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Syria, children and electronic tagging

 

In what has been a challenging month, I have to confess that my heart sank right into my boots when I saw  Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, had published a judgment about Emergency Protection Orders.  I’m still recovering from Re X, his last major contribution to this legal domain, and that was nine years ago.

 

But Re X (children) and Y (children) (Emergency Protection Orders) 2015   http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/2265.html

[Weird, the link doesn’t seem to be working. Try again

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/2265.html      ]

 

is not actually about expanding the fourteen point guidance into a two-hundred and nine point guidance, so you can read on without fear or dread.

 

Note, I am lying. This is a judgment from the President. Have you ever seen a judgment from the President that made a Local Authority lawyer happy?  If I wrote the Top Ten list of case-law that had made my job harder, the President’s fingerprints would be on seven of them – going right back to seven days a week contact.  This does not buck that particular trend.

 

It is one of the cases where a family are accused/suspected/found  (delete as relevant to the particular case) of trying to take their children out to Syria to join up with ISIS (or whatever David Cameron thinks that we should call them this week), and what the State can do about it.

 

At the moment, this responsibility rests on the shoulders of Social Services and the Children Act 1989, and Parliament is more than welcome to produce some proper legislation that takes that off us and gives it to someone else, any time now.

 

A lot of this case is very factual about the circumstances, and I daresay that it will be very helpful to all the LA’s who are making applications to Court about such families.

 

[I have always wondered where the families go after that EPO. If a Court has ruled that you intended to take your child into a warzone and join up with terrorists and removes the child, what sort of assessment gets you the child BACK at the end of the final hearing? Aren’t the EPOs basically determinative of final outcome?  Well, that was the thrust of this case, whether there was some sort of arrangement that would allow the children to be back in the parents care with some form of cast-iron guarantee that they would not leave the jurisdiction. The important thing to remember here is that the Court had not conducted a finding of fact hearing about the parents intentions and plans and thus what risk the children were at – they had just determined that there were REASONABLE grounds to believe that the children were at risk of significant harm requiring interim protections]

 

However, the President would not be the President if he didn’t try to stretch the law a bit, and so that’s the point of interest.    [Occasionally, the President’s approach to the law reminds me of the year at school where all of us were given a brand new white plastic ruler to replace the wooden ones – the rulers were each labelled “Helix – Shatterproof” , an ill-thought out boast, which led to all of us industriously breaking them that very morning to demonstrate that they were not in fact Shatterproof.   I say ill-thought out, but of course, the school had to get on to Helix and order another 250 that same day, so for Helix it was a profitable claim]

 

Thinking about the cases over the intervening weekend, it occurred to me to think about the possibility of electronic tagging. Accordingly, on 5 July 2015 I sent the following email:

“I am sending this email to the advocates in both … cases. Please make sure that it is communicated as soon as possible to all concerned.

It has occurred to me to wonder whether in these cases it may be appropriate to consider the making of electronic tagging orders: see Re C (Abduction: Interim Directions: Accommodation by Local Authority) [2003] EWHC 3065 (Fam), [2004] 1 FLR 653, and Re A (Family Proceedings: Electronic Tagging) [2009] EWHC 710 (Fam), [2009] 2 FLR 891 (setting out a form of order).

Could counsel please consider this possibility.”

This time there are precedents (though fairly obscure ones, which I had to go and read). They relate of course to the powers under the Child Custody and Abduction Act 1985.  Those powers aren’t exactly delineated to require someone to submit to electronic tagging, but in the modern era of law as they don’t say that they DON’T give that power, it could be interpreted thus

5 Interim powers.

Where an application has been made to a court in the United Kingdom under the Convention, the court may, at any time before the application is determined, give such interim directions as it thinks fit for the purpose of securing the welfare of the child concerned or of preventing changes in the circumstances relevant to the determination of the application.

 

Of course here, though, there is not an application before the Court under the Convention. These are EPO applications, governed by the Children Act 1989.   It is beyond my working knowledge to consider whether an attempt by the persons who hold PR (when there are no Children Act 1989 orders) could find themselves foul of the Child Custody and Abduction Act 1985   (if everyone with PR agrees that the children will go to Syria, who are the children being abducted FROM?).   It would be different if the Court had made Children Act 1989 orders, or were seised with such an application, since there’s authority to say that the Court can go on to make orders compelling the children’s return to the jurisdiction.

 

Anyway, let’s see what the President does with the idea of electronic tagging.

 

It is worth noting that the parents were keen on the idea – because it was obviously their best shot of having the children returned to their care  – this being a case where the Court had not found any evidence that the children had been exposed to radicalisation.   So the Court did not have to consider whether there was power to impose it on the family.   (Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward were counsel representing the parents)

 

  1. Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward take as their starting point the fact that, the precipitating events apart, the parents are, in other respects, good parents who are bringing up their children lovingly and well. Although it would seem that all the children are doing as well as might be expected in foster care, there is no doubt that they are missing their parents very much and that they are, in consequence, suffering harm. In these circumstances Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward question both the necessity and the proportionality of the children remaining in foster care. Their safety, both physical and emotional, can, it is submitted, properly be met while the children remain at home; their safety, whether physical or emotional, does not necessitate their remaining in foster care.
  2. In the final analysis, say counsel, my task is to evaluate the risk of harm deriving from the possibility of flight and balance that against the undoubted harm the children are suffering because of continued separation from their parents. Given the adequate safeguards against the risk of fight which they assert can be put in place, the balance, they submit, comes down in favour of returning the children to their parents.
  3. Both local authorities are clear that they feel unable to exercise the parental responsibility vested in them by the interim care orders unless the children remain in foster care. That being so, Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward say that the appropriate order is, in each case, an order discharging the interim care orders, making the children wards of court, and placing them in the care and control of their parents, subject, however, to a raft of stringent protective orders.
  4. What Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward propose is in each case an order containing: passport orders in the usual wide-ranging form and an all-ports alert; injunctions restraining the parents removing the children from the jurisdiction and requiring them to live with the children at a specified address; and provisions for the monitoring of the parents and the children by a combination of unannounced visits by the local authority, regular reporting to a specified police station or local authority office and, in the case of the parents, electronic tagging. It is proposed that the order should include a provision requiring the parents to swear on the Quran that they will abide by each and every provision of the order and that the order should spell out the consequences (including but not limited to committal for contempt of court) in the event of any non-compliance.
  5. There is no need for me to consider whether I would have power to impose such orders on unwilling or recalcitrant parents, for all the parents here are willing to submit to whatever restrictions, including electronic tagging, I think it necessary to impose for the safety of the children. That said, I am inclined to agree with the views expressed by Singer J in the passage from his judgment in Re C (Abduction: Interim Directions: Accommodation by Local Authority) [2003] EWHC 3065 (Fam), [2004] 1 FLR 653, para 46, which I refer to below.
  6. Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward realistically accept that, however stringent the protective measures which might be put in place, there will always be some risk that the parents will be able to flee with the children. But they counsel me against being too concerned by remote or fanciful possibilities. An order the court makes is not, they submit, to be measured by the standard of certainty or infallibility but by reference to what Mr Rowley called real-world possibilities. Judged by that standard, he says, the risk is slight indeed, in reality reduced to an effective nullity if the parents are, as they propose, subjected to GPS electronic tagging (as to which see below).
  7. To get the children to Syria, he says, the parents would: have to cut the tag (thereby triggering an immediate alarm), having made arrangements to travel immediately to a point of exit from the United Kingdom; have to evade detection while in transit there; have to evade detection at the point of exit despite their being in a family group, the all-ports alert, and publicity about them being on the run; have to be able to pass through the immigration controls of a second country without detection; and have to be able to cross from that country (or some third country) into Syria. Whilst he accepts the possibility that the parents have the connections and means to achieve all this, Mr Rowley disputes that there is any evidence upon which I could reasonably infer it.
  8. More tellingly, perhaps, Mr Rowley makes the point that if the parents do indeed have the means to achieve this, the children are not safe in their foster placements. For if they have the resourcefulness and determination postulated by the local authorities and the guardians, the parents would by the same measure be able to track the children down and abduct them. The reality, he suggests, is that nothing short of actual incarceration of the children would ensure the complete eradication of all risk of their being removed to Syria. In truth, he says, the local authorities and the guardians are prepared to countenance a level of risk in the present placements while requiring from the proposed placements with the parents the certainty that all risk has been eradicated.

