessment) consensus had been reached between the parties that the current foster carers who wanted to permanently care for X were the best people to do this.
This must be one of the most damning paragraphs I have ever read in a family court judgment. It is heart-breaking. We should NEVER be in this position.
48. I am satisfied the agreement reached in this case does meet X’s welfare needs. Whilst it will never be known if the correct assessments of the parents had been undertaken earlier, as they should have been, whether the parents would have been in a position to care for X the reality is now the comprehensive assessments undertaken since are united in their conclusions that the parents would not be able to care full time for X, even with extensive support being provided. Those assessments have been subject to the critical eyes of two independent people.

 
If all of that were not enough, the Court went on to make four particular findings about the failings of the Local Authority
(1) Delay generally and, in particular, in issuing proceedings
72. Some of the delays in this case have been wholly unacceptable. There are three specific examples that illustrate the point:
1) X was placed with foster carers in May 2012, care proceedings were not issued until March 2013 some 10 months later. The fact of that delay put the parents in an increasingly difficult position to seek to restore X to their care, as there was no structure to the period of time prior to the issue of proceedings and they did not have effective access to legal advice. To rely, as Ms Horrox did in her evidence, on the fact that they did not take up the offer of legal advice at the PLO meetings misses the point;
2) The decision to take care proceedings appears to have been made prior to November 2012 yet the proceedings were not issued until some 5 months later. Again leaving the parents in limbo with the local authority, in effect, recommending permanent removal of X from his parents care by way of adoption but the parents not being within the structure of legal proceedings to challenge that was unfair. I appreciate the mother at the November PLO meeting appeared to be endorsing the plan of the local authority, but that was without the benefit of independent legal advice and was perhaps illustrative of the internal struggle she has had about where X’s best interests lay.
3) The delay in the referral to adult services from February/March to September 2013 was unacceptable. It was caused by a catalogue of errors, a lack of effective co-ordination and structure between teams that should be effectively working together. There appeared to be no system in place to chase up referrals.
(2) Ineffective supervision, planning or co-ordination
73. This concern applies in almost every aspect of this case up until late October 2013. There appears to have been a chronic lack of effective supervision of the allocated social worker who was inexperienced and dealing with a complex case. I agree with the observations made by Ms Dove about the lack of effective multi agency planning which should have been in place immediately after the initial core assessment in April 2012. Again three examples well illustrate this area of concern:
1) The initial core assessment dated 25 April 2012 is on the face of it flawed. It details the disabilities both X and the parents have, yet fails to record that in the relevant box which specifically addresses that issue. It records the parents willingness to work with all agencies so that they will be able to care for their son and then in the decision section ignores the options that would flag up further assessment or referral to other agencies and just ticks the ‘no further action box’. There is no evidence these inconsistencies were picked up in any subsequent discussions with the ATM or in any of the meetings.
2) When Ms Horrox took over the case she was clear in her evidence that at the handover a residential assessment was no longer being pursued as the mother did not agree. However other contemporaneous documents, one just a few days before she took over from the ATM is reported to state ‘the team manager and area manager have agreed a care plan that allows the mother and baby to be placed in an appropriate residential unit for further assessment’ and a letter in May refers to the mother waiting to hear about a residential assessment. It is deeply concerning that there appeared to be such a deep level of miscommunication on such a fundamental issue by two of the key social work professionals managing the case.
3) The failure to pick up in supervision (i) there had been no referral to adult services or when there was the delay of six months; (ii) to consider getting advice about how to more effectively communicate with the father; (iii) what further steps could be taken to engage the parents with support services; (iv) filing a care plan seeking adoption when a key referral to the adult disability team was still outstanding (which is not referred to in the Care Plan dated 6 September 2013 or the parenting assessment dated 17 July 2013)

