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“And all the pieces matter…”

 

 

 

This is a Court of Appeal case where a Judge having heard a 3 day hearing about an alleged fracture to a 3 year old’s arm ended up giving an oral judgment at 4.30 pm on the third day, that lasted until 6.45pm.

S (A Child: Adequacy of Reasoning), Re [2019] EWCA Civ 1845 (31 October 2019)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2019/1845.html

 

(By the way, the Court of Appeal don’t title a case “Adequacy of Reasoning” and then conclude ‘yes, it was perfectly adequate’…)

 

The judgment did not explain the reasoning for the judicial findings and was sent back for re-hearing.

 

As the Court of Appeal say in the judgment

 

34.I would accept the submission that the judgment contains within it evidence that could have been gathered up and assembled to justify the findings contained in the judge’s clarification at [89]. I would also accept that a judgment must be read as a whole and a judge’s explicit reasoning can be fortified by material to be found elsewhere in a judgment. It is permissible to fill in pieces of the jigsaw when it is clear what they are and where the judge would have put them. It is another thing for this court to have to do the entire puzzle itself. In my view, there is so little reasoning underpinning the judge’s conclusions that we would have to do this in order to uphold her decision, and if we were to attempt it there is no knowing whether we would arrive at the same conclusion.

 

Thus giving me the opportunity to make a Lester Freamon Wire reference in the title, yay.

 

The Court were sympathetic to the pressures on the Judge

 

 

 

 

2.As we told the parties at the end of the hearing, this appeal must be allowed. In reaching that decision, we do not overlook the reality. Judges are encouraged to give extempore judgments where possible and appeals will not succeed simply because matters might be better expressed with the luxury of extra hours of preparation or because judgments may contain imperfections. What matters is that the parties know the outcome and the reasons for it. Where the essential evidence has been considered and the decision has been adequately justified, that will do. In this case however, it did not happen. Despite the judge’s efforts, the parties were at the end of the judgment unsure what she had decided about the two main issues in the case. Clarification was sought. It to some extent makes the judge’s intentions clearer but too many actual or arguable inconsistencies remain and important conclusions are inadequately explained. There will regrettably have to be a rehearing.

 

The Court of Appeal give Judges in a similar position an out

 

The questions that the judge therefore had to ask were these[1]:

 

 

 

 

(1) Had the local authority proved that the injuries were inflicted as opposed to being accidental?

 

(2) If the injuries were inflicted, who had the opportunity to cause them?

 

(3) Of those people, could one person be identified on the balance of probabilities as having inflicted the injuries (a conventional ‘known perpetrator’ finding)?

 

(4) If only two people (the mother and Mr C) could have caused the injuries, but the one responsible could not be identified it necessarily followed that there was a real possibility that each of them may have caused the injuries (an ‘uncertain perpetrator’ finding).

 

(5) Once these questions had been answered, had it been proved that the mother had failed to protect S from being injured or covered up what she knew about how he was injured?

4.Unfortunately the judge did not approach matters in this way.[2] Once she had decided to give the parties her decision that day, it would have been better if, rather than delivering a 30 page judgment under time pressure, she had simply set out and answered the necessary questions and given her essential reasons in a few additional lines. This is in any event a useful discipline, particularly where a party is unrepresented. Everyone knows exactly what has been decided and why. The full decision could follow, either then or at a later date.

 

It seems from my reading that it was fairly clear to see that the Judge thought the fracture was deliberately caused, and that the mother’s partner had been less than frank in his evidence and account, but having said that the Judge thought it was likely that the child was injured in the care of mother’s partner, Mr C, the Judge doesn’t really explain how she went on to find that she could not identify a perpetrator and found that it was either mum or Mr C.  Which explains why the mother appealed.

 

32.In Re N-S (Children) [2017] EWCA Civ 1121, McFarlane LJ said this:

 

 

 

“30. The need for a judge to provide an adequate explanation of his or her analysis and the reasoning that supports the order that is to be made at the conclusion of a case relating to children is well established. Not only is the presentation of adequate reasoning of immediate importance to the adult parties in the proceedings (in particular the party who has failed to persuade the judge to follow an alternative course), it is also likely to be important for those professionals and others judges who may have to rely upon and implement the decision in due course and it may be a source of valuable information and insight for the child and his or her carers in the years ahead. In addition, of course, inadequate reasoning is a serious impediment to any consideration of the merits of the judge’s decision within the appellate process.”

 

An important point arises that the Court of Appeal asked for a transcript of the hearing but that

the court tape was such poor quality that none of the evidence or judgment (except the evidence of Dr Watt, given by video link) could be transcribed.[3] The advocates agreed a note of judgment which was amended by the judge and handed down electronically on 12 June 2019.

No case to answer in care proceedings

 

This is a post-script to a judgment involving 25 children, in I think 15 linked care proceedings which had 49 parties, 4 Local Authorities and 21 silks. For most of the finding of fact hearing there were 100 people present in Court.

I’ll be writing about the full case later in the week, but Hedley J at the conclusion of the Local Authority case after a month of evidence, was invited by 19 of the 21 respondents to dismiss the allegations against them. Effectively an application of ‘no case to answer’ in care proceedings.

 

The allegations in the case all arose from the allegations of 3 children, two of whom gave evidence, and one who did not.

 

Re AA and 25 others 2019

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2019/64.html

 

  1. The essence of the applications depends on certain assertions of fact. There is no doubt that all the allegations in this case are based on the evidence given by those three girls. Two of them gave oral evidence and one did not. There is no external corroboration of their evidence and their evidence involves multiple allegations of perverted sexual abuse over many years, often conducted in group activity. There is no doubt that each of these three girls suffered an abusive background in their parental home, have been victims of emotional damage and suffer from educational deficits.
  2. There has been a prolonged police inquiry over very many months, which has resulted in a decision to take no further action, the Crown Prosecution Service having agreed with the police that the evidence available did not meet the evidential threshold for a criminal prosecution.
  3. The manner in which the allegations emerged has been the focus of much of the evidence, coming as it did from diaries which all three girls were encouraged to keep, followed up by long conversations with their foster carers and protracted and repeated ABE interviews, which were by far the longest that I have ever encountered in my experience, and one has to recognise that there are substantial arguments upon which a challenge to the reliability of the evidence can be advanced.
  4. It was against the whole of this background that I thought it right to entertain and consider these applications and submissions. They were spread over three days, including inevitably some preparation and reading time.

 

The Judge derived three questions to be answered

 

First, has the court the power at this stage to hear and determine an application to dismiss proceedings of its own motion under case management powers and/or in response to an application by a respondent that there is no case to answer or in some other respect?

Secondly, if the court has such a power, on what principles or basis should it be exercised? It is right to say that this particular question has never been considered because previous decisions made in the context of their own facts have never really fully determined the answer to question one, as the cases have been determined within that context of their own facts.

  1. The third question is: if the principles are wide enough to cover the circumstances of this case, should the court intervene in some or all of the 15 care cases that are being heard together here?

 

In effect

 

  1. Can I?
  2. If I can, how should I decide whether to?
  3. In this case, should I?

It is a beautiful judgment, right at the end of a very long judgment about findings of fact.

 

Can I?

 

  1. I have come to the conclusion that the correct modern approach to this is to be found in the case of Re T G (Care Proceedings: Case Management Expert Evidence) [2013] 1 FLR 1250.
  2. Paragraphs 24 to 28 are expressed in the typically trenchant language employed by the then President, Sir James Munby, and I have in particular in mind paragraph 27 where he says this:
    1. “In this connection, that is to say dealing with evidence, I venture to repeat what I recently said in Re C (Children Residence Order. Application Being Dismissed at Fact-Finding Stage) [2002] EWCA Civ 1489. These are not ordinary civil proceedings, they are family proceedings where it is fundamental that the judge has an essentially inquisitorial role, his duty being to further the welfare of the children, which is by statute his paramount consideration. It has long been recognised, and authority need not be quoted for this proposition, that for this reason a judge exercising the family jurisdiction has a much broader discretion than he would in the civil jurisdiction to determine the way in which an application should be pursued. In an appropriate case he can summarily dismiss the application as being, if not groundless, lacking enough merit to justify pursuing the matter. He may determine that the matter is one to be dealt with on the basis of written evidence and oral submissions without any need for oral evidence. He may decide to hear the evidence of the applicant and then take stock of where the matter stands at the end of that evidence.”
  3. “The judge in such a situation will always be concerned to ask himself: Is there some solid reason in the interests of the children why I should embark upon, or having embarked upon, why I should continue exploring the matters which one or other of the parents seeks to raise? If there is or may be a solid advantage for the children in doing so, then the enquiry will proceed, albeit it may be on the basis of submissions rather than oral evidence, but if the judge is satisfied that no advantage to the children is going to be obtained by continuing the investigation further, then it is perfectly within his case management powers and the proper exercise of his discretion so to decide and to determine that the proceedings should go no further.”
  4. I venture with becoming diffidence to add one further paragraph from that judgment, I having been a member of the constitution, and just refer to some words that appear at paragraph 82:
    1. “In a highly conflicted case where permanent removal and placement are serious possibilities, and that is increasingly the case with young children, it is only the judge upon whom the responsibility for case management should fairly rest. To leave it to the parties is to impose on them a burden potentially so onerous as to be unfair for especially on behalf of parents, no stone should be left unturned, however small it may seem. Of course, if that responsibility is to be discharged, it is essential both that the judge has had sufficient opportunity to master the case and also that judicial continuity is provided.”
  5. I cite that paragraph for two reasons. One, because it indicates that judicial case management is an art form rather than an application of scientific principles, and also because it seems to me that the court intended all its observations to apply right across family proceedings, even if the illustration in the language used by the President was actually taken from a private law case.
  6. As I say, I have concluded that that properly represents the modern approach to case management and, accordingly, I am satisfied that the court does have jurisdiction to bring proceedings to an end at any time before the conclusion of the final hearing. I am satisfied that the combination of statute and rules give the widest powers of control of case and trial management to the individual judge.

