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Terminating parental responsibility – the appeal

Re D (A Child) 2014

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

The legal power is

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Go to Court on an egg

 

 

[with apologies to Tony Hancock and Fay Weldon for twisting their slogan]
Even by HFEA case standards, this one takes some following. Although as we know from the High Court we are all expected to be experts in the HFEA now.

It is Re G (Children) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/336.html

Helpfully, even from the outset, we learn that although the case is called Re G, the children are referred to as “D” and “the twins” – nobody ever gets called “G” at any point.

We have a single-sex couple, A and R. They wanted to have some children. A donated her eggs, which were fertilised by an anonymous donor, and implanted into R, who gave birth in the usual way. Those children were the twins.

There were some fertilised embryos left over from the process, and A later used one of those to have her own pregnancy – that produced child D. [Quite a few years later]

Now, biologically, D and the twins have the same biological mother A, the same (anonymous) biological father and are full siblings.

However, legally, the mother of D is A. The legal mother of the twins is R.

Even though A and R were raising the children together, until they separated, the children (who were full biological siblings) had different legal mothers – A was the legal mother of D and had no legal status in relation to the twins, and R was the legal mother of the twins and had no legal status in relation to D. And although the twins and D were biological siblings, in law they were only half-siblings.

[This is reminding me of the beginning of SOAP, where the voiceover says “Confused? You will be” ]

All of this probably worked out okay, until A and R separated (they don’t even agree when they separated – R says they separated in 2008 but lived together as friends until 2012, A says they were in a relationship until 2012 and then separated)

It is to their credit, as the Court of Appeal observed, that when they came before Her Honour Judge Black, they had managed to resolve where the children would live, contact arrangements and were left with one single issue.

Should there be a joint residence order in relation to the twins, this being the only way that A, their biological mother, would have parental responsibility in relation to them.

Her Honour Judge Black considered that carefully, and it is fair to say that the case law provided very little in the way of guidance to resolve a difficult issue. She eventually refused the order, hence A appealing to the Court of Appeal.

[I have to say, I would have pragmatically have made the order, but made it plain that the twins primary home was with R, and it was an order made to achieve the legal status that A warranted as their biological mother]

18. She began her judgment by explaining that she thought it appropriate that the order made by the court should recognise that only one of the parties was the twins’ mother and therefore she should have sole parental responsibility for them. In contrast, she remarked that the appellant is not a parent of the children and that her status should not be elevated in that way (§4). She considered that the contact arrangement, coupled with the agreement to provide information about education and medical issues and for a limited delegation of parental responsibility was sufficient to recognise the importance of the appellant’s involvement in the children’s lives (§9).
19. The judge thought it of significance that in relation to D, the parties had not taken advantage of the provisions of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 which would have enabled them both to be parents of D. From this, she inferred that there had not been an intention to bring D up as joint parents and, I think, drew the further inference that the same was true of their intentions in relation to the twins. This led to her saying that “there is no question at any point of [the respondent] sharing parental responsibility of [the appellant's] child with her and, therefore, it would seem on that basis alone, to be wrong that she should expect to share responsibility for [the respondent's] children” (§8).
20. A theme of the argument on behalf of the appellant was that without a shared residence order, she would be marginalised by the respondent. The judge said that she did not see from reading the parties’ statements that there had been inappropriate marginalisation of the appellant and she considered that the respondent had shown that she recognised the importance that the appellant has in relation to the children by her agreement in relation to contact and the provision of information.
21. In contrast, the judge said that she was concerned about how the appellant “may operate her parental responsibility if she were given it” (§5) and in fixing on a sole residence order as appropriate, she referred to “the risks which may be involved in [the appellant] sharing parental responsibility” (§9).The source of her concern appears to have been particularly the threat to take matters to the press, although I think I interpret her correctly (§5 of the judgment) as saying that it had not been suggested in submissions that this continued to be a problem. It seems she may also have been taking into account what she described as “a sad history to how things have developed over certainly the course of this year and last year”.

 

The Court of Appeal were aided in their decision-making by some recent authorities, and some lovely cut-and-thrust from the two counsel representing A and R (A is the applicant, R the Respondent)

