RSS Feed

Tag Archives: interim care order

Court deciding of its own motion to remove a child into care

 

I’ve been writing more or less since I started this blog about my concerns regarding the power in section 37 of the Children Act 1989 for a Court to place a child in foster care of their own motion. (for non-lawyers, ‘of the Court’s own motion’ means that the Judge decides to do this himself or herself, rather than there being a formal application by the Local Authority.   There has been a lot of press attention on one young boy over the last week, but the Court of Appeal’s decision in Re K may have a considerable impact on a number of families. There’s a story here, if the Press care to tell it.

 

That power exists, that is beyond doubt. It is set out in section 37 of the Children Act 1989 that where a Court is dealing with a private law case (i.e two parents arguing about where a child should live or how much time the child should spend with either) they can direct that the Local Authority (social services) carry out an investigation and the Court can make an Interim Care Order for up to 8 weeks whilst waiting for that report.

 

Why does that matter?

 

Well, an Interim Care Order allows the child to be taken away from a parent and placed with another parent, or a relative or in care.

 

And why does it matter that the Court do it of its own motion rather than with the Local Authority applying?

 

Well, here are the protections you get if you are a parent, when the Local Authority apply for an Interim Care Order :-

 

(a) You get a period of notice – three days

(b) You get to see the Local Authority evidence – why should there be an Interim Care Order,

(c) Sometimes more importantly,what do they plan to do with it – the interim care plan

(d) You get FREE legal advice and representation

(e) The Court has to find that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the child has been harmed or would be likely to be harmed (the threshold criteria) and the reasons for this have to be set out in a 2 page document, that the parent can challenged

(f) There will be an independent Guardian, appointed to advise the Court on what is best for the child. They may challenge the social work view and have an alternative plan to put forward

(g) Finally and most importantly, the person who is asking for the application is NOT THE SAME PERSON as the one deciding whether to make the order.

 

With an Interim Care Order made under section 37 of the Children Act, these things do not necessarily happen. It might be that the parents have lawyers, but these days they probably don’t.  There might be a Guardian (but as we’re about to see, the wrong type of Guardian can be worse than not having one at all)

 

Re K (Children) 2014

 

This case, just decided in the Court of Appeal, doesn’t set out all of these concerns, but it is dealing with a case in which the making of Interim Care Orders under section 37 of the Act went badly wrong.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1195.html

 

I will put the killer line in first, because I don’t want this point to get lost

 

33. The judge had in her mind from the beginning of the hearing the jurisdiction of the family court to make an interim care order under section 38(1) CA 1989 where a section 37 report has been directed. The procedural protections of notice and an opportunity to be heard apply to a jurisdiction that is available to the court of its own motion just as much as they do to a jurisdiction invoked on a party’s application.

 

That is a big deal – the Court of Appeal have never said that before. Within the last couple of years, the Court of Appeal take on ICOs made under s37 has included:-

 

If the Local Authority report says no need for a further order, the Court can just tell them to write another one, and another one, and keep making Interim Care Orders until the Local Authority writes a report that the Judge agrees with

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/11/30/it-is-lawful-to-make-icos-under-repeated-s37-i-say-it-is-lawful-to-make-icos/

 

And that it was okay for the Local Authority to turn up at Court, pop in to see the Judge on their own and suggest this route and for the Judge to make an Interim Care Order under s37 even though the mother and her lawyer were AT Court and knew nothing about it

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/03/14/ex-parte-removal-by-the-back-door/

 

The Court of Appeal in this case also added that the law on removal is the same under s37 as when the Local Authority apply for it (again, the Court of Appeal have been weak on this in recent years)

 

35. The tests to be applied where a removal into public care is being considered by this route are: a) whether the court ‘is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that circumstances with respect to the child are as mentioned in section 31(2)’ (the interim threshold as set out in section 38(2) CA 1989); b) whether the court is satisfied that the child’s safety demands immediate separation (see the authorities reviewed in Re L-A (Care: Chronic neglect) [2010] 1 FLR 80 CA); c) whether the court is satisfied that removal is in the best interests of the child (the welfare analysis required by sections 1 and 1(3) CA 1989; and d) having regard to a comparative welfare analysis of the options, whether the court is satisfied that removal is a proportionate interference with the child’s and other relevant persons’ article 8 ECHR rights

36.The interim threshold was satisfied by the determination made by the Recorder in his May judgment but that was not enough in itself to demonstrate an application of the other tests. The safety question described by Thorpe LJ in Re L-A was neither asked nor answered. It could not be because of the poor quality of the evidence before the court. In the absence of quality evidence on the point, not only was the safety issue not identified with sufficient clarity or particularity, but of necessity there could be no analysis of the evidence relating to it in order to conclude that a removal was justified.
 

37. Re L-A is the domestic legal test for the justification of removal that takes note of the Strasbourg jurisprudence i.e. the interference of the state in the article 8 rights of those involved in circumstances where there is an issue of safety. In order to identify the nature and extent of an alleged risk to the physical or emotional (psychological) safety of a child the court needs evidence relating to the prima facie facts. As has been explained by the President in Re G (Interim Care Order) [2011] 2 FLR 955, it is also necessary for the court to undertake a broad proportionality evaluation of the comparative welfare analysis of the options for each of the boys on the facts of the case to cross check whether a ‘more proportionate’ option than separation is available. That did not happen, but in fairness it could not happen, because those options were not identified and analysed in the evidence. The absence of this reasoning is fatal to the decision made in respect of A in this case.

 

So, yes, I think this is long, long overdue. If I were for a parent in private law proceedings and got a sniff of the Judge contemplating the atom-bomb answer of “If you two can’t sort it out, maybe the child should be put in care” you are going to want this authority to hand, and you are going to want to argue for three days notice.

 

Back to Re K

 

There were two children, one nearly 15 and one aged 12. The private law proceedings, as so often happens, had been emotionally fraught and acriminious. It was one of those cases where the children were saying that they didn’t want to see their father and there were doubts about whether that was a genuine belief or one instilled in them by their mother. The original Judge heard what was no doubt a very difficult case and decided to separate the children, one going to father, one going into care under an Interim Care Order made under s37 of the Act. The children had never been separated before.

 

No doubt because there was no agreement about how the removal and separation was to occur, a recovery order had to be made in accordance with section 34 of the Family Law Act 1986 and the removal happened late at night with the police in attendance. The circumstances were distressing to all involved, including at least one professional. B was so distressed that he evacuated his bladder and had to change his clothes. The removal was described by mother’s representatives as ‘violent’.

 

[This was not the first time, and sadly probably will not be the last time, that removal of children from a parent following a private law hearing has gone badly wrong]

The Court of Appeal upheld the appeal and decided that the Judge’s decision had been wrong. They were sympathetic as to how this had happened – the pressure of time to make a decision had caused everyone to rush into a decision without really taking everything into account that needed to be dealt with. It is a salutary lesson and the Court of Appeal treat it as such, that sometimes Judges need to step back from the time limits and pressures and say “This needs more time to consider”

The decision taken by the judge was an exercise by her of the ultimate protective functions that are available to the family court when it is exercising its private law children jurisdiction. Those functions have rightly been the subject of anxious and rigorous scrutiny in this court but it should not be forgotten that this decision, like others that have to be taken every day in the family court, was made in the context of asserted urgency of the most immediate nature relating to the safety of the boys concerned, poor quality evidence and little or no time to reflect upon the judgment that was to be made. Although, as I shall describe, this court allowed the appeal in part and set aside the orders made, we did so without criticism of anyone. If there is any lesson to be learned by everyone involved, it is that a judge has to give him or herself time regardless of what anyone else wants that judge to do. I would suggest that the decision that was made in this case would not have been made in the way that it was had time been taken to reflect on the history, the implications for the boys, the options available and the patent need for further and better evidence.
 

This is one of those family cases that a family court judge instinctively knows will cause harm to the children involved whatever decision is made. With that in mind, the analysis that has to be undertaken must bring to bear an acute focus on the balance of welfare factors given the facts of the case. The children are highly enmeshed in their parents’ conflict and the order that Judge Marshall came to have to re-consider was expressly made with the words in mind of Wilson J. (as he then was) in Re M (Contact: Welfare Test) [1995] 1 FLR 274:
 

“Whether the fundamental emotional need of every child to have an enduring relationship with both his parents (s 1(3)(b) of the CA 1989) is outweighed by the depth of harm, which, in the light inter alia of his wishes and feelings (s 1(3)(a)), this child would be at risk of suffering (s 1(3)(e)) by virtue of a contact order.”
An enduring solution to the problem that exists in a case like this depends upon a comprehensive welfare analysis derived out of specialist case management which identifies the problem with clarity, a well informed judicial strategy based on good practice and good quality evidence and a measure of good fortune. The building blocks for such a solution are rarely available in the context of an urgent safety enquiry i.e. in the heat of conflict and, as will appear from the circumstances of this case, it is not a dereliction of duty to stand back and take time to consider whether the building blocks exist. In this case, they did not.

 

As hinted earlier, the situation was compounded because being a private law case, the CAFCASS officer involved was very familiar with private law cases but had little or no experience in public law cases (i.e children being taken into care).  They also had an expert who proposed a strategy, but had no suggestions as to what to try when that strategy went wrong. There had been no Plan B

 

It might have been thought that the solution to the problem that had occurred would have been within the skill and expertise of the guardian and the expert who had recommended the strategy to date: sadly, it was not. As I have described, the expert had written to the court and the parties some time before the summer placement had broken down to say that the circumstances were beyond anything with which his clinical guidance could assist. That was surprising but in fairness there was also the issue of trust that had arisen because of the dual function that the expert had been expected to perform. The result was that the court lost the expert that it had previously decided was necessary. To add to that unfortunate circumstance, the guardian conceded during questions put by this court that she had no public law experience and that the good practice, research based options and/or evidential materials which should be the meat and drink of any public law Cafcass practitioner were not part of her skill and expertise.
 

The consequence has been, as she informed this court, that she has asked the family court for her functions to be transferred to another more experienced public law guardian i.e., as I understand it, an application for the termination of her appointment and her substitution by another guardian will be made before the next hearing. With the benefit of hindsight, the children’s guardian should have asked Cafcass management for assistance and that should of course have been disclosed to the court, leading to an application to the court to add another guardian (which is possible under the rules) or substitute guardians for the hearing before Judge Marshall.
 

It is not at all clear how much of this the judge knew. Some of it she could not have known because it was revealed to this court when it asked questions which had the benefit of hindsight. In any event, it would have needed a more detailed and nuanced hearing to establish that which is now known or identified as respects the problem to be solved.

 

The failure to properly plan was compounded because of course when the Judge makes their own decision to grant an Interim Care Order without an application, there is no interim care plan

 

38.It is almost an aside in this case to remark that even where the court has rightly decided to make an interim care order, it should as part of the process consider what in practice will happen to a child if the order is made i.e. the local authority’s proposals or their care plan if by then it exists. That is not the statutory obligation imposed on a family court by section 31(3A) CA 1989 because the requirements relating to a section 31A care plan do not by section 31A(5) apply to interim care orders. It is simply essential good practice to ascertain how the local authority that finds itself in this position is going to exercise its statutory responsibilities. That evidence is bound to be relevant to the welfare analysis and proportionality evaluation. I do not believe that in this case the divergence of professional view between the children’s guardian and the local authority social worker on the point was sufficiently investigated in evidence. It is perhaps sufficient to record that this court was told that if one includes respite, A has experienced three foster care placements already.
 

39. There were no formed proposals in this case because the local authority did not at the stage the order was made accept that an order should be made. This was not a case of a local authority being difficult. The only time available to the local authority to put together their proposals was the time during which the hearing was taking place where the local authority was not a party and its witness was not its decision maker. What was needed was more time for mature consideration. A plan, using that word in its non-technical sense, would of necessity have been skeletal and would probably not have extended beyond describing the means of recovery, the immediate placement into which A would go and the assessment or other planning process to decide what to do next. At the very least the court should have found time to give consideration to this question.

 

The fact that the Local Authority were present and were saying that there shouldn’t be an order ought to have given someone pause for thought. This course of action was always likely to go wrong.

 

The Court’s failure to consider the effect on the children of being separated from each other was also damning

 

I need not do more than state the obvious in a case of this nature. As young people who have experienced family courts, public care and relationship breakdown make very clear in, for example, the proceedings of the Young Peoples Board of the Family Justice Board, the separation of siblings can be one of the most traumatic elements of their experience, particularly where no provision is made for the sibling relationship to be maintained so as to safeguard their long term welfare into adulthood. Generalisations are dangerous, the intensity of sibling relationships can be very different and this court has not been taken to any of the research studies that consider this issue. However, it is sufficient to say that a sibling relationship is central to both the article 8 respect for family life which is engaged in a decision to make a public law order such as an interim care order and welfare, which by section 1 CA 1989 is the court’s paramount consideration when it ‘determines any question with respect to the upbringing of a child’. It will be a relevant factor in all or nearly all of the section 1(3) factors to which the court is required to have regard.
 

