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Winding your way down on Baker Street

The Court of Protection, in Aidiniantz v Riley 2015 were dealing with a high level of conflict between family members relating to the affairs of an 88 year old woman who lacked capacity to manage her own finances and other matters as to where she should live.


The family had been the creators of the Sherlock Holmes museum in Baker Street, which one imagines does quite well and probably has been doing even better in recent years as both Hollywood, US television and the BBC have each had their very own popular version of the character.


At the hearing, the Judge, Mr Justice Peter Jackson, found that the press were in attendance. It emerged that the press had been sent a press release about the case – that press release was not a neutral one approved by the Court but a partial, tendentious and sensationalised one.


  1. A preliminary point arises about the extent to which the proceedings can be reported. They were heard in private, in accordance with the Rules, at a hearing at which members of the press were in attendance. Two questions now arise: should the press be allowed to report the hearing, and should there be a public judgment naming the parties? Submissions have been made by the parties and by David Barrett and Mario Ledwith, journalists representing the Telegraph Media Group and Associated Newspapers respectively.
  2. It is relevant that on 25 September a media alert was issued by a PR company, notifying members of the media that this hearing would be taking place. The alert is in highly partisan terms, and includes lengthy quotations attributed to Stephen. It was this that brought the journalists to court.
  3. The respondents, having initially denied that they were responsible for the arrival of the press, were then faced with the press alert. They say that it was issued on the instructions of Mr Siddiqi and that the quotes from Stephen are not genuine but were invented by Mr Siddiqi to convey Stephen’s views. They say that they did not know what Mr Siddiqi had done until the hearing was under way.
  4. I have not heard evidence about this aspect of the matter and it is unnecessary to reach a conclusion about it. Mr Siddiqi is described by the respondents as “a long-time friend/associate of the family who has closely followed and advised the family on their affairs.” I am, to say the least, sceptical that he was acting without the knowledge and approval of the respondents, but it makes no difference. Even if Mr Siddiqi did not tell them what he was doing, he knows them well enough to know that he was doing what they wanted. Indeed, Linda made all the points that appear in the media alert when giving evidence.
  5. The relevance of this is that it alerts the court to the risk that the proceedings will be used as a platform to publicise unproven allegations.



The Press were very candid that their interest in the story was not in the arrangements to be made about Grace Aidiniantz, but in the quarrel that was going on between the family – it was the fight that they were interested in.


The Judge had to balance those competing interests – privacy and freedom of the press, our old friends article 8 and article 10 who have been arm-wrestling one another ever since the Human Rights Act was passed.



In the film "Over the Top", the role of Article 10 is played by Mr Stallone

In the film “Over the Top”, the role of Article 10 is played by Mr Stallone


[Hey, if I HAD a google image of Johnny Lee Miller arm-wrestling Benedict Cumberbatch whilst both dressed as Sherlock Holmes, I would have gone with that. I have to work with what I have. Oh, wait…]



This is them just BEFORE the match. Referee out of picture saying "We want a good clean fight"

This is them just BEFORE the match. Referee out of picture saying “We want a good clean fight”


  1. As to the issue of publication of this judgment and the naming of the parties, Mr Tyler QC submits that:

    (1) Real weight should be given to the general rule that the hearing should be in private: Independent News Media Ltd. v A [2009] EWHC 2858.

    (2) There is scant genuine public interest in publication of the current proceedings. The press is avowedly not interested in the issues about Mrs Aidiniantz’s care, but in the family dispute.

    (3) Mrs Aidiniantz’s privacy and dignity should be protected, even though she is incapacitated.

    (4) John has brought these proceedings in good faith, and should not thereby be exposed to vilification by the respondents. His wife and children would also be affected by publicity, as might employees of the family business.

    (5) Litigants generally should not be deterred from approaching the Court of Protection by the fear of consequent publicity.

    (6) Public identification of the parties to this “private family dispute” is unlikely to bring reconciliation closer and is likely to fuel conflict.

  2. The position taken by the journalists is that: (1) This is the latest in a long line of public disagreements between the parties that have been extensively reported in the press, evidenced by news reports from 2013 onwards.

    (2) The disagreement about Mrs Aidiniantz’s health is not in itself of public interest but is the current forum for the ongoing family dispute, which is of public interest, particularly given the family’s business interests.

    (3) Anonymisation of the judgment would make it impossible for the press to report this latest chapter in the very public disagreements between the parties.

    (4) Blanket reporting restrictions are not required to protect Mrs Aidiniantz’s privacy and dignity. There is no intention to report details of her care arrangements or medical condition, beyond saying that she is aged and infirm.

  3. There is in my view good reason for the court to publish its judgment in this case in a form that names the individuals involved:(1) Happily, very few families descend to the level of mutual acrimony that exists in this family. It is in the public interest for the public, if it is interested, to see the consequences. It is in the public interest to know how the court process operates in a recognizable case. It is in the public interest to know what it all costs: in the past year this family has spent £270,000 on this branch of its litigation alone. It is not in the public interest to suppress all that information: on the contrary, knowledge of how one family has behaved may deter another family from behaving likewise.

    (2) In this case, publication of an anonymised judgment would be futile. So much information is already in the public domain that any anonymised judgment would inevitably be linked to the family. The press would be placed in an impossible situation in knowing what it could and could not report.

    (3) It is undesirable that there should be any greater difference of approach than is necessary between two courts dealing with different but related aspects of the same dispute. As recently as 4 June 2015, an extensive public judgment in relation to financial issues was given in the Chancery Division.

    (4) This is not just “a private family dispute”. These parties have repeatedly chosen to air their differences in the courts. There is little likelihood of reconciliation. A public judgment will not make matters any worse for Mrs Aidiniantz than they already are. The parties might even reflect on their future conduct if they know that it may come to public attention.

    (5) Mrs Aidiniantz’s right to privacy and dignity is undoubtedly an important consideration. Even though she herself will not be aware of publicity, her reputation is affected by it being known that she is at the heart of the family discord. However, in the overall circumstances, I do not consider that the publication of this judgment amounts to a significant further intrusion into her privacy. It contains little personal information and makes no criticism of Mrs Aidiniantz: on the contrary, any fair-minded reader would be bound to feel sympathy for an elderly parent in her situation.

  4. The contents of this judgment can therefore be published, but there will be no other reporting of the hearing.



The Judge sets out all of the background, for those who are interested. He then gives his decision, saying that unusually this is a case where in determining what is in Grace’s interests he can give no weight to the views of the family