23. Ms Campbell, who appeared on behalf of the appellant, argued that the judge had failed to give weight to some important features of the case, including that the appellant was the biological mother of the twins, that she had cared for them for four and a half years, and that she would be taking a parenting role in respect of them for the rest of their lives.
24. Ms Foulkes for the respondent argued that these matters were known to the judge but she was entitled to give weight to the fact that the respondent is, as she put it, drawing on the speech of Baroness Hale in In re G (Children)(Residence: Same-sex Partner) [2006] UKHL 43 [2006] 1 WLR 2305, “their gestational parent, their legal parent and their social and psychological parent”.
25. Ms Campbell argued that the judge had set too much store by the fact that, by virtue of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, the respondent was “the mother” and therefore overlooked the fact that the appellant was a “parent”. She submitted that the twins have regarded the appellant as their parent all their lives and, during the extensive contact that there will be in future, she would continue to take that role. She submitted that they would naturally expect her to be as involved in matters such as schooling as the respondent and, without parental responsibility, she would not be able to be.
26. Ms Foulkes responded that the law deliberately distinguishes between the genetic mother and the gestational mother. It is of note, she said, that it is the gestational mother who has automatic parental responsibility. The mere fact of genetic parentage is not sufficient, she said, to justify a shared residence order, and even if the judge did find that the appellant had played a parental role, that did not require her to make a shared residence order, see Re R (Parental Responsibility) [2011] EWHC 1535 (Fam) [2011] 2 FLR 1132 where Jackson J did not grant a free-standing parental responsibility order to a step-father who had been and continued to be a psychological parent to the child.
27. Ms Campbell complained that the judge had not identified the risks that she felt may be involved in sharing parental responsibility, submitting that there are no grounds to believe that the appellant would interfere with the respondent’s exercise of her parental responsibility. Ms Foulkes said that the judge’s reference to the threat of the press was enough and the judge could have cited many examples from the appellant’s statement of her referring to her own biological role, failing to recognise the importance of the respondent in the children’s lives, and criticising the respondent’s care of them.
28. Ms Campbell submitted that the judge was wrong to have been influenced by the fact that the respondent was to have no parental role in relation to D; that was irrelevant when considering what was in the interests of the twins. Ms Foulkes’ answer was that this was a relevant factor because it undermined the appellant’s case that the intention had been that she and the respondent would be joint parents of the twins and were intending, with the birth of D, to add to their family. On the contrary, it was said, the evidence showed that the intention had always been for the respondent to be the sole legal parent for the twins and the appellant the sole legal parent for D. It was also relevant, Ms Foulkes said, that the three children would be in different legal situations if a shared residence order was made and the twins would struggle to make sense of why they had two parents with parental responsibility and D did not.

(even though I would have made the shared residence order, I think Ms Foulkes points at para 26 which go in the opposite direction are compelling. It is harder to resolve this than you might think)
28. Discussion
29. It was common ground between the parties that a shared residence order could be made in order to confer parental responsibility. The question is whether the judge was wrong to take the view that it was not in the twins’ best interests to make such an order here.
30. Families are formed in different ways these days and the law must attempt to keep up and to respond to developments. To some extent, the judge was right to say that no decided authorities assisted her greatly. Certainly there is nothing which is precisely in point. It might, however, have been helpful if the parties had invited her to consider the legal framework, including some of the authorities dealing with the nature of parental responsibility and showing how the concept had been approached in new situations which were not centre stage when it first made its appearance. Because, for reasons I will give in due course, I would dispose of this appeal by overturning Judge Black’s order and remitting the matter for rehearing, I thought it might be of assistance to gather together some of the learning that is available even though, in order to do so, I have departed from the parties’ submissions and relied on my own research.
[The research here is excellently set out – it would make this piece rather too long to rehearse it all, but check it out in the judgment if you are interested]

I return to consider the issues arising in this appeal. It seems to me that the judge was put in a difficult position, albeit that this happened for the best of reasons. As the authorities show, a decision such as that which she was asked to take is heavily dependent on the particular facts of the case. Many of the facts here were hotly disputed and there was neither an agreed factual framework nor any factual findings made by a court. No judge wishes to put parties through more litigation, particularly not where, as here, they have at last managed to reach a sensible agreement on much that was in issue between them. Sometimes a judge has no choice but to do the best he or she can to ascertain the facts on the basis of the written material and submissions only; proceedings under the 1980 Hague Convention quite frequently have to proceed in this way. Sometimes the appropriate factual findings are sufficiently obvious for oral evidence not to be required. However, sometimes it is not at all clear on the papers where the balance of probability lies in relation to disputed facts which are central to the judge’s thinking. In those cases, notwithstanding an invitation from the parties to act on submissions only, it may not be realistically possible for a judge to make a determination without hearing some evidence. It seems to me that this case was such a case.
It may not be very surprising that the grounds of appeal did not include a complaint that the judge had made findings without hearing any evidence, as the parties had asked her to rule on the issue on submissions only. Looking back at the process however, I think that it resulted in the judge’s decision being built on foundations which were rather wobbly. This was compounded by her not having articulated, beyond the threat of the press which the appellant had abandoned, what led her to believe that the appellant would interfere with the care of the children if she had parental responsibility, why she thought that would continue to be a risk notwithstanding the appellant’s abandonment of her residence application, and the form she thought the interference would take.
The Court of Appeal felt that Her Honour Judge Black, though clearly faced with a very difficult decision, had given too little emphasis to the biological relationship between A and the twins, and that the decision had to be set aside. The Court of Appeal did not, however, think that they could simply substitute a joint residence order because the disputed facts went to the heart of that decision. Therefore, they decided that the case needed to be reheard, with either an agreed factual matrix or a Judge making findings on the essential disputed matters.

