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“The pages of the most extravagant French novel…”

 

 

Rapisarda v Colladon 2014 – new areas of transparency, journalism and Monarchs trying to protect public morals – it has it all.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2014/1406.html

This is a very quirky case, decided by the President. It arises from divorce and ancillary relief proceedings. In particular, it arises from an application by the Queen’s Proctor, to dismiss a large number of divorce petitions, and to set aside a number of decree absolutes and decree nisis.

(Who the heck is the Queen’s Proctor, you may be asking – well, he or she, is the person who is authorised to intervene in litigation on behalf of the Queen, i.e when there’s some heavy issue at stake. For divorce, that all flows from s8 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973)

This case is described by the President in his opening paragraph as being

what can only be described as a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice on an almost industrial scale

Vexingly, for me, the judgment doesn’t give chapter and verse on what on earth was going on here.

The issue that the judgment is principally concerned with, is whether the Press could report what the Court was uncovering. At the moment, they are prevented from reporting details from divorce cases (not, as you might imagine to protect the confidentiality of the individuals but to protect public decency)

That allows the President to do two of his favourite things – (a) to test where the boundaries of transparency are and whether they could be expanded; and (b) to give a history lesson as to how the current framework came to be.

For a law geek like me, (b) is really rather absorbing, and I have to say that few people have ever been as skilled as the President in doing that sort of exercise.

So, what prevents the Press reporting about what happens in divorce or ancillary relief proceedings? * (As to whether any of this applies to ancillary relief proceedings, having analysed it very carefully, the best we can do is “It might”)

It is the Judicial Proceedings (Regulation of Reports) Act 1926 (from now on in this piece “The 1926 Act”

3. Section 1 of the 1926 Act is headed “Restriction on publication of reports of judicial proceedings”. As amended, it provides as follows:
“(1) It shall not be lawful to print or publish, or cause or procure to be printed or published –
(a) in relation to any judicial proceedings any indecent matter or indecent medical, surgical or physiological details being matter or details the publication of which would be calculated to injure public morals;
(b) in relation to any judicial proceedings for dissolution of marriage, for nullity of marriage, or for judicial separation, or for the dissolution or annulment of a civil partnership or for the separation of civil partners, any particulars other than the following, that is to say:
(i) the names, addresses and occupations of the parties and witnesses;
(ii) a concise statement of the charges, defences and countercharges in support of which evidence has been given;
(iii) submissions on any point of law arising in the course of the proceedings, and the decision of the court thereon;
(iv) the summing-up of the judge and the finding of the jury (if any) and the judgment of the court and observations made by the judge in giving judgment.
Provided that nothing in this part of this subsection shall be held to permit the publication of anything contrary to the provisions of paragraph (a) of this subsection.
(2) If any person acts in contravention of the provisions of this Act, he shall in respect of each offence be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding four months, or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both such imprisonment and fine:
Provided that no person, other than a proprietor, editor, master printer or publisher, shall be liable to be convicted under this Act.
(3) No prosecution for an offence under this Act shall be commenced in England and Wales by any person without the sanction of the Attorney-General.
(4) Nothing in this section shall apply to the printing of any pleading, transcript of evidence or other document for use in connection with any judicial proceedings or the communication thereof to persons concerned in the proceedings, or to the printing or publishing of any notice or report in pursuance of the directions of the court; or to the printing or publishing of any matter in any separate volume or part of any bone fide series of law reports which does not form part of any other publication and consists solely of reports of proceedings in courts of law, or in any publication of a technical character bona fide intended for circulation among members of the legal or medical professions.”
So, in normal language –

1. the Press can’t report anything arising from Court proceedings which might injure public morals (I’m not convinced that is routinely adhered to, thinking of the many sexual abuse celebrity crime reporting, or the level of detail that was published arising from evidence in murder trials – the murder of Lee Rigby springs to mind, and the Press have hardly been sparing in the Oscar Pistorius details)

2. The Press can’t report anything arising from the evidence given in divorce proceedings or PROBABLY ancillary relief proceedings (they can report things in broad summary, but not chapter and verse). And if they do, they can be prosecuted.

3. That does not stop the reporting of bona fide LAW REPORTS
The President explains how the 1926 Act developed. In effect, at around the same time as the law banned Obscene Publications the Press started publishing fairly routinely the juicy and salacious details from divorce cases to titillate and/or shock their audience.

8. Kate Summerscale, in her recent retelling in Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady (Bloomsbury, 2012) of the remarkable case of Robinson v Robinson and Lane (1859) 1 Sw & Tr 362, notes (at page 187) what one can only think of as the delicious irony that in the summer session of 1857 “Lord Palmerston’s government had pushed through the Matrimonial Causes Act, which established the Divorce Court, and the Obscene Publications Act, which made the sale of obscene material a statutory offence.” Both, she opines, had identified sexual behaviour as a cause of social disorder. But, she continues:
“A year on … they seemed to have come into conflict: police officers were seizing and destroying dirty stories under the Obscenity Act, while barristers and reporters were disseminating them under the Divorce Act. ‘The great law which regulates supply and demand seems to prevail in matters of public decency as well as in other things of commerce,’ noted the Saturday Review in 1859.” – The author, she suggests, was James Fitzjames Stephen, later Stephen J – “‘Block up one channel, and the stream will force another outlet; and so it is that the current dammed up in Holywell Street flings itself out in the Divorce Court.'”
9. Deborah Cohen, Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day (Viking, 2013), comments (at page 45), that:
“Born at the same moment, the Divorce Court and the mass-circulation press were made for each other. The Divorce Court got the publicity to humiliate moral reprobates. The newspapers got the fodder they needed to power a gigantic leap into the mass market.”
This state of affairs even led Queen Victoria to become involved, and she caused this letter to be written

“to ask the Lord Chancellor whether no steps can be taken to prevent the present publicity of the proceedings before the new Divorce Court. These cases, which must necessarily increase when the new law becomes more and more known, fill almost daily a large portion of the newspapers, and are of so scandalous a character that it makes it almost impossible for a paper to be trusted in the hands of a young lady or boy. None of the worst French novels from which careful parents would try to protect their children can be as bad as what is daily brought and laid upon the breakfast-table of every educated family in England, and its effect must be most pernicious to the public morals of the country.”

Obviously the comparison between lurid French novels and the details of divorce reports in the English newspapers was a popular one, because the metaphor was still going in 1922, when King George V caused this correspondence to be written

12. Despite all this, as Cretney records, every attempt to remedy matters by legislation failed until the notorious Russell divorce case (see Russell v Russell [1924] P 1, [1924] AC 687, and, for the eventual denouement, The Ampthill Peerage [1977] AC 547) was opened before Sir Henry Duke P and a jury on 8 July 1922. On the fourth day of the hearing, the King’s Private Secretary, Lord Stamfordham, wrote to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Birkenhead:
“… the King is disgusted at the publication of the gross, scandalous details of the Russell divorce case. His Majesty doubts whether there is any similar instance of so repulsive an exposure of those intimate relations between man and woman which hitherto through the recognition of the unwritten code of decency indeed of civilisation have been regarded as sacred and out of range of public eye or ear. The pages of the most extravagant French novel would hesitate to describe what has now been placed at the disposal of every boy or girl reader of the daily newspapers.”
So for all of our modern obsession that Prince Charles has been exercising influence behind the scenes and pulling strings, it is nothing new.
The King wasn’t done there, and had another try later on

14. The final catalyst seems to have been the newspaper reporting in March 1925 of Dennistoun v Dennistoun (1925) 69 Sol Jo 476. King George V returned to the point, Lord Stamfordham writing to the Lord Chancellor, now Lord Cave, in striking terms:
“The King feels sure that you will share his feelings of disgust and shame at the daily published discreditable and nauseating evidence in the Dennistoun case. His Majesty asks you whether it would not have been possible to prevent the case coming into Court, either by a refusal of the Judge to try it, or by the joint insistence of the respective Counsels to come to an arrangement, especially when, apparently, the question at issue was one of minor importance.
The King deplores the disastrous and far reaching effects throughout all classes and on all ranks of the Army of the wholesale press advertisement of this disgraceful story.”
And so the 1926 Act came about, to protect those delicate flowers that were serving in the British Army, and the vulnerable working classes from having to read such filth (the upper class could of course, afford to buy the most extravagant French novels, and get their filth that way)

 

 

[I began pondering just how juicy Dennistoun v Dennistoun was, the case that changed the law and remains law ninety years on, and which got a King so disgusted and ashamed that he wrote letters complaining about it. So I had a look  - the salacious details from the trial are all here

http://alminacarnarvon.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/lady-almina-scandal-the-dustbin-case-dennistoun-v-dennistoun/

 

after two pages, the strongest I found was that the wife had been having an affair, her paramour nicknamed Tiger, and he called her "Brown Mouse"   -  it rather pales in comparison to what we know Prince Charles said to Camilla when they were both married to other people]
The major decision about the 1926 Act, prior to this case was Moynihan v Moynihan 1997, which coincidentally, also dealt with an application by the Queen’s Proctor to set aside a decree of divorce obtained by fraud. Sir Stephen Brown P heard the case and considered that section 1 was mandatory and did not give the Court a discretion to waive it in certain cases.

