RSS Feed

Tag Archives: placement order

Successful appeal against placement order

 

The Court of Appeal’s decision in Re R (A child) 2014 and why an appeal is now even worse news for a Local Authority

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/597.html

 

It has been a little while since we had one of these “non B-S compliant” appeals, but just to let you all know that they haven’t gone away.

 

This was an appeal about four children, who were all made subject to Care Orders in August 2013, and the youngest two were made subject to Placement Orders.

 

The mother appealed, and when the case got to the Court of Appeal, the Court of Appeal were very troubled that from the original judgment, it simply wasn’t possible to tell whether the Court had really looked at the other options available, the positive benefits of those other options and whether adoption really had been the last resort.

 

The fundamental concern in the case had been the risk posed by the father. The Court of Appeal quoted what Lewinson LJ had said when granting the permission to appeal

 

“The risk …. that the judge found was clearly tied to Mr J and his inappropriate sexual behaviour. The material submitted by the local authority, which I have read and which is confirmed by the mother’s grounds of appeal, shows that the mother and Mr J are now divorced, no longer living together and the mother has no intention of resuming any relationship with Mr J. In those circumstances, I have a considerable concern that the judge did not make any clear findings about whether the risk which he identified continued to exist after the disappearance of Mr J from the life of the mother and her children. I have a concern also that the judge did not expressly deal with less draconian outcomes than the orders which she eventually made.”

 

And the final conclusions that the Court of Appeal reached were not markedly different to that.

 

On risk

 

21 The central issue in this case, as the judge saw it, was the sexual risk posed by Mr J. That risk was based upon the 2006 conviction although the judge referred to the allegations made by S as particularly troubling too. Plainly, she was entitled to take into account the existence of those allegations and M’s response to them but given that she had not made a finding that the disputed events in relation to S had taken place, she was not entitled to proceed on the basis that Mr J was a risk because he had sexually abused S. This is appropriately reflected in her formulation of the risks.

22 Two points immediately stand out in relation to the sexual risk posed by Mr J.

23 First, Mr J is only a risk to these children if he remains on the scene or is going to return to it. M’s case is that she separated from him within weeks after the events of August 2012 and has since divorced him. LA say that there is no direct evidence that she has continued to associate with him but they remain suspicious on grounds which they explained. However, the important point for the present judgment is that no finding was made by the judge about whether M was still associating with Mr J or would be likely to do so in future. Without a finding that he was likely to feature in her life or the children’s in some way, it is difficult to see how he could be said to pose a risk to these children. If he did not pose a risk, then it was academic whether M would be able to protect the children against him and no finding was made that she would be likely to take up with another man who would pose a similar risk.

24 Second, even if the evidence were to establish that Mr J may be part of the picture in future, any evaluation of M’s attitude to the risk he poses would have to take into account LA’s own attitude to that risk in May 2012. The risk flows principally from Mr J’s 2006 conviction and, knowing about that, LA permitted Mr J to live in the family home with the children from May 2012 onwards, without even supervisory oversight by LA who had closed the case. A rather sophisticated analysis of the situation would be required in order to accommodate this feature. The analysis may be further complicated by the need to take into account also M’s attitude to the August 2012 allegations that S made. Although it was not proved that things had happened as S said, there was no question but that she made serious allegations and LA would say, no doubt, that M’s failure to keep an open mind about them shows that she lacks the capacity to behave protectively. However, whether M’s attitude to the allegations counted for anything in the analysis of her ability to protect the children from risk in future would depend upon what facts were available to her about the situation in relation to S, either from her own knowledge or from elsewhere. Particularly careful evaluation of this feature of the case would therefore be required. The fact is that the judgment does not deal with these factors at all, neither referring to the older history of the case leading to it being closed in May 2012, nor dealing with the complex situation in relation to the August 2012 allegations.

25 This is a deficiency in the judgment which undermines the judge’s welfare decision fatally in my view.

26 Without a sufficient evaluation of the risk flowing from Mr J’s sexual activities, all that was left as a foundation for the judge’s view that M could not provide the children with emotional care and was unable to protect them was what she set out in §38.3 (supra). It would be difficult to argue that that alone was enough to justify the orders that she made.

 

On a failure to properly explore the other options

 

 

27 Lewison LJ questioned whether the judge had dealt sufficiently with the less draconian outcomes that might have been possible for these children. We explored this question further during the hearing and I concluded that the judgment did not, in fact, deal sufficiently with this.

28 Exactly what might be possible for the children will depend upon the precise nature of the risk that is found to exist – what is at risk of happening, how likely it is to happen and what the consequences would be for the children if it did happen. However, there is an obvious need at least to consider, in every case, whether the children could be protected whilst living at home by LA maintaining a supervisory role through the medium of a supervision order or even a care order. I note that M’s case was that the children would live with her and her parents (judgment §17). The judgment reports that the social worker did not see this as a viable arrangement for the children but there is no explanation as to why not. The social worker gave evidence about the difficulties of communicating effectively with the children and gaining an understanding of what was happening in their home (judgment §15) and also about the near impossibility of establishing a working relationship with M (§18). That may weigh heavily against a placement at home under supervision but whether or not it did would depend upon the nature of the risks against which the children needed to be protected, as to which I have already expressed my views above.

29 Part of the overall welfare evaluation needed to be a thorough examination of the implications for the children of being removed from home permanently, split up from their siblings (the plan being for them to be placed in two pairs) and, in the case of the youngest two, removed from their family permanently. These were not infants by any means. The evidence was that they were very loyal to M. The judge recorded that the oldest two were expressing a desire to go home. There was evidence that the youngest two, whose primary carer had consistently been M, seemed to have largely secure attachments and were resilient children, engaging and sociable and not giving rise to any concern in relation to their behaviour or social presentation (see the report of the clinical psychologist who assessed the children).

30 The judge précised some of the evidence of the clinical psychologist in her judgment. She reported, for example, that the psychologist said it was difficult to balance the sibling relationship against the individual needs of the children for stability and permanence in a placement (judgment §20) but this was in the context of a consideration of what should be done about the children’s placements away from home i.e. whether they should all be placed together or split so as to give the younger children the chance of being adopted. That was predominantly the focus of the rest of the evidence précised by the judge as well, from the social worker and the guardian.

31 As Re G [2013] EWCA Civ 965 has made clear, the decision whether an order should be made which will result in the children not going home has to be taken following a global, holistic consideration of all the factors in the case and each of the options available for the children. The judgment in Re G was, of course, only handed down on 30 July 2013, which was during the hearing of evidence in this case. It is well understood that its implications would not have been digested by the time that submissions were made and judgment given. Indeed, it is only fair to observe that 2013 was a year of upheaval for family law and I have no doubt at all that keeping abreast of developments must have been very difficult indeed for practitioners and judges alike.

32 For whatever reason, however, even taking the judgment as a whole and concentrating on substance rather than form, it cannot be said that the judge carried out “a balancing exercise in which each option is evaluated to the degree of detail necessary to analyse and weigh its own internal positives and negatives and each option is then compared, side by side, against the competing option or options” (see §54 of Re G). What was required was not only a comparison of adoption vs fostering and splitting the children vs not splitting them. The judgment needed also to deal with the possibility of returning them to their home, taking account of losses that the children would suffer if this were not to happen. Those losses needed, in turn, to be taken into account in considering the case for adoption/long term care. It may well be that the judge considered that she had covered the possibility of a return home in her précis of the evidence of the social worker and the guardian, whose evidence she found impressive and who considered that it would not be feasible because it would not be possible to work with M or the children. However, more was needed in my view, and I am confident that the judge would have dealt with these issues more fully had she had the benefit of all the observations that emerged from this court and the Supreme Court during the course of 2013.

 

 

The Court of Appeal therefore discharged the final orders and sent the case back for re-hearing.