 

 

Mr Rowley (and no doubt Miss Woodward) go high up on my list of people who have been able to develop a compelling argument from unpromising beginnings.  They manage to make the parents position sound completely reasonable and the Local Authority’s anxieties utterly unreasonable.  In an atmosphere where the pulbic concern about terrorisim and children going to Syria could not be higher. That takes some skill.   One has to remember, of course, that the Court had not conducted any finding of fact hearing about the circumstances and intentions of the parents in making those trips or plans for the trips.

 

To Local Authority lawyers, I’m sorry that I wrongly suggested that you could read this judgment without dread. Of course you know what is about to happen now.

 

  1. The law, even the criminal law in the days of capital punishment, has never adopted a standard of absolute certainty or infallibility. So the mere fact that there is, as Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward accept, some risk that the parents will, if so minded, be able to flee with the children, the fact that it is no doubt possible to construct hypothetical scenarios of how they might achieve this, is not determinative of the question I have to decide. That question, in the final analysis comes down, in my judgment, to two linked inquiries: how great is the risk that the parents will, if so minded, be able to flee with the children, and is that a degree of risk which the court is, in all the circumstances, prepared to accept as tolerable?
  2. Given the potential consequences if the parents, being minded to flee with the children, were able to achieve their objective, it seems to me that what the court needs is a very high degree of assurance, albeit falling some way short of absolute certainty, that the protective measures put in place will be effective to thwart any attempted flight. This is ultimately a matter for judgement and evaluation, in relation to matters, in particular those dealt with DS Y, DS Z and Mr Fearnly, which I am in as good a position to assess as any of the social workers or guardians, none of whom can bring to this particular exercise in evaluation either professional training or (as they all accepted) any previous experience of any remotely comparable case. Accordingly, I have to come to my own conclusion, though obviously feeding into my overall evaluation the expert views of the social workers and the guardians as to the impact on the children of their continuing separation from their parents.
  3. At the end of the day, and having given the matter the most anxious thought both during and since the two hearings, I have concluded that the comprehensive and far-reaching package of protective measures proposed by Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward does provide the necessary very high degree of assurance that the court needs, that I need, if the children are now to be returned to parental care. Taking into account all the points pressed upon me by those opposing such an order, I am at the end of the day persuaded by Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward that I should make the orders they seek, and essentially for the reasons they have articulated.
  4. I accept that there is some degree of risk of successful flight. I cannot go quite as far as Mr Rowley when he asserts that it is reduced to an effective nullity by the protective measures he proposes, but taking a realistic view, though not forgetting that we are here in the realm of unknown unknowns, my considered assessment is that the degree of that risk is very small, indeed, so small that it is counter-balanced by the children’s welfare needs to be returned to parental care. I should add, to make plain, that in relation to their welfare (leaving flight risk on one side), the benefits all of these children will derive from being returned to their parents clearly, in my judgment, outweigh any and all of such contrary welfare arguments as have deployed by the local authorities or the guardians. Conclusion
  5. I shall therefore make orders essentially in the terms proposed by Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward. The orders will contain the additional provisions proposed by Mr Crabtree and Mrs Crowley. The orders will spell out that nothing is intended to prevent the police exercising any powers which would otherwise be available to them, including, in particular, their powers under section 46 of the Children Act 1989. I invite counsel to consider two further matters: whether the proposed oaths on the Quran should be sworn before a notary or an imam, and what, if any, provisions should be included in the orders to enable the relevant local authority to remove the children in an emergency if there has been some breach of the order and there is no time to apply even by telephone tothe duty judge. I am inclined to think that the local authorities should have that power, but strictly confined to circumstances of emergency and subject to an unqualified obligation to make an application to the court immediately

 

 

The judgment then goes on to set out the protocol for such matters. It will, I’m sure, calm the nerves of every social worker who is now going to be driven to leave children like this at home under the protection of their parents wearing electronic tags that the tagging system is provided by Capita, whose record is flawless.

 

I am perhaps missing what actually stops these children’s uncles or cousins taking them to Syria if it is the parents who are tagged?  Yes, the parewnts would be stuck her to face the music, but how great a feature is ‘fear of the consequences’ a major inhibitor to terrorism? I have always rather missed how one is to stop these things happening if the parents book a package holiday to Turkey and then just travel onwards once they are out there. Are we going to stop all families going to Turkey on holiday? Or only those who are on some sort of Watch list?  And if only those on the Watch list, given that social workers don’t have access to that, how are they supposed to intervene?

 

Whilst of course, it can’t be imposed on a parent, I’m sure they will be queuing up to agree to it.

The judgment of course does not set out who will be paying for the tagging and monitoring, but we all know that it will be the Local Authority  (or under what power the Court is apparently imposing this expense on the LA – it will be the theoretically limitless powers of the inherent jurisdiction, if anyone ever challenges it)

I wonder how any parent facing an ICO hearing for neglect, or consumption of alcohol will feel, knowing that they too are meeting the same “Reasonable grounds to believe” test as parents of this type, but that parents suspected of taking their children to join a warzone will keep them at home with electronic tags, whereas they may be separated from their own children.

Where exactly is the bar for removal under Interim Care Order, if a case like this isn’t over it?

 

And if tagging works in the interim, what stops these children being tagged for the remainder of their childhood at final hearing, even if the allegations are proven to be true?

 

 

Adoption and American immigration

I have been waiting since Re B-S for one of these cases to come up, and it finally has.

Where a family member is put forward to care for a child, and that family member lives in America, the net effect of American immigration law is that in order to be able to get the child into the country to live with that family member, you’d need an adoption order. Nothing less than that would do for American immigration authorities. BUT, does that amount to ‘nothing else will do’ for the English family Court?

 

Re S and T (children) 2015  looks at that issue.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/1753.html

 

Much of the case also involves the horrid rigmarole because in order to apply for an adoption order in England, the prospective adopters need to be habitually resident in England or Wales AND to have had a home in England for 10 weeks before the application.  (In practice, this is an utter nightmare in any case where the relatives are American, as it just causes logistical problems that don’t arise in any other country).  So if you are interested in those matters  those are in the early parts of the judgment, and it shows you the tangle that the process can become.