24. To return to Moynihan v Moynihan, Sir Stephen continued as follows:
“The point is made by counsel for the Attorney-General that this is a statute which is mandatory in effect; it does contain a criminal sanction and therefore must be construed restrictively. No point arises, as I have already said, as to the merits of any reporting of details likely to be made public in the course of the evidence. It is merely a question as to how that will be achieved.
The matter is of importance because the representatives of the press and the media are entitled to be clear as to what their duties are and what restrictions apply to them, and I have a great deal of sympathy with their position. For that reason the question has been raised at the outset of these proceedings. However, it seems to me that the court simply cannot construe the statute in a way which is contrary to the language of the statute itself. I have to rule that the Judicial Proceedings (Regulation of Reports) Act 1926 does apply to these proceedings. The Attorney-General has through counsel indicated that he would not be very anxious to institute criminal proceedings if by some oversight there was a breach of the strict letter of the law. That is not a matter which is before me, but it seems to me that until or unless Parliament were to intervene the Act does apply in this instance.”
25. Sir Stephen concluded with these words, which I read out in the present case to the journalists present in court:
“However, having said that, it is quite plain that there would appear to be ample scope in the context of the subparagraphs of subpara (b) for clear and full details of the proceedings to be given, though not necessarily a line-by-line account of what a particular witness says at any particular time.”

26. Sir Stephen seems to have been unenthusiastic about the application of the 1926 Act to the proceedings before him but concluded that section 1(1)(b) did apply. With equal lack of enthusiasm I am driven to agree. The logic of the analysis propounded in turn by the Law Commission Report, by the LCD Review and, finally, by Sir Stephen is, in my judgment, irrefutable.
That would seem to be problematic  in authorising the reporting of a case where transparency would be in the wider public interest, such as here. If there has been fraud on an industrial scale about obtaining divorces, then the Press ought to be allowed to tell us about it. But there’s no judicial discretion to relax s1(1) (b) of the 1926 Act.

But our President wouldn’t be the President if he didn’t have a sharp mind, and if there’s someone who is going to find a way on transparency, it is going to be him.

Firstly, he suggests that Parliament need to look long and hard about the 1926 Act – in our modern era, we are hardly short of titillation and scandal and we really don’t need to be mollycoddled and protected from things that might shock us from divorce proceedings. And particularly when the hearing itself is in Open Court, it seems a nonsense to prohibit the Press reporting the case. The days when one needed to go to either the tabloids or Soho if you wanted a fix of smut are long gone.
27. Though driven to this conclusion by the words Parliament chose to use in 1926, and reiterated in 1973, I find it almost impossible to believe that this is an outcome intended by Parliament. No doubt it is some imperfection on my part, but I do not begin to understand how the protection of public morality and public decency, or indeed any other public interest, is facilitated by subjecting the reporting of proceedings in open court of the kind that Sir Stephen Brown P was hearing in Moynihan v Moynihan and that I am hearing in the present case to the restraint imposed by section 1(1)(b) of the 1926 Act. On the contrary, this restraint would seem to fly in the face of the “fundamental, constitutional rule” (Scarman LJ’s phrase in In re F (orse A) (A Minor) (Publication of Information) [1977] Fam 58, 93) previously articulated in Scott v Scott [1913] AC 417.
28. This is not, I venture to suggest, the only reason why Parliament might wish to consider with an appropriate degree of urgency whether the retention of the 1926 Act on the statute book is justified

But even in the absence of that, a way has been found. We can publish, we will publish, we must publish…

36. Pending any review of the 1926 Act by Parliament are there any legitimate means of avoiding the impact of section 1(1)(b)? The answer is clear: only as allowed by one or other of the express provisions of section 1(4).
37. For convenience I set out section 1(4) again, but inserting additional lettering and creating subparagraphs for ease of reference:
“Nothing in this section shall apply
(A) to the printing of any pleading, transcript of evidence or other document for use in connection with any judicial proceedings or the communication thereof to persons concerned in the proceedings, or
(B) to the printing or publishing of any notice or report in pursuance of the directions of the court; or
(C) to the printing or publishing of any matter
(i) in any separate volume or part of any bone fide series of law reports which does not form part of any other publication and consists solely of reports of proceedings in courts of law, or
(ii) in any publication of a technical character bona fide intended for circulation among members of the legal or medical professions.”
In the context of the present proceedings it is quite clear that neither (A) nor (C) can avail the media generally. But what of (B)?
38. This is not something which Sir Stephen Brown P considered in Moynihan v Moynihan. As I have already noted, he made no reference at all to section 1(4). Indeed, so far as I am aware, there has never been any consideration of the point.
39. The language of (B) is quite general. It excludes from the ambit of the 1926 Act the printing or publishing of “any notice or report in pursuance of the directions of the court”. Although I agree with Sir Stephen that section 1(1) is mandatory and confers no discretion, section 1(1)(b)(iv) plainly leaves the judge free to include in or exclude from his judgment whatever material he thinks fit. In that sense the judge has a discretion – and, in my judgment, a discretion which is fettered only by the dictates of the judicial conscience. As the Law Commission Report put it (para 17):
“The prohibition on publishing the evidence in divorce and similar cases, though it protects the public from being titillated by morning and evening accounts of the salacious details brought out in evidence, does not prevent it from learning those details in due course if the judge thinks it necessary or desirable to review the evidence in full in his judgment or summing up.”

40. So too, limb (B) of section 1(4) confers a similarly unfettered discretion enabling the judge to give “directions” in relation to any “notice or report”. The word “directions” is quite general; it is neither defined nor circumscribed. In my judgment it embraces any direction of the court, whether a direction that something is to be published or a direction that something may be published. Likewise, the other words are quite general; they are neither defined nor circumscribed. Although the word “report” will no doubt include such things as a medical or other expert report to the court, whose publication the judge then authorises, I see nothing in the 1926 Act to limit it to such documents. In my judgment, the word “report” is apt to include a report of the proceedings.
It follows, that limb (B) of section 1(4) recognises a discretion in the judge to make a direction authorising the publication by the media of a report of the whole of the proceedings, as opposed to the concise statement, allowed by section 1(1)(b)(ii), of the charges, defences and countercharges in support of which evidence has been given
So, having devised a judicial discretion, with some creative thought, to allow a Judge to authorise the publication by the media of a report of the whole of the proceedings, is the President going to exercise this discretion in this case? (If you think that the answer is “No”, then I would like to talk to you about a bridge you might be interested in buying)

42. Should I exercise that discretion? In the circumstances of the present case there can, as it seems to me, be only one answer. Publication by the media of a report of the proceedings before me does not, given the nature of the proceedings, engage the mischief at which the 1926 Act is directed. On the contrary there is, in my judgment, every reason why the media should be free to report the proceedings – proceedings which, to repeat, were conducted in open court and related to what, as I have said, was a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice on an almost industrial scale.
43. I shall, therefore, make a direction that there be liberty to the media and others to publish whatever report of the proceedings which took place before me on 9 and 10 April 2014 they may think fit. I make clear that this direction is, and is to be treated as, a direction within the meaning of limb (B) of section 1(4) of the 1926 Act.

44. On the assumption that the 1926 Act perhaps applies to ancillary relief (financial remedy) proceedings, judges may in future wish to consider whether to exercise discretion in such cases under section 1(4).
We should, therefore, get chapter and verse on this whole story from the Press soon. I am a bit miffed that they get to know, in breach of a ninety year old act, whereas I, as a member of the legal profession who could legitimately get to know all the details by way of a published law report am in the dark, but such is life.

 

journalist’s right to private and family life with her source

A very interesting decision by the President sitting in the Court of Protection in Re G (an adult) 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/1361.html

 

This is the 3rd judgment in relation to this 94 year old woman in the last two months. I’m going to try here, not to get too far into the controversy (I’m sure the comments will descend into that, but let’s TRY to focus on the principles and issues in THIS judgment)

THIS judgment relates to the application by the Daily Mail news group (ALN) to be joined as a party to the Court of Protection proceedings, to have an input into the questions to be posed to the expert, and ultimately to have the chance to cross-examine everyone. That’s a unique application, and the reasoning behind the decision is therefore interesting.

We do need SOME historical context though, so we need to know that the decisions being made by the Court of Protection are controversial, that G is 95 and that C her live-in carer is very actively campaigning about the controversial decisions and unfairness, part of that campaign includes involving the Press (the ubiquituous Mr Booker, and this time Ms Reid of the  Mail on Sunday). G has talked to those journalists, and at times been very keen to tell her story, at other times it is said that she finds the press involvement intrusive.  The Press want to report on the injustice that G and C may have suffered, and want to report as much as possible. In the second judgment, Cobb J ruled that there were doubts about G’s capacity to talk to the Press and that there needed to be an assessment of that and in effect a cease-fire on the Press talking to G until it could be established whether she (a) had capacity to do that and (b) if not, would it be in her best interests to do so.