 

 

They also raise a practice point, one which will make the average Local Authority lawyer’s hair stand on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine. They point out that as the appeal was brought by a litigant in person, the procedural formalities (making sure everyone was served, setting out clearly the issues, having all of the relevant documents in the bundle) weren’t complied with. They then say “there’s no resources for the Court to do all of this”

 

And of course they then say “So, Local Authorities, with their bottomless resources and pockets, will have to sort it out”   (bear in mind that the LA are opposing these appeals, not bringing them)

 

6 This case is illustrative of an increasing problem faced by this court. More and more litigants appear in front of us in person. Where, as here, the appellant is unrepresented, this requires all those involved in the appeal process to take on burdens that they would not normally have to bear. The court office finds itself having to attempt to make sure that the parties to the litigation are notified of the appeal because litigants in person do not always know who should be served; the only respondent named by M here was LA. The bundles that the court requires in order to determine the appeal are often not provided by the litigant, or are incomplete, and proper papers have to be assembled by the court, not infrequently at the request of the judges allocated to hear the case when they embark upon their preparation for the hearing just days before it is due to start. The grounds of appeal that can properly be advanced have to be identified by the judge hearing the permission application and the arguments in support of them may have to be pinpointed by the court hearing the appeal.

7 The court has no extra resources to respond to these added challenges. It needs to be understood that the file from the lower court is not available to the appeal court which is dependent on the papers supplied for the appeal by the parties. If it is to be able to deal properly with an appeal in care proceedings, and to do so speedily (as most local authorities require so that undue delay is avoided for the children who are the subject of the proceedings), then local authorities will have to expect to assist by ensuring that the court is provided with appeal bundles. Three copies of the appeal bundles are normally required, unless the appeal is ordered to be heard by two judges in which case only two copies need be supplied. The bundles will often have to include the documentation that was available to the court below, although there can be appeals in which the issue is so discrete that a more limited selection of papers will suffice. It is so frequently the case that the papers supplied by the appellant are deficient that it should be standard practice for the local authority to take steps itself, well in advance of the hearing, to consider the appellant’s proposed bundle and, if it is deficient or apparently non-existent, to contact the court to see whether it is necessary to supply alternative or supplementary bundles.

8 It is important also that the respondents to the appeal make themselves aware of the issues that will be aired at the hearing. If permission is given in writing there will be an order which sets out shortly what the Lord Justice decided and why. If permission is given at an oral hearing, a short judgment will almost invariably be given explaining why and a transcribed copy of this should be sought.

9 I said more about the cost to individuals and to the legal system of the absence of legal assistance in Re O-A, a private law children case decided on 4 April 2014. Everyone involved in public and private law children cases is attempting to achieve the best possible result for the children whose welfare is at the heart of the proceedings and, without legal representatives for the parties, that task is infinitely more difficult

 

 

In effect, if an appeal is brought by a litigant in person, the Local Authority should undertake all of their requirements as a Respondent, but also now do everything that the Court would normally expect an Applicant to do.

 

(And of course, remembering that whilst there’s no chance of the LA recovering THEIR costs if the appeal is hopeless or lost by a country mile, there’s authority to say that if the appeal succeeds costs orders can be made against the LA.  )

A word in your shell-like

Appeals, adoption, writing a cheque for costs and ‘informal discussions’

 Re C (A Child) 2014

 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/70.html

 It is no longer any great surprise when the Court of Appeal overturn a Placement Order, but just when I was getting jaded with this new spirit, along comes something to raise an eyebrow. In this one, the Court of Appeal overturned the Placement Order AND made an order for costs, in the sum of £22,000 against the LA.

 It also raises a couple of important issues of principle.

 The first is the need for a Judge to take care on an appeal – in this case, the whole thing started with a DJ refusing a placement order and the Local Authority appealing it to Keehan J.

 Keehan J found all five grounds of their appeal met, granted the appeal (fine) but then went on to make the Placement Order.

 As the Court of Appeal pointed out, Keehan J therefore made a Placement Order whilst only seeing the documents in the appeal bundle (which were of course very limited) and had not seen all of the documents that would be necessary to properly consider whether or not a Placement Order was the right order.

 It is quite obvious that Keehan J was concerned at the delay in planning for S’s future care needs, which delay is statutorily recognised as inimical to the welfare of the child (Children Act 1989, s 1(2)). Unfortunately, his understandable desire to move the matter forward appears to have blinded him to the significantly defective appeal bundle created and provided by the appellant which actually rendered him incapable of proceeding with the hearing on the notice of appeal filed, let alone providing the necessary evidence to support the making of a placement order. Put shortly, there were no transcripts of evidence and some of the documents before the district judge had been removed from the bundle….

 

There was an obvious lacuna in the materials presented to Keehan J in his appellate capacity to dispose of the appeal, still less to subrogate his own assessment of the facts in making a placement order. (See paragraph 8 above). I know that he would now only too readily acknowledge that his expressed reasoning in deciding that it was right to do so is insufficient and does not comply with the subsequently reported Re B-S (CHILDREN) 2013, EWCA Civ 1146.

 

 The Court of Appeal raise an interesting point, which may well come back to bite them, about transcripts of evidence rather than just the judgment. I happen to agree with them, but it is still something of a hostage to fortune.

Keehan J’s judgment was that the district judge “misconstrue[d] the evidence of Dr Bourne”, “was wrong to conclude that [an option] was viable or available…because the social worker gave evidence to him…”; reached “a conclusion which…he was [not] entitled to reach on the totality of the evidence before him”; and, that in relation to the care plan “was plainly wrong to come to that judgment and assessment”. He concluded that “The care plan of the local authority was entirely clear”. In my judgment, these findings and conclusions simply cannot subsist in the absence of a critical appraisal of all the evidence that was before the district judge (rather than relying on such statements as he had and the summary within the district judge’s judgment. Oral evidence will necessarily colour the picture otherwise presented by the statements and reports prepared before hearing. As is obvious from the judgments of District Judge Simmonds, that is precisely what happened in this case.

 

 

  1. In challenging Counsel for the Respondent local authority as to the absence of any transcript of evidence before Keehan J when hearing the appeal, her response clearly reflected the position taken by the local authority in the first appeal. That is, that transcripts were unnecessary since the district judge had specifically summarised the oral evidence as was obviously relevant to the judgment.
  1. This submission reflects an inability to recognise the failures of the local authority in the first appeal process which I would otherwise have hoped may have occurred to its legal advisers after reflection upon the contents of the present appellant’s notice and recourse to notes of evidence. It also flies in the face of paragraph 9 of District Judge Simmonds’ first judgment, vis:

“The fact that I do not mention something in this judgment does not mean that I have not fully considered it, but it is impossible to set out in this judgment everything that I have heard and read. My analysis of the evidence and findings, although made after each witness, are on the basis of hearing and reading the entire evidence and analysing the evidence in its totality.”

  1. This observation is entirely consistent with the well established principle derived from the speech of Lord Hoffmann in Piglowska v Piglowski [1999] 1 WLR 1360 at p 1372:

“The appellate court must bear in mind the advantage which the first instance judge had in seeing the parties and the other witnesses. This is well understood on questions of credibility and findings of primary fact. But it goes further than that. It applies also to the judge’s evaluation of those facts. If I may quote what I said in Biogen Inc v Medeva plc [1997] RPC 1 , 45:

The need for appellate caution in reversing the trial judge’s evaluation of the facts is based upon much more solid grounds than professional courtesy. It is because specific findings of fact, even by the most meticulous judge, are inherently an incomplete statement of the impression which was made upon him by the primary evidence. His expressed findings are always surrounded by a penumbra of imprecision as to emphasis, relative weight, minor qualification and nuance … of which time and language do not permit exact expression, but which may play an important part in the judge’s overall evaluation.”