 

So yes, the Court CAN

 

(Honourable mention to the case of Re R 2009 ‘So long as the applicant sails on into the gunfire, I think the judge has the obligation to hear the case out. ‘  just for being a lovely metaphor)

 

Now we know the Court can, what are the general principles of whether they SHOULD?

 

What the thrust of this part relates to is that generally if the LA case has collapsed under them they will normally clock that and seek to withdraw or change tack OR the Judge will make eyebrows at them and suggest a short break to consider whether ‘any application might be made’, but the position up until now has been that if they ‘sail on into the gunfire’ the case continues.

The problem has always been that (a) parents are compellable witnesses and can’t simply refuse to give evidence as they would in crime  and (b) the burden of proof is on the LA to prove threshold is crossed. If they haven’t done that by the end of their case, are they allowed to simply proceed and hope that poor evidence from the parents does the job for them?

  1. if the court has a power, on what principles or basis should it be exercised?
  2. Mr Richard Pratt QC in his submissions suggested that its application would be exceptional and sparing, and given that such application has never succeeded, he is likely to be right on that, but the question is whether the court can be more specific in identifying the principles upon which any such power would be exercised. In order to do that, the court, in my judgment, needs to take a substantial step back from the current application and look at the very much wider canvas of judicial enquiry in proceedings under Part IV of the Children Act 1989.
  3. The authorities use a variety of language to describe that process. Some say it is sui generis in civil proceedings, some say it is quasi inquisitorial, and no doubt there are other expressions that can be garnered from the authorities.
  4. In order, I think, properly to understand what lies behind all this, and perilous though the expression so often has proved to be, it seems to me necessary to go back to basics and to ask: what is the purpose of proceedings under Part IV of the Act? It is, is it not, to determine whether any child or children are suffering or are likely to suffer significant harm, and, to paraphrase, that that harm accrues from a deficit in parenting, and, if so, then to protect and promote the welfare of those children using the principles set out in section 1 of the Act.
  5. It is extremely important to underline that in family proceedings the cost of a mistake either way is equally serious. If I make a finding in this case against a parent when I should not have made a finding, not only would that be a gross injustice to the parent, but it would disturb, upset and possibly frustrate the lives of children throughout the whole of their childhood, if not beyond. If, on the other hand, I were to fail to make a finding when I should have made a finding, it would be to expose children immediately returned to that person’s care to wholly unacceptable risk of abuse in the future. The cost either way is equally grave and that is an important factor to bear in mind when one is examining what the purposes of hearings under Part IV actually are.
  6. Moreover, although a determination under section 31(2) to consider whether the threshold criteria are satisfied does not have at its heart the paramountcy of the welfare of a child, these proceedings, like any other proceedings regarding children, always have the welfare of the child as a relevant consideration, and that, of course, must involve the welfare of every child who is subject to these proceedings, all 21 of them. I must consider and reflect on the promotion of that welfare even where the needs of the children are not only radically different the one from the other, but may actually conflict with one another, and that calls for very careful balances, of which this case may well provide a fairly vivid illustration.

 

 

 

  1. I return to the authorities and in particular to the case of Re S- A-K (children) [2011] EWCA Civ 1834, and, again, to some words of Lord Justice Thorpe, which are to be found in paragraph 7 of that judgment, and he says this:
    1. The protection of children in public law proceedings is primarily in the hands of other agencies, but when the case is brought into the judicial arena, the judge is an important partner in the process of child protection. Accordingly it is incumbent on any judge to dig deep, as deep as is reasonably practicable, before arriving at the conclusion that there is no danger to the child and that the child’s account of abusive experience is incredible, not to be believed. It is not a case in which the judge can say that the child is mistaken. A rejection of the local authority’s case inevitably carries the conclusion that the child had made a false allegation against her stepfather. That outcome should not be reached without the judge having the best available evidence.”
  2. Now, what does that mean in working practice in a trial under Part IV of the Children Act? In my judgment, it means that ordinarily any judge should hear all the available evidence, and that should include the evidence of all those with care of the children who are subject to the application.
  3. There is a very good reason for that, as is readily apparent from guardians’ reports in this case; they are the people who know the children best, they are the people who have the first responsibility for protecting the welfare of those children, and again, venturing my own experience in these matters, I have often found the evidence-in-chief of parents to be the most illuminating evidence in many a trial for good or ill, it has to be said.
  4. If this is so, that is to say that the judge should hear all the available evidence including that which I have described, it will be wholly unsurprising that applications of the sort made here are not usually made and do not succeed, and why it is said that they have no part in Part IV proceedings. But whilst that may be the case, it begs two questions, which it seems to me the court in good conscience should confront.
  5. First: are there any circumstances in practice then where the court will intervene or is this simply a power which is devoid of practical expression? Secondly: how does all that fit with the concept of the local authority having the burden of proof in relation to the establishment of the threshold established under section 31(2) of the Act?

 

Looking at this further

 

  1. …human rights and common justice require that the court should have this power for use as and when it may be necessary. Speculation about when and how it might actually be used is probably as unwise as it is potentially fascinating, and so one confronts the question about what are the implications of all this upon the obligation of the local authority to prove its case.
  2. The position in the criminal law is fairly straightforward. That is to say, except in those rare cases where the burden of proof is reversed, as occasionally it is, there has to be a sufficient case based entirely on the evidence adduced by the Crown. In civil proceedings, the problem does not arise in practice because any person seeking in civil proceedings to make a submission of no case to answer will normally be put to their election to call no evidence and, accordingly, the problems that were raised by Alexander v Rayson do not arise in practice.
  3. In family proceedings, that simply cannot be done. No person can be put to their election because they remain a compellable witness and one with an obligation to go into the witness box. Accordingly, since that cannot be done in family proceedings, in my judgment the proper time for the court to apply the burden and standard of proof is not at the conclusion of the local authority case but at the conclusion of all the evidence which the parties want to give and the court considers that it should hear, and therefore that time in this case has not yet arrived. That approach is wholly coherent with the essential and unique nature of family proceedings, whether described as sui generis, quasi-inquisitorial or whatever.
  4. Now, I should stress that none of this must be read as inhibiting in any way the duty of a judge to control proceedings and to give such indications as he or she might think right as to how a trial should develop. I am considering the specific circumstances of where there is a formal application formally resisted by other parties to the proceedings.
  5. If it be right then that the broad approach is that these powers will only be used where there is something that impinges on the integrity of the trial process or otherwise is seen as to amount to an abuse of the process of the court, the necessary scope in relation to the third question will be very limited.

 

 

So the Court can decide that there is no case to answer and can hear such an application but it is an application that is highly unusual, and the circumstances in which it would succeed would be narrow. The Judge also felt that it should be considered at the conclusion of the evidence (or at least the conclusion of the evidence that the parties want to give and that the Court considers that it should hear)

I think what might come about are applications that the LA haven’t established that threshold is crossed, my client would prefer not to give evidence unless the Court considers that it SHOULD hear from the parent, and if not, then we would move onto submissions.  The question of whether a Local Authority who are not over threshold, but not necessarily a mile away from it can get there with the parents evidence as the parents are compellable witnesses and adverse inferences may be drawn if they refuse to be compelled is a question for later litigation. At the moment, we don’t know (but it is PROBABLY yes unless or until the Court of Appeal say not)

It is not a surprise that the answer to the third question – should I do that in this case, was no.

 

Don’t turn around

 

I’m going to write about the appeal reported on Friday which revolved around judicial misconduct.  I’ve been beaten to it by both Pink Tape and Civil Litigation blog here http://www.pinktape.co.uk/rants/judicial-conduct-what-about-the-context/    and here  https://www.civillitigationbrief.com/2019/10/25/appeal-allowed-when-the-trial-judge-overstepped-the-line/  respectively.

 

So I’m not going to go into as much detail on the background as they do.  Their pieces are both very good, so read those when you’re done.