  1. Discussion
  2. It is not disputed that Mrs Aidiniantz lacks capacity to make decisions about the matters in issue within the meaning of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, and I so find. I also consider that as a result of her circumstances she is a vulnerable person in need of the protection of the court.
    1. It therefore falls to the court to make decisions in Mrs Aidiniantz’s best interests, applying the provisions of s.4 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005. In doing so, it must consider all the relevant circumstances and, in particular, take the following steps:
    • Consider whether it is likely that Mrs Aidiniantz will at some time have capacity in relation to the matter in question.
    • So far as reasonably practicable, permit and encourage her to participate as fully as possible in the decisions affecting her.
    • Consider Mrs Aidiniantz’s past and present wishes and feelings, the beliefs and values that would be likely to influence her if she had capacity, and the other factors that she would be likely to consider if she were able to do so.
  • Take into account the views of anyone engaged in caring for Mrs Aidiniantz or interested in her welfare as to what would be in her best interests.
    1. As to the first three of these matters:
    • While it is possible that if Mrs Aidiniantz’s physical health improves she may recover some degree of decision-making capacity, this is not foreseeable at the present time.
    • Mrs Aidiniantz has participated as fully as possible in the decision-making process by means of the involvement of Mr Gillman-Smith, Ms G and Ms Gieve.
  • Mrs Aidiniantz is someone with strong family values, whose already much-reduced ability to assert herself has long been overborne by the ferocity of the family conflict. She would want to be at home if it were possible. She would want to have normal, easy relations with all her children if it were possible.
  1. The obligation to take into account the views of those caring for Mrs Aidiniantz or interested in her welfare takes me to the heart of the difficulty in this case. I am aware of the views of her four adult children and have set them out above.
  2. Having done that, I have concluded, uniquely, that I should attach no weight at all to their views about their mother’s welfare. These children have, in my view, forfeited the right to have their views taken seriously on the question of what is in their mother’s best interests. They have no insight into her obvious longing for peace. The evidence of John and Linda showed only bitterness and contempt for each other. Neither side sees how important the other is to their mother. None of them reflects on their own behaviour. Instead, every action is dictated by the wish to get the better of the other. I have referred to John’s aggressive efforts to get Stephen and Ruth out of 1 Parkgate Road and his willingness to put his mother in a home he knows nothing about. I have referred to the respondents’ blatant attempts to obstruct John’s contact. As soon as Mrs Aidiniantz’s voice was heard by outsiders, however faintly, they physically removed her; in 2014 it was to Linda’s home, and a year later to the day it was to Florida. That trip was a blatant defiance of the court’s intentions and it is a measure of their lack of insight that the respondents imagine that it would be seen in any other way.
  3. Nor can I attach weight to the views of Ms AH. Normally the views of a professional carer in the midst of a family dispute will be of value, but she has become too emotionally involved and partisan to see where Mrs Aidiniantz’s best interests lie.
  4. I have some sympathy for Mrs Aidiniantz’s sister Ruth, but she is in the same camp as Linda, Stephen and Jennifer and has not been able to moderate their behaviour.Decision
  5. Turning to the issues and taking account of all the circumstances, I conclude that it would not be in Mrs Aidiniantz’s interests to return to 1 Parkgate Road. In the first place, I accept the evidence of Ms G that she needs the care package that is on offer at the nursing home. Two medically qualified staff are needed at all times. Ms AH and those she enlists to help her are unqualified and unsuited to demonstrating the necessary professional standards. Secondly, and more decisively, it is impossible to approve an arrangement that returns Mrs Aidiniantz to her home when her children have turned it into a warzone. If John took over 1 Parkgate Road, things would be no better. Mrs Aidiniantz needs a safe haven from her children’s activities, and that is what she has found in the nursing home. She would not have this respite in a setting that was controlled by either camp.
  6. The family collectively has the means to pay for Mrs Aidiniantz’s care in the nursing home. When promoting their preferred options, both John and Linda said that they would pay for them if necessary but would expect a contribution from the other. Now that the identity of the placement has been resolved, the family should act in accordance with that principle.
  7. As to contact, I will adopt the plan supported by the nursing home and the Official Solicitor for separate daily visiting by both sides of the family. Outings that are acceptable to the home on medical grounds can take place, but I suggest that visits to 1 Parkgate Road are approached with caution.
  8. Each side of the family can bring whoever they want with them during their contact times, provided the home is content with this. There is no more reason to prevent John from bringing his family than to prevent Jennifer from bringing hers. If she is invited by the respondents, Ms AH can visit from time to time, but she will not be resuming her role as a carer. If anyone thinks it is a good idea for Mr Siddiqi to visit, they can share their time with him.
  9. I note that the Official Solicitor proposes that visiting should be restricted to family members and that contact with others can take place on trips outside the home. He expresses concern about the role played by Ms AH and Mr Siddiqi. There is in fact no sign of any harm having come from their few visits to date and, given the way in which the family members themselves behave, I cannot share the view that the exclusion of other partisans would allow Mrs Aidiniantz to feel “free of influence”. The management of the home should be left to manage these issues.
  10. While Mrs Aidiniantz resides at the care home, there is no need for a welfare deputy. The management of the home will protect her day-to-day interests.
  11. Finally, I shall not appoint a property or affairs deputy, nor require the Official Solicitor to carry out further financial inquiries into Mrs Aidiniantz’s affairs. I agree with the Official Solicitor that any financial abuse of the elderly is a serious matter, but that here a third party investigation would be complicated, expensive and unlikely to be of benefit to Mrs Aidiniantz, whose needs are currently being met. I will make the appropriate orders for the reception of her modest pensions. Other disputes about money, property and shares can be pursued by her children elsewhere if that is their choice.Costs
  12. The parties can make submissions on costs, and I will consider them on their merits. I will nonetheless indicate my current thinking in an attempt to foreshorten matters and save further expense.
  13. The parties’ costs are, broadly: John £104,000

    Respondents £110,000

    Official Solicitor £57,000

    The Official Solicitor has been given security from the parties equally for the full amount of his costs. There is no reason why the public should bear any of those and I expect to order that the Official Solicitor’s costs will be met equally by the parties.

  14. As to costs as between the parties, the normal rule is that there should be no order. Each side rightly cautions the court against assuming that because there are so many allegations and counter-allegations it is a case of “six of one and half a dozen of the other”. I make no such assumption but nevertheless reach the conclusion that there is little to choose between these parties in regard to their litigation conduct and their conduct towards their mother. While the respondents’ conduct during these proceedings has been even worse than the applicant’s, it would be unrealistic to separate these matters from the overall history. Any departure from the ‘no order’ principle would probably be in the form of an order that each side should pay the other side’s costs as a mark of the court’s indignation.





"Benedict! HEY Benedict, you bum! What happened to the good clean fight I asked for? That ain't ARM wrestling"

“Benedict! HEY Benedict, you bum! What happened to the good clean fight I asked for? That ain’t ARM wrestling”

I am sailing, I am sailing – judicial recusal


Given how much fun the last case about judicial recusal was to write about, I was pleased to see a new one.


This one, Mackay v Mackay 2015, relates to what is presumably a big money divorce. As the amounts of money are discussed as £X million and £Y million, we can’t be sure exactly how much money, but a decent estimate is that it is at least two million, and probably quite a bit more.


In this case, Holman J was made aware of a situation.


I personally have had no prior involvement in this case whatsoever prior to today. Very early in the hearing today, Mr Valentine Le Grice QC, who appears today on behalf of the husband (but does not act for him generally in these proceedings), said that there were certain facts that he, Mr Le Grice, had been informed about that required to be drawn to my attention in case they impacted upon the appropriateness of my dealing with this case at the substantive hearings. There has been no suggestion, nor could there be, that I should not deal with this directions stage of this case today. I was somewhat surprised to hear that, since the full names of the husband simply do not impact upon me at all and, to put it bluntly but colloquially, I have simply never ever heard of him before. Further, when the husband came into court, he is not somebody who, frankly, I have the least recognition of, or the slightest recollection of ever having met; nor, indeed, do I have the slightest recognition of the wife, who is also in court.


My interest was massively piqued here. If the Judge doesn’t know the names of the parties, and doesn’t recognise their faces, under what scenario could there possibly be a suggestion that the Judge might have to consider whether it was appropriate for him to continue?   (I have to confess that the idea of some sort of Eyes Wide Shut masked ball scenario came to mind, but of course it isn’t that)

I am a very open judge and I have never concealed, for instance by entries in “Who’s Who” and Debrett’s “People of Today”, that one of my recreations is sailing. I was told that the husband is also keen on sailing. I have been told that he thinks that in the more distant past he has competed in boats racing against boats in which I myself was also racing. Whether or not that is so is, frankly, completely irrelevant to the situation with which I am now faced. However, I was also informed that the husband knew that I am a member (as I am) of a certain sailing club. He is not a member of that club. He is a member of another sailing club of which I am not a member, but the question was raised whether, through my membership of the sailing club, I might know or have friendship with certain sailing friends of the husband.


Certainly the fact that at some point in the past, the husband might have seen Holman J’s catamaran, or what have you, either sail off into the distance or whistle past it at a rate of knots during a race is neither here nor there.

Whether they might, as fellow afficiandos of the sail, have some mutual friends, is a possibility.

  1. A list containing 14 names was then produced to me. It is right to say that I recognised as names every name on that list. The majority of the people named I do not personally know at all. One or two of the others on the list I know very slightly or have met at some stage in the past. None of that, frankly, impacts on me at all. However, there is one name on the list which for the purposes of this judgment I will call “AB” (although those are not the person’s actual initials). I was told that he is somebody whom the husband knows well. I was told that, in the past, there have been business dealings between, or involving, the husband and AB. I was told that the husband currently meets AB about once a month and met him as recently as about two weeks ago. I was told that in the past AB has stayed at these parties’ villa in the south of France whilst participating in a sailing event.
  2. On behalf of the wife, Mr Nigel Dyer QC said on instructions that she did not appreciate that, and doubts whether, the true strength and extent of the connection between the husband and AB is as great as has been described by Mr Le Grice. Without hearing oral evidence on the point, which would be disproportionate and extraordinarily invidious, I have to take the state of affairs as being as described by Mr Le Grice.
  3. AB is not someone whom I would describe as a close personal friend of mine. He is, however, someone whom I have known for many years. There is, undoubtedly, friendship between us, friendship also between him and my wife, and friendship between me and his wife. He and his wife are people whom I and/or my wife meet from time to time in the sailing social context, and we and AB have numerous other mutual friends in common.
  4. The question that arises is whether that connection of a shared mutual relationship with AB is such that I should not have further involvement in this case. The expressed position of Mr Le Grice on behalf of the husband was that he was merely drawing these facts to my attention so that I should be aware of them. There was no application by Mr Le Grice that I should recuse myself as a result of them.
  5. The position of the wife, after Mr Dyer had had an opportunity privately to discuss the matter and take instructions from her, was that she was not concerned about this mutual relationship and that she did not apply that I should recuse myself


Well, that’s that then. The father knows AB fairly well, and AB also knows Holman J fairly well. Neither father nor mother say that this intersection would make Holman J unsuitable to hear the case. That’s that.


