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serious case review versus judicial review – a (cough) review

Who ‘owns’ a Serious Case Review, and what rights or  powers do the Courts have over its disclosure?

 

X (A child) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2014/2522.html

 

I do complain about the President quite a bit, but the one thing you could never accuse him of is being work-shy. This is yet another very tricky judgment that he has taken on – whilst still having two insanely difficult judgments still to produce –  Q v Q (how to fund litigants whose article 6 rights would be breached by them being unrepresented) and the fallout judgment from Cheshire West (how are the Court of Protection going to deal with the HUGE volume of additional cases that arise from the Supreme Court’s decision on deprivation of liberty).

 

This one relates to a child, X, whose mother stabbed him when he was about ten years old. He is now thirteen. Those care proceedings ended with the making of a Care order, hotly contested by the father, who has been in one form of litigation or another about this perceived injustice over the last three years.

Outside of the Court case itself, the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) – which is a group of senior representatives from all the relevant agencies in each local authority area (police, schools, health, social services etc), held a Serious Case Review.  These Serious Case Reviews are intended to be a scrutiny of what happened in the case and specifically whether agencies made mistakes, could have predicted what would happen, could learn lessons for the future, might need to change some policies and perhaps even whether someone professional is badly at fault and to blame.

 

The general rule and principle these days are that these Serious Case Reviews are to be published, although with names of children and parents anonymised. This in part, emerged from the public disgust at Baby P and the desire that these exercises were available for all to see. There’s a debate for another day about whether that transparency is a good thing, or whether it inhibits the ability of each agency to properly lay out their shortcomings.

 

The father contributed to this exercise and saw the report, but didn’t have a copy of it, and it was not made public.

 

The LSCB rationale for that was this :-

 

  • The LSCB received the overview report and executive summary on 15 July 2011. The LSCB considered the issue of publication of the reports, taking account of the letter of 10 June 2010, decided that there were such compelling reasons in this case and concluded that any decision on publication should be underpinned by the impact it was likely to have in relation to X’s current and future well-being and that the basis for this decision should be informed by advice from the psychiatric practitioners involved in his care. After careful deliberation the LCSB concluded that the overview report should not be published; that it would consider whether to publish the executive summary following a psychiatric assessment of the potential impact on X of so doing; and that the local authority would make the overview report and executive summary available to the court as part of the current care proceedings in relation to X so that all parties might have access to the relevant background information and that this be communicated to X’s parents.

 

 

 

  • Following a further psychiatric assessment of the situation in relation to X, the independent chair of the LSCB, Mr D, wrote to OFSTED on 26 October 2011:

 

 

“The Board has now been advised by the psychiatrist treating X that it continues to be her considered opinion that the publication of any document relating to the Serious Case Review which would cause comment or discussion in the media or local community would be seriously detrimental to X’s recovery. She has advised that although X is making progress his recovery is likely to be protracted and he is about to begin a course of psychotherapy that is likely initially to be unsettling for him. It is her opinion therefore that the Executive Summary should not be published.”

 

Two competing factors are being balanced – the interests of transparency and open public debate versus the impact on the child.  That underpins most of the transparency debate (and given the President’s well-known views on transparency, the LSCB must have been slightly fearing the worst when the case was listed before the President. That might be why they shelled out for a QC to represent them…)

 

The father’s application was a free-standing one under the Children Act 1989, but on analysis, the President found that this could not be right in law, and that the proper legal mechanism (indeed the only one) would be a judicial review of whether the LSCB had behaved in an unreasonable way (specifically a way that no reasonable body in their position could have behaved) in making the decision not to publish this Serious Case Review

 

 

  • In the final analysis the father’s application turns on quite a narrow point.

 

 

 

  • The first thing to appreciate is that the LSCB is a public body, juridically distinct from and wholly independent of the local authority. It exercises public functions in accordance with the statutory scheme to which I have already referred. In accordance with that statutory scheme it is for the LSCB, not the local authority and not the court, to decide whether or not to publish the overview report and the executive summary: see Re X and Y (Executive Summary of Serious Case Review: Reporting Restrictions) [2012] EWCA Civ 1500, [2013] 2 FLR 628, paras 7, 58.

 

 

 

  • The second thing to appreciate is that this is, as Judge Wildblood correctly said, a free-standing application. It is not an application made in pending proceedings for disclosure of documents into those proceedings. It is not a case (as Re X and Y (Executive Summary of Serious Case Review: Reporting Restrictions) [2012] EWCA Civ 1500, [2013] 2 FLR 628, was) of an application for a reporting restriction order to restrain publication of a document. It is an application by the father for an order requiring the LSCB to disclose to him a document which the LSCB in exercise of its statutory functions has decided should not be disclosed to him except upon terms that he is not willing to accept. It is, in other words, an application challenging the LSCB’s decision, a matter therefore, as Judge Wildblood said, of administrative law.

 

 

 

  • Such a challenge, in circumstances such as this, can in my judgment be made only by means of an application for judicial review in accordance with CPR Part 54. It cannot be made in the Family Court, nor in the High Court except in accordance with CPR Part 54. On that short ground, and irrespective of the factual merits, this application is misconceived.

 

On that basis, the President looked at the father’s arguments

 

  • The father has set out, both in his written statements and in his oral submissions, the various reasons why he wants a copy of the overview report. He says it should be published in the interests of transparency and so that public officials can be made accountable. He says that he should be allowed to study it with more time and scope for careful analysis and understanding than if he is merely allowed to read it at the local authority’s offices. He believes it contains material errors which should be corrected; he wants to ‘set the record straight’. He believes it contains material that will enable him to reopen the care proceedings by way of a further appeal or a renewed application to discharge the care order (thus correcting what he believes to have been a miscarriage of justice) and which may assist him in bringing a civil claim. He says that as X’s father he should be allowed to have a copy.

 

 

 

  • Those are all very understandable reasons why the father should be seeking the relief he is, but none of them demonstrates any proper basis of challenge to the decisions of the LSCB, whether the original decision not to publish or the decision explained in Mr D’s letter of 19 September 2012. As Mr Tolson put it, and I can only agree, the father does not identify, still less demonstrate, any flaw in the LSCB’s decisions or decision-making process.