 

If you want to skip to the chorus, it is HEARING THREE heading

 

Hearing one

The first judgment, 26th February 2014   was decided by Russell J.  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/485.html

That case was brought by the Local Authority, who had become concerned about the influence that C (the carer) was having over G, and particularly that G was being influenced to change her will to the benefit of C.  (These allegations are all disputed by G)

This is the judge’s summary

 

  • In this case the local authority were under a duty to investigate the circumstances of an old and frail lady following reports regarding the behaviour of C and F and their influence over G, her home and her financial affairs and with respect to her personal safety from multiple sources including private citizens and professionals, from agencies providing care support and from a lawyer engaged by C to act for G (to change her will in C’s favour). The complaints came from G too; although she would later retract them. The obstruction met by the social worker when she tried to carry out her duties led to the attendance of the police more than once.

 

 

 

  • The local authority had no alternative but to visit on numerous occasions and to attempt to see G on her own. Anything else would have been a dereliction of their duty to her as a vulnerable person about whom they had received complaints about possible financial predation. Local authority staff must be permitted to carry out their duty to investigate reports relating to safeguarding unhindered.

 

 

 

  • The court has decided for reasons set out in full below that G lacks capacity under the provisions of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and that further investigation needs to be carried out to decide how her best interests will be met and her comfort and safety assured. Her wishes and feelings will be taken into account at every stage as will her desire to remain in her own home. It is the court’s intention that every measure that can be put in place to secure her in her own home is put place. There is an equal need to ensure that she is not overborne or bullied and that she can lead her life as she wants it led.

 

 

 

  • All the expert evidence put before the court was of the opinion that G was a vulnerable person who lacked the capacity to conduct this litigation and to decide on her financial affairs and the disposition of her property without the assistance of an independent professional appointed by the court. There was disagreement as to the reason for the lack of capacity; the court decided, on the balance of probabilities, that it was due to a impairment of G’s mind or brain.

 

 

That judgment made reference to the press reporting of the case to that point, and that the press were present in Court

 

At the outset of the hearing it was drawn to my attention that there had been a very short article on Sunday in the press which, thankfully, did not name G. I have held these proceedings in open court but have restricted the publication of the names of the parties, and at this stage, of the local authority and the expert witnesses. This will be subject to review. I have done so to protect the privacy of G who is old, frail and vulnerable. She has repeatedly told me she wants no further intrusion in her life. The purpose of this order is to protect her privacy and to protect her from intrusion. As the case was heard in open court I have to make an order restricting publication of identification of G and the other parties to put that protection in place. Members of the public and the media were present in court through out the hearing.

 

G had a degree of dementia. She was assessed by an Independent Social Worker  (underlining mine)

 

 

  • Mr Gillman-Smith, the independent social worker (ISW) was instructed to carry out an assessment of capacity and the nature of any lack of capacity such as by undue influence. Mr Gillman-Smith was asked to prepare a report in which he was to ascertain the true wishes and feelings of G in respect of her care arrangements; her living arrangements and her property and affairs. He was asked to consider nine questions the last being whether any lack of capacity was due to G not meeting the criteria of the MCA or because of undue influence. Orders had been made prior to his instruction that C and AF leave the property and allow the assessments to be carried out.

 

 

 

  • On this occasion G had an advocate present in the person of D (D attended these proceedings and sat in court) who left and allowed Mr Gillman-Smith to interview G alone. G had difficulties in remembering her relatives; she could not remember the name or her relationship to her relative in the Netherlands. She was quite forthcoming about C and F describing C as bossy and herself as like the fly in the spider’s web, “and the spider eats you up.” C she indicated to be the spider.

 

 

 

  • G was at best ambivalent about C; as she said “she works well” but that she threatened to walk out and then F would look after her if G did not do what C was asking; she does house work “but what is in her mind?” G described her as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. She also said this of church members. C would not let her sleep during the day; she said C physically shakes her sometimes; dresses her and then undresses her replacing her clothes with the same ones. She said she was rough with her; She repeated that she was shaken and like the fly in the spider’s web. She repeated the belief that the court proceedings had been brought by H.

 

 

There was also an expert, Dr Lowenstein, who reported.  Again, underlining mine for emphasis

 

 

  • The evidence of Dr Lowenstein was undermined by his having no instructions; he said in his oral evidence that he deduced them from what was said to him by C. G herself was brought to see him in his place of work by C. How his report came into being is a matter of concern, it appears to have been instigated by C, who paid for it; where she got the funds to pay for it is not known. C was given Dr Lowenstein’s name by a third party active in family rights campaigns.

 

 

 

  • When Dr Lowenstein saw G she was over two hours late and had been travelling for some time, he then interviewed her in the presence of C for some 3 hours. Dr Lowenstein had no knowledge of the background to the case at all except that there were court proceedings and that C and G were saying she, G, did not lack capacity. He was introduced to C as G’s niece. When he discovered during his evidence that this was not the case and their relationship was not lengthy he was very surprised. Dr Lowenstein took no notes of what was said to him by C prior to his interviewing G and preparing his report and he could not remember what was said. He said that he fashioned his instructions from those given to Dr Barker and set out in his report.

 

 

 

  • His evidence was further undermined when it became clear that he had not, as he said, read and assimilated the documents disclosed to him by C (without leave of the court ) namely the social worker’s statement, the report of the ISW and Dr Barker’s report for, had he done so, he could not have failed to pick up that G, C and F are unrelated and have known each other for a relatively short time. He would have been better aware of the extent of the concerns about C’s influence and control over G. As it was, he accepted that it would have been better for him to interview G on her own, without anyone being present. This is a matter of good practice, a point that Dr Lowenstein accepted, conceding that it was all the more necessary when he realised that the close family relationship as it had been presented to him was false.

 

 

 

  • Dr Lowenstein brought with him some of the results of tests he carried out with G; tests which indicated some low results indicating a lack of ability to think in abstraction and decision making. He did not accept the need to think in abstraction to reach decisions but did accept that in order to make decisions one had to retain information and that there was evidence that G was not able to do so. I do not accept this evidence it is part of the essence of reaching complex decisions that one is able to think in the abstract.

 

 

 

  • Dr Lowenstein lacked the requisite experience and expertise to make the assessment of capacity in an old person as he has had minimal experience in working with the elderly, has had no training in applying the provisions of the MCA and very little experience in its forensic application, this being his second case. He is a very experienced psychologist in the field of young people, adolescents and children but has no expertise in the elderly. In the tests results he showed the court G consistently had very low scores but he frequently repeated that G was “good for a person of 94″; any tests in respect of capacity are not modified by age and must be objective. If, as appeared to be the case, he felt sympathy for her and did not wish to say that she lacked capacity that is understandable but it is not the rigorous or analytical approach required of the expert witness. When questioned about capacity he seemed to confuse the capacity to express oneself, particularly as to likes and dislikes, with the capacity to make decisions.

 

[The Court of course, did not HAVE to consider Dr Lowenstein's evidence at all, since it had been obtained without leave of the Court, but they did so]

 

Russell J’s conclusions on G’s capacity were these

 

  • In respect of financial matters there is evidence that G is unaware of her financial situation, of her income and expenditure. While there is good reason to believe from what she herself has told others, that this information is being kept from her and that she is fearful of C should she try to regain control, there is also evidence that she has difficulties in retaining information and formulating decisions as described by Dr Barker [46]. Both he and Mr Gillman-Smith considered the influence and controlling behaviour of C and F to make decision making even more difficult for G; it is obvious to this court from what she has said that she is at times almost paralysed by the threats regarding her removal to a care-home or to have F take over her personal and intimate care.

 

 

 

  • The impairment of G’s brain has affected her ability to retain information relevant to the decisions she has to make, as described by Dr Barker. She has difficulty in understanding the necessary information and to use and weigh the information. G could not remember the details of her will, and did not know the name of the advocate present when she saw Dr Barker or why he was there, despite having told Dr Barker his name the previous week. G referred to C and F as H and R (the previous carers) and expressed paranoid ideas about social services and previous friends from the church saying they were after what they could get from her.

 

 

 

  • There is evidence that G understands some of the information relevant to decision making, for example she well understands that she is frail and needs assistance with her personal care and house-work to be able to remain in her home and that C provides that care. At the same time G is either unaware of or unable to remember details of C’s and F’s backgrounds; she could not, for example, say how old they were. She also understands that C and F have taken control of her finances and has complained about being shouted at and physically shaken but she is unable to use the information to make a decision about her own welfare and care and allows them to remain in her home. This information about C and F living with her or not is relevant for the purposes of s3 (4) as it includes the reasonably foreseeable consequences of deciding one way or another or failing to make the decision. The decision as to contact with others and whether or not she should see other people falls into this same category. She does not foresee that to allow visitors would have benefits including oversight of her care and treatment at the hands of others. I accept that the influence and controlling behaviour of C and F described by the witnesses and in the documentary evidence before the court will have further compromised the ability of G to make decisions and understand what is happening to her.

 

 

 

  • I have found, on the balance of probabilities, that G lacks capacity under sections 2 and 3 of the MCA 2005 and accordingly this case falls under the jurisdiction of the Court of Protection. I do not consider it necessary to rule on any application under the inherent jurisdiction.