59. I would end with some words to the parties. I urge them to reach agreement about the issues that remain between them. One can well see that, subject to issues about interference and undermining, a judge might be inclined to recognise the distinctive features of this case by making a shared residence order to confer parental responsibility on the appellant, given her past and continuing involvement in the twins’ lives, her role as their genetic parent, and the fact that she is the mother of their sibling. Whether that turns out to be appropriate will depend very much upon what transpires in the new hearing and I express no concluded view about it. What I am, however, quite confident about is that a further hearing should be avoided if at all possible. I repeat what I said in T v T [2010] EWCA Civ 1366 at §49:
“Childhood is over all too quickly and, whilst I appreciate that both sides think that they are motivated only by concern for the children, it is still very sad to see it being allowed to slip away whilst energy is devoted to adult wrangles and to litigation. What is particularly unfair is that the legacy of a childhood tainted in this way is likely to remain with the children into their own adult lives.”
I think the parties realised this when they reached the agreement that they did in front of Judge Black. I am sorry that the arrangements fixed that day cannot stand in their totality. But further agreement is still an option.

 

Terminating parental responsibility

The High Court decision of DW (A Minor) & Another v SG 2013 and the possible revival of applications to terminate a father’s parental responsibility (PR). Has the bar been set high enough?

 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/854.html

 A long time ago,  1995, an application to terminate a father’s parental responsibility was heard in the High Court, and that had been the only authority on the point since that time. Re P (Terminating Parental Responsibility) [1995] 1 FLR 1048

 The grounds were that during the course of care proceedings, it had emerged that the father had caused the serious injuries to the child, and the mother no longer wanted him to have parental responsibility, made an application and the Court granted it.

 [Now, of course, that course of events, though tragic, is not exceptional in care proceedings – and one might well argue that finding out that a father had not behaved well, had even been abusive, ought not to result in him being stripped of his parental responsibility – at least not unless the child was being adopted, and I know many of my readers think not even then.

 This is particularly so, since the Children Act 1989 provides a statutory mechanism for the mother to apply to remove the father’s PR, but NOT the reverse. The mother’s PR is sacrosanct, and is only removed by the making of an adoption order. It seemed terribly wrong that the father’s PR could be removed by an application, pace Re P,  with just some evidence that the father was an abuser]

 Most practitioners considered that to be a quirk, an anomaly, and a decision that wouldn’t actually stand up to scrutiny of the Human Rights Act if it were looked at again today.

Most practitioners (myself included) would have been wrong.

 The father in DW was not, one would have to say, a very nice person. He was a man who had been on trial for ten counts of sexual abuse and who only pleaded guilty the day before his children were due to give evidence. He received a four year custodial sentence.  The father, throughout the private law proceedings maintained that he was innocent of all charges and had only pleaded guilty to protect the children   (although finally advanced a position that he accepted that the convictions were made and he could not go behind them)

 So, not a man who would be on the shortlist for any father of the year award, and in writing this piece, I am clearly not defending anything that he has done, or saying that he should play any part whatsoever in the children’s lives.  I am merely doubtful that removing his parental responsibility  (no matter how diminished his exercise of it would rightfully be in practice) is fair.  If you asked me should he have done twenty years in prison rather than four, I’d be right there with you signing a petition to that effect.

 The Judge looked obviously at the statutory provisions (underlining mine) :-

 

Section 4 (1) Where a child’s father and mother were not married to each other at the time of his birth, the father shall acquire parental responsibility for the child if

(a) he becomes registered as the child’s father under any of the enactments specified in subsection (1A);

(b) he and the child’s mother make an agreement (a ‘parental responsibility agreement’) providing for him to have parental responsibility for the child or

(c) the court, on his application, orders that he shall have parental responsibility for the child.

(1A) the enactments referred to in subsection (1)(a) are

(a) paragraphs (a) (b) and (c) of section 10 (1) and of section 10A (1) of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 ….

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

 

(3) The court may make an order under subsection (2A) on the application

(a) of any person who has parental responsibility for the child…

 

Raising the interesting question that a mother can apply for a father’s PR to be withdrawn, and oddly the father can apply for the father’s PR to be withdrawn, but neither can apply for the mother’s PR to be withdrawn.

 The Court also looked at the existing authority of Re P

 

16. “I have to say, notwithstanding the desirability of fostering good relations between parents and children in the interests of children, I find it difficult to imagine why a court should make a parental responsibility order if none already existed in this case. I think the continuation of a parental responsibility agreement in favour of the father in this case has considerable potential ramifications for future adversity to this child. I believe it would be a message to others that he has not forfeited responsibility, which to my mind it would be reasonable to regard him as having done. I believe that it might be deeply undermining to the mother and her confidence in the stability of the world surrounding (the child).”

17. Later, he added (on page 1054):

“I believe that there is no element of the band of responsibilities that make up parental responsibility which this father could in present or in foreseeable circumstances exercise in a way which would be beneficial for the child. I therefore conclude that it is appropriate to make an order as sought under section 4…bringing to an end the parental responsibility agreement entered into….”