But my real interest is in the analysis of whether the US immigration requirements of ‘adoption or you’re not coming in’ amount to ‘nothing else will do’

This case is made more complex because they were initially private law proceedings brought about because the father removed the children to Pakistan, their mother later died of cancer, and it seems that the children have been actually living in America since July 2014  (as a result of a ‘holiday’ order made by Singer J, permitting the children, who were wards of Court, to go and stay with their maternal great aunt and great uncle for a defined period of time.  It is the great aunt and great uncle who applied for an adoption order under s84 Adoption and Children Act 2002, with the intention of later applying for an adoption order under US law.

 

[There are complicated technical reasons why they had to do it that way round, but basically if the English Court didn’t make an Adoption Order, they wouldn’t be able to get one in America, and the children wouldn’t be able to live with them]

 

The father was not consenting to the plan of adoption, and was actively opposing it, and there was no Placement Order (or application for a Placement Order)

  1. The issues: can the father’s consent be dispensed with?
  2. The father opposes the making of any adoption order and any order under section 84 of the 2002 Act. The applicants submit that his consent can be dispensed with. He disputes this.
  3. In my judgment, it is clear that there is nothing in section 84 itself to preclude the court dispensing with the father’s consent. Regulation 11(1)(p) is clear recognition that section 52(1) applies to an order under section 84. Moreover, Form A61, the application form to be used in applications under section 84, contains, in Part 3, para (j), provision for an application to dispense with parental consent. The father’s argument, however, is based on the wording of Articles 4 and 16 of the Convention which, he submits, plainly contemplates that a Convention adoption such as is proposed in this case cannot proceed in the absence of parental consent.
  4. I have set out the relevant passages already, but for convenience I will repeat the critical wording. Article 4(c)(2) provides that an adoption can take place “only” if:

    “the persons … whose consent is necessary for adoption … have given their consent freely.”

    Article 16(1)(c) provides that the Central Authority of the State of origin “shall”:

    “ensure that consents have been obtained in accordance with Article 4.”

    Article 16(2) provides that the Central Authority of the State of origin “shall”:

    “transmit to the Central Authority of the receiving State … proof that the necessary consents have been obtained.”

  5. The Convention does not contain any provisions identifying what consents are necessary. On a plain reading of the Convention, it leaves it to the domestic law of the State of origin to determine what, if any consents, are “necessary”. This is borne out by paragraph 129 of the Explanatory Report on the Convention drawn up by G Parra-Aranguren:

    “The persons whose consent is necessary on behalf of the child are determined by the applicable law: it will usually include … the child’s biological parents.”

  6. English domestic law enables the court to “dispense with” a parent’s consent in accordance with section 47(2)(c) of the 2002 Act if the requirements of section 52(1)(b) are satisfied. Those provisions apply both where the application is for an adoption order and where the application is for an order under section 84: see regulation 11(1)(l). They likewise apply in a Convention case: see regulation 55.
  7. The point is, ultimately, a very short one, incapable of much elaboration, but, in my judgment, where the court has “dispensed” with a parent’s consent in accordance with sections 47(2)(c) and 52(1)(b), that parent’s consent is no longer “necessary” within the meaning of Article 4(c)(2). It is not “necessary” because it has been “dispensed with”. It follows, in my judgment, that the court can in principle, as the applicants contend, dispense with the father’s consent in the present case.

 

The President having decided that the Court COULD dispense with father’s consent, then had to decide whether it SHOULD.

  1. The issues: should the father’s consent be dispensed with?
  2. The father submits that, even taking all the available material at its highest, there is no basis upon which the court could properly dispense with his consent and that on this ground alone I should dismiss the applicants’ claim here and now.
  3. In short, the father’s case is that, although he has been the subject of many serious findings – a proposition not challenged before me – they cannot be determinative. Indeed, it is said, they are not sufficient, on a proper welfare analysis, to justify the severing of the children’s relationship with him through adoption.
  4. It is properly common ground before me that, if the father’s consent is to be dispensed with, the applicants have to demonstrate that “nothing else will do”: see In re B (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Threshold Criteria) [2013] UKSC 33, [2013] 1 WLR 1911, [2013] 2 FLR 1075, In re B-S (Children) (Adoption Order: Leave to Oppose) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, [2014] 1 WLR 563, [2014] 1 FLR 1035, and Re R (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 1625. As the Strasbourg court said in Y v United Kingdom (2012) 55 EHRR 33, [2012] 2 FLR 332, para 134, “It is not enough to show that a child could be placed in a more beneficial environment for his upbringing.” The local authority makes the same point when it observes, and I agree, that what might ‘tip the balance’ in a private law case does not necessarily suffice to justify adoption in the face of parental opposition.
  5. Putting the issue into context, there are two striking features of this case. The first is that the local authority, having considered the matter very carefully, has doubts (a) whether the ‘threshold’ in section 31 of the 1989 Act is met and (b) whether, even if threshold is met, it would apply for a care order, let alone a placement order. The second is that, in truth, adoption is being considered here only because of the seeming imperatives of United States of America immigration law. As the local authority puts it, the issue of adoption would certainly not have arisen but for the stance of the United States of America’s authorities. Counsel for the guardian was equally explicit: “It is purely the immigration requirements of the USA which dictate that although the dispute is between family members, a placement with the applicants will require an adoption process.”
  6. I make clear that neither of these factors can alone, or in combination, be determinative. One can, for example, conceive of a case in which “nothing else will do” precisely because of a requirement of foreign immigration law. But they are, nonetheless, very striking features of this case which must, at the very least, give one pause for thought.

 

 

The President is saying there that the US immigration requirement for adoption as a pre-requisite for the child living in the country MIGHT amount to “nothing else will do” or it MIGHT not. It isn’t determinative either way, and will depend on the merits and background features of the case.  [It appears that with strong reasons why the child can’t live with birth parents and has to live elsewhere, the immigration component might tip the balance, but where the ‘threshold’ component is weak, that it might not]

 

In looking at what might amount to ‘threshold’ against father, the President identified these matters

 

  1. What are the matters alleged against the father? They include, but are not limited, to the specific matters found by Sir Peter Singer as set out in his judgment given on 1 October 2014:

    i) Domestic violence of the father inflicted on the mother in August 2012 (judgment, paras 28-29): details can be found in the maternal uncle’s statement dated 11 April 2014.ii) The fact that the father removed the children to Pakistan in December 2012 without the mother’s consent (judgment, para 80(i)) – something emotionally abusive of both the mother and the children.

    iii) The fact that the father in effect abandoned the children between March 2013 and April 2014 (see paragraph 2 above), though he claims this was on the basis of legal advice he received in Pakistan.

    iv) The unlikelihood of the father fostering any kind of relationship between the children and the maternal family (judgment, para 79) – though this is something he now says he will do: see his statement dated 31 October 2014.

    v) The fact that the father put forward two bogus documents: a purported will of the mother dated 29 August 2013 and a purported “confession” of the mother (judgment, paras 80(ii) and 80(iii)).

    vi) The fact that the father “laid the ground for attempting” to obtain the insurance monies arising out of the mother’s death (judgment, para 80(v)).

    I am of course concerned with those matters which are relevant to the children’s welfare. It is hard to see that (v) and (vi), however deplorable, go to that issue.