Aha! Not quite.  If you’ve been following the Appleton v Gallagher divorce case, you may have picked up that there is something of a schism in the High Court about divorce and publicity.   On the one hand, represented by Mostyn J, is the school of thought that there should be no publicity in divorce proceedings unless the case itself represents case law and that divorcing celebrities or millionaires should not have their innermost financial affairs set out by the Press just because they are getting divorced. On the other hand, represented so far chiefly by Holman J, is the transparency camp, which is publishing the details in judgments and thus the Press have access to it.   The Appleton v Gallagher case is going up to the Court of Appeal to see who might be right.


If you are a millionaire or celebrity who wants privacy then, at the moment, you might well prefer that your divorce is not dealt with by a pro-transparency  Judge, or one who you think might be pro-transparency.


The Wife makes this implied motivation explicit.


  1. The position of the wife did, however, go further than that. One of the applications that was issued by the husband on 11th September 2015 and returnable today was for orders to do with privacy. He sought orders that the hearings in October and February should be heard not only in private, but with the press and media excluded; and, further (most unusually in my experience) some advance order as to the terms in which any judgment might ultimately be couched. To exclude the press even from a hearing held in private is these days a strong step, and one which can only be taken in tightly circumscribed circumstances provided for in the relevant rules and practice direction; but it is known at the Bar that I am a judge who favours as much openness as possible in all court proceedings. Mr Dyer, frankly, speculated that the purpose of the husband in even referring to the possibility of overlapping friendships was a device deliberately aimed at causing me to recuse myself.
  2. It is, indeed, of the utmost importance that judges are very astute to spot, and not be trapped by, attempts to manipulate the identity of a judge for whatever purpose. Obviously, there may be judges who are believed to make high awards or low awards, and it is only too easy for a party who is seeking a low or a high award respectively to try to manipulate the position so that that judge is unable to hear the case. Similarly, it would, indeed, be intolerable if parties could manipulate the position so as to obtain or avoid, according to where their interests lay, a judge who favours openness in legal proceedings as opposed to secrecy. I am very alive to that risk.
  3. Unquestionably, if nothing had been said today about this shared interest in sailing and the possibility that there may be some overlapping friendships, then I would have continued to deal with this case and there could not have been the slightest difficulty. The fact is that the point has been raised. The fact is that it has been identified that amongst the friends or associates of the husband is this person, AB, who is also a friend of mine.


(In short, is this sailing issue, a well-disguised attempt at forum shopping?)


  1. The leading authority on the circumstances in which a judge should recuse himself probably remains Locabail (UK) Limited v Bayfield Properties Limited and others [1999] EWCA Civ 3004, a judgment of the court consisting of the then Lord Chief Justice, Master of the Rolls and Vice-Chancellor. The situation with which I am faced today is not one that falls within the principles which are the focus of that judgment. There is no question in this case of my having any kind of interest in the outcome of these proceedings and, in my view, no question in this case of any possible objective or apparent bias. Indeed, at paragraph 25 of their judgment in that case, the Court of Appeal were at pains to list many circumstances upon which, at any rate ordinarily, no objection could soundly be based. But at paragraph 21 of the judgment there is reference, albeit passing, to a judge recusing himself, “If, for solid reasons, the judge feels personally embarrassed in hearing the case.” Further, the broad approach at paragraph 25 is as follows:

    “In most cases, we think, the answer, one way or the other, will be obvious. But if in any case there is real ground for doubt, that doubt should be resolved in favour of recusal. We repeat: every application must be decided on the facts and circumstances of the individual case.”

  2. I have given very careful consideration indeed to this matter. Apart from some obvious situations where I actually knew a party concerned, I can only recall one occasion in the over 20 years in which I have been a full-time judge, in which I have felt the slightest need to recuse myself for considerations of this kind. In that case, I had a long-term friendship dating back to university with the brother of the husband in the case. Although the brother did not feature at all in the case, it did not seem to me appropriate that I should hear it. This case is more remote than those facts, but I have decided that I do, or might, “feel personally embarrassed” in hearing this case.
  3. I wish to stress that I believe myself to be an independent-minded and fearless judge. I do not doubt my ability to be detached and objective in decision-making. But the context of this case, as I have outlined above, does, or may, involve making a judgment about the integrity or probity, and possibly the very honesty, of this husband. I do not yet know much about the facts, nor, of course, how the evidence may turn out. But, at any rate at its highest, the wife’s case will involve a proposition that the husband deliberately failed to disclose the discussions that he was having for the sale of his company at that much greater value, and may well involve the proposition that, at some stage or another, he deliberately lied or, certainly, deliberately suppressed the truth. If there is a common friendship with AB, I do feel that it could be a source of personal embarrassment to me in my relationship with AB if I had to find that another friend of his had acted in a fraudulent, devious or untruthful way.
  4. There is the further consideration in this case that, currently, a two-stage hearing is envisaged, with some months between the first and second stage. Undoubtedly, during that interval, there will be occasions upon which I will be meeting AB, since, as I have said, he is a friend whom I do meet from time to time.
  5. It seems to me that what I have described does amount in this case to “solid reasons” why I personally, as I do, feel personally embarrassed about further involvement in this case. For those reasons, I must, as I now do, recuse myself from any further involvement in the case after today.


It seems a shame to me that we may be moving towards a scenario where a Judge can’t have interests, hobbies or pastimes outside of the law, for fear that they may bring them into a position where someone they met at “Jam Club”,  “Abseilers Anonymous” or simply someone who shares their love of “Yacht Rock” might be a friend of a future Party.


mmmm.... smoooth

mmmm…. smoooth



[I know, I had a perfect opportunity to crowbar in a photo of Nicole Appleton, and I decided instead to use a photo of people pretending to be Hall and Oates.  I did really want to use the Nicole Appleton photo, but then a voice in my head said  “I can’t go for that (no can do)” ]


The weakest recusal I’ve ever seen in real life was a Judge who recused himself from what was going to be a really desperately boring hearing on the basis that one of the parties had a job as an insurance salesman for Norwich Union (you can feel the dullness of this case seep out) and the Judge concluded that he would be potentially embarassed as he had once received an unsolicited telephone call from someone trying to sell him Norwich Union insurance and had put the phone down “more abruptly than perhaps was reasonable”, and it could not be excluded as a possibility that it was the Party in question.  If you can suitably anonymise them, I’d love to hear weak recusal decisions or even applications…

Removal of a child from prospective adopter


I have written about a few of these cases since Holman J’s decision in December 2014, but this one is rather out of the ordinary.


RY v Southend Borough Council 2015


Hayden J was dealing with two applications. The first was an application by RY, an approved adopter, to adopt a child who is about 2 1/2, a little girl named SL.  The second was the application by the Local Authority  (Southend) to remove the child from RY’s care, under section 35 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

Cases about section 35 are rather rare, and this one raises some unusual issues.

First things first, what does s35 say?


“35 Return of child in other cases

(2) Where a child is placed for adoption by an adoption agency, and the agency –

(a) is of the opinion that the child should not remain with the prospective adopters, and

(b) gives notice to them of its opinion, the prospective adopters must, not later than the end of the period of seven days beginning with the giving of the notice, return the child to the agency.

(5) Where –

(a) an adoption agency gives notice under subsection (2) in respect of a child,

(b) before the notice was given, an application for an adoption order (including a Scottish or Northern Irish adoption order), special guardianship order or residence order, or for leave to apply for a special guardianship order or residence order, was made in respect of the child, and

(c) the application (and, in a case where leave is given on an application to apply for a special guardianship order or residence order, the application for the order) has not been disposed of, prospective adopters are not required by virtue of the notice to return the child to the agency unless the court so orders”.

In plain English, where a Local Authority have placed for a child for adoption, if they ask for the child back, the adopter must hand the child back within 7 days.  UNLESS the adopter has already made an application to Court for adoption, or a Special Guardianship Order or a residence order (Child Arrangements Order), in which case it is up to the Court what happens.

In this case, RY had lodged her application to adopt SL BEFORE the LA asked her to hand the child back, so it was for the Court to decide.

By way of important background, SL was a very ill child.

  1. At birth SL was pale, floppy and had no respiratory effort or heart rate and required intensive resuscitation. Her first gasp was not until 20 minutes into life. Dr. Daniel Mattison, Consultant Paediatrician, identifies that SL had experienced hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy. This can result in a wide spectrum of disability and in SL’s case she has been left with a raft of problems. Firstly, quadriplegic cerebral palsy, which means that she has impaired movement and stiffness of all her limbs as a direct result of brain damage to the parts of the brain involved in movement, tone and posture.
  2. Secondly, she has global developmental impairment. Thirdly, she has gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. That is a condition where the stomach contents pass into the oesophagus causing symptoms. The stomach contents are acidic so the symptoms include pain from the acidic contents coming into contact with the oesophagus and the throat. They also include vomiting, feeding difficulties and respiratory problems if the stomach contents irritate the top of the windpipe or if small amounts enter the lungs. Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease is more common and may be more severe in children with severe neuro-disability like SL.
  3. Finally, Dr. Mattison considers that there is visual impairment as a result of the deprivation of blood and oxygen to those parts of the brain involved in vision.

One can see that absolutely anyone would have faced challenges in caring for SL and meeting her needs.