  1. Over time, inevitably and regrettably, this conspicuously articulated wisdom is diminished by familiarity and may often, as in Keehan J’s judgment, become eroded by a concisely expressed but imprecise phrase. Lord Wilson’s judgment, endorsed in this respect by Lord Neuberger in RE B (A CHILD) (CARE PROCEEDINGS:THRESHOLD CRITERIA) above is a potent reminder of the need for all appellate courts to do more than pay lip service to the doctrine. At paragraph 42, after quoting Lord Hoffmann in Piglowska he said:

“Lord Hoffmann’s remarks apply all the more strongly to an appeal against a decision about the future of a child. In the Biogen case the issue was whether the subject of a claim to a patent was obvious and so did not amount to a patentable invention. Resolution of the issue required no regard to the future. The Piglowska case concerned financial remedies following divorce and the issue related to the weight which the district judge had given to the respective needs of the parties for accommodation. In his assessment of such needs there was no doubt an element of regard to the future. But it would have been as nothing in comparison with the need for a judge in a child case to look to the future. The function of the family judge in a child case transcends the need to decide issues of fact; and so his (or her) advantage over the appellate court transcends the conventional advantage of the fact-finder who has seen and heard the witnesses of fact. In a child case the judge develops a face-to-face, bench-to-witness-box, acquaintanceship with each of the candidates for the care of the child. Throughout their evidence his function is to ask himself not just “is this true?” or “is this sincere?” but “what does this evidence tell me about any future parenting of the child by this witness?” and, in a public law case, when always hoping to be able to answer his question negatively, to ask “are the local authority’s concerns about the future parenting of the child by this witness justified?” The function demands a high degree of wisdom on the part of the family judge; focussed training; and the allowance to him by the justice system of time to reflect and to choose the optimum expression of the reasons for his decision. But the corollary is the difficulty of mounting a successful appeal against a judge’s decision about the future arrangements for a child. In In re B (A Minor) (Adoption: Natural Parent) [2001] UKHL 70, [2002] 1 WLR 258 , Lord Nicholls said:

“16 …There is no objectively certain answer on which of two or more possible courses is in the best interests of a child. In all save the most straightforward cases, there are competing factors, some pointing one way and some another. There is no means of demonstrating that one answer is clearly right and another clearly wrong. There are too many uncertainties involved in what, after all, is an attempt to peer into the future and assess the advantages and disadvantages which this or that course will or may have for the child.……Cases relating to the welfare of children tend to be towards the edge of the spectrum where an appellate court is particularly reluctant to interfere with the judge’s decision.”

 

 

Is that authority for “in an appeal, a transcript of the entireity of the evidence should be obtained?”    – well, not quite, but I would certainly say that attention should be paid as to whether it should be obtained, and advocates be prepared to defend their decision about it either way. (Frankly, I would cover my back and include within the appeal notice a position as to whether the oral evidence given is intrinsic to the appeal and the Court is invited to direct whether a transcript be obtained)

 

A major issue in the case was whether in the original hearing, the oral evidence developed to a point where an alternative to adoption (namely the child continuing to be fostered by the existing foster carers) emerged as a credible alternate plan. That plan was the one that the District Judge approved – hence him making a Care Order but no Placement Order. At the appeal before Keehan J (who of course saw the written evidence and submissions that this was not an option on the table) what appeared to be the case was that the DJ had refused the LA plan and tried to foist upon them a plan that did not in truth exist as an option, which would of course have been wrong in law.  The Court of Appeal, having seen the transcripts of the oral evidence, felt that the option that the DJ selected was in fact an option open to him based on the evidence, and that thus not only was Keehan J wrong in granting the appeal but the LA had been wrong in issuing it.

An interesting aspect of the case was the Court of Appeal’s take on the ‘informal discussions’ that took place between counsel for the LA and the original District Judge. There is obviously a fine line between the duty to raise points of clarifications before an appeal and back-door pressure, and the Court of Appeal felt that this was wrong side of the line territory.

  1. Counsel for the local authority e-mailed the district judge timed at 3.33 am on 25 February seeking to “clear misunderstandings” as to the thrust of her closing submissions which had apparently not been accepted. The district judge responded at 9.07 in short order restating the pertinent bases of the decision reached and indicating that the order would follow. Remarkably, and with great temerity in my view, Counsel then responded “with the greatest of respect, I do not agree with your analysis”. Having re-iterated shortly the basis of his decision the district judge quite properly made clear that he was “not prepared and [would] not deal with this matter in e-mail correspondence.”
  1. Whilst other advocates were copied into the second e-mail and the first e-mails disclosed to them subsequently, apparently have made no complaint and may well regard it to be orthodox procedure, I regard this to be an entirely inappropriate, unacceptable and unsatisfactory practice. Not only was this an unwarranted ex parte approach by unconventional medium but it is a practice that lends itself to accusations of taint, bias, closed door justice and “stitch up” in the absence of an adequate and reliable method of recording what transpired. In the circumstances, the district judge was extraordinarily restrained in his responses.

And

I agree with the reasons given by Macur LJ for allowing this appeal and I agree with the order proposed. I would particularly like to associate myself with the remarks that Macur LJ has made at paragraphs 11 and 16 of her judgment. The attempt to get the District Judge to change his judgment and order after the he had delivered his judgment was quite unjustified and inappropriate. Counsel should know better than to attempt such an inappropriate exercise, even if the client urges it. (I do not say that happened in this case; I do not know).

 

 

And

  1. I agree with both judgments. Having seen the judgments in draft, Ms van der Leij has expressed concern about the comments at paragraphs 10-11 of Macur LJ and paragraph 36 of Aikens LJ dealing with the e-mail exchanges subsequent to the hearing. She observes that “it is by no means unusual for practitioners in the Principal Registry to e mail district judges directly seeking clarification of matters raised in a hearing”. It is one thing, if invited, to make submissions in relation to the terms of an order provided that every communication is copied to every party; it is another to express dissent and seek to engage in further argument. If that is not unusual, it is important that the problems which it generates should be recognised and that the practice should cease. First, it suggests (even if it is not the case) that advocates can go behind the scenes to resolve issues in favour of their clients and, as Macur LJ observes, will give rise to allegations of ‘stitch up’. Secondly, it will encourage litigants in person (who do not have the same understanding of the law or practice) to adopt a similar approach thereby disrupting the finality of the judgment of the court and generating continued uncertainty.

I completely agree with all of this – it is hard to know what was going on here, but the best way to deal with this sort of thing is transparently, where everyone (including and particularly the parents) sees exactly what is being said to the Judge and has an opportunity to comment.

 On to costs.

The Court of Appeal point out, with a degree of acidity, that if the parents had been legally represented at the first appeal, to the circuit judge, it would have emerged that the oral evidence had been markedly different to the papers that Keehan J had seen and that the DJ had been within his rights to view that oral evidence as being that an alternative plan than adoption – namely long term fostering with the existing foster carers, was not only an option that he could chose, but one that he should.

They point out that in saving a very small amount of costs in legal aid for that hearing, substantially greater costs, and delay for the child have been incurred because that appeal itself had to be appealed.

The fact that the parents were faced with an appeal before Keehan J without any professional representation because their legal aid had been withdrawn must have been a factor which unfortunately led the judge to be persuaded to act as he did, despite the fundamental procedural failure of the respondents’ lawyers. This was, of course, their failure to produce on appeal the transcripts of the very oral evidence which the appellant alleged that the first instance judge had misconstrued/misunderstood. As Macur LJ has commented, if the parents had been represented by competent counsel this failure would doubtless have been pointed out and the appeal may never have seen the light of day. As it is, further public expense has been incurred because of the need for a further appeal to this court. What might have been saved in legal aid fund costs has been lost by incurring public expense on another (but related) part of the public purse.

