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Multiple failings, IRO and whistleblowing

 

It is part of the Christmas tradition of Suesspicious Minds that some Local Authority takes an almighty judicial kicking in a published judgment,  and this year I’m afraid it is Herefordshire behind the door on the advent calendar.  This is a damning judgment by Keehan J

 

 

 

2.The care of and care planning for both these young people by Herefordshire Council has, over the last ten years or so, been woeful.

A & B (care orders and placement orders – failures) [2018] EWFC 72 (30 November 2018)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2018/72.html

 

Herefordshire County Council obtained Care and Placement Orders on two children, A and B in May 2008. At that time, A was 11 and B was 10 (that sounds immediately to me like a highly optimistic order…)

 

Neither were placed for adoption, and the plan of adoption was abandoned by the Local Authority in September 2009. No applications were made to revoke the placement orders for A, and it discharged on her 18th birthday. An application was finally made to revoke the placement order for B, when she was 17 ½, it being revoked the day before her 18th birthday.

The girls were separated in 2013, and nobody was really able to explain to the Judge why that was

 

This was followed by a LAC Review held on 13th December 2013 at which it was decided to place A and B in separate foster placements. I do not know the reasons why this important decision was made nor the evidence on which it was made. A and B were never again placed together. I have no explanation as to why not.

 

 

 

 

22.On 19th November 2016 A and B had their first face to face contact since 2014. This has been requested by A who was pregnant.

 

 

23.On 12th March 2017 A gave birth to her first child, F. She had no secure or stable accommodation. A whilst pregnant and after F was born had been living in an annexe at her former foster carer’s home. In May 2018 A reported to the local authority that she and F had been evicted by her former foster carer and that she had nowhere to go. The local authority’s response to the plight of this young mother and care leaver was wholly inadequate. The response was so poor that, the Head of Service, Gillian Cox, accepted that the local authority had failed A and her daughter.

 

 

 

 

26.Between December 2013 and 1st September 2017, when she had attained her majority, A had had at least 5 changes of placement in various different areas of the country. There is no doubt that the instability in A’s life during these formative years, including the numerous changes of placement, have caused her significant emotional and psychological harm.

 

 

27.Between February 2016 and 6th March 2018 B endured 7 changes of placement in various different areas of the country. The harm suffered by B as a result of these changes in placement in terms of her emotional and psychological wellbeing are incalculable.

 

 

28.Between November 2008 and May 2018 A has had 6 different social workers allocated to her case. Between June 2014 and August 2018 B has had 8 different social workers allocated to her case. I accept the reallocation of case in October 2016 to a social worker in the 16+ Team was inevitable. There is, however, no good or cogent explanation for the high turnover of the other social workers which, to put it mildly, must have been unsettling and unhelpful.

 

 

29.From the time the children were made the subject of care orders and placement orders in February 2008 until October 2018 this local authority has had eight different independent reviewing officers (IRO) responsible for the oversight of their care plans.

 

 

(In 25 years of practicing family law, in various different local authorities, I don’t think I’ve MET 8 different IROs, but these girls had 8 different ones allocated to them at various points…)

The Head of Service filed a statement setting out the admissions that the LA made as to their failings in this case

 

 

30.I was so concerned at the failures of the local authority in respect of A and B that I ordered Ms Cox, the Head of Service, to file a statement setting out an explanation for the same. Her statement is dated 1st November 2018.

 

 

31.In respect of A, Ms Cox said as follows:

 

 

 

“In my view our service has failed to support [A] as I would expect since she first became homeless and in particular I would identify the following:

 

 

  1. In May when [A] first contacted our team to say that she was homeless we should have offered her supported lodgings accommodation in Herefordshire with [F] on a temporary basis whilst a longer term solution was identified. We should also have pro-actively supported [A] to search for private rented options in Birmingham and made it clear to her that we would financially support her with a bond and act as a guarantor if required.

 

 

  1. As time progressed and [A] continued to ask us for help and was not able to obtain suitable accommodation for herself in Birmingham we should have revisited these options and again offered her short-term solutions in Herefordshire and proactively supported her to find private rented accommodation. On the 15th June [A] specifically requested to return to Herefordshire but I can find no evidence of this being responded to which is unacceptable.

 

 

  1. The situation should have been escalated through Heads of Service to our Assistant Director and Director who have all asked to be kept informed of any young person who is placed in Bed and Breakfast accommodation. In the turnover of team managers and Heads of Service this expectation was not understood.

 

 

  1. On the 18th June [A] was informed that the local authority decision was that we would not pay a bond for her to secure private rented accommodation for her. This was not the case as this was agreed by the Head of Service when she was made aware of the situation. It is concerning that the team lack clarity about the support they are able to offer and did not escalate the situation earlier.

 

 

  1. There was a delay of almost a month in authorising a placement request made in July and this is unacceptable. The delay was due to further information not being provided to the Head of Service but in the circumstances the Head of Service should have been more pro-active in gaining the information she required.

 

 

  1. On the 11th October the personal advisor supported [A] and [F] to move from the Travel lodge to Northbrook hostel but did not look around the shared facilities. She described the accommodation as “basic” but did not raise concerns about the suitability of it for [A] and [F]. Having seen the photographs that [A] sent via her legal representative I was appalled by the state of the accommodation she was living in and was very clear that this was unsuitable and she should not have been left there.

 

  1. [A] is currently living in a supported lodging placement in Herefordshire with her daughter, [F]. She moved there on Tuesday 23rd October as an interim arrangement whilst suitable private rented accommodation for [A] and [F] is sourced in Birmingham. I received photographs and an email that [A] had sent her legal representative on the 23rd October and I was appalled at the state of the accommodation that she was living in. I telephoned [A] directly myself and asked if she would be willing to move to a supported lodging placement in Herefordshire if I could arrange that whilst we sorted out a suitable place for her to live in Birmingham. [A] was concerned about moving away from Birmingham but I was able to reassure her that this would be for just a short time. [A] agreed and so I made arrangements for our fostering team to find a placement for her and [F] and for her personal advisor to go to Birmingham to collect her that day.

 

  1. [A] was supported by her personal advisor to view flats in Birmingham on Thursday, 25th October and found a flat that she liked in an area that she is happy to live in. Herefordshire Council has paid 6 months’ rent up front and all relevant administrative fees to enable [A] to move into the accommodation. [A] will pay the housing benefit that she receives to the local authority as she receives it. At the time of writing this statement the plan is that [A] and [F] will move into their new home on Friday, 2nd November.

 

  1. [A] will continue to receive the support of her personal advisor. She is being referred for “floating support” and the most suitable provider for this is being investigated. The local authority will fund this support if [A] is not entitled to receive the support at no cost.”

32.In respect of B, Ms Cox observed in respect of the current placement that:

 

 

 

“[B] continues to live in a supported lodging placement with her boyfriend and his mother. She has lived there since March 2018. She is reported as happy living there although understands it is unusual to be living in the same home as her boyfriend at such a young age and is keen to move to live independently soon after she turns 18. She has been supported to register for housing and in the meantime can remain where she is. [B] will continue to receive the support of her personal advisor.”

33.I was told by Ms Cox that substantial steps have now been taken by the local authority to ensure:

 

 

 

  1. i) the mistakes and serious errors made in respect of A and B are not suffered nor endured by any other child or young person in the care of Herefordshire; and

 

  1. ii) far more robust procedures are now in place to ensure issues are escalated to more senior managers and, where appropriate, to the assistant director and/or the director of children’s services.

 

 

The Judge was concerned that the IRO system, which should have tackled these failings and drift, and got the LA to apply to revoke the placement orders and tighten up their planning for these girls (including ensuring that they had contact with one another) had not done so. He ordered a report from the Head of the IRO team

 

 

35.Accordingly I ordered the Head of Service, Safeguarding and Review (i.e. the head of the IRO service for this local authority), Cath Thomas, to file a statement. I am grateful to Ms Thomas, as I am to Ms Cox, for providing the court with a statement dated 1st November 2018. I regret to note that the statement contained a number of matters which caused me very profound and grave concern.

 

 

36.The statement of Ms Thomas concluded with the final paragraph:

 

 

 

“It is very clear that the issue of revoking [B]’s placement order continued without resolution for a significantly long period of time, both prior to and since the data error was realised in early 2016. This length of delay is absolutely unacceptable and I apologise unreservedly to [B] and her sister. The IRO service failed to fulfil its statutory responsibilities to [B]. I failed to robustly challenge the views of my assistant director at the time, which I recognise I should have done and as head of service I take full responsibility for these failings and apologise unreservedly to the court.”

 

This is a frank acceptance of a proper degree of responsibility by Ms Thomas. I accept her apology without reservation. Some of her actions or more properly her lack of action may be explained or, at least, put into context by a number of events set out in her statement which I shall now turn to consider.

37.In the autumn of 2008 Children’s services in Herefordshire moved from paper files to electronic records. It was not discovered until January 2016 that the placement orders made in respect of both children had not been recorded on their electronic records. This may explain why subsequent IROs did not raise the issue of revocation of these orders, but it does not explain why the IRO at the time the care plan was changed in early 2009 from one of adoption to long term fostering did not do so.

 

 

38.Ms Thomas asserted that in an unrelated case an IRO had concerns about a child’s case and wished to obtain independent legal advice and/or refer the matter to Cafcass. She said she raised this issue with the then senior lawyer and the then assistant director in January 2017. The response from the assistant director to Ms Thomas was that she was not to seek independent legal advice nor to refer the matter to Cafcass. She was further told that if she did not comply with this ‘advice’, disciplinary procedures would be invoked. Ms Thomas asserted that this assistant director did not recognise the independent nature of the IRO service.

 

 

39.It is not for me to determine the truth of these assertions, not least because I have not heard from the former assistant director. The council’s legal department did, however, immediately upon receipt of Ms Thomas’ statement invoke a whistleblowing investigation which has been reported to the Chief Executive of the local authority and members of the council. I note that the then deputy county solicitor agreed with Ms Thomas’ recollection of events.

 

 

40.Ms Thomas asserted that it was because of the ‘advice’ given by the former assistant director that she did not escalate the case of A and B beyond the Head of Service level, did not seek to obtain independent legal advice and/or refer the matter to Cafcass. As Ms Thomas readily acknowledged this was, to say the least, deeply regrettable.

 

 

41.The former assistant director left this local authority in March 2018.

 

 

Obviously the Judge did not hear from the former assistant director who allegedly told an IRO that escalating a complaint about a child’s case would be treated as a disciplinary matter, so there is not a finding as to whether or not that happened. (He notes, however, that the Deputy County Solicitor agreed with what Ms Thomas was alleging)

 

So we can’t say that this actually definitively happened, but if it DID, then there’s a complete failure to understand the role of the IRO and how vital their independence is. The Judge set out the framework and the importance of independence and the ability for IROs to obtain independent legal advice in detail, concluding this

 

 

 

 

50.I am appalled at the manner in which and the serial occasions on which the social workers and their managers have failed these two young people. The fact that I have chosen in this judgment to focus on the role and actions of the various IRO’s should not be taken in any way to diminish the failures of the social workers and/or their mangers in this case. Rather the failings of the IROs has been so stark and grave that, in my judgment, it was appropriate to focus on the failings of the IROs and the IRO service in this case.

 

 

51.Once a court makes a care order it entrusts, as by statute it must, the future care of the child to the local authority. The essential safeguard the court and the public at large have that a local authority will be a good corporate parent is the function and role of the IRO. Any obstruction of an IRO performing their statutory role or any diminution in an IRO, or their manager, feeling empowered to do so, is a matter of the utmost consequence. For otherwise a looked after child is subject to the vagaries of social work practice and the local authority’s different pressures and priorities. The IRO is, or should be, the child’s protector or advocate. If the IRO is silenced or pressured not to act as the child’s interests demand and require, it is the child who will suffer – just as these children, A and B have suffered.

 

 

 

Conclusions

52.This local authority, as it has accepted, failed both young people in the errors made by its social workers and their managers over a very prolonged period of time.

 

 

53.The IROs failed them on a serious and serial basis.

 

 

54.I entirely accept and acknowledge that in these straitened financial times all local authorities are stretched. Furthermore I recognise that this local authority, like very many around the country, have difficulties recruiting and retaining social workers. As a consequence many social workers have to carry very heavy case loads, may not have sufficient experience to deal with the more complex cases and/or have limited time to work on a particular case.

 

 

55.These difficulties, however, do not begin to explain the wholesale failure of this local authority, in its role as a corporate parent to plan adequately or appropriately for the care of these children. I simply do not know or do not understand why the care plan was changed from adoption to long term fostering in 2009. The explanation given in B’s 2018 Care Plan is plainly false or, at best, inaccurate.

 

 

56.This means that neither A nor B can now be given a clear and cogent explanation of why they suffered such instability when in the care of this local authority. I find this to be profoundly regrettable.