C (A Child) (Judicial Conduct) [2019] EWFC B53 (16 October 2019)    

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2019/B53.html

 

 

A District Judge (DJ Mian) in Birmingham decided a care case after a 5 day final hearing. The Judge granted an placement order for the child, M, who was 1.   M had an older sibling, N, who was already the subject of a Care Order (to a different Local Authority) and was in residential care though possibly moving to a grandmother in due course.

At the hearing, the parents accepted that they could not care for M.  The only options were adoption or placement with the grandmother.  The placement with the grandmother was complicated, because it depended in part as to whether N was going to go to live with her.

The judgment was 38 pages and very detailed. The Judge hearing the appeal, HHJ Rogers   (one of the most courteous barristers I’ve ever met, a really lovely man)  noted that the judgment was thoughtful and careful and

The legal exposition, read in isolation, could not possibly support an arguable case that there was a misdirection.

 

The appeal, however, was largely based on judicial misdirection that the Judge had really been deciding about the plan for M whilst thinking too much about the plan for N (a child with whom she was not charged with considering) and judicial misconduct.

In essence, the Guardian had been saying at final hearing, you shouldn’t rule out placing M with the grandparents just because N is going there, because N  has problems that might mean the plan to put him with grandparents never happens.

  1. In the course of the Guardian’s examination in chief the Judge intervenes (E222):
  2. “No, there are two things going on here and this is what has, forgive me, with the greatest respect, seems to have, confused the front bench completely. There are two things going on here. One is the actual plan for N and that is to return home. And there were several attempts to go behind that plan which I have fairly robustly drawn an end to on the basis that you cannot go behind that plan. There are three ways of looking at it. The second is the reality and, as I said to everybody, in particular the grandparents, they may be absolutely right that N never comes home. But because we have the plan for him nobody can say that with any certainty.”
  3. Mr Bainham submits, in my judgment, with great force that if the Judge herself acknowledged the uncertainty of the situation, it was wrong of her to assume the absolute position of the care plan without exploring the contrary and worse it was wrong of her to shut down and ultimately extinguish argument on the point. The explanation, he submits, is that the Judge became distracted by N’s position to the point where she felt it her responsibility to promote it over M’s. In my judgment, there are many examples in the evidence of the Judge’s approach becoming less focussed on M’s welfare than it should. At E230, the Judge intervenes in the questioning of the Guardian again and in a lengthy passage she speaks of “competing plans” and sets out forcefully the implications for N if his plan is overridden. Later at E242, still ostensibly in the course of the Guardian’s examination in chief and clearly exasperated the Judge says:
  4. “No. No. No. Oh my God, I am sorry. I am sorry. I am really sorry. I am going to try one more time and then we are just going to carry on with the hearing. I do not know how many ways in which to say this. I cannot interfere with N’s plan.”
  5. The difficulty with that interjection, as Mr Bainham submits, is that no party was suggesting the Judge could or should interfere with the plan. Simply she was being asked to bear in mind the reality that there was credible evidence (counsel refers to it in his Skeleton Argument in detail) that the likelihood was that the plan would never be implemented.

 

[By the time the appeal came about, the LA responsible for N had changed their plan from placement with grandparents to accepting that his needs were such he needed to stay in residential care – the outcome posited by the Guardian and rejected by the Judge had come to pass]

However, more than this, it appears that the Judge just became increasingly exasperated by the position of the Guardian and was unafraid of showing it.

 

  1. It is axiomatic that a trial should be fair. That is at the heart of our system, is common sense and is enshrined, in any event, in Article 6. Fairness does not mean that a Judge should indulge every point and should never intervene to clarify or curtail as appropriate. Care proceedings can quickly become unwieldy with large amounts of unnecessary or marginal material in documentary form. Issues are often imprecisely defined so that analysis becomes vague, repetitive or incoherent. It is the Court’s duty to identify the key issues and to focus attention on them. Oral testimony can easily become unfocussed with a mixture of fact, assertion and opinion. Time estimates can become quickly untenable if a firm hold is not maintained. In short, the need for firm case and trial management is not only desirable but essential.
  2. In every case there is a line which should not be crossed. It is difficult, in advance, to identify the precise position of that line but it may be easy to see when it has been crossed.
  3. The criticism of the Judge is really two-fold. Not only, it is said, she shut down consideration of a central issue rendering it impossible to have a fair hearing but, further, that her conduct of the hearing and her own demeanour in Court made the atmosphere so difficult that all of those involved in the process were prejudiced.
  4. I have already dealt extensively with the Judge’s erroneous approach, as I have found it, to the central issue. She effectively prevented a proper debate. By intervening as she did, she distracted everyone from the proper focus. Even if she had her misgiving about the relevance or practicality of the discussions, she should, in my judgment, either have held back expressing a concluded view until her judgment or resolved the matter, subject to appeal rights, at an interlocutory stage. What actually happened was the worst of all possible worlds as the point was debated over and over, mainly by the Judge and Ms Hobbs, with no satisfactory resolution.
  5. Of much more worrying effect are the criticisms of the Judge’s demeanour. I do not regard it as necessary or fruitful to read significant amounts of the transcript into this judgment. In her Grounds of Appeal Ms Hobbs refers expressly to the Judge’s improper conduct as being exemplified by “blasphemous words, shouting, storming out of Court and general intemperate behaviour”. In the course of her submissions and with reference to the transcript, she also referred to sarcasm, the Judge shaking with rage, the Judge turning her chair away from the Court and sitting with her back to everyone for several seconds, mimicking the advocate’s words and to intimidating the Guardian.
  6. I could analyse each of the matters referred to but need not as, sadly, I am satisfied they are all well-founded. I myself listened to the recording and heard, with dismay, the anger and tension in the Judge’s voice. I also heard her banging her desk. Her exchanges with Ms Hobbs were sharp and substantially inhibited counsel from doing her job.
  7. The Judge’s frustration, to use a mild word of description, seems to have stemmed from her view that the Guardian’s analysis was non-existent or deficient. The Judge felt that the Guardian had not grappled with the central issue of the case, namely the interplay of care plans. Whether this is right or wrong, Ms Hobbs submits that her treatment of the Guardian was unacceptable. The matter came to a head when the Guardian gave her evidence. The Judge permitted examination in chief but then effectively prevented counsel from conducting it. It was, in my judgment, wholly unsatisfactory and degenerated into a critique of the Guardian’s perceived failure of approach. Perhaps a good example of what went wrong is to be found at E245-247. Over the course of those 3 pages the Judge effectively cross-examined the Guardian as if she were representing another hostile party. In my judgment, there and in many places elsewhere the Judge went far beyond clarification or amplification and descended into the heart of the arena.
  8. In her judgment (A33, para 135), the Judge records the Guardian’s recommendation as a final care order and placement order. That is in contrast to paragraph 134 where she said she stood by her recommendations. In my judgment, it is clear that the Guardian was inhibited from explaining her position fully because of the Judge’s apparent hostility. In the end the Judge stated (A41, para174) that “I do not take into account the evidence of the Guardian”. Read literally that is a clear error. Even if she does not precisely mean what she appears to say, she plainly discounted the view of the Guardian. I am driven to the clear conclusion that, ironically, the quality of the Guardian’s evidence was severely diminished by the Judge’s own interventions.
  9. Family proceedings should not be unnecessarily adversarial. One important function of a Judge, in a quasi-inquisitorial jurisdiction, is to help the witnesses give their evidence in a clear and unflustered fashion. Of course, points can be questioned and tested but not, in my judgment, to an extent that a witness is unable properly to fulfil his or her role. This, it seems to me, is all the more so in care proceedings when a Guardian is trying to explain her professional view to the Court. Here, Ms Hobbs reported that the Guardian felt considerably stressed and upset to the extent that her answers towards the end of her evidence became flat and virtually mono syllabic. It seems to me that the transcript broadly bears that out.

 

Just to repeat the key passage here

 

“blasphemous words, shouting, storming out of Court and general intemperate behaviour”. In the course of her submissions and with reference to the transcript, she also referred to sarcasm, the Judge shaking with rage, the Judge turning her chair away from the Court and sitting with her back to everyone for several seconds, mimicking the advocate’s words and to intimidating the Guardian.

 

I think over the course of a long career in Court, everyone has the experience of inadvertently exasperating or irritating a Judge and it always makes you feel dreadful.  I had a time practising in the West Midlands, and there were certainly Courts in Birmingham where I would feel apprehensive, nervous and sometimes physically unwell before going in, knowing that the judicial style amongst certain Judges was overly robust  (for those who know, the words “Humpty Dumpty” will ring vividly in the memory) so advocates in Birmingham don’t tend to be thin skinned, but this is unspeakable and unacceptable.

 

[In another part of the country and a very long time ago, I’ve had a Judge throw volume 2 of Hershman’s at me during a hearing. It is quite a thick volume, in a hard cover.  Thankfully he missed and it hit my completely innocent opponent]

The grandparents, who were in person during the hearing, were rightly appalled by what was happening.