 

 

A request was made for an order that C not exercise any of her powers under the Lasting Power of Attorney to manage G’s affairs and finances, and the Court agreed with this.

 

[Everything that the Judge decided is very hotly contested by those lobbying on C's behalf, and indeed the journalists who have spoken to G, but the judgment was not appealed]

 

Hearing two

 

This was before Cobb J on 26th March 2014   http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/959.html

 

This hearing was particularly about whether G had the capacity to give interviews to journalists or be interviewed with a view to stories being reported.  G remained living in her own home, with C as her carer (the only real change from the previous hearing was that C was no longer in a position to manage G’s finances)

Cobb J begins by remarking that members of the Press are present and that they are welcomed. He does pass comment on the reporting of the Russell J decision

 

  • I should like to emphasise that I recognise that access to the press and freedom of parties to litigation to communicate with the press engages powerfully the competing rights under Article 8 and Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. There is, in my judgment, a legitimate public interest in the reporting of proceedings in the Court of Protection concerning our vulnerable, elderly and incapacitous. There is a separate legitimate public interest in the court protecting the vulnerable, elderly, and the incapacitous from public invasion into their lives. These are, in stark terms, the competing considerations at play.

 

 

 

 

  • Of note, but not specifically influential in my decision-making today, is the fact that some of the press reporting of these proceedings thus far, as is apparent from the three reports which I have read, does not provide a balanced account of this case, nor does it faithfully or accurately, in my judgment, reflect the substance of Russell J’s judgment or the evidence heard by the court. That is highly regrettable.

 

Cobb J felt that the issue of whether G had capacity, and if not, whether it was in her best interests to talk to the Press required some specialised assessment and evidence

 

  • Having heard these submissions, I invited all counsel to consider whether the first question which I should in fact be considering in this case on these issues is whether G has capacity to communicate directly with the press now. Given the press interest (it is, after all, here both in the form of a court reporter and as an interested party, represented) the sooner there is a capacity assessment available on that issue the better. After an adjournment for parties to take instructions, the London Borough of Redbridge indicated that it accepted this approach and refined its position to seeking an adjournment of today’s application in order to commission a further issue-specific capacity assessment by Dr. Barker. It was said that this could be completed within two weeks; it proposed that the matter should then be relisted for consideration. It invited me to make interim orders, as holding orders, in the meantime.

 

 

 

 

  • This approach was supported by the Official Solicitor in all respects.

 

 

 

 

  • Those orders were opposed by C, who asserted that there was no proper basis on which I could or should go down this route. F associated himself on this issue (as on all issues) with C.

 

 

 

 

  • It is self-evident that the question of G’s capacity to engage with members of the press (with a view to sharing her story publicly) has to be assessed properly and expertly before the court could reach any informed view as to whether it is in G’s best interests that she should in fact do so. In those circumstances, I propose to accede to the application to adjourn the Local Authority’s application for substantive relief in this respect, and shall re-list this application on the first available date, which is 2nd May 2014, before Russell J. I shall give the Local Authority leave to instruct Dr. Barker to undertake the capacity assessment specifically directed to the question of whether or not G has the capacity to communicate, and engage, with members of the press, with all the implications of so doing.

 

 

 Having made the decision to get expert evidence from Dr Barker on those issues, the only issue remaining was what should happen in the interim – should the Press be talking to G, or should those legitimate journalistic desires to get the story be put on hold until the Court could decide whether G had capacity to make that decision for herself?

 

  • I have “reason to believe” that G does indeed lack the capacity in relation to decisions concerning communications with the press.

 

 

 

 

  • There is no doubt that in relation to section 48(b) the question of her discussions or communications with the press is indeed a matter (perhaps unprecedented) on which the Court of Protection can be invited to exercise its powers under the 2005 Act.

 

 

 

 

  • As to section 48(c), I have to do my best to weigh up on the evidence available to me whether it is in G’s best interests that I should make such an order.

 

 

 

 

  • On the one hand, there is evidence before the court that G indeed wishes to communicate with the press. That evidence is provided not only by G herself, but also by Ms Reid, a journalist who has now met with G on one occasion at her home. Furthermore, in a discussion with Miss Moore, G is reported to have said that she was “happy” that the article written by Ms Reid had indeed been written: “… it let them know what they do to the elderly“.

 

 

 

 

  • Of course, at present the press is circumscribed in what they can report of what G says about the proceedings. In my judgment there is indeed a powerful case for permitting G to communicate with the press at will, the court being reassured (pending the specific capacity assessment) that at present there are justified limits on what the press can report of this process and of matters germane to G’s private and family life.

 

 

 

 

  • On the other hand, it is clear from the attendance notes helpfully provided by Miss Moore that at other times G has expressed less than positive views about the involvement of the press in her life. She has said: “The newspaper trying to say I am crazy when I am not crazy…” She has gone on to say, when asked about the article in the Daily Mail: “I don’t know how happy I would be about that. I don’t want anybody from the press. They put what they like. They put in details that are not correct.” She also told me that she valued her privacy.

 

 

 

 

  • There is evidence, but I make no finding about it, that G is being used as the instrument of others to pursue publicity in relation to her particular situation, and that she is not exercising her free-will at all. I specifically reference the fact that she has, in discussions with Miss Moore, graphically described herself as the fly “in the spider’s web … the fly cannot get out of the spider’s web“. She has confirmed elsewhere and to others that C is “the spider“.

 

 

 

 

  • There is a concern that while Ms Reid has indicated to me that she has made but one visit to G’s home, others may have visited or repeatedly phoned G. G told Miss Moore, on her most recent visit yesterday:

 

 

 

She said reporters are always at her home or phoning her“.

 

That said, she added:

 

She said she wants people to know what is happening to her and that it has gone all around the world already.

 

And

 

I asked her if she remembered the name of anyone she had spoken to. She said she did not.

 

  • I bear in mind, when considering G’s best interests in this regard, that there is now clearly signalled a likely application by Associated Newspapers to relax the Reporting Restriction Order. The press will argue for a wider ability to report on G and her situation.

 

 

 

 

  • It seems to me that, weighing these matters one against the other, it is not in G’s best interests for her to be able or permitted to communicate with the press at this stage; she has expressed at least ambivalent feelings, it appears, about the engagement of the media. I am further concerned that any private information which G vouchsafes to a journalist at this stage may, of course, be exposed to more public examination in the event that the Reporting Restriction Order is subsequently varied or discharged. Until the court can take a clearer view about G’s capacity to make such relationships with the press it is, in my judgment, clearly in G’s best interests that I should make an interim order that she should not make such communications. It follows that the injunctive order sought by the London Borough of Redbridge, shall be granted (in paragraph 3 of the draft order as earlier recited) until 2nd May.

 

 

  • I shall require Dr. Barker carefully, as he has in the past, to perform the functionality test in relation to this difficult question, inviting him to consider the implications for G’s decision-making, on the basis alternatively that (a) the Reporting Restriction Order remains in place, and/or (b) the Reporting Restriction Order is varied or discharged. Plainly, G is provided with not insubstantial protection from invasion into her private and family life for as long as the Reporting Restriction Order is in place. But that protection may be dismantled if the court, undertaking the competing Article 8 and 10 review, reaches the conclusion that the Reporting Restriction Order cannot or should not stand in its present form

 

 

 

Readers may also be interested in the paragraphs dealing with C taking G to protest at Parliament.

The other issue was that C was resistant to social workers visiting G

 

  • I am satisfied on what I have read that it is indeed necessary for G to be monitored as to her welfare in her home at present. I wish to make clear that there is no evidence whatsoever but that the home is well-maintained, comfortable, and that G has adequate food and nutrition. But, as I have indicated in my judgment (and as is clear from the judgment of Russell J), there is considerable scope for the view that C, and to a lesser extent F, are not just failing to meet G’s needs but are actually abusing her within her home. C and F, it should be noted, strenuously deny this. Monitoring in those circumstances in the interim period is, in my judgment, vital. I do not believe that the neighbourhood team proposed by Ms Hewson would adequately or appropriately discharge the function of monitoring as I envisage it should be delivered. I was advised that the neighbourhood team:

 

 

 

were not in a position to act as a substitute for Social Services … she” [that is a representative PCSO from the Redbridge Neighbourhood Team] “…did not think they had the resources to commit to twice-weekly visits … the Neighbourhood Team did not want to get drawn into court proceedings but would agree to resume visits to [G's home] on an ad hoc basis … the team could not commit to a weekly visit but would ‘pop in every so often and have a chat with G for ten minutes’.”

 

 

  • For those reasons it is self-evident that the Neighbourhood Team could not discharge the responsibility which I regard as important in order to safeguard G’s welfare within the home.

 

 

 

 

  • I therefore propose to accede to the application of this Local Authority which will require C and F to facilitate visits by the London Borough of Redbridge social workers, going forward.

 

 

Again, this is all hotly contested, but the judgment has not been appealed

 

Hearing Three

 

This one was before the President, on 1st May 2014  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/1361.html

Apologies in advance, some of this is going to have to get technical.

There were two issues raised

1. Was Ms Reid, journalist for the  Mail on Sunday, in any trouble?  And latterly, did she have an article 8 right to private and family life that allowed her to visit G and have a say in her life?