 

For my part, I think there is a conflation there of two issues. If the father in this case DID not have PR, and one were considering his application for PR, I can see compelling reasons not to give it to him. But what the Court is doing is removing PR from a person who already has it  (knowing that the only other mechanism for this is adoption, the most draconian order a family court can make) . 

I think that removing PR from a person who has it is a big deal, and requires something much more compelling – if indeed section 4 as drafted is compatible with human rights (given that it is framed entirely on gender terms, I just don’t think it is). And moreover, that although the fathers in these two cases appear to be pretty unsympathetic characters, the way the decisions are framed mean that fathers who have done less bad things could lose their PR.

 I shall be fair – the alternative way of framing this argument is :-

 

  1. Parliament put in place a mechanism that allowed a mother to apply to terminate the PR of a father , and a mechanism that allowed the Court to terminate that
  2. If you are going to have that power, there must be circumstances in which it can be used
  3. The father’s conduct in both of these cases was reprehensible, and if you aren’t going to allow the application in these cases, what sort of case are you going to allow it? 
  4. If it is only a theoretical power, what is the point of it?  And as far as we can see, it is a power that has only been used on 3 occasions in nearly twenty five years, so it is hardly a landslide.

 [The problem with playing devil’s advocate, is that the devil is persuasive. I shan't do that again in a hurry]

 The Court in DW clearly considered the case very carefully (and I shall come onto some of the evidence in a moment) and also took into account the human rights issues, rejecting the father’s claims that section 4 of the Act was discriminatory if it penalised ‘bad conduct’ for fathers but not mothers.

 I am troubled by this, since I think that the facts in these two cases, and the decisions as reported, do open the door to a lot of fathers having applications for their PR to be terminated. 

 I don’t think that the bar here was set very high, bearing in mind the importance of the issue at stake. And not least because if the roles were reversed, a mother would be at no risk of losing her PR.

Looking at the bar, considering what’s at stake, it seems to be more fit for limbo dancing than pole vaulting.

 [I did look at illustrating this, and my quick trawl of google images located a David Hasselhoff  Limbo-Dancing album.  And he has his shirt off on the front cover...  I have resisted this, as likely to place me  in excess of the EU Regulations on Cheese-Content for Blogs]

It is however, a judgment that was careful to take into account various factors and placed the welfare of the child at the heart of the case   (and once the Court rejected the argument that section 4 was incompatible with article 8, was the only rational conclusion)

 

  1. In my judgement, the magnetic factors in this case are D’s emotional needs, the harm he has suffered, and the risk of future harm. As a result of the turbulence and disruption endured by this family during the mother’s relationship with the father, and the period leading up to the father’s criminal trial, all members of the family, including A, C, the mother and D have suffered harm of varying sorts and to a varying degree. So far as D is concerned, whether or not he witnessed the father perpetrating any abusive acts on A, I accept that he has suffered emotional harm as a result of the harm inflicted by the father on other members of his family. I accept that, because of his parentage, D’s position in the family is difficult and that there is a risk of his suffering further harm and stigma if he continues to be perceived and treated in any way as the son of this man who perpetrated acts of sexual abuse on his older siblings.
  1. In addition, I take into account D’s expressed wish to have no involvement with his father. As he is only aged eight and a half, the weight to be attached to those wishes is limited. I accept that to a considerable extent his express wishes have been influenced by his mother and siblings. Nevertheless, I find that they are rooted in the reality of his life.
  1. I also take into account the capacity of the mother to meet D’s needs. I find that were the father to retain parental responsibility, she would be placed under very great strain, given the probability as I find that the father would subsequently apply for contact, and that he would seek to be further involved in D’s life. Equally, given all the harm that the father has inflicted on the family, I accept that the mother would find it well-nigh impossible to send a regular report to him concerning D’s progress. I find that imposing such an obligation on her would impinge on D’s emotional security.
  1. All these factors point towards an order terminating the father’s parental responsibility and dismissing his application for a specific issues order. On the other side of the scales, I take into account the fact that, as part of his background, D is the biological child of the father, and that as an aspect of his emotional needs he, like every child, should grow up with some understanding of his origins and, whenever possible, a relationship with each biological parent. But in certain circumstances those needs must give way to more important considerations, in particular, the need for emotional security. I conclude that D’s emotional security would be imperilled were the father to continue to have any further involvement in his life. Equally, whilst acknowledging that as an aspect on their respective Article 8 rights, both D and his father have a family life together, that aspect is in this case outweighed by D’s overriding need, as part of his Article 8 rights, to security within his family.
  1. Miss Townshend sought to persuade me that Re Pwas distinguishable on the facts of this case. On the contrary, and notwithstanding the factual differences between the two cases, I find that it provides invaluable guidance. Following Singer J’s example, I look to see to what extent the well established factors for making parental responsibility orders would be satisfied in this case. I accept that, although the father showed a degree of commitment to D when living in the household, that was wholly undermined by his actions in perpetrating serious sexual abuse on A and C, and this has been compounded by his subsequent denials up to the third day of the trial and renewed assertions that he is not guilty. So far as attachment is concerned, whilst there was undoubtedly some degree of attachment between D and his father when he was a baby, there is no attachment now as he has not had any contact for several years. As indicated above, I find there is force in the mother’s concerns that the father is motivated by wishing to become more involved in D’s life, to the detriment of the family including D. As in Re P, I find that, if the father did not have parental responsibility, it is inconceivable it would now be granted to him, and that this is a factor I should take into account when considering this application to terminate his parental responsibility. Furthermore, like Singer J in Re P, I find that in this case there is no element of the bundle of responsibilities that make parental responsibility which this father could in present or foreseeable circumstances exercise in a way which would be beneficial for D.