 

 

57.The fact that the local authorities are under financial pressures, and there too few social workers who carry too many cases, increases the importance of the role performed by the IROs. When it is known deadlines may be missed, visits not undertaken, assessments not completed or other actions in furtherance of a child’s care plan not addressed, the IROs must take active steps to ensure a child’s welfare and future care is not disadvantaged by these omissions.

 

 

58.Whatever opposition or obstruction the IRO or Head of Service faced from a local authority, the IROs and their managers must remember that their first and foremost duty is to the children and young people that they serve. If this is ignored or obstructed, it is only the children or young people, who are our future, who will be harmed.

 

 

59.The clear message must go out that IROs serve a vital and essential function to ensure that a child’s or a young person’s interests are met post the making of a care order or other orders. If those functions and roles are not exercised in a clear, robust and untrammelled fashion, the children or young people will suffer.

 

 

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Miss Demeanour and her concertina

 

 

 

This is a Circuit Judge decision about whether a vulnerable witness (the children’s aunt) should give evidence in a way that would prevent the father (about whom she was making very serious allegations of abuse when she was a child) from seeing her. By either screens blocking his view, or by video link.

 

The father argued that this would not be fair

 

 

 

 

5.The father’s position turns on the relevance of demeanour in assessing the credibility of a witness. The father says that the court’s ability to assess the credibility of the witness will be compromised if the court is unable to assess the witness’s demeanour when giving evidence. The father goes further to say that it is necessary that he should be able to assess the witness’s demeanour when she is giving evidence.

 

The Judge, His Honour Judge Greensmith, gave a judgment, and set out the history of judicial views of demeanour and the current position.  (Drawn from the Court of Appeal decision this year in an immigration case called Singh)

 

The history began with Judges thinking that the demeanour of a witness was vital in deciding whether they were telling the truth, and now is very cautious about the value of demeanour in deciding this. It’s an excellent summary of the law, and is, to my mind, very interesting about the shift in views.

 

The whole issue of how good people are at detecting when another person is lying is fascinating. Every study since 1986 has revealed that people are essentially no better in deciding whether a person is lying or telling the truth than pure luck – if you decided not to try to determine it by skill and just flipped a coin and said ‘head they’re honest, tails they’re a liar’ most people would get better results than using all of their finely honed instincts. Most of the behavioural markers we think indicate dishonesty simply aren’t reliable. And indeed, there’s some empirical evidence that using impressions of demeanour (tone of voice, position of eyes, body language) makes the assessor even worse at establishing whether someone is telling the truth than if they paid such things no regard at all and just decided honesty based on the content of what was said.

 

Professional lie-catchers (such as police officers and customs officers) have been found in studies to be no better at determining whether an individual is being honest or telling the truth than a random member of the public (Vrij 2000)

 

 

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/248925175_How_people_really_detect_lies

 

 

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2018/B69.html

M & Ors v Liverpool City Council [2018] EWFC B69 (12 November 2018)

 

 

 

 

6.The relevance of demeanour as an indicator of credibility is questionable. It is the current teaching of the Judicial College during courses on “judge-craft” to the judiciary across all jurisdictions, including newly appointed Deputy High Court Judges, that judges should be very circumspect about the value of demeanour in assessing credibility.

 

 

7.This principle is emphasised in the case which I brought the parties’ attention to which is Sri Lanka v. the Secretary of State for the Home Department [2018] England and Wales Court of Appeal Civ 1391 and in particular paragraphs 33 onwards. I set this out on full to inform how the current approach to demeanour is developed by Leggatt LJ:

 

 

 

Demeanour

 

  1. The term “demeanour” is used as a legal shorthand to refer to the appearance and behaviour of a witness in giving oral evidence as opposed to the content of the evidence. The concept is, in the words of Lord Shaw in Clarke v Edinburgh & District Tramways Co Ltd 1919 SC (HL) 35, 36, that:

 

 

 

“witnesses … may have in their demeanour, in their manner, in their hesitation, in the nuance of their expressions, in even the turns of the eyelid, left an impression upon the man who saw and heard them which can never be reproduced in the printed page.”

 

  1. The opportunity of a trial judge or other finder of fact to observe the demeanour of witnesses when they testify and to take this into account in assessing the credibility of their testimony used to be regarded as a peculiar advantage over an appellate court which insulated findings of fact based on such observation from challenge on appeal. This approach was encapsulated by Lord Sumner in Owners of Steamship Hontestroom v Owners of Steamship Sagaporack [1947] AC 37, 47, when he said that:

 

 

 

“… not to have seen the witnesses puts appellate judges in a permanent position of disadvantage as against the trial judge, and, unless it can be shown that he has failed to use or has palpably misused his advantage, the higher Court ought not to take the responsibility of reversing conclusions so arrived at, merely on the result of their own comparisons and criticisms of the witnesses and of their own view of the probabilities of the case.”

 

  1. Nowadays the reluctance of an appellate court to interfere with findings of fact made after a trial or similar hearing is generally justified on other grounds: in particular, the greater opportunity afforded to the first instance court or tribunal to absorb the detail and nuances of the evidence, considerations of cost and the efficient use of judicial resources and the expectation of the parties that, as Lewison LJ put it in Fage UK Ltd v Chobani UK Ltd [2014] EWCA Civ 5, para 114(ii):

 

 

 

“The trial is not a dress rehearsal. It is the first and last night of the show.”

 

  1. Generally speaking, it is no longer considered that inability to assess the demeanour of witnesses puts appellate judges “in a permanent position of disadvantage as against the trial judge”. That is because it has increasingly been recognised that it is usually unreliable and often dangerous to draw a conclusion from a witness’s demeanour as to the likelihood that the witness is telling the truth. The reasons for this were explained by MacKenna J in words which Lord Devlin later adopted in their entirety and Lord Bingham quoted with approval:

 

 

 

“I question whether the respect given to our findings of fact based on the demeanour of the witnesses is always deserved. I doubt my own ability, and sometimes that of other judges, to discern from a witness’s demeanour, or the tone of his voice, whether he is telling the truth. He speaks hesitantly. Is that the mark of a cautious man, whose statements are for that reason to be respected, or is he taking time to fabricate? Is the emphatic witness putting on an act to deceive me, or is he speaking from the fullness of his heart, knowing that he is right? Is he likely to be more truthful if he looks me straight in the face than if he casts his eyes on the ground perhaps from shyness or a natural timidity? For my part I rely on these considerations as little as I can help.”

 

 

“Discretion” (1973) 9 Irish Jurist (New Series) 1, 10, quoted in Devlin, The Judge (1979) p63 and Bingham, “The Judge as Juror: The Judicial Determination of Factual Issues” (1985) 38 Current Legal Problems 1 (reprinted in Bingham, The Business of Judging p9).

 

  1. The reasons for distrusting reliance on demeanour are magnified where the witness is of a different nationality from the judge and is either speaking English as a foreign language or is giving evidence through an interpreter. Scrutton LJ once said that he had “never yet seen a witness giving evidence through an interpreter as to whom I could decide whether he was telling the truth or not”: see Compania Naviera Martiartu v Royal Exchange Assurance Corp (1922) 13 Ll L Rep 83, 97. In his seminal essay on “The Judge as Juror” Lord Bingham observed:

 

 

 

“If a Turk shows signs of anger when accused of lying, is that to be interpreted as the bluster of a man caught out in deceit or the reaction of an honest man to an insult? If a Greek, similarly challenged, becomes rhetorical and voluble and offers to swear the truth of what he has said on the lives of his children, what (if any) significance should be attached to that? If a Japanese witness, accused of forging a document, becomes sullen, resentful and hostile, does this suggest that he has done so or that he has not? I can only ask these questions. I cannot answer them. And if the answer is given that it all depends on the impression made by the particular witness in the particular case that is in my view no answer. The enigma usually remains. To rely on demeanour is in most cases to attach importance to deviations from a norm when there is in truth no norm.” (emphasis added)

 

 

See Bingham, “The Judge as Juror: The Judicial Determination of Factual Issues” (1985) 38 Current Legal Problems 1 (reprinted in Bingham, The Business of Judging at p11).

 

  1. Ms Jegarajah emphasised that immigration judges acquire considerable experience of observing persons of different nationalities and ethnicities giving oral evidence and suggested that this makes those judges expert in evaluating the credibility of testimony given by such persons based on their demeanour. I have no doubt that immigration judges do learn much in the course of their work about different cultural attitudes and customs and that such knowledge can help to inform their decision-making in beneficial ways. But it would hubristic for any judge to suppose that because he or she has, for example, seen a number of individuals of Tamil origin giving oral evidence this gives him or her a privileged insight into whether a particular witness of that ethnicity is telling the truth. That would be to assume that there are typical characteristics shared by members of an ethnic group (or by human beings generally) which can be relied on to differentiate a person who is lying from someone who is telling what they believe to be the truth. I know of no evidence to suggest that any such characteristics exist or that demeanour provides any reliable indication of how likely it is that a witness is giving honest testimony.

 

  1. To the contrary, empirical studies confirm that the distinguished judges from whom I have quoted were right to distrust inferences based on demeanour. The consistent findings of psychological research have been summarised in an American law journal as follows:

 

 

 

“Psychologists and other students of human communication have investigated many aspects of deceptive behavior and its detection. As part of this investigation, they have attempted to determine experimentally whether ordinary people can effectively use nonverbal indicia to determine whether another person is lying. In effect, social scientists have tested the legal premise concerning demeanor as a scientific hypothesis. With impressive consistency, the experimental results indicate that this legal premise is erroneous. According to the empirical evidence, ordinary people cannot make effective use of demeanor in deciding whether to believe a witness. On the contrary, there is some evidence that the observation of demeanor diminishes rather than enhances the accuracy of credibility judgments.”

 

 

OG Wellborn, “Demeanor” (1991) 76 Cornell LR 1075. See further Law Commission Report No 245 (1997) “Evidence in Criminal Proceedings”, paras 3.9–3.12. While the studies mentioned involved ordinary people, there is no reason to suppose that judges have any extraordinary power of perception which other people lack in this respect.

 

  1. This is not to say that judges (or jurors) lack the ability to tell whether witnesses are lying. Still less does it follow that there is no value in oral evidence. But research confirms that people do not in fact generally rely on demeanour to detect deception but on the fact that liars are more likely to tell stories that are illogical, implausible, internally inconsistent and contain fewer details than persons telling the truth: see Minzner, “Detecting Lies Using Demeanor, Bias and Context” (2008) 29 Cardozo LR 2557. One of the main potential benefits of cross-examination is that skilful questioning can expose inconsistencies in false stories.

 

41 No doubt it is impossible, and perhaps undesirable, to ignore altogether the impression created by the demeanour of a witness giving evidence. But to attach any significant weight to such impressions in assessing credibility risks making judgments which at best have no rational basis and at worst reflect conscious or unconscious biases and prejudices. One of the most important qualities expected of a judge is that they will strive to avoid being influenced by personal biases and prejudices in their decision-making. That requires eschewing judgments based on the appearance of a witness or on their tone, manner or other aspects of their behaviour in answering questions. Rather than attempting to assess whether testimony is truthful from the manner in which it is given, the only objective and reliable approach is to focus on the content of the testimony and to consider whether it is consistent with other evidence (including evidence of what the witness has said on other occasions) and with known or probable facts.

 

  1. This was the approach which the FTT judge adopted in the present case. It appears that the FTT judge did in fact recall when writing the determination the manner in which the appellant gave evidence at the hearing, as he commented (at para 59):

 

 

 

“When [the appellant] gave evidence before me, some of his answers were inconsistent and variable but there was no suggestion that he could not remember things.”

 

 

This suggests that the way in which the appellant answered questions did not create a favourable impression. Quite rightly, however, the FTT judge did not attach weight to that impression in assessing the credibility of the appellant’s account. Instead, he focussed on whether the facts alleged by the appellant were plausible, consistent with objectively verifiable information and consistent with what the appellant had said on other occasions (in particular, at his asylum interview and in recounting his history to the medical experts). Applying those standards, the FTT judge found numerous significant inconsistencies and improbable features in the appellant’s account which he set out in detail in the determination. As the FTT judge explained, it was “the cumulative effect of the implausible and inconsistent evidence” given by the appellant which led him to conclude that the core of the appellant’s account was not credible.

 

  1. Accordingly, even if the appellant had through his demeanour when answering questions given the FTT judge the impression that he looked and sounded believable, the suggestion that the FTT judge should have given significant weight to that impression, let alone that he could properly have treated it as compensating for the many inconsistencies and improbabilities in the content of the appellant’s account, cannot be accepted.

 

 

  1. Applying the approach of the Court of Appeal, I am compelled to make it clear to the parties that I am and will be very circumspect about the reliability of demeanour of any witness in these proceedings, including the father’s sister. It follows that if the court takes that approach to demeanour, so should the father in his assessment of the credibility of the sister.