(3) Not keeping an open mind about placement
74. There is a thread of evidence which points towards the local authority making up their mind at a very early stage that X could not be restored to his parent’s care and that, in reality, the options were either adoption or an SGO with his current carers. Whilst Ms Horrox said she retained an open mind, from the parent’s perspective that may not have been readily apparent to them. There is no evidence of a structure as to how that position was reached and an analysis of the options, with the advantages and disadvantages being properly weighed up and considering what support could be available for the parents. From the parent’s perspective it may have seemed an unfair process.
(4) Content of the statements filed on behalf of the local authority
75. The social work statements were far too long and, in part, unfocussed and there was a lack of balance regarding their content. For example, it was extremely difficult to find the core relevant material that underpinned the threshold criteria. There were pages of generalisations which lacked any real evidential value. The lack of balance in the way some of the information in the statement was presented is illustrated by the reference in Ms Horrox’s statement referring to the police being called by the neighbours in early December as the parents were reported to be arguing. The statement records the mother being ‘dishevelled’ is not in the referral from the police, which is the only source of the information. Also, what the statement does not record, which is in the referral document sent by the police to the local authority, is the particular neighbours who alerted the police had been previously arrested for wasting police time for making such calls. That could have been an important context that should have been set out and addressed, not just left out.
76. Another matter that arose in the oral evidence was comments made by the mother in July 2013 regarding her concerns about the paternal grandmother. Whilst those comments were referred to in general terms in the written material the detail only came out under cross examination by Ms Stone on behalf of the Children’s Guardian. Ms Horrox’s instincts were correct that information should have been recorded and disclosed. She was understandably concerned about the management of when it was disclosed, but appeared to be awaiting authorisation from some unspecified person to disclose it. It is right to record that the Court has made no findings about the concerns raised by the mother and no party has suggested that those concerns affect the paternal grandmother’s ability to care for X in the future during periods of contact.
To be fair to the social worker, the Judge outlined that these were not faults that lay entirely with her, but systemic failings
81. The court is acutely aware hard choices have to be made about limited resources but the structural failures in this case, particularly at the early stages, to properly assess the parent’s ability to be able to care for X has caused enormous delay in decisions being made about X’s future care.
82. I should make it clear whilst Ms Horrox has been the person giving evidence and been at the front line, I am satisfied on the information I have seen that the faults appear to be primarily systemic faults within the structure of the local authority. It was Ms Horrox first case where proceedings had been issued. She accepted there were delays in the disability assessments, delays in completing the relevant documentation for care proceedings. Those and other delays should have been picked up by those with responsibility for supervising her much earlier.

 

The Local Authority did take on board those failings and presented the Judge, after the judgment was delivered, with a blueprint for how they proposed to remedy those failings in the future. That doesn’t help this family, who were badly let down.

 

Having reached a broad consensus that X should live with his foster carers and under Special Guardianship Orders, there was also agreement that the Court should review the case in six months time.

62. What is being sought by the parties is for the court to retain a welfare oversight for a short period of time to assist the parties, if required, to deal with issues concerning the welfare of X. In particular to provide a legal framework which kept all parties on equal terms and did not undermine the morale of the parents and made both the parents and the local authority accountable to the court for the maintenance of a proper working relationship.

That posed a problem – how to legally structure that review?
One can easily understand that simply adjourning the care proceedings was not a palatable one, with the LA being in the driving seat, given the raft of criticisms made of them.
The eventual solution settled upon was to give the Local Authority leave to withdraw their application for care proceedings, and for the Court to use its inherent jurisdiction (if one of the parties asked them to)

64. Having considered the position I have reached the clear conclusion that in the very unusual circumstances of this case, and particularly because of the history, the court should accede to the request by the local authority to withdraw the care proceedings and invite one of the parties to issue proceedings under the inherent jurisdiction with the other parties to the care proceedings being joined as parties.
65. I have reached this conclusion for the following reasons:
1) The agreement reached by the parties was on the basis that the local authority does not pursue its findings regarding the threshold criteria and seeks leave to withdraw the care proceedings. It would be inconsistent with the letter and the spirit of that agreement, if the court went on to make findings, albeit on the lower level necessary to found an interim supervision order. The risk with that course is that it may hinder the future good working relationship between the parties which is not in X’s best interests. Particularly as there is going to be a change of team.
2) I am satisfied that the withdrawal of the care proceedings is consistent with X’s welfare. In the light of the agreement reached between the parties it would be wrong to require a trial on the threshold issues in this case. The parents accept X will be cared long term by Mr and Mrs SG under an SGO and they accept the revised care plan put forward by the LA regarding their contact. There would be no demonstrable welfare purpose in such a contested hearing. On the contrary I consider such a trial would seriously risk the positive steps made by the parties in reaching agreement. Having said that I am certainly not prepared to say on a summary basis that threshold could not have been made out in this case. As I indicated in argument, Ms Wiley’s submission at the start of this hearing that the proceedings were unlawful was ambitious and was wisely not pursued. I did not hear all the evidence and whilst it looked like the issues concerning missed medical appointments and failure to provide breakfast on one occasion during the assessment did not stand up to forensic scrutiny there were other issues, such as the parents’ relationship and the emotional care of X that would, if necessary, have required detailed consideration by the court as to whether the threshold criteria was met.
3) X’s welfare requires the parties in this case to look forward. I consider that has the best chance of succeeding if the care proceedings are withdrawn at this stage, rather than lingering on in the way suggested which may hamper the parties on the ground being able to move forward with a proper working relationship, which is what X’s welfare demands.
4) I have been informed by the parties that there are no procedural or funding obstacles in the way of the same parties being re-constituted within different proceedings. This step will not cause delay.
I am not sure that I share the same degree of confidence about funding obstacles, but no doubt some assurances had been obtained from the Legal Aid Agency. Care proceedings receive no questions asked free legal advice for parents (or at least “non means, no merits” funding within tight fiscal limits) whereas representation within the inherent jurisdiction sounds to me like it will be entirely discretionary for the Legal Aid Agency.

 

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