They did refute the parents claim that because they had not been represented at the original appeal their article 6 rights had been breached – i.e this would not be a ground for appeal in and of itself, although it provided context as to why the original appeal had gone awry and needed to be appealed

 

 The fact that parents comprise the vastly increased number of litigants in person which appear before the courts in child public law cases since they do not qualify for non means tested legal aid is all too apparent and unavoidable as a consequence of the present regime. As here, non represented parents will often be ranged against legally qualified advocates opposing them. They have access to justice in accordance with their “Article 6 rights” but are often daunted by the process and feel understandably outgunned. In itself, this fact does not found a meritorious ground of appeal but necessarily it comprises a context for the other complaints that are raised in this application. I have every reason to expect that, if they had been legally represented by a competent advocate, this appeal may never have seen the light of day.

 

 

An application for costs was made. As readers will know, costs in care proceedings are fairly unusual, although possible,

  1. The mother is now legally aided. However, during the preparation for this appeal it appears that there were periods when it was withdrawn. In any event, the mother apparently is at risk of future recoupment from the Legal Aid Agency. She applies for costs of the appeal. Written submissions and revised cost schedules have been submitted.
  1. The local authority relies on Re T (Costs: Care Proceedings: Serious allegation not proved) [2012] UKSC 36 to resist the application. It argues that it has not adopted an unreasonable stance or been guilty of reprehensible behaviour. For the reasons above I believe that the position that it has taken to have been unreasonable. In the alternative, it cites London Borough of Sutton v Davis (Costs) (No 2) [1994] 1 WLR 1317 as authority to the effect that this court should not make an assessment but should order costs to be paid in a sum assessed by the director of the LAA. This proposition is based upon the obiter dicta remarks of Wilson J, as he then was. He urged reform of the then current legal aid regulations. They do not endure in the light of the 2010 Standard Civil Contract entered into between the mother’s solicitors and the Legal Aid Agency, section 1, General Provisions 1.50B of which provides: “This paragraph represents our authority pursuant to section 28(2)(b) of the Act, for you to receive payment from another party….and to recover those costs at rates in excess of those provided for in this Contract or any other contract with us. This court must address the claim for costs with a view to the context in which it arises. The director of the LAA is not in a position to assess whether the same have been unreasonably incurred.
  1. The necessity for this appeal emanates from the local authority’s failures to address the issues correctly in front of Keehan J. I would order them to pay the costs of the mother claimed in the sum of £22,756.68

The Court of Appeal don’t formally say that the informal approaches by counsel to the DJ played any part in this decision, but they hardly take pains to point out that they played no part. Those might have been very expensive emails.

 

[I am grateful to one of my readers for politely, judiciously and correctly letting me know that Keehan J is of course not a Circuit Judge, as I had been wrongly designating him - I have now edited out those incorrect references. ]

conditions on placement order, what does the Fox say ? (By fox, i mean Court of Appeal)

 

The Court of Appeal in Re A (Children) 2013 grappled with an interesting issue.  In the care proceedings, the Judge was weighing up the needs of the children and reached the conclusion that adoption was in their best interests IF and only IF, the adopters that the LA would find in the future would meet a series of conditions. The Judge then reserved the case to herself for any future applications and made a Placement Order with a series of conditions – if the conditions weren’t met, the placement order couldn’t be exercised.

“2. The court has accepted the list of attributes of prospective adopters for M and K recommended by the court appointed expert psychologist, Mrs Buxton, that as a pre-requisite to placement of the children for adoption, prospective adopters to be suitable must be:

a) two in number;

b) energetic;

c) free from attachment difficulties of their own;

d) experienced carers;

e) fully appraised of the children’s background, attachment difficulties and placement needs for the duration of their minority and willing to undergo specific training so that they will be able to cope with M in particular;

f) there must be no other children within the home

g) ready, willing and able to promote direct face to face contact with their brothers, B, B and L preferably four times per year but at least a minimum of twice per year.

3. The court was satisfied on the basis of all the evidence before it and on its analysis of the welfare checklist issues that adoption of M and K was proportionate and the most appropriate care plan to promote and safeguard their welfare, save that the care plans are approved and placement orders granted on the basis that the list of attributes set out above is adhered to by the local authority.”

The LA appealed that, on the basis that this was law out of thin air (no such thing as conditional placement orders) and that this was in complete breach of the separation that Parliament had set up between Courts (decide the facts, make the decision about applications and orders) and LA’s (deliver the orders on the ground and make day to day decisions)

The Court of Appeal having forgotten / ignored that principle entirely in Neath Port Talbot, found it again down the back of the sofa.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1611.html

    1. All parties accept Mr Rowley’s description of the statutory boundary that exists between the role of a court and that of a local authority upon the making of an order authorising placement for adoption under ACA 2002, s 21. The statutory structure established in relation to placement for adoption orders is, in this respect, on all fours with that which applies to final care orders under CA 1989, s 31. The House of Lords decision, and in particular Lord Nichols description of the inability of a court to impose conditions upon a final care order, in Re: S; Re: W (Care Order: Care Plan), applies in like manner with respect to an order under ACA 2002, s 21 authorising placement for adoption. No party before this court sought to argue to the contrary and there cannot be any ground for drawing a distinction between the two statutory schemes in this respect.

 

    1. In the absence of any express statutory provision to the contrary, Parliament must be taken to have intended that the ‘cardinal principle’ identified in Re: S; Re: W would apply to the making of a placement for adoption order. The wording of the key provision in ACA 2002, s 21(1) could not be more plain:

 

‘A placement order is an order made by the court authorising a local authority to place a child for adoption with any prospective adopters who may be chosen by the authority‘ [emphasis added].

The fact that in almost all cases the court will be making a final care order under CA 1989, s 31 at the same time as making a placement for adoption order, and there is plainly no power to add conditions to a care order, only goes to underline the position.

    1. When a placement for adoption order is made, the family court retains only limited powers arising from the court’s jurisdiction to:

 

a) vary or revoke the placement order [ACA 2002, ss 23 and 24];

b) make orders for contact [ACA 2002, s 26].

The position is as described by Wilson LJ in Re A (A Child) (Adoption) [2007] EWCA Civ 1383 (set out at para 20 above); the only opportunity that a family court has to consider the merits of a particular person to adopt a child who is the subject of a placement for adoption order occurs when that person applies for an adoption order.

    1. In the present case the judge was clearly driven to take the unusual step of setting out, in express terms, the attributes that she considered to be essential if adoption were to be beneficial for each of these two boys. The judge was obviously anxious that the past performance of the local authority indicated that, if left to its own devices, the necessary mix of attributes might be watered down or compromised for the sake of achieving an adoptive placement. As a child focussed and well motivated action, the judge’s stance cannot be faulted. The question is whether her action was legally permissible, or whether it crossed the boundary that is so clearly drawn between the role of the court and that of a local authority under a placement for adoption order.

 

    1. The debate before this court has focussed upon what label might best describe the judge’s actions in seeking to maintain the local authority’s search for adopters to those who meet the attributes on the ‘shopping list’. The local authority categorise the judge’s stipulations as ‘conditions'; Miss Heaton describes them as a transparent ‘invitation’ to the local authority; and Mr Weston says that they are no more than a ‘recording’ in the court order of the shopping list of ‘requirements’. To my mind these proffered labels are matters of semantics. There is no magic in whether or not the judge’s requirements are ‘conditions'; the word ‘condition’ has no legal status in this context. What matters is the substance of the structure that the judge sought to deploy in order to achieve what she saw as necessary to meet the needs of these children. In terms of the substance of that structure I am in no doubt that the judge’s order in this case, together with the stipulations in her judgment, fall well beyond the line that divides the role of the court and the role of a local authority under a placement for adoption order. That conclusion is established by the following aspects of the judgment and court order:

 

a) the judge’s conclusions at paragraphs 7.13-7.16 and 7.18 (set out at paragraphs 10 and 11 above) hold that only an adoptive placement that meets each of the ‘shopping list’ requirements will be in the welfare interests of each of the boys;

b) the conclusion at paragraph 7.30 in terms that ‘if the right adopters cannot be found, adoption is not in the interests of these children and should not take place';

c) in ‘recording’ number 2 in the court order the ‘shopping list’ attributes were described as a ‘pre-requisite’ to the placement which ‘must’ be met;

d) recording number 3 states that the care plans are approved and the placement orders granted ‘on the basis that the list of attributes set out above is adhered to by the local authority’.