 

 

Very useful summary for anyone in a case where these issues arise.  Or for practitioners generally.  Many of us like to think that we are brilliant at gauging whether someone is lying, but the reality is that we’re nowhere near as good as we think and the best of us are slightly better than chance.  It is the content and the correlation of the content with the other evidence that lets us decide on veracity, not whether someone makes eye contact or rubs their nose, or speaks confidently.

 

In the case in question, the Judge decided that the witness could give evidence by video link.

 

(In case you are pondering the title, Miss Demeanour was a Viz character, in the Beryl the Peril mode, who had a series of (chiefly violent) adventures with her concertina)

Contested divorce

 

Contested divorce was much in the headlines this year, because of the Owens v Owens case that went up to the Supreme Court. It is still pretty rare for someone to actually contest a divorce, rather than just grumble, tear up the letters or argue about the precise wording, there are about twenty full on contested divorces each year. (I used to do divorce law for a little while – not terribly well, and I only had one person want to actually contest a divorce – until I set out what it would cost and what the prospects of success were)

I don’t write about divorce cases much (unless they are very entertaining) so this is an extraordinary contested divorce case.

To give you the flavour, Ms W (Wife) was told by Mr H (the Husband) on 8th May 2017 that he had been having an adulterous affair with her best friend for the last 25 years, though he had ended that now, and started with another woman.

Ms W filed for divorce on the grounds of adultery. Mr H disputed that (although admitted the adultery) and cross-petitioned for unreasonable behaviour.

 

 

2.This has been an extraordinary case in very many respects as I shall return to in some detail later. The two most obviously unusual features should, however, be set out at the start. First, that this has been a three-day contested divorce trial. I understand that there are only about twenty contested divorce trials a year in this whole country. Secondly, that the respondent in these proceedings, Mr H, has contested the divorce which Ms W has brought because of his adultery despite admitting to having committed adultery for some twenty-two years of their marriage.

 

 

There was a contested hearing over the course of 3 days. Mr H required all of the witnesses to attend and they all gave oral evidence. That included his sister-in-law, his daughter-in-law, three sons of his former mistress, his former mistress, his daughter, the husband and wife themselves, and a man who bought a car from the husband in 2013….

 

In case you think this isn’t yet weird enough, the original trial was adjourned.

 

 

 

 

12.Pursuant to those directions, the trial was meant to take place on 5 to 7 September but Mr H did not attend on the first day as he was in hospital. He contacted Ms Y who told the court staff that he had told her that he was attacked during the night. The information was that he had been stabbed. I have now seen the police records for that night and they are also extraordinary. Mr H has reported that he got up at 3 a.m. on what was listed as the first day of this trial and drove to his yard (which I understand is in an isolated location) where he was attacked by a man or men. Some two to two-and-a-half hours later he rang for an ambulance and was taken to hospital. He has not cooperated subsequently with the police investigation. The court had to adjourn the hearing until 1 November as Mr H was not here and he was self-representing and had been so since 24 July 2018.

 

The Husband was directed to file medical evidence about this incident and instead filed

 

a poorly written letter from a consultant neurologist whom he was seeing privately. The letter did not say Mr H was unable to come to court. It did not say he was unable to conduct these proceedings. Mr H told me he had been suffering from headaches, blurred vision, loss of memory and had the feeling of little explosions in his head since the alleged incident on 5 September. He told me he believed he had post-concussion syndrome. He told me he believed he had been attacked because of the weight of evidence he had recently delivered to his wife’s solicitors in order to prevent him from attending this hearing.

 

The Judge was not, it is fair to say, convinced by the Husband’s account, which does seem to the impartial observer to share a certain quality with Swiss Cheese.

 

 

 

 

17.I refused the adjournment and gave, as I have said, a judgment about it. There was no medical evidence, just the inadequate letter from the doctor who did not attend court although should have done. Mr H admitted to me he was still driving and had been shooting which I considered incompatible with the symptoms he was telling me about which included blurred vision. I was not satisfied that Mr H had been attacked as he said. I do not know. I do not know if he was attacked at all or whether he arranged an attack. I thought the idea he put forward that his wife had in some way sought to have him attacked was ridiculous, not a line the police were pursuing and, in any event, was counter to Ms W’s interests. The so-called evidence which Mr H referred to is not admissible in any event, as Ms W’s legal team would have been well aware of.

 

 

To cite Alexander Pope, “A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring’

The Husband’s difficulties seem to have largely arisen because he became aware of the provisions of section 1 (2) (b) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973

 

 

 

“Where in any proceedings for divorce the [respondent] alleges that the [petitioner] has behaved in such a way that the [respondent] cannot reasonably be expected to live with [her], but the parties to the marriage have lived with each other for a period or periods after the date of the occurrence of the final incident relied on by the [respondent] and held by the court to support his allegation, that fact shall be disregarded in determining for the purposes of section 1(2)(b) above whether the [respondent] cannot reasonably be expected to live with the [petitioner] if the length of that period or of those periods together was six months or less.”

And having admitted twenty five years of adultery, decided to run the argument that the Wife had known about it and put up with it for more than 6 months, so could not rely on it now.

Which is correct, if you can prove that she knew, but it seems a very pointless argument to have.

 

105.Two things in particular puzzled me when I read the papers in this case. Why was Mr H contesting the divorce proceedings when he agreed that the marriage was over and accepted that he had been sleeping with his wife’s best friend for something over twenty-two years? Even if Mr H considered that he had a technical defence to her petition, why would he be so determined that the divorce had to be on his terms? Secondly, why did Mr H, and indeed Ms Y, blame Ms W for the destruction of their family lives and attribute this to what they term Ms W’s lie rather than to their affair and all the deception of so many people that such an affair involves? I am still unclear as to the explanations.

 

84.His statement is dated 28 March 2018. His statement is lengthy, and most is irrelevant. He has taken diaries prepared over the years Ms W and used them to give detail to his statement and that of Ms Y and to give some semblance of authenticity by giving dates. I will only deal with matters which relate to the issues before me. Mr H says he had no intention to perjure himself in his acknowledgement of service form when he denied committing adultery, and says:

 

“I am accused of having another adulterous relationship which again is not true. In my answer I then elaborated that although I had been in an adulterous relationship, which V knew about, crucially that relationship had ended after her knowledge of it. As I understand it, as we had been living together for a full six months after knowledge, she cannot rely on the past adultery as a basis for the divorce.”

 

I won’t get into all of the evidence given (it is well worth reading, because every paragraph of this judgment contains a gem), but here’s some judicial remarks on Husband’s evidence

 

 

 

98.Mr McCourt cross-examined Mr H at length but also kept to the most relevant parts of his excessively lengthy statement. Mr H emerged from the cross-examination, and indeed from his own cross-examination of Ms W’s witnesses, as a deeply dishonest man. I do not believe him about any of the matters in issue in this case. His attitudes displayed in these proceedings are those which were common forty years ago, not today. He has a minimal respect for women who are there to please him and to do his bidding. In his view of the world, marriage does not entitle a woman to anything other than what her husband chooses to give her.

 

 

 

99.He is clearly proud of his excessive drinking and thought everyone occasionally gets so drunk they have no memory of what has happened. He told me that he had not told the police responsible for fire arms and shotguns about his diagnosis of post-concussion syndrome. He told me his current certificates were under review and that he had no guns in his possession, though he had access to them. He told me he was still shooting. He told me that when applying for his certificates he had lied when answering the questions about being in a happy marriage and about how much he drank, he told me everyone did that. I do not think so. I shall be writing to Essex Police about his certificates as he admitted to committing offences under section 26 and/or 29 of the Firearms Act 1968.

101.In answer to questions from Mr McCourt, he denied he had spoken to Ms W, as alleged by her, on 8 May and could not explain the coincidence of it being that very day that Ms Y insisted all her boys came to her home so that Mr H could speak to them. He blamed his solicitor for the lie in his acknowledgment of service form. He told me all the witnesses I had heard had lied except for him.

102.He described himself as a man of integrity and truth. He told me that Ms W had lied when calling Ms Y her best friend and said that was only the case until about 2005 or 2006. He said that in this case it was Ms W who was the big liar and she wanted to destroy Ms Y’s life. He described the business as his business, not the family business, and agreed that he had increased Ms Y and Ms N’s pay exponentially after the separation. He accepted that Ms W had said to KH that she had suspicions about Mr H and Ms Y in 2010 but could not explain why she would have said that if she had caught them red-handed in 1998 and 2007. He confirmed he did not tell Ms W when he was having sex with Ms Y, so I conclude that she would not know of any specific occasion.

 

(I note in passing that Mr H had apparently acquired an STI from Ms Y and had subsequently passed it on to his wife. Just to remind you all, this man was trying to divorce his wife for her unreasonable behaviour towards him…)

 

Can’t skip over one of the four allegations in his divorce petition, which was that Ms W had ridiculed the bird-feeders he had put up for his mother-in-law, who had been unwell.   (which he, a man who had been having a 25 year affair with his wife’s best friend, described as ‘the final straw’)

 

97.He said the final straw in his relationship with Ms W was when she started to ridicule bird feeders he had put up to please her mother who was very unwell.

 

Well, that certainly changes everything.

I was mildly unsympathetic towards this man, but now I learn of the wife mocking bird feeders, and the boot is clearly on the other foot.

 

134.She did not, I find, belittle his belated efforts to provide his mother-in-law with comfort by putting up bird feeders

 

Oops.

On the mistress’ evidence

114.Sadly, when Ms Y started her oral evidence, she did so by lying. I had told Mr H on Friday afternoon that as he was part-way through his evidence, he could not talk to anyone about the case over the weekend. Mr McCourt was rightly concerned to make sure that that guidance had been followed. Mr H told the court this morning from the witness box that he had seen Ms Y three times over the weekend. She had driven him home from court on Friday and he had seen her twice on Sunday but said that nothing significant had been said about the case.

 

 

 

115.Mr McCourt started his cross-examination of Ms Y by asking her if she had seen Mr H over the weekend which he specified as being from Friday afternoon until Monday morning, and she said, “Once, briefly, on Sunday”. I assume that Mr H was being accurate about the three meetings on the weekend which it appears had been observed. I therefore must conclude that Ms Y started her oral evidence by lying to the court having just taken the oath.

 

(It is hard to beat the impression that you make as a witness by lying the moment you finish taking the oath…)

 

116.I conclude also that Ms Y would say whatever she thinks would assist Mr H in this case. It is obvious to me that Ms Y does, and to a certain extent thinks, what Mr H wants her to. I found it most surprising that she thinks it is a fact that Ms W knew about her affair with Mr H in 2007 because Mr H told her he had told her. She said she had no reason to doubt him. She seemed to think that because there were rumours about her and Mr H in their community, that meant everyone knew. She struck me as a naive woman who has made some very odd choices.

 

 

 

117.She told me each of her sons had lied in their evidence, but I am not sure what she thinks they have lied about. She told me how upset E had been before and after giving evidence and that he had suggested to her that he had not been truthful in court. However, she does not seem to be able to grasp that the unfortunate young man may be trying to salvage his important family relationships even now. She seems to be unaware that none of this case was necessary, that her children need not have been put through any of this if Mr H and she had taken a reasonable stance. I reject her evidence. She is not an honest witness nor an honest person, having clearly acted in a deceptive way for twenty-two years to those close to her and lied in her sworn evidence today. I am still puzzled as to why she thinks she is the injured party in all this.

 

118.I find there is overwhelming evidence to satisfy me that Mr H was committing adultery with Ms Y for over twenty years, but that Ms W did not know this was taking place until Mr H told her this on 8 May 2017. There were occasions when Ms W had suspicions, but these were always allayed by Mr H or by others who did not believe that Ms Y would behave in such a way. Mr H said on 11 June 2007, when Ms W asked him if he was having an affair with Ms Y, that he denied it to her.

 

All of the allegations of unreasonable behaviour by the Husband were found to be untrue (I mean, if you don’t get home on the bird-feeder allegation, everything else pales by comparison), his petition thrown out, and the Wife’s granted on the basis of adultery. The Husband was also ordered to pay all of his Wife’s costs – on an indemnity basis (which means that on any particular expense where there is any doubt, the Wife gets the benefit of any doubt)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2018/B68.html

VW v BH (Contested Divorce Proceedings) [2018] EWFC B68 (05 November 2018)

 

 

 

When is immediate not immediate?

 

Removal of a child subject to a Care Order from a parent – if you are a parent, or parent’s lawyer this case gives information and advice about how you might stop that, and if you are a social worker or Local Authority lawyer this case tells you that it is FAR LESS simple than you might imagine, and you’d better be ready to show your working.