What the Judge found, by careful consideration of the facts, was that the matching process of RY and SL was optimistic.

RY had some considerable issues of her own, having been diagnosed with Ehler-Danloss syndrome, occasionally needing to feed herself through a gastrostomy tube and being in a power chair needing to use hoists to move herself out of the chair.  She also stated that she had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when she was 19.

None of that, of course, means that she is excluded from being a carer for a child, or from being an adopter, but it does mean that there were medical issues that needed some careful consideration in the assessment and matching process.

The fact that the assessment process identified that there had been views that RY’s physical problems were emotional or psychological in nature, at the very least ought to have meant that the adopter’s medical records would have been needed to be seen and commented on by a medically qualified professional.

I am not myself at all clear as to why that wasn’t the case.


12…the assessment report more generally – poses a number of questions. Most importantly, it does not address RY’s capacity physically to parent a disabled youngster as the child got older and heavier. It also has to be said that the possibility that RY’s health difficulties might have a psychological component were evident. It is easy, of course, to be wise with the benefit of hindsight, but nonetheless it seems to me that the enquiries made into RY’s physical and mental health were less than satisfactory.

  1. A number of reports were requested, including one from RY’s general practitioner and rheumatologist, but the nature of that enquiry appears to have been very limited and as RY on her own account has had very little recent contact with either in recent years, it is not surprising that little constructive information was forthcoming.
  2. Ms. Frances Heaton QC and Mr. Shaun Spencer, who appear on behalf of Southend Borough Council, absorb this criticism without demure. In their closing submissions they state as follows: ^

    “With regard to its own failure to consider these records, the adoption agency is cognisant of the fact that although not signposted in the regulations, a review of RY’s medical records is likely to have been beneficial during the adoption process”.

  3. They continue:

    “Where an adoption agency has referred a proposed placement to the adoption panel, the panel must consider the proposed placement and make a recommendation to the agency as to whether the child should be placed for adoption with that particular prospective adopter pursuant to regulation 32(1) of the Adoption Act Regulations 2005.

    In considering what recommendation to make the panel, (1), must have regard to the statutory duties imposed on the agency; (2), must consider and take into account all information and reports ^ passage of it; (3), may request the agency to obtain any other relevant information which the Panel considers necessary; and (4), may obtain legal advice as it considers necessary in relation to the case. Thereafter, in coming to a decision about whether a child should be placed for adoption with a particular prospective adopter, the agency decision maker must take into account the recommendation of the adoption panel and have regard to the child’s continuing welfare, pursuant to regulation 34(4) of the Adoption Act Regulations 2005″.

  • 16.Ms. Heaton and Mr. Spencer also identified the most recent Department of Education Statutory Guidance on Adoption, July 2013, drawing my attention particularly to para.4.15, which states:


      1. “Agencies have a duty to satisfy themselves that prospective adopters have a reasonable expectation of continuing to enjoy good health. The medical adviser should explain and interpret health information from the prospective adopter, their GP, and consultants if relevant, to facilitate panel discussion. The opinion of the prospective adopter’s GP and the agency’s medical adviser about the health status of the prospective adopter needs to be given sufficient weight by adoption panels and agency decision-makers. Mild chronic conditions are unlikely to preclude people from adopting, provided that the condition does not place the child at risk through an inability to protect the child from commonplace hazards or limit them in providing children with a range of beneficial experiences and opportunities. More severe conditions must raise a question about the suitability of a prospective adopter, but each case will have to be considered on its own facts …”



That seems to me very clear that an adoption medical of the prospective adopter would be required and that in a case where medical issues arise, the records would be needed.


This next part, for my mind, is the most worrying aspect of the case  – that these important aspects had not been properly considered because of the pressures on Southend (and one assumes other Local Authorities) to move adoptions through the system quickly to satisfy the Government driven statistics. But even more seriously, that where a Local Authority does not properly satisfy the Government as to performance, there are ‘penalties’

I have to be candid, I do work for a Local Authority. I don’t know about penalties for failure to meet the thoughts that Central Government have about performance (and frankly I wouldn’t know how to find out). The common-sense reading of this portion is that there are financial implications for a Local Authority who doesn’t get their adoptions through as quickly as Central Government thinks that they should.  Perhaps that is right, in which case it would be very worrying.  Perhaps someone has got the wrong end of the stick here.

  1. Counsel seek to explain the deficiencies of this agency’s process in these terms, they state:

    “The agency appreciates the strength of an argument that it failed to have sufficient regard to the matters required of it both by the regulations and the statutory guidance. In the context of that argument, the court understands the pressures on agencies quickly to match children with approved adopters as a result of government measures”.

  2. Ms. Heaton and Mr. Spencer say:

    “It is a reality of the situation that adoption agencies are being judged and measured by government departments on the speed of time taken to match children, poor performance leads to penalties”.

  3. They conclude:

    “This adoption agency recognises that these pressures may have resulted in proper scrutiny not being fully implemented in this case. I am offered reassurance that the agency recognises that a request to consider our wide medical records would have been beneficial to the matching process. I have been told that they intend to address this failing for the future by ensuring that the agency is more ready to be resistant to pressures and to identify at an early stage those cases which it considers to be exceptional where a ‘longer matching process is required’.”


The Judge was also perturbed about this :-


  1. I am not in any way in any position to evaluate the explanation proffered in the authority’s fulsome explanation. I was not, for example, aware that government departments were subjected to penalties where there had been too much delay in the time taken to match children, I confine myself entirely to observing what is little more than a statement of that which should be obvious.
  2. Children like SL are profoundly vulnerable. Social services and society more generally must be sedulous in its protection of them. The fact that there may be fewer welfare options available for such children must never mean the criteria for matching carers to them can ever be compromised. On the contrary, the obligations should be seen as even more rigorous. The matching of RY to SL was undoubtedly ambitious.



In any event, things became more serious, because what was asserted was that RY’s care was not merely deficient but actually harmful and indeed that the care of SL had reached the point where significant harm had been caused.

There were many issues in this regard, and the Judge was also critical that the document provided to RY that set out what portions of parental responsibility she was allowed to exercise and what she was not was a stock document and was ambiguous


  1. What is contemplated here is the granting of some but not all parental rights. The focus is on the child with the objective of permitting the prospective adopter to take day-to-day decisions in the sphere of health, education, religion, holidays and social activities. Here this local authority, in common with many others, I am told, issued a standardised pro forma document.
  2. In relation to health issues, it permitted RY to consent to emergency medical treatment. It did not permit her to consent to treatment including operations that require anaesthetic. It did permit her to take decisions in relation to any prophylactic treatment, including immunisations, decisions in relation to involvement in counselling or therapeutic services, agreement to school medical appointments and decisions in relation to dental treatment. It also provided for her to have decision making responsibility across a range of issues relating to education, day-care, religion, holidays and contact, had that been relevant. I need not look at those wider issues and I concentrate entirely, because it is in focus here, on the provisions relating to health. I have, to say the least, been greatly exercised by them. They are not to my mind a model of pellucid clarity.
  3. There has been much confusion by the professionals as to what the scope and ambit of RY’s parental responsibility powers in fact were. Having read the document I am not surprised. This document, particularly if it is, as I am told, issued widely, really requires refinement. Again I am reassured that Ms. Heaton has this in her sights. She submits that the adoption agency recognises that on reflection and with the benefit of hindsight, (a recurrent phrase) the use of this local pro forma document was not suited to the facts of this case. It is now, she says, recognised that what was required – and is likely to be required in cases such as this concerning any child with complex care needs – is “a bespoke s.25 parental responsibility document tailored to the individual circumstances and needs of the child being placed.”
  4. She goes on to offer the reassurance that in the light of this acknowledgement this Adoption Agency intends to review its own practices and procedures in relation to the identification of appropriate restriction on parental responsibility and to introduce bespoke PR documents in appropriate cases. It also intends to raise the issue with the British Association of Adoption and Fostering so that other adoption agencies may benefit from learning from the experience of this case. I would add to that my own view that the standardised document is itself lacking in clarity. The first two requirements permitting consent for emergency treatment and refusing to bestow consent to treatment including operations are not immediately capable of easy reconciliation and generate, to my mind, inevitable confusion. As I have said, they require some refinement though, of course, I recognise, in many cases, issues such as this will simply not arise.



The crux of this case was as to how RY behaved whilst SL was in hospital, which sadly given SL’s considerable health needs was something that happened often and would be likely to happen in the future. It was asserted that she was obstructive about the child’s feeding, resistant to medical advice, over-reporting of medical concerns, requested sedation for the child, adminstered oxygen when she was not trained to do so and discharged the child against medical advice.