The absence of a value judgment soundly based in evidence about the effects on each of them of the separation of the boys was, in my judgment, almost as fundamental a flaw on the facts of this case as the failure to consider the safety issue and the proportionality of interference in relation to A. It went directly to the quality of the outcome of the court’s intervention for each of the boys.

 

The Judge met with the boys (in the proper way) but unfortunately her impression and observation of the boys leaked into her judgment  (Non-lawyers note, it is acceptable for a Judge to meet children for the purposes of explaining  who she is and what the Judge’s role is, and possibly for very very general chat, but not for the purpose of gaining evidence. We wait to see whether the Ministry of Justices proposal that children should routinely be able to meet Judges will change this, but that’s the current law)

 

The boys saw the judge but were told this was not an opportunity to discuss any issues in the case including their wishes and feelings. It is plain from the transcript of the discussion that they could not believe what they were hearing and the judge observed that ‘they were very concerned and very disappointed’. The judge in seeking to avoid a discussion about the evidence clearly felt unable to listen to them. She entered into a discussion about the inadvisability of the boys’ written communications that it is difficult to characterise as being other than an admonition. They boys left the process distressed and apparently even more convinced in their view that no-one was prepared to listen to them.
 

This case has not been about judges seeing young people. I shall return briefly to the wealth of material on that topic. The question which arose out of the discussion with the boys was whether, despite her best intentions, the judge inappropriately relied upon her impressions of the boys and what they said to her to come to conclusions in the case. Sadly, perhaps as an inevitable consequence of the charged emotions in this case, the judge made that error. There are a number of passages in her judgment where the problem is highlighted. I shall choose three:
 

“[26] The findings that I make on this evidence need to be considered in the context of the opportunity I had to meet with the boys this morning. The parties are aware that I felt that they are at the moment presenting as being rather out of control, not subject to parental influence or indeed able to set appropriate boundaries for themselves. I also formed the view that they had perhaps rather lost touch with reality in relation to what was going on and I do have a concern that they are rather immature and may somehow view this as some sort of fantasy adventure.
[…]
[24] […] My own experience this morning is that these children could exhibit considerable distress and yet were able to calm themselves very quickly and the word ‘histrionic’ was exactly the one which I would have used in relation to their behaviour that I observed.
[…]
[47] I was particularly struck by something that the Guardian said, which is that “it is almost like the children expect someone to put their arms around them and to say ‘do not do this anymore'”. Again that exactly resonated with my own assessment after seeing the children this morning. They are out of control. “
I need go no further than the recent judgment of this court in Re KP (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 554 for a comprehensive statement of the law that takes account of the Family Justice Council’s [FJC] April 2010 ‘Guidelines for Judges Meeting Children who are Subject to Family Proceedings’ [2010] 2 FLR 1872, the FJC’s Working Party December 2011 ‘Guidelines on Children Giving Evidence in Family Proceedings’ [2012] Fam Law 79 and the recent decision of the Supreme Court in the Matter of LC (Children) (Reunite International Child Abduction Centre intervening) [2014] UKSC 1, [2014] 2 WLR 124. It remains an essential principle of the guidance and the relevant authorities that a meeting with a child is not for the purpose of gathering evidence. There is likewise an emphasis on the court hearing the voice of a child and of the court reminding itself that a child’s wishes and feelings may not be capable of being represented to the court by the adult parties. The court should ensure that the child’s access to justice is effective, whether that be through formal separate legal representation or the offices of a guardian, a family court advisor or a parent. Even where formal representation is appropriate there is a wide discretion in the court to determine the extent of a child’s participation.
 

I have regrettably come to the clear conclusion that the judge’s discussions with the boys strayed beyond reassurance, explanation and listening. It was certainly not the latter and to the extent that the boys needed it to be, the judge could and should have adopted the practice of listening, disclosing what was said and not placing reliance on it in her judgment. It is entirely possible to listen without gathering evidence. Where a process is intended to or as here inadvertently leads to evidence being gathered, including by very firm impressions and judicial assessments about the boys’ needs, wishes, feelings, behaviours and the risks which their own needs might occasion, then consideration should be given to whether that evidence should be gathered or considered by a suitable neutral person (an expert or a guardian who is not conflicted). In a case where the conflict that had arisen in this case does not exist, the children’s guardian could have been asked to sit in with the judge or read the transcript of the discussion to assess the material in context. A process needed to be agreed that permitted the evidence to be challenged without harming the boys themselves.
 

The judge’s reliance on her own assessments of the boys derived from her discussion with them was procedurally unfair and to the extent that her primary concern was that they were ‘out of control’ it dominated her thinking. That was a value judgment derived from evidence gathered by the judge in a discussion that was not intended for that purpose and which could not be effectively challenged by others.

 

 

Sadly, with a string of appeal points  being upheld, there was never any doubt that this appeal would succeed. I think the Court of Appeal were right to recognise that there are cases in which Judges are urged and feel that a decision has to be taken  (the politician’s syllogism – “Something must be done”  – “This is something” – “Therefore we must do this”   and that hard as it is to tell people that the decision needs more evidence, more analysis and more thought, with an unsatisfactory status quo remaining in the interim, sometimes that is the right thing for a Judge to do.   The Court of Appeal also remind the parents that the extent of their adult quarrel has been very damaging to their two children.

 

55.The judge in this case was not well served by the evidence or the problems created in part by the history of the case and the supposed urgency of the situation. The circumstances that dominated the hearing were not those which were the most important in the case and she was left to make a decision with poor quality material. Although articulate and intelligent, the father was a litigant in person who would have been simply unable without legal assistance to pursue the legal issues that have been pursued before this court. I question whether in the absence of legal representation he is able properly to put forward a sustainable position to the court.
56. The absence of a determination on the question of separate representation and the severe conflict that has arisen between the boys and their guardian and solicitor mean that I am persuaded that they have not been afforded access to justice. A separate representation application must be properly considered with evidence as soon as possible. I say to the boys who should be asked whether they wish to read this judgment, that the degree to which they may be harmed by being even further enmeshed in their parents’ conflict and inappropriately being involved in the decisions that have to be made by adults, will have to be balanced by the harm that is being done by their perception that no-one is listening to them. The conclusion of an application is by no means clear but whatever the conclusion is, it must provide for them to be listened to and to participate to an appropriate extent.
 

57.I return in conclusion to the boys’ parents. Mother should not and must not continue to believe that she can override the repeated conclusions of the court. It is, as the court has repeatedly said, desirable that the boys should have a close parental relationship with their father. The mother’s approach has contributed to the damage that has been caused to the boys’ emotional welfare. This cannot continue. The father must understand that the court cannot achieve the impossible. He has been responsible for at least some of the conflict that exists and the boys have suffered because of that.
 

58. The problem in this case is the maintenance of a meaningful relationship between the boys and their father. As is too frequently the case, the problem was caused by the parents of the children who are locked into a damaging, deteriorating spiral of conflict which desperately needs to be resolved. Without that resolution, whatever the court orders and no matter what steps are taken to enforce the court’s orders, harm will continue to be caused to the children. Cases of this kind are unhelpfully and generically referred to as ‘implacable hostility’ cases because of the parental conflict that exists. The label provides no insight into or assistance with the myriad of circumstances and features that such cases present.
 

59. Mothers, fathers or both are just as likely to be responsible for the precipitating circumstances in such a case which may be far removed from and are sometimes if not often, irrelevant to the conflict which endures. Such research as there is into available and workable solutions suggests either a) that there should be a careful analysis of the reasons for the conflict by fact finding to identify and assess risk to the children and sometimes to one or other of the adults and/or b) that if the reasons for the conflict do not present identifiable risks to the children or their carer and sometimes even if they do, a resolutions approach to the conflict can be adopted to try and resolve it by professional intervention such as individual or family therapy, external support from local authority children’s services or education and assistance from the various parenting programmes and activity directions that are now available under the CA 1989 or otherwise. Sometimes it is necessary to fundamentally alter a child’s arrangements by removing that child from the adverse influence and control of one parent by placing the child with the other parent and making a child arrangements order that has the effect of limiting the relationship with the harmful parent. In an extreme case (and I emphasise they are and should be rare) where the child is suffering significant harm or is likely to suffer significant harm, the court can intervene and exercise its ultimate protective function by removing the child from its parents and by placing the child into public care so that the local authority shares parental responsibility with the parents.
 

60. The removal of a child from the care of a parent whether by a transfer of living arrangements from one parent to another or by placing the child into public care is not and must never be a coercive or punitive measure. It is a protective step grounded in the best interest of the child concerned. In so far as there was a perception in this case that either the transfer of the conditional residence of the boys to their father by the Recorder or their subsequent removal from their mother was a punishment of the boys for their behaviour and for being unwilling to accept contact with their father, then that was inappropriate.
 

61, For a family to be facing the possibility of a wholesale change of living arrangements between parents because of the harm that one or both of the parents is causing is bad enough, for a family to face the removal of children into public care when they are both capable of caring for their children is, frankly, sad beyond measure. This is such a family. I say that without attributing any causative blame to one parent or the other in the sense of saying that one or other parent is responsible for the problem that now arises. That may or may not need to be determined by a fact finding exercise. This court does not yet know. Where the parents are to blame is that neither of them has facilitated a joint approach to the resolution of their conflict for the benefit of their children. It is time for this court to start saying that which is obvious. The family court is empowered to make decisions for parents who cannot make them for themselves but it cannot parent the children who are involved. When parents delegate their parental responsibility to the court to make a decision, that decision will be in the form of an order. The court cannot countenance its orders being ignored or flouted unless an appropriate and lawful agreement can otherwise be reached. That is not simply to preserve the authority of the court, it is to prevent continuing and worsening harm to the children concerned. Parents who come to court must do that which the court decides unless they agree they can do better and there is no court order that prevents that agreement.
In this case, the parents were both to have a meaningful relationship with their sons. That should have involved active practical and emotional steps to be taken by both parents to make it work. Instead the case is suffused with anger and arrogant position taking that has nothing to do with the children. There has undoubtedly been mutual denigration, true allegations, false allegations, irrelevant allegations, insults, wrongly perceived insults and the manipulation of the boys to an outrageous degree. The idea that the court can wave a magic wand and cure all of those ills is dangerously wrong. It cannot – its function is to make a decision. It does not have available to it a supply of experts, be they psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, counsellors, drug, alcohol and domestic violence rehabilitation units, social and welfare professionals or even lawyers who can be ‘allocated’ to families. Experts that the court relies upon are either forensic experts i.e. they are specifically instructed to advise upon the evidence in a case or they are experts who are fortuitously already involved with the family through one agency or another. Their role in proceedings is to advise the court. There is no budget to employ them or anyone else to implement the court’s decision save in the most limited circumstances through the local authority, Cafcass or voluntary agencies.
One can only sympathise with any family court judge who is faced with such a case. There are no right answers but inevitably there are many wrong answers. To make it worse, in this case, the proceedings had to be re-allocated because of judicial indisposition so that the new judge came to the case without the detailed knowledge of the previous ten years of litigation. The hearing was said to be urgent so that, no doubt, all other judicial work stopped and the case took priority. It was said to be a case that needed an immediate order. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and the nearest a first instance family judge can get to it is to take time for reflection.

 

 

 

“The peril of Auntie Beryl”

As the 26 week time limit comes upon us (being introduced by Parliament, the President’s revised PLO guidance and behind the scenes pressure on Courts and Local Authorities via the “Stick of Statistics” TM   - not necessarily in that order), I have been musing about the elephant in the room, of what happens when late in the proceedings, the Court is presented with a suitable relative, Auntie Beryl.

 For what it is worth, I think delays in court proceedings are caused by one or more of these things :-

 (a)   Parties (including the LA) being late in filing documents and this having a domino effect

(b)   The expert report being late, and the whole carefully built timetable collapses round people’s ears

(c)   There is a material change in circumstances  (an unexpected dad emerges, or a relationship ends or begins, or someone you thought was going to be fine relapses into drug misuse, or falls pregnant, or has some sort of unpredictable illness or disease)

(d)   A relative comes forward at the eleventh hour and has to be assessed

(e)   The evidence is all ready, but the combination of accommodating social worker, Guardian, expert and more importantly Court time, means that you have to wait 3 months for a hearing

 I think the intention of the revised PLO  (which you can find here http://www.adcs.org.uk/news/revisedplo.html  )   is to try, as much as one can, to eliminate (a) and (b), and the hope is clearly that if you have much crisper and tighter and fewer Court hearings, there will be less backlog and more judicial availability for (e)    – though it would have been nice to see something spelling out exactly what the Court service is going to do about (e)  – save for having Listings offices run by Capita…

 (c )  is probably the stuff that ends up coming into the bracket of exceptional cases that get an extension to the 26 week limit, or at least where this is actively considered.