  1. Equally worrying is the letter that the grandparents sent to the Guardian before judgment was delivered which is reproduced at A53. I suspect the grandparents anticipated the probable outcome of the case, but I get no sense that the letter was written with any ulterior motive or to gain strategic advantage. The material passages read:
  2. “1. I would like to recognise and give thanks for the care and consideration we received from Judge Mian whilst dealing with us personally throughout the week. However, we found the rest of the hearing highly distressing.

3. I wish to object to the constant barrage of interruptions aimed at professional witnesses and barristers questioning them………This in my mind brings into question the impartiality of the proceedings.

4. The way the Children’s Guardian was questioned by the Judge for most of the day was in my view very wrong and particularly harrowing for both her and us. This seems particularly unprofessional.”

  1. This letter encapsulates the tragedy in this case. I have no doubt that the Judge was desperately trying to move a difficult case forward. I am sure she believed that the family members and the Guardian had missed the point about N’s care plan and hoped to persuade them to see the reality as she perceived it. I am also sure, as the Judge said more than once and as the grandparents seem to have appreciated, that she had nothing but sympathy for their position. Yet, by the insistence of her position and her apparent refusal to listen to the contrary arguments before making a reasoned judgment, she not only derailed the substance of the hearing but created an atmosphere where completing a fair hearing became impossible. She seems to have alienated even those whom she sought to praise and encourage.

 

Counsel for the Guardian had attempted, during the hearing to draw attention to the problem that was developing, but was given short shrift.  (Has anyone ever been given ‘long shrift’? I wonder idly)

 

The difficulties surrounding this hearing must have been obvious. It is of significance that they were mentioned explicitly. At E247 Ms Hobbs says “Madam, if I am frank, I am a little concerned about the atmosphere in the Courtroom. I really am and I do not know………”. The Judge intervenes; “Well, please do not be.” Later, Mr Bainham, although acting for the mother, informs the Judge on behalf of the unrepresented grandmother, who he has been told is highly distressed and will not re-enter the room, at E265

 

 

The Local Authority stance at the appeal was of interest

 

 Birmingham City Council (LA B) takes a more nuanced approach. But for the factual change of circumstances, to which I will turn, it would have been inclined to resist the substantive appeal. As to the procedural appeal, it indicated it preferred to make no detailed submissions, adopting a broadly neutral position. I expressed mild surprise at that stance but, upon reflection, having heard Ms Julyan SC explain the sensitivities and importance of the working relationship between LA B and the Court, I understand why it does not wish to associate itself proactively with the more severe criticisms of the Judge’s conduct of the case.

 

 

The appeal was granted, the Judge would have directed a re-hearing, but because the position with N had changed, by the time of the appeal the LA were no longer seeking a placement order for M and thus the plan became placement of M with the grandparents. So a happy ending.

Is a residential home a person? Or MIND THE GAP

 

The Court of Appeal just had to decide this point, and at first reading it seems an incredibly niche and technical point.  I suspect, however, if you live in the North of England, it isn’t.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2019/1714.html

 

            C (A Child) (Schedule 2, Paragraph 19, Children Act 1989) [2019] EWCA Civ 1714 (17 October 2019)    

 

In essence, because of either a shortage of residential children’s homes in England, or an excess of demand, or ones in Scotland being a better fit, some Local Authorities want to / have to place children in their care in residential children’s homes in Scotland.

That means that they butt heads with Schedule 2 para 19.   There’s a potential problem here  (NOTE that it is NOT a problem for Secure Accommodation in Scotland which has all sorts of its own problems, but not as a result of this particular problem)

 

  1. Schedule 2 to the 1989 Act contains a number of provisions dealing with “Support for Children and Families provided by Local Authorities in England. Paragraph 19 contains “Arrangements to assist children to live abroad”.
  2. Paragraph 19 provides as follows:
    1. 19(1) A local authority may only arrange for, or assist in arranging for, any child in their care to live outside England and Wales with the approval of the court.

(2) A local authority may, with the approval of every person who has parental responsibility for the child arrange for, or assist in arranging for, any other child looked after by them to live outside England and Wales.

(3) The court shall not give its approval under sub-paragraph (1) unless it is satisfied that—

(a) living outside England and Wales would be in the child’s best interests;

(b) suitable arrangements have been, or will be, made for his reception and welfare in the country in which he will live;

(c) the child has consented to living in that country; and

(d) every person who has parental responsibility for the child has consented to his living in that country.

(4) Where the court is satisfied that the child does not have sufficient understanding to give or withhold his consent, it may disregard sub-paragraph (3)(c) and give its approval if the child is to live in the country concerned with a parent, guardian, special guardian, or other suitable person.

(5) Where a person whose consent is required by sub-paragraph (3)(d) fails to give his consent, the court may disregard that provision and give its approval if it is satisfied that that person—

(a) cannot be found;

(b) is incapable of consenting; or

(c) is withholding his consent unreasonably.

(6) Section 85 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (which imposes restrictions on taking children out of the United Kingdom)] shall not apply in the case of any child who is to live outside England and Wales with the approval of the court given under this paragraph.

……

(9) This paragraph does not apply —

(a) to a local authority placing a child in secure accommodation in Scotland under section 25, or

(b) to a local authority placing a child for adoption with prospective adopters.”

The net effect of para 19 is that EITHER

(a) The child has to consent to being placed in Scotland   OR

(b) If the child doesn’t have sufficient understanding to consent, the Court can consent on their behalf IF the child is to live in Scotland with a ‘parent, Guardian, special guardian or other suitable person

So, in a situation where the LA wants to place a child in Scotland in a residential children’s home and the child doesn’t consent,  IS the residential children’s home  an “other suitable person”?  because if not, the placement can’t happen.

  1. On the first issue, (i), paragraph 19(4) applies only if the child is “to live … with a parent, guardian, special guardian or other suitable person”. As Floyd LJ observed during the hearing it is not easy to see how a child could live with a company or an unincorporated “body of persons”. For example, while a child can live in a residential home which might be owned by a company it would be difficult to argue that, as a result, the child was living with a person. Further, when this is added to the fact that the words “other suitable person” follow a list comprising natural persons, I do not consider it is possible to interpret this provision as meaning other than that it is confined, as decided by Sir James Munby P, to natural persons. Whilst I recognise that there might well be a practical need, as submitted by Mr Howling, this cannot counter the factors referred to above and such a need alone would not provide a legitimate basis for the proposed statutory interpretation.
  2. The result of this conclusion is that, when a child does not consent, and regardless of whether they do or do not have sufficient understanding, the court is not permitted to approve their placement in Scotland other than with a natural person. The consequence is that a local authority cannot “arrange for, or assist in arranging for, any child in their care”, who does not consent, to live in a residential home in Scotland (or, indeed, anywhere else outside England and Wales).

 

So (other than in Secure) an English or Welsh LA can’t arrange for a child in their care to live in a residential children’s home in Scotland UNLESS the child consents to that.   (I’m stressing a lot that this does NOT apply to Secure Accommodation, because obviously a child having to consent to that is just not going to happen. Parliament amended Schedule 2 para 19 to specifically take Secure out of this scenario)

 

There’s a hint in the next paragraph that there might at some later point be some Classic Dom TM argument to be made about the child really living with a person  (I suspect like all Classic Dom TM arguments so far, it won’t work if attempted)

 

  1. Given the limited submissions we heard on the history which might lie behind this particular provision and on the broader potential ramifications, I do not propose to address Ms Irving’s additional submission as to whether the term “other suitable person” might be further confined. All I would say is that a court would clearly need to establish who would have parental responsibility or, in broader terms, legal responsibility, for a child before that child could be placed outside England and Wales. One of the problems that has been a feature of some care cases (and still can be judging by the very recent judgment of Re K, T and U (Placement of Children with Kinship Carers Abroad) [2019] EWFC 59) is a regrettable failure to address at an early stage of the process the legal issues which require to be resolved to enable such a placement to take place in a manner which safeguards the child’s best interests.

 

The appeal was also constructed on what

Where the court is satisfied that the child does not have sufficient understanding to give or withhold his consent,

 

might actually mean.  Is it a straight Gillick-competence type test?  Or is it softer than that with the Guardian or solicitor for the child just advising the Court that on this issue, the child’s views are genuinely reflective of their settled position?   (I suspect you’d have to at least understand that if you say “I’m not going to live in Scotland” what that means for the other options. Note that unlike the provisions for parents consent to be overridden if they are withholding it ‘unreasonably’ for a child it is a straight key – if you CAN consent and you don’t, that’s the end of it. You can’t be placed in Scotland. )

 

  1. As to the second issue, (ii), we only heard very brief submissions because we had already decided that the legal point raised on behalf of the Guardian was correct. This is not, therefore, a case in which it would be appropriate to provide detailed guidance, if such is in any event required. I would, however, make the general point that the answer to the question of whether a child has “sufficient understanding” requires consideration of all the relevant information and evidence and involves a broad assessment of the child’s intelligence, maturity and understanding of the factors relevant, in the context of paragraph 19(4), to the proposed placement outside England and Wales.
  2. This need not be an extensive investigation or analysis but in my view, in the circumstances of this case, it required a more extensive consideration than that given by the judge. I fully accept that the judge was being given the opinion of a very experienced solicitor but there was also evidence from the Social Worker with which the judge needed to engage. It was a decision for the judge to make and not one which depended simply on the solicitor’s opinion. It might, further, have been better to wait until the analysis which the Guardian had been ordered to file had been provided

They add at the end

This may be a “gap” in the legislative framework similar to the situation that previously existed in respect of secure accommodation. I, therefore, propose that this issue be brought to the attention of the President of the Family Division for his consideration.