  1. The local authority’s schedule posits six findings and four supplemental findings. The first is that during SL’s hospital admission, which commenced on 26 September 2014, RY repeatedly refused nursing observations such as taking blood pressure or temperature. The second is that RY repeatedly refused to allow medical advice in relation to SL’s dietetic requirements. The third is that RY repeatedly stopped or refused medication and treatments. The fourth is that RY demonstrated an inability consistently to accept medical advice. The fifth is that RY repeatedly requested treatments of her own motion or insists on treatment methods. And the sixth is that due to RY’s anxieties, she tends to focus her attention on unnecessary medical procedures or extreme outcomes.
  2. The four additions are that RY suctioned SL unnecessarily too vigorously and in an inappropriate manner. Secondly, that she repeatedly requested sedation medication for SL despite being told by at least two health professionals, Dr. Court and Sally Deever, that such may compromise her breathing. The third is that RY gave SL oxygen unnecessarily and inappropriately when she was not trained to do. And fourth, that SL suffered harm in RY’s care and was likely to do so if she were to return to her care. That last finding being essentially a composite of the earlier allegations.
  3. As I have already said, it is really a very striking feature of this case that so much of what is set out in that schedule is factually uncontentious. It is the gloss or interpretation that is put on it that has become the focus of disagreement during this case. In, for example, the first finding, namely that during SL’s hospital admission in September 2014 RY repeatedly refused nursing observations, there is agreement that she did indeed make such refusals.



Most of the factual matters, being supported by the medical reports provided by the hospital treating SL, were not in dispute. What was disputed was the interpretation to be placed on them, or whether they amounted to harmful behaviour rather than just genuine concern about a child who was undoubtedly very unwell.

  1. RY told me that she derived some satisfaction from the preparation of the food for her daughter that it was instinctive to her to want to do that and that I certainly understand, but as time passed it became all too clear that this preferred method of nutrition not only was unsatisfactory, it was falling manifestly and demonstrably short of meeting SL’s needs. The doctors and nursing staff and dieticians were plainly highly agitated that SL should have good quality calorific and nutritional food, particularly when recovering from her operation, and RY undoubtedly resisted it in the face of her own obviously inadequate regime long after it would have become obvious to the reasonable carer that this was simply not meeting this little girl’s needs.
  2. So obvious was it that, in circumstances which I really find to be truly extraordinary, the hospital required RY to sign a waiver abdicating their responsibility to her for providing SL’s proper nutrition. What I find so deeply alarming is that in this instance and in the other instance that I have just looked at, that is to say the failure to let nurses take temperature, blood pressure, routine tests, et cetera, how it was that RY’s will prevailed to the extent it did. I can only assume that her behaviour was as described so bizarre that it caused confusion in the ward and led to poor clinical judgments to be taken contrary to SL’s interests.
  3. Ms. Heaton put to RY directly on this point, “In those circumstances, how could RY be said to be putting SL’s interests first?” And to that, in my judgment, RY had no satisfactory answer. I simply do not believe that she has understood or is now able fully to understand why it was she behaves in that way, but there is no satisfactory explanation when properly analysed for this failure to meet that most basic of SL’s needs, her need for nutrition.
  4. As I have said, I do not find it necessary to work through each of the many examples contended for in the Scott Schedule of, for example, RY’s refusing medication and treatments, chiefly again because it is not disputed. One such example which stood out to me in the evidence was RY’s refusal to permit SL to take oramorph when moved onto the ward when in the intensive care unit. Oramorph, I was told, is a morphine-based medicine the objective of which was to downscale gradually the pain relief from the higher dosage that she hitherto had been receiving.
  5. RY told the hospital – and indeed told me – as Ms. Walker emphasises in her closing submissions, that SL “didn’t need anything for break-through pain”. It is one of a number of responses that causes Ms. Walker to comment on what she contends to be RY’s arrogance towards medical staff for how, says Ms. Walker, could RY possibly have been in a position to gainsay the medical advice and to assert from the basis of no medical knowledge at all and in a highly specialised area of medicine that this little girl did not need anything for break-through pain. Once again it was RY’s wish and not that of the doctors that prevailed. I agree with Ms. Walker that the evidence in relation to this can properly be described, as she does, “overwhelming”.
  6. I would also like to highlight the incident set out in the unchallenged statement of Ms. Leanne Mulholland, who is a Senior Sister at the Paediatric Emergency Department at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. In her statement of 7 May 2015, Ms. Mulholland tells me that she was the nurse in charge on the early shift of 14 July. Four areas of concern were handed over to her from the night staff.
  7. Firstly, there was the transfer of SL to the Paediatric Emergency Department in RY’s car directly contrary to the advice of the paramedic. A process which in and of itself caused a significant delay in admission as Mr. Unwin emphasises as a convenient forensic illustration of harm. Secondly, on arrival there was concern that RY simply refused initially to allow a full respiratory assessment to be performed. I am still unclear why that was, but it was ultimately completed as it manifestly needed to be. There was reported to Sister Mulholland a concern about the ambit of parental responsibility, which I have already looked at.
  8. Then there was the final area of concern; active discharge from the hospital against medical advice. That RY should do this at all, that she should feel knowledgeable and empowered enough to do it, even before she had been granted the Adoption Order and full parental responsibility, is profoundly troubling. This episode illustrates to my mind that RY had gone beyond behaviour that was merely capable of being categorised as bizarre but had, in truth, spiralled out of control. I find her judgment and her behaviour, was irrational, unstable and she had become, I am truly sad to say, a real risk to SL



There really was no way that Hayden J would have been able to grant RY’s application for adoption. He is very kind in his conclusions


  1. Ultimately, balancing what I have sought to identify as some really clear, captivating and obvious strengths that RY has and balancing those against the harm I have just outlined in summary, does not present to me a remotely delicate balance in determining the future for SL. The way ahead for her, whatever it may hold, is clear. The risk RY presents of harm or significant harm to SL is so real and serious and the potential consequences so grave that I find them to be wholly inimical to her welfare. It points clearly and determinatively in support of the local authority’s application under s.35(2) in effect refusing return to RY’s care. It follows, therefore, that I dismiss her application for adoption.
  2. In my lay view, RY has plainly some real emotional and psychological issues to address. I hope she is able to do so. I hope her family are able to help her to do so. In the meantime, it would not be safe, in my judgment, for her to be involved in the care of any child or vulnerable adult with disabilities.





Hayden J recognised that this was a case, where the system had not worked as it should and that a very vulnerable child had been exposed to more harm in the adoptive placement that had been intended to meet her needs, and there was thus a public interest in the case being reported


Cases of this kind generate real public concern and rightly so. In the past a judgment such as this would not have entered the public domain. It is hardly surprising therefore that public understanding of the Family Court process and confidence in it’s system had begun to erode. The Practice Guidance of the 16th January 2014 was intended to and has achieved immediate and significant change in practice in relation to publication of judgments in the Family Courts and the Court of Protection. In April 2013 Sir James Munby P issued a statement, View From the President’s Chambers: The Process of Reform, [2013] Fam Law 548 in which he identified transparency as one of three central strands of reform which the Family Justice System is currently undergoing. This is an ongoing process in which a balance between freedom of expression, protected by Article 10 ECHR and the rights of vulnerable children to privacy and security, protected by Article 8 is often a delicate one.


The fundamental argument was as to whether RY’s name should be reported.  Unlike a case where identification of a parent who has harmed the child inextricably identifies the child as well, and thus should not happen, here RY and SL did not share a name and identifying RY would not also identify SL.

The Court had come very close to identifying RY in the judgment, and the single factor which mitigated against it was RY’s intention to seek help for her own problems.

  1. I have already expressed my clear view that the link between publication of the identity of the carer and any adverse impact upon the child subject to these proceedings is tenuous. However, I think RY’s entitlement to the opportunity of therapeutic support, in private, which gives the process much greater prospects of success is so manifestly in both her own interests and those of society more widely that it weighs heavily in the parallel analysis of competing rights and interests in which the starting point is ‘presumptive parity’.
  2. In my judgement the need to protect RY’s privacy while she embarks on what I have no doubt will be a difficult and challenging therapeutic process is to recognise an important aspect of her own autonomy and dignity



That does obviously raise the prospect that in a similar case, where the adopter’s conduct was not as a result of psychological difficulties or there was not a recognition of those difficulties and an intention to seek help, that an adopter who harmed the child could be publicly named in a judgment. There would be reasonable arguments that this would be the right thing to do.

Couple “too old” to look after their granddaughter

I saw this case break in the Telegraph   where the line was that grandparents who were able, willing and capable of looking after their grand-daughter were turned down on the basis of their age and the child would be adopted.


That immediately didn’t sound right. It had the immediate ring of “I think that you’ll find its a little bit more complicated than that”.   [If you do find yourself being outraged and appalled by a case and you haven’t actually read the judgment, that’s usually a safe answer.  Of course, there are cases where reading the judgment actually does appall you at the scandal that’s gone on, but at least you are now being appalled on an informed basis]


That would fall extremely short of the legal tests involved, and you can see from the Telegraph article that they do include the comment from the Social Services department involved, who said flatly that age was not the deciding factor in the case.