 So that leaves the elephant in the room, where it looks as though a child MIGHT be able to be placed with a family member, but doing that assessment will take the proceedings outside of the 26 weeks, because the family member has been put forward late on.

 I suspect, and am already seeing this, that the Courts will try to tackle this by very robust directions at early Court hearings, along these lines :-

“The parents shall, by no later than                       , identify in writing to the Local Authority (to be copied to all parties) the names and contact details of any person that they put forward as a potential permanent carer of the child. Any person put forward after that date will ONLY be considered with the leave of the Court and the parent would need to apply to Court for leave for such assessment evidence to be filed and would need to provide VERY cogent reasons as to why they were not put forward within the deadline period set out in this paragraph”

 

 That looks pretty strong, and will no doubt be backed up by the Court leaning forward and stressing to the parents just how important it is to focus their minds right NOW on who might be able to care for the children, if the assessments of them are not positive.

 But, human nature being what it is, at some point, lawyers and parents and Judges will be faced with an Auntie Beryl coming forward at week 18 or 19, when the LA have announced that they won’t be rehabilitating to parents and will be seeking an adoptive placement. Auntie Beryl, on the face of it, seems like she might be suitable – she doesn’t have any convictions, or history of children being removed, or any major health issues, she has a house in which the child could live, and so forth. So there is a positive viability assessment, but still a lot to be done – more than could be done in the time we have left.

 The six million dollar question, which the Court of Appeal will be grappling with pretty quickly after the revised PLO comes into force I suspect, is

 When a parent puts forward a family member late, and the assessment of that family member would push the case outside 26 weeks, what does the Court do?

 

The immediate “26 weeks or bust” approach suggests that the Court will say, “too late, you had your chance, you had the stern warning on day 12 to cough up the names, you can’t leave it until the assessments are in and the LA are talking about adoption”

 So, what happens if they do that?

 For these purposes, we will assume that the assessment of the parents is negative (since if it were positive, there would be no need to delay matters to assess Auntie Beryl) and that we are dealing with a child under six.

 The alternative care plan is therefore adoption. 

Can an application for a Placement Order be made when there is a viable carer who has not been assessed?

 

The Local Authority have a duty, pursuant to section 22(6) of the Children Act 1989

 s22 (6)  Subject to any regulations made by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this subsection, any local authority looking after a child shall make arrangements to enable him to live with—

 (a)  a person falling within subsection(4); or

 (b)  a relative, friend or other person connected with him,

unless that would not be reasonably practicable or consistent with his welfare.

 

The LA can’t, it seems to me, determine that placement with Auntie Beryl isn’t consistent with the child’s welfare if all they have is a positive viability assessment, they have to go on to do something more, EVEN IF the Court has made a Care Order.

 Before the adoption agency can decide that adoption is the plan for the child, and thus make the application for a Placement Order, they have this duty under the Adoption and Children Act 2002

 Section 1 Considerations applying to the exercise of powers

 (4)The court or adoption agency must have regard to the following matters (among others)—

 (f)the relationship which the child has with relatives, and with any other person in relation to whom the court or agency considers the relationship to be relevant, including—

(i)the likelihood of any such relationship continuing and the value to the child of its doing so,

(ii)the ability and willingness of any of the child’s relatives, or of any such person, to provide the child with a secure environment in which the child can develop, and otherwise to meet the child’s needs,

(iii)the wishes and feelings of any of the child’s relatives, or of any such person, regarding the child.

 

And again, how can the adoption agency decide that Auntie Beryl can’t provide the child with a secure environment if all they have is a positive viability assessment? They have to have a full assessment.

 Thus, even if the Court determined that they were not going to allow time for Auntie Beryl to be assessed, because she has come late into the proceedings, that won’t allow the LA to simply discount her and issue a Placement Order application.

 Unless they have done sufficient to satisfy themselves that Auntie Beryl is NOT suitable, they can’t commit to a plan of adoption and no such plan could be put before the Court. Neither can they commit to “Placement with Auntie Beryl” until they have sufficient information to be satisfied that this has good prospects of success.

 Therefore, the Court cannot have a hearing by week 26 at which a Placement Order could be made.

 

 If the Court can’t consider a Placement Order application, what can it do?

 

The Court would be left, I think, with these three options :-

1. Taking the information that is available about Auntie Beryl and taking a punt on her, by making a Residence Order (or an SGO – but bear in mind that the Court cannot make a Special Guardianship Order without a Special Guardianship report   – and the Court won’t have one of those between week 18 and 26    RE S (A CHILD) NO.2 (2007) [2007] EWCA Civ 90 )

 

2. Adjourning the proceedings in order for a Special Guardianship report to be filed and served, which will push the proceedings outside of 26 weeks.  

 

3. Determining that the Court is in a position to make a Care Order, with the care plan being that the Local Authority will assess Auntie Beryl and the child will remain in foster care pending that assessment.

 

[And of course option 4 of placement with parents, but we are dealing here with those cases where the Court has the material to determine the issue of rehabilitation to parents, since in those cases Auntie Beryl isn’t important]

 

My concern is that option 3, in a post PLO world (and more importantly a world where the Judges know that their performance on timescales is being gathered and measured), becomes superficially attractive. The case concludes, it concludes in time, the Care Order is made, and Auntie Beryl becomes the Local Authority’s problem.

 Of course, it doesn’t actually resolve the future for the child, or end the proceedings with the parents knowing what will happen, and it almost invariably will lead to satellite litigation   (either the assessment of Auntie Beryl is positive, whereupon the LA will want to shed the Care Order and get an SGO or residence order made, OR it is negative, in which case the LA will put the case before their Agency Decision Maker and in due course make an application for a Placement Order)

 The only advantage option 3 has over option 2 is determining the proceedings within a 26 week timetable. There might have to be a judgment that works hard to say that the no delay principle is more important than the no order principle  – but that isn’t the only problem.

 

Get your inchoate, you’ve pulled

 

Is a care plan which at heart is “either this child will be placed with a family member OR adopted, and we don’t yet know which”  actually a legitimate care plan? Is it in fact, an inchoate care plan?

 Inchoate care plans are bad, m’kay? Not good for the Court to hand over the keys to that sparkling vintage E-type Jag to the Local Authority without having a clear idea of where they intend to drive it.

It seems so to me, even on the new Children and Families Bill reworking of care plans as being  “don’t sweat the small stuff”    model

 Section 15 of the draft Children and Families Bill

 

(1) For section 31(3A) of the Children Act 1989 (no care order to be made until court has considered section 31A care plan) substitute—

“(3A) A court deciding whether to make a care order—

(a) is required to consider the permanence provisions of the section  31A plan for the child concerned, but

(b) is not required to consider the remainder of the section 31A  plan, subject to section 34(11).

(3B) For the purposes of subsection (3A), the permanence provisions of a section 31A plan are such of the plan’s provisions setting out the long- term plan for the upbringing of the child concerned as provide for any of the following—

(a) the child to live with any parent of the child’s or with any other  member of, or any friend of, the child’s family;

(b) adoption;

(c) long-term care not within paragraph (a) or (b).

 

And it does not seem to me that even with that more limited scrutiny, a care plan which doesn’t identify whether the plan for the child is to live with a family member or in an adoptive parent, is sufficiently clear.

 Let’s see what the law says about inchoate care plans (underlining mine) and from Re S and others 2002:-

 99. Despite all the inevitable uncertainties, when deciding whether to make a care order the court should normally have before it a care plan which is sufficiently firm and particularised for all concerned to have a reasonably clear picture of the likely way ahead for the child for the foreseeable future. The degree of firmness to be expected, as well as the amount of detail in the plan, will vary from case to case depending on how far the local authority can foresee what will be best for the child at that time. This is necessarily so. But making a care order is always a serious interference in the lives of the child and his parents. Although article 8 contains no explicit procedural requirements, the decision making process leading to a care order must be fair and such as to afford due respect to the interests safeguarded by article 8: seeTP and KM v United Kingdom [2001] 2 FLR 549, 569, paragraph 72. If the parents and the child’s guardian are to have a fair and adequate opportunity to make representations to the court on whether a care order should be made, the care plan must be appropriately specific.

    100. Cases vary so widely that it is impossible to be more precise about the test to be applied by a court when deciding whether to continue interim relief rather than proceed to make a care order. It would be foolish to attempt to be more precise. One further general point may be noted. When postponing a decision on whether to make a care order a court will need to have in mind the general statutory principle that any delay in determining issues relating to a child’s upbringing is likely to prejudice the child’s welfare: section 1(2) of the Children Act.

    101. In the Court of Appeal Thorpe LJ, at paragraph 29, expressed the view that in certain circumstances the judge at the trial should have a ‘wider discretion’ to make an interim care order: ‘where the care plan seems inchoate or where the passage of a relatively brief period seems bound to see the fulfilment of some event or process vital to planning and deciding the future’. In an appropriate case, a judge must be free to defer making a care order until he is satisfied that the way ahead ‘is no longer obscured by an uncertainty that is neither inevitable nor chronic’.

    102. As I see it, the analysis I have set out above adheres faithfully to the scheme of the Children Act and conforms to the procedural requirements of article 8 of the Convention. At the same time it affords trial judges the degree of flexibility Thorpe LJ is rightly concerned they should have. Whether this represents a small shift in emphasis from the existing case law may be a moot point. What is more important is that, in the words of Wall J in Re J, the court must always maintain a proper balance between the need to satisfy itself about the appropriateness of the care plan and the avoidance of ‘over-zealous investigation into matters which are properly within the administrative discretion of the local authority’. This balance is a matter for the good sense of the tribunal, assisted by the advocates appearing before it: see [1994] 1 FLR 253, 262.

 

 It seems very clear to me, that waiting for the assessment of Auntie Beryl removes that obscurity and uncertainty in the case, and that this uncertainty is NEITHER inevitable or chronic – it can be resolved by making a direction for the filing of the report.

So, the revised PLO doesn’t erode this, nor would the introduction of the Children and Families Bill as currently drafted – the Court still have a duty to look at the ‘placement’ aspect of care plans, and it appears very strongly that a care plan that is “either Auntie Beryl OR adoption” is inchoate.

 Well that’s fine, we can just overturn the decision about inchoate care plans, and say that it is fine to have “either or” care plans.  Just let’s not worry about inchoate care plans anymore, we’ll just airbrush the whole concept out. The slight stumbling block there is that the passages above are from the House of Lords, and thus it isn’t open to lower Courts to overturn it.

 Oh-kay, so we are just going to interpret Re S very widely, to mean that a Court can and should think about whether it is right to make a Care Order rather than an interim care order where the care plan is inchoate, BUT it is not a prohibition on making a Care Order where the plan is inchoate, they don’t go that far.

 And, you know, before Re S, the former President (Wall LJ) had made Care Orders in a case where he declared the care plans to be inchoate but still decided that making care orders was the right course of action RE R (MINORS) (CARE PROCEEDINGS: CARE PLAN) (1993) [1994] 2 FCR 136 

 

Although that predates Re S, it was specifically referred to by the House of Lords (though they call it Re J, it is the same case) and endorsed, so it is good law for the proposition that a Court is not BARRED from making a Care Order with an inchoate care plan.   [Or is it? The House of Lords seem to draw a slight distinction between inchoate care plans, and care plans where the future is not certain because there are things which can only be resolved after the care order is made]

 

This is what the House of Lords say about Re R/Re J

 

  97. Frequently the case is on the other side of this somewhat imprecise line. Frequently the uncertainties involved in a care plan will have to be worked out after a care order has been made and while the plan is being implemented. This was so in the case which is the locus classicus on this subject: In re J (Minors)(Care: Care Plan) [1994] 1 FLR 253. There the care plan envisaged placing the children in short-term foster placements for up to a year. Then a final decision would be made on whether to place the children permanently away from the mother. Rehabilitation was not ruled out if the mother showed herself amenable to treatment. Wall J said, at page 265:

‘there are cases (of which this is one) in which the action which requires to be taken in the interests of children necessarily involves steps into the unknown … provided the court is satisfied that the local authority is alert to the difficulties which may arise in the execution of the care plan, the function of the court is not to seek to oversee the plan but to entrust its execution to the local authority.’