  2. As against this, the following matters have to be borne in mind:

    i) Sir Peter Singer’s finding that the applicants and the children’s maternal uncle “deliberately” did not inform the father of the death of the mother “in order, as they sought, better to advance their own case for the children to remain with the mother’s family and in order to distance themselves from him for reasons which, because of his behaviour, are apparent” (judgment, para 80(vi)).ii) The quality of the contact between the father and the children as demonstrated, for example, by the records of contact sessions on 15, 17, 21 and 23 October 2014

     

 

I think that the Guardian’s conclusions are interesting and telling  (it is not really a right way to approach the law)

 

“I do not believe the father can meet the children’s global needs to the extent that [the applicants] can. I have sought in this report to delineate the differences between the father as a potential long term carer for the children in Pakistan and their great aunt and uncle in the USA.

The father’s position is not without merit and this is a finely balanced decision. If there was no one but the children’s father to care for them it is likely that despite his deficits he might be considered good enough. However if there is an alternative, and I accept that the mechanism for achieving an adoption placement for the children in the USA is inchoate, I take the view for the reasons adumbrated within this report, that this is preferable and in the children’s best lifelong interests than living with their father in Pakistan.

I fall back on the aspiration that this Court can do better for these children than place them with their father in Pakistan; it can honour and make possible their mother’s legacy because she knew what was best for her daughters.

 

That comes very close to (if not actually arriving at) a conclusion that if there were no  relatives in America, the children should be with their father, but because the children would have a better life with the relatives in America, adoption is the right plan.  That’s precisely the opposite conclusion of Y v United Kingdom 2012  (the case that launched Re B and all that followed it)  http://www.bailii.org/eu/cases/ECHR/2012/433.html “It is not enough to show that a child could be placed in a more beneficial environment for his upbringing.”

If the Court were approaching this as a pure ‘beauty contest’  – who comes across better, who might be able to meet the child’s needs better, with whom might the child have a better life, the maternal great aunt and great uncle would have won hands-down.  It is decidedly possible that if the great aunt lived in Ilford, not Illinois, and the order was a private law order rather than adoption, that the Court would have gone with that option.  There’s no presumption in private family law that a father would beat a grandparent or aunt. Re E-R 2015 for example http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed144557

 

But that’s not the approach with adoption.

 

It clearly isn’t the strongest set of ‘threshold’ or risks that father might pose the children, and the Guardian’s analysis whilst intending to be a reason why the Court should make the adoption order and allow the children to live /stay with their maternal family in America actually makes the legal argument as to why the Court shouldn’t.

 

 

  1. In these circumstances, the first question I have to consider is whether, on the evidence currently before me, I could be satisfied that the father’s consent “requires” to be dispensed with (the language of section 52(1)(b) of the 2002 Act) within the principles set out in Re P (Placement Orders: Parental Consent) [2008] EWCA Civ 535, [2008] 2 FLR 625, and In re B-S (Children) (Adoption Order: Leave to Oppose) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, [2014] 1 WLR 563, [2014] 1 FLR 1035; whether I could be satisfied that “nothing else will do.” The short answer is that I could not be so satisfied. I agree with the father that the material at present before the court falls far short of meeting the required standard. Taking the matters I have summarised in paragraph 68 above at their highest, the case for adoption is simply not made out. One really only has to consider what is said in the reports of LB and JP and, equally significant, what those reports do not say.
  2. This being so, the second question is whether the proceedings should nonetheless continue. This comes down to two questions: (1) Is there some solid, evidence based, reason to believe that with further forensic activity – the testing of the existing evidence by cross-examination or giving the parties an opportunity to adduce further evidence – the conclusion might be different? This requires a robust and realistic appraisal of what is possible, an appraisal which is evidence based, with a solid foundation, not driven by sentiment or a hope that ‘something may turn up’. (2) Is there some solid advantage to the children in continuing the proceeding?
  3. In my judgment, there is no basis in the materials currently before the court for any belief that prolongation of the process carries with it any realistic prospect of the court ever being satisfied that the father’s consent requires to be dispensed with, that nothing else will do. The deficit in the existing evidence is simply too great to imagine that there is any realistic prospect of the gap being bridged. And in the circumstances, not least bearing in mind the length of time these proceedings have been going on, far from there being any solid advantage to the children in continuing the proceedings, their welfare requires finality now.
  4. The proceedings should now be brought to an end.
  5. I am very conscious that the consequence of this, in a sense, is that the father wins by default. The children go to him because the only alternative is ruled out because adoption is ruled out. But it is fundamentally important that children are not to be adopted merely because their parenting is less than perfect, indeed, perhaps, only barely adequate. To repeat what was said in Y v United Kingdom (2012) 55 EHRR 33, [2012] 2 FLR 332, para 134, “It is not enough to show that a child could be placed in a more beneficial environment for his upbringing.”

 

So the children were to be brought back to England by August, and to go back to the care of their father.

This, I think, is only the second reported case where a child was taken from prospective adopters who had been caring for the child for a significant period of time, and placed with either a parent or family member. The first of course was Holman J’s http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/12/05/i-would-put-this-as-a-must-read-adoption-case-dynamite/

 

In that case, the interest of the child being placed with an aunt outweighed that of remaining with prospective adopters, in this one, the interest of the children being placed with dad outweighed that of remaining with prospective adopters who were family members.  (Blood is thicker than water, but parental blood is thicker than blood, perhaps)

Of course this one is rather different, since there hadn’t been any Court determination that adoption was the right plan for the child, and the plan of adoption arose solely as a result of US immigration law, but it does show that the Court is willing to implement the philosphy of Y v UK in real life cases and to reach decisions that it feels to me would not have been made in 2011.

Good luck anybody running a case with an American relative in getting the case done within 26 weeks.

 

Challenging a consent order

 

It is not every day that you see the President of the Family Division have to consider whether a Practice Direction is, in part, ultra vires. This is one of those days.

 

Re CS v ACS and Another 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/1005.html

 

The case hinged on the legal mechanisms for challenging a consent order.

The language of Practice Direction 30A (on appeals) is very very stark

PD30A para 14.1, headed ‘Appeals against consent orders’ provides that:

“The rules in Part 30 and the provisions of this Practice Direction apply to appeals relating to orders made by consent in addition to orders which are not made by consent. An appeal is the only way in which a consent order can be challenged” (emphasis added).

 

So, the only route is by appeal.

However, wait

section 31F(3) of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 (as inserted by the Crimes and Courts Act 2013) provides that:

“Every judgment and order of the family court is, except as provided by this or any other Act or by rules of court, final and conclusive between the parties.”

However, section 31F(6) provides that:

“The family court has power to vary, suspend, rescind or revive any order made by it, including –

(a) power to rescind an order and re-list the application on which it was made,

(b) power to replace an order which for any reason appears to be invalid by another which the court has power to make, and

(c) power to vary an order with effect from when it was originally made.”

Rule 4.1(6) of the Family Procedure Rules 2010, which is in identical terms to rule 3.1(7) of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998, provides that:

“A power of the court under these rules to make an order includes a power to vary or revoke the order.”

So that’s a statutory mechanism to invite a Court to vary, suspend, rescind or revive any order made by it.