 

 

With that in mind, the father’s application for judicial review was refused – the only crumb of comfort being that one of the arguments deployed by the LSCB was crushed from a great height by the President

 

  • I have set out the reasons given at the time by the LSCB for its decision not to publish (see paragraphs 6-7 above) and for its later decision not to allow the father a copy (paragraph 10). Those reasons are clear and readily understandable. They disclose, in my judgment, no arguable error of law. They set out matters, including in particular the advice of X’s treating psychiatrist, which plainly entitled the LSCB to conclude, as it did, that there were indeed the “compelling reasons” which had to be demonstrated if there was not to be publication. The LSCB plainly applied its mind carefully to all the relevant material and to the key issue it had to decide. Its process cannot, in my judgment, be faulted. It is impossible to contend that its decisions were irrational. Nor is there any arguable basis for saying that it wrongly struck the balance as between the various competing demands it had to evaluate: the right of the public to know; the quite separate right of the father to demand not merely access to but also to be supplied with a copy; and, most important of all, though not of itself determinative, the compelling demands of X’s welfare.

 

 

 

  • Mr Tolson also submits that permission to apply for judicial review should be refused because the father’s claim lacks any practical substance, because he cannot demonstrate, so it is said, how any flaw in decision-making might materially affect him, nor can he demonstrate why he needs a copy of a document which he has been able to read on three occasions. With all respect to Mr Tolson I find this most unconvincing. I would not have been prepared to refuse permission on this ground. But this does not, of course, affect the ultimate outcome given my conclusions in relation to Mr Tolson’s first two arguments.

 

 

 

 

 

Court rules on termination within care proceedings

 

Any case involving a termination is sad – setting aside any pro-choice v pro-life debates which are beyond my scope any decision about a termination has an enormous emotional impact on everyone involved and one simply can’t say how extensive those ripples will be.

 

In this case, the expectant mother was a 13 year old child, who was herself the subject of care proceedings. The father of the unborn baby was just 14.  This case was heard by the President of the Family Division – Re X (A child) 2014.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/1871.html

The assessments of the expectant mother’s capacity showed that she was not Gillick competent  – that is, she wasn’t someone who could make the informed decision for herself whether to go ahead with surgery or not. If she had capacity, it is highly unlikely, as the President comments, that treating doctors would either try to undertake an abortion against her wishes (in fact, they would be sued to forever and back if they did) or refused to perform the operation.  As she did not have capacity to make that decision, it was something that the Family Court could give guidance on.

 

The President points out in the judgment something that often gets overlooked – there isn’t actually a ‘right to choose’ abortion in English law (technically and legally, even if in practice it almost always comes down to a choice), abortion is only a lawful surgical procedure in the narrow constraints of the legislation

 

 

 

 

  • section 1(1) of the Abortion Act 1967  provides as follows:

“Subject to the provisions of this section, a person shall not be guilty of an offence under the law relating to abortion when a pregnancy is terminated by a registered medical practitioner if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith –

(a) that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman … ; or

(b) that the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; or

(c) that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated; …

The Family Court has no power to compel doctors to perform the surgery, or to determine whether those criteria are satisfied – the decision on both of those matters rests entirely with the doctors.

  • In a case such as this there are ultimately two questions. The first, which is for the doctors, not this court, is whether the conditions in section 1 of the 1967 Act are satisfied. If they are not, then that is that: the court cannot authorise, let alone direct, what, on this hypothesis, is unlawful. If, on the other hand, the conditions in section 1 of the 1967 Act are satisfied, then the role of the court is to supply, on behalf of the mother, the consent which, as in the case of any other medical or surgical procedure, is a pre-requisite to the lawful performance of the procedure. In relation to this issue the ultimate determinant, as in all cases where the court is concerned with a child or an incapacitated adult, is the mother’s best interests.

 

  • An important practical consequence flows from this. In determining the mother’s best interests this court is not concerned to examine those issues which, in accordance with section 1 of the 1967 Act, are a matter for doctors. But the point goes somewhat further. Since there can be no lawful termination unless the conditions in section 1 are satisfied, and since it is a matter for the doctors to determine whether those conditions are satisfied, it follows that in addressing the question of the mother’s best interests this court is entitled to proceed on the assumption that if there is to be a termination the statutory conditions are indeed satisfied. Two things flow from this. In the first place this court can proceed on the basis (sections 1(1)(a) and (c)) that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, to the life of the pregnant woman or of injury to her physical or mental health or (section 1(1)(b)) that the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to her physical or mental health. Secondly, if any of these conditions is satisfied the court is already at a position where, on the face of it, the interests of the mother may well be best served by the court authorising the termination.

 

  • There is another vitally important factor that in many cases such as this may well end up being determinative and which in this particular case is, in my judgment, determinative: the wishes and feelings of the mother.

 

Of course, given that the mother does not have capacity (and if she did, the family Court would not be getting involved at all) she CANNOT CONSENT to the surgery, but the President draws an important distinction between consenting to a course of action and accepting that course of action

 

 

  • This court in exercise of its inherent jurisdiction in relation to children undoubtedly has power to authorise the use of restraint and physical force to compel a child to submit to a surgical procedure: see Re C (Detention: Medical Treatment) [1997] 2 FLR 180 and Re PS (Incapacitated or Vulnerable Adult) [2007] EWHC 623 (Fam), [2007] 2 FLR 1083. I say nothing about how this power should appropriately be exercised in the case of other forms of medical or surgical intervention. In the case of the proposed termination of a pregnancy, however, the point surely is this. Only the most compelling arguments could possibly justify compelling a mother who wished to carry her child to term to submit to an unwanted termination. It would be unwise to be too prescriptive, for every case must be judged on its own unique facts, but I find it hard to conceive of any case where such a drastic form of order – such an immensely invasive procedure – could be appropriate in the case of a mother who does not want a termination, unless there was powerful evidence that allowing the pregnancy to continue would put the mother’s life or long-term health at very grave risk. Conversely, it would be a very strong thing indeed, if the mother wants a termination, to require her to continue with an unwanted pregnancy even though the conditions in section 1 of the 1967 Act are satisfied.