    1. The judge’s decision to reserve all future hearings to herself is not, looked at on its own, a matter of concern. On the contrary, judges are encouraged to ensure judicial continuity in children cases if at all possible. However, when set against the other matters which, as I have held, were beyond the judge’s jurisdiction, the decision to reserve the case only goes to add to the establishment of a role for the judge in this case which amounted to overseeing the implementation of the care plan in a manner which is impermissible.

 

    1. The matters raised in this appeal are not academic. Miss Heaton has confirmed that if the mother were not satisfied with prospective adopters chosen by the local authority, she would seek to bring the matter back to court by applying for leave to revoke the placement orders (under ACA 2002, s 24) and/or issuing judicial review proceedings. Indeed, this court was told that the mother has already issued an application under s 24(2) which is now due to come before HHJ Kushner for determination.

 

  1. In all the circumstances, the local authority has made good its appeal and, if the placement orders are to survive this appeal hearing, I would allow the appeal, strike out recordings 2 and 3 from the court order and declare, through this judgment, that the placement orders are to stand as unencumbered orders in the standard terms of ACA 2002, s 21.

 

Hooray say the local authority, wiping their collective brows with a polka dot handkerchief.

But stop, mother had anticipated this, and cross-appealed on the basis that if the conditions didn’t stand, the Placement Orders should be set aside – the “nothing else will do” test not having been met

 

2. The Cross Appeal: ‘What is a judge to do?’

    1. On more than one occasion during her submissions, Miss Heaton gave voice to a question that is likely to have been at the forefront of HHJ Kushner’s mind as she contemplated how best to proceed within the formal structure of ACA 2002 to produce an outcome which met the needs of these two boys as she so plainly saw them. That question was ‘what is a judge to do?’ in circumstances where she is satisfied that the welfare of a child only requires adoption if an adoptive placement can be found which meets a number of specific attributes, but, if those attributes are not present, the child’s welfare would not be best served by adoption. The judge chose a course which, as I have held, was not, as a matter of jurisdiction, open to the court. My conclusion therefore begs a repetition of the question, ‘what, then, is a judge to do?’.

 

    1. The answer to the question is, in my view, plain and straightforward. It is to be found in ACA 2002, s 52(1):

 

‘The court cannot dispense with the consent of any parent or guardian of a child to the child being placed for adoption … unless the court is satisfied that … the welfare of the child requires the consent to be dispensed with.’ [emphasis added]

    1. The judgment of Wall LJ in Re P (Placement Orders: Parental Consent) [2008] EWCA Civ 535; [2008] 2 FLR 625 set out in clear terms how the word ‘requires’ in s 52(1) is to be applied. The passage in Re P is well known and there is no need to repeat it here. The question, after applying the life-long focus of the welfare provisions in ACA 2002, s 1, is whether what is ‘required’ is adoption, as opposed to something short of adoption. The interpretation of s 52 in Re P was expressly endorsed by the Supreme Court in Re B (A Child) [2013] UKSC 33 and given general application in the judgments of the court where the need for a proportionate justification for adoption was underlined by the use of phrases such as “nothing else will do”, “a very extreme thing” and “a last resort”.

 

    1. As I have already held, it was not open to the court to seek to limit or exert direct influence over the choice of prospective adopters under a placement for adoption order. On that basis and on the express findings of the judge it was simply not open to the court in the present case to go on to conclude that the welfare of either of these two boys required adoption as opposed to something short of adoption; it was not possible to hold that ‘nothing else will do’. The judge was expressly contemplating that long-term fostering would ‘do’ and, indeed, would only be displaced as the better option for the boys if a ‘shopping list’ compliant adoptive home could be found. In the absence of a power to influence and control the local authority’s role under a placement for adoption order, the test in ACA 2002, s 52(1), in so far as it relates to a placement order, must be read in the light of s 21(1) with the welfare requirement being evaluated on the basis that the placement is to be ‘with any prospective adopters who may be chosen by the authority’.

 

    1. A court may only make a placement for adoption order if, under ACA 2002, s 21(3), it is satisfied either that each parent or guardian is consenting, or that the parent or guardian’s consent to the child being placed for adoption should be dispensed with under the terms of ACA 2002, s 1 and s 52. Against the test in ACA 2002, s 52(1) and on the findings of the judge, the ground for dispensing with parental consent in this case was simply not established and as a result the court did not have jurisdiction to make placement for adoption orders.

 

    1. I would therefore hold that the cross appeal of the mother succeeds and that the placement for adoption orders made in this case must be set aside with the result that the two boys will now simply be subject to final care orders.

 

  1. The absence of placement for adoption orders will no doubt render more difficult the task of finding prospective adopters for these two children, but the local authority remain able, under the care order, to continue to search for adopters.

 

So, although the LA won on the principle that conditions couldn’t be attached to a Placement Order, it was the most pyhrric of victories, since that persuaded the Court to nuke the Placement Order.

 

Look at that last sentence – it is a masterpiece of understatement.

 

At the moment, we have a national crisis of adopters – far more children need places than there are places for them. Do you honestly think that anyone who is approved as an adopter, who are in high demand and sought after by multiple local authorities for multiple children, are going to commit to a process of matching with children WHEN THE CHILDREN may not be approved for adoption? No way.

Assuming that you get someone nuts enough to do that, what would the process actually involve?

1. The LA revives their application for a Placement Order

2. The mother, the father, the Guardian and Judge all say – we need to see as much detail as possible about the adopters

3. Every inch of that information is pored over, critiqued, nit-picked looking for flaws.

4. If there has been  passage of time in the search, one of the parents will revive their desire to be reconsidered or to put forward a family member

5. The parents may not get public funding (stand-alone Placement Orders aren’t non-means, non-merits public funding, you are at the whim of the Legal Aid Agency)

6. In order to get the Placement Order, the Court will want to be satisfied that these carers ticked all of their criteria

 

All of this being before the child can be placed with the carers identified. How is that sitting with no delay?

 

 

How is this not moving the assessment of adopters and the matching of children with adopters away from qualified professionals and into the Court? How does this square even for a second with the view in the Children and Families Bill on Courts backing the heck out of care planning?  (I know, the Bill isn’t law, but that hasn’t stopped us wholesale adopting the 26 week proposal and ramming that through – why is the other major limb, care planning being firmly back with LAs being utterly ignored?)

I have no problem with the Courts having jurisdiction over this stuff, if Parliament debates it and gives it to them, but not like this. An important decision for any family practitioner – it is another tool in the argument toolkit for fighting a Placement Order, and another obstacle for LA’s.

 

the continuing saga of the Court of Appeal and Placement Orders (I make this 9-1 against in last 2 months)

Re R (A child) and R (Children) 2013

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed119174

 

In this one, the LA had obtained Placement Orders for two children, with a plan of placing them together for adoption. The mother’s appeal against that order didn’t get heard by the Court of Appeal until a year after the orders were made, by which time, the landscape had changed, not only in terms of the developing jurisprudence but that the search for a placement together, whether that be adoption or long-term fostering had not been successful.

The Court at the time the Placement Orders were made had been adamant that the children had to stay together, no matter what.

The LA had already revoked the Placement Order for the eldest child (who is eleven now, and had been ten at the time of the Placement Order) accepting that they had no prospect of finding an adoptive placement for her. They took a pragmatic decision to revoke the Placement Order in relation to the youngest child as well (that child being five).

 

 In the course of mounting the appeal Mr Naish seeks to challenge as a matter of principle the judge’s decision to make a placement for adoption order, notwithstanding the fact that he gave the priority that I have already indicated to the need to keep the children together, and although the mother now has an extant application to revoke the placement order for N – that in fact is due to be heard next week before the court in Taunton – Mr Naish says as a matter of principle that, if the original placement order was not justified as a matter of evidence and law, it should be set aside and the mother should not be in a position of having to now apply to revoke the placement order, as she is doing. 