The judgment is now available and people can see it for themselves


Re C 2015


You can see that the grandparents made an application to Court, to challenge the assessment done of them that did not recommend that they could care for the child. The Court heard from them, including hearing evidence from the grandfather (who sounds like a thoroughly nice man, to be honest).  The Court then applied the statutory tests and the case law guidance to whether they should have that application granted and whether the child could live with them, or whether adoption was the right way forward.


Additionally, you can see that whilst the Judge does mention the age of the grandparents, it is mentioned in passing rather than being the reason for the decision.


The reason for the decision, very simply, was that the mother had considerable mental health difficulties, including cutting herself in front of the child, that the mother had a very difficult relationship with the grandparents and that they were not going to be able to shield the child from these things.


The main concern however it seems to me is the fact that this family would be in my judgment completely unable to cope with the triangular relationship of C, M and the grandparents. Mr G expressed in evidence that he hoped that his daughter was going to recover her mental health, that she had had some recent treatment that over the next four years might lead to her mental health recovering. I very much hope that that is the case and it may well be right, but he was very clear that he was going to continue his relationship with his daughter and indeed he is to be commended for that. He said he saw her yesterday. I just cannot envisage how the triangular relationship can possibly work. Dr Martinez in her report expresses the concern that mother is unable to bring up C because she is likely to expose C to extreme behaviours – ‘scary situations’ is the word she uses – and she is referring to the incident in January when M in front of C self-harmed, cutting herself, and C was clearly in a scary situation witnessing her mother bleeding. That is exactly the type of situation which Dr Martinez envisages recurring and which puts C at the risk of significant harm if she were to be placed with her mother. If I were to envisage C being placed with her grandparents it seems to me that it is only a matter of time before C is put in that situation again. This is because of the conflict which the grandparents will experience in their meetings with their daughter, who they will not be able to turn away and in the conflict that is likely ultimately to create and which C is inevitably going to experience. Their personal circumstances are not ideal but ultimately it is that relationship which it seems to me makes it impossible for their application to succeed. Given the disruption to the local authority Care Plan against the likelihood of success of their application, I am afraid that I have no hesitation in saying that that application should therefore be dismissed.


Now, you may agree or disagree that this is a valid reason for saying no to these grandparents; but it certainly isn’t a decision that was made because of their age.

I don’t fault the grandparents at all for this – Courts can be confusing and scary places, and Judges use language and concepts that aren’t commonplace for ordinary people. Add to that, that of course this was an emotionally charged hearing and it is little surprise that the grandparents left not completely understanding all the reasons why the Judge said no to them, and that they got the wrong end of the stick.

Nor do I blame the journalist  – if the judgment had borne out what the grandparents said, that a Court had ordered that the child be adopted purely because the grandparents were too old, that would be a miscarriage of justice and a scandal worth reporting.  Of course, the journalist did have the clear rebuttal from Social Services that the case wasn’t about age, but also they had the comments from the solicitor engaged to represent these grandparents in an appeal  (which I doubt has any legs at all).  So it is not the flaw we often see in the Telegraph of the story having a single source – the journalist here did try to get multiple sources and to stand the story up.

You could make a criticism that the journalist didn’t try to get the judgment from the Court or wait for it on Bailii, but I think that’s to confuse the worlds of law and journalism.  Firstly, news stories are time sensitive. If the Telegraph waited for it to be published, they could have missed the scoop element that they had. And secondly, given that most lawyers can’t get an answer out of the Court service, what makes you think a journalist enquiring about “there’s been this case, I don’t have the case number, but can I have an anonymised copy of the judgment” is going to get any better response.

So I think it was okay for the Telegraph to run the story.  The problem, however, is that the Telegraph’s version of the story – that social workers and Courts rule people out just based on age, is the one that fluorishes and replicates and spreads, and the actual truth that the reasons for the decision were based on a Judge’s assessment of their ability to keep the child safe from mother, won’t get out there.

It is really important in care proceedings that family members who are able to help out, support the parents and ultimately offer a home if the parents can’t do it, come forward and aren’t put off. So, the story here spreads a myth that simply isn’t true.

I do appreciate that newspapers don’t exist solely as a vehicle to communicate the truth. They have to sell copies, they have to get clicks on their articles, they have to exist as a commercial venture. If they print articles that are factually accurate but that nobody wants to read, then the advertisers who want to sell their conservatories, plates with Princess Diana on them,  safes disguised as baked-bean tins, and mustard coloured polyester slacks*, won’t be placing those adverts.

I can’t actually work out a sexy way for the Telegraph and other news outlets to tell this story and correct the myth.  The best I can do is “Family Courts do still screw up from time to time, but they didn’t on this occasion. Sorry”   – and even I probably wouldn’t read that article.

[* Other products are, I’m sure, advertised in the Telegraph , and that’s just the sort of flippant generalisation and stereotyping that I would criticise them for when writing about social workers wearing corduroy trousers and knitting their own muesli.  It was just a cheap gag…   – now,  if you want to find “cheap gags” in the advertising section of a publication you are looking for something in the newsagents on an entirely different shelf to the Telegraph]

Minnock judgments (part 2) and a different judicial approach

Well, firstly, I’m pleased that the child has been found. And I’m not going to speculate about the future outcome of the case.


But I thought that people who have been interested might like to see the next four judgments.


They are the bottom four (beginning 12th June)

The 12th June judgment is unusual, in that it doesn’t read as a case where the Judge was being asked to decide an issue or make an order. Rather, he is helpfully setting out for those involved that if there is a commital application (where a person might get sent to prison) they are entitled to free legal advice and representation and what the magic words are. He then goes on, largely for the benefit of the Press and public to set out how the Courts make decisions about where a child lives, what factors come into account, the representation that the parents have had, and what factors the Court would take account of in the future, stressing that what the Court wants is to make sure that the child has a proper relationship with both parents. It is almost a judicial press release.  I’ve not seen that happen before, but I think in a case with so much media attention and public interest, it is actually a really sensible thing to have done and I hope that future Judges consider it.  If you wanted to understand what the legal background was to the case, it is all there.

The next judgment is describing that the child is safely returned, and explaining that the mother’s plan in the case was to use the Press to gain sympathy for her cause and to thwart the decision of the Court.  People may have their own view as to whether she was justified or not, but if you have a strong view, I’d recommend that you read that judgment to see if it remains the same. The really remarkable thing about this judgment is that at the end, the Judge allowed members of the Press to ask him questions directly and answered them.

I’ve never seen that happen in a family case before, but it seems to me a remarkably sensible approach. It must surely result in more responsible, balanced and nuanced reporting that the Press had the chance to ask questions directly of the Judge.  I applaud it.

The third (private hearing 15th June) sets out that the future decisions in the case need to be made without public spotlight, although a judgment will be published after the case is over, and allowing father to provide a short statement to the press.


And the fourth (and so far final) is a purge of contempt (by the partner of the maternal grandmother) for his part in the press campaign and more importantly in lying about the child’s whereabouts. For non-lawyers a purge of contempt is where a person who has been sent to prison for breaking court orders goes before the same Judge to express remorse and regret and ask for his sentence to be reduced or ended. In this case, the man was released from custody.


The Judge did ask, in his judgments, for the Press to refrain from speculation about where the child might live and whether mum would get to see him again and how that would work, and I’d therefore ask people to do the same in comments.

But what do people think about the Judge’s approach to openness in the case ? Very fast publication of the judgments, allowing the Press to come in, delivering a judgment that explained all of the balancing factors and principles, and allowing the Press to ask him questions? I think it is all very new, and the law is generally terrified of innovation, but we may come back to look on this case as a watershed in the family Courts not merely paying lip-service to the idea of transparency but really engaging in the process of explaining to the Press and public what is happening.  And balancing that with keeping really private things private.


An argument about publication of a judgment


Wigan Borough Council v Fisher and Others 2015

Again, Mr Justice Peter Jackson

I think this is the first reported authority on how to deal with transparency and publication of a judgment where one party objects, following the President’s transparency guidelines. The first and most important thing to say is that the High Court held this:-The question of whether a judgment should be published is an integral part of the proceedings from which it arises and I consider that where a party is legally aided, any work that is necessary to contribute to the court’s decision on publication should normally be covered by the party’s legal aid certificate.There were care proceedings about a little girl named A, who was in foster care but eventually went back to live with her mother. The central theme of those proceedings was the very tragic death of A’s sister Evie.

  • The proceedings arose because of the death of A’s sister Evie at the age of sixteen weeks on 21 February 2013. During her short life, she had sustained a number of serious injuries.
  • My fact-finding judgment was given on 6 December 2013 at the end of a hearing lasting eight days, during which each parent blamed the other for Evie’s injuries. My conclusion was that they had been caused by the father and that the mother should be exonerated. There was no appeal and the proceedings ended.
  • Mr Thomas was then prosecuted for causing grievous bodily harm to Evie. On 29 October 2014, he was acquitted by a jury at Liverpool Crown Court. The trial was reported in the press.
  • On the day of his acquittal, Mr Thomas gave an interview to a journalist in which he said “All I ever wanted to do … was to prove my innocence and now I have done that.” This interview, illustrated with a photograph of Mr Thomas holding a photograph of Evie, was published in the Wigan Observer and in the Daily Mail.
  • On 9 December 2014, a Coroner’s inquest reached an open conclusion, formerly known as an open verdict


The issue of whether the fact-finding judgment should be published was therefore an important and live one. Firstly, the name and face of the father was known to the media, as was Evie. Secondly, there was public interest in what had happened to Evie. Thirdly, the combination of the care proceedings (which remained confidential), a criminal trial (which was in the newspapers) and an inquest (which had been reported) might lead people to erroneously conclude that if the father had not hurt Evie then mother must have done.  Equally, however, father who had put himself in the public domain after having been found Not Guilty in a jury trial would obviously not want a finding of fact judgment which held that he was responsible for Evie’s death coming into the public domain.