 

 

 

  • A child or incapacitated adult may, in strict law, lack autonomy. But the court must surely attach very considerable weight indeed to the albeit qualified autonomy of a mother who in relation to a matter as personal, intimate and sensitive as pregnancy is expressing clear wishes and feelings, whichever way, as to whether or not she wants a termination.

 

 

 

  • There appears to be no clear authority on the point in this particular context (the cases in point all concerned other forms of surgical intervention) but counsel for X’s mother helpfully reminded me of something Lord Donaldson MR said in In Re W (A Minor) (Medical Treatment: Court’s Jurisdiction) [1993] Fam 64, 79, which is in line with the approach I adopt:

 

 

“Hair-raising possibilities were canvassed of abortions being carried out by doctors in reliance upon the consent of parents and despite the refusal of consent by 16- and 17-year-olds. Whilst this may be possible as a matter of law, I do not see any likelihood taking account of medical ethics, unless the abortion was truly in the best interests of the child. This is not to say that it could not happen.”

 

  • In his oral evidence (see below) the Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology captured the point, as it seemed to me, very compellingly. He said, and I agree, that it would not be right to subject X to a termination unless she was both “compliant” and “accepting”. Both, in my judgment, are important. Only the most clear and present risk to the mother’s life or long-term health – neither even hinted at in the present case – could justify the use of restraint or physical force to compel compliance. So the mother in a case such as this must be compliant. But mere acquiescence – helpless submission in the face of asserted State authority – is not enough. “Consent”, of course, is not the appropriate word, for by definition a child of X’s age who, like X, lacks Gillick capacity, cannot in law give a valid consent. But something of the nature of consent or agreement, using those words in the colloquial sense, is required. The Consultant’s word “accepting” in my judgment captures the nuance very well.

 

When the case had first been set up for hearing, the expectant mother X had been opposed to  a termination, and all advocates had prepared on that basis, but by the time the case got to Court her position had changed to wanting a termination.

 

This next aspect is novel – I don’t think a Judge has ever had to undertake this exercise before.  Part of what X had in her mind was whether, if she gave birth to the baby, whether there would be care proceedings and what the likely outcome of those proceedings would be.  That’s a fair question on her part and it clearly would have a significant impact on her feelings. As a matter of law, the Court can’t consider an application in care proceedings until the baby is born, and even a decision at interim stage (whether the baby could be with mother immediately after birth) would only be an interim decision and the final outcome would not be known until the baby if born was about six months old. So a definitive answer was not possible – all that could be attempted was an indication of what seemed likely. Many Judges might have hidden behind the legal difficulties of expressing a view on this, but the President attempted to answer the very real and very human question.

 

One factor which it did seem important to take into account was the likelihood or otherwise of X being able to keep her baby if there was no termination. This required me, necessarily on the basis of incomplete information, to predict the outcome, not merely of the care proceedings already on foot in relation to X but also of the care proceedings in relation to her child which almost inevitably would be commenced after the birth. The need for a judicial view on a point which might be seen to be pre-judging the care proceedings was, in my judgment, inescapable. My view, which I expressed at the hearing and which was embodied in my order (see below) was that there was “very little chance” that X would be able to keep her baby if it was born. Having done so, however, it seemed to me that I should not be further involved in the care proceedings, so I recused myself.

 

[For non-lawyers, 'recused myself' means that the President had ruled that he would not be involved in any of the care proceedings involved in X's baby IF she did go on to have the baby. It wouldn't be fair for him to hear the case having indicated that X had very little chance of being able to keep her baby.  We don't know from this judgment any of the background or why the Judge would have given that indication - there are things that the Judge saw and read and heard that we have not]

 

The President made a raft of orders, that in effect meant that his indication should be explained to X, and that IF she was in agreement with a termination the doctors would be able to proceed if they wished to (but that if she did not agree, it would not take place).

 

Presidential press conference

 

There’s quite a lot in here, and as we know, speeches and views and opinions seem to have a habit of making their way into judgments, so it might be an advance insight.

http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Speeches/munby-press-conference-29042014.pdf

 

The one that has already made the news is the President suggesting that consideration be given to taking divorce (as in the dissolution of the marriage, not the financial issues) out of the hands of judges and giving it to Registrars. That one needs a post all on its own (probably tomorrow) – I tend to agree with quite a lot of what he says on this, and the need for proper remedies for people who are not married but have had long term relationships / periods of cohabitation.

 

Here are the other big talking points

 

1 . Not helpful to think about adversarial v inquisitorial, but as more and more cases involve litigants in person who would rather be represented, Judges are going to need to play a larger role in the conduct of proceedings

The President says that in cases where there are litigants in person, the Judges are going to have to be more inquisitorial in style, and that sitting Sphinx-like until judgment isn’t going to work. He doesn’t think we are likely to end up with a continental style inquisitorial system, but we are a long way removed from the traditional adversarial system already.

2. Doesn’t think that the cuts will adversely affect the reforms

In fact the thrust of what the President seems to be saying here are that the reforms are vital because of the cuts, and that drive towards efficiency, cost-effectiveness and reducing time taken before the Court will allow for the litigant in person cases, which he accepts take longer

 

3. Believes that there will be a tipping point for mediation, where when it is sold correctly as to the benefits, more and more people will want to take it up  [We are in an almost- crisis situation at the moment but once we get the message across it will be a very attractive option]

He was not keen on the idea of cost sanctions for failure to mediate or engage properly in mediation

 

4. Next stage of transparency will be greater access to court papers

As he rightly points out – if so much of a hearing is “Can I refer to to page B64, paragraph 6″ then a journalist sitting in Court is not able to get any real sense of what is happening, what is being referred to. He says that there are going to be proposals about this in the very near future.  He also indicates that because of the way that case numbers are coded, anyone who tries to work them out can quickly decipher that a Case Number refers to a Private Law case in Sunderland, as opposed to a Public Law case in Wolverhampton   (He is wrong about the code for Brighton being BH though – for some reason I have never fathomed, it is UQ)