6. During the course of submissions this morning we have been greatly assisted by counsel, Mr Naish, but also Mr Powell for the local authority who, rather than solely addressing the legal issues which are raised in this appeal, have grounded their observations to this court in the reality of the fact that the situation which everybody hoped could be achieved when the case was determined in May last year now on the local authority’s case cannot be achieved.  It is not simply a matter of making a choice between placing the children together or separating them; the local authority says that there is no home available that could meet the first option of that choice, namely providing a home together.  It therefore seemed to us, as a matter both of trying to meet the welfare of the children but also the essential justice of the case and the need to respect the parents’ position, that it was appropriate now that, instead of applying to revoke the placement order, the whole question of whether placement for adoption for N was justified should be considered from a standing start, as it were, before the court, in the light of the circumstances which are so totally different from the ones that it hoped would be in place with both children settled in one home.

7. Mr Powell has taken instructions and he indicates that the local authority agree that the right way forward is for the placement order for N to be revoked and for such proceedings that now move forward in the Taunton County Court to be including, if the local authority choose to do so, a fresh application for a placement order which would be determined – and in particular the parents’ consent being determined – in the light of the circumstances as they now are.

8. We welcome that concession by the local authority; the local authority therefore do  not oppose the appeal made in relation to N’s placement order, and Ms Taurah, on behalf of the children, similarly makes no opposition to that course.  Therefore it seems to me neither wise nor necessary for this court to descend to the detailed legal arguments that have been put before us by counsel in this unusual case.  For my part, I would simply accept that this is a pragmatic and child-centred outcome, which allows Judge Bromilow to re-evaluate N’s welfare in the light of the circumstances that now obtain, and so for my part I would allow the appeal and set aside the placement order that has been made in relation to N on 9 May 2012.

 

So more of a tactical retreat than the Court of Appeal granting the mother’s appeal, but I think one could guess which way the wind was blowing here.  The LA were probably also not wanting the Court of Appeal to get too heavily stuck into the issue of sibling placement and the Judge’s view that the children should be kept together ‘no matter what’, given that in the real world that had not been achieveable.

 

 

It isn’t Re JB, it is Re C

The Court of Appeal case I talked about at the weekend, which decided that the original Judge had not been wrong in making a Placement Order (and thus showing that the Court of Appeal aren’t just going to say “no” to every single Placement Order) is now out on Bailli and is Re C (A Child) 2013

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1257.html

The predominant challenge to the Placement Order, both at trial and in the appeal came from the maternal grandmother, EB, who had sought a Special Guardianship Order instead. She had been assessed by the LA unsuccessfully but was supported by an Independent Social Worker.

  • The judge held ([70]) that there were “a number of very important points to be made in [EB's] favour”. She was closely related to J, loved him and wanted the best for him. The judge also accepted that EB now appreciated the concerns of the local authority, even though she had not done so fully in the past. He considered this to be a point to her credit. EB also had important positive qualities as a carer, namely (a) her intelligence and resourcefulness (despite her disability, EB held down an important and responsible job), (b) a demonstrated commitment to the care of J (c) the ability to display patience with J and deal with him in a quiet and calm manner and (d) the ability to listen to advice.
  • However he went on to make five specific findings, on which he subsequently relied, as to concerns about EB’s suitability. These were:

    i) He doubted ([72]) EB’s ability to deal with the mother. He considered that if the mother had contact with J twice a week as proposed, it would be “confusing” for J. He considered that the very fact of the proposal for contact showed that the family and EB in particular underestimated the likelihood of difficulty with the mother.

    ii) Although resourceful, as a single carer with a disability and work and financial commitments, he had real doubts about EB’s ability to manage.

    iii) EB would need a certain amount of help, for which the family would be the first port of call. The mother still had quite a bit of growing up to do. There were conflicts from time to time and likely to be conflicts in the future.

    iv) He was concerned about EB’s relationship with J. After his birth, there had been a gap in contact between Christmas 2011 and July 2012. He did not attribute any blame to EB for this. Although EB and the mother were in the process of forming a relationship, there was still some way to go. He shared CG’s concern about a recent incident when J was taken to EB’s home and appeared to be upset.

    v) Finally the Judge pointed to what he described as a “lesser concern”. He thought there was a potential source of a problem if the father was to seek contact with J. The family had expressed what he described as “not a positive attitude” to the father. The judge later said that his decision was primarily based on the first four of the concerns.

     

  • Having considered these positive and negative factors in relation to EB, the judge went on to reject three matters which had been raised in relation to EB:

    i) A suggested lack of emotional warmth from EB towards J;

    ii) A suggestion that her motivation for seeking guardianship arose from feelings of guilt

    iii) An incident involving EB’s use of a knife in 2007 in a wholly different situation.

     

  • Having considered these matters the judge expressed his conclusions about EB at [80] as follows:

    “What I have to do is to weigh up all the evidence and points that I have mentioned and look at what is in [J's] best interest and decide what I consider to be reflective of his welfare. The conclusion I have come to in relation to [EB] is that the concerns significantly outweigh the advantages. I agree with the guardian that [J] does need a settled and secure home now. I am not satisfied that it would be attainable with [EB]. I agree with the local authority and the guardian as to [J's] welfare and what is the best way forward in relation to that and I disagree with the independent social worker Gretchen Precey

The Court acknowledged that the Judge had not carried out the sort of Re B-S or Re G style balancing exercise, holistically comparing the relative merits of each of the options against one another, rather deciding the case in a linear fashion by dispensing with the mother, then grandmother and thus leaving adoption as the only option ‘left on the table’ .   We know that the Court of Appeal have recently determined that this is wrong and that many (I count seven) Placement Orders have been refused or sent back for re-hearing on that basis.

The Court identify that the structure of the judgment is badly flawed

  • I have found this a troubling case. As a matter of structure the judge has made it difficult for readers of the judgment to see that he has in fact conducted a balancing exercise in order to make the crucial choice between a home with EB or adoption by strangers. The judgment is ‘linear’ in form, despite the fact that, at paragraph 63, the judge identifies

    ‘one alternative here is the local authority’s care plan which is clearly in this case a realistic and achievable plan but the question is whether it is in J’s best interest. To decide that I have to look at the alternatives.’

    What then follows is the section of the judgment (summarised at paragraph s 8 to 14 above) in which the judge looks at each of the family members, including EB, before concluding that she is unable to offer the stable and settled home that J needs. That sequence is not, on its face, a consideration of what was the true alternative choice before the court, namely one between adoption or placement with EB.

     

  • Further, where the court is seized of both an application for a care order and an application for a placement for adoption order, I would question the wisdom, when making a care order in the middle of the process of evaluating the ultimate question of whether or not a placement for adoption order is to be made, of ‘approving a care plan for adoption’ by reference only to the CA 1989, s 1 welfare provisions. In common with the practice of many family judges, that was the course taken by the judge in the present case. It is, however, a practice which may inadvertently lead the court away from engaging with a proper, holistic evaluation of the central welfare question and, where placement for adoption is an issue, doing so within the structure of ACA 2002, s 1 rather than CA 1989, s 1. Any judge, who is aware that (either at the current hearing or at a hearing shortly thereafter) he or she is going to be considering whether or not to make a placement for adoption order, would be wise only to approve a care plan for adoption where such a plan seems likely to meet the welfare requirements of ACA 2002, s1 and s 52.
  • By way of example, it is a consequence of the linear structure in the present judgment that EB is ruled out at a stage where the judge is solely considering the welfare checklist in CA 1989, s 1(3). He then goes on to make the care order and to approve the care plan for adoption (paragraph 85). It is only after that point that the judge, for the first time, makes reference to ACA 2002, s 1(2) and to the enhanced welfare checklist in ACA 2002, s 1(4) with its focus upon the whole life nature of an adoption decision.
  • The CA 1989 welfare checklist must, by reason of CA 1989, s 1(4)(b), be used when the court is considering making a care order under s 31. A linear judgment, which unnecessarily compartmentalises the decision making into discrete and separate stages (‘care order’ and only then ‘adoption’), with the 1989 Act provisions alone being used to approve a plan for adoption, in some cases may prevent the evaluation of what is ultimately the one issue in the case, the choice between family placement or adoption, as a whole and for that evaluation to be undertaken with the tailor-made, adoption focussed, welfare checklist in ACA 2002, s 1 at the forefront of the judicial mind