 

The High Court in 2014 in Re DE 2014 told everyone that their previous thinking that under a Care Order a Local Authority had the power and authority to remove a child if they wished and the remedy of the parents would be to apply to discharge the Care Order if they disagreed was WRONG.

 

A Care Order gives the Local Authority the legal POWER to remove a child without a further Court hearing. The case law says rather differently though – that just because you have that POWER doesn’t mean you are free to exercise it as you see fit. There are hoops to jump through.

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/06/04/an-answer-to-an-important-question-you-didnt-know-you-had/

 

And that effectively, unless a situation arose that was the equivalent of a situation that would allow a Court to make an Interim Care Order (the child’s safety requires IMMEDIATE SEPARATION) then there was instead a long and careful process to go through before the Local Authority could trigger a removal under a Care Order.

 

To my mind, where a care order has been granted on the basis of a care plan providing that the child should remain at home, a local authority considering changing the plan and removing the child permanently from the family is obliged in law to follow the same approach. It must have regard to the fact that permanent placement outside the family is to be preferred only as a last resort where nothing else will do. Before making its decision, it must rigorously analyse all the realistic options, considering the arguments for and against each option. This is an essential process, not only as a matter of good practice, but also because the local authority will inevitably have to demonstrate its analysis in any court proceedings that follow the change of care plan, either on an application for the discharge of the care order or an application for placement order under the Adoption and Children Act 2002. This process of rigorous analysis of all realistic options should be an essential feature of all long-term planning for children. And, as indicated by Munby J in Re G, the local authority must fully involve the parents in its decision-making process.

 

While this process is being carried out, the child should remain at home under the care order, unless his safety and welfare requires that he be removed immediately. This is the appropriate test when deciding whether the child should be removed under an interim care order, pending determination of an application under s.31 of the Children Act: Re L-A (Children) [2009] EWCA Civ 822. The same test should also apply when a local authority’s decision to remove a child placed at home under a care order has led to an application by the parents to discharge the order and the court has to decide whether the child should be removed pending determination of the discharge application. As set out above, under s.33(4) of the 1989, the local authority may not exercise its powers under a care order to determine how a parent may exercise his or her parental responsibility for the child unless satisfied it is necessary to do so to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare. For a local authority to remove a child in circumstances where its welfare did not require it would be manifestly unlawful and an unjustifiable interference with the family’s Article 8 rights.

In submissions before the district judge, and before this court, it was argued on behalf of the local authority that its removal of D from the family home was lawful simply by reason of the care order. That submission is fundamentally misconceived. The local authority’s removal of the child would only be lawful if necessary to safeguard or promote his welfare. Any other removal, or threatened removal, of the child is prima facie unlawful and an interference of the Article 8 rights of the parents and child. In such circumstances, the parents are entitled to seek an injunction under s.8 of the HRA.

 

The Court of Appeal have just considered, for the first time, a scenario post Re DE 2014 where a Local Authority removed under a Care Order, saying that it was an emergency, a situation akin to an ICO triggering event.

The parents disputed this, and an application to discharge the Care Order (and somewhat oddly an inherent jurisdiction application) was lodged. The Court at first instance decided that the LA were entitled to remove in the interim and arguments and decisions about whether that would be permanent would have to wait for the final hearing of the application to discharge

The parents appealed

Re K (A child) 2018

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/2512.html

 

I think there are three points of interest in this case

 

  • The emergency/non-emergency point, and how hard the LA has to work to show their full consideration of interim removal under a Care Order
  • Whether the inherent jurisdiction is the right route (hint, no)
  • And finally, the position where a Local Authority had, and declined, the opportunity to cross-examine father about allegations against him and a Judge went on to in effect make findings against the father.

 

 

I’ll deal with those in reverse order.

 

 

 

Failure to cross-examine father

 

44.The judge made findings against the mother to the effect that she was in breach of the written agreement. In particular, the judge accepted (as he was entitled to do) the evidence of PC Tonse, that the mother had told her she had been the victim of two previous assaults at the hands of the father. That she had said this was denied by the mother, who gave evidence and was cross-examined.

 

 

45.At the hearing, counsel (Mr Richardson for the father) offered to call the father in order for him to be cross-examined about the events of 30 December and, no doubt, in relation to the two earlier alleged incidents. No party required him to be called.

 

 

46.Having heard and seen both the mother and PC Tonse give oral evidence, in my judgement, the judge was undoubtedly entitled to conclude that the mother was not being honest and to accept the police officer’s account of what the mother had said to her in the flat in the early hours of the morning. The judge, however, went on (without having heard evidence from the father) to conclude at paragraph 13:

 

 

 

“So we have three assaults in three weeks. [The mother] is, unfortunately for her, telling the truth when she said that the police officer and therefore 30 December is not an isolated incident in the relationship between her and [the father]… So there was that; there was direct contact on at least, to my mind, three known occasions during which [the mother] was assaulted.”

47.And At 23:

 

 

 

“I have already found that there has been at least three incidents when he has assaulted her. There may have been, and I do not know, other occasions when he has come to the property.”

 

The Court of Appeal decided

 

 

 

71.The judge necessarily had to make findings as to what occurred on the night of 30 December. He found that the mother had seen and been assaulted by the father on three separate occasions. It follows from that finding, that the mother had not told either the police or the local authority about the two earlier occasions of violence. The judge further found that the mother’s written and oral evidence to the court was untrue and the product of her realisation of the consequences of her account of the events given by her that evening to the police.

 

 

72.In order for the judge to reach these damning findings of fact, he was required to consider all the available evidence. In my judgment, a serious error was made by the local authority in failing to cross-examine the father. It is not enough, metaphorically, to shrug the shoulders and say: “He would say that wouldn’t he?” of the father’s statement in support of the mother’s account. The father’s evidence was directly relevant. More serious still is that the judge made specific findings of assault against the father, a man who was both a party and a witness, without hearing his evidence, in circumstances when he was available and willing to give evidence and to be cross-examined. In my judgment, this was clearly unfair and a serious procedural irregularity.

 

 

73.Almost by a side wind, there is now a finding of fact that this father assaulted the mother on three separate occasions, all within a matter of weeks of each other, when a non-molestation injunction was in place, and at a time when his wife was being given (on the local authority’s case) one last chance to bring up their child. It is rightly difficult for a party to go behind a finding of fact made against them by a judge after a trial where a party has been represented. But as a consequence of the findings, all future assessments of this father, and any decisions made in respect of either K (and indeed any child this father may have in the future) will have these serious findings as their starting point. Mr Richardson submitted that, in some way, the findings carried less weight because this was an interim hearing and could be, therefore, reviewed at a final hearing; I am afraid I cannot accept that to be the case.

 

 

74.Having read and reread the judgment, it is abundantly clear that this judge was making positive findings that this father had assaulted the mother on three separate occasions, and indeed all the evidence available makes it absolutely clear that, from 7 March onwards, the local authority has proceeded on precisely that basis. These findings were made, without the father having an opportunity to give evidence in circumstances where he was present in court and willing to go into the witness box and expose himself to cross examination.

 

 

(Being old-school, I always operate on the basis that if you are offered the opportunity to cross-examine a witness and decline to do so, you are accepting the account they give. You can’t call someone a liar in submissions if you didn’t have the decency to call them a liar to their face and give them the opportunity to deny it)

 

The inherent jurisdiction

 

33.As already recorded, K was the subject of the full care order. In those circumstances, the court was bound by the jurisdictional principles which relate to care orders and care planning. That means that the inherent jurisdiction cannot be used as a means of diluting, or circumnavigating, a local authority’s right to exercise parental responsibility following the making of a care order under section 33 and subject to section 34(4) of the Children Act 1989.

 

 

34.That this is the case could not have been stated more clearly than was done by Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead in Re: S (Minors) Care Order Implementation of Care Planning; Re: W (Minors) Care Order Adequacy of Care Planning [2002] UKHL 10; [2002] 2 AC 291; [2002] 1 FLR 815 at 23:

 

 

 

While a care order is in force the court’s powers, under its inherent jurisdiction, are expressly excluded: section 100(2)(c) and (d). Further, the court may not make a contact order, a prohibited steps order or a specific issue order: section 9(1).”

35.Also, more recently in Re: W (Care Proceedings Functions of Court and Local Authority) [2013] EWCA Civ 1237; [2014] 2 FLR 431 Ryder LJ said:

 

 

 

“71. It can be stated without question that once a full care or supervision order is made the family courts’ functions are at an end unless and until a jurisdiction granted by Parliament or otherwise recognised in law is invoked by an application that is issued.”

36.Whilst the court has jurisdiction under its inherent jurisdiction to prevent the removal of a child (subject to a care order), the House of Lords made it clear in Re: S that an injunction under the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA 998) can be utilised in order to achieve a similar outcome.

 

(I think there’s a missing ‘no’ between has and jurisdiction in para 36….)

 

37.From paragraph 22 onwards of Re: DE, Baker J traced the jurisdictional route to an application for an injunction under HRA 1998. Baker J noted that other potential remedies (for example, judicial review) do not ordinarily provide adequate protection for a family when a local authority is planning to remove a child, and that, as a consequence, the appropriate route will be for an application to be made under section 7 of the HRA1998.

 

 

Now, the emergency issue

 

When the Judge made a Care Order, placing K at home with the mother, the Judge said this

 

9.The judge concluded at 73:

 

 

 

“For all those reasons, I consider that the welfare of [K] demands that, if at all possible, he stay in the care of his mother and the wider family. If at all possible, it requires his parents to stay away from alcohol and it requires his parents to stay away from each other. That is not an easy thing to ask of anyone. 74. You have gone a long way down that road. It has been said that your motivation is caused by compulsion. This is arguable but I know many psychiatrists who would say that it does not matter what causes the motivation, motivation is important and the important thing is that it sticks. I am going to be making a Care Order subject to many conditions, subject to written agreements, subject to court orders and subject to you being honest not only with yourselves but with each other, with [K], with [H] and with the local authority. I believe you can do it but if you do not there is only one place where this matter will go and you will have both lost your son.”

 

This raising three issues of significance – being abstinent from alcohol, the parents staying away from each other, and the mother being honest with professionals.

 

 

What happened was that the child, K, became unwell and was admitted to hospital. The father became aware of it and went to mother’s home at about 2.00am on 30th December. There was an allegation of an altercation and a claim that father assaulted mother, knocking her unconscious. The police attended and took a statement. The mother told the officer that she had consumed three beers.

 

 

20.During the course of all this, and whilst still at the mother’s house (according to PC Tonse’s notes), the mother told her that the father had assaulted her 2 weeks previously and then again a week later, on which occasion he had punched her nose causing it to bleed. These two instances had not been reported to the police. The mother, as recorded by PC Tonse, had said “that she would not have called for the police tonight had it not been for her son, who she felt was at risk due to the father’s aggressive behaviour.” The officer’s focus, not unreasonably given the view of the paramedics, was on the assault. The mother’s focus, also not unreasonably, was on her baby. Eventually, it was agreed that the mother and K would go by ambulance to hospital.

 

 

21.When K was examined in hospital he was diagnosed as suffering from meningitis. He was admitted and remained in hospital for 10 days. The mother stayed with him day and night for the whole period of his stay in hospital.

 

 

22.A note of the doctor is recorded in the judge’s judgment:

 

 

 

“Talked to mother. Had two beers last night. First time for a long time. Father came to her house as worried about son. Mother said she asked him to leave but he hit her and she called the police.”

23.On 2 January 2018, the local authority was informed (by what means is unclear) that the mother and K were in hospital. The mother that same day was handed a letter entitled “Notice of intention to remove [K] from your care on or after 5 January 2018”. The letter referred to District Judge Alderson’s judgment (referred to above) and the written agreement, before going on to say:

 

 

 

“Due to the significant risk posed to [K] by you not being abstinent from alcohol and from other domestic violence perpetrated on you by [the father] and any contact between [the father] and you, in relation to your failure to inform the Local Authority or the police of at least two occasions in December 2017 when you subsequently alleged to the police on 30th December 2017 that you had been subjected to domestic violence from [the father], the Local Authority has determined that it is necessary to remove [K] from your care to foster care and that there is no other means of safeguarding him.”

24.According to a statement, filed upon the direction of this court on 7 June 2018, the local authority say that they first became aware that K had been admitted to the Whittington Hospital on 2 January. At about 13.30 that day, the mother was spoken to by the duty social worker, and was told at the hospital that same afternoon that K would be taken into foster care upon his discharge.

 

Without labouring the point, the triggering incident happened on 30th December (the day before New Years Eve) and the Local Authority found out about it on 2nd January, the next working day, and issued notice that they would be taking K into foster care when he was medically fit for discharge from hospital.