In that case the uncertain outcome of the treatment was a matter to be worked out after a care order was made, not before.

 I suspect there may be dancing on the head of a pin to try to make ‘auntie beryl cases’ the Re J style of uncertainty, rather than the Re W style of uncertainty that is neither inevitable nor chronic.

It seems then, that it is POSSIBLE for a Court to make a Care Order, even where the care plan is “either Auntie Beryl OR adoption”  and even though it achieves nothing of value for the child  (since the uncertainty is there, the timing of the assessment and any applications will be no longer controlled by the Court, there will be the inevitable delay of reissuing and listing for the second wave of litigation  – whether that be for SGO or Placement Order application.

 But even more importantly, and from an article 6 point of view – how certain is the Court that the parents  (who would be represented and able to challenge the making of SGO or Placement Orders if the care proceedings continued, under their existing certificates) would get public funding in “stand-alone” applications for an SGO or a Placement Order?

 My reading of the Funding Code  (and I am not a “legal aid” lawyer) suggests that it might well not be a “non-means, non-merits” certificate for a parent faced with an application for Special Guardianship or Placement Order that is a “stand alone” application, rather than one taking place within ongoing care proceedings  -where the public funding, or “legal aid”  is covered by non-means non-merits certificates  – for the uninitiated, “non-means, non-merits” means that a person gets free legal representation in care proceedings by virtue of the sort of proceedings they are NOT based on what money they have (means) or the chances of them being successful (merits) 

 Again, underlining to assist with clarity, mine

 

20.28 Other Public Law Children Cases

1. Other public law children cases are defined in s.2.2 of the Funding Code Criteria. The definition of these proceedings excludes Special Children Act Proceedings and related proceedings. The fact that proceedings involve a local authority and concern the welfare of children will not, of itself justify the grant of Legal Representation. The Standard Criteria and General Funding Code (as varied by s.11 of the Code and including criterion 5.4.5) will apply. The proceedings include:

a) appeals (whether against interim or final orders) made in Special Children Act Proceedings;

b) representation for parties or potential parties to public law Children Act proceedings who do not come within the definition of Special Children Act proceedings in section 2.2 of the Funding Code – this includes a local authority application to extend a supervision order (which is made under Sch.3 of the Children Act 1989);

c)other proceedings under Pt IV or V of the Children Act 1989 (Care and Supervision and Protection of Children);

d) adoption proceedings (including applications for placement orders, unless in the particular circumstances they are related proceedings); and

e) proceedings under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court in relation to children.

 

(d) seems to me to cover stand alone Placement Order applications, and they would be a matter for the discretion of the Legal Aid Agency  (oh, also, they wouldn’t be a devolved powers application, where the lawyer can just say “yes” and get on with it, it would need to be a full-blown application and waiting for the Legal Aid Agency to say yes or no)

 

Special Guardianship orders as stand-alone would be classed now as private law proceedings, and I think you can guess how the parents funding on that would go

 20.36 A special guardianship order is a private law order and the principles in s.1 of the Children Act 1989 will apply as will the Funding Code criteria in 11.11. This includes the no order principle which will be taken into account when considering prospects of success. Regard will also be had to the report of the local authority prepared in accordance with s.14A of the Children Act 1989 when considering an application for funding. When considering an application for funding to oppose the making of a special guardianship order, the way in which the proposed respondent currently exercises their parental responsibility and how this will be affected by the making of an order will also be considered.

 

 To quickly sum up then :-

 (a ) Declining to extend the timetable to assess Auntie Beryl won’t let the Court go on to determine a Placement Order application

(b) The Local Authority would be legally obliged to assess Auntie Beryl before they could even ask their Agency Decision Maker to make a decision about adoption

(c)  Making a care order with a care plan of “Auntie Beryl OR adoption” is almost certainly inchoate

(d) It almost certainly opens the door to parents to challenge that decision, given what the House of Lords say about inchoate care plans and  specifically “If the parents and the child’s guardian are to have a fair and adequate opportunity to make representations to the court on whether a care order should be made, the care plan must be appropriately specific.”

 

(e) There seems to be a very foreseeable chance that if the Court make the Care Order, the parents may not get the public funding to be represented to subsequently challenge or test any application for SGO or Placement Order, funding that they would have had as of right if the Court had made Interim Care Orders and had the assessment of Auntie Beryl before considering those orders  

 (f) There must be scope for an article 6 claim that losing the ability to be legally represented to challenge whether your child might be adopted PURELY so that the Court could make a care order (on an inchoate care plan) just to satisfy the 26 week criteria is, you know, slightly unfair.

 (g)     Changing this so that it is workable only requires changes to  – a House of Lords decision,  two pieces of Primary legislation (maybe 3, if you just want to allow Courts to make SGOS in cases where they feel it is right without having a full blown SGO report), the private law funding code and the public law funding code. 

 So, job’s a good un.

 [If you are representing someone in a case where the Auntie Beryl issue crops up, “you’re welcome!”  I think the answer for the Court is to identify what issues it would need the LA to deal with in a report on the carer and to get this done as swiftly as is fair and reasonable]

 

“The driver cannot ignore the passengers”

 The judicial review case of H R v Kingston Upon Hull 2013  – where the Court found that a failure to consult with parents BEFORE making a decision to move children under an ICO was unlawful

 The case is here

 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2013/388.html

 This is, I think, the pivotal passage from the judgment (hence the title)  – underlining mine

 When an ICO is made the local authority and the parent share parental responsibility for the child – albeit the local authority is usually the one in the driving seat particularly when removal has been sanctioned. This plainly does not mean the parents or others are of little or no consequence. Although the local authority may be driving the vehicle, on a journey approved by the court, it does not mean it is able to ignore the views of the passengers as to the route to follow. There needs to be consultation; and concurrence (if possible). The consultation must be genuine and not merely a process whereby decisions are merely the subject of information to parents. I repeat a parent with parental responsibility does not surrender that when an ICO is made, nor when removal is permitted by the court. The weight to be attached to the views of parents and others is a different question. A local authority must always work in a carefully calibrated manner and act in a proportionate way commensurate with the issues involved and those involved… A sense of reality and a sense of proportion are key to the concept of consultation; however, consultation there must be, save in exceptional circumstances where child safety or other pressing reasons are present. I should also add that proper records are an essential aspect of consultation and decision-making.

In this case, the Local Authority had initially sought to remove the children from the parents, and at Court (as is often the way) a compromise was reached, whereby the parents agreed to an Interim Care Order if the children were placed with grandparents, and the LA agreed to place the children with grandparents. As often is the way with compromise, regrets followed.

 Thereafter, the LA had doubts about whether that was the right placement, and they conducted their fostering assessment, which became available on 30th January. This was very negative, and it considered that the grandparents attitude towards the concerns about the parents care was worrying. Sufficiently worrying for them to decide on 31st January that they would seek to move the children into foster care.

 They met with the parents on 1st February, and told them that this was the plan. The parents reacted badly, particularly the father, who said (inadvisably) that he would kidnap the children.

 The LA then moved the children, earlier than they had intended to.

 The parents made an application for judicial review, seeking to overturn two decisions :-

  1. That the decision on 31st January that the children would be moved was unreasonable, it having taken place without consultation
  2. That the decision on 1st February to move them forthwith was unreasonable

The parents triumphed on ground 1, but lost on ground 2  – the Court determining that the events of 1st February (although they had arisen purely because of the LA’s failure to properly consult) did legitimately give rise to a reason to implement a move.

 The LA had claimed that they had not MADE a decision on 31st January to move the children, but the Court rejected that.

  1.  I gave a short judgment announcing my decision in which I set out the following:

(1) The decision made by the LA on 31st January 2013 to remove the children was unlawful.

(2) The LA was the author of the very unhappy events of 1st February 2013 (the Riverside Incident); and, had they acted lawfully, those events may have been avoided.

(3) Having created that situation, as a result of that unlawful decision, the LA acted reasonably in taking the immediate action to remove the children during the afternoon of 1st February 2013. The LA are much to be criticised for creating the situation (due to an unlawful decision); but having created it, acted in a way that many other local authorities would have acted.

(4) The proposal to remove the children is one that would have received the support of the guardian providing appropriate planning had been undertaken (it was not). In consequence the children entered foster care in a rushed and unseemly manner. The guardian was not in fact consulted.

(5) At no stage did the decision of the LA have the approval of any court. The decision not to refer the case back to the FPC or any family court was unlawful.

 The Court placed quite a lot of emphasis on the LA not consulting with the Guardian (perhaps working on the basis of five years ago, when  all Guardians communicated much more regularly with social workers and would give a view on events) , and in this case the children were between Guardians, leaving responsibility solely with CAFCASS.  Nonetheless, this LA did not notify CAFCASS or the Court, or the child’s solicitor that a move was afoot.

 The Court summed up the human rights position in relation to interim care orders, and this is a helpful summary.  Underlining again mine, for emphasis.

  1. An interim care order is exactly what it says – interim; and does not bring in its wake all that flows from a final order. An ICO may only be made when a court is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing the basis for making a care or supervision order are present. In short terms the full case for a care order does not have to be established – simply reasonable grounds for believing that position exists. A wholly separate question arises in many cases whether removal from the parent is justified. There is much Court of Appeal authority upon that which I have no intention of setting out, but essentially the court considering such a course must: (i) only do as much as is really necessary to secure the safety of a child; (ii) only decide what really needs to be decided at the interim stage (as the concept is purely to hold the ring until the full hearing); and (iii) only remove a child if it appears truly necessary to do so in the interests of the child’s safety.

The interim care proceedings are not a dress rehearsal for the final hearing. An ICO is an interim protective order and requires renewal from time to time under the present statutory arrangements. That does not mean regular reappraisal of the living arrangements, but it does mean the court is keeping a watchful eye on developments. The interim process of care proceedings is judicially controlled and the more so with the advent of recent family justice reforms. I feel it always needs to be remembered that the removal of any child from a parent is a very serious step that should never be made lightly. That similarly applies to the removal of a child from another family member to a foster carer. These observations are particularly significant when such a course is postulated prior to full investigation at a final hearing.

  1. There can be no doubt that Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Fundamental Freedoms and Human Rights 1951 (the Convention) are engaged when an application for an ICO is made – and all the more so when removal is in issue. This issue was addressed by the Court of Appeal in Re S (Care Proceedings: Human Rights) [2010] EWCA Civ 1383 [2012] 2 FLR 2009, where Sir Nicholas Wall P (with whom Arden LJ and Wilson LJ, as he then was, agreed) said that a useful formulation of the test to be applied in questions of removal was: whether the removal or continued removal of the child from the care of his or her parent(s) is proportionate to the risk of harm to which he or she will be exposed if the child is allowed to remain or return to parental care [see paragraphs 8 and 9 of the judgment]. The articulation of the test by the President in Re S is a valuable lodestar for courts deciding whether an ICO should be made and removal countenanced. It will be understood that making an interim order when not all is known about the family dynamic is one of the most difficult decisions a family court is asked to make (particularly when removal of a child from a parent or other family member is proposed). There is a volume of Convention jurisprudence which emphasises the invasive and draconian nature of an ICO and removal of a child from the family.
  1. When an ICO is made the local authority and the parent share parental responsibility for the child – albeit the local authority is usually the one in the driving seat particularly when removal has been sanctioned. This plainly does not mean the parents or others are of little or no consequence. Although the local authority may be driving the vehicle, on a journey approved by the court, it does not mean it is able to ignore the views of the passengers as to the route to follow. There needs to be consultation; and concurrence (if possible). The consultation must be genuine and not merely a process whereby decisions are merely the subject of information to parents. I repeat a parent with parental responsibility does not surrender that when an ICO is made, nor when removal is permitted by the court. The weight to be attached to the views of parents and others is a different question. A local authority must always work in a carefully calibrated manner and act in a proportionate way commensurate with the issues involved and those involved. Calibration and proportionality are highly fact specific. The level and manner of consultation with one family will inevitably differ to that of another family depending on the issues and circumstances. The weight to be attached to the views of a father who murdered the mother of his child is likely to be rather less (if any) to be attached to the views of grandparents who are looking after a child in a difficult family situation. A sense of reality and a sense of proportion are key to the concept of consultation; however, consultation there must be, save in exceptional circumstances where child safety or other pressing reasons are present. I should also add that proper records are an essential aspect of consultation and decision-making.
  1. During the course of argument I was referred to the case of Re G (Care: Challenge to Local Authority Decision) [2003] EWHC 551 (Fam) which was a decision of Munby J (as he then was: now the President) involving a challenge to a decision of a local authority to remove a child from parents after a final care order was made. Munby J reviewed the convention cases and domestic law in a comprehensive judgment which has continuing relevance. He drew attention to the fact that social workers (in 2003 when the Human Rights Act 1998 was still in comparative infancy) needed to be more aware of its terms and import (see paragraph 3 of the judgment). Given the events of this case that is a paragraph that needs repetition. Let there be no misunderstanding: the convention applies to local authorities in respect of their decision making in care cases and all social workers need to be alive to its provisions and import; moreover they must apply the convention. The texture of decision-making needs to have the weave of the convention visible and palpable.
  1. In my judgment it is possible to distil the relevant law in the following way by reference to the expansive and helpful judgment of Munby J in Re G which has resonance today in this case. I particularly call attention to paragraphs 28 to 55 of the judgment which I say, with profound respect, were both learned and graphical – making it all the more readable. The distillation of relevant considerations applicable to the facts of this case are:

(1) It is always important (usually vital) for any decision-maker to consult with all relevant parties to be affected by the proposal before making the decision. The weight (or none) to be attached to the responses is a matter for the decision-maker providing the decision is legally rational.