 

5. He is aware of the tension between what the Government say about adoption and what the Courts say

 

For me, this was the most interesting question, and indeed answer. It is clear that on the one hand, the Courts are implementing a “nothing else will do” philosophy on adoption, and on the other the Government has a pro-adoption agenda and is measuring Local Authorities on performance and threatening to remove these functions from Councils who don’t meet what the Government have in mind. What the President says, in effect, and much more politely than my shorthand summary, is that Parliament make the statutes, not Governments, and that if Parliament disagree with how the Courts are interpreting statute, then Parliament will need to change the statute. He acknowledges the tension (explicitly referencing that the Government have talked about local councils need to get away from the idea that adoption is the last resort) and says that on the ground, for Directors of Children’s Services, “it must be slightly difficult to know exactly what they should be doing given that tension”    (something of an understatement)

 

 

The President’s decision in Re S (26 weeks and extensions) Part 2

 

The judgment is on the previous blog (I’m sure it will be on Bailii shortly)

This case really turns on the provisions of the Children and Family Act 2014 that come into force on Tuesday 22nd April. What we have here, somewhat unusually, is a leading Judge giving authority as to the interpretation of an Act which has not yet come into force.  Sentence first, verdict later, as it were.

At least it avoids any other Judge giving a judgment on Tuesday or afterwards which doesn’t accord with the President’s view of the test, so we all know where we stand.    [In fairness, because the decision that was being sought was to adjourn the case well beyond 22nd April, the future provisions would have kicked in by the time that the case fell to be determined, so it might have been hard to simply ignore them]

 

On the facts of the particular case, this was about a mother with a history of substance misuse problems, on child number four, with the previous three having been removed. There had been drug tests within the proceedings showing  “at worst very low levels of drugs in the mother’s hair”

The proceedings began in October, and we are now April. The mother’s application was for a residential assessment, that would last for a period of six to twelve weeks and if successful that would be followed by an assessment in the community. That would obviously take the case beyond the 26 week target of the PLO (and of course, given that the Children and Families Act provisions about timescales come into force next week, by the time of any final hearing, that would go beyond the new statutory requirement of 26 weeks). There were, however, three expert reports suggesting that the mother was making progress and that such an assessment might bear fruit.

The President was therefore considering whether to grant the adjournment and application for residential assessment, and doing so against the backdrop of the 26 week statutory position and the new provisions of the Children and Families Act as to exceptional circumstances that justify an adjournment of 8 weeks beyond that.

What was also in his mind was the new statutory provisions about expert evidence (which in effect incorporates into section 38 of the Children Act the current Rule 25 Family Procedure Rules tests and guidance)

 

21. For present purposes the key point is the use in common in section 38(7A) of the 1989 Act, section 13(6) of the 2014 Act and FPR 25.1 of the qualifying requirement that the court may direct the assessment or expert evidence only if it is “necessary” to assist the court to resolve the proceedings. This phrase must have the same meaning in both contexts. The addition of the word “justly” only makes explicit what was necessarily implicit, for it goes without saying that any court must always act justly rather than unjustly. So “necessary” in section 38(7A) has the same meaning as the same word in section 13(6), as to which see Re TG (Care Proceedings: Case Management: Expert Evidence) [2013] EWCA Civ 5, [2013] 1 FLR 1250, para 30, and In re H-L (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Expert Evidence) [2013] EWCA Civ 655, [2014] 1 WLR 1160, [2013] 2 FLR 1434, para 3.

 

This is what the President says about the statutory provision that care proceedings should be concluded within 26 weeks

24. Section 32(1)(a)(ii) does not describe some mere aspiration or target, nor does it prescribe an average. It defines, subject only to the qualification in section 32(5) and compliance with the requirements of sections 32(6) and (7), a mandatory limit which applies to all cases. It follows that there will be many cases that can, and therefore should, be concluded well within the 26 week limit. I repeat what I said in my first ‘View from the President’s Chambers: The process of reform’, [2013] Fam Law 548:

“My message is clear and uncompromising: this deadline can be met, it must be met, it will be met. And remember, 26 weeks is a deadline, not a target; it is a maximum, not an average or a mean. So many cases will need to be finished in less than 26 weeks.”

 

The issue then was the statutory provision in s32(5)

 

            A court in which an application under this Part is proceeding may extend the period that is for the time being allowed under subsection (1)(a)(ii) in the case of the application, but may do so only if the court considers that the extension is necessary to enable the court to resolve the proceedings justly.

and what factors the Court should consider when determining whether to grant such an adjournment.

One might think that those factors are already set out in the Act

s32 (6)        When deciding whether to grant an extension under subsection (5), a court must in particular have regard to –

(a)        the impact which any ensuing timetable revision would have on the welfare of the child to whom the application relates, and

(b)        the impact which any ensuing timetable revision would have on the duration and conduct of the proceedings;

and here “ensuing timetable revision” means any revision, of the timetable under subsection (1)(a) for the proceedings, which the court considers may ensue from the extension.

(7)        When deciding whether to grant an extension under subsection (5), a court is to take account of the following guidance: extensions are not to be granted routinely and are to be seen as requiring specific justification.