The LA took the view that they had learned of the mother drinking alcohol, of father coming to the home and assaulting mother perhaps on three occasions, and of a lack of honesty in mother telling them about the earlier incidents, and given what had been said by the Judge, considered that this was an immediate safety risk (if the child were to go back to mum after discharge from hospital)

 

The parents argued otherwise.

 

40.The local authority and the child’s guardian each submit that the appeal should be dismissed. The local authority submits that the issue at the hearing was to decide whether K’s welfare demanded “immediate separation”. They submit that, given their view that instant removal was required, the guidelines contained in Re: DE had not been engaged. For example, whilst they submitted that the 10 days’ notice period provided for in the written agreement had not been complied with, that was acceptable given that the local authority considered the case to be an emergency.

 

At the hearing to consider whether the child should be returned to mother in the interim (in effect whether the LA were wrong to have removed in the interim)

 

48.The judge concluded that K was at serious and immediate risk of harm as, he said, nothing could be put in place which would protect him from his father’s behaviour. At the request of counsel for the father, the judge went on, in the briefest of terms, to consider the welfare checklist. In relation to any change in circumstances, the judge noted that this was “a big change in the circumstances for [K]” but that it was a “proportionate approach”.

 

 

49.With respect to the judge, in my judgment, such a bland recording, insufficiently reflected the reality of what was happening to K. K had never been apart from his mother. All those involved throughout his life to date accepted unreservedly that the mother’s care of K was excellent, as was their attachment. At no stage had the local authority sought to limit the mother’s care of K whilst he was in hospital, which was at all times wholly unsupervised. Nowhere, in either the judgment or the local authority material, have I seen any indication of anyone considering the effect on this baby of removal from the care of his mother. K had been dangerously ill and was only starting to convalesce and to recover; then was discharged, not home to his mother and all his familiar surroundings, but to a strange place with only strangers around him. I say this to highlight why the protocol set out in Re: DE exists and should be applied in all cases.

 

 

50.In giving permission in this case, I directed the local authority to provide a statement setting out the manner in which they complied with the Re: DE protocol and, in particular, to provide full details of the involvement of the applicant in the decision-making process, and the details of the process by which the local authority – to use the words of Baker J in Re: DE – “rigorously analysed all the realistic options; considering the arguments for and against each option” prior to removing K from care of his mother. The local authority was further directed to exhibit all minutes and written recordings in relation to the decision not to return K upon his discharge from hospital, including the written records required under the Re: DE protocol.

 

 

51.The statement supplied by the local authority in response to that direction makes no mention of the case of Re: DE at all. It does not exhibit any minutes or written recordings in relation to its decision to remove; it does not explain how the mother was consulted, save to detail (by way of chronology) how the previously made decision was conveyed to her at hospital by the duty social worker.

 

 

52.Mr Parker, who has only recently been instructed on behalf of the local authority, acknowledged this to be the case and apologised to the court. The local authority could offer no explanation for the failure to follow the Re DE protocol other than to say that the local authority regarded the case as an emergency. Further, the local authority suggests that in granting permission to appeal and referencing “what is likely to be permanent removal” in respect of K, demonstrated an incorrect approach and incorrect analysis of the judgment on my part. The hearing was, they submitted, focused solely on K’s safety which required immediate removal, and the long-term plan was a matter for the application to discharge the care order. The local authority submit that it would have been premature for them to have engaged in any sort of Re: BS analysis as required by Re: DE, or indeed to “rigorously consider other options”. That, they say, could be done later.

 

 

53.I do not accept that to be the case. I would have found such a submission more convincing if it had not been patently clear from the papers that, from as early as 2nd January, the local authority had no intention of rehabilitating K to his mother once he had been removed.

 

 

54.The position as recorded on the order and confirmed orally to the judge at the hearing was that, far from consideration being given to K returning to the care of his mother, the local authority was forthwith considering placing him with a family member in Australia. This was confirmed only two weeks later in the care plan dated 21 March 2018. In addition, it is absolutely clear, by reference to the fact that the decision to remove K from his mother’s care was made the very day the local authority was informed of the crisis, that no consideration was given as to whether anything could be done to salvage the situation rather than the knee-jerk reaction of immediate removal.

 

 

55.During the course of the trial, those representing the mother sought to call and adduce evidence in respect of the quality of her care of K on a day-to-day basis, and particularly in relation to her exemplary care of him whilst he was in hospital.

 

 

56.The judge declined to hear any evidence to this effect. The judge said he was working on the assumption that the mother was able, in principle, to “look after the child”. It is because, he said:

 

 

 

“She allegedly had failed to keep to the written agreement and that she has put the child at risk. That is the issue. It is simple as that. It is a very easy, very short and very small issue.”

57.I do not agree.

 

 

The thrust is this – even if the LA assert that the circumstances are such that it is an emergency interim care order style scenario, they need to be able to evidence their decision-making process as to why this is the case, what steps they considered to manage the risk in another way, what efforts they made to communicate with the parents and if not, why not. They had to avoid a knee-jerk decision, and they had to avoid making a final decision that having removed in the interim, that was that.   (It was rather brave to claim that they hadn’t made any final decisions when it was said at the initial hearing that their plan was to consider placing the child with relatives in Australia…)

 

 

 

63.In my judgment, the absence of the availability of the guidance in Re: DE resulted in the judge having too narrow a focus and led to him failing properly to consider the wider issues. I note from Mr Richardson’s position statement at first instance that, without referring to Re: DE specifically, he urged the court to consider all possible options, an invitation declined by the court.

 

 

64.I am conscious of the submission made by both the local authority and the guardian that the court will approach “slow burn” or “gradual deterioration” cases somewhat differently from crisis cases. That is undoubtedly right. But that does not mean, where a child has been living successfully at home under a care order, that following a crisis that child can be unilaterally removed by the local authority without any of the protective processes enumerated in Re: DE having been carried out.

 

 

65.In the case of a true emergency, once the child in question has been removed there should, thereafter, be a rapid and thorough implementation of the applicable parts of the Re: DE protocol without having to wait for an application to discharge the care order being made. This is with a view to seeing whether the child can be returned home with different or further support or supervision pending a final hearing. It remains of considerable concern to me that, notwithstanding my order, no evidence has been produced in relation to the decision-making process in this case. I can, therefore, only conclude that the decision was made rapidly and has not been reconsidered since.

 

 

66.One of the things that went wrong in the present case was the delay in the matter coming to court – some 7 weeks. In my judgment, applications such as the present, properly brought under the HRA 1998, should be brought before the court with the same speed and urgency as an initial application for an interim care order where removal of a child is sought. Each application involves the proposed removal of a child from his or her home and (it is accepted by the local authority) the test for immediate removal is the same in both cases, namely: “does the child’s safety demand immediate separation?”

 

 

67.All attempts should be made to adhere to this, although I fear this may be a counsel of perfection given that a parent’s only route to court (once a full care order is made) is via an application to discharge that care order, coupled with an application under the HRA1998. Unlike care proceedings, there is no automatic right to legal aid in discharge proceedings and inevitably there is, therefore, a delay as the application for legal aid for the parents is processed. It is to the immense credit of the mother’s solicitor that he managed to obtain legal aid for her application at the speed he did.

 

 

68.Further, when making a removal order in respect of a very young child and where it is inevitable that the final hearing will not take place for several months, the court must balance the effect of long-term removal of the child from its parents with the risk of short-term harm if he or she remains with him: Re: M (Interim care order removal) [2016] 1 FLR 1043.

 

The appeal was granted and the case sent for re-hearing. That does, of course mean that K has been separated from his mother since 2nd January and a decision still has not actually been reached about interim removal.

 

(I think… I couldn’t find any reference in the judgment to the child having been returned, just that the application for discharge is still proceeding and that there’s a directions hearing coming up about it.  It does seem that if you’ve appealed the judicial endorsement of interim removal successfully, the child ought to be at home whilst that discharge hearing takes place, but I can’t see from the judgment whether that’s what actually happened)

 

 

 

Car crash, Hot Tub, (wish they had a) Time Machine

 

 

I’m sure there are boring cases that come into the list of Her Honour Judge Lazarus, but I’m yet to read one.

 

She opens this cracker with the line

 

 

 

  • “ I likened it to arriving at the scene of a car crash, and wondered what one could do about it. This situation should never have arisen. It’s caused huge tension, including within any recommendation, and I’ve tried to keep X at the centre of it. ” This evidence from the independent social worker effectively summarises the key issues in this case.

 

 

Which, you’ll agree, is a belter.

 

Perhaps this opener is better

“Once upon a time, in a place now known as Montana, dinosaurs roamed the land. On a fateful day, some 66 million years ago, two such creatures, a 22-foot-long theropod and a 28-foot-long ceratopsian, engaged in mortal combat.”

http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2018/11/06/16-35506.pdf

 

 

 And this might be my favourite line in any judgment

Dr Muir Wood asked her in cross-examination why she did not simply Google the word “prick” and she answered with admirable succinctness: “Because it would have shown me porn and penises

Martinez (t/a Prick) & Anor v Prick Me Baby One More Time Ltd (t/a Prick) & Anor [2018] EWHC 776 (IPEC) (11 April 2018)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/IPEC/2018/776.html

 

But the opener here is indupitably a cracker.

 

 

Z v Kent County Council (Revocation of placement order – Failure to assess Mother’s capacity and Grandparents) [2018] EWFC B65 (18 October 2018)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2018/B65.html

 

I’ll try to capture the background quickly and simply.

 

In December 2017, a different Judge made a Care Order and Placement Order in relation to a child, Z.

 

Z’s mother had some significant mental health problems and had spent time (including during the proceedings) in a psychiatric unit.

 

Early on in the 2017 case, people became concerned that mother might not have capacity to instruct a solicitor (i.e didn’t understand enough about what was going on in the case or what Courts were etc to be able to tell their solicitor what to do. If you have capacity, you can instruct your solicitor to ask for what you want – even if it doesn’t have much chance of success, that’s your right. If you don’t have capacity, someone else – often the Official Solicitor, will decide what the solicitor should ask for on your behalf)

 

The Court gave directions for mother to be assessed to see if she had that capacity. The mother was also insistent that her parents (Z’s maternal grandparents) should not be assessed as carers. She did not attend that assessment. The Court (not HHJ Lazarus, the initial Judge) made a series of orders basically saying that UNLESS mum attended a cognitive assessment she would be deemed to have capacity by the Court. She did not.

Mum told her solicitors, just before the final hearing, that she agreed to Z being adopted, and a Care Order and Placement Order were made.

 

(That’s important, because the Court didn’t ever actually resolve whether mum had capacity to instruct her solicitor to agree to adoption. Agreeing to adoption is very rare in care proceedings – sometimes parents decide not to oppose the plan, but in 25 years, I’ve only seen one parent actually consent to adoption in care proceedings. It ought to have rung some alarm bells about whether mum really understood what she was doing)

 

To make matters worse, as Z’s maternal grandparents had been shut out of the case in accordance with their daughter’s wishes, they did not find out that Z existed until FOUR DAYS AFTER the Placement Order was made. Z had been placed, 3 weeks before that, with foster to adopt carers who wished later to adopt Z.

 

When the maternal grandparents put themselves forward as carers for Z, everyone accepted that they were capable of caring for Z, AND IF they had been considered within the care proceedings, the Court would almost certainly have placed Z with them under a Special Guardianship Order and not gone the adoption route.

 

The grandparents applied to revoke the Placement Order and for the Court to make a Special Guardianship Order for Z, placing her with the grandparents.

What HHJ Lazarus was faced with was then a competing argument between the maternal grandparents, and the prospective adopters (who had been caring for Z for 11 months, with the intention always of adopting her)

 

The prospective adopters, Q and R, gave evidence together in the witness box :-

 

 

 

  1. Q and R were sworn and gave evidence together, in a process known colloquially as ‘hot-tubbing’. This was proposed by me and agreed to by all parties as a sensible and effective time-saving device, and I consider that in the process I gained a good impression of each of them and of them together as a couple.

 

[See, although my titles are madness, yet there is method in’t. I know a hawk from a hand-saw.]

 

Oh, by the way, R was the step-aunt of the child’s older siblings, so it was a quasi family placement, so not just a straight fight between family v adopters.

 

The case, as well as the nightmarishly difficult task of deciding what was best for Z, raised two important issues of law

 

  1. What happens when a parent is thought to lack capacity, but they don’t cooperate with the assessment that would answer that question?
  2. If a parent refuses to allow relatives to be considered as potential carers, is that the end of it, or is there a responsibility on the Local Authority to consider them anyway if the only other plan is adoption?

 

 

  • What happens when a parent is thought to lack capacity, but they don’t cooperate with the assessment that would answer that question?