(2) In the context of the removal of a child from a parent (and I would add any other family member) should not be countenanced unless and until there has been due and proper consultation and an opportunity to challenge the proposal.

(3) Article 8 not only provides substantive protection for parents and other family members, but requires procedural safeguards too.

(4) Article 8 is not something that applies simply to the judicial process, but to other decisions made by the local authority too.

  1. The passage of the judgment at paragraph 36 is apposite to this case:

“So Article 8 requires that parents are properly involved in the decision-making process not merely before the care proceedings are launched and during the period when care proceedings are on foot (the issue I was concerned with in Re L), but also —- after care proceedings have come to an end and whilst the local authority are implementing the care order.”

This is interesting – there are occasions, when representing a Local Authority that the concerns the LA have are so high that care proceedings are certain to be commenced. In those circumstances, it is traditional to send the Letter Before Action, making it plain that care proceedings will be commenced.  [Though of course, the parent is able to obtain legal advice and contest the ICO application]

Is the upshot of this judgment that it is unlawful to DECIDE to commence proceedings before consulting with the parent about this?   It seems to me that it probably is.    

The Court then went on to consider the interplay between interim care orders and judicial review – mindful that there is of course a remedy in the care proceedings (to challenge the ICO, or to appeal a court decision to continue it)

56. There have not been – in so far that counsel and I have been able to determine – any reported case of judicial review proceedings in relation to ICO’s. It was felt by counsel – and I am inclined to agree – that challenges whilst care proceedings are in train are usually made within the confines of the family court when an application to revoke the ICO is made or a renewal application is made. Ordinarily, the Administrative Court will not countenance judicial review proceedings when there is an alternative remedy – especially so when that alternative is a judicial remedy. However, that does not mean that judicial review cannot apply to decisions made by local authorities whilst care proceedings are in train. I am of the view that there are limited – perhaps very limited circumstances – where an application can be made justly. This would be so when a person affected by a decision is not actually a party to the care proceedings and might not have a sufficiently good reason to be made an intervener in those proceedings. It might equally apply where (as here) a party (the mother) does not wish to challenge the basis of the ICO, but merely a decision made by the LA as to its implementation. It may be that a local authority has reached a conclusion in respect of which it refuses to alter (despite the request of the family court). All the family court can do is to exhort (it usually works – but it does not always) or revoke the ICO. The family court is not exercising the jurisdiction of the High Court in, the now infrequently used, wardship procedure where by the court makes all important decisions about all aspects of a child’s life as used to be the case. In my judgment the circumstances whereby judicial review is applicable whilst care proceedings are in progress (and there is an extant ICO) are likely to be rare and distinctly fact specific. The Administrative Court is very alive to the concept of an alternative remedy.

 

The Court also covered the duty to consult – and made it plain that there is a spectrum of consultation, not merely ‘agreement’ at one end, and ‘informing the parents of the decision’ at the other  – there has to be a genuine dialogue which allows for the potential for a parent or other interested party to bring something to the conversation which might result in a different outcome.

  1. I have made it clear that there is a duty upon a local authority to consult with all affected parties before a decision is reached upon important aspects of the life of a child whilst an ICO is in force. I have been shown the guidance issued by HM Government to local authorities in 2010 [The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations] where there is valuable material available to social workers about how to approach their difficult task in this regard. Paragraph 1.5 provides (inter alia):

“Parents should be expected and enabled to retain their responsibilities and to remain closely involved as is consistent with their child’s welfare, even if that child cannot live at home either temporarily or permanently.”

Further:

“If children are to live apart form their family, both they and their parents should be given adequate information and helped to consider alternatives and contribute to the making of an informed choice about the most appropriate form of care.”

  1. Whilst it is not spelled-out quite as starkly as perhaps it should, there is contained therein a plain message that a local authority must consult and, in my judgment, that is even more crucial during the interim phase of proceedings when final decisions as to the threshold criteria and outcome have not been made by a court. The question as to whom the local authority needs to consult is distinctly fact specific. In my judgment that should ordinarily include the parents. If capacity is in issue or there are safety issues or other genuinely powerful reasons not to embrace them, then different considerations apply. It should also embrace the guardian (if appointed and available). It should also embrace any other family member who has a material interest in the children. This would include a family member who may be caring for a child or otherwise closely concerned with the child. This frequently involves grandparents who step-in to help.
  1. The weight to be attached to the input of parents and others is for the local authority to judge – it may be no weight at all may be attached depending on the circumstances – but there needs to be consultation about fundamental decisions. Moreover, the concept of consultation does not mean concurrence at one end of the spectrum; nor information at the other. The “others” who need to be consulted may have a valuable contribution that might alter the proposal of the local authority. It does not mean the parents and other parties must concur with the proposal before it can be implemented. There can be no veto or casting vote. Equally, the parents and other parties are not mere vassals to whom information is given and nothing more.
  1. It has to be acknowledged that there will be decisions to be made in some cases where it is impossible to engage with parties or even to consult where the local authority must act speedily in the interests of child safety and protection. When this is done there must be clear reasons for this and the decision must be objectively reasonable and justifiable. Such a decision needs careful justification and calibration. A full note of the reason for such an exceptional course must be made.
  1. During the pre-final hearing stage (the interim phase of the case) the family court will be monitoring developments and where there is a fundamental disagreement as to an important decision, the parties need to have the issue adjudicated upon. This is of critical importance where the court has made an ICO upon a particular premise and that is to be changed, and changed where there is no agreement. Unless there a real need for an urgent decision (on proper grounds of child safety or protection) the family court should ordinarily be involved. The interim phase of care proceedings is now under even tighter judicial control than hitherto. I cannot emphasise enough the local authority is not allowed to act unilaterally upon important matters affecting a child in its interim care without proper consultation save in exceptional circumstances. There must be proper consultation and judicial input when there is a contested proposal. It must be equally emphasised that local authorities must act speedily and without express approval if exceptional circumstances obtain. The weight to be attached to the views of those consulted is a matter for the judgment of the local authority in whom trust for the management of the ICO has been reposed by the court.

 

Whether you represent a parent, or child, or Local Authority, this case has some important information, and reminders.  I think that most Local Authorities would have had the case before the Court before the children were removed, but conversely, that most would probably have made the DECISION that they intended to remove once that negative viability report arrived. This case reminds us that the duty to consult goes far deeper than simply telling the parents that a decision has been reached, but actually to be a genuine discussion about the situation and the options available PRIOR to a decision being reached.

What to do in the interim?

Interlocutory orders when the Court is faced with disputed allegations of non-accidental injury

Long term readers of this blog will know of the number of cases that have come before the senior Courts in the last year where what seemed compelling evidence for non-accidental injury perpetrated by the parents turned out to have a medical explanation (the rickets/vitamin D cases)   http://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/04/24/subdural-haematomas-fractures-and-rickets/ 

 , a cyst   http://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/10/12/a-tapestry-of-justice/ 

 or where the Judge didn’t like either of the competing theories and fell back on the burden of proof,   http://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/05/04/a-county-council-v-m-and-f-2011/  

or where the Court just felt that the injuries just lay outside current medical knowledge and could not be explained   http://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/12/20/what-does-donald-rumsfeld-have-to-do-with-paediatric-head-injuries/ 

and I have speculated about when we might get a case that says what a Court are supposed to do with interlocutory applications for removal, when faced with serious allegations of non-accidental injury and the parents say “well, there’s a whole other possibility, which is that we have done nothing wrong and the child should remain with us”

Well, now we have such an authority, the Court of Appeal considering this very issue in Re B (Children) 2013  

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed112720

The Judge at first instance had heard the application for an Interim Care Order and removal, and refused it, and the Local Authority appealed.

There were two fractures, and the radiological evidence was that there was not an organic cause and that they were likely to be non-accidental in nature.

The parents were arguing that the fracture had occurred in hospital during an examination, and marshalled other arguments as well.

The Judge at first instance accepted that there were matters on both sides of the equation and that a finding of fact hearing would be necessary to come to a determination of the causation of the injury, but that [as the Court of Appeal say] a significant body of evidence pointing to the distinct possibility (I deliberately use a relatively neutral description) that L had sustained non-accidental injuries.  

The Judge’s exact wording was

I make it plain that there are plainly on the evidence matters which might be going in the opposite direction.  But it appears to me that both of these fractures and the circumstances surrounding them suggest that there are grounds for believing that one or the other of the parents may have caused those injuries.”

The issue really was, having crossed the interim threshold, for the purposes of section 38 (which with the above formulation was plainly crossed and was not in dispute) ; but mindful that the ultimate issue of causation was not yet resolved and was in considerable dispute,  should the Court go on to make Interim Care Orders, or should he, as he in fact did, make Interim Supervision Orders allowing the two children to be at home pending the finding of fact hearing.

The Court of Appeal were pretty clear that they did not want to strike a new formulation of the test for removal [nonetheless, I like the way that they put it, which is a reset to Re B’s much clearer test than the murkier waters the authorities later dipped a toe into]

23. So, with that caveat that this is not intended to be in any way a reformulation of the test with regard to interim care orders, one might say that it is the welfare of the child that dictates the result, that dictates the order that the judge should impose at the welfare stage of an interim hearing.  The welfare is, as HHJ Murdoch says, the court’s paramount consideration and what the court is looking for is whether the child’s welfare demands that he or she should be removed immediately from his or her parents’ care for his or her safety or whether, putting it another way, removal from their care is a proportionate response to the circumstances as they appear to be to the court.  In carrying out that evaluation the court must, as HHJ Murdoch said, bear in mind the welfare checklist set out in section 1(3) of the Children Act.

The Court of Appeal then look at what the Judge laid on the other side of the scales  [underlining is my own, as that is the key passage]

. When the judge went on to consider the welfare issue, he said this at paragraph 33:

When, however, I come to look at the second stage of the decision making process at this hearing, I must look at the matter in the round.  I must look at the existence of arguments which go in the other direction in respect of the femoral fracture and the possibility that there is that the findings at the fact finding hearing in February may not be to the effect that non accidental injury has been caused.”

40. One might have expected that that passage in the judgment would then have been followed by an enumeration by the judge of the various features which gave the judge reassurance in placing the children with the parents in the interim period or at least a closer examination of the risk that there was to the children in the parents’ care, including the features that gave rise to concern, not just in the shape of the medical evidence available so far but also the other matters such as the existence of the 31 January incident and the absence of injury whilst under the supervision of the grandparent or, subject to a hand swelling which is noted in the clinical records, in the care of the foster parents.

41. In short one would have expected the judge, faced with the seriousness of the injuries which L had suffered so far and which he had found there were grounds for believing had been caused by one or the other of the parents, to go on at that point to explain why nevertheless he felt the risk was one that he could takeOne would have expected him at that stage, I think, to have explained what he thought the risk was and what, if any, he thought was the chance of such harm as the children risked actually happening, whether it was predictable as to whether it would happen and what protective features there were in the case that would guard against it.  The judge does not go on to deal with matters in that way. He sees the matter in terms of a balance between the risk of physical harm and the risk of harm to the children’s bond with their parents.  He clearly arrived at the view that the risk of the harm to the bond was greater than the risk of the physical harm, but he does not explain in his judgment how it was that he arrived at that evaluation.  Given the gravity of the circumstances here I see that as a fundamental flaw in his evaluation of the matter or at least in his articulation of how he saw the respective risks.