The President cites various authorities  (Re B-S and Re NL notably, as authorities for the principle that there will be cases where an extension of time IS necessary to resolve the proceedings justly)

31. In what circumstances may the qualification in section 32(5) apply?

32. This is not the occasion for any elaborate discussion of a question which, in the final analysis, can be determined only on a case by case basis. But some preliminary and necessarily tentative observations are appropriate

Let’s look at those preliminary and tentative observations

34. There will, as it seems to me, be three different forensic contexts in which an extension of the 26 week time limit in accordance with section 32(5) may be “necessary”:

i)                    The first is where the case can be identified from the outset, or at least very early on, as one which it may not be possible to resolve justly within 26 weeks. Experience will no doubt identify the kind of cases that may fall within this category. Four examples which readily spring to mind (no doubt others will emerge) are (a) very heavy cases involving the most complex medical evidence where a separate fact finding hearing is directed in accordance with Re S (Split Hearing) [2014] EWCA Civ 25, [2014] 2 FLR (forthcoming), para 29, (b) FDAC type cases (see further below), (c) cases with an international element where investigations or assessments have to be carried out abroad and (d) cases where the parent’s disabilities require recourse to special assessments or measures (as to which see Re C (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 128, para 34).

ii)                   The second is where, despite appropriately robust and vigorous judicial case management, something unexpectedly emerges to change the nature of the proceedings too late in the day to enable the case to be concluded justly within 26 weeks. Examples which come to mind are (a) cases proceeding on allegations of neglect or emotional harm where allegations of sexual abuse subsequently surface, (b) cases which are unexpectedly ‘derailed’ because of the death, serious illness or imprisonment of the proposed carer, and (c) cases where a realistic alternative family carer emerges late in the day.

iii)                 The third is where litigation failure on the part of one or more of the parties makes it impossible to complete the case justly within 26 weeks (the type of situation addressed in In re B-S, para 49).

34. I repeat, because the point is so important, that in no case can an extension beyond 26 weeks be authorised unless it is “necessary” to enable the court to resolve the proceedings “justly”. Only the imperative demands of justice – fair process – or of the child’s welfare will suffice.

 

So, to skip to the chorus  – three categories of case where an extension might be warranted  (forgive my short-hand mnemonic prompts, which Malcolm Tucker has helped me devise)

 

1. The case was always going to be super-complicated from the outset (heavy duty fact-finding, FDAC cases, heavy duty international element, parents with disabilities such that specialised assessments are necessary)

“This case was fucked from the beginning”

2.  Something massive emerges during the proceedings – (fresh allegations that need to be resolved, death or imprisonment of a key player, a realistic family member comes forward late in the day  – “Auntie Beryl alert! Finally an answer – adjournment is going to be permissable for an Auntie Beryl situation!”)

“This case got fucked in the middle”

 3. Litigation failure on the part of one of the parties means that it would not be fair to conclude the proceedings

“Some fucker has fucked up”

 

The Judge then goes on to praise FDAC but delivers this guidance (which probably has wider applicability)

 

38. Viewed from a judicial perspective a vital component of the FDAC approach has to be a robust and realistic appraisal at the outset of what is possible within the child’s timescale and an equally robust and realistic ongoing appraisal throughout of whether what is needed is indeed being achieved (or not) within the child’s timescale. These appraisals must be evidence based, with a solid foundation, not driven by sentiment or a hope that ‘something may turn up’.

Typically three questions will have to be addressed. First, is there some solid, evidence based, reason to believe that the parent is committed to making the necessary changes? If so, secondly, is there some solid, evidence based, reason to believe that the parent will be able to maintain that commitment? If so, thirdly, is there some solid, evidence based, reason to believe that the parent will be able to make the necessary changes within the child’s timescale

 

I think those principles have wider applicability, because the President goes on to use them in this case, which although the background is drugs and alcohol, is NOT a FDAC case.

For this particular case, this is what the President says (bear in mind that this is NOT a final hearing, but an application to adjourn the final hearing and seek a residential assessment. As far as I can tell from the judgment, no live evidence was heard.  The remarks don’t leave much room for manoeuvre at final hearing…)

44. there is no adequate justification, let alone the necessity which section 32(5) of the 1989 Act will shortly require, for an extension of the case so significantly beyond 26 weeks. Again, there are two aspects to this. Looking to the mother, there is, sadly, at present no solid, evidence based, reason to believe that she will be able to make the necessary changes within S’s timescale. Even assuming that there is some solid, evidence based, reason to believe that she is committed to making the necessary changes, there is, sadly, not enough reason to believe that she will be able to maintain that commitment. In the light of her history, and all the evidence to hand, the assertion that she will seems to me to be founded more on hope than solid expectation, just as does any assertion that she will be able to make the necessary changes within S’s timescale. Secondly, I have to have regard to the detrimental effects on S of further delay. Far from this being a case where the child’s welfare demands an extension of the 26 weeks time limit, S’s needs point if anything in the other direction. I accept the guardian’s analysis.

 

If you were thinking that this was all very peculiar, I haven’t even got to the best bit

 

I have been sitting at Bournemouth in the Bournemouth and Poole County Court hearing a care case. It is a very typical County Court case

[There is nothing in the history of the litigation set out in the judgment that ever shows that the case was transferred from the County Court to the High Court. So is this binding authority about provisions of an Act which weren't in force at the time the judgment was given, actually a County Court judgment? ]

 

 

 

Italian C-section case – the final chapter

 

I don’t know that this one needs a lot of introduction – it was national, if not international, news in December (although the facts were rather different to the media reports).

This is the judgment from the adoption hearing, which was the last stage left.  It was allocated to the President of the Family Division, a judge who has not been afraid to grant leave to oppose  (indeed his lead judgment in Re B-S on that very point was the decision that led to such changes)

 

Re P (A child) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/1146.html

You may remember from all of the press reports at the time that mother now had solicitors and was going to fight for her child back. That has not materialised. As the President says :-

 

 

  • As of 1 April 2014 the position remained as it had been on 17 December 2013. Despite what had been said in the correspondence from Brendan Fleming and Dawson Cornwell in December 2013, no application of any kind had been made on behalf of either the mother or the Italian authorities, whether to the Court of Protection, the Chelmsford County Court or the Family Division, nor had any application been made to the Court of Appeal. In particular, it is to be noted, neither the mother, nor for that matter the father, had made any application in accordance with section 47(5) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 for leave to oppose the making of an adoption order.