 

 

There’s some lovely analysis here, set out carefully and precisely.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. c)       Under section 1(2) of the Mental Capacity Act “ A person must be assumed to have capacity unless it is established that he lacks capacity ”. This is more generally known as the ‘Presumption of Capacity’. My underlining points out a critical, and often misunderstood, element of this provision

 

(WordPress has lost its underlining function, so I’ve put the judicial underlining in red)

 

 

 

  1. d)       Sections 2 and 3 set out the factors to be considered in determining whether or not someone lacks capacity, and are not directly in issue here. However, section 2(4) provides: “ In proceedings under this Act or any other enactment , any question whether a person lacks capacity within the meaning of this Act must be decided on the balance of probabilities .”

 

  1. e)       It is well established and follows from the wording of those provisions:

–         the Presumption is an important starting point;

 

–         however information may raise a question whether a person lacks capacity and so lead that Presumption to be questioned;

 

–         such a question is to be decided on the balance of probabilities by reference to the relevant factors in sections 2 and 3;

–         it is therefore a matter of fact to be determined on evidence by the court;

 

–         the Presumption is thus rebuttable, and may be rebutted if lack of capacity is established by that determination.

 

 

 

  1. f)       The philosophy and purpose behind this Presumption is not a matter for detailed explanation in this judgment, but one significant intention is to prevent inaccurately assuming lack of capacity in apparently vulnerable individuals without it being properly established on evidence. It is emphatically not there to obviate an examination of such an issue.   Nor can it have been Parliament’s intention to place a vulnerable person in danger of their lack of capacity being overlooked at the expense of their rights by a slack reliance on this Presumption, and as is made clear in the law I refer to below.

 

In short, whilst deciding that a person lacks capacity requires a judicial decision and evidence, that doesn’t mean that where you have doubts about a person’s capacity you just go with the presumption unless there’s a cognitive assessment to say otherwise.

 

 

 

 

  1. k)       Medical evidence is “ almost certainly ” required for the purposes of establishing lack of capacity.   In Masterman-Lister v Brutton and Co (Nos 1 and 2) [2003] 1 WLR 1511 at paragraph 17H Kennedy LJ said: “ even where the issue does not seem to be contentious, a district judge who is responsible for case management will almost certainly require the assistance of a medical report before being able to be satisfied that incapacity exists ”.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. l)           But what should be done if there is no expert evidence available?    

 

In Carmarthenshire County Council v Peter Lewis     [2010] EWCA Civ 1567 Rimer LJ was considering an application for permission to appeal against a decision in which the first instance judge had made an order that “ unless the applicant allowed an examination of himself by a particular specialist by a specified date, he was to be debarred from defending the claim ”. The purpose of the proposed examination was to assess capacity. In that case, the applicant did not allow the examination, and at the final hearing, the first instance judge determined the claim against him without further consideration of the issue of capacity. On appeal, Rimer LJ said this:

 

“ In my view the problem raised by this case is as to how, once the court is possessed of information raising a question as to the capacity of the litigant to conduct the litigation, it should satisfy itself as to whether the litigant does in fact have sufficient capacity. I cannot think that the court can ordinarily, by its own impression of the litigant, safely form its own view on that. Nor am I impressed that the solution is the making of an “unless” order of the type that Judge Thomas made. The concern that I have about this case is that an order may have been made against a party who was in fact a “protected party” without a litigation friend having been appointed for him ”.

 

 

  1. m)       In Baker Tilly (A Firm) v Mira Makar [2013] EWHC 759 (QB) the Respondent refused to co-operate in an assessment of her capacity. The Master hearing the case at first instance made his own assessment, based on the information available to him, that the Respondent lacked capacity. On appeal to the High Court, Sir Raymond Jack noted the dictum of Rimer J (above) that the court cannot ordinarily , by its own impression of the litigant, safely form its own view of capacity. But he also noted that “ In most cases where a question of capacity has arisen the person whose capacity is in question has co-operated with the court and the court has been provided with the assistance of appropriate medical experts ” and that “ counsel has not found any case where the court has had to resolve a situation as has arisen here where the litigant has refused to co-operate in an assessment of their capacity ” (paragraph 8). In the case then before him, having taken into account further information not available to the Master, he came to the opposite conclusion as to capacity. But it is noteworthy that there is no suggestion that the Master should not have attempted the exercise, or could have properly left the issue of capacity unresolved.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. n)         In Re D (Children) [2015] EWCA Civ 745 the issue before the appeal court was whether the court at first instance had failed properly to determine whether or not the mother had litigation capacity at the time proceedings were heard.

 

 

King LJ said this at paragraph 30: “ Evidence from a suitably qualified person will be necessary as to the diagnosis [cf. section 2(1) Mental Capacity Act]. This will usually be someone with medical qualifications. … ”.

 

 

And at paragraph 56:

 

“ This case does however perhaps provide a cautionary tale and a reminder that issues of capacity are of fundamental importance . The rules providing for the identification of a person who lacks capacity, reflect society’s proper understanding of the impact on both parent and child of the making of an order which will separate them permanently. It is therefore essential that the evidence which informs the issue of capacity complies with the test found in the MCA 2005 and that any conflict of evidence is brought to the attention of the court and resolved prior to the case progressing further . It is in order to avoid this course causing delay that the Public Law Outline anticipates issues of capacity being raised and dealt with in the early stages of the proceedings .”

 

In that case the Court of Appeal described the steps that had been taken at first instance to establish capacity as a “ serious procedural irregularity ” but declined to order a fresh capacity assessment and a retrial on the basis that the mother was not adversely affected and no practical difference was made to the hearing or outcome as a consequence. The court validated the proceedings retrospectively.

 

 

  1. o)       There therefore remain, to some extent, tensions between the dicta in the Court of Appeal cases referred to above, and arising between:

 

 

–           on the one hand the absolute necessity to determine an issue of capacity, as a matter of fact, with the assistance of expert or other medical opinion, and as a matter of urgency;

 

 

–           and on the other hand, the possible absence of an expert or other medical opinion through the parent’s non-engagement, refusal to attend assessments, or due to a failure to provide information by the relevant medical sources.

 

 

  1. p)       There does not appear to be a clear and authoritative decision that provides guidance with direct reference to this problem. It cannot have been intended that proceedings should be hamstrung and in stasis by an inability to determine this issue in the absence of co-operation with medical assessment or availability of medical evidence.

 

 

  1. q)       However, the key may be in the words ‘ ordinarily ’ and ‘ almost ’ in the Carmarthenshire and Masterman cases, and the word ‘ likely ’ in PD15B paragraph 1.2 which appear to give some leeway.

 

 

  1. r)         Paragraph 44 of the updated 2018 Family Justice Council guidance states: “ A parent may decline professional assessment. In those circumstances, it will be for the court to determine the issue on the best evidence it has available. ”

 

 

  1. s)         This may enable courts faced with this challenge where there is no expert or medical assessment evidence to meet the absolute requirement that capacity issues must be fully addressed and determined, and to do so by reaching appropriate pragmatic evidence-based decisions, while ensuring that both the overriding objective and the protected party’s rights are fully in mind.

 

 

  1. t)         Such a determination could be based on a careful review of the other relevant material that may be available, such as a report from a clinician who knows the party’s condition well enough to report without interviewing the party (if available and appropriate), other medical records, accounts of family members, accounts of the social worker or other agency workers who may be supporting the parent, and occasionally direct evidence from a parent. [2]    

 

 

  1. u)       Any such finding made without expert assessment evidence that leads to a declaration of protected party status due to lack of litigation capacity could always be reviewed upon expert evidence being obtained to suggest that the finding was incorrect, and by ensuring that the question of assessment is regularly revisited with the protected party by their litigation friend, their solicitor and the court. Such a review and correction is anyway the case where a party has regained capacity and the issue is addressed with the benefit of an updating expert opinion.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. v)       What can be derived as following from the above statutory provisions, guidance and case law as clearly impermissible or inappropriate, and would likely lead to a failure to apply the required procedural approach and lead to breaches of that party’s Article 6 and 8 ECHR rights? :

 

 

–             failure to grasp the nettle fully and early,

 

 

–             ignoring information or evidence that a party may lack capacity,

 

 

–             purporting to ‘adopt’ the Presumption of Capacity in circumstances where capacity has been questioned,

 

 

–             making directions addressing the capacity issue, but discharging them or failing to comply with them and thereby leaving the issue inadequately addressed,

 

 

–             failing to obtain evidence (expert or otherwise) relevant to capacity,

 

 

–             use of ‘unless’ orders,

 

 

–             similarly, using personal service or ‘warning notices’ on that party,

 

 

–             relying on non-engagement by that party either with assessments or the proceedings,

 

 

–             proceeding with any substantive directions, let alone making final orders, in the absence of adequate enquiry and proper determination of the capacity issue,

 

 

–             treating a party as having provided consent to any step, let alone a grave and possibly irrevocable final step, where capacity has been questioned but the issue not determined.

 

 

 

INVESTIGATION OF FAMILY MEMBERS

 

 

There’s a long and careful analysis of the principles with sources (which I’d recommend as vital reading for any lawyer or professional grappling with the issue of whether to consult with family members where the parent is dead-set against it but where adoption appears a realistic outcome if suitable family members are not found.) But here are the conclusions.

 

 

  1. s)         The legal and best practice framework and local policies set out above are a small summary of a much wider range of authorities, statutory provisions and guidance. In combination, the following principles can be derived:

 

 

–             Unless a child’s welfare requires it a child’s interests are best promoted by living with their family.

 

 

–             Interference with the living arrangements for children by a Local Authority must pass a threshold. If there is insufficient evidence to establish that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm the court, at a Local Authority’s invitation, cannot interfere with a child’s living arrangements.

 

 

–             Where it becomes clear to a Local Authority that a child is at risk of suffering significant harm there is a duty under section 17 Children Act 1989 to provide services to a child to try to allow them to live within their family.

 

 

–             When public law proceedings are contemplated and removal of the child from their primary carer is a realistic possibility the Local Authority should identify at the earliest opportunity if there are wider family and friends who may be able to care for the child, for example from their own records.

 

 

–             A referral to a Family Group Conference should if possible be made when proceedings are contemplated. One of the purposes of the Family Group Conference is to identify if there are wider family members who can offer support or care for the child.

 

 

–             Where capacity is an issue the Local Authority should consider if an advocate is necessary to assist a parent.

 

 

–             If a Family Group Conference referral is refused legal advice should be sought. Any parental objection to wider family members being assessed or involved in proceedings requires scrutiny.

 

 

–             Identifying alternative carers for a child should if possible take place during the pre-proceedings process under the Public Law Outline, failing which it should be raised with the court once proceedings are issued.

 

 

–             Once in proceedings the Local Authority still has a duty to continue identifying wider family members who may be assessed to care for the child. This is part of the duties required of Local Authorities to promote the child’s welfare.

 

 

–             A child’s right to respect for private and family life may include the right to know wider family members who have not been part of the proceedings and may not have met the child.

 

 

–             When adoption is being considered the Local Authority has a duty to ascertain the wishes and feelings of relatives regarding the child and the plan for adoption.

 

 

In this case

 

 

 

  1. o)         I acknowledge that there may be good reasons on occasions for other family members not being approached, but these need to be understood rather than glossed over. And, while there is case law relating to certain extreme examples where the question of who should be contacted about or made parties to family proceedings has been considered, there does not appear to be authoritative guidance on the type of circumstances as arose here in relation to Family Group Conferences.

 

 

  1. p)         Here, given the concerns over Y’s capacity the Local Authority should at least have been alert to consider very carefully her failure to put forward any relative. Reliance on her exercise of parental responsibility cannot sit together with the Local Authority’s own concerns about her capacity, without further careful enquiry.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Errors, traps and temptations that should have been avoided :

 

(Can I please say how much I like these helpful subheadings in the judgment – albeit that I can only imagine how cringe-making it must be for those involved in the proceedings to listen when a Judge announces that as a chapter title…)

 

 

  1. I)                     Relying on Y’s purported exercise of parental responsibility in saying that she did not propose the maternal grandmother as a potential carer. In particular where she was thought to lack capacity, this is not a step that somehow relieves or prevents the Local Authority from considering what steps needed to be taken to meet its duties to consider other family members.

 

 

  1. II)                   Believing the Presumption of Capacity replaces or obviates the need for the court to determine the issue of litigation capacity on evidence as a matter of fact, or entitles the parties or the court to ignore a capacity problem, particularly where there were worrying recent accounts of Y being significantly unwell. It is simply a rebuttable assumption and a starting point. Any suggestion that capacity is in issue should lead to the opposite approach, namely to take steps that would enable the court to determine whether the assumption remains in place or lack of capacity is established.

 

 

III)                 Ignoring glaring evidence or information suggestive of lack of capacity. This is an abrogation of responsibility to acknowledge the implications of such information, albeit it is easier to shut an eye to it in order to avoid its inconvenient effects on the case, particularly where a case outcome appears obvious or a solution is readily to hand.