 

Relinquishing a relinquishment

 

There’s an unofficial competition in this blog for ‘the worst case of the year’ and although it is only October, I think it may be hard to find one worse in the next two and a half months.  It is an unwelcome award and nobody tends to give an acceptance speech for them, it is more “I’d like to blame the following for this…” than a sobbing Gwyneth, and certainly not a Sally Field “You…like me”

 

“Relinquish” in this context means the decision by a parent that they cannot care for their child and would want a Local Authority to arrange for the child to be adopted – consensual adoption would be another way of putting it. I don’t really care for the word ‘relinquish’ myself, but we don’t seem to have settled on a better word yet.

 

Anyway, this is a case in which parents who had four children found themselves with a fifth on the way (at a time when they appeared to be in the midst of a separation) and decided that adoption was for the best for the new baby.  They asked the Local Authority to arrange this and the appropriate steps were taken, and prospective adopters were found who were willing to foster the baby during the process.

 

So far, everything is fine.

 

The problem arose when the parents changed their mind about adoption, and what happened then.

As this is a judgment about a Welsh case, the numbering of some of the statutory provisions may be slightly different to the English ones, but once you square the number of the section of the relevant Act, the wording is the same.

Foster carers v A, B & A Welsh Local Authority [2019] EWFC B52 (27 June 2019)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2019/B52.html

 

The case was decided by Francis J

 

5                     It is important that I record from the outset that Mr Boothroyd, on behalf of the local authority, has made a complete, fulsome and obviously well-meant apology for the failings of the local authority in this case.  I hope that in due course the carers and the parents will be able to accept that apology, for without the failings of the local authority these proceedings would not, in my judgment, have been necessitated.  Whether, and if so, to what extent proceedings are later taken against the local authority is not a matter for me – or certainly not a matter for me at the moment.  I do tentatively suggest, however, that if any proceedings against the local authority are taken at a time when I am still a judicial office holder, it would be appropriate for such applications to be heard by me.

 

6                     I said at the outset of these proceedings, and it is worth me repeating now, that the human misery in this court is palpable.  From everything that I have read and heard, although I have heard no oral evidence, it seems obvious to me that the applicants and the parents are all thoroughly decent people who all wish the very best for A, with whom this court is concerned.

 

7                     In circumstances which I shall shortly relate, these two decent couples have found themselves pitted against each other in litigation which none of them could have wished for in their worst nightmares.  In short, the position can be described as follows, although I shall relate it in more detail shortly.  Because the birth parents already had four children between them, and because at the time when it was anticipated that A would be born they had personal difficulties and had briefly separated, they formed the conclusion, at least for a time, that it would be better for them, their children, and most particularly for A, if they were to relinquish her for adoption.  It is hard to think of a decision, as a parent, that is more difficult to make, but I am completely persuaded from everything that I have seen and heard that they decided to relinquish A out of love for her and the desire to do the best for her.

    …When the mother informed the local authority social worker of her decision to relinquish her unborn child, it was immediately accepted by that social worker as being for the best, and the local authority put in place proposed adopters from birth.  In my judgment, they had a duty to discuss this with the mother, in fact with both parents, in detail, before accepting the position rather than actively encouraging them to go through with the adoption.  The Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005, and the Welsh equivalent, pursuant to s.53 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 mandate the local authority to provide pre-birth counselling to the mother, which would include whether the mother could care for the child with support or whether there were members of the family who could care for her in the short or long term.  Following the birth, the social worker must counsel the mother to see if she still wanted to the child to be adopted.  At the first statutory review, consideration should be given to whether there still remains a chance that the child will return home.  The local authority must do whatever it can to ensure that the child is brought up within her birth family if at all possible.  Prospective adopters, who are selected to accept a relinquished baby from hospital, should be informed they will need to be robust because of the possibility that the parents may change their minds.

The child has lived with the prospective adopters since she was 3 hours old, and had recently had her first birthday.

 

Leading up to the difficulties, around three months after the birth of A

24                 On 25 September 2018, the mother met with the guardian to sign the relevant consents to relinquish A, but due to the mother’s reservations the guardian advised the mother not to sign the consents.  In my judgment, this event on 25 September 2018 is a critical event.  The following day the guardian sent an email, in which she recorded that she was unable to have the consent form signed as it was, and I quote, “Clear that the parents want A to be returned to their care.  They feel circumstances have changed since relinquishing.”  The guardian wisely advised the parents to seek legal advice.  I repeat that this was 25 September 2018, about nine months ago.

 

25                 A contact recording on 5 October 2018 notes, and I quote, “Whilst the mother was cuddling A she whispered to her, ‘I’m going to get you back’, before repeating, ‘Mummy is going to get you back.’”  On 8 October 2018, the social worker recorded that the mother said that she felt that giving A away was a mistake and that she was due to see her solicitor on Thursday.  There is a great deal more in the guardian’s chronology, but what is abundantly clear is that it was only a short time after the birth that the mother, and then, in due course, supported by the father, showed increased anxiety about her decision and increased reluctance to let A go.

 

It was clear by this stage that the mother was having significant doubts about A being adopted.

 

26                 It is evident, and Judge Garland-Thomas so found in the care proceedings to which I will shortly refer again, that in October 2018 the mother was informed by a local authority social worker that if she changed her mind an assessment would need to be carried out which would involve the other children.  This was as devastating for the mother as it was incorrect.  It was devastating because it terrified the mother and, I dare say, the father when she relayed it to him that further local authority involvement with their family would now ensue, with all the risk to the other children that they had been through already, as I’ve recounted above.

 

27                 It is completely evident to me that the birth parents became frightened that an inquiry would now follow into their capacity to care for the four children already at home with them — certainly three of them, one of them I dare say being above the relevant age.  The mother was understandably concerned about previous local authority involvement.

 

28                 Judge Garland-Thomas found that by March 2019 both parents had indicated, reluctantly, that they agreed that A should be placed for adoption.  Judge Garland-Thomas found, however, that on the way back from court on 3 April 2019, the mother disclosed that she did not agree with the plan and that she wanted A back in her care.  It was this comment of the mother’s that persuaded the local authority that they should issue care proceedings.  Judge Garland-Thomas found, and it is obvious to me that she was correct in this finding, that the placement of A shortly after her birth as a foster to adopt placement was not one which had any legal foundation.  It is accepted that the parents agreed accommodation under s.76 of the 2014 Act, but there was no compliance with other legislative requirements.

 

The parents withdrew their consent to adoption.  (it is not clear as to whether they formally withdrew their consent to section 20 foster care accommodation or were informed that they had the legal right to do this)

The Local Authority issued care proceedings for A.  That seems, to me, to be a sledgehammer approach but in the interests of fairness there probably wasn’t any other “legal” mechanism for resolving this.  (the Court can make all sorts of useful declarations under an Adoption application, but an adoption application could not be made).  I’d like to know more about what attempts were made to resolve matters via conversation and social work and possibly legal advice for the parents, but we just don’t know from this judgment.  So if the LA felt that a Court should make the decision as to whether A would go home to parents or stay with the current carers, that was the only legal route for doing so.  (The question of whether it was necessary for the Court to make such a decision is a different matter)

I’m also not sure about threshold, and it turns out that my uncertainty was echoed by two Judges.

 

32                 At the first directions hearing within the now issued care proceedings, it was evident that threshold was disputed.  The local authority sought to rely on the likelihood of emotional harm and neglect arising from the fact that A was relinquished at birth and there had been no contact between the parents and A since October 2018.  Judge Garland-Thomas found herself having to grapple with the relevant date for threshold.  It transpired that the local authority had pleaded three different relevant dates.  Their initial threshold document pleaded the relevant date was 4 July 2018, being A’s birth date.  On behalf of the local authority, this was abandoned by Mr Boothroyd at the hearing before Judge Garland-Thomas and the second threshold document dated 24 May 2019 pleaded the relevant date as 3 April 2019, the date on which the mother requested that A be returned to her care.  Later, in submissions, Mr Boothroyd on behalf of the local authority suggested that the only feasible relevant date could be the date on which the mother originally changed her mind, namely about 25 September 2018. 

 

33                 Judge Garland-Thomas found that it is clear to her that the only date which could possibly be the relevant date is A’s date of birth, 4 July 2018.  She found that the submission that the relevant date is either 3 April 2019 or possibly 25 September 2018 is not sustainable.  On each of those dates A remained in local authority care, where she had been since 4 July.  The judge found that any date other than 4 July 2018 is therefore an artifice seeking to place some blame on the parents for their change of stance.