 

2. Should Associated Newspapers Limited ( the Mail) be joined as a party to the proceedings, as per their application, and could they have an input into the questions to be put to Dr Barker following Cobb J’s judgment above?

 

The first is thankfully pretty short. Cobb J of course said that until the next hearing when Dr Barker’s report was available, journalists should not interview G, that it was not in G’s interests to talk to the Press and that “until further order C be forbidden, whether by herself or instructing or encouraging others, from taking G or involving G in any public protests, demonstrations or meeting with the press relating to any aspect of these proceedings … “

What happened, allegedly, after that judgment was given, was that Sue Reid from the Daily Mail spoke with G and in effect said that she was not allowed to interview her anymore, but would visit her as a friend. (I say alleged, because of course the Court has not made any findings or heard any evidence, and this assertion might be complete nonsense. One has to be fair.  All I can see is that from THIS judgment, the President does not say that the allegation is denied. It could well have been, but it just did not get recorded in the judgment. So it is an allegation only.

 

  • On 2 April 2014, solicitors acting for the Official Solicitor wrote a letter to ANL which, after referring to Cobb J’s judgment, continued as follows:

 

 

“After the hearing Ms Reid was heard outside court telling G that as the judge had stopped Ms Reid contacting her, Ms Reid would have to make social visits to G instead. Clearly this would be completely inappropriate in view of the judgment of Cobb J. The court heard that Ms Reid has only met with G at her home on one occasion and we assume that this was for the purpose of publishing her article dated 20 February 2014. We are not sure why Ms Reid would seek to make social visits to G

We write to clarify that Ms Reid will not seek to circumvent the Order of Cobb J by making social visits to G. Please respond urgently confirming that Ms Reid will not attempt to visit G before this matter returns to Court on 2 May 2014.”

ANL replied on 3 April 2014. Its response prompted the Official Solicitor’s solicitors to write again on 8 April 2014:

“We write further to your letter dated 3 April 2014. The Official Solicitor remains concerned about your client’s proposed actions and note that you have not provided an assurance that Miss Reid will not seek to visit G before the matter is again before the Court on 2 May 2014. We refer you specifically to paragraph 40 of the Judgment of Mr Justice Cobb dated 26 March 2014.

We enclose a sealed copy of the Order of Mr Justice Cobb dated 26 March 2014. In view of this please can you confirm whether your client has made any social visits to G since the hearing on 26 March 2014 and whether she intends to make any visits in the future?”

In the interests of fairness, I shall report that whether those allegations were true or not did not trouble the President, since even if they were true, he didn’t think they raised any concern that should worry the Court.

  • As I remarked during the hearing, I do not understand the basis upon which these letters were written. The complaints they contain are made by reference to Cobb J’s judgment. But nothing that Ms Reid was alleged to have done amounted to a breach of anything contained in Cobb J’s order. If the basis of complaint was that Ms Reid’s conduct was somehow rendered improper by the terms of the declarations which Cobb J had made, there is in law no foundation for any such contention: see A v A Health Authority, In re J (A Child), R (S) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2002] EWHC 18 (Fam/Admin), [2002] Fam 213, paras 118-122. The frailty of the argument, whatever it be, is demonstrated by the revealing use of such phrases as “completely inappropriate” and “seek to circumvent”. The approach set out in the letters is somewhat reminiscent of the approach on which I had occasion to comment in E (by her litigation friend the Official Solicitor) v Channel Four; News International Ltd and St Helens Borough Council [2005] EWHC 1144 (Fam), [2005] 2 FLR 913, paras 115-120.

 

So there you go, whether Ms Reid had said this or not, it would have been fine if she had said it, and it would have been fine if she had in fact gone to visit G as a friend.  [I might myself have had a different view as to the true purpose of those visits, but what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander - the Judge has said it, nobody has appealed it, so the issue is settled]

 

On the secondary issue, whether Ms Reid had article 8 rights in relation to G

I deal finally with the separate argument based on Ms Reid’s asserted Article 8 rights. There are, in my judgment, two short answers to this. In the first place, there is no application by Ms Reid; the application is by ANL. Secondly, and more fundamentally, for reasons I have already explained, it makes no difference whether the argument is put on the basis of Article 10 or Article 8. Neither provides any foundation for the grant of relief of the kind being sought by Mr Wolanski.

 

[In a case that is already peppered with D and G, and F and H, the Judge explained all of the article 8 issues by use of X andY, which makes it hard going. In effect what he says is that G can have an article 8 right that she wants to spend time with Sue Reid, but if G doesn't want to spend time with Sue Reid (or lacks capacity and the Court have to rule on her best interests) then Sue Reid doesn't have an article 8 right to access to G. It is more complex than that, I've reduced it to a manageable form because there are real people reading this blog]

 

The big stuff then – should ANL be made a party?  Having already dragged X and Y into the alphabet soup, we broaden out by introducing here S (the subject – here G) and J (the journalist, here Sue Reid).

  • Where no relief going beyond the existing reporting restriction order is being sought against ANL, the issues are quite different. There is, for example, no application for any order restraining ANL from publishing any information it has already received from either G or her carers. Nor, despite some of the rhetoric deployed by ANL, is there anything in Cobb J’s order or in the relief now being sought by the local authority which bears upon ANL’s freedom to report any court proceedings. From ANL’s perspective, leaving the existing reporting restriction order on one side, this is, as Mr Millar correctly submits, not an ‘imparting’ case, it is at best a ‘receiving’ case. And, as he goes on to submit, the problem which therefore stands in ANL’s way is the Leander principle.

 

 

 

  • The starting point is that if S, as a competent adult, declines to disclose information to J – if S, as it were, shuts the door in J’s face – then that is that. S is deciding not to allow J into S’s ‘inner circle’. S’s right to be left alone by the media, if that is what S wishes, is a right which, as I have already explained, is protected by Article 8 (see Re Roddy) and it trumps any rights J may have, whether under Article 8 or Article 10. J cannot demand that S talks to him and, as Leander shows, J’s reliance on Article 10 will avail him nothing. From this it must follow that S’s refusal to talk to or impart information to J cannot give rise to any justiciable issue as between J and S.

 

  • But what if, as here, S – in the present case, G – arguably lacks capacity? At this point I can usefully go to the analysis in E (by her litigation friend the Official Solicitor) v Channel Four; News International Ltd and St Helens Borough Council [2005] EWHC 1144 (Fam), [2005] 2 FLR 913, paras 57-59.

 

 

 

  • In that case, the Official Solicitor, as Pamela’s (E’s) litigation friend, sought an injunction to restrain the broadcasting of a film featuring Pamela which Pamela wished to be broadcast. I summarised the proper approach as follows (para 59):

 

 

“in a case such as this there are in principle three questions which have to be considered:

(i) Does Pamela lack capacity? If yes, then

(ii) Is it in Pamela’s best interests that the film not be broadcast? If yes, then

(iii) Do Pamela’s interests under Art 8, and the public interest in the protection of the privacy of the vulnerable and incapable, outweigh the private and public interests in freedom of expression under Art 10.”

 

  • The first question for the court goes to capacity. There are two reasons for this: first, because the Court of Protection has jurisdiction only in relation to those who lack capacity; second, and more fundamental, because if S does have capacity then the decision as to whether or not to impart information to J (or, if the information has already been imparted by S to J, the decision by S as to whether or not to bring proceedings against J) is exclusively a matter for S.

 

 

 

  • Assuming that S lacks capacity the next question for the court is whether or not it is in S’s best interests to impart the information to J (or, if that has already happened, whether or not S’s best interests require that an injunction is granted against J). This is because best interests is the test by which the Court of Protection or, as in E, the High Court exercising its inherent jurisdiction, takes on behalf of S the decision which, lacking capacity, S is unable to take himself.

 

 

 

  • Pausing at this point in the analysis, and for essentially the same reasons as in relation to Article 8, it follows in my judgment that the identification by the Court of Protection of S’s best interests does not give rise to any justiciable issue as between J and S. Nor is there any justiciable issue as between J and S in relation to the question of S’s capacity.

 

 

 

  • As Mr Millar puts it, and I agree, the reason for this is simple: before J’s right to receive information from S arises, S must, to use the language of Leander, “wish or be willing” to impart the information to J. Where S lacks capacity, what the court is doing when deciding whether or not it is in S’s best interests for the information to be imparted to J (or, if already imparted to J, whether or not it is in S’s best interests for it to be imparted by J to others), is doing what, if S had capacity, S would be doing in deciding whether or not to impart the information to J (or, as the case may be, in deciding whether or not to seek an injunction to restrain J imparting it to others). As Mr Millar points out, J would have no right or interest in relation to such a decision by S, if S had capacity. Why, he asks rhetorically, should it make any difference that, because S lacks capacity, the very same decision is being taken on behalf of S by the court. I agree. Nor can J have any right or interest in the prior decision by the court as to whether or not S lacks capacity. Ms Burnham characterises the capacity issue as a “gateway” to giving effect to what she says is J’s right to receive information from S if she were willing to impart it. So it may be, but the argument breaks down, both on the Leander point and because it overlooks the true nature of what is happening when the court decides on behalf of S where S’s best interests lie.

