This is a case arising from care proceedings where the parents gave evidence about physical injuries to a child, and a judgment was given that the father had caused the injuries and told lies about it. The police sought disclosure (wanted to see) the judgments in the care proceedings. The father resisted.
As this case was decided by Baker J, you get the excellent distillation of the law in this area to date (if I were still of an age where I had to write law essays, Baker J would be my first port of call for finding the answers)
As you probably know if you’ve read this blog before, I have a view on the issue of whether the police ought to be able to USE what is said by a parent in care proceedings in the criminal proceedings. I think firmly that they should not, that the whole ethos of care proceedings is to encourage and promote honesty and that the provisions of s98 of the Children Act 1989 removes a parents right to silence and as a trade-off promises them that what they say can’t be used against them in criminal proceedings for anything other than perjury.
If the police aren’t hoping to make use of the material, that rather begs the question of why they want to see it at all. Of course it informs and shapes their investigation and the way they put their case and even the questions asked, even if the documents themselves never appear before a jury.
Baker J touches on the critical problem (a problem that keeps getting ducked by the family Courts) here
Furthermore, it is suggested by Mr Storey QC on behalf of the father in this case that, whilst section 98(2) prevents an admission made in family proceedings being introduced in evidence in a criminal trial, it may still be possible for that admission to be put to a defendant in the course of his oral evidence as a “previously inconsistent statement” pursuant to section 119 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. No reported case was cited in support of this submission.
There are several reported cases in the family Courts where this has been raised, and they have never ruled on whether s98(2) trumps s119 or vice versa. Whilst this is undecided (and one of the cases where it was raised ends with the father who had been silent in care proceedings on advice from his criminal lawyers being committed to prison for contempt), lawyers are going to remain very apprehensive about whether their client’s interests and rights are being properly observed.
The law, at present, is very much in favour of disclosure (that the police can SEE the documents) – there’s less reported law on whether they can USE the material.
This case only decides that the police can SEE it, and if, having seen it they wish to USE it (ie produce it in the criminal trial, or put it to the parents in police interview) they need to make another application and the Court make it clear that letting them SEE it doesn’t automatically mean that they would succeed in the next application to use it.
A very nice point was taken by the father’s team
“Prior to the hearing of the care proceedings, there were five members of SC’s family who fell under suspicion of having caused her injuries. Each of them gave evidence. Before they gave evidence, the judge gave them this warning:
‘Before you give evidence I have to tell you, as I will tell the others who give evidence, that anything you say from the witness-box cannot be used in any criminal trial against you which relates to the death of SC.
Where relevant the judge added the words ‘or your wife’ and ‘or your husband’. That statement by the judge was somewhat wider than the words of s98 envisage.
The Judge did not tell any witness that the evidence given by that witness would remain confidential. The proceedings themselves are confidential but subject to the power of the judge, in appropriate circumstances, to order disclosure. Nothing in s98 detracts from that power. Section 98(2) gives protection only against statements being admissible in evidence in criminal proceedings except for an offence of perjury. Accordingly, the judge could not give any guarantee for all time as to confidentiality, even had he wished to do so because the law makes no provision which would enable him to do so. It may well be that in fairness to persons giving evidence in these circumstances judges may wish to point this out to a witness to whom the warning is given and, almost certainly, a legal adviser should do so. “
- In this case, I gave no such warning to the parents at the conclusion of my first judgment when encouraging them to be more frank with the court as to the circumstances in which Y had sustained the injuries. The absence of any such warning in that judgment is a crucial component of the arguments advanced by Mr Storey against disclosure of the judgment of the police in this case
(1) The father has an absolute right to a fair trial. The Court having failed to give the parents any warning as to the consequences of making a confession, it would be an infringement of the father’s article 6 rights were the court now to allow disclosure of the transcripts in which his confession can be described and analysed.
(2) Alternatively, exercising its discretion by applying the criteria identified in Re EC, the court should conclude that the balance comes down against disclosure. In particular, Mr Storey submits that two factors identified in Re EC should carry decisive weight, namely (a) the welfare of the children and (b) the perceived unfairness in disclosing a confession in respect of which no warning had been given.
- Mr Storey submits that, by failing to add a warning at the end of my first judgment to its encouragement to the parents to be frank about the causes of Y’s injuries, the court was infringing the father’s article 6 rights. In the course of argument, Mr Storey clarified his submission by indicating that the failure to give the father such a warning amounted to an infringement of his rights to a fair trial in these proceedings (i.e. the care proceedings), not any future criminal proceedings. His submitted that the warning should have been along the following lines.
“But you should know that, if you do confess to causing injury to your child, the rules without more enable the guardian and local authority to convey the judgment in this respect to the police who may use it to investigate you or investigate you further in relation to child abuse. I therefore make it clear that, though I have issued this invitation, I can give no guarantee of confidentiality in respect of any admission that you make.”
Mr Storey and Mrs Storey-Rea submit, that if the potentially far-reaching consequences of the current rules are not explained to a party at the time when a judge makes a plea for transparency, later dissemination of any admission is unfair. They contend that there can be no greater inducement than that of a person of high authority such as a judge who has the power to bring about or inhibit family reunification.
The Judge didn’t go for it.
- I accept that the father’s confession was induced by the encouragement voiced at the end of my first judgment. I do not, however, accept the submission that the court’s failure to give a warning in the terms proposed by Mr Storey amounted to a breach of the father’s right to a fair trial in these proceedings. By urging both parties to tell the truth, the court was seeking to ensure a fair trial in these proceedings for all parties, in particular the parents and the children. The inducement held out was that, if the perpetrator of Y’s injuries gave a full and frank account, the children could be rehabilitated within the family. The father duly confessed, the mother has been exonerated and as a result the children have been returned to her care. The father does not resile from his confession, and the outcome of these proceedings is manifestly fair to all parties.
It is a very careful and considered judgment, and much as I dislike the outcome, I think that on the existing law, the Judge got it right. The problem is that I think that the law, as it has developed, has not properly taken account of the potential erosion of the s98 protection against self-incrimination as a result of the inconsistent statements can be put as evidence s119 Criminal Justice Act 2003. The law which favours disclosure to the police and puts the burden on the parent resisting disclosure emerged prior to s119, and has been relied on to bolster decisions made subsequently. Without properly determining whether, notwithstanding the ability to put inconsistent statements as evidence, s98 prevents the Crown doing so where that statement was made in care proceedings, we are left at sea.
The problem for this particular case is (a) I think the judgment is right, on current law and (b) we already know that the Court of Appeal aren’t interested in the s119 argument, so an appeal isn’t much use; unless one is going to go all the way to the Supreme Court, who would be able to say either s119 trumps s98 and the prosecution of offenders is more important than honesty and openness in care proceedings, or vice versa.
(This becomes even more of an issue once all judgments are published, since even if the Court doesn’t give permission, the police who know the Local Authority area, judge who decides the case, date of the hearing and the factual background, will very readily be able to spot that Re H, L and K 2015 relates to real life people, and be able to read all about it online. As will any inquisitive juror…)