 

The evidence in this case was interesting, since father instructed a clinical psychologist, Mr Shuttleworth, to conduct an assessment.

 I am going to simply quote extracts from the judgment and let them speak for themselves  – I do not know Mr Shuttleworth (and I suspect from reading this judgment, I am unlikely to get to know him).  It may be that this judgment does him a grave disservice.

 

  1. In his report, Mr Shuttleworth was critical of Dr Obuaya’s psychiatric assessment carried out in the course of the criminal proceedings, in particular, his failure to identify what Mr Shuttleworth regarded as the clear symptoms of ADHD. Mr Shuttleworth went so far as to question whether Dr Obuaya had been right in concluding that the father had been fit to plead.
  1. On the issue of sexual risk, as stated above, the father maintained throughout the assessment that he was innocent of the offences to which he had pleaded guilty. Mr Shuttleworth noted that in prison he had been assessed as ‘presenting a low risk of recidivism’. In his assessment, Mr Shuttleworth stated that ‘there is no evidence that he has any sexual deviations’ and concluded (contrary to the observations of the sentencing judge) that there had been no escalation of his sexual offending. Mr Shuttleworth recorded that the father denied having been sexually abused by any member of his family, contrary to statements that appeared in the father’s medical records.
  1. Mr Shuttleworth concluded:

“I do not believe that he would be a risk to a child from a sexual point of view. There may be more doubts if he was looking after a girl because of the convictions, however there is no indication that he ever had any particular interest in a male….While I do not believe there is any evidence that he is a risk, his recent behaviour, particularly in prison, indicates that he is fully willing to enter into any programme which might involve him proving his parental skills. He will obviously stop short of agreeing to claim responsibility for any alleged sexual crime in order to enter into any of those programmes.”

He added:

“My overall impression is that he has been amazingly tolerant and accepting of his ex-partner’s fears in not demanding more contact, although I would presume that he would like to have this sometime in the future when his reputation has hopefully been rehabilitated.”

  1. In oral evidence, Mr Shuttleworth drew attention to the father’s claim that his criminal lawyers had advised him to plead guilty to avoid a longer sentence. Mr Shuttleworth was not convinced that the father was a sexual offender and expressed the view that there were grounds to challenge the reliability of the conviction based on his doubts about the father’s fitness to plead, the failure to diagnose ADHD, and ‘the way the trial was conducted’. Cross-examined on behalf of the mother, Mr Shuttleworth stated that, if the father had been abused by his brother, as stated in the father’s own medical records, and if he had been involved in sexual activity with A and C, he would pose a risk to D that Mr Shuttleworth described as ‘moderate’, but he added ‘other people in prison who have more experience of these things assessed this risk as low’. When invited to consider specifically the risk to D, Mr Shuttleworth said:

“Even if he’s had sex with children, I’ve come across a lot of paedophiles who do not abuse their own children.”

Mr Shuttleworth added that ‘there’s an assumption that people who are paedophiles are unable to control their impulses’. He said that he found the father to be a very warm and caring man who cares very much for his children.

 And the Judge’s conclusions in relation to this evidence

 

50. In light of my findings about those matters I turn to consider the evidence of Mr Shuttleworth. I listened to that evidence with increasing concern. I regret to say that I have found his opinions naïve, complacent, unreliable and at times misleading. His reluctance to accept the convictions as the factual basis for his assessment was a dereliction of his duty as an expert witness. His statement in his report that there was no evidence of any “deviations” was simply untenable given the existence of the convictions for ten offences of sexual abuse. His various statements about paedophiles quoted above runs contrary to all the understanding about the dangerous and deceitful behaviour of paedophiles which this court has come across many times over the years. His assessment of risk was, in my view, worthless, and I reject it.

Banging heads together and “a very big ask”

An analysis of the Court of Appeal decision in RE W (CHILDREN) (2012)

 

[2012] EWCA Civ 999 

 

 

 

I have written about intractable and long-running contact disputes before on this blog, and no doubt I will again. 