There are also a line of authorities (including marvellously one named Tibbles) showing that there are two routes – either appeal, or application to the original Judge to rescind or set aside the original order  (there are limitations to that power – either material change of circumstances, or establishing that the factual basis on which the order was made was incorrect – the classic example being ancillary relief cases where financial agreement was reached and people learn later that there had been concealment of substantial assets which make the consent order unfair)

So, which is right?

  1. Mr Brunsdon Tully takes his stand on PD30A, para 14.1. He points to Financial Remedies Practice 2015 where the editors, who include both Sir Peter Singer and Mostyn J, suggest (para 4.8) that the old cases suggesting that such applications could be made at first instance “are all now overreached” and (para 30.97) that “that single short sentence in PD30A had rendered otiose a great deal of sterile case law”. In previous editions the editors had added “This long overdue reform is much to be welcomed.” Mostyn J has expressed similar views judicially (see below).
  2. Ms Sharghy and Mr Hubbard point to the more sceptical view expressed by the editors of Dictionary of Financial Remedies, 2015 edition, page 65, where, after saying that “There is an element of confusion about the appropriate way of launching an application of this nature”, they opine that “the most likely solution” is an application under FPR 4.1(6).
  3. Following the hearing it occurred to me that there might be a question as to whether the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1, was ultra vires. On 21 March 2015 I sent counsel a draft judgment setting out my preliminary conclusion that it was ultra vires. I invited counsel to make any further submissions they wished. Both Mr Brunsdon Tully and Ms Sharghy and Mr Hubbard availed themselves of the opportunity.
  4. The power to make Practice Directions in relation to family proceedings is conferred by section 81 of the Courts Act 2003. Section 81(1) confers power to make directions as to “practice and procedure”. Section 81(2A) provides that directions as to the practice and procedure of any relevant court in family proceedings “may provide for any matter which … may be provided for by Civil Procedure Rules.” As Mr Brunsdon Tully points out, PD30A was made by the then President of the Family Division in accordance with Schedule 2 to the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 and approved by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State.

 

 

As can be seen above, the PD was made by the former President Wall LJ and approved by the Minister. Consideration that both acted ultra vires in relation to that passage is significant.

 

Let us have a quick gander at the legal arguments  (there’s much much much more of this, I’ve tried to grab the bits where they are distilled)

  1. Mr Brunsdon Tully submits that, since FPR 4.1(6) is identical to CPR 3.1(7), there is no reason why the principle spelt out by Hughes LJ should not apply equally in family cases. In particular, he says, there can be no question of the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1, being ultra vires, for all it does is to bring the limited class of case to which it applies into line with the true meaning and effect of CPR 3.1(7), and thus of FPR 4.1(6), as explained in Roult.
  2. He adds three supplemental submissions. First, he submits that the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1, does not encroach on the right of a litigant to apply to the court or on the substantive legal remedies available to a litigant if material non-disclosure is proved; it merely stipulates the procedural route, namely appeal, under which all these remedies are available. I cannot accept that: it encroaches upon the right of a litigant to apply to the court without first obtaining permission. Secondly, he submits that the power of the family court to exercise its powers under section 31F(6) is not fettered, either by FPR 4.1(6) or by the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1, because an appeal from a district judge sitting in the family court lies to another judge, either a Circuit Judge or a judge of the High Court, of the family court. This, however, as Ms Sharghy and Mr Hubbard point out, overlooks the fact that the powers conferred by section 31F(6) of the 1984 Act include powers to “vary, suspend [or] rescind” any order. Thirdly, he submits that the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1, which is the relevant provision in issue here, is not the rule that imposes the requirement that the litigant can proceed only with permission, and in any event a permission requirement is not a fetter or encroachment on the court’s powers such as to lead to a conclusion that the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1, is ultra vires. The first part of this is, with respect, legal sophistry: since any appeal requires permission, a provision that challenge can only be made by way of an appeal is, in its effect, a provision imposing a requirement that the litigant can proceed only with permission. I have already said that I do not accept the argument that the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1, does not fetter or encroach on the rights of the litigant or, consequently, on the powers of the court.
  3. In response, Ms Sharghy and Mr Hubbard submit, by reference to more recent authorities, that Mr Brunsdon Tully reads more than is warranted into Roult. They submit that the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1, purports to abrogate what they say is a long-established and indeed recently recognised right to challenge, at first instance, and without being subjected to any sort of prior filter by way of application for leave (see Re C (Financial Provision: Leave to Appeal) [1993] 2 FLR 799, 801), an order such as the one I am concerned with here. They submit that this right is recognised by both section 31F(6) and FPR 4.1(6). They point to Binks v Securicor Omega Express Ltd [2003] EWCA Civ 993, para 8, and Brennan v ECO Composting Ltd [2006] EWHC 3153 (QB), [2007] 1 WLR 773, para 28, as showing that in case of conflict between a rule and a practice direction, the practice direction must yield to the rule.

 

In my new technique of establishing whose argument is best – where I take the names of the authorities that each relies on and decide which of those sound more intriguing, I would rule that Binks, and Eco Composting are going to beat Roult.  Over a period of time, I hope to demonstrate that this methodology is (a) dazzlingly accurate and (b) if adopted wholesale would lead to really interesting law reports with mind-boggling case names being pressed into service by each side.   [If anyone can successfully work “Four Exotic Dancers versus Spearmint Rhino and the Wild Goose 2009″ or “Death v Graves 2006″ into their skeletons, they richly deserve a victory]

The President used more established methodology in deciding which argument was correct.

  1. In the light of this survey of the authorities, I conclude that the decision in Roult will not bear the weight of the argument that Mr Brunsdon Tully seeks to derive from it. In common with Mostyn J in In re F, I read the decisions of the Court of Appeal in Musa v Karim, Sharland v Sharland and Gohil v Gohil (No 2) as demonstrating that FPR 4.1(6) continues to permit what had long been established, namely that an application such as the one being made here by the wife can be made to the judge at first instance.
  2. What then of the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1? In my judgment, and with all respect to the makers of PD30A, it was ultra vires their powers. And if that is so, then I can without more ado say so and treat it as a nullity: compare General Mediterranean Holdings SA v Patel and Another [2000] 1 WLR 272, where, in the course of ordinary proceedings in the Queen’s Bench Division, CPR rule 48.7(3) was held to be ultra vires. (I make clear that I refer to this case, which was very different from the present case, not in support of my conclusion that the final sentence of PD30A, para 14.1, was ultra vires but only as to the procedural consequences which flow from such a finding.)
  3. There are essentially two reasons which lead me to this conclusion. First, and whatever the exact ambit of the phrase “practice and procedure” in section 81(1) of the 2003 Act, it cannot in my judgment extend, as here, to a provision purporting to forbid a litigant to have recourse to a form of remedy long recognised by the common law, let alone to a remedy expressly conferred by both statute (section 31F(6) of the 1984 Act) and rule (FPR 4.1(6)). Secondly, there is, for the reasons given by Ms Sharghy and Mr Hubbard, a conflict between, on the one hand, the statute and the rule and, on the other hand, the practice direction, which requires the latter to yield to the former.
  4. It follows, in my judgment, that the wife is entitled to proceed as she has and that she does not require the permission of the court to do so.
  5. More than 25 years after Ward J’s first complaint, too little has yet been done to remedy matters. The continuing complexity of the law is exemplified by the necessarily detailed analysis of the point by the editors of Financial Remedies Practice 2015, paras 4.5-4.17. The continuing lack of clarity is illustrated by my analysis in this judgment. It is profoundly unsatisfactory that the courts should still have to take up so much of their time and their litigants’ resources dealing with such matters. The final Report of the Financial Remedies Working Group, 15 December 2014, expressed the view (para 13) that “clarification of the procedures for re-opening first instance orders in financial remedy proceedings is required” and said that it “would strongly support amendments to the Family Procedure Rules for that purpose.” I doubt that anyone could possibly disagree. Remedial work is now a matter of pressing urgency, unless we are complacently to condemn another generation of litigants to a procedural maze which is a discredit to family justice. I add only this. The Working Party may wish to consider the extent to which these problems are capable of solution by either Rule or Practice Direction. It may be that primary legislation is required

 

Until that time, both routes are potentially open, and it will depend on the circumstances which is the best approach. The rest of PD 30A remains valid, but you can draw a line through para 14.1 now.