 

 

  1. IV)               Relying on Y’s non-engagement or non-attendance at hearings, or employing ‘unless’ orders as a basis for progressing the case and discharging directions critical to the question of her capacity. A vulnerable person who may be a protected party due to lack of capacity may well find it difficult or impossible to engage or attend without the appropriate support or identification of her status and appointment of a litigation friend. This compounds a breach of her Article 6 rights.

 

 

  1. V)                 Personal service and warning ‘Notice’ – these steps make no sense in law or natural justice if Y lacked capacity, and simply seem to lack common sense. What might such steps or notices actually mean to a vulnerable person who lacks litigation capacity?

 

 

  1. VI)               Discharging directions critical to the determination of the capacity issue, and not complying or following up on non-compliance with those directions. This is case management failure with direct consequences for the procedural propriety of the case.

 

 

VII)             Making permissive directions to obtain the treating clinician’s certificate of capacity, rather than mandatory and time-limited directions.

 

 

VIII)           Treating Y’s wishes and feelings obtained by the Social Worker and over the telephone with her solicitor as a capacitous decision consenting to very grave and complex and potentially irrevocable orders, compliant with section 52(5). Her diagnosis of emotionally unstable personality disorder and alcohol dependence were well known. Directions had been made that she should be subject to capacity, cognitive and psychiatric assessment, but had not resulted in any assessments nor other medical information being provided. There was no adequate information before the court to assist with any question of her abilities or suggestibility or understanding.

 

 

  1. IX)                 Her position was erroneously described as ‘consent’ and named as such in the order, when it was not put forward as formal consent in the Position Statement prepared on her behalf, and the exercise of considering whether her consent should be dispensed with by undertaking a welfare-based consideration of the checklist factors was not done, despite her solicitor flagging it up.

 

 

  1. X)                   As the Social Worker and Children’s Guardian acknowledged, the parties became caught up in the ‘excitement’ of having found a solution for X’s placement that avoided stranger adoption, and so lost sight of wider issues that had been overlooked.

 

 

  1. XI)                 The temptations of a precipitate approach, naturally abetted by the lure of completing a case within the required 26 weeks time-limit, and by the existence of ‘a solution’ for X which tempts professionals and the court not to address the harder, wider or longer questions which might cause any delay, leading everyone to push ahead to final orders despite serious procedural irregularities.

 

 

XII)               No party, representative nor the court spotted or voiced or prevented or corrected the series of avoidable errors around failing to address a key issue which had riddled the case from the outset, and the case was allowed to progress and ultimately extremely serious final orders were made on the back of those serious procedural irregularities. This collective shared failure seems something akin to group-thinking or peer pressure or a gross shared example of confirmation bias.

 

 

 

 

This is already a piece which is far too long, but in terms of the final decision, HHJ Lazarus decided that Z should stay with Q and R (the step-aunt) who had originally intended to adopt her, but under a Special Guardianship Order, and that there should be a Child Arrangements Order giving contact between Z and the grandparents.   The reasoning is too long to set out here, and it must have been a very difficult task – readers who are interested are referred to the judgment paragraphs 51 onwards. There was the involvement of an independent social worker whose evidence was very helpful to the Court in reaching the decision.

 

Delays inflicted by other public bodies

 

Much as Patrick Swayze and his gang wearing masks and brandishing shooters might proclaim when busting into a bank dragging a hapless Johnny Utah in their wake, “We are the Ex-Presidents” this is a judgment from the Ex-President.  (He was still the President at the time of the judgment)

 

You know, for a hippy Buddhist surfer, you sure do own a lot of firearms, Bodhi

 

Re H (Children) 2018

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2018/61.html

 

Our former President is good at a punchy opening. He doesn’t do enough pop-culture references for my own idiosyncratic tastes, but punchy nonetheless

 

1.In this care case, which came before me at Newcastle on 12 July 2018 pursuant to an order made by His Honour Judge Simon Wood on 19 June 2018, the mother’s position statement, prepared on her behalf by Mr Dorian Day, began with these arresting words: “These proceedings are entering Week 109.”

 

The case involved an alleged deliberate injury to a girl, aged five weeks, who in April 2016 was admitted to hospital with very serious life-threatening injuries. The Local Authority issued proceedings in May 2016. By November, so within 26 weeks, the Court had held a finding of fact hearing and found that (a) the injuries had been inflicted by the father and (b) there was no fault or blame attributed to the mother who knew nothing about it.

Both parents had been charged by the police. The direction of travel in the case ought to have been a rehabilitation to the care of the mother  (assuming that the parents would separate and this would be sustained – the judgment isn’t explicit about that, but it is a reasonable inference).

However, the police and CPS were adamant that the criminal charges on both mother and father would stand and go before a jury. They were invited to change the bail conditions (that were restricting mother’s ability to be with the girl and the older brother of the girl) on several occasions and refused to do so.

 

 

The criminal trial was delayed and took place in October 2017, nearly a year after the mother had been exonerated by the family Court. The Crown Court judge directed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty on the mother, which they did. The jury retired to consider their verdict on the father and delivered a verdict of not guilty.

 

 

5.The effect of the protracted criminal proceedings was not merely that the best part of a year had been lost since Judge Wood’s fact finding judgment. There were three other consequences:

 

 

 

  1. i) First, the mother’s bail conditions seriously hindered the necessary process of assessing the mother’s capacity to look after both children, one of whom, unhappily, has significant ongoing disabilities and extremely complex needs. I am told that, despite this, applications to vary her bail conditions were opposed by the prosecution and refused by the Crown Court.

 

  1. ii) Secondly, the mother lost her accommodation.

 

iii) Thirdly, the entire process subjected both the mother and the wider family to very considerable stress.

 

It is unsurprising that Mr Day, on her behalf, goes on in his position statement to say that the delay has exasperated the mother, the social work team, the children’s guardian and at times the court, and has also contributed to family tensions

 

As a result of those problems, a brand new problem arose, which was finding some accommodation for the mother and children to live in. The girl had special needs as a result of her injuries, and therefore had specific requirements for her accommodation.

 

 

6… Despite much endeavour on the part of the local authority, it was not until the last week in May 2018 that what turned out to be a suitable property was found. It was in that state of play that Judge Wood, who had earlier voiced his concerns at a directions hearing on 23 April 2018, at a further hearing on 19 June 2018 made the order to which I have already referred.

 

 

7.As I have said, the hearing before me which Judge Wood had directed was fixed for 12 July 2018. By the week commencing 2 July 2018 there was reason to believe that the property which had been identified in May would be both suitable (subject to certain work being done) and available for the mother and her children. On 10 July 2018, two days before the hearing, the mother was given the keys to the property.

 

 

8.In these circumstances, the primary purpose of the hearing before me had fallen away. Indeed, the parties were agreed that no directions were needed in relation to the accommodation issue. I directed that the final hearing of the care proceedings be listed before Judge Wood on 13 August 2018. My order recited that the local authority “wishes to do everything possible to support [the mother] in moving into her new home.” It was common ground that various works required to be done to the property, including the installation of a lift. My order went on to record the local authority’s indication that the installation of the lift would take approximately four months, and my “hope … that the lift … could be installed by the next hearing.”

 

 

9.I made an order that the local authority was to serve, by 17 July 2018, “an action plan in a tabular format setting out explicitly the timeline for works to be carried out in order to allow the plan of rehabilitation to commence at mother’s new property.” The action plan, dated 17 July 2018 and displaying an appropriate sense of urgency, spelt out with commendable precision, in tabular form under the headings “Objective/Task”, “Responsibility (name and job role)”, “Start Date” and “Completion Date”, a comprehensive list of all the works required to be done to the property, including but not limited to the installation of the lift, and of the furniture (some specialist) and equipment to be provided for the mother and the children.

 

 

10.To bring that part of the story to its conclusion, on 14 August 2018, Judge Wood made a supervision order, as proposed by the local authority and supported by both parents, thereby bringing the care proceedings finally to an end in week 116.

 

However,

 

 

 

11.In a position statement and more particularly in a detailed and carefully argued skeleton argument circulated to the other advocates on the morning of an advocates’ meeting on 9 July 2018, Mr Day raised a wider issue. Although by then it seemed that the accommodation issue was well on the way to being resolved, Mr Day indicated that he wished to retain the hearing before me for a rather different purpose, namely to “look at the wider ramifications of delay in proceedings in the family court” and, specifically, to address two questions:

 

 

 

  1. i) What can the family court do to avoid delay which is engendered by concurrent criminal proceedings?

 

  1. ii) What can the family court do when the delay to proceedings is engendered by the acts and omissions of other government departments or agencies?

 

Referring to the present case, he asserted that “Progress to permit a child to come home to a mother has been paralysed by the unnecessary and disproportionate delay and approach in the criminal proceedings”, compounded by the fact that there has been “very slow progress by the relevant housing authority to find a property for the mother that is suitable for [her daughter].” The delay here, he says, has thus been caused by factors external to the care proceedings.

 

As one would expect from the Ex-President, the judgment contains a careful and thorough analysis of all of the case law and the legal principles as to the extent to which the Family Court can seek to influence or control the actions of public authorities (over and above the influence and control that they may have over the social work department of the Local Authority bringing the care proceedings)

 

 

 

 

20.The starting point is the fundamental point of principle articulated and elaborated in a well-known series of cases in the House of Lords and, more recently, the Supreme Court: A v Liverpool City Council [1982] AC 363, In re W (A Minor) (Wardship: Jurisdiction) [1985] AC 791, Holmes-Moorhouse v Richmond upon Thames London Borough Council [2009] UKHL 7, [2009] 1 WLR 413, Aintree University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust v James [2013] UKSC 67, [2014] AC 591, and, most recently, N v A Clinical Commissioning Group and others [2017] UKSC 22, [2017] AC 549 (dismissing the appeal from the decision of the Court of Appeal in In re N (An Adult) (Court of Protection: Jurisdiction) [2015] EWCA Civ 411, [2016] Fam 87). That principle, as explained by Lord Scarman in A v Liverpool City Council, is that:

 

 

 

“The High Court cannot exercise its powers, however wide they may be, so as to intervene on the merits in an area of concern entrusted by Parliament to another public authority.”

21.Authorities which there is no need for me to refer to (see my judgment in In re N, para 19) demonstrate the application of this principle in many contexts where a family court is involved, for example, where the child or the parents are subject to immigration control, where the child or the parents are the subject of a police investigation or criminal proceedings, or where there is dispute as to the provision of statutory services by other agencies, for example, in the provision of health care by the NHS or the provision of social housing by a local authority.

 

 

22.For present purposes, this fundamental principle has two corollaries. First, that a family court cannot dictate to another court or agency how that court or agency is to exercise its powers. It follows, secondly, that, absent statutory provision to the contrary, the ambit of family court judicial decision-making is constrained by the extent of the resources made available by other public bodies. So, the family court cannot direct that resources be made available or that services be provided; it can merely seek to persuade. How far can persuasion go? The answer is that the family court can seek to persuade but must not apply pressure: Holmes-Moorhouse v Richmond upon Thames London Borough Council [2009] UKHL 7, [2009] 1 WLR 413, paras 38-39 (Baroness Hale of Richmond).

 

 

23.I have referred to a family court. I emphasise, what is quite clear on the authorities, that, in this respect, exactly the same principles apply whether the case is in the Family Court or the Family Division of the High Court (or, for that matter, in the Court of Protection), and whether it is a private or a public law case. The High Court has no greater powers in this respect than the Family Court, even if the child is a ward of court: see In re N, paras 13, 14.

 

 

24.How then, while remaining loyal to these principles, is a family court to engage with another court or agency which is also involved in the family’s life. This, as it happens, is an issue I had to address almost exactly ten years ago in Re M and N (Parallel Family and Immigration Proceedings) [2008] EWHC 2281 (Fam), [2008] 2 FLR 2030. I said this (para 31):

 

 

 

“In all such situations the family court will need the fullest and most up-to-date information. And where the outcome is dependent upon or is likely to be affected by the decision of some third party, whether, for example, a local authority housing department, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Crown Prosecution Service, or a NHS Primary Care Trust, or whoever, the family court will also need the fullest and most up-to-date information as to where exactly that decision-making process has got to, what the decision is, if it has been given, or when it is expected if it is still awaited. Consideration will also need to be given – and at the earliest possible stage – as to whether and if so how that third party decision maker should be brought into some appropriate form of direct engagement with the family proceedings.”

25.It will be noticed that in Re M and N I referred (paras 6, 30) to the then recent decision of the Court of Appeal in Holmes-Moorhouse v Richmond-upon-Thames London Borough Council [2007] EWCA Civ 970, [2008] 1 FLR 1061. The decision of the Court of Appeal was subsequently reversed by the House of Lords: Holmes-Moorhouse v Richmond upon Thames London Borough Council [2009] UKHL 7, [2009] 1 WLR 413.