 

I’m not at all convinced that a parent lawfully exercising their statutory right to change their mind about giving a child up for adoption (particularly when papers had not been signed) gives rise to a likelihood of harm to that child attributable to the care given by the parents not being what it would be reasonable for a parent to provide.

 

36                 The judge found, in paragraph 28 of her judgment, that it would be necessary for the local authority to show, on any of the dates proposed, that there is a lack of care being provided by a parent which gives rise to threshold.  The judge said that she was satisfied, and she so found, that the local authority cannot establish that A has suffered, or that she is at risk of suffering, significant harm attributable to the parents as at any relevant date.  The judgment of Judge Garland-Thomas, therefore, brings the public law care proceedings to an end.  The application for a care order has been dismissed and the care proceedings now will formally end today with the handing down of her judgment

 

There might be a scenario, when the reasons for relinquishing in the first place obviously and clearly give rise to a likelihood of harm if the child is at home with the parents, but just changing their mind isn’t it.

Judge Garland-Thomas, correctly in my judgment, concluded that when the local authority proceeded on the basis of a foster to adopt placement they did not have in place the legal framework to enable them to do so, and care proceedings should have been issued earlier than they were.  It was completely clear by at least 25 September 2018 that the parents were equivocating about their consent to adoption.  There is a duty on this local authority to support and assist parents in the position that these parents were in, and I have already set out the relevant Adoption Agencies Regulations that apply here in Wales.

 

38                 Instead of providing that support and counselling, the local authority actively encouraged the parents to proceed along the adoption route, and even, albeit implicitly rather than explicitly, allowed the parents to feel that failure to continue to relinquish A for adoption could give rise to an inquiry in relation to the other children.

 

39                 Mr Boothroyd on behalf of the local authority, has referred me to a famous but now somewhat old lecture given by Lord Mackay of Clashfern in1989, when he delivered the Joseph Jackson memorial lecture.  It is to be remembered that 1989 is the year of the Children Act, albeit it that did not come into force in 1990 or maybe even 1991.  During the course of that lecture, Lord Mackay said this,

 

“The integrity and independence of the family is the basic building block of a free and democratic society and the need to defend it should be clearly perceivable in the law.  Accordingly, unless there is evidence that a child is being or is likely to be positively harmed because of a failure in the family, the state, whether in the guise of a local authority or a court, should not interfere.”

 

40                 The lecture is to be found reported in New Law Journal vol 139 at p.505.  The quoted paragraph being at p.507.

 

41                 Mr Tillyard in sensitively but, if I may say so, in characteristically bold fashion, criticises the local authority.  He lists inter alia the following failings:

 

42                 1.  When the mother informed the local authority social worker of her decision to relinquish her unborn child, it was immediately accepted by that local authority to be for the best, and the local authority put in place the proposed adopters from birth.

 

43                 I agree with Mr Tillyard’s submission and so find that they had a duty to discuss this the parents in detail before accepting the position, rather than actively encouraging them to go through with the adoption.

 

44                 2.  The local authority should have permitted the mother time to reflect on her decision to relinquish A following the birth, rather than asking her to leave hospital within three hours of A being born.

 

45                 3.  The applicants, that is the carers, had not been approved as foster carers, and so A should not have been placed with them from birth.

 

46                 I wish to make it completely clear that in saying this I do not criticise the carers at all. I criticise the local authority.

 

47                 4.  Once A was placed with the carers, the local authority took far less interest in the mother’s welfare than they should have done.  It took them some three weeks before they even organised contact.

 

48                 5.  The local authority was placed on notice by the guardian in September 2018 that the parents’ consent was likely to be in issue.

 

49                 In my judgment, the local authority should have fully investigated this as soon as it became evident to them.  That was their clear duty.  The local authority told the mother that once she signed the papers for adoption in September or October there would be a final contact session.  The mother was not aware, because nobody told her, that she could have requested ongoing contact.

 

50                 It is clear that, had the local authority carried out its statutory duties pursuant to statute and regulation, from at least 26 September 2018, these proceedings would not be happening. It is overwhelmingly likely that had that action been taken last September, as I have said just over nine months ago, the parents would have been rehabilitated with A and the carers, however sadly, tragically and reluctantly, would have conceded this.  It is almost beyond belief that we are now some nine months later.  Who can possibly blame the carers now for bringing the applications that they do, both within wardship proceedings and for seeking leave to bring the adoption application?

 

 

As a side note, the Judge noted that the mother and father, who stood shoulder to shoulder and had absolutely no conflict between them were represented separately.  This does seem to have become simply the de facto norm position rather than anyone turning their mind to an actual conflict or the genuine possibility of a conflict.  The Judge made remarks which may have wider significance

51                 The mother and the father have each been separately represented in these proceedings before me.  I questioned the need for this; not out of any sense of criticism, but because it seems to me that they stand together shoulder to shoulder in this application.  Of course, as I have recounted above, there was a time when they were separated and that separation appears to have been a significant part, although not the only reason, for the decision to relinquish the baby.  I can well understand that that led people to think that they should be separately represented, however, when questioned about this the best answer that I was given as to the reason for separate representation is that this is what normally happens in public law care proceedings.

 

52                 As I have said, I do not intend to and do not criticise either of the birth parents nor any of the legal representatives for the decision for separate representation.  I do, however, tentatively suggest that if it is obvious to advocates that two parties to proceedings have identical cases, ambitions and evidence, attention should be given to the possibility of single representation.

 

Moving on

 

instead of accepting the facts, the local authority proceeded, as I have said, as if consent was still forthcoming.  I am the first to recognise that local authorities work under intense pressure of work and in circumstances where funding has been persistently and repeatedly reduced.  The pressure on local authority social workers and lawyers is often intolerable.  However, the local authority should not, and cannot, make the mistakes of the kind that have been made by this local authority in this case.  I have already used the words “human misery” above, and I repeat those words now in the sense that the human misery caused by the failings of this local authority are almost too much to bear.

 

55                 Moreover, and in any event, the cost in pure monetary terms of these proceedings, and of any likely proceedings that may in due course be brought against the local authority, will far outweigh any possible savings that could have been made by the inadequate attention that was given to this case.  It is not my task in the course of this judgment, least of all when I have heard no oral evidence, to blame individuals.  Whether this is the failure of one or two individuals in the local authority, or a systemic failure is not something that I can or should comment on in this judgment.  I can only hope, however, that there will be a thorough review by those at the top of the legal department of this local authority to consider what failings were made, and how steps can be put in place to make sure that they can never be repeated.

 

56                 It is clear to me that the carers of A are thoroughly decent people, who have thought of her arrival into their lives as the fulfilment of a dream.  To have that dream taken away from them, as these proceedings invite, is to heap upon decent people misery of a kind that is completely unacceptable.

 

57                 For the birth parents who have pleaded for the return of their child for many months, they have had to endure many months of misery, litigation, and what can probably only be described as hell.  It is, if I may say so, a tribute to the birth parents and to the carers that they have sat in court in close proximity and they continue to offer each other support.  I can only express the hope that one day A will realise that she has not two, but four, wonderful adults in her life.

 

 

The carers were asking the Court to deem that they had the right to make an adoption application, or failing that, to grant them leave to make an adoption application. That was the only legal route they had, if they wanted A to remain with them.  The Court was against that, without criticising them for pursuing it.

 

    Mr Momtaz properly recognises that if A was placed with the carers as foster carers rather than prospective adopters, as I find to be the case and he has properly conceded, then he must apply for leave for them to make an adoption application.  He contends that they should be given leave.  In para.30 of his first skeleton argument he identifies the correct principles as follows:

 

  1. The welfare of the child was a relevant, but not the paramount, consideration.
  2. Another relevant consideration is whether the proposed application has a real prospect of success.
  3. He refers me to the judgment of Wilson, LJ, as he was, who indicated his view that the requisite analysis of prospects of success will almost always included the requisite analysis of the welfare of the child.

 

74                 However, I am clear that this does not permit me, and still less does it encourage me, to draw up some sort of balance sheet between the competing debits and credits of these two decent couples.

 

75                 It is of course the case that A has bonded with her carers, who, as I have repeatedly said, have provided her with an unquestionably good level of love and care.  Within the context of her own young world, I have no doubt that A regards the carers as her parents.  Mr Tillyard submits, and I accept, that I have to weigh this against the rest of A’s life.

 

76                 What is the right of this court to terminate A’s right to family life with her family – by which I mean her birth parents and siblings?  The right of the state to interfere in A’s young life does not, in my judgment, exist.  Judge Garland-Thomas has dismissed the care proceedings and there are no longer any public law proceedings on foot.  The carers, as I have said, are temporary foster parents.  So to describe them will appear to them, I know, to be the deepest of insults.  I do not describe them in this way in any pejorative or critical sense, I am merely using the language of the statute to define the legal position: they are foster carers, and the birth parents are the birth parents.