Only just over the threshold

 

I am tending to think that there’s a repositioning of the threshold criteria going on at the moment. It is a little hard to call, since there’s always been the unspoken background that what constitutes threshold in Liverpool doesn’t necessarily be the same things that consitute threshold in Torquay. But it feels that Re A and Re J are a subtle raising of the bar.

When a bar is raised, it can be tricky to work out exactly where that bar now is. We know that on the facts of Re A, threshold was not made out, but we don’t know if it was miles short or inches short.

Which is why when the President decides a case and says that the threshold criteria was satisfied but only just, it gives us some potentially useful information.

 

Leeds City Council v M and others 2015   http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/27.html  is the follow-up to the President’s judgment on Female Genital Mutilation (you may remember, this was the case where that was alleged, and the President had to decide (a) if it had happened (no) (b) whether it could amount to threshold (yes) (c) Would it amount to risk of harm to a male child (no) and (d) if it had happened, would it by itself justify adoption (no)

 

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/01/14/fgm-an-important-authority/

The President’s first judgment pre-dated Re A, which is what makes me think that there’s a shift in thinking. The President here didn’t seem to be struggling with the idea that domestic violence, even if not of the most serious nature could amount to significant harm:-

 

“(i) The local authority is unable on the evidence to establish that G (as I shall refer to her) either has been or is at risk of being subjected to any form of female genital mutilation.

(ii) There was a greater degree of marital discord than either M or F (as I shall refer to them) was willing to admit to. There was also, I am satisfied, some physical violence on the part of F, though neither very frequent nor of the more serious variety.

(iii) Given all the facts as I find them, including but not limited to (i) and (ii) above, threshold is established.

The President had said in the first case that adoption, the LA’s plan, was not proportionate, and was seeking an alternative resolution. This case is that resolution.

In giving his final judgment, the President identified four key areas where the LA contended threshold was met:-

1. Mother’s mental health

2. Domestic violence

3. Neglect and physical abuse

4. Lack of cooperation / engagement

Remember, the President concluded that threshold WAS met, but only just.

I am prepared to accept, in the light of my findings, that threshold is established, though not by a very large margin.

So, looking at things in detail

 

1. Mother’s mental health

The psychiatrist, Dr T, made the diagnosis that mother had ‘schizo-affective disorder’, currently in remission, but a lifelong condition vulnerable to relapse caused by stress. Dr T said at least 12 months’ stability in M’s condition was essential if B and G were to be safe in her care and that the necessary period had not yet elapsed. If stability and compliance could not be maintained over that length of time, it would be “very risky” for them to be returned to her care

The Judge accepted Dr T’s evidence and opinion.

 

  • I accept that there has been improvement in M’s mental health. But Dr T’s evidence, which I accept, is clear, compelling and withstood all challenge. It would be irresponsible not to heed and give effect to it. In my judgment, M is not at present able to look after B and G.

[You might look at that and say that this in and of itself is sufficient to cross the threshold – there’s a factual matrix which allows the Court to establish that there is a risk of significant harm – remember that if a factual matrix is established, the risk itself does not have to be more likely than not, it is sufficient to be a risk which cannot sensibly be ignored, as decided by the House of Lords in H and R 1996. ]

 

2. Domestic violence

 

The mother had made allegations of domestic violence against the father, but later retracted them. The Court had heard evidence from mother and father.

My conclusion, having carefully considered the mass of material put to me and the helpfully detailed submissions from counsel, is that there was, as I have said, a greater degree of marital discord than either M or F was willing to admit to. There was also, I am satisfied, some physical violence on the part of F, though neither very frequent nor of the more serious variety. It was, as Mr Ekaney submits, at the lower end of the scale. Beyond that it would not be right to go.

 

Remembering that the definition of ‘harm’ was expanded in the Children Act 1989  to include the words in bold  “harm” means ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development [including, for example, impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another];     – the words being added in the Adoption and Children Act 2002. So a child being exposed to domestic violence, or at risk of being so exposed can be considered to have suffered harm, or risk of such harm – the issue really being whether it is significant.  The President does not, in his judgment, specify whether his conclusion about domestic violence here amounted to significant harm or the risk thereof.  The best we can do is go back to this bit

“(i) The local authority is unable on the evidence to establish that G (as I shall refer to her) either has been or is at risk of being subjected to any form of female genital mutilation.

(ii) There was a greater degree of marital discord than either M or F (as I shall refer to them) was willing to admit to. There was also, I am satisfied, some physical violence on the part of F, though neither very frequent nor of the more serious variety.

(iii) Given all the facts as I find them, including but not limited to (i) and (ii) above, threshold is established.

 

 

and suggest that domestic violence was part of the factual matrix that led the President to conclude that threshold was crossed, though not by a very large margin.

 

3. Neglect and physical abuse

 

This is the section where you get to see the Re A dynamics play out. There are facts established to show what happened to the children

There were two very specific allegations of neglect, amongst more general complaints

in October 2013, G was taken to nursery with spare clothes that were damp, soiled and smelled of urine; much more significant, on 7 November 2013 M, it is said, abandoned G in an alleyway in the city centre, where she was found cold, wet and very distressed. 

[The mother accepted the abandonment. G was born in July 2011, remember]

 

There is no doubt that B and G experienced instability and inconsistency of care, brought about by M’s recurrent mental health difficulties and F’s limited ability to cope with them. There were the specific instances of neglect I have already referred to.  To the extent that there was marital discord between F and M, B and G were exposed to it. I think it is probable that on a few occasions B and G were exposed to mild chastisement – but nothing more serious.

 

But as Re A showed us, establishing a contested (or accepted fact) as being proven is only half of the story. The next stage is for the Local Authority to satisfy the Court that what happened caused the children harm.

In this case, the Guardian considered that the children did not present as having been damaged by their experiences

“Without exception these two children have been described in very positive ways; it is clear they are delightful and endearing children who make a good impression on anyone who meets them. It is also clear that the first impressions of these children did not signify children who had been exposed to neglect, or an abusive home environment. They appeared to have been protected from the worst excesses of the mother’s mental health challenges. They have experienced positive parenting.”

 

The President says

I entirely agree. The guardian’s analysis accords with everything I have read and heard.

What is important, however, is the fact that, as I have already found, none of this seems to have had any significant or prolonged impact on either B or G – so nothing they have been exposed to can have been that serious.