(The fact that the Court of Appeal have begun to use Sky Sports slang like “a big ask” makes me hopeful for a judgment in the future saying that “The Big fella Stephen Cobb, he’s gone up for that submission on the law, risen like a salmon and it’s just not come off for him. He’ll be disappointed with that”   “True, but he’s a top, top, top, top lawyer Martin”  – or indeed   “If you offered him joint residence now, would he take it?” )

 

The Court of Appeal grappled with yet another intractable contact dispute case  recently in Re W. 

This set of private law proceedings were dogged by what seemed to be misfounded non-molestation orders against the father  (none of the allegations bar one very mild one being borne out), allegations of a grievous kind against the grandfather (which were not finally pursued by mother )  and of course, failure to comply with interlocutory contact orders.

 

To cut to the tl; dr  bit (as I know you private law family types have busy lives and those schedules about picking up Child A at 4.30pm from the McDonalds in Chiswick High Street on a Tuesday don’t write themselves)

 

The Court of Appeal seem to be stepping quite deliberately down a path of it being the responsibility of parents (both of them) to try to resolve a contact dispute without this level of hostility, and that there is something which looks like a duty and sounds like a duty, when holding Parental Responsibility to ensure that the rights of the other parent are respected.

 

And this passage is the nub of it :-

 

78. Parents, both those who have primary care and those who seek to spend time with their child, have a responsibility to do their best to meet their child’s needs in relation to the provision of contact, just as they do in every other regard. It is not, at face value, acceptable for a parent to shirk that responsibility and simply to say ‘no’ to reasonable strategies designed to improve the situation in this regard.

 

 The awful drift in the case was highlighted here, by Lord Justice MacFarlane

 

16. Pausing there, it is necessary to note that almost four years had elapsed between F’s initial application for contact in May 2008 and the first substantive hearing in January 2012. Between those dates important decisions had been made by no less than five judges prior to the trial judge. It is to be particularly noted that the one judge who had heard the parties give evidence at the fact finding hearing ceased to hold the case soon after that hearing. F had not seen his children for nearly three years, since April 2009. The papers display a significant element of drift, not least the ten months that expired between the decision to instruct an expert and the filing of her report.

 

 

Let me draw further attention to that, because it is astonishing.  Almost four years elapsed between father applying for contact and getting a substantive hearing about it.

 

A child psychologist was instructed and recommended that the child undertake some desensitisation work about contact (which sounds like something from “The Manchurian Candidate” to me, but is no doubt a delightful and charming process involving no brainwashing at all)

 

 The Judge at first instance made the following points in judgment, before eventually deciding against any orders for direct contact :-

 

28. In setting out her findings and conclusions the judge made the following key points:

a) Each of the two parents love their children, are committed to them and are motivated by a desire to do what they consider to be in the children’s best interests.

 

b) The difficulties arise as a result of the relationship between the adults, rather than that between the adults and their children.

 

c) It is in the best interests of these children that they are able to have a meaningful relationship with both of their parents.

 

d) Dr G’s analysis of the reason for A’s stated refusal to see F is accepted.

The children’s behaviours are now well entrenched and significant work will need to be done with the children to reassure them they can have a relationship with F.

 

e) Dr G’s opinion that M has experienced trauma as a result of the relationship with F, and has continued to be traumatised by the court process, is accepted. There is a clear pattern of M acting in what Dr G describes as an “adversive reaction” at every stage when contact is ordered or attempted.

 

f) F has made “considerable progress” in therapy and demonstrates “profound change”. F, however, has a need to undertake a deeper level of work aimed at achieving empathy and understanding for the impact of his behaviour upon M.

 

g) F would be able to manage contact with the children appropriately, if it were possible to arrange this.

 

h) Dr G’s concerns about the use of the paternal aunt, HW, as a means to re-introduce F are accepted.

 

(Note that all of the concerns about Father related to the impact of his involvement in the child’s life on mother, rather than any direct evidence that he had harmed, or would harm,  the child)

 

The decision not to allow contact was contrary to the recommendations of the child’s Guardian, appointed through NYAS.

 

The Court of Appeal helpfully analyse the appropriate legal tests for making an order that refuses contact in private law proceedings to a birth parent, which this cynical and jaded hack thought might be something of a swipe at those in Parliament who think that the Courts don’t already operate on a presumption that spending time with two parents is best for a child where possible.

 

39. The second principle, that it is almost always in the interests of the child to have contact with the parent with whom the child is not living, has been approached by judges, both before and since the decision in Re O, as requiring the presence of “cogent reasons” for departing from that general principle. A classic statement of the need for cogent reasons appears, for example, in the short judgment of Waite LJ, from which Sir Thomas Bingham MR expressly quoted, in the case of Re D (A Minor)(Contact: Mother’s Hostility) [1993] 2 FLR 1. Waite LJ said “the judge properly directed himself by asking whether there were any cogent reasons why this child should, exceptionally, be denied the opportunity of access to his natural father.