  • To avoid the risk of prejudice to the criminal proceedings, I had deferred a decision on the publication of the fact-finding judgment. In November 2014, when those proceedings had ended, the parties referred the matter back to me. They initially suggested that an anonymised version of the judgment could be published, edited in such a way as to protect A’s identity.
  • I did not consider that this was realistic. The criminal trial and the Coroner’s inquest had taken place in public and substantial information about the family and the surrounding events had appeared in the press. This information was to all intents and purposes the same as that considered in greater detail in the family proceedings, except that this court’s conclusions were not reported. It would therefore be impossible for an anonymised fact-finding judgment to be published without it immediately being linked with this family. I therefore asked the parties for further written submissions by 13 January on the following possibilities:


(a) That the judgment should not be published at all.(b) That it should be published in an un-anonymised form.

(c)  That it should be published in an un-anonymised form, accompanied by a reporting restriction order preventing the identification of A (in which case an application would have to be made and the media notified in accordance with the Practice Direction).

(d) That it should be published in an anonymised form with workable accompanying directions that could be understood by the media. 


The Judge discussed the transparency guidance and the purpose of it


  • A salient purpose of the guidance is to promote understanding of and confidence in the proceedings of the Family Court. But beneficial though that goal is, it is not an end in itself. Rather, it is part of a necessary process to ensure that the rights of individuals and the public, referred to above, are properly balanced. That cannot happen if confidentiality in the proceedings of the Family Court, a public body, is allowed to trump all other considerations. A balance has to be struck in each case, using the guidance as a valuable aid. There will still be cases where, notwithstanding the guidance, publication is not permitted, and other cases where the judge will authorise wider publication than that contemplated by the guidance.
  • The guidance has had a marked effect. In 2014, its first year, over 300 judgments at High Court level were posted on the Bailii website, together with 160 judgments by other judges. These numbers are a very substantial increase on previous levels of publication, particularly in relation to judgments in local family courts. As a result, there is a very considerable body of material available to anyone who wants to better understand the way in which our proceedings are conducted.



I will set out the parties respective positions – the LA wanted the judgment to be published, as did mother. The father opposed publication. The Guardian supported publication but sought safeguards.


  • The local authority supports the publication of the judgment in an un-anonymised form, except that the surviving children A and B should not be named. It submits that there is good reason to publish the judgment and no compelling reason to the contrary:
  • The fact that an infant has been seriously injured and has died in unusual circumstances is shocking and rightly becomes a matter of public concern. Questions are asked – Why? Who? How? Could the death have been prevented? If so, is someone to blame?
  • The mass of publicly available information is noted. It includes Evie’s name, details of her injuries and death, the names of both parents, their locations, ages and photographs. Any privacy and confidentiality has long since been breached. The only remaining confidentiality attaches to A, who has not been publicly identified.
  • Conclusions have now been reached in the criminal court, the Coroner’s court and the Family Court about the events surrounding Evie’s death. The outcome of two of the three is now known, but not the third.
  • Neither A nor her mother are likely to be unduly affected or destabilised by further publicity.
  • Knowledge that the mother has been exonerated could assist her and A.
  • A’s identity is not likely to become more widely known. There is no evidence that the press has done other than respect her privacy, and a reporting restriction order is not necessary.
  • Publication would show the rigour with which the Family Court investigates the death of and injuries to a child and how it arrives at its conclusions.
  • Where, as here, there is criticism to be made of professionals, it is in the public interest to know of this in the hope that lessons will be learned.
  • Anonymisation of the judgment would be utterly pointless, except insofar as the surviving children’s names are concerned. It would lead to confusion and questions as to why the Family Court was seeking to withhold information that is already public knowledge.
  • The mother supports publication of the judgment and does not seek any other protection beyond that suggested by the local authority, namely the withholding of the children’s names. She contends that there is a clear public interest in publication for these reasons:
  • The information already in the public domain is very extensive, as demonstrated by a collection of press clippings from the Internet.
  • She has been placed in a difficult position by the father’s acquittal and the publicity he subsequently sought. Given that Evie was undoubtedly assaulted, the result has been to cast suspicion on her. She has been approached by the media to tell her side of the story, but has refused. Following the Coroner’s proceedings, the Daily Mail report posed the question in the title to its coverage: “Father with battered baby daughter’s handprint tattooed over his heart was cleared of beating her. So how did Evie die?” The article goes on to state that the father sought to blame the mother during his criminal trial.
  • The Family Court proceedings are the missing piece from a jigsaw of information. The other processes have been reported. The mother feels strongly that somewhere within the public domain there should be an accurate report of what happened to Evie. In time it will be of value to A that the truth is known. She also feels that the publication of the judgment would help to bring matters to a close for the family.
  • The father opposes publication, for these reasons:
  • The guidance states that the names of family members will not normally be used. The metaphorical opening of the doors to the Family Court is aimed at exposing the family justice system, not the families who pass through it, to the light of publicity.
  • Identification of the perpetrators of crime is the purpose of the criminal courts, not the Family Court.
  • The reasons for care proceedings to be conducted in private continue to be sound. The care with which the courts protect the rights to privacy, even of those who are found guilty in the criminal courts, is shown in a number of authorities, to which detailed reference is made. A careful balancing exercise must always be conducted.
  • Any attempt to publish the judgment in an anonymous form is doomed to fail, as the family would inevitably be identified. Since an anonymised judgment cannot be published, there should be no publication at all.
  • Identification of the family would breach its right to respect for private and family life and would be fundamentally wrong. Naming the father would be an unwarranted interference with his rights. Publication may destabilise A’s placement with her mother.
  • Just because the father involved himself in media coverage is not a reason to stir matters up again. Republication can be as harmful as publication.
  • There is no wider public interest, such as may exist in cases of failures by statutory agencies.
  • The Children’s Guardian does not argue that there are compelling reasons for publication not to occur. She notes that
  • There has already been a great deal of publicity but that A has not been named, though reference has been made to “another child”.
  • Her primary concern is that the mother and A may be exposed to unwelcome scrutiny and distress as a result of publication that reveals the disparity between the outcomes in the criminal and the family proceedings.
  • She supports as many safeguards as possible being implemented to reduce interest in this matter. She would oppose publication that identifies A or further identifies Ms Fisher, or refers to the inherited condition Treacher Collins syndrome. Any reference to the Wigan area and the local authority should be removed , and the names of solicitors deleted.


Note that the Local Authority was in favour of publication even though professionals were criticised in the judgment.


The Judge decided that the judgment would be published, and will appear in 28 days (thus allowing the parties time to prepare themselves, and for any appeal).  I think that it must be right that where a father has gone to the Press and insinuated that mother was responsible for the death of a child, that the judgment showing why she was fully exonerated from blame ought to be out there. I suspect it won’t get the same exposure in the Mail as the previous story, I hope to be proven wrong.




  • Having given due consideration to all of these matters, I am in no doubt that the fact-finding judgment should be published and that the only restriction that is necessary is that the actual names of the children referred to as A and B (another child associated with the family) are not to be revealed. The rubric attached to the judgment is sufficient to achieve this restriction. There is no need for a reporting restriction order. The media can be relied upon not to identify young children gratuitously in circumstances of this kind.
  • I find that the relevant considerations point very much in the same direction.
  • The first consideration is that it is generally in the public interest for accurate information to be made available in such a serious case. The need is particularly pressing when the information now in the public domain is incomplete and distorted.
  • The second consideration is that the mother supports publication and it is only fair that she should be able to rely on the judgment to show that she was not responsible for Evie’s injuries. Non-publication would be an injustice to her.
  • The third consideration is that publication is unlikely to destabilise A and her mother. On the contrary, it is likely to improve their situation in the long run. It is clearly in A’s interests to grow up on a true footing, knowing that her mother was not responsible for her sister’s death and that her relationship with her father is as it is because of what he did. Any short-term disturbance that might possibly arise from publicity is greatly outweighed by the long-term benefits of the truth being known.
  • The final consideration is that the rights of the father carry little weight in the overall balancing exercise, given his conduct and his attempts to misrepresent the position to the mother’s detriment. If his submissions were correct, the law would be a screen to hide the truth. There is instead a public interest in the findings about the father being made known. The fact that they have been reached according to the civil standard in the Family Court as opposed to the criminal standard in the Crown Court makes no difference in this case. to prevent the truth being seen.
  • These conclusions are, as it happens, in keeping with the guidance. Paragraphs 16 (public interest) and 17 (serious fact-finding) are both engaged. Insofar as the naming of the family members departs from the normal approach, this is warranted under both limbs of paragraph 9 (party’s wish to refer to exoneration and public interest in identification of a person against who findings have been made).
  • I agree with the local authority that it would be futile to seek to remove identifying information in an effort to dissociate the Family Court’s conclusions from information already on the public record. The court should not stultify itself and any attempt to publish anonymously could only lead to bewilderment about what could and could not be reported. The Guardian’s submissions were made before the mother’s position was known, but were they to remain unchanged, I would prefer the positions of the local authority and the mother.
  • I do not agree with the father’s analysis of the purpose of the guidance. As I have explained, it is not narrowly concerned with the image of the Family Court but with the wider goal of achieving a proper balancing of all the rights that arise in these cases.
  • The fact-finding judgment, and this judgment, will be placed on the Bailii website 28 days from now, to allow time for all interested parties to prepare themselves and for any rights of appeal to be exercised.