 

The President doesn’t say so explicitly (which is somewhat vexing for those of us who are trying to decipher the Delphic offerings), but I think that that final remark can be read to mean that he did not accept that the threshold was made out on the basis of the neglect aspects.

Frankly, I think abandoning a 2 1/2 year old child in an alleyway is significant harm, but it appears that I am wrong about that.

 

Firstly, this troubles me because that sort of thing also feeds into risk of future harm, and of course a child isn’t yet showing the ill-effects of future harm. This approach seems to ignore future harm entirely.

The other thing that concerns me about this approach is that I can forsee that we are ending up with a different threshold criteria for a resilient child, who is exposed to poor parenting but has inner qualities that allow them to cope, and a fragile child whose reaction to the same parenting is marked and plain to see.  And it also requires that the child is showing the effects of the harm that they have suffered in a very visible and measurable way – I know that the neuroscience is controversial, but there is at least some evidence to suggest that neglect has much longer repercussions than the immediate visible impact.

 

4. Lack of cooperation / engagement

 

Here the parents made concessions

 

 

  • M admits poor engagement with professionals due to her mental health problems.
  • F accepts that, prior to the children being taken into care, he failed to engage and co-operate with the local authority and that this led to him adopting what was understandably perceived as a controlling attitude towards M. This, I accept, was driven by the two factors to which Mr Ekaney drew attention. The first was F’s perplexity about the family situation, largely caused by his failure to recognise the nature and extent of and inability to understand M’s mental health difficulties. The other was F’s desire to protect his family and his fear, from his perspective well-founded fear, that B and G would be removed from their care. Since B and G were taken into care, F’s attitude has changed. There has been, as Mr Ekaney puts it, a high level of co-operation and engagement with the local authority, coupled with a high level of commitment to B and G. And, as I accept, this is not due to any compulsion; it reflects F’s growing realisation and acceptance of the underlying realities.
  • Given M’s and F’s concessions, which appropriately reflect the reality of what was going on, there is no need for me to make any further findings.

 

[Well, there is a slight need – again, I am assuming that this was not found to have amounted to significant harm or the risk of significant harm, but it is rather difficult to say for certain, because the judgment doesn’t outline it.  To be honest, I do not envy the Local Authority advocate who had to draw up a final settled threshold based on this judgment. I THINK that the totality of the judgment suggests that findings of fact were made across points 1-4, but only those in points 1 and 2 amounted also to findings of significant harm. But I would not race to Paddy Power with bundles* of fivers to back that conclusion. My actual bet would be that over the next year, the number of cases where threshold is agreed rather than fought out will dramatically reduce. And as we can’t have fact finding hearings any more, thresholds will be fought out at final hearings. How’s that going to work out for 26 weeks, I wonder?]

 

 

The President ruled that whilst mother could not care for the children now or within their timescales, the father could and should be given that opportunity, and the children would be placed with him under Supervision Orders.

So there we have it, on these facts, the case crossed the threshold, but not by a very large margin.

 

 

*IF I did happen to be going to the bookies with bundles of fivers, I would ensure that in accordance with Practice Direction 27 there were (a) no more than 350 of them (b) They were A4 sized  and (c) that they were printed only on one side. Which explains why Paddy Power doesn’t want me going in there any more.

 

Leave to revoke a Placement Order, successful appeal

 

Re G (a child) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/119.html

 

The mother was appealing a refusal to grant her leave to apply to revoke a Placement Order (i.e to get her child back). She was in person in the Court of Appeal (and did a very good job) and won her appeal.

 

There are  few big points from this appeal which have wider application.

 

1. Change doesn’t have to be recent

(I think what the Court of Appeal say here rather destroys Mostyn J’s declaration that change has to be ‘unexpected’ because they are explicit that one shouldn’t read words into the statute that aren’t there)

I do not accept Mr Tughan’s submission that the nature and degree of the change of circumstances which a parent does successfully establish, is demoted by it being a recent change. This does add gloss to the words of the statute and should be resisted

 

2. Change doesn’t have to be change in the parent  – it can be change in the life of the child, or in the life of the child’s carers.

 

[This one interests me, because as far as I know, Mrs Suesspicious Minds was the first counsel to persuade a Court of that, so it is nice to see that she was right – as usual]

The “change in circumstances” specified in section 24(3) of the 2002 Act is not confined to the parent’s own circumstances. Depending upon the facts of the case, the child/ren’s circumstances may themselves have changed in the interim, not least by reason of the thwarted ambitions on the part of the local authority to place them for adoption in a timely fashion. I would regard it as unlikely for there to be many situations where the change in the child’s circumstances alone would be sufficient to open the gateway under section 24(2) and (3) and I do not suggest that there needs to be an in-depth analysis of the child/ren’s welfare needs at the first stage, which are more aptly considered at the second , but I cannot see how a court is able to disregard any changes in the child/ren’s circumstances, good or bad, if it is charged with evaluating the sufficiency of the nature and degree of the parent’s change of circumstances.

 

3. Take care in using a note of judgment as if it were a transcript

 

In this case, the Care Order and Placement Order had been made by a District Judge, and the leave to oppose hearing was heard by a Circuit Judge. The CJ had been given counsel’s note of the hearing / judgment, but read it into the judgment on leave to oppose as though quoting the District Judge directly.

The only document that assists is Counsel’s “note of final hearing” prepared by Mr Hepher on 20 August 2012 for his Instructing Solicitor. It has not been approved by the DDJ Johns.

Contrary to what HHJ Levy said in her judgment, the note does not pretend to be a note of the judgment; rather it is the subjective assessment of the hearing and its outcome, giving a potted version of the judge’s conclusions. Counsel who appeared for the Local Authority could have no idea or intention that it would be referred to in any future proceedings or appellate jurisdiction. However, HHJ Levy placed reliance upon it and, it seems to me, elevated Counsel’s written opinion that “the evidence did not go well for [the mother]. She became upset and gave loud, aggressive and frequent inconsistent and confrontational answers when challenged” into findings made by the first instance judge and thereafter cited Counsel’s summary of a part of the judgment in quotation marks, giving the appearance that the same were spoken by the DDJ Johns.

The fact of its quotation by HHJ Levy leads me to conclude that it was instrumental in her decision and I therefore refer to it in full. HHJ Levy said that “[t]he judge had concluded by summing up the mother as: ‘…angry, resentful and accusatory of professionals…blaming of others, was unable to explain the impact of domestic violence and undesirability of drug use, and had a casual disregard to telling the truth. She had no insight into the magnitude of the risks the father might pose, nor the impact of her own behaviour. She was not able to sustain motivation for any meaningful change”.

…Quite apart from the issues raised in the grounds of appeal, I would express my great concern at other aspects of the procedure that was adopted at first instance and which are capable of further infecting the outcome. That is, HHJ Levy was disadvantaged in the absence of DDJ John’s judgment and “agreed threshold criteria” and was wrong to accept counsel’s unapproved “note of the hearing” as a sufficient substitute, even though I am sure she was well intentioned in seeking to avoid delay. She could not possibly establish the true base line in the absence of the “agreed threshold criteria” document, which itself recorded some issues of fact and differing interpretation of others, without reconstructing the evidence that had been available in the court below. In doing so she appeared to rely entirely upon the reports submitted by the social worker and guardian.

 

4. You need to be quite careful about ruling that a parent had not satisfied the first limb of the two stage test (has there been a change in circumstances?)