 

 

 

  • Of course, the court’s best interests decision in relation to S is not necessarily determinative. If the court decides that it in S’s best interests for information to be imparted to J (or, if that has already happened, that S’s best interests do not require the grant of an injunction) then that is the end of the matter. There is no conflict between S’s best interests and J’s rights. If, however, there is a conflict between S’s best interests as determined by the court and J’s rights as protected by Article 10, the court moves on to the third and final stage of the inquiry. But at this stage S’s best interests are not determinative. There is a balancing exercise. The court is no longer exercising its protective jurisdiction in relation to S but rather its ordinary jurisdiction under the Convention as between claimant and defendant. Accordingly it has to balance the competing interests: S’s interest under Article 8 (as ascertained by the court), and therefore her right under Article 8 to keep her private life private, and J’s rights under Article 10. And at this stage, if relief is being sought against J (or against the world at large), J’s Article 10 rights are directly implicated. So J will be entitled to be heard in opposition to the order being sought.

 

 

 

[That's very considered and dense stuff - basically the Judge is saying that people get party status to litigate if there is a conflict between them and the other parties that gives right to an argument that the Court has power to resolve and needs to resolve. There isn't that here.  ANL have legitimate interest in any application for Reporting Restriction Order or injunctions against them or their staff, but they don't have a legitimate interest in the argument between G, C and the Local Authority.  They might be interested IN IT, but that's not the same thing]

 

  • ANL’s first application is to be joined as a party. Mr Millar and Ms Davidson submit that the application is misconceived. I agree.

 

 

 

  • In the first place, and as I have already explained, the relief being sought by the local authority gives rise to no justiciable issue as between ANL and G, or between ANL and anyone else. So there is no reason for ANL to be joined.

 

 

 

  • Secondly, and following on from this, ANL cannot bring itself within either CoPR 2007 rule 75(1), upon which Mr Wolanski relies, or within rule 73(2). Rule 73(2) permits the court to order a person to be joined as a party “if it considers that it is desirable to do so for the purposes of dealing with the application”, and rule 75(1) permits “any person with a sufficient interest [to] apply to the court to be joined as a party to the proceedings.” Mr Wolanski’s application was put forward on the footing that ANL has a “sufficient interest” within the meaning of rule 75(1). In my judgment it does not.

 

 

 

  • The meaning of these provisions was considered by Bodey J in Re SK (By his Litigation Friend, the Official Solicitor) [2012] EWHC 1990 (COP), [2012] COPLR 712, paras 41-43, a case relied upon by Ms Davidson, in a passage that requires to be read in full. For present purposes I need refer only to Bodey J’s statement (para 41) that “sufficient interest” in rule 75(1) “should be interpreted to mean “a sufficient interest in the proceedings” as distinct from some commercial interest of the applicant’s own” and that “an applicant for joinder who or which does not have an interest in the ascertainment of the incapacitated person’s best interests is unlikely to be a “person with sufficient interest””, that (para 42) the “clear import” of the wording of rule 73(2) is that “the joinder of such an applicant would be to enable the court better to deal with the substantive application”, and that (para 43) the word “desirable” “necessarily imports a judicial discretion as regards balancing the pros and cons of the particular joinder sought in the particular circumstances of the case.” I respectfully agree with that approach. In my judgment, ANL does not, in the relevant sense, have a “sufficient interest”. Nor is its joinder “desirable.”

 

 

 

  • Finally, even if ANL’s rights under Article 10 were to be engaged (as they plainly are in relation to the reporting restriction order), that would not give ANL a “sufficient interest” in the proceedings, as distinct from the discrete application within the proceedings, nor would it make it “desirable” to join ANL as a party to the proceedings. On the contrary, it would be highly undesirable for ANL to be joined, because as a party it would be entitled to access to all the documents in the proceedings unless some good reason could be shown why it should not, and the grounds for restricting a party’s access to the documents are very narrowly circumscribed: see RC v CC and another [2014] EWHC 131 (COP). Nor, as I have pointed out, would there be any need for ANL to be joined as a party. It would, as Mr Millar concedes, be entitled to be heard as an intervener.

 

 

 

  • I should add that this is an area of the law where there has been, initially in the Family Division and more recently also in the Court of Protection, very extensive forensic activity involving the media for at least the last twenty-five years. I am not aware of any case, nor were either Mr Millar or Mr Wolanski with their very great experience of such matters able to point me to any case, where a journalist or media organisation has been joined as a party to the proceedings, as distinct from being permitted to intervene. This is surely suggestive of a well-founded assumption that joinder is as unnecessary for the protection of the media as it is undesirable from the point of view of the child or incapacitated adult whose welfare is being considered by the court.

 

 

 

  • In the light of my decision in relation to ANL’s first application, its two other applications fall away. In the first place, if it is not to be joined as a party, what is the basis of its claim either to see Dr Barker’s full report or to ask him questions? There is none. Moreover, and as I have explained, Dr Barker’s report does not go to any justiciable issue as between ANL and G, or between ANL and anyone else. If some relief is sought against ANL, then the application will have to be assessed on its merits, having regard to whatever evidence is relied upon, whether in support of or in opposition to the application. That is the point at which ANL’s Article 10 rights are engaged. And at that point ANL will be able to contest the application, whether by challenging the evidence relied on by the applicant or by adducing its own evidence.

 

 

 

  • I should add this, in relation to the insinuation by ANL that it should be joined as a party or allowed to intervene in relation to the issues of G’s capacity and best interests because otherwise relevant arguments may not be adequately put before the court. There is no basis for this. Quite apart from the rejection by those to whom this comment appears to be directed of any factual foundation for what is being said, this cannot be a ground for being allowed to participate in the proceedings. Either ANL has some basis for being joined as a party or it does not. If it does, all well and good. If it does not, then it is a mere interloper, an officious busybody seeking to intrude in matters that are of no proper concern to it, seemingly on the basis that it can argue someone else’s case better or more effectively than they can themselves. Moreover, if it is to be said that the Official Solicitor is, in some way, not acting appropriately in G’s best interests, then the remedy is an application for his removal as her litigation friend, not the intrusion into the proceedings of a self-appointed spokesman for G.

 

 

 

(I will conclude by saying that whilst I too think that the ANL application was misconcieved in law, I can see why in practice they made it.  IF their story is (and it pretty much is) that the Court of Protection is a wicked terrible body, interfering with people’s freedoms and ignoring what dear old G wants, then I can see why they think that the Court of Protection DECIDING whether G should talk to the Press is something of a conflict of interest.  Imagine for a moment that it had been Maria Miller’s decision and it had been solely up to her whether any of the Press were allowed to report her expenses scandal. As the ANL think that the expert is going to be set up to say “Don’t let G talk to the Press, it isn’t good for her” they wanted to have an input into what he was asked and to have the chance to cross-examine him if that’s what he said.  That somewhat ignores the fact that C is already a party and is able to have that input and cross-examine Dr Barker, but I can honestly see why the Mail made this application from an emotional and journalistic perspective.   They couldn’t have got a judge who was more keen on transparency and openness though, so if they couldn’t persuade the President, it was a hopeless application)

I will add that I think that Sue Reid genuinely believes that what is happening here is an outrage and a miscarriage of justice, and that she is reporting what C and G are saying to them with absolute sincerity.  It is absolutely right that she follow her journalistic instincts and that if there is something rotten in the State of Denmark that this be exposed.

 

 

 

 

An important unimportant judgment

I believe that Re A, B and C (Children) 2014 is the first judgment to be published and made available online despite not having any significance or importance in and of itself. It is not a precedent for anything, it does not raise any unusual or interesting areas of law, nobody is likely to ever cite it in a skeleton argument or a legal article. But it seems to me to be the first, so it has some degree of novelty and importance despite itself.  [I could be wrong, it might just be the first one that has flitted over my radar, but I have been keeping an eye out]

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/Misc/2014/2.html

It is a fairly short judgment, the case moved at the Issues Resolution Hearing (the hearing that the Court has once all of the evidence is in, to see if the case can be agreed or whether a full-blown final hearing is needed) from a dispute between the LA and parents on the one hand (who were saying the children should stay at home under Supervision Orders) and the Guardian who had reservations as to whether that was safe, to agreement that Supervision Orders were the right orders to make.

It might actually be more interesting for what is NOT said – whilst the name of the LA and the Guardian are up, there is no naming of the social worker  (this may not be intentional, it might just be that in such a short judgment, the social worker’s name simply did not come up).

Cases like this, where the parents work to make changes, succeed in doing so, and there’s a good outcome for the family that means the children stay at home and have a happier life than they would have had before the proceedings started, don’t often get reported – the cases that historically get reported are the ones where there’s a big fight – such a big fight that the case is either in the High Court or gets appealed. Maybe it is a good thing to see that there are cases like this, where the hard work a family does to make changes makes a difference.

Happiness writes in white ink on a white page – Henry de Montherlant

“What’s got two thumbs and just cost family justice a million pounds per year?”