 

77                 Mr Momtaz concluded his excellent written submissions with a short but, I am certain, correct proposition that the applicants, the carers, only want what is best for A.  He then says that they want the court to be able to make an informed and balanced decision as to her welfare.  The fatal flaw with Mr Momtaz’s submissions, in my judgment, is that I do not get to that welfare stage.

 

78                 Mr Momtaz asks why A should be introduced to the care of her biological parents.  In my judgment this is the wrong question.  The correct question is why A should be prevented from being in the care of her biological parents, when this is precisely what her biological parents want.  I do not for a second question the proposition that what the carers want is what is best for A.  The phrase “what is best for” is emotive and implies all sorts of subjective tests.  I am driven to make my conclusions based on the law.  The law is that adoption is a process of last resort unless consent from the parents is forthcoming.  Everyone in this case recognises that the consent of the parents is not forthcoming now, if it ever was.  There is no material evidence on which I could base a finding that the consent of the parents should be dispensed with.  My task is to find whether the carers have a reasonable prospect of success in their adoption application.

 

79                 With the care proceedings having been dismissed, there is no basis on which I could find that the birth parents are other than, to use the language of family lawyers, good enough parents

 

 

And the application was dismissed, meaning that plans were put in place for A to return to the care of her parents

 

81                 I am driven to the conclusion that the carers have no reasonable prospect of success in their adoption application.  Indeed, I am driven to the conclusion that it is bound to fail.  Accordingly, there is no basis on which I can give them permission to make the application.

 

82                 This leads me to the most painful and difficult debate as to how now to reintegrate A into her birth family.  With exceptional kindness, love and understanding, the carers have offered, even in the face of the prospect of losing their application, to do all that they can to help to integrate A into her birth family should they lose this application, as it is evident to them that they now have.  Should they change their mind in relation to this, nobody, least of all me, would criticise them.  If, however, after a period of contemplation following this judgment, they feel able to continue in this offer, then I know that the birth parents and this court would be grateful to them.

 

83                 It may even be, and I express this very sincere hope, that they can play a part in A’s life as she grows from the toddler that she now is into the girl, and the woman, that she will become.  That is, of course, not a matter for this court but a matter for the four individuals who have patiently listened to this case for some three days.

 

84                 In my experience as a judge in the Family Division I have rarely, if ever, seen such decent accommodation by individuals, of the horrible circumstances in which they all find themselves, and I end where I started by thanking all four of them, and express the hope that the goodwill seen by me in this court will continue, not just in the days and weeks to come, but in the years and decades to come.

 

85                 Accordingly, I therefore dismiss the application for leave to bring an adoption application, and I will dismiss the wardship proceedings.

Author not liable for any wince-related injuries

This case is ‘about’ an application for an injunction to protect a person who was considered to be vulnerable but who had capacity to make their own decisions, but it is really ‘about’  the Local Authority sending 1400 pages to everyone on a Friday for a final hearing that started on Tuesday, with said documents undermining / flatly contradicting the evidence the LA had filed, so it has some broader implications.   I think most people reading this will have had the experience of suddenly being dumped with a huge stack of papers that appeared at the last minute, even if they weren’t quite as voluminous and devastating as this.  It is a salutary lesson that if you do ruin someone’s weekend by doing this, they are going to be highly motivated to make you pay hard for it.

 

London Borough of Croydon v  KR 2019

 

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2019/2498.html 

 

 

It is telling that the LA had to withdraw the case after the two social workers  gave evidence.

 

 

 

Read and wince

 

I had witness statements from Ms Jones, KR’s social worker; Ms Bamfield, ST’s social worker, and two witness statements from KF. I also had a short statement from KF and ST’s son, DF. I heard oral evidence from Ms Jones and Ms Banfield. I also had in the court bundle 1400 pages of background documents. I understand that these were sent to KR and ST’s lawyers on Friday, i.e. 3 working days before the trial started. Some of them had been previously disclosed, but it is almost impossible to tell which ones. Very few had been exhibited to the LA’s witness statements. The vast majority of these documents will necessarily never have been seen by KR or ST because they come from the LA’s records. Some of these documents paint a materially different picture from that in Ms Jones’ witness statements, particularly in respect of the degree to which ST was obstructing the carers from CSL accessing the property and at least checking on KR. They also paint a different picture of the degree to which KR was at risk.

 

 

 

17.          There are a number of points of concern to me about these documents. Firstly, it is not acceptable that they were only disclosed, at least in this form, so shortly before trial. The hearing date had been set down since 21 May 2019, and the late disclosure meant the bundles were both unmanageable, and in reality, unreadable. Secondly, the disclosure appears to have been in the form of simply putting all these documents in the court bundle without any attempt to agree the bundle. Again, this is not acceptable, at the least attempts must be made to agree a bundle, and the bundle should be limited to documents which will be necessary for the judge to consider.

 

 

 

 

18.          Thirdly, and most importantly, I am seriously concerned about the discrepancies between what some of these background documents show and what was said in the evidence to the court, particularly in the first witness statement of Ms Jones, which was the basis of the without notice order. This case commenced with an application for an injunction without notice. It continued through a series of interim injunctions where the judges necessarily had very limited time to examine background documents, even if they had been exhibited, which in key instances they were not. It is trite law that when a without notice injunction is applied for there is a duty of full and frank disclosure and there is in any event a duty on any claimant not to mislead the court. This is just as true in proceedings like this as in the Commercial Court or Queen’s Bench. Indeed it is relevant, and I will return to this below, that the injunction sought was not just draconian it was deeply intrusive into the private lives of two adults with capacity. I will refer below to the European and domestic caselaw on the importance of the State not interfering into individuals’ marriage. In those circumstances the obligation for full and frank disclosure is as important if not more important, than in any other form of litigation. I appreciate local authorities are hard pressed, and poorly resourced, however the importance of ensuring the Court is possession of all the relevant facts at a without notice injunction application cannot be overstated.

 

 

 

19.          The starkest example of the failure of the evidence presented to court to properly reflect the true factual position is as follows. In her first witness statement dated 20 March 2019, filed to support the without notice application, at para 12 Ms Jones said;

 

 

 

 

“A new care agency started to work with KR three times a day 9:00. 12:00 and 17:00 and this has worked well intermittently. This is the first agency that has been able to persist with the situation and from 3-week period of recent records ST allowed the carers in on average 3 calls a week out of a potential 39 recorded calls see exhibit DL5. The carers go to each visit and if ST shouts and turns them away they go to the window and check on KR, they report that he may wave from his bed and they then leave and return for the next visit. When asked, KR states that he wants the carers to continue and that he wants to go out with his carers when the hoist is fitted.”

 

20.          This is a paragraph that would cause any judge deep concern about the safety of a seriously disabled man who was on the face of the evidence being isolated from his carers on a very large number of occasions. Surprisingly, the bundle I was given did not actually contain the exhibits to the witness statements, but I was handed DL5 in court. That was a note which was produced at a meeting that Ms Jones had had with the manager of CSL. What this note made clear was that twice every week CSL had produced no information about the number of visits, and whether ST had prevented access or not. This immediately undermined the evidence referred to above that on average ST had only let in the carers three times each week. There were 6 wholly unaccounted for visits, where there was no evidence that ST had refused access. Ms Jones could not explain why there were two unaccounted for days. Further on close scrutiny during cross examination it became clear that the average of access only being allowed three times a week was not even sustainable on the days on which there was information.

 

 

 

21.          There was also a paragraph in Ms Jones’ first witness statement which said that the MARAC professionals meeting had agreed that there was a “very real risk of accidental fatality”. However, when the minutes of the meeting were examined in Court (after the disclosure referred to above), they did not support this sentence.

 

 

 

22.          I am sure that Ms Jones was not seeking to mislead anyone, but there was a lack of attention to the background documents, and a failure to present the full picture which is very concerning

 

 

I’ve drafted my views about the beginning of paragraph 22 about 8 times, and can’t find a safe way of expressing what I think. So I’ll say nowt.

 

What responsibility do CAFCASS have towards children who AREN’T the subjects of proceedings?

In this family case, an argument arose as to whether the father had committed a sexual act with a child, AB, who was not in the family and was not part of the proceedings. Consideration was given as to whether AB should give evidence in the family Court – the father disputed the allegations.

 

The Court gave directions to undertake a Re W exercise – the Court asks for evidence to be gathered about the merits and risks of the young person giving evidence. Where the young person is a child the subject of proceedings, it is the Guardian who speaks with the child and prepares a report about the ability of the child to give evidence and their views and the impact upon them. The Court then hears argument and decides whether the child should give evidence and if so whether any special arrangements are to be put in place.

 

Here, the Court made a direction for CAFCASS to do the work, and CAFCASS objected, so the Court then directed the social worker to do it.   (The Local Authority raised that this was an issue of public importance – Guardians are well placed to obtain the wishes of children and do the Re W assessment and are more neutral than the LA whose job it is to prove the allegations, and the case was listed for consideration before Keehan J in the High Court.