 

To be fair to them, getting public funding for a leave to oppose adoption application isn’t easy (though I have seen determined solicitors get it on a much less contentious case than this one, and of course if one is deeply committed to the cause there is always pro bono option – for example, the mother in the Re B-S case didn’t have legal aid and her lawyers did the work for free)

The Judge sets out quite a lot of the email and correspondence between the Local Authority and the mother about this hearing and the chance to express her views

 

  • The email notifying the mother of the hearing was sent to her on 7 March 2014. A follow up email was sent on 12 March 2014. The mother responded by email later the same day:

 

 

“Dear Lynne thank you for your email I don’t have an advocate and unfortunately I will not able to attend Court, I received all the paperwork that you mailed to the adresse. Thank you very much”

Essex County Council replied by email on 13 March 2014:

“Many thanks Allesandra.

Would you wish to express your view via an email which we can present to the Court on your behalf?

Lynne”

There was no response, so Essex County Council emailed again on 27 March 2014:

“Alessandra – I just wish to remind you that the hearing in respect of [P] will be on Tuesday 1st April.

I know that you are unable to attend the hearing, but as previously stated, if there is anything that you wish the Court to know about your views on the proposed adoption then please email me by Monday 3 p.m. so I can ensure your views are available to the Court.””

The final email from the mother arrived on 28 March 2014:

“Dear Lynne

I wish for my daughter the best. Me personally I am trying to forget this bad experience I had in England. I love my daughter with all my heart and I pray to see her one day again.”

 

With that in mind, it is not a surprise that the President went on to make the adoption order, as there was no challenge to it. Obviously this is a sad case, as all adoptions are. Perhaps the mother had given up hope, perhaps she thought that she would have no chance of success, perhaps she just wasn’t in a place where a fight was something she could manage. I feel for her. Less for some of the journalists who high-jacked her tragedy to make cheap and inaccurate points.

I suspect that this judgment won’t get the publicity that the shrill allegations got back in December.

 

 

 

 

It’s clobbering time ! Or not, as it turns out – Italian C-section case, the President’s judgment

 

Thanks to Jerry for tweeting that this was up – I didn’t even know there was an application. Okay, if you have been on a desert island in December – the Sunday Telegraph ran a story about social workers arranging a c-section for an Italian mother who had had a panic attack so they could steal her baby. A few days later, the press reported that Munby LJ (now the President of the Family Division) had called the case in, and demanding that social workers answer for their dreadful actions.

 

Over the course of a few days, we got more of the official judgments published, and one could see that although there were problems here the luridness of the reporting was not perhaps bourne out by the actual facts. (There are legitimate public debates about whether the mother’s representation in these situations is forceful enough against the State’s wishes, whether there should be a higher test for judicial declarations on c-sections, whether the placement order judgment made before Re B, Re B-S et al would now survive if we re-ran the case now, whether the State ought to have a mechanism to get the country that the mother is from to seize the case, and a few other bits and pieces) – but the press driven debate of “Should social workers be able to impose a c-section to snatch a baby” is a non-starter. The answer is an emphatic, no, they shouldn’t. Which is why they don’t.

 

Anyway, the case found its way to the President, ostensibly as a return of the Reporting Restriction Order (see last blog), although it appears that part of the thinking was that the President was about to open up a can of whoop ass on social workers.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/4048.html

On 3 December 2013 a national newspaper ran a front page story under the headline ‘EXLAIN WHY YOU SNATHCHED BABY AT BIRTH’. The strapline, ‘Judge’s order to social workers behind forced caesarean’, was elaborated in the accompanying article, which stated that I had “demanded to know why the girl should not be reunited with her mother”. That was simply not so. All I had done was as I have set out above. I had directed no hearing. How could I? And I had given no directions as to the evidence that might be required at some future hearing of an application that had not yet been made. How could I? All I had done was to direct that any further application was to be heard by me. In other words, if any application was made, either in the Court of Protection or in the family court, I would hear it. That was all. Unhappily this canard has been much repeated in the media.

 

What the President does say is that the case raises important principles which are worthy of discussion, and building on his judgment in Re J, considers that transparency and being able to see the judgments and scrutinise them is a vital part of that.

 

    1. In the present case, as typically, a number of competing interests are engaged, protected by Articles 6, 8 and 10 of the Convention. Three competing interests, in particular, have to be considered here. I take them in no particular order.

 

    1. The public has an interest in knowing and discussing what has been done in this case, both in the Court of Protection and in the Chelmsford County Court. Given the circumstances of the case and the extreme gravity of the issues which here confronted the courts – whether to order an involuntary caesarean section and whether to place a child for adoption despite the protests of the mother – it is hard to imagine a case which more obviously and compellingly requires that public debate be free and unrestricted.

 

    1. The mother has an equally obvious and compelling claim to be allowed to tell her story to the world. I repeat what I have on previous occasions (see most recently Re J, para 36) about the importance in a free society of parents who feel aggrieved at their experiences of the family justice system being able to express their views publicly about what they conceive to be failings on the part of individual judges or failings in the judicial system and likewise being able to criticise local authorities and others. I repeat what I said last week (Re P [2013] EWHC 4037 (Fam), para 4):

 

“The mother wishes to complain publicly about the way in which the courts in this country have handled her and her daughter. The court should be very slow indeed before preventing a parent doing what the mother wishes to do in the present case.”

If ever there was a case in which that right should not be curtailed it is surely this case. To deny this mother in the circumstances of this case the right to speak out – and, I emphasise, to speak out, if this is her wish, using her own name and displaying her own image – would be affront not merely to the law but also, surely, to any remotely acceptable concept of human dignity and, indeed, humanity itself.

    1. P also, it should go without saying, has an equally compelling claim to privacy and anonymity.

 

  1. How then, in the final analysis, is the court to balance these competing demands?

 

The Judge defends, to an extent, some of the inaccurate and tendentious reporting

 

    1. Before parting from the case there are two points that require to be addressed with honesty and candour. Both relate to the fact that, when this story first ‘broke’ on 1 December 2013, none of the relevant information was in the public domain in this country.

 

    1. The first point is this: How can the family justice system blame the media for inaccuracy in the reporting of family cases if for whatever reason none of the relevant information has been put before the public?