42. We were asked to say that no judge could have arrived at the decision that was arrived at in this case.  I am reluctant ever to say never in a family case, because each case depends upon a sophisticated mixture of the particular facts in the particular case.  I may have taken a lot of persuasion to have countenanced a return of children in circumstances such as these, but I would not translate that into saying that no judge could take that course.  But what a judge would need to do in those circumstances is to spell out very clearly why it was that he felt that the risk could be taken.  That is missing from this judgment and I would therefore overturn the decision made by the judge and would hear further submissions, insofar as those are necessary, with regard to what needs to happen next.

 

That is very different, of course, from suggesting that there is a burden on the parent to satisfy the Court that the risks are low or manageable, but of course in reality, given that the Local Authority (and often the Guardian) are putting the case that the risks are not manageable, it will be for the parents advocate to make sure that the Judge is given evidence and reasons for taking that course of action.  The risk of separation and the harm that might cause is not, in and of itself sufficient.

“Ex parte removal by the back door”

A discussion of the Court of Appeal decision in Re L (A Child) 2013

 I will begin this discussion by being frank. I do not like this decision. I do not like it on a train, I do not like it on a plane. I do not LIKE green eggs and ham.

 I feel deeply uncomfortable with it, and hope sincerely that it is not used as precedent for any future decisions. I hope that it rests with the peculiarly unusual facts of this case only.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/179.html

 In very brief terms, the central issue was this. The Court had profound concerns over a number of months about a child and had a wealth of information about difficulties in the parenting provided to the child. The Court, faced with a shift in the Local Authority stance that the time had come to remove the child, used the powers under section 37 of the Children Act 1989 to make an Interim Care Order, which allowed the Local Authority to remove the child.

 So far, nothing terribly questionable. The facts of the case justified the making of an Interim Care Order, they probably justified removal, and the Court had the power to make an ICO under section 37 of the Children Act 1989 although no application had been made.

 My issue with the case is that what actually happened was the Local Authority deciding that if they placed the mother on notice that they intended to make an application for a Care Order / Interim Care Order, that the child would not be safe.  They obtained a hearing before the Judge, to which the other parties were not invited and did not attend and had no knowledge of.

 

The Court looked at the section 7 report prepared by the Local Authority, which made plain their escalation of concerns, their intention to issue care proceedings and their fear of what mother might do if given notice of that intention, heard from those representing the LA and made a section 37 direction and an Interim Care Order, with a view to a hearing being listed at which the parents could challenge that ICO.

 

  1. On 22nd January 2013 I granted Mr and Mrs S permission to appeal. At that time the understanding that they had, together with their counsel, was that at the without notice hearing the judge had, then and there, made the full 8 week interim care order. In the absence of a transcript of all save for the judge’s final “on notice” judgment, the understanding was that the “on notice” hearing that followed was relatively short, concluding in a judgment in which the judge sought to justify the steps that had already been taken at the “without notice” hearing.
  1. For the purposes of the present hearing we now have a full transcript of the without notice hearing and the on notice hearing together with a short memorandum from counsel, Miss Anna McKenna for the local authority, who appeared before Parker J on 14th December and again before us at this hearing. The greater clarity that those materials provide indicate that some time between 1 p.m. and 1.15 p.m. the s 7 report was handed in for the judge to read in her chambers. At about 1.50 p.m. the local authority team went into court for the “without notice” hearing. Miss McKenna’s recollection, which is confirmed by the transcript of the hearing which runs to just over two sides, is that this hearing lasted a matter of no more than 5 minutes. The judge stated that she had read the s 7 report and was contemplating making an interim care order but questioned the power to do it at a without notice hearing. The potential to utilise s 37 is raised by the judge and the scheme that was apparently adopted is encapsulated in one short exchange:

Miss McKenna: You can make a s 37 placing the child into our care, take the matter immediately and hear inter partes arguments.

Mrs Justice Parker: Including an application for discharge. Could I discharge the care order on that basis?”

  1. There is then a short discussion about security arrangements and the decision that the local authority have taken. The judge then twice states that she is keen to get “everyone in”. At the conclusion Miss McKenna says “may I take it that a s 37 direction has been made?” to which the judge replies “yes, a s 37 direction and a care order, and for the purposes of the transcript I am satisfied that there is a real risk of significant harm to this child if I do not make an interim care order prior to Mrs S understanding that this local authority is wishing to take care proceedings. There is no doubt about that.”

 

 

And the Court of Appeal felt that this was permissible and justified

 

In circumstances where, as I have held, the judge was justified in holding that this child’s safety required immediate protection by means of compulsory removal from her home, a submission that the procedural path chosen by the judge was technically not available to her is only likely to succeed if there is no escaping the procedural points that are made. This is not such a case. The course adopted by the judge is not excluded by any provision in the CA 1989, the FPR 2010 or elsewhere.

Mr Tolson accepts that, in an emergency, the court is not required to follow the pre-proceedings protocol in PD12A. He accepts that if an application had been made either for an emergency protection order or an interim care order it would either be commenced in, or transferred immediately up to Parker J in, the High Court where these long running proceedings were pending (Allocation and Transfer of Proceedings Order 2008, Art 5(3)). Given that M was a ward of the High Court, the local authority would in any event require Parker J’s permission before making an application for an emergency protection order or an interim care order and, before such an order was granted, Parker J would have to order the discharge of the wardship.

Whilst in another case, of course, the alternative steps that I have described could be taken, the fact that an alternative route exists does not mean that the s 37 route chosen by the judge was impermissible. To my mind, the legal requirement for the case to come before Parker J before any application for a public law order could be made, demonstrates the arid nature of the appellants’ technical challenge. Mr Tolson does not submit that Parker J could not have made an interim care order on 14th December or that, if the situation was properly regarded as an emergency, she could not have done so despite non-compliance with PD12A; his submission is simply that a different route should have been followed. It would, in my view, have been permissible for Parker J simply to have made the interim care order upon the local authority undertaking to issue their application that afternoon or the following morning. Finally, if the October s 7 direction had been made under s 37 (as a number of previous directions had been) no jurisdictional issue would exist.

In the unusual circumstances of this case, I am entirely satisfied that Parker J, who had concluded that M’s safety required an immediate order, was justified in using s 37 to achieve that outcome.

 

This is my problem, in a nutshell.  Where a Local Authority wish to initiate care proceedings and they think that the risks of doing so on notice are too great, there is a mechanism for making an application ex parte and having it heard before a Judge.

 The mechanism is to make an ex parte Emergency Protection Order application.

 And because the nature of such an order is draconian, and because the risks of making an order without the parents being there and represented are so serious and risk a breach of article 6, there are incredibly stringent requirements of the Local Authority, who have to demonstrate extraordinarily compelling evidence to do so, pace RE X (A CHILD) sub nom RE X (EMERGENCY PROTECTION ORDERS) (2006) [2006] EWHC 510 (Fam)

It sits extremely badly with me that in private law proceedings (albeit ones that are about to become public law proceedings) a Local Authority can go in and see the Judge ex parte   [not least because they have no locus standi to make any sort of such application] and that a decision can be made which is in practice an ex parte Emergency Protection Order using section 37 of the Children Act, without any of the protective mechanisms of Re X.

I also think, for me, there is a wealth of difference between a Judge weighing up the facts of a case and reaching for section 37, and a Local Authority effectively asking the Judge to exercise the section 37 power to make an ICO without there being an application on the table.

I’ll make it plain, on the facts of this case, which the Court was extremely familiar with, there was a considerable argument that the removal was the right thing to do. There was some very peculiar stuff happening with this poor child, and the watershed moment had been reached.

And I suppose one takes into account that unlike a traditional EPO application where the Court knows nothing of the case but what the applicant tells them, the Court here had a wealth of knowledge.  I have pretty little doubt that HAD the application been framed as an ex-parte Emergency Protection Order application   [there’s sadly quite a bit of song and dance to how you get that heard by the High Court Judge who knows the case, rather than in the Family Proceedings Court] it would have been given and a judgment delivered that would have been safe from appeal. BUT it would have had to have had the Re X safeguards.

Or if the Court of Appeal had said, it is acceptable to use section 37 in this way, but the applicant should have the same duties as set out in Re X and the Court should approach the section 37 request in the same way, where the application is made ex parte.

 I really don’t like this decision, and for me, this is the second recent time that the Court of Appeal have looked at the ability of the Court to make an Interim Care Order (sanctioning removal of a child from parents without the parents having had sight in advance of the Local Authority case and a threshold document) using section 37 as the hook, and have taken a very permissive “the law doesn’t prevent this, so go ahead” stance, rather than focussing on the issues of natural justice and saying that it is a tool to be used with extreme care.

I probably would not have allowed the appeal, since the decision to remove was probably the right one, but would have made it plain that a Court in future faced with any such ex-parte consideration of using section 37, should have firmly in mind the principles of Re X.  

The Court of Appeal don’t, for me, seem to have contemplated that it was never envisaged that the Court would make a section 37 order and ICO without the parents being present or represented at a hearing, because it would TAKE PLACE IN PRIVATE LAW PROCEEDINGS to which they are parties.  It was never envisaged that a Local Authority would be having an ex parte hearing in proceedings where they had no locus (having been asked to compile a section 7 report).

It is lawful to make ICOs under repeated s37, I say it is lawful to make ICOs

 

A discussion of  RE K (Children) [2012] EWCA Civ 1549  which has just been decided in the Court of Appeal.

 

 

I previously blogged about the permission hearing here :-

 

 

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/08/31/ive-got-section-thirty-seven-problems-but-a-aint-one/

 The issue turns on this – in private law proceedings, the Court have a power to direct a Local Authority to make enquiries as to whether it is necessary to issue care proceedings – this is generally done when the Court begins to be so worried about the child’s circumstances that the possibility of care proceedings becomes a live one. The investigation is called a section 37 report.

 

The Court also has a power to make an Interim Care Order at the same time as making a section 37 direction – that is an order that allows the LA, if they decide to, to remove the child. So it is a very serious order, particularly given that :-

 

(a)   The LA haven’t applied for it

(b)   The parents won’t have seen a threshold document or social work statement in advance of the hearing

(c)   When making the ICO, the Court does not necessarily know what the LA will do with it  (or what the care plan is, in other words)

(d)   That the parents will not have known when coming to Court that day that there was a prospect of the child being taken off either of them and put in care  [as opposed to an application in care proceedings, where the parents are given notice and sight of the case against them and an opportunity, though a short one, to respond]

 

And so, making an ICO under a section 37 direction is a big deal. A very big deal, for article 6 purposes.  [I would have hoped that the Court of Appeal might have emphasised these things more than they did. They might, for example, have drawn the parallel between the rightly high hurdle for an Emergency Protection Order, where the parents have limited time to respond or defend themselves, with an ICO made of the Court's own motion]

 

What this appeal turned on, was the vexed question of whether, if the LA do their investigation and say “We don’t need to issue care proceedings and don’t need an ICO” ,  the Court has power to make another section 37 direction and ANOTHER ICO.   [In effect, to make ICOs in an attempt to make the LA change their report and issue proceedings]

 

That’s what the Judge did in this case.

 

I was fully expecting the Court of Appeal to say that this was an abuse of process and goes further than the Act intends 

 

Unfortunately, from my perspective, and that of the appellants, the Court of Appeal thought otherwise, and that the Court can make an ICO under a further s37 direction even when faced with a s37 report that concludes that the LA have investigated and don’t propose to issue proceedings.

 

  1. In an appropriate case the jurisdiction in private law proceedings for the court to make a s 37 direction is an important and useful facility under which a local authority is required to investigate a child’s circumstances and required to consider issuing care proceedings. A private law case may last for a significant time and the circumstances of a child who is the subject of the proceedings may change. It would be wholly artificial to limit the court’s ability to utilise the s 37 jurisdiction to ‘one shot’ in each case. Nothing in the statutory language suggests that there is to be such a limitation on use. To the contrary, by s 37(1) the jurisdiction exists ‘where, in any family proceedings in which a question arises with respect to the welfare of any child, it appears to the court that it may be appropriate for a care or supervision order to be made’. Circumstances sufficient to justify it appearing to the court that a public order may be appropriate may occur for a variety of reasons and at different stages during a single set of proceedings.
  1. In the present case, the judge made a series of s 37 directions arising out of the same factual context on the basis that the investigation conducted by the local authority was, on each occasion, unsatisfactory. As a matter of principle, and before turning to the facts of this case and the justification for the judge’s exercise of the jurisdiction in this case, it must be the case that where a judge is satisfied that the local authority has either simply not complied with an initial s 37 direction, or has conducted an investigation which fails to a significant degree to engage with the court’s concerns, the court has jurisdiction to extend or renew its s 37 direction. It will be a question in each case to determine whether such a course is justified. In approaching that question it will be necessary to bear very much in mind that the statutory structure is firmly weighted in favour of the local authority, which, alone, has the power to issue a public law application under CA 1989, s 31. In Re M (Intractable Contact Dispute: Interim Care Order) [2003] EWHC 1024 (Fam), Wall J underlined the statutory structure thus:

‘[The court] cannot require the local authority to take proceedings. The limit of [the court's power] is to direct the authority to undertake an investigation of the children’s circumstances.’ [paragraph 123]

  1. Having looked at the matters of principle raised by Mr Pressdee, and having determined that a court does have jurisdiction to make more than one s 37 direction during the currency of private law proceedings and has jurisdiction to extend or renew an earlier s 37 direction if the circumstances so justify, I now turn to look at the deployment of that jurisdiction by HHJ Tyzack in the present case.