 

 

And here

 

42. In Re C (A Child) (Suspension of Contact) [2011] EWCA Civ 521, [2011] 2 FLR 912 Munby LJ summarised the relevant ECHR case law as follows:

 

“a) Contact between parent and child is a fundamental element of family life and is almost always in the interests of the child.

 

b) Contact between parent and child is to be terminated only in exceptional circumstances, where there are cogent reasons for doing so and when there is no alternative. Contact is to be terminated only if it will be detrimental to the child’s welfare.

 

c) There is a positive obligation on the State, and therefore on the judge, to take measures to maintain and to reconstitute the relationship between parent and child, in short, to maintain or restore contact. The judge has a positive duty to attempt to promote contact. The judge must grapple with all the available alternatives before abandoning hope of achieving some contact. He must be careful not to come to a premature decision, for contact is to be stopped only as a last resort and only once it has become clear that the child will not benefit from continuing the attempt.

 

d) The court should take a medium-term and long-term view and not accord excessive weight to what appear likely to be short-term or transient problems.

 

e) The key question, which requires ‘stricter scrutiny’, is whether the judge has taken all necessary steps to facilitate contact as can reasonably be demanded in the circumstances of the particular case.

 

f) All that said, at the end of the day the welfare of the child is paramount; the child’s interest must have precedence over any other consideration.”

 

43. Finally I would refer to the pithy, but nonetheless correct, distillation of this approach in the judgment of Ward LJ in Re P (Children) [2008] EWCA Civ 1431, [2009] 1 FLR 1056 at paragraph 38 where it was said that “contact should not be stopped unless it is the last resort for the judge” and (paragraph 36) until “the judge has grappled with all the alternatives that were open to him”.

 

 (feel free to cut and paste any of that for private law submissions)

The Court of Appeal considered that the decision of the trial judge to refuse contact to the father was plainly wrong and should be overturned.

  

Most of this judgment is very case specific, and not terribly surprising. But it is the judicial comments about the RESPONSIBILITY element of  Parental Responsibility, which begin below, which make the case interesting and potentially significant.  (Underlining is mine)

 

 

45. Although the welfare principle in CA 1989 s 1(1) is, as I have said, the sole statutory directive to the court determining questions relating to a child’s upbringing, it is not the only statutory provision which bears upon the responsibility for determining and putting into action arrangements to be made for a child’s care within his or her own family. The Children Act 1989 does not place the primary responsibility of bringing up children upon judges, magistrates, CAFCASS officers or courts; the responsibility is placed upon the child’s parents. In the previous sentence I have deliberately used the plural of parent as it is now very frequently the case that the law provides that parental responsibility for each child will be shared by both parents.

 

46. In a judgment relating to the court’s determination of issues of contact, it is not common to refer to the meaning of “parental responsibility” set out in CA 1989, s 3(1). In my view, there is benefit to be gained from stepping back from a focus upon the court’s role and seeing the function of the court in the wider statutory setting within which the primary responsibility for determining the welfare of a child, and then delivering what that child needs, is placed upon both of his parents and, importantly, is shared by them.

 

47. In CA 1989, s 3(1) “parental responsibility” is defined as meaning “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”. When there is a dispute as to the arrangements for a child’s care, much emphasis may be put by parents upon the one word “rights” within that all-encompassing definition. Such a narrow focus has no justification when one looks at the plain words of this clearly drafted and important section of the Children Act. The phrase under consideration is not “parental rights” but “parental responsibility”. Along with the “rights….powers…and authority” enjoyed by a parent come the “duties” and “responsibilities” which a parent has in relation to a child. The detailed rights and duties of a parent are not defined more precisely in the Act, but, in general terms, it must be the case that where two parents share parental responsibility, it will be the duty of one parent to ensure that the rights of the other parent are respected, and vice versa, for the benefit of the child.

 

48. These observations, which are founded upon CA 1989, s 3 and relate to the duties that attach to those who have parental responsibility, do not directly impact upon the decision that falls to be made in this appeal which turns upon the cogency of the material relied upon by the judge in deciding to refuse direct contact. I will however return to the topic of parental responsibility, and its importance in cases of this type, in a short ‘post-script’ at the conclusion of this judgment.

 

 

 

This seems to be implying, or importing, effectively a duty  or quasi-duty on parents to act responsibly towards one another for the benefit of the child.

 

 

Post-script

 

72. Having determined the issues in this appeal, I return briefly to the concept of parental responsibility and the potential for it to be given greater prominence in the resolution of private law disputes as to the arrangements for the welfare of children.

 

73. The observations that I now make are part of a wider context in which the family

courts seek to encourage parents to see the bigger picture in terms of the harmful impact upon their children of sustained disputes over the contact which is most neatly encapsulated in the words of Black LJ in T v T [2010] EWCA Civ 1366:

“[The parents] must put aside their differences … if the adults do not manage to resolve things by communicating with each other, the children inevitably suffer and the adults may also pay the price when the children are old enough to be aware

of what has been going on. … It is a tremendous privilege to be involved in bringing up a child. Childhood is over all too quickly and, whilst I appreciate that both sides think that they are motivated only by concern for the children, it is still very sad to see it being allowed to slip away whilst energy is devoted to adult wrangles and to litigation. What is particularly unfair is that the legacy of a childhood tainted in that way is likely to remain with the children into their own adult lives.”