My quick unscientific estimate of the cost of a transcript (I took the ones I’ve obtained in the last year and took an average, although I think my judgments are all fairly short)  £130 per case

From the CAFCASS figures on number of care proceedings issued in 2012 (april 2012-march 2013) that was 11,107

If, as a result of the President’s decision on transcripts, we obtain a transcript for each final judgment, that would cost the family justice system  £1,443,910

(yes, that’s nearly one and a half million pounds. A year.)

Now, to be fair, some of those final hearings are heard by Magistrates or District Judges, which aren’t included (at the moment) within the guidance that a transcript be obtained of each final hearing.

It is a bit tricky to work out what proportion – let’s be generous and say half. 

That still leads three quarters of a million pounds of taxpayers money.  A year. And the system isn’t getting any extra, so that’s money that has to be found from existing resources, which means £750,000 of cuts from somewhere else.

 [I don’t have the statistics on how many Court of Protection judgments there are a year, but those all have to be transcribed now too. ] 

 There’s also the harder to calculate figures  (a lawyer has to anonymise the judgment and arrange the transcription, invoices have to be drawn up and paid, everyone’s lawyer has to wrangle with the Legal Aid Agency about the costs each and every time,  the Judge has to check the judgment, someone has to arrange for the transcript to go up on Bailii, Bailii have to host probably ten thousand more family judgments a year than they are used to doing).  Oh, and of course, the basic law of economics that as demand increases about five-fold, the price is probably going to go up too.

Now, when the MoJ ran pilot schemes in five Courts, where all judgments were anonymised and published online for a year,  they calculated the administrative costs, if it were rolled out nationally to be £500,000 per year, pushing the costs back up above a million pounds.

https://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/moj/2011/family-courts-information-pilot.pdf

This pilot was hardly a glowing endorsement for rolling the scheme out nationally, as you can tell by the fact it was published in 2010 and the scheme wasn’t rolled out nationally (until the President decided to do it this year).  In fact, the conclusion was that publishing judgments online was pretty much only useful for researchers and legal commentators; and that journalists and the parties didn’t think it had much value.  One of the few positives (because the transcripts were paid for by the Court) was Local Authorities who were pleased to be getting anonymised transcripts.

The tenor of the recommendations was that the statistical analysis of overall trends was far more useful, and to keep publishing anonymised judgments limited to either cases that had a value as a precedent or where one of the parties specifically sought publication.

 If you don’t want to read the full report on the pilot, then there’s a reasonable summary here:-

 http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed85957

 Now, I’m not saying that transparency isn’t a good thing – I think that it is. Maybe it is a good enough thing to be paying over a million pounds a year for even in our straitened times of cuts and belt-tightening. I’d just like to see the cost-benefit analysis that shows that to do it this way is worthwhile, because the pilot study doesn’t.

[See also David Burrows excellent analysis of the fact that making the decision on an individual case to publish a judgment still requires an actual judicial balancing of article 10 and article 8

http://dbfamilylaw.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/guidance-from-the-president-of-the-family-division-on-publication-of-judgements/
 
If you think I'm a stroppy swine, you need to read a bit of David's blog. He's only been doing it a week and he's already threatened two judicial reviews.... The spirit of John Osborne is lurking nearby, taking notes for a new play named "Angrier Less-Young Man"]

Transparency and Facebook

This is a County Court case, dealing with some of the transparency issues that I’ve been writing about recently, and highlights that there are going to be teething problems as the Courts move from very secret to fairly open. 

[If we were moving to 100% open where there were no restrictions at all, the lack of clarity about what is 'direct identification', what is 'indirect identification' and what is neither, wouldn't be such an issue, but at the moment, given that what the Courts are prohibiting is direct or indirect identification of the child and linking that to identification that that particular child had been the subject of Court proceedings, not being clear about what is meant by those terms is no longer helpful.]

 

Re B (A Child) 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCC/Fam/2014/B1.html

 

 

The case involved an application by the Local Authority (Staffordshire) for a Reporting Restriction Order  – given that Staffordshire were the LA who lost so badly on this issue when they came before the President in Re J they must have been fairly nervous about making the application.

 

The child is 2 years old and on 23rd May 2013 the Family Proceedings Court made her the subject of care and placement orders.  There had been extensive assessments of the problems faced by these parents.  The mother and the father came to the courageous and wise decision that they would not oppose the local authority’s plan for their child to be placed for adoption.  The maternal grandmother had a different view and she made an application to the court for an order that she should care for the child.  The grandmother was also the subject of extensive assessment which concluded that the child should not be placed with her.

 

What happened after that final hearing was that the grandmother did not accept the outcome in the way that the parents had. She was against it, and not afraid to say so.

 

She appealed to the County Court, and lost, and appealed to the Court of Appeal and lost.

 

The grandmother is clearly very disappointed by this outcome and she has

complained that the outcome is unfair.  No one suggests that the grandmother

should be prevented from commenting on this saga or from criticising the local

authority or the court.  However, the local authority says that the grandmother

has gone beyond that.  They say that she has caused harm to the child by using

her name and her photograph.  Examples have been shown to me.  I have seen

the grandmother’s Facebook postings in the bundle at C13, C15 and C17.  There

is a further very relevant Facebook posting at the back of the local authority’s

written submissions, an entry which I am told is dated 13th December 2013 and

starts by an indication that it was posted 11 hours ago.  In addition the

grandmother has started an online petition bearing the name and photograph of

the child.  Details are in the bundle at C17.  The grandmother has contributed to

an internet radio station where there was a discussion forum to which the  

grandmother contributed the name of the child.  This is accessible from a link

which appears on page C19 of the bundle.

6.                  The local authority’s application for a reporting restriction order seeks

to prevent this identification of the child but otherwise does not seek to prevent

discussion, comment and criticism of the local authority and court processes.

So it is only anything that would directly or indirectly identify the child which would be prohibited.

 

That of course was easy in an age where the only people who could publish anything were newspapers – they would just be told “you can print the story but not the name” and would decide whether sans the name the story would have sufficient public interest to make it worth publishing. And the sanction for breaking that restriction would be fairly simple – it is easy to dish out a fine to a newspaper, who can pay the fine.

 

But we now live in a different age, one where anyone who wants to publish anything can do so. For example, this very blog that you are reading. Anybody who wants to can set up a blog and write about what they like. Or they can use their Facebook page, or Twitter, or join an internet chatroom or post comments on Mumsnet or other similar sites.

 

The considerations are different for a journalist or editor whose natural tendency is to comply with the Court’s wishes or orders, and that of an aggrieved person who is personally and fundamentally affected by the decision and has lost all faith in the Court.

 

The most natural place for most people these days, to express their views is on their Facebook page. The grandmother, of course, doesn’t have to give the surname of the child to have indirectly identified them if she writes about them on her Facebook page, because the Facebook page directly identifies HER, and her comments directly link the children to HER.

 

 

   The evidence presented to me leaves me in no doubt that the grandmother has embarked upon a campaign to undermine these rights enjoyed by the child.  The Facebook entry of 13th December 2013 attached to the written submissions can only be described as a call for others to help a search for the depicted child in her new adoptive placement.  The accompanying text and other text refer to the child as a stolen child but by that date the Court of Appeal had determined that the plan for adoption could not be challenged.  This kind of publication is very harmful at a number of levels.  It is harmful to the child in the present if the search established her whereabouts and led to disturbance and destabilisation.  It is harmful in the present even if the search does not succeed in that it exposes the prospective adopters to anxiety at a time when the child’s best interests would be served by them accepting her into their household from a standpoint of emotional stability.  It is very harmful to the child in the future in that these internet postings can remain so that when a little older and accessing the internet herself the child may encounter these destabilising messages and find her own wellbeing undermined.  Alternatively these postings might be accessed by friends of the child and form the basis of comment or even bullying.

11.              I remind myself that the courts of the land at the highest level have determined that placement for adoption is the only appropriate outcome for this child and an outcome which is inherently lawful.  In these circumstances it is clear that Article 8 and Article 10 are in conflict.  Both represent important rights.  However, as so often in these cases, a proportionate balanced reconciliation emerges.  The right to freedom of expression does not need the elements of personal identification which are so harmful.  The right to respect for family and private life does need a prohibition to be placed upon identification but does not need to prevent all comment and debate.  It is clear to me that the proportionate outcome is to allow discussion but to prevent identification

 

The Court balanced the article 8 right to private and family life for the child against the article 10 right to freedom of expression, and determined that it was right that the grandmother should be able to debate and discuss the case, including the facts of the case (and including within that scope her own view of the case, which might be at variance to the Court’s own conclusions) BUT that she should not be allowed to identify, directly or indirectly, the child.

 

 

There is one area in which I find the present case to differ from the President’s case of Re: J [2013] EWHC 2694 (Fam).  In that case the restraint of publication of photographs of a tiny baby was considered to be inappropriate.  The present case I find to be very different.  This child is significantly older and correspondingly easier to identify from photographs.  Indeed, the grandmother has used a photograph as part of her campaign to seek out the whereabouts of the prospective adoptive placement.  This is one of the most harmful aspects of the case and an element from which the child needs protection.  Carrying out the same balancing exercise as did the President I reach a different conclusion and find that the publication of photographs must be restrained alongside the publication of names.