The Court of Appeal here sent the case back for re-hearing, but were very plain that their view was that the first limb had been crossed and quite comfortably.

5. Fresh evidence

The Local Authority had brought to the Court of Appeal a statement that gave information about family finding – in effect, providing evidence that an adoptive placement was on the cards. The Court of Appeal deprecated this practice.  This was really a request to introduce fresh evidence to the appeal, and if so, a proper application needed to be made, with all of the Ladd v Marshall principles argued  (it is REALLY  hard to get fresh evidence in on appeal, other than in criminal proceedings where the fresh evidence is something like an alibi, or CCTV footage or some sort of CSI test which would undermine the conviction)

 

  1. Shortly before coming into court, a statement prepared by Ms Faith Connell, J’s social worker, unsigned but dated 9 January, 2015 was sent through uninvited. There is no application to admit fresh evidence. I am told by Mr Tughan that it is intended to update the court on ‘family finding’ for J. This practice is becoming increasingly common and I think it entirely inappropriate. If the statement contains fresh evidence which is pertinent to the appeal then leave should be sought in accordance with normal procedure to admit it. If it does not, it may appear as an attempt to influence the outcome of the appeal. Mr Tughan assures me that that is not intended, but that it was submitted with a view to assisting the court if it wished to substitute its own order for that of the court below.
  2. As it is, this is not a court of first instance and is not in a position to determine the disputed factual issues raised in the mother’s application before HHJ Levy, let alone fresh facts on the unilateral presentation of what may be challenged evidence and opinion going to inform the discretion stage. I have refused to read the statement in those circumstances and particularly since the mother is unrepresented.

 

6. You can only ‘shore up’ a judgment so far

In discussion, Mr Tughan was obliged to concede that he was attempting to “shore up” the judgment of HHJ Levy. He accepted the absence of any findings in the judgment that were directly relevant to the adverse findings apparently made against the mother by DDJ Johns and upon which HHJ Levy relied. He argued that some issues that were recorded in the judgment had been ‘resolved’ during the course of the proceedings – entirely, I observe, in favour of the mother’s contentions – and that it was unnecessary to make certain other findings, including whether the mother’s relationship with her previous partner had ended, the extent if any of her drug use, and whether she had threatened the current social worker with violence. He accepted that the Court would “struggle to piece together” HHJ Levy’s thought processes, but that they could be “pieced together” when analysed in the round. He argued that the bar had been set at a high level by reason of the findings made in the original care proceedings and that the self reported changes by a mother, whose credibility had been doubted in the past and, implicitly I think he was suggesting, was in any event so emotionally compromised in relation to an objective consideration of J’s best interests, had inevitably led the judge to conclude that she still had a “long way to go”.

 

The mother was of course appealing the judgment that was made, not the shored up version that counsel for the Local Authority was skilfully presenting. She won her case, and that was the right decision. Nobody knows how the re-hearing will go.

 

6. Threshold post Re A

 

The Court of Appeal here accepted that the threshold were ‘more than satisfied’ and that they had no doubt about that.

Let’s have a look at the threshold then.

A document headed “Agreed Threshold Criteria – 17.7.12″ gives some indication of the circumstances of J’s removal. In summary, J’s father has previous convictions for serious drugs and violence. In June 2009, the mother attempted to prevent his arrest for the offence of armed robbery. The father was subsequently jailed. The mother commenced a new relationship. Her new partner also had previous convictions and was a serial offender. Regrettably he was violent to the mother. She continued with the relationship and was said to prioritise her relationship with her partner over her own and J’s safety. The mother disagreed but there is objective evidence that she found it difficult to separate from her partner, refusing an injunction and visiting him in prison whilst he was serving a sentence for assaulting her. The mother was said to continue to “minimise and excuse the extent and impact of the domestic violence and conflict to which J had been exposed”. She herself smoked cannabis but denied that she had used class A drugs. It is clear that she was not co-operative with social services and would routinely deceive them about her home circumstances.

 

Reading this document I have no doubt that the so called threshold criteria imposed by section 31 of the Children’s Act 1989 were more than satisfied.

A lot of this looks like the sort of thing that the President threw out on its ear last week. This isn’t a case where the mother herself posed a risk.  At best, or worst, her partner might have.  But he seemed to be in prison.  Cannabis – gone. Not co-operative with social services – gone.  Assisting father three years earlier to resist arrest – what’s the risk to the child? gone. . Violence from former partner – well, the President seemed to be suggesting that there are people who have had dv in their relationships who would not cross threshold – it would depend on the extent and nature of it.  Minimising dv – gone. Visiting former partner in prison – well, if he wasn’t established to be a risk of harm to the child, so be it.

Too early to say whether the Court of Appeal are going to take a different view to the President on Re A, but if you apply the Re A principles the threshold here is either not crossed or it just limps over the line. Yet the Court of Appeal consider that there is no doubt that it was more than satisfied. Hmmm.

CSI President : Appeal

 

I was a bit surprised to see that public money was spent appealing the President’s decision in Re Z Children 2014  which I wrote about here:-

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/06/23/csi-president/

 

The case involved a dad who wouldn’t give a DNA sample, but was in prison for murder. The police had two DNA samples – a DNA sample of the perpetrators blood from the crime scene and the one dad gave that matched it. They were prevented by law in giving the second one to the Court to be used as a paternity test sample. The President decided that they weren’t prevented in law in giving the first sample (which we all know is a match and is dad’s DNA)

I actually thought it was a very clever and intricate solution and one that won’t really cause problems for later cases.

 

Nonetheless, it was appealed, and the Court of Appeal over-ruled the President.

 

Re X and Z Another  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/34.html

As a result, any samples held by the police ought to only be used for the purposes of criminal law enforcement.

If you were hoping for the President to get a come-uppance, this judgment is not it. The closest they come to a criticism is this bit:-

35. Parliament cannot, when replacing Part V of PACE in 2012, have intended that Part II DNA profiles could be used outside the sphere of criminal law enforcement but that Part V DNA data could not be so used. That would be arbitrary and would make no sense. The court should be very slow to impute to Parliament an intention to legislate so as to produce results which are arbitrary and irrational.

  1. In order to avoid such absurdity and to reflect Parliament’s clear intention in POFA to legislate to remove the incompatibility between English law and the requirements of the Convention, I consider that section 22 should be construed in a way which is consistent with the scheme of Part V. That is to say, section 22 should be construed as meaning that, if the police consider that it is necessary to retain Part II DNA material for criminal law enforcement purposes, they may not use it for any other purpose

 

Given that the Court of Appeal didn’t like the President’s somewhat elastic use of statutory construction (stretch it as far as you can unless it actually snaps) he is perhaps fortunate that all of the parties in Re  X (a child: Surrogacy) 2014 liked his decision (and hence weren’t going to appeal it), because that one for me went beyond snapping point.

 

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/10/06/conjurers-and-childrens-birthday-parties/

 

When the President decided that a valid interpretation of THIS piece of statute

“the applicants must apply for the order during the period of 6 months beginning with the day on which the child is born.”

was

“unless the Court is okay with it”

 

The President doesn’t lose many though – this one and Cheshire West are the only ones that I can remember.  (And I have some sympathy for him on this one, I think it was a child-focussed attempt to resolve a problem)

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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