 

74. In describing the statutory legal context within which decisions as to the private law arrangements for a child are to be made, I have stressed that it is the parents, rather than the court or more generally the state, who are the primary decision makers and actors for determining and delivering the upbringing that the welfare of their child requires. I have stressed that, along with the rights, powers and authority of a parent, come duties and responsibilities which must be discharged in a manner which respects similarly held rights, powers, duties and responsibilities of the other parent where parental responsibility is shared.

 

75. In all aspects of life, whilst some duties and responsibilities may be a pleasure to discharge, others may well be unwelcome and a burden. Whilst parenting in many respects brings joy, even in families where life is comparatively harmonious, the responsibility of being a parent can be tough. Where parents separate the burden for each and every member of the family group can be, and probably will be, heavy. It is not easy, indeed it is tough, to be a single parent with the care of a child. Equally, it is tough to be the parent of a child for whom you no longer have the day to day care and with whom you no longer enjoy the ordinary stuff of everyday life because you only spend limited time with your child. Where all contact between a parent and a child is prevented, the burden on that parent will be of the highest order. Equally, for the parent who has the primary care of a child, to send that child off to spend time with the other parent may, in some cases, be itself a significant burden; it may, to use modern parlance, be “a very big ask”. Where, however, it is plainly in the best interests of a child to spend time with the other parent then, tough or not, part of the responsibility of the parent with care must be the duty and responsibility to deliver what the child needs, hard though that may be.

 

 

76. Where parental responsibility is shared by a child’s parents, the statute is plain (CA 1989, s 3) that each of those parents, and both of them, share ‘duties’ and ‘responsibilities’ in relation to the child, as well as ‘rights … powers … and authority’. Where all are agreed, as in the present case, that it is in the best interests of a child to have a meaningful relationship with both parents, the courts are entitled to look to each parent to use their best endeavours to deliver what their child needs, hard or burdensome or downright tough that may be. The statute places the primary responsibility for delivering a good outcome for a child upon each of his or her parents, rather than upon the courts or some other agency.

 

77. Where there are significant difficulties in the way of establishing safe and beneficial contact, the parents share the primary responsibility of addressing those difficulties so that, in time, and maybe with outside help, the child can benefit from being in a full relationship with each parent. In the present case the emotional and psychological make up of the two parents, both separately and in combination, prevented easy contact taking place. Dr G advised that both parents needed to access support or therapy to enable them to approach matters in a different way. F engaged in the necessary work, but M declined to. It may have been in F’s interests to do so, and M may have taken a contrary view; be that as it may, the only interests that either parent should have had in mind were those of each of their two children.

 

78. Parents, both those who have primary care and those who seek to spend time with their child, have a responsibility to do their best to meet their child’s needs in relation to the provision of contact, just as they do in every other regard. It is not, at face value, acceptable for a parent to shirk that responsibility and simply to say ‘no’ to reasonable strategies designed to improve the situation in this regard.

 

79. The observations that I have made will be, I suspect, very familiar thoughts to family judges, lawyers, mediators and others. My intention in setting them out in this judgment is to give them a degree of prominence so that they may be brought to the attention of parents who have separated at an early stage in the discussion of the arrangements for their child.

 

80. Whether or not a parent has parental responsibility is not simply a matter that achieves the ticking of a box on a form. It is a significant matter of status as between parent and child and, just as important, as between each of the parents. By stressing the ‘responsibility’ which is so clearly given prominence in CA 1989, s 3 and the likely circumstance that that responsibility is shared with the other parent, it is to be hoped that some parents may be encouraged more readily to engage with the difficulties that undoubtedly arise when contemplating post-separation contact than may have hitherto been the case.

 

 

 

This would seem to be an important and persuasive authority to be used in implacable hostile cases, or where one parent is appearing to unreasonably block attempts to resolve contact.  

 

It isn’t terribly plain what the Court is supposed to do when one parent is not complying with this ‘duty’ or responsibility; which is the million dollar question, but it is interesting (to me at least) that there seems to be a judicial authority for the point that there is something akin to the LA’s “duty to promote contact”  for parents.

 

 

- Incidentally, because I am a pedant, and suddenly realised that we all know that the LA HAS a duty to promote contact, but couldn’t lay my mental finger on where,  I had to go and find it, so here it is:-

 

The Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011, reg 14

 

Duty to promote contact

This section has no associated Explanatory Memorandum

  1. 14.           The fostering service provider must, subject to the provisions of the care plan and any court order relating to contact, promote contact between a child placed with a foster parent and the child’s parents, relatives and friends unless such contact is not reasonably practicable or consistent with the child’s welfare.  
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