 

 

 

I shall conclude with a note addressed to the grandmother. I am sorry that she has chosen not to attend court today. There may be points which she could raise which are relevant to my decision. I have done my best in her absence to anticipate them. However if there are other points I invite her to apply to the court. The worst thing she could do would be to act in breach of this order and only when steps are taken to enforce the order against her, to raise points which should have been raised today. The order does not prevent campaigning, discussion or debate. However as in many other cases, these must not include the use of the true names or photographs of the child as this would be harmful to her.

 

 

 

The judgment does leave me in some doubt, and sadly the precise terms of the Reporting Restriction Order are not set out to aid in interpretation, as to whether the grandmother can continue to post commentary or discussion about the case on her own Facebook page subject to NOT naming the child or including photographs, or whether doing that commentary or discussion under her own name indirectly identifies the child.

 

Likewise, if she posts an article about the case on a website, using her own name but not naming the child, is that okay? What if she puts up a photograph of the PARENTS but doesn’t name them? What if somewhere else in her Facebook page, there’s understandably a photograph of her grandchild?

 

As we get farther and farther along the transparency route, the vagueness about what would constitute indirect identification of the child in these sorts of cases becomes less and less satisfactory.

 

Lawyers need to be able to know where the boundaries are drawn to properly advise their clients how not to cross them.

 

People who are unhappy about outcomes of court proceedings need to know where the lines are that they should not cross in talking about the case

 

Newspapers and moderators of online discussion groups need to know where the lines are so that they don’t inadvertently cross them

 

Local Authorities need to know where the lines are so that they don’t end up warning or threatening legal action for things that they might wrongly think is a breach

 

Guardians need to know where the lines are so that children who are capable of understanding know what can and cannot be said about them in the press

 

And Courts need to know, so that these things can all be transparently expressed.

“I’m Batman”

 

This will now be the fourth time I’ve written about this particular case,  you may recall that it involves a family whose relationship with their daughter broke down and she came into care voluntarily as a result of being beyond parental control. The parents obtained a judgment in which the Court found that their complaints of being treated badly by the LA and being marginalised and excluded were made out, though the Court went on to make a Care Order believing that the better option of wardship was barred to them.

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/07/30/forensic-ferrets-or-standing-in-the-way-of-beyond-parental-control/

The Court of Appeal then ruled that it wasn’t and wardship was made.

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/12/31/the-case-i-am-most-pleased-about-this-year/

The parents were then asking the Court whether they could speak out in public about the case – providing that they did nothing to give away the identity of themselves and the child.

 

(You may remember, it was my clunky Batman analogy – the parents wanted to say in their interviews that the published judgments were about them, using the alias in the published judgments but not give their real name – i.e they could say “I’m Batman” but not  “I’m Bruce Wayne, and I am also Batman”)

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/08/01/rubrics-cube/

 

Okay, so the Court now finally have said that they can indeed say  “I’m Batman”   – their faces would need to be either silouhetted or pixellated but they don’t need voice-changing technology. I think it is important for family justice that in a case where the Court have found that the State got things wrong, that this gets properly aired, and those concerned ought to be able to tell their story, so I think it is a good thing.  (unlike Re J, where there was not yet any published context to ascertain whether the parents huge sense of injustice and aggrievement was justified by bad treatment as opposed to being a natural human reaction)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/B21.html

 

There’s even a fifth judgment, which deals in part with the wrangle that the parents had to obtain the therapy that their daughter so clearly needed.  If you have seen the title of the case and got excited that it is a ‘compelling the LA to fund therapy’ case, it isn’t.  Firstly this is wardship, and secondly the LA had agreed to be bound by the Court’s views – it was about who was to provide that therapy (the organisation supported by the psychologist and parents, or the one supported by the LA), the LA lost that argument too, but to their credit agreed to be bound rather than sheltering behind technical arguments about the court’s powers.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/B20.html

 

Having played a microscopic part in all of this, I am very pleased for these parents, who have had a long and gruelling journey to get justice and the help that their daughter so badly needs and have finally done so. I hope that some of the principles they have fought for may help others.

 

And in a final flourish – Bale is amazing, obviously, but against all the odds, wimpy Michael Keaton delivers THE line better than anyone could have expected.

 

Historical amputations and lessons

 

Warning, yet again this blog post contains testicles – like the last one (and no doubt, some critics would say, most of them so far have been b******s throughout)

 

In the early days of surgical procedure, one man stood as a giant amongst his fellow professionals. Liston, often called “The Fastest Knife in the West End”.  In those days, prior to anaesthetics, the priority was to get the job done quickly, to get the ordeal over with as soon as possible and hopefully leave the patient alive.  One of Liston’s specialities was limb amputation, and he was well reknowned for being able to remove a limb in less than two and a half minutes. Of course, during one of his lightening fast amputations he took the patients testicles along with the leg. On another, it is said that he was sawing and cutting so fast that he took his assistant’s fingers off in the process, and also accidentally cut a nearby spectator. As the patient, spectator, and assistant ALL died of their wounds, this is said to be the least successful operation in history, having had a 300% death rate.

BUT overall , the death rate in Liston’s procedures was 1 in 10, as opposed to the usual 1 in 4.  And of course, Liston left medicine with one of the biggest advances ever, being the man who introduced anaesthesia to British medicine and gave it world-wide credibility (the chloroform he used was in practice in America, but Liston popularised its use).  Ironically of course, this made his lightening fast surgical skills rather redundant, as for the first time a surgeon could work with care and precision without risking the patient’s life.

 

It occurs to me, therefore, and this little vignette seemed a decent illustration of it, that speed isn’t always the best measure of something, and that being faster and faster for the sake of it doesn’t necessarily achieve the best results. The Family Justice Review looked very carefully and thoughtfully at how we could make care proceedings more efficient – meaning both faster and less costly, taking as an unspoken premise that our system was already getting good results and what we had to do now was just get them quicker and cheaper.  We already had the leg amputation techniques down pat, we just needed to get more efficient at it.

As has been evident to me from writing this blog, and thrown into even sharper focus with the furore about the decision of the President in Re J 2013, there’s a counter opinion to that unspoken premise. There are plenty of voices saying that actually, we aren’t currently getting the core function of family justice (to achieve the right and fair outcome in cases) and that speeding up the process isn’t going to put that right.

Now, I happen to believe that in the overwhelming majority of cases, if one looked at them independently, they would be achieving the right and fair outcomes. One can’t realistically expect a parent who loses their child to feel anything other than hurt and aggrieved and devastated. You’re not ever going to reach a system whereby every parent nods at the end of the case and says “Yeah, that was a fair cop”, but are those who speak out about the system just parents who haven’t come to terms with an awful and painful (but objectively fair decision) or are they actually as they report, the victims of injustice? Are even some of them?

 

I don’t mean do social workers sometimes make mistakes? Of course they do. All professions make mistakes. I mean, do we have confidence that the system we have in place – which gives the parents the chance to see the evidence against them down on paper, to see all relevant records, to have free legal advice, to question witnesses who accuse them of things, to call their own witnesses to support them, and all of that being determined by a Court who are unbiased and fair and start from the principle that children ought to be at home with parents if at all posible – does that system, catch the times when social workers have got it wrong, have come to a conclusion that might not be the best for the child?

I personally believe and hope that our system does that, but it doesn’t really matter what I believe and hope. We deal in evidence.  When the State is given power by the Government, to make recommendations about whether children should live with families, or be adopted, and where the Court is given power by the Government to make the decisions about whether those recommendations are correct; we need to remind ourselves that those powers are exercised in the name of the public, and it is therefore essential that the public have confidence that a system is in place that whilst individual errors might sneak through from time to time, is not inherently flawed or failing.

 

This is a debate which needs to take place. Not just ‘how can we do it cheaper, how can we do it faster’   – but is the system strong enough to get things right and learn from those cases where mistakes are made?  It was very easy in Re J to allow criticism of social workers to take place in the public domain, but did the Court really “own” their own decision-making? That child was removed, and remained in foster care because the Court decided so. The LA ask for the orders, but the Court decide whether or not to make them. If there’s blame there  (and we really don’t know about Re J, because no information about the case is in the public domain) part of that blame rests with the Court too.

With that in mind, I can see why the President is in favour of greater transparency, both in his plans to publish anonymised judgments as a matter of routine and in the RE J case of allowing criticisms of the system in language that might seem emotionally loaded to remain in the public domain (so long as the identity of the child remains secret). In doing so, an awful lot changes, and as yet, we don’t know how much will change and in what ways. As the ruler of China said about his thoughts on the French Revolution “It is too early to say”

 

With these changes, the 26 week timetable, the financial pressure on family law solicitors and the prospect of more and more advice deserts spreading across the country, these are watershed moments for family justice.  I’ve seen in a relatively short few years, cases move from the occasional parent being a heavy cannabis smoker to large proportions of cases being about heroin and crack addiction; I’ve seen the internet move from dial-up and “Page not found” – effectively a slower form of Ceefax, to becoming a fixture in most people’s lives, somewhere that can make publishers, documentary makers, journalists of almost anyone who chooses to be one. The times, they are a changing.

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