 

 

Looking at the Act, there is nothing within it, or within case law that locks the Court into  one section 37 and one s37 ICO and one only, and that is how the Court of Appeal decided it.  But I respectfully think on the basis of natural justice, article 6 and proper process, it ought to have gone the other way.

 

For the avoidance of doubt, I think the decision is wrong, but not plainly wrong so that an appeal would succeed.

 

However, the Court of Appeal do say that where a Court does disagree with the s37 report and direct another one and make an ICO, it is incumbent on the Court to set out reasons.  [And that is why I don’t think they could be plainly wrong]

 

The Court of Appeal did say that if the ICO had been appealed at the time, the appeal would have succeeded, but this particular appeal was brought after the final Care Orders were made, the LA having yielded to strong judicial pressure and issued care proceedings

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Prior to the hearing on 4th March 2011, LCC had complied with the request for an addendum by filing a substantial 30 page report, which concluded that Tun should be returned to his mother’s care under a Family Assistance Order to LCC for a period of 12 months. The recommendation was based upon the level of cooperation between LCC and Mr and Mrs B that had by that stage been re-established. LCC was plain that it did not intend to make an application under CA 1989, s 31 for a care or supervision order.
  1. It has not been possible to obtain a transcript of the March 2011 judgment, but we have seen an attendance note of the hearing made by counsel for LCC and a note of the judgment prepared by Dr K’s counsel. LCC’s counsel seemingly met the jurisdictional issue head on by submitting to the judge that there were now no reasons that might justify making a further s 37 direction and therefore no jurisdiction to contemplate making a further interim care order. The judge apparently pointed to aspects of the report which gave rise to fresh concerns, in particular with regard to sanitation at the B’s home and the prospect that they might be evicted. He was also concerned that the social worker regarded it as acceptable for Tun to be left to protect himself from emotional harm by ‘developing strategies’ to cope with Mr B’s behaviour. These concerns are mirrored in the note of judgment which continues:

‘I am satisfied that it would not be right to act on what [the social worker] has said and I am not minded to discharge the ICO. I require the local authority to address the concerns of the father and the children’s guardian and the court on reading [this report]. I shall give [the social worker] 21 days to respond. I shall direct that input on behalf of the father and the guardian be put to [the social worker] within 14 days.’

On that basis the judge made a further s 37 direction for 21 days and a further 28 day interim care order.

  1. Mr Pressdee submits that the judge’s actions on the 4th March are in a different category from those at the earlier two hearings and that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the judge, sitting in private law proceedings, was effectively dictating to a local authority and seeking to subvert the delineation of role, enshrined in CA 1989, which separates the local authority from the court. He also submits that the judge, once again, inverted the order of decision making by first determining that he was ‘not minded to discharge the interim care order’ before making the s 37 direction. Finally, Mr Pressdee argues that the judge totally failed to spell out in clear terms why the s 37 report was deficient; instead he delegated that role to the father and the guardian who were, over the course of 14 days, to indicate their concerns to LCC. In this context it is of note that the guardian had apparently departed on leave prior to seeing the March s 37 report and was not at the hearing. His views on the document were therefore not available to the judge at that time.
  1. Although a court has jurisdiction to make more than one s 37 direction in the course of proceedings, the exercise of that jurisdiction is to be considered at each turn with regard to the evidence that is then before the court and with regard to the firm weighting of the legislation in favour of the local authority being the determining body on the question of whether or not a child is to be the subject of care proceedings. In each case and at each hearing there will be a line beyond which the court may not go in deploying the facility provided by s 37 under which an interim care order may be made. Whilst the position of the line will vary in accordance with the particular circumstances of the case, the existence of the line and the need for the court to be aware of it should not be in doubt.
  1. By the 4th March the local authority had plainly discharged its duty under s 37 to investigate Tun’s circumstances, it had provided a comprehensive report of that process and had described the reasons for its considered and sustained opinion which was that it did not consider that a care or supervision order was justified at that time. On the evidence as it was at that hearing, making a further s 37 direction and, on the back of that, a further interim care order were steps that were clearly on the far side of the jurisdictional line delineating the role of the court from that of a local authority. In making these orders on that day the judge would seem to have failed to appreciate the limitation of his powers.
  1. In addition, where a local authority is presenting a considered position which is against the issue of care proceedings, it must be incumbent upon a court which holds a contrary view to spell that view out in clear terms and full detail in a reasoned judgment. In the circumstances, it was not sufficient simply to refer back to the December 2010 judgment and recite that the interim threshold had been satisfied at that time; it was, by March 2011, necessary to engage with the contrary view that was being firmly and consistently presented by LCC. The short judgment that was apparently given, and the delegation of the task of spelling out the suggested deficits in the local authority assessment to the father and children’s guardian were significant procedural errors.
  1. If this appeal were being heard during the currency of the 4th March 2011 order, rather than 18 months later, the s 37 direction and with it the interim care order would have to be set aside on the basis that the court had exceeded its jurisdiction in making them and had done so in a procedurally unsustainable manner.

 

 

 

On the broader issue of the appeal, that the Judge making the final decision about care orders had been biased, and in making his succession of ICOs under s37 he had effectively determined the need for care orders before considering the evidence as to whether they should be made, the Court of Appeal rejected this.

 

  • In the circumstances, Mr and Mrs B’s appeal must stand or fall upon the conclusion to be reached on their core assertion which is that the whole process before HHJ Tyzack was fatally tainted by unfairness and judicial bias against them. Their case is assisted by the conclusion at which I have already arrived to the effect that in making the March 2011 s 37 direction and a further interim care order the judge exceeded his jurisdiction. That conclusion is, however, the high point of their case on bias and unfairness. The conduct of the proceedings has to be looked at as a whole. From that perspective, for the reasons that I have given, I can detect no evidence of judicial bias or procedural unfairness. On the contrary the judgment of April 2011, the directions order of November 2011 and the full reasons given for the final decision in January 2012 indicate a judge who was looking to keep Mr and Mrs B on board in the process, should they choose to take part in it, and laying out clearly the factors that he was concerned about and in relation to which he would need to see evidence of change, should Mr and Mrs B wish to provide such. The actual decisions made by the judge were plainly profoundly unwelcome to Mr and Mrs B, but that that was the case is in not, of itself, any indication of judicial bias. In the present proceedings it would seem that Mr and Mrs B’s unilateral actions in withdrawing from cooperation with LCC and with the court at key stages contributed much to the way in which their claim to have Tun in their care became progressively less and less tenable. 
  • Having undertaken a thorough analysis of the process in this case, and despite having concluded that in March 2011 the judge exceeded his jurisdiction, I am fully satisfied that the proceedings as a whole were sound and free from judicial bias. If Mr and Mrs B had appealed the March 2011 interim care order at the time then, in my view, that appeal would have succeeded. They did not do so. Instead they withdrew from cooperation with a local authority, which hitherto had been supporting them to be Tun’s carers. Events moved on and now, some 18 months later, the finding of error in March 2011 is part of the history and cannot, of itself, lead to a finding that the judge’s final conclusion should be set aside with the result that the whole question of this young boy’s future should, once again, be considered afresh by the court. 
  • For the reasons that I have given I would dismiss this appeal.

 [Though I think the appellants had a point here, a Judge who is making repeated s37 ICOs is basically both the applicant and the tribunal determining the application, and it doesn’t sit well with me. I have no way of knowing, of course, whether it was the Judge or the LA who had looked at the case the wrong way, but it does not sit well with me that a Judge who had effectively midwifed the care proceedings into being then determines the outcome of those same proceedings.   It seems to me that whilst justice might well have been done, I'm not sure that it was seen to be done. I have a great deal of sympathy for these parents, who never really came to terms with what they genuinely perceived as unfair treatment, and lost their children as a result of their unwillingness to engage thereafter.  My personal view is that when the parents asked the Judge to recuse himself from the case, that ought to have happened.  Again, sadly, I don't think the Court of Appeal were plainly wrong on this. ]

 

Here’s the case, make up your own minds

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2012/1549.html

“You can’t handle the truth!”

(An imaginary judgment about an imaginary situation, in homage to the incomparable A P Taylor’s “Misleading cases in the common law”)

This is an application brought by X County Council under section 31 of the Children Act 1989, who seek Interim Care Orders in relation to two children, a boy who we shall call A, who is aged 7 and a girl who we shall call B who is aged 5.   The Local Authority seek orders from the Court permitting them to remove A and B from their parents and to place them in foster care. Further, as I shall consider in more detail later, the Local Authority have placed the Court and the parties on notice that should their application be granted, they would not be able to accommodate the parents wish for the children’s religion to be observed in foster care. The parents contest the application and contend that the section 31 threshold criteria are not made out, that the test established by the authorities for removal of a child is not made out, and that even if the Court were to be against them on both of those issues, that the children’s religious practices should be observed in foster care. The children’s Guardian confesses that she has found this an extremely difficult case with deeply unusual features, but on balance supports the Local Authority case.

It is common ground that these children are happy, that they are doing developmentally well, that they attend school and nursery and have positive reports from those establishments, that they are properly fed, that their home conditions are clean, tidy and with suitable toys for the children; further that they are not mistreated either physically or emotionally and that they receive good quality parenting from parents who love them very dearly. The parents shun the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs. There are many Judges who would gaze enviously at this litany of praise for parents within care proceedings before gazing sternly at the Local Authority who placed the application before the Court.

However, this particular application does have a feature which leads the Local Authority to suspect that the children are at risk of significant harm; they accepting that there is no evidence that the children HAVE suffered significant harm to date.

The parents in this case moved to the United Kingdom from the state of Arkanas in the United States. They are both committed to their faith, which they have practiced for their entire lives, including when they were children in Arkansas.  Their faith is that of snake-handling.

The Court has heard evidence from senior figures within the Snake-Handling faith, and this evidence has been sufficient to make it plain that the faith is legitimate and recognised, albeit, as the parents concede more of the margins than of the mainstream.  The faith arises from quotations from the Bible:-

And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16:17-18)

Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. (Luke 10:19)

In terms, those who practice the snake-handling faith believe, and it is a central tenet of their belief system, that they may handle snakes and drink poison and that it will not harm them as they are protected by God.

The parents in this case have made it plain, and their evidence on this aspect was, I find, credible, that they do not indulge in the consumption of poisons; as this was not the practice in the Church where they practiced their Faith.

They were, however, candid, that their religious practice is to pray and celebrate the words of the Bible whilst handling  live snakes. They gave evidence that they undertook this ceremony several nights per week, a minimum of three times and as many as five nights per week. The ceremony and handling of the snakes would be for a minimum of ninety minutes, and could on occasion last considerably longer.

Dr Parsel, the expert herpetologist who gave helpful and invigorating evidence confirmed that some of the snakes kept by the family are venomous, and that their bite would be harmful to humans, and in rare cases if medical attention were not sought, could be fatal. She indicated that she would consider the risk of a bite having serious consequences requiring for example an overnight  hospital stay to be at around 30% and the risk of a bite being fatal (if medical attention were sought) to be at around 5% – if medical treatment were not sought for a venomous bite, the consequences would be more severe.   In relation to the non-venomous snakes, her evidence was that a bite would be painful, comparable to the bite of a medium-sized dog, but more of a ‘nip’ than something that would necessarily require medical treatment.

She freely confessed to not have any particular expertise in whether snake-handlers were immune to pain or consequence from receiving bites, but did refer the Court to documented examples of some fatalities emerging from the practice. I note, in relation to this, that the snake-handling church treats such aberrations as being evidence of a lack of genuine faith in the religion, rather than a failure of the religion itself.

She was understandably cautious about estimating the possibility of a snake inflicting such a bite, but did accept in cross-examination by those representing the parents that the risk of a bite being inflicted was considerably reduced where the persons handling the snake are respectful, gentle and not apprehensive or scared.