Reporting restriction orders and anonymisation


This Court of Protection case raised, and answered, an important question that was causing people doubts, in relation to Reporting Restriction Orders. It has broader implications than just Court of Protection cases.

A Healthcare NHS Trust and P 2015


A Reporting Restriction Order is just as you might guess, an Order of the Court saying that the Press can’t report some details on a particular case.  When the Court decides whether to make one, it is balancing up the article 8 right to privacy of the people involved (particularly if they are vulnerable people who can’t consent for themselves) AGAINST the article 10 right to freedom of expression (the concept that the Press ought to be free to report stories of public interest, or that are just interesting to the public)

What you might not know, if you haven’t made an application of this type, is that when faced with a story that you don’t want the Press to run, the procedure to obtain an RRO is to contact the Press and tell them all that there’s a really juicy story that you don’t want them to run.


That is so that the argument about article 8 v article 10 can be run with the Press being present and represented.  It does mean that you need to think carefully about whether stamping out a small fire (a newspaper wanting to run a story) by applying for an RRO might mean you accidentally starting a forest fire (by shouting “Fire, fire” to the rest of the media)


It is also worth noting that the transparency guidelines are that any application for an RRO, whether granted or not, should have an anonymised judgment published  – so RROs in practice are really going to be about ensuring that the NAMES of the people involved do not become published.

So, when the Press are told about the application for an RRO, should the real NAMES of the people involved be used, or should they be anonymised?

  1. It is submitted by the Press Association that pre-notification anonymisation appears to becoming a practice amongst claimant lawyers, who appear to be under the erroneous misapprehension that not only would they be committing a contempt but that by identifying the parties to a claim to the media means that the media will or may publish the material before the Court has had the opportunity to consider and possibly prohibit publication. It also suggests that the assumption is being made that the applicant’s right to privacy under Article 8 of the ECHR outweighs the media and public’s rights under Article 10. That approach by lawyers representing applicants seeking reporting restrictions or injunctions in refusing to identify the parties involved in a case involves restricting the media’s rights even before the Court has had an opportunity to consider the matter. That, it is said, leaves the media unable to take advice or make sensible and informed decisions as to what approach, if any, to take in a particular case.
  2. When the Press Association raised the question of identification of the parties with the applicant’s solicitors in this case, the response apparently was that the solicitors would be committing a contempt of court by disclosing the information; the argument put forward today by Mr Sachdeva QC is altogether different.
  3. The short issue of course is whether there is an obligation subject to paragraph 15-17 of the Practice Direction 13A to disclose information.


If there is an obligation to provide the real names of those involved as part of the application process, then there’s no issue of contempt of Court in complying with that obligation. And this is the issue that the Court had to decide.

On the one hand, the argument is that giving out the real names might be a contempt of Court and might breach privacy and might pose a risk of the names accidentally leaking out. On the other, if you tell the Press that they aren’t allowed to write about person X, but you don’t tell them who person X is, how can they really know whether they might have already been approached by X about the story, or even whether they would want to run the story.

  1. The questions therefore seem to be as follows. On the one hand the arguments in favour of revealing the parties’ identity to the Press before such an order is made include Practice Direction 13A requiring that the application notice (COP 9) be served with the media notification. The COP 9 has the parties’ names on it as of course does the witness statement (COP24). It is in accordance with open justice to allow the media fully to consider whether to object. It is pragmatic, otherwise the media would have to attend every case to learn the parties’ identity. Arguably no harm is done by notification because the media cannot report the parties’ identity despite no RRO being yet in place without being in contempt and the media will learn the parties’ names once the RRO is made in any event.
  2. Against the proposition is the assertion that the Practice Direction (which is a practice direction, not a Rule of Court) does not require the draft order to be served on the media (as noted by Baker J in Re M). However, he was considering the issue in relation to the identities of a considerable number of people who would be covered by the anonymity order. More directly than that it is simply unnecessary for the media to know the identity of P before forming an opinion on the terms of the RRO being sought, the issues being the centre of interest. Relevance is also placed on the absence of prohibitive order prior to hearing, a breach of which it is said is not clearly a breach of confidence or contempt of court.

Mr Justice Newton marshals the law and principles very well here, and it would be a good source for any RRO research in future cases.

To skip to the conclusion – the Judge was satisfied that the Press having the real names on the application form would not result in those names being published before the Court considered the RRO and that there were a number of safeguards to ensure that would be the case, even if there were to be one maverick or rogue player:-

  1. I am therefore completely satisfied that a number of factors come together preventing the media from revealing the parties’ names, because

    1. It would be a statutory contempt.

    2. It would be a contempt of common law.

    3. It would be in breach of the express contractual arrangements between any subscriber and the Press Association (with a powerful deterrent effect).

    4. It would be a breach of confidence.

  2. In the interests of transparency, the whole thrust of the law from the Practice Direction onwards dictates that in order to form a proper view the Press should see all the information including names. I therefore order the disclosure of the identity of P and the family to the Injunctions Alert Service so that the Press may respond if they wish to do so.



The statutory contempt of court bit is interesting, particularly in relation to publication of information whilst the proceedings have not been concluded.

  1. Section 1 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 provides:

    “In this Act “the strict liability rule” means the rule of law whereby conduct may be treated as a contempt of court as tending to interfere with the course of justice in particular legal proceedings regardless of intent to do so.”

    Section 2 of the Act sets out the scope of strict liability. The following must be established to the criminal standard:

    a) publication addressed to the public at large, as any sections of the public;

    b) publication which creates a substantial risk that the course of justice in the proceedings in question will be severely impeded or prejudiced;

    c) publication occurs at a time when the proceedings are active.

    So there is a double test, there has to be a risk that the proceedings in question will be affected at all and if affected, the effect will be serious.

  2. Anything that has a deleterious impact on the conduct or outcome of proceedings is prejudicial to the course of justice (I have had regard to the definitions in Arlidge, Eady and Smith on Contempt (citing Re Lonhro 1990 2 AC 154 and AG v Times Newspapers Times 12/2/83).


What about common law contempt?

  1. In the unlikely event that statutory contempt is not established common law contempt (under section 6(c) of the Act) could clearly be established. The actus reus and mens rea both have to be established. Lord Bingham in A-G v Newspapers Publishing plc [1997] 1 WLR 926 at 936B-D set out the actus reus to be established:

    “We do not accept that any conduct by a third party inconsistent with an order of the court is enough to constitute the actus reus of contempt. Where it is sought to impose indirect liability on a third party, the justification for doing so lies in that party’s interference with the administration of justice. It is not our view necessary to show that the administration of justice in the relevant proceedings has been wholly frustrated or rendered utterly futile. But it is, we think, necessary to show some significant and adverse effect on the administration of justice. Recognising that the restraints upon freedom of expression should be no wider than are truly necessary in a democratic society, we do not accept that conduct by a third party which is inconsistent with a court order in only a trivial or technical way should expose a party to conviction for contempt.”

  2. At 936H-937A, Lord Bingham set out what had to be established in respect of the necessary mens rea:

    “To show contempt, the [A-G] must establish, to the criminal standard of proof, that: ‘the conduct complained of is specifically intended to impede or prejudice the administration of justice. Such intent need not be expressly avowed or admitted, but can be inferred from all the circumstances, including the foreseeability of the consequences of the conduct. Nor need it be the sole intention of the contemnor. An intent is to be distinguished from motive or desire …’

  3. The publication of material contained in an application for reporting restrictions prior to the hearing to determine those restrictions is likely to amount to a contempt of court at common law. It is likely to have a significant and adverse effect on the administration of justice by thwarting the very purpose of the application, thereby making the application for reporting restrictions redundant. Intent to impede or prejudice the administration of justice is likely to be inferred from the context that the publisher will be aware of the context of how the information was received, the purpose for which it was received and the likely restrictions sought in the application.




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