 

 

26.For present purposes what is important is what Lord Hoffmann (para 17):

 

 

 

“In my opinion the Court of Appeal was wrong to suggest that a housing authority should intervene in family proceedings to argue against the court making a shared residence order. It will obviously be helpful to a court, in dealing with the question of where the children should reside, to know what accommodation, if any, the housing authority is likely to provide. It should not make a shared residence order unless it appears reasonably likely that both parties will have accommodation in which the children can reside. But the provision of such accommodation is outside the control of the court. It has no power to decide whether the reasons why the housing authority declines to provide such accommodation are good or bad. That is a matter for the housing authority and, if necessary, the county court on appeal. Likewise, it is relevant for the housing authority to know that the court considers that the children should reside with both parents. But the housing authority is not concerned to argue that the court should not make an order to this effect. The order, if made, will only be part of the material which the housing authority takes into account in coming to its decision. The two procedures for deciding different questions must not be allowed to become entangled with each other.”

 

In saying this, Lord Hoffman was, in substance, adopting exactly the same approach as the one he had explained in the Court of Appeal in R v Secretary of State for Home Department ex parte T [1995] 1 FLR 293, a case involving the interface between family and immigration proceedings.

27.Nothing in what Lord Hoffmann said affects, in my judgment, either the general thrust or most of the detail of what I said in Re M and N. Given the decision of the House of Lords, what I said in Re M and N at para 30 is best ignored; but this does not affect the continuing validity of what I said (para 31) in the passage quoted above.

 

 

It had been suggested in this case that witness summons be issued to compel the key decision-makers in the criminal proceedings and housing department to come to Court and account for their actions, perhaps even be cross-examined.

 

 

 

 

28.In this context, the question is what, to use my terminology, is an “appropriate form of direct engagement with the family proceedings” for the third party decision maker? In relation to this, Lord Hoffmann’s observations are of great importance: the third party decision maker should not be made an intervenor in the family proceedings and should not be required to “argue” its case.

 

 

29.On the other hand, the family court can properly seek from the third party decision maker information – information both as to what has happened and as to what it is anticipated will or may happen – and, where necessary, documents. Moreover, if this is necessary to enable the family court to perform its task and to come to a decision on the matter before it, the family court can legitimately ask the third party decision maker to explain why it has come to its decision and, if this is necessary for the family court properly to understand the decision, to probe the proffered explanation, if need be by asking searching questions. What, in contrast, the family court cannot legitimately do, is to require the third party decision maker to justify its decision, let alone with a view to putting it under pressure to change its decision.

 

[To use an analogy, the Family Court could ask Madonna to EXPLAIN why she chose to make the film Swept Away, but she doesn’t have to JUSTIFY her love – just as Jay-Z doesn’t have to justify his thug.]

 

30.Where, in any particular case, one draws the line between explanation and justification may be difficult; but the principle is clear. It is not for a family court to require a third party decision maker to justify its decision; that is a matter, if at all, for the Administrative Court exercising its powers of judicial review. And, as I pointed out in In re N, para 82,

 

 

 

“it is not a proper function of … the family court or the Family Division … to embark upon a factual inquiry designed to create a platform or springboard for possible future proceedings in the Administrative Court.”

31.It is also clear that the family court can, if this is necessary to enable it to dispose of the proceedings before it justly and fairly, make an order requiring the third party decision maker, or an individual specified by the family court for the purpose, to disclose relevant documents or to give evidence (see further, paragraph 38 below). The jurisdiction to make such an order is quite plainly conferred by section 31G of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984, to which Mr Day referred me, and there is nothing, whether in section 31G itself, or in the provisions of the Family Procedure Rules, or in the case-law or in principle, to exonerate the police, the CPS or any other public agency or authority from the reach of section 31G. Section 31G goes to the power of the court to make an order for the disclosure of documents or the giving of evidence; it does not, I emphasise, empower the court to disregard the principle that although the court can demand an explanation it cannot require the third party to justify its decision.

 

 

32.It follows from the principle in A v Liverpool City Council that a family court cannot dictate the contents of its care plan to a local authority: see In re N, paras 34-36:

 

 

 

“34 It is the duty of any court hearing an application for a care order carefully to scrutinise the local authority’s care plan and to satisfy itself that the care plan is in the child’s interests. If the court is not satisfied that the care plan is in the best interests of the child, it may refuse to make a care order: see In re T (A Minor) (Care Order: Conditions) [1994] 2 FLR 423. It is important, however, to appreciate the limit of the court’s powers: the only power of the court is either to approve or refuse to approve the care plan put forward by the local authority. The court cannot dictate to the local authority what the care plan is to say. Nor … does the High Court have any greater power when exercising its inherent jurisdiction. Thus the court, if it seeks to alter the local authority’s care plan, must achieve its objective by persuasion rather than by compulsion.

 

35 That said, the court is not obliged to retreat at the first rebuff. It can invite the local authority to reconsider its care plan and, if need be, more than once: see In re X; Barnet London Borough Council v Y and X [2006] 2 FLR 998. How far the court can properly go down this road is a matter of some delicacy and difficulty. There are no fixed and immutable rules. It is impossible to define in the abstract or even to identify with any precision in the particular case the point to which the court can properly press matters but beyond which it cannot properly go. The issue is always one for fine judgment, reflecting sensitivity, realism and an appropriate degree of judicial understanding of what can and cannot sensibly be expected of the local authority.

 

36 In an appropriate case the court can and must “be rigorous in exploring and probing local authority thinking in cases where there is any reason to suspect that resource issues may be affecting the local authority’s thinking”: see In re B-S (Children) (Adoption Order: Leave to Oppose) [2014] 1 WLR 563, para 29. Rigorous probing, searching questions and persuasion are permissible; pressure is not.”

33.Not infrequently, an important component of the appropriate care plan will be input from – services to be provided by – another public authority, for example, health care to be provided by the NHS as part of a holistic care plan, or social housing to be provided by another local authority. In such a case the family court can engage with the third party decision maker both indirectly and/or directly: indirectly, by requiring the local authority, as part of its consideration or reconsideration of its care plan, to discuss and negotiate with the third party; directly by the court making orders against the third party of the kind referred to in paragraphs 29, 31, above.

 

 

The Court went on to consider the position of orders for police disclosure that were not being followed. It ought to go without saying that the police should obey such Court orders, but it clearly doesn’t in all cases, and thus having this chapter and verse is handy

 

 

 

 

38.Part A, para 7, provides in terms for the making by the family court of orders for disclosure against the police and/or the CPS. Para 7.4 states that:

 

 

 

“The police and the CPS will comply with any court order.”

39.It might be thought that this statement is otiose, for it is, after all, as Romer LJ said in Hadkinson v Hadkinson [1952] P 285, 288, in a passage endorsed by the Privy Council in Isaacs v Robertson [1985] AC 97, 101:

 

 

 

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

40.In Re W (Adoption Order: Leave to Oppose); Re H (Adoption Order: Application for Permission for Leave to Oppose) [2013] EWCA Civ 1177, [2014] 1 FLR 1266, para 51, I referred to:

 

 

 

“the slapdash, lackadaisical and on occasions almost contumelious attitude which still far too frequently characterises the response to orders made by family courts.”

 

I went on:

 

“There is simply no excuse for this. Orders, including interlocutory orders, must be obeyed and complied with to the letter and on time. Too often they are not. They are not preferences, requests or mere indications; they are orders.”

 

I added (para 54):

 

“Non-compliance with an order, any order, by anyone is bad enough. It is a particularly serious matter if the defaulter is a public body such as a local authority.”

 

The same, it ought to be needless to say, obviously applies also where the order is directed to the police.

41.I make no apologies if I seem to be labouring a point which ought to require no emphasis. However, I was recently confronted, in a care case that came before me on circuit, with a letter, written by the legal department of a police force one really might have thought would have known better, which, responding to an order made by a Circuit Judge sitting in the Family Court for disclosure by the police of certain documents, sought to explain why it was proposed by the police not to comply with this “request” (as it was described) because, in the view of the writer, it was inappropriate. Without having thought it necessary to require the hapless writer of this astonishing missive to be brought to court to provide an explanation, it would not be fair to assume that this was impertinence or defiance rather than simple ignorance and incompetence; but either way it is deeply troubling that any police force can have thought that this was an appropriate response to an order of the court, even if it was a family and not a criminal court.

 

 

42.The point is very simple: if a public authority to whom an order is directed by a family court wishes to challenge the order rather than comply with it, the authority must, and, moreover, before the time for compliance has expired, either appeal the order or if, as will often be the case, the order was made without notice to and in the absence of the authority, apply to the court which made the order for it be discharged or varied. Otherwise, the authority may find itself on the wrong end of proceedings for contempt of court.

 

 

 

Social Services were like the SS of Nazi Germany

It won’t be the first time anyone in family cases has heard that comparison, but it is certainly the first time I’ve heard it from a Judge.

I’m very grateful to Ian from Forced Adoption for bringing this story to my attention. It arises from an appeal in Sheffield Crown Court from a criminal trial, where a father was convicted of harassing a school.

The conviction was upheld on appeal but the Judge was extremely sympathetic to the father and extremely critical of the social workers and social work that had put him in that position.

We don’t have a judgment in this case – you’d only really get a judgment in a criminal case if it was a criminal Court of Appeal decision, otherwise you just get judicial summing up and sentencing remarks, which are not generally published. I don’t know whether the Ministry of Justice will publish these judicial comments in full (which are a matter of public interest, if anonymised) .

So the quotations come from the Court reporters who were present, and we have to proceed on the basis that they are accurate. If the Local Authority involved want to respond to this, I’m more than happy to print their response, but I appreciate that for data protection and confidentiality issues they may not be able to.

Here’s the Press report. (I expect some of the nationals might well be in touch with the Barnsley Chronicle to run this story.)

https://www.barnsleychronicle.com/article/draconian-social-services-blasted-by-judge

From the story, four things seem to have happened

  1. A six year old whose mother had committed suicide ten weeks earlier told her school that she ‘wanted to be with her mummy’ and that was reported by the school to social workers
  2. A referral was received by social workers suggesting that the paternal grand- father had sexually abused the child, that allegation was not substantiated.
  3. The father was either asked or told, to agree to a child protection medical (or one took place without his consent – the article gives two conflicting accounts on this), where the child was intimately examined to see if there was any sexual abuse.
  4. The father became outraged at the school for putting the child through this, and started a campaign of harassment including derogatory leaflets about the school and headteacher.

The father was then convicted of harassment against the school. He appealed that, unsuccessfully, but the Judge attributed a lot of responsibility for the situation on the social workers.

However, he blasted social services for their handling of the case. They became involved after an unrelated allegation – which police said was unfounded – was levelled against his father. That led to social services investigating the youngster’s welfare and temporarily stopped her from seeing with her grandfather, contact which has now resumed.

“Social services were like the SS of Nazi Germany,” Judge Moore said. “They’re literally the SS in their name and their manner of working is somewhat draconian.

“But the facts are clear. I have sympathy for the appellant as I did at the beginning of this case, but what came afterwards was the harassment of a headteacher when really the school were only following their orders.

“Had the headteacher have argued against social service officers’ intervention, they would have found themselves before a disciplinary hearing.”

Generally speaking, either parental consent or a Court order should be obtained before conducting a medical examination of a child, particularly an intimate one.

It isn’t clear to me whether the father consented (but felt under duress to do so) or wasn’t asked.

The article opens with

A JUDGE likened Barnsley social services to the Nazi Party’s SS after a young girl who had expressed suicidal thoughts was subjected to a naked medical examination without her father’s consent.

which suggests no consent

But later, the father is quoted as saying

Speaking after the hearing, he told the Chronicle: “Despite previous investigations finding no evidence of any risk of sexual abuse, I was forced to allow Barnsley social services to take my daughter out of school and transport her to Barnsley Hospital where, without my consent, she was stripped naked and examined from head to foot.

Which suggests that he did allow the child to be taken for the medical, but did not know or agree to the medical being of the nature it ended up being. Obviously have no way of knowing whether or not he is right about that, because we don’t have a forensic judgment looking at all of the evidence and reaching a conclusion, but he was certainly left feeling considerably aggrieved after the investigation, and a Judge felt that there was considerable force in some of his complaints, to the point of using extremely strong language of condemnation.

What I don’t know in this case is whether it was the circumstances in which the medical came about that the Judge was appalled by, or whether he was just appalled that the child was medically examined at all (which rather depends on exactly what the original allegation about dad was about, and whether the medical examination was proportionate to the allegation). I don’t know whether this Judge also has a care ticket, but I’d expect even a Judge who exclusively does crime to be familiar with medical examinations for alleged sexual abuse. It might be that the allegation, on examination was so patently threadbare or malicious that the child should not have been put through a medical and wasn’t a credible allegation. I don’t know.