A County Council v Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) [2019] EWHC 2369 (Fam) (20 September 2019)

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2019/2369.html

 

The Submissions of the Local Authority

  1. The local authority submitted that the court does have the power to make the direction given in this case in respect of a non-subject, non-party child and that Cafcass would not be acting outwith its statutory functions. The issue is a matter, it is said, of the statutory construction of s.12 of the 2000 Act and of the relevant rules in the FPR.
  2. In support of this submission the local authority rely on four aspects of the statutory and FPR provisions, namely:
    1. i) s.12(1)(b) provides that it is a function of Cafcass to “give advice to any court about any application made to it in [family] proceedings”;

ii) r.16.20(2) provides that “the children’s guardian must also provide the court with such other assistance as it may require”;

iii) paragraph 6.1(b) of PD16A provides “obtain such professional assistance as is available which the children’s guardian thinks appropriate or which the court directs must be obtained”; and

iv) paragraph 6.6(f) of PD16A provides the children’s guardian must advise the court on “any other matter on which the court seeks advice”.

and that in terms, the Court has the power to direct CAFCASS to do anything that would assist the Court or on which the Court wants advice.

The Submissions of Cafcass

  1. It was submitted that the opening words of s.12(1), “in respect of family proceedings in which the welfare of children…is or may be in question” confirm the parameters of the role of Cafcass is limited to the subject child or children. Further, it was submitted that the subsections of s.12 of the 2000 Act should not be read disjunctively. The reference in s.12(1)(c), “make provision for the children to be represented in such proceedings”, emphasises the point that the role of Cafcass is limited to the subject child of the proceedings.
  2. The point is forcefully made that it is the function of local authorities’ children services departments, and not Cafcass, to be responsible for the safeguarding of children generally. The duty of Cafcass to safeguard children is owed to those who are the subject of family proceedings.
  3. The general nature of the powers and duties of Cafcass was noted by the Court of Appeal in R and Others (Minors), R (ota) v The Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service[2012] EWCA Civ 853. McFarlane LJ, as he then was, observed,
      1. “On its wording and in its immediate statutory context, the natural reading of s.12 is that it is concerned with establishing a general framework of operation for CAFCASS, not with creating duties owed to individuals. The purpose of the section is to lay down the principal functions of the body established by s.11. By s.78, those functions include both powers and duties. By paragraph 9 of schedule 2, they are to be performed in accordance with any directions given by the Lord Chancellor (for Lord Chancellor now read Secretary of State – see note at paragraph 28 above). All of this is very general in nature. So too is the wording of the functions themselves. That is true not only of the functions in subsection (1), to “safeguard and promote the welfare of children”, “give advice to any court …”, “make provision for the children to be represented …” and “provide information, advice and other support …”, but also of the duty in subsection (2) to “make provision for the performance of any functions conferred on officers of the Service …”. There is nothing in any of this to suggest a legislative intention that all or any of the duties created by s.12 are owed to the individuals for whose benefit the functions are to be performed. On the face of it, these are general public law powers and duties. Nor was our attention drawn to anything within the other parts of the CJCSA 2000 that might suggest a different view.”
  4. The Court of Appeal considered the approach of the court in undertaking a Re W assessment in Re E (A Child)[2016] EWCA Civ 473. At paragraph 61 McFarlane LJ, as he then was said,
      1. “It is plainly good practice for the court to be furnished with a written report from the children’s guardian and submissions on behalf of the child before deciding whether that child should be called as a witness. This court understands that it is, however, common-place for guardians to advise that the child should not be called to give evidence on the basis that they will or may suffer emotional harm as a result of doing so. Where such advice is based upon the consideration of harm alone, it is unlikely to be of great assistance to the court which is required to consider not only ‘harm’ but also the other side of the balance described in the Guidelines, namely the possible advantages that the child’s testimony will bring to the determination of truth.”
  5. As in the case of Re B, the court in Re E was not considering the position in respect of a non subject child nor the role of Cafcass, if any, in relation to such a child.

 

CAFCASS were arguing, in effect, that the powers of the Court to make directions for CAFCASS to do things were limited to the children who were the subjects of the proceedings.

 

I think you can tell from the first paragraph of the discussion that CAFCASS are going to win this, and indeed they do.   Cue every Local Authority lawyer falling off their chair in amazement.

 

Discussion

  1. The interpretation of s.12 of the 2000 Act and the relevant rules contended for by the local authority, see paragraph 23 above, would effectively place no limit on the work or the role a court could direct Cafcass or an officer of the Service to undertake. Counsel for the local authority conceded this point but submitted that ‘common sense’ must be applied to limit the scope of what a court may require of Cafcass. I do not find this, to put it mildly, to be an attractive nor a persuasive submission: rather it undermines the local authority’s contention. I cannot accept that Parliament intended to create a statutory national body to advise and assist the court in family proceedings, and to represent the children who are the subject of those proceedings, without any restriction or limit on its function and roles. Still less would Parliament have intended that the restrictions or limitations on the role of the service would be determined by applying common sense.
  2. The advocates were agreed, that according to the best of their respective researches, there is no reported authority on the interpretation of s.12 of the 2000 Act in respect of the scope of the function of Cafcass.
  3. In respect of whether the subsections of s.12 should or should not be read disjunctively, I note that:
    1. i) the words ‘or’ do not appear after subsections (a), (b) or (c); and

ii) neither does the word ‘and’ appear after subsection (c).

It is in my judgment, however, significant that s.12(1) reads “it is a function of the Service to” followed by subsections (a) to (d). If the subsections had been intended by Parliament to be read disjunctively, I would have expected the word ‘functions’ to appear in s.12(1). The use of the word ‘function’ in the singular leads me to conclude that subsections of s.12(1) are not to be read disjunctively but instead are to be read conjunctively. Since one part of that function is to ‘make provisions for the children to be represented in the proceedings’, I am persuaded that the function and role of Cafcass pursuant to s.12 of the 2000 Act is limited to the subject child or children of the proceedings.

  1. Furthermore, I agree with and accept the submission made on behalf of Cafcass that the opening words of s.12(1), “in respect of family proceedings in which the welfare of children…is or may be in question” should be interpreted to mean that the role of Cafcass is limited to the subject child or children of those proceedings.
  2. I am reinforced in coming to this conclusion by taking account of the following matters:
    1. i) the appointment of the children’s guardian in public law proceedings under Part IV of the 1989 Act (‘specified proceedings’ as defined by s.41(6)) and the assistance it may be required to give to a court are subject to rules of court (s.41(10) 1989 Act);

ii) the appointment of a children’s guardian in public law proceedings is limited to a child who is the subject of the proceedings and is a party to the same (r.16.3 FPR);

iii) similar provision is made in respect of the appointment in private law proceedings (r.16.4 FPR);

iv) the FPR make separate provision for a child who is not the subject of the proceedings but is a party to the proceedings, namely the appointment of a litigation friend (r.16.5 FPR); and

v) the powers and duties of a children’s guardian whether in public law or private law cases set out in rr.16.20 & 16.27 and paragraphs 6 & 7 of PD16A must be read in the context of and in the light of the requirements of rr.16.3 and 16.4 FPR, namely the appointment is made in respect of the subject child.

  1. I am in no doubt that a children’s guardian, appointed to represent a child in public or private law proceedings, may be required to advise the court on the subject child’s relationship with a non-subject child (eg a step-sibling) and the impact on the same depending upon the orders made by the court for the future placement of the subject child: see FPR r.16.20(2) & PD16A paras 6.6(f) & 7.7. Similarly, a children’s guardian may be required to enquire into and advise the court about a wide range of matters and about a diverse group of people (eg relatives, friends and connected persons etc). This could include advising the court on the benefits/disadvantages of a non-subject child being called to give evidence in the proceedings. What is key, however, is that the objective and focus of these enquiries and of the advice is, and must be, establishing the welfare best interests of the subject child.
  2. It is quite a different matter to seek to appoint an officer of Cafcass, whether a children’s guardian or otherwise, to work with and advise upon a non-subject, non-party child. I have not been referred to any statute nor to any relevant rule of court which makes provision for such an appointment in these circumstances. I am satisfied such an appointment is outwith the statutory function and role of Cafcass.
  3. Conclusion
  4. I, therefore, conclude that the court has no power to require Cafcass to appoint an officer of Cafcass, whether a children’s guardian or otherwise, to undertake any work with or play any role with AB.
  5. The preparatory work directed by the judge ought properly to have been undertaken by a social worker from the local authority and/or a social worker from A City Council or, as was ultimately directed, by an independent social worker. The young person, if called to give evidence, would have been the local authority’s witness on whose testimony it relied in seeking to prove relevant facts which, if found to be proved, would have satisfied the threshold criteria of s.31(2) of the 1989 Act.
  6. I have not taken account of the potential adverse consequences for Cafcass, in terms of workload, if I had concluded the court had the power to make directions in respect of a non-subject child. Given, however, the increase of the workloads for all concerned in the child protection and family justice systems, now is not the time to consider widening the scope of the functions of Cafcass with its current resources