However, it seemed that the Court of Appeal did not feel that the decision itself was the wrong one, and thus find themselves between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, the principles of Re B-S haven’t been adhered to, on the other, the final outcome appeared right to the Court of Appeal. Should they send it back for re-hearing because of procedural flaws, or take a pragmatic approach that despite those flaws the right decision was made?  (Arguably, how CAN the right decision have been made if the process was so flawed? )

The Court of Appeal thus had to do some rowing  (both in the debating sense of the word and the moving oars in a boat metaphor sense) to help retrieve the position.

  • In the present case, as I have described, the judge has made it difficult to see that he has in fact confronted the essential choice between a placement with EB or adoption, and done so in the context of ACA 2002, s 1. Despite the unhelpful structure of the judgment, however, I do consider that the judge did have the relevant long-term factors in mind:

    a) Having cited the four/five central adverse findings that he made against EB as a carer (see paragraph 13 above) his conclusion that a permanent, settled and secure home would not be attainable with her is justified and, in my view, not susceptible to being overturned on appeal;

    b) The factors relied upon to rule EB out are long-term in nature and, I am satisfied, that despite the use of the CA 1989, s 1 checklist at that stage of the judgment, the same findings would have led to the same decision had they been evaluated under ACA 2002, s 1;

    c) The judge was plainly focussed on long-term, whole life planning and his decision that EB could not provide a sufficiently stable and settled home was made in the context of there being only one other alternative, namely adoption;

    d) The judge clearly had the provisions of ACA 2002, s 1 and s 52 in his contemplation and paragraphs 90 and 91 (see paragraph 17 above) indicate that he had those factors in mind, he considered them to be important, but nevertheless he considered that J’s welfare required adoption. I should indicate that for some reason the Note of Judgment that was before me when I granted permission to appeal did not contain any reference to the content of these two key paragraphs;

    e) In terms of proportionality, at paragraph 84 (see paragraph 16 above) the judge indicated that he was fully aware that it is hard to imagine a greater degree of interference in the right to family life of J and his family, but, for the reasons that he had given, namely his adverse conclusions as to EB’s ability to provide a long-term secure home, he considered that the course chosen was justified and proportionate as being in the child’s best interests.

  • In the circumstances, and despite the critical observations that I have felt driven to make as to the structure of the judgment, I am satisfied that the judge did engage sufficiently with the core, long-term welfare decision in this case and, despite understanding all that EB undoubtedly has to offer J, I consider that the adverse findings that the judge made against her must stand. In the light of those findings the judge’s decision was proportionate and, in the context of J’s welfare, is not ‘wrong’. As a result of those conclusions, I would dismiss this appeal.

I see a future of Local Authorities waving this decision and parents waving Re B-S.  The tranche of post Re B-S appeals is going to be vital in understanding whether the Court of Appeal requires perfection in terms of the holistic balancing exercise, or whether as here if the Court of Appeal can look at the judgment and deduce that a holisitic exercise would have achieved the same outcome the Judge was not wrong.

I am slightly surprised that the Court of Appeal didn’t lay down a marker that this case was considered exceptional because not all of the key judgments had been available to the trial judge at the time of making his decision (although that didn’t prevent the other seven cases) and that for all cases where judgment was given post Re B-S, the expectation would be that any judgment that did not follow those principles would be likely to be wrong. Despite my surprise, the judgment DOES NOT DO that, and is thus arguably authority for the Court of Appeal looking beyond the mere structure of the judgment and into the facts of the case to see whether the decision itself appeared ‘wrong’

“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]

 

Statutory orphans 2 (erm, “This time it’s practical”?)

 

The High Court have given some guidance [in A City Council v DC 2012]  on how to deal with applications by a Local Authority to revoke a Freeing Order when their plan is no longer adoption. I suggest that it may have implications for the large number of imminent-ish applications to revoke Placement Orders in similar circumstances.

 

That avalanche is hanging over us, just waiting for either the Minister to give a hearty shout or for the starting gun on adoption target timescales to be fired, and the whole lot will come down.

 

look out below

look out below

You may recall that Mr Justice Peter Jackson gave a scorching judgment castigating the LA and the Independent Reviewing Officer for leaving children in limbo and not making revocation applications where the Freeing Order was no longer being contemplated as a prelude to adoption.  

 

That was in Re A, S and Others v Lancashire 2012 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2012/1689.html 

 

 

The blog on that is here:-

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/07/02/definition-of-chutzpah/

 

The case is A City Council v DC & Others 2012  and can be found here:-

 

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/8.html

 

There’s a curious esoteric debate about what happens when a Freeing Order is revoked, whether the Court should  revive the Care Order, or as suggested by the parents advocates, make an Interim Care Order and get stuck into a root and branch review of the new care plan. The Court decided that the former, as set out by lots of previous case law, is the correct approach.

  1. Mr. Nuvoloni on behalf of the father was in his written material understandably preoccupied with his lay client’s human rights. He ‘floated’ in his written submission an argument that the new s20(3)(iia) could, and should, be interpreted as permitting the court to make an interim rather than a full care order upon revocation of the freeing order. He submitted that to deny the parents the opportunity to challenge or scrutinise an up-to-date care plan, through the medium of an interim care order, would be accepting an interpretation that offends against the requirement of the Human Rights Act 1998 and in particular section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 which requires that primary legislation, in so far as is possible, is to be read and given effect in a way compatible with Convention rights.
  1. Mr Nuvoloni submited that the revival of a full care order would amount to a breach of Article 6 and 8 of the Human Rights Act of both the parent and child.
  1. In oral argument Mr Nuvoloni revised his position and accepted that the interpretation he proposed which would allow the court to make an interim care order with a view to scrutinising a new care plan, stretched the wording of the statute beyond breaking point. Further he accepted that if a procedure was adopted by the courts whereby the parents were given sufficient information to enable them to obtain legal advice and, if advised, thereafter to make an application for contact or the discharge of the care order, then their Article 6 and Article 8 rights as reinstated parents would be adequately protected.
  1. Mr Nuvoloni, in my judgment was wise to make the concessions he did and to concentrate, (as he has done most effectively), on how best the court should now proceed. From a statutory interpretation point of view, the section is, in my judgment capable of only one interpretation; the wording is to revive……any care order within the meaning of that act. The use of the word revive in the statute shows that what is intended is that the full care order (made immediately prior to the freeing order), is to be restored and accordingly a care order will be the order determining J’s legal status following the exercise of the court’s inherent jurisdiction to revoke the freeing order.
  1. Prior to a freeing order being made, it was necessary for the court to have made a full care order, there is therefore no other order that could be revived pursuant to s20(3)(b)(iia) other than the care order made immediately prior to the freeing order. The wording of the statute is unambiguous. It does not provide the court with any residual discretion; for example to replace the freeing order with such order as the court thinks fit having scrutinised a care plan or alternatively with an interim care order made earlier in the original care proceedings.
  1. I note that both Black J in Re J and Peter Jackson J in A and S children v Lancashire CC [2012] EWHC 1689 (Fam) (para 95) not only made full care orders upon the revocation of the freeing orders but that all parties in both cases accepted the interpretation of the Act which is now accepted on behalf of the father.
  1. The revival of a full care order is not in my judgment incompatible with either Article 6 or Article 8. The effect of section 20 AA 1976 as amended, not only revives the care order, but also reinstates parental responsibility to the former parents. Those parents, in the exercise of that parental responsibility, are thereafter entitled to make an application for contact or to seek the discharge of the care order (subject to the exceptions in the guidance referred to below). In the meantime the care order regularises the child’s legal position whilst recognising that the child is, and often has been for many years, ‘in the care’ of the local authority.
  1. A local authority seeking to regularise the legal position of statutory orders will, as a matter of course, have to file a statement in support of their application for the revocation of a freeing order. Such a statement will, of necessity, set out not only the history of the child since he or she was freed for adoption but also that child’s present circumstances; the statement will be served on the former parents who will be parties to the proceedings. It follows therefore that at an early stage in the proceedings (subject to the exceptions in paragraphs 42(ii) and 42(iii) of the guidance set out below) the parents will have an opportunity to make an application for either contact and or the discharge of the care order.