 

  1. The second point is, if anything, even more important. This case must surely stand as final, stark and irrefutable demonstration of the pressing need for radical changes in the way in which both the family courts and the Court of Protection approach what for shorthand I will refer to as transparency. We simply cannot go on as hitherto. Many more judgments must be published. And, as this case so very clearly demonstrates, that applies not merely to the judgments of |High Court Judges; it applies also to the judgments of Circuit Judges.

 

It is a reasonable point. Whilst the placement order hearing had little of public import until the case broke, my view is that every Court of Protection declaration judgment ought to be published in anonymised form. Looking at the law reports, there are such few c-section cases reported since the introduction of the Mental Capacity Act, I think all of them ought to be published as a matter of routine – Mostyn J’s judgment was important and should have been published and available even before this furore. If it had been, it is likely that when the story broke, factual inaccuracies could have been put right (or heaven forbid, the journalists involved might even have tried to find the judgments)

I also happen to believe that any family court application for a Reporting Restriction Order should be published in such anonymised form as is necessary to protect the individuals privacy. We can’t have family law becoming like super-injunctions, where we don’t get told that there is something we can’t know.  (The RROs in this case were put up very promptly, which does the Court service and the judges involved a lot of credit)

 

Munby does have a word of caution for the Press, however

 

think I should repeat what I said earlier this year when addressing the Annual Conference of the Society of Editors:

 

“dare I suggest that the media should remember the great C P Scott’s famous aphorism that “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.” I recently gave a judgment that received coverage in the media. A legal commentator* suggested that readers might wish to compare and contrast what I had actually said with how it was reported: “Compare. And contrast … And weep.””

 

*Waves at Pink Tape

 

 

No wonder you’re late – why this watch is exactly two days slow

Yet more quest for perfection from the President. Mark this well.

 

Re W (A Child) 2013

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1177.html

 

There are two big principles in this Court of Appeal case, in which the President gives the lead judgment.  The first is about compliance with Court orders. The President is not happy.

 

    1. In his judgment in Re H, Judge Barclay drew attention to the fact that although he had made an order on 8 April 2013 requiring the local authority to file and serve on the parents short position statements regarding each child and any objections to leave to oppose being granted, not less than five working days before the hearing, no such position statement had been filed. Unsurprisingly the parents complained that they had no way of knowing what the local authority’s position was, save that there was a blanket objection to leave being granted. Ms Pitts went away to draft a position statement and the parents and their “experienced” representatives (Judge Barclay’s word) were then given time – three quarters of an hour or so – to consider what the local authority was saying. Ms Pitts tells us that further time was not sought. Judge Barclay, as he tells us in his judgment, considered that they had had “sufficient” time.

 

    1. That the parents and their representatives should have been put in this position is quite deplorable. It is, unhappily, symptomatic of a deeply rooted culture in the family courts which, however long established, will no longer be tolerated. It is something of which I complained almost thirteen years ago: see Re S (Ex Parte Orders) [2001] 1 FLR 308. Perhaps what I say as President will carry more weight than what I said when the junior puisne.

 

    1. I refer to the slapdash, lackadaisical and on occasions almost contumelious attitude which still far too frequently characterises the response to orders made by family courts. There is simply no excuse for this. Orders, including interlocutory orders, must be obeyed and complied with to the letter and on time. Too often they are not. They are not preferences, requests or mere indications; they are orders: see Re W (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 1227, para 74.

 

    1. The law is clear. As Romer LJ said in Hadkinson v Hadkinson [1952] P 285, 288, in a passage endorsed by the Privy Council in Isaacs v Robertson [1985] AC 97, 101:

 

“It is the plain and unqualified obligation of every person against, or in respect of whom, an order is made by a court of competent jurisdiction, to obey it unless and until that order is discharged. The uncompromising nature of this obligation is shown by the fact that it extends even to cases where the person affected by an order believes it to be irregular or even void.”

For present purposes that principle applies as much to orders by way of interlocutory case management directions as to any other species of order. The court is entitled to expect – and from now on family courts will demand – strict compliance with all such orders. Non-compliance with orders should be expected to have and will usually have a consequence.

    1. Let me spell it out. An order that something is to be done by 4 pm on Friday, is an order to do that thing by 4 pm on Friday, not by 4.21 pm on Friday let alone by 3.01 pm the following Monday or sometime later the following week. A person who finds himself unable to comply timeously with his obligations under an order should apply for an extension of time before the time for compliance has expired. It is simply not acceptable to put forward as an explanation for non-compliance with an order the burden of other work. If the time allowed for compliance with an order turns out to be inadequate the remedy is either to apply to the court for an extension of time or to pass the task to someone else who has available the time in which to do it.

 

  1. Non-compliance with an order, any order, by anyone is bad enough. It is a particularly serious matter if the defaulter is a public body such as a local authority. And it is also a particularly serious matter if the order goes to something as vitally important as Judge Barclay’s order did in this case: the right of a parent facing the permanent loss of their child to know what case is being mounted against them by a public authority.

 

Yes, you read that right – if the order says the document should be filed by 4pm, the party should APPLY FOR AN EXTENSION OF TIME before that deadline if it is going to be in at 4.21pm.

Does anyone’s experience of Courts suggest that such an application will be dealt with in time?

 

Anyway, next, and more important point.

This is the first case post Re B-S of an application for leave to oppose an adoption order. You will recall that in Re B-S, the Court of Appeal felt that the test had become too high, perhaps even insurmountable for parents and a recalibration was necessary.  On the facts of Re B-S, the Judge had got it right (or at least not got it wrong) and the refusal was upheld.  In this one, it wasn’t.

    1. The judgment must make clear that the judge has the two stage process in mind. There are two questions (Re B-S, para 73): Has there been a change in circumstances? If the answer to the first question is no, that is the end of the matter. If the answer is yes, then the second question is, should leave to oppose be given?