The medical records of both parents, in this country and those obtained from America have bourne out their account that neither of them have received medical treatment for snake bites and of course, both are here to tell the tale.

They both gave evidence to the effect that being bitten by the snake is very rare in the ceremony, and that it is not the intention of the ceremony to provoke or promote a bite from the snake. I accept the parents’ evidence in this latter regard, but am more cautious about the rarity of the occurance.

Their further evidence, that if they were to be bitten, it would have no effect as they are protected by God and their faith is something that the Court have to be more cautious about. It would probably be best expressed in this way, that the Court is satisfied that the parents genuinely believe this to be the case, that they believe this as a fundamental part of their religious faith and that they are not knowingly placing themselves in what they consider to be harm or jeopardy.

The Court further accepts the following, as drawn from the parents’ evidence:-

1)    That they would intend for the children to become involved in the religious practice, and to handle the snakes, some of which are venomous.

2)    That the older child has already, under careful supervision been involved in the handling process; but not with the venomous snakes

3)    That the younger child has observed the ceremony and worship

4)    That both of the children have been shown how to handle the snakes with care and dignity

I now have to consider whether  there is, on the balance of probabilities a likelihood that significant harm may arise. For today’s purposes, the section 38 criteria apply and the test is whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that the children have suffered or would be likely to suffer significant harm, such harm being attributable to the care given or likely to be given not being what it would be reasonable for a parent to provide.

The risk of harm, as outlined by the Local Authority is as follows :-

(a)  that there is a risk of the children sustaining a bite injury from a non-venomous snake, which would be painful, on a par with a ‘nip’ from a medium sized dog, and which would be likely to hurt a child for several minutes but not require medical attention

(b)  that there is a risk of the children sustaining a bite injury from a venomous snake. This would have the same degree of pain as above, accompanied by a feeling of nausea and light-headedness, which would probably last for an hour or two  (if the anti-venom serum were administered immediately) and might require hospital treatment.

(c)  That if the parents did not, as a result of their religious belief that the children would suffer no ill-effect, obtain medical treatment, the consequences could be much more serious and there is a risk of a fatality

(d)  The Local Authority add that although the risk of either incident occurring might be said to be low for each ceremony (though they took pains to point out that they did not necessarily accept this) the Court were entitled to take into account that exposure to a low level of risk several times per week, over the children’s minority could give rise to a cumulative risk which would perforce be higher.

The parents respond in the following way:-

(a)  the children would feel no pain from the bite of non-venomous snakes, as is clear from their faith

(b)  the children would feel no pain or ill-effects from the bite of a venomous snake, as is clear from their faith

(c)  thus, no harm would result from the children demonstrating their faith and engaging in their legitimate act of worship

They accepted wholly that a parent who were not a snake-handler and protected by their faith, who gave venomous snakes to a child, would be acting in a way that it would not be reasonable to expect from a parent; as such a child would sustain a painful injury, and I myself would not find it a stretch to make such a finding.  (They do not claim that venomous snake bites are harmless to the population at large, and if I were required to find that being bitten by a venomous snake would be generally a bad thing for the average child, I would make such a finding)

I find myself in difficult waters here. I would have no difficulty whatsoever in finding that a parent who allows a child to handle venomous snakes for long periods, on numerous occasions per week, would have a child who was at risk of significant harm.

The parents’ case is, in part, that no harm could arise, because of the protection that their faith offers them and their children.

All parties accept that there is some risk (although they differ as to the level) that the children could be bitten by a snake whilst handling it. The Local Authority say that there would be consequences if so, which would constitute significant harm, the parents say that there would be no such consequences.

To reject the parents’ conviction out of hand would draw the Court into territories of ruling that an individual’s faith is incorrect in fact.  The accepted fact that this particular religion is followed by a relatively small group, rather than having a groundswell of popular opinion does not mean that I should discount their beliefs. There might be many who would regard their beliefs as nonsense, but the same could be said of those who believe that God sent his son to earth to die for our sins.   Many generations of philosophers and theologians have grappled with these weighty issues without necessarily coming to a conclusion; and it would certainly be wrong of me to attempt to do what Aquinas, Bertrand Russell and Descartes could not and put a full stop under whether a particular religion is true or misguided.

I have had to consider whether I need, to determine, on the balance of probabilities whether the Local Authority is right (and thus that the parents faith is misplaced) or vice versa.

Looking at the law, it is clear that what I must consider, in weighing up “likelihood”  is the construction set out in Re H and R 1996  “the context shows that in section 31 (2) (a) likely is being used in the sense of a real possibility, a possibility that cannot sensibly be ignored having regard to the nature and gravity of the feared harm in the particular case”

With that in mind, I am able to determine, with confidence, that there is a real possibility that cannot sensibly be ignored that these children, might over cumulative exposure to snakes (some non-venomous, some venomous) be bitten by the snakes and suffer adverse harm as a result.

I do not, when determining this, need to set out that the risk of this occurring is greater than 50%, and therefore do not need to determine that the parents belief is objectively true, or objectively false, rather that there is some margin for doubt.  I am absolutely plain that I could not rule that one could be absolutely categorically certain that the children of snake-handlers would suffer no harm if they were bitten by a snake, and thus I have to accept that there is a possibility which cannot sensibly be ignored that they might be.

I further accept that the consequences of a bite could constitute significant harm if consequences were to arise, and that therefore the threshold criteria as set out in section 38 of the Children Act 1989  are made out.  I do not believe that, having made that determination, there will be a dispute as to the section 31 criteria at final hearing, the same facts coming to bear.

Turning now to the test for removal, I shall not recount the plentiful authorities, as it is common ground between all of the parties that a satisfactory construction of the test would be “is the harm, or risk of harm that the child would suffer or be at risk of suffering proportionate to the removal of the child at interlocutory stage”

I am mindful here that having effectively established that the religious practice of snake-handling gives rise, if children are participating to a likelihood of significant harm, there is a risk of developing a position whereby the Court determines that effectively all parents who are snake-handlers and wish to bring up their children in that faith are not able to safely care for their children.

That in turn, would effectively be the Court saying to a parent that they do not have the right to practice their religion AND simultaneously parent.  Whilst snake handling is a relatively small religion, practised in some forty churches, it is nonetheless a religion. I am reminded of Martin Niemoller’s famous statement “First they came for the communists….”

Considering the body of authorities where the Court have had to consider the extents to which the State can interfere with someone’s religious practices, I would distill this concept  – that any person is free to believe whatever religious principles they wish and that the State should not interfere with that belief, but that where the exercise of such beliefs has an adverse, or potentially adverse impact on the rights and freedoms of another, the State may intervene and must consider whether such intervention is necessary and proportionate.

I have attempted to apply that principle throughout this case – it is perfectly legitimate for these parents to believe that they, and their children can safely handle snakes as part of their religious practice – it is the point at which they propose that the children actually do handle snakes which leads to the Court needing to become involved. That crosses the line from belief into action.

I have obtained some useful guidance from the Court of Appeal in Re R (A minor) (Residence : Religion) 1993 2 FLR 163 where it was held that it is no part of the Court’s role to comment on the tenets, doctrines or rules or any particular section of society provided that these were legally and socially acceptable, but that the impact of tenets and rules on a child’s future welfare was one of the circumstances to be taken into account.  I have endeavoured to approach the case in that manner.

I have to consider that the parents Article 9 right to freedom of religion, would be engaged. Whilst this is a qualified right, and the Court would be entitled to prescribe those rights if it were necessary in a democratic society for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others, the Court should be reluctant to curtail someone’s religious expression.

Speaking for myself, I would feel an enormous sense of disquiet in being the Judge who set a pebble rolling down a slippery slope; whilst I cannot think at present of other religions who might effectively be outlawed to parents I would not wish to set that particular precedent.

In relation to this issue, I have had to consider whether it is possible for safeguards to put in place so that the risks to children I have ruled cannot sensibly be ignored in snake-handling can be managed, such that the child can remain with the parent and that the family can have the freedom to observe their religious practices.

I have a proposal in mind, which I shall outline, and I propose to adjourn the hearing briefly to allow the parents to consider that proposal.

I would not rule that the snake-handling faith in all circumstances is dangerous to children, but I am prepared to decide that  the snake-handling faith, where children are participating in it, requires robust safeguards to be in place in order to prevent the likelihood of significant harm that otherwise would justify the intervention of the State in removing the children to alternative accommodation.

On that basis, I indicate that I would be minded, if the parents accept the safety proposals, to make Interim Supervision Orders, and for there to be monitoring of the adherence to these safety proposals between now and final hearing. If the proposals are agreed but the Court is later presented with evidence that they have not been adhered to, the Local Authority are likely to find the Court much more amenable to the application they have made today. They would be, as the saying has it, pushing at an open door.

If however, the parents are not able to bring themselves to accept the safety proposals, then my ruling will be that the risk of harm that the children are exposed to in the absence of safety mechanisms, is such that the removal of the children is a proportionate response to dealing with it, and would be minded to make the Interim Care Orders.

In the event that I make Interim Care Orders (and I would hope not to need to)  I would not be minded to invite the Local Authority to make arrangements pursuant to section 22 (5)  (giving due consideration to the child’s religious persuasion) , being satisfied that they are extraordinarily unlikely to find foster carers who are snake-handlers or to find foster carers who are willing to allow the children to handle snakes (even in a carefully prescribed environment or regime)

This also requires me to consider s 33 (6) of the Children Act 1989  “while a care order is in force with respect to a child, the local authority designated by the order shall not – (a) cause the child to be brought up in any religious persuasion other than that in which he would have been brought up if the order had not been made ‘

And it could be argued that any form of placement other than with snake-handlers would be in breach of this, even if the carers had no religious beliefs  (it is hoped that at final hearing, one would not need to cross-examine Richard Dawkins as to whether atheism or agnosticism constitutes a religious persuasion in the negative)

Thankfully, Justice Baker rides to my rescue in that regard in the case of Re A and D (Local Authority : Religious Upbringing ) 2010 1 FLR 615  involving a child who had been brought up by Muslim parents but the mother reverted to Catholicism after they separated (it being largely impossible to raise a single child as both a Muslim and a Catholic)  and the Court determining that section 33(6) is subject to the overriding duties on the Local Authority under section 22 (3) to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare when they are caring for him.

I am satisfied that it would not be reasonable to expect the Local Authority to provide the children with live exposure to snake-handling in their foster placement, though the children should be educated about their religious faith without practically carrying it out. That would be sufficient to ensure that they are not in breach with either s 22 (5) or s 33(6).  As I have said, I would hope that the issue of these children being cared for by the State does not arise.

My proposals, which I invite the parents to consider very carefully are as follows :-

  1. When handling snakes as part of their faith, the children shall not handle venomous snakes until such time as the Court can review this safety package
  2. The children shall be supervised by adults at all times
  3. In any event, the parents shall obtain anti-venom serum suitable for treatment of bites from the venomous snakes that they own
  4. The herpetologist having identified the symptoms of snake bite from the venomous snakes that the parents own, the parents shall undertake to administer that anti-venom serum immediately if they observe either of the children to be bitten by a venomous snake; or if they observe these symptoms in the children, and to seek medical attention for the children in either event
  5. This is by way of a placatory mechanism, and does not reflect adversely on the parents’ deep-seated conviction and belief that the children would be unharmed by snake bites. It is simply their recognition that the State has to manage that degree of risk that cannot safely be ignored by the Court that the children would not be unharmed by snake bites, regardless of their faith.
  6. The parents accept, as a long-term proposal, that notwithstanding their faith and conviction that the children would be unharmed by handling snakes and would not require any medical intervention, they will keep this safety net in place until such time as the children are adjudged to be competent to make informed decisions about the risks themselves [by which I would contemplate their later teenage years], or the Court rule that the safety provisions may be relaxed.

I would refer the parents to the decision of the High Court in Re W (A Minor) 25th November 1991, involving parents of a child who were Jehovah’s Witnesses and could not consent to a blood transfusion.

In that case, the order was phrased “Being Jehovah’s Witnesses, the parents do not and cannot approve the order hereinafter stated but recognise the power of the Court to direct the same and cannot therefore maintain any objection to this order”

I would ask the parents to go further in this case, but I think a preamble to the order that  “It is accepted by all parties that the parents are snake handlers and profoundly believe that they and their children would receive no harm or damage from handling snakes as part of their religious practice, but recognise the authority of the Court to make decisions about children who are deemed to be at risk of harm, and offer the following assurances to ensure that during the children’s minority, they are protected from harm that might arise from snake-handling, even if that risk is no higher than one which the Court cannot sensibly ignore”   would be a sensible resolution to the religious quandary that the parents find themselves in.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,449 other followers