 

 

All of that is more law geeky than practical, but the parties asked the High Court for practical guidance on the procedure to be followed in these applications, and the High Court, in the form of Mrs Justice King duly obliged.

 

  1. I am grateful for the assistance given by Counsel and to the local authority solicitor in this case in putting together this procedural guidance which has been approved by the Acting President Mr Justice Holman.

A: ISSUE & APPLICATION

i) The general rule is that any application by a local authority asking the court to exercise its inherent jurisdiction in order to revoke a freeing order should be made in the High Court on notice to the former parents including those former parents who have made a declaration under s18(6) of the Adoption Act 1976.

ii) Exceptionally an application may be made without notice (and in such circumstances the remainder of this guidance shall be departed from as appropriate). When making such an application the local authority must file a statement in support giving reasons for seeking a without notice order by reference inter alia to the principles in KY v DD [2011] EWHC 1277 (Fam) (a wardship case) where Theis J, (giving guidance endorsed by the President of the Family Division), re-emphasised the established principles in relation to without notice applications as set out in Re W (ex parte orders) [2000] 2 FLR 927; Re S (ex parte orders) [2001] 1 FLR 308; B Borough Council v S and anor [2006] EWHC 2584 (Fam),

iii) Similarly any application to withhold any of the information, which would otherwise be included within the application as set out below, must be made subject to the principles set out by the Supreme Court in Re A (A Child) [2012] UKSC 60 and be accompanied by a statement in support of the application.

iv) Good practice would require that, if they can be traced, the former parents should be told of the forthcoming application face to face by a social worker and be given some sort of explanatory note to help them to understand the nature of the application, which note will thereafter be of assistance to them in obtaining legal advice and public funding.

v) The application should be made using Form C66 and the requirements for a copy of the child’s birth certificate and or a copy of the entry into the Adopted Children Register should be dispensed with, (if necessary by order made at the first hearing).

vi) The following documents should be filed in support of the application and served, together with the application on the former parents: [Permission for the disclosure of those documents which were generated in the earlier care proceedings should be sought from the trial judge (or local Designated Family Judge if the trial judge is unavailable), prior to issuing the application in order to ensure that service of all documents takes place at one time]

a) Copies of the care order and freeing order

b) A transcription or note of judgment from the previous care proceedings

c) The final care plan from the care proceedings

d) A short neutral chronology covering significant events prior to the child’s admission to care and significant events following the making of the freeing order

e) The children’s guardian’s final report from the care proceedings

f) The Looked After Child (LAC) review minutes, usually for the last two years preceding the making of the application, but in any event to include the LAC review where the local authority made its decision to change its care plan from one of adoption.

g) An updated care plan

h) A statement by the allocated social worker or other appropriate person which should include the following information:

i) The child’s social history including details of any placement breakdown, all placement moves and of any ongoing contact whether with the former parents or either of them or with siblings;

ii) Any evidence of the child’s wishes and feelings of which the social worker/carers are aware; [there should ordinarily be no direct discussion with the child(ren) about the consequences of revocation, including any attempts made to seek to ascertain their wishes in relation to contact prior to the first directions hearing].

iii) Any evidence of the wishes and feelings of the former parents if known.

iv) Details of the involvement of external agencies including therapy providers, police and other local authorities

B: FIRST HEARING/ DIRECTIONS:

(1) The application shall be listed for Directions before a High Court Judge or before a Circuit Judge sitting as a High Court Judge sitting pursuant to section 9 of the Supreme Court Act 1981. It may be that the Family Division Liaison Judge for each circuit may wish to create a list of Circuit judges approved to deal with such applications in order to avoid delay in the allocation and hearing of the cases.

(2) At the first directions hearing:

(a) The court will decide the preliminary issue as to whether it is in the child’s best interests to revoke the freeing order based on the information contained in the statement and supporting documents. It is envisaged that by the very nature of the application in most, if not all cases, it will be appropriate formally to revoke the freeing order at this hearing. If for any reason the freeing order is not revoked at this stage it should be relisted for determination as soon as practicable.

(b) The making of the order revoking the freeing order will:

i) Revive the original care order

ii) Revive the appointment of any testamentary guardian

iii) Give parental responsibility to the mother

iv where appropriate, in accordance with the relevant statutory provisions, give parental responsibility to the father.

(c) Upon the revocation of the freeing order, the care order having been revived and parental responsibility having been reinstated, the court should give directions for the future management of the case:

i) Consideration should be made as to whether the court should make an order authorising the local authority to refuse contact between the child and the parents

ii) The court should make directions requiring the parents to make any application to discharge the care order/apply for a contact order within 56 days (or such other period as may be specified by the court)

iii) The court should include a request that in the event that the parents, or either of them, issue an application that the original children’s guardian should, if possible, be appointed to represent the child(ren) and all the documentation filed should forthwith be served upon the original or newly appointed children’s guardian.

iv) The court should consider whether any other party to the previous proceedings should be served with notice of the proceedings and, if so, what if any documents should be served.

v) The court should list a further directions hearing at which directions will be given consequent upon any application for discharge of the care order/application for a contact order made pursuant to the direction made at para 2(c)(ii) above

vi) In the event that no application has been made by either parent or any party served under the direction at para 2(c)(iii) (and the court is satisfied that it is appropriate to do so), the court will ordinarily conclude the proceedings by continuing the s34(4) CA 1989 order where appropriate and making any appropriate order for costs.

 

 

 

Stripping out all of the references to the High Court, I would suggest that most of this is going to be applicable to the many applications for revocations of Placement Orders that are forthcoming.

 

 

[If you aren’t aware of this budding avalanche and the reasons for it, it is essentially this: –

 

where an LA applied for a Placement Order and obtained one, but haven’t been able to get an adoptive placement and have since stopped looking, there’s a triple pressure to make applications to revoke such Placement Orders :-

 

  1. The fear that the human rights claims in Re A, S and Others v Lancashire might be broadened beyond Freeing Orders and into Placement Orders.
  2. The murmurings from Ministers that they will be expecting LAs to clear the decks of all such cases, so that there is proper information on which children subject to Placement Orders are actively waiting for placements, rather than the waters being muddied with children subject to Placement Orders where nobody is searching for a placement any longer.
  3. The desire of the LA’s for the same reason, to want to clear the decks so that the figures on ‘average wait for adoptive placement’ is not skewed by children who have been subject to Placement Orders for two years or more when the search has been given up  

 

 

The reason this avalanche has not yet translated into court applications is because nobody really knows whether this will just be a simple standalone “is there a need for the Placement Order to continue if no adoptive placement is being sought?”  case, or whether it will be a reopening of the entire case, fresh assessments of parents, challenges to care plans, contact.  If the former, making the applications will be simple and straightforward, if the latter, issuing them will be like pushing many many new sets of care proceedings into an already overloaded system.

 

 

And yes, there are decent arguments that where a parent believed their child would be adopted and the search has been given up, that this should be back before the Court with ‘all to play for’               ]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,491 other followers