 

    1. In addressing the second question, the judge must first consider and evaluate the parent’s ultimate prospects of success if given leave to oppose. The key issue here (Re B-S, para 59) is whether the parent’s prospects of success are more than just fanciful, whether they have solidity. If the answer to that question is no, that will be the end of the matter. It would not merely be a waste of time and resources to allow a contested application in such circumstances; it would also give false hope to the parents and cause undue anxiety and concern to the prospective adopted parents. The reader of the judgment must be able to see that the judge has grappled with this issue and must be able to understand, at least in essentials, what the judge’s view is and why the judge has come to his conclusion. The mere fact that the judge does not use the words “solid” or “solidity” will not, without more, mean that an appeal is likely to succeed, for example, if the judge uses language, whatever it may be, which shows that the parent fails to meet the test. So if a judge, as Parker J did in Re B-S, adopts McFarlane J’s words (see Re B-S, para 58) and describes the prospect of parental success as being “entirely improbable” that will suffice, as indeed it did in Re B-S itself, always assuming that the judge’s conclusion is adequately explained in the judgment.

 

    1. In evaluating the parent’s ultimate prospects of success if given leave to oppose, the judge has to remember that the child’s welfare is paramount and must consider the child’s welfare throughout his life. In evaluating what the child’s welfare demands the judge will bear in mind what has happened in the past, the current state of affairs and what will or may happen in future. There will be cases, perhaps many cases, where, despite the change in circumstances, the demands of the child’s welfare are such as to lead the judge to the conclusion that the parent’s prospects of success lack solidity. Re B-S is a clear and telling example; so earlier was Re C (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 431.

 

    1. If the parent is able to demonstrate solid prospects of success, the focus of the second stage of the process narrows very significantly. The court must ask whether the welfare of the child will be so adversely affected by an opposed, in contrast to an unopposed, application that leave to oppose should be refused. This is unlikely to be the situation in most cases given that the court has, ex hypothesi, already concluded that the child’s welfare might ultimately best be served by refusing to make an order for adoption. To repeat what I said in Re B-S (para 74(iii)):

 

“Once he or she has got to the point of concluding that there has been a change of circumstances and that the parent has solid grounds for seeking leave, the judge must consider very carefully indeed whether the child’s welfare really does necessitate the refusal of leave. The judge must keep at the forefront of his mind the teaching of Re B, in particular that adoption is the “last resort” and only permissible if “nothing else will do”.”

    1. It is surely a very strong thing to say to the child – and this, truth be told, is what is being said if the parent’s application for leave to oppose is dismissed at this final stage of the process – that, despite your parent having a solid prospect of preventing you being adopted, you (the child) are nonetheless to be denied that possibility because we think that it is in your interests to prevent your parent even being allowed to try and make good that case.

 

    1. I emphasise in this connection the important points I made in Re B-S (paras 74(viii), (ix)): that judges must be careful not to attach undue weight either to the short term consequences for the child if leave to oppose is given or to the argument that leave to oppose should be refused because of the adverse impact on the prospective adopters, and thus on the child, of their having to pursue a contested adoption application.

 

  1. There is one final important matter that has to be borne in mind. The judge hearing a parent’s application under section 47(5) for leave to oppose is concerned only with the first and second of the three stages identified by Thorpe LJ in Re W (Adoption: Set Aside and Leave to Oppose) [2010] EWCA Civ 1535, [2011] 1 FLR 2153, para 18 (see Re B-S, paras 55-56). The third stage arises at the final adoption hearing and only if the parent has been given leave to oppose. As Thorpe LJ described it, the parent’s task at that stage is “to persuade the court at the opposed hearing to refuse the adoption order and to reverse the direction in which the child’s life has travelled since the inception of the original public law care proceedings.” That issue is relevant at the prior stage, when the court is considering whether or not to give leave to oppose under section 47(5), only insofar as it illuminates the nature of the ultimate issue in relation to which the parent has to be able to demonstrate the solid prospects of success necessary to justify the giving of leave.

 

The Court of Appeal then grapple with two issues – on such an appeal, should they grant Leave to oppose themselves, or just send it back for re-hearing. And secondly, given the timing of leave to oppose applications and that adoption orders could easily be made before the appeal takes place, what should happen to the adoption order?

The first relates to the form of order. Having set aside the judge’s order refusing leave to oppose, should this court go on to give leave itself, or should that question be remitted for determination by the judge? If the proper outcome is clear on the papers, then it may be appropriate for this court to decide the issue. But if the matter is not clear then it must be remitted to the judge.

There is no doubt that the appellants have locus – status – to appeal against the adoption orders even though they were not parties to the proceedings at the time the orders were made: Re C, para 43. Recognising that the law sets a very high bar against any challenge to an adoption order if lawfully and properly made, the circumstances with which we are here faced demand as a necessary consequence of the appeals being allowed that the adoption orders be set aside. The point is short and simple. In each case the adoption order has been made on an application which, despite the protests of the parent, has proceeded unopposed and in circumstances where the necessary pre-requisite to that – the order dismissing the parent’s application for leave to oppose the making of the adoption order – has been invalidated by the subsequent order of this court. The consequence, to adopt the words used by Butler-Sloss LJ in Re K (Adoption and Wardship) [1997] 2 FLR 221, 228, is that there has been “no proper hearing of the adoption application” and, moreover, in circumstances where, if the adoption order stands, there will be “fundamental injustice” not merely to the parent but also, we emphasise, to the child. It is a necessary corollary of the appeal against the judge’s refusal to give leave to oppose the making of the adoption order being successful that the adoption order which followed must be set aside.

 

So  if a leave to oppose is refused and then appealed successfully, the adoption order itself must be set aside. That has major consequences for the timing of an adoption final hearing or order if there has been a leave to oppose application, and for adopters generally.  The making of the adoption order is not going to be the final say necessarily (they may have to wait not only for an appeal to be lodged, but for it to be determined, AND the prospects of a leave to oppose application are much harder to call, and it is probably more likely that many will be allowed, to avoid the nightmare scenario of an adoption order being made and later set aside.

This case is going to be very important for adopters, and the training and preparation they are given about the legal process, which is as a result likely to become more uncertain and stressful.  (There are of course, the advantages to parents and family life of such a decision, affording the parents opportunity to change after the care proceedings and to tackle their problems and put themselves in a position where they have an argument that ought to be heard)

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