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Bone marrow transplants and struck off doctors

 

 

 

 

This is a very peculiar Court of Protection case, decided by the President.  Very peculiar is a massive understatement, to be frank.

SW, Re [2017] EWCOP 7 (12 April 2017)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2017/7.html

 

As the acronyms are a bit confusing, I’ll give us a cast list

 

 

SAN – a man who has cancer. It is said that he needs a bone marrow transplant to save his life, as a result of this.

 

SW – SAN’s adopted sister, and a woman about whom it is alleged lacks capacity to make decisions in her own right.

 

Son – the son of SW, who does have capacity, and who applied to Court for a declaration to be made that SW undergo surgery in order to donate bone marrow to SAN and that the surgery be undertaken by the next two members of our cast.

Dr Waghorn – a surgeon, who coincidentally is the husband of SW and the father of Son. He has ‘relinquished his membership with the General Medical Council in order to continue his specialized medical practice’

Dr Jooste – another surgeon – a family friend and colleague of Dr Waghorn. He too has ‘relinquished his membership with the General Medical Council in order to continue his specialized medical practice’

 

The intention is that Dr Waghorn and/or Dr Jooste would carry out the transplant surgery.  By the way, don’t assume that SAN is keen on having this surgery. Or even that Son, Dr Waghorn or Dr Jooste have recently asked him if he wants it or consents to it.

 

 

Are you a dreadful cynical hard-bitten creature? Are your internal alarm bells going off loudly and causing dogs in your vicinity to bark furiously at the hellish clamour that was produced by the ‘relinquished his membership with the GMC’ bit?

 

 

This is the size of dog that is proportionate to how loudly my ‘WARNING’ alarm bell is ringing

 

(If Amazon suddenly get a spike in DVD orders for that film, I should get a cut. If you haven’t seen it,     ch-ch-ch-ch-check it out)

The Judge explored that a little further

 

6.In fact, both Dr Waghorn and Dr Jooste have had their names erased from the Medical Register following determinations by different Fitness to Practise Panels of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, the one, in the case of Dr Waghorn, on 26 July 2013 and the other, in the case of Dr Jooste, on 17 February 2014. In each case the Panel’s findings make for very disturbing reading.

 

 

7.In relation to Dr Waghorn the Panel said this

 

“The Panel accepts that the matters before it relating to patient care arise from the treatment of one patient. However, they represent such a wide-ranging and serious set of clinical failings and such a cavalier and uncaring approach to patient safety that, even viewed in isolation, they demonstrate misconduct that is fundamentally incompatible with the practice of medicine. That misconduct is compounded by the fact that it occurred with foreknowledge of the wholly inadequate conditions under which Patient A was to be treated and it involved the criminal offence of carrying on a hospital without registration with the CQC. The misconduct is also exacerbated by Dr Waghorn’s breaches of the conditions that had been put in place to prevent any repetition and by his dishonesty in trying to disguise the extent of his subsequent work at the same clinic.”

 

In fact, as appears from the Panel’s determination, Dr Waghorn had been convicted at the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 9 June 2011 of an offence contrary to section 11(1) of the Care Standards Act 2000 of carrying on an Independent Hospital without being registered in respect of it under Part II of the Act.

8.In relation to Dr Jooste the Panel said this:

 

 

 

“Dr Jooste is a risk to patient safety …

 

The Panel also considers that there is a risk to patient safety in Dr Jooste’s unwillingness to accept or comply with the authority of his regulator, in that he seems not to acknowledge any restriction or control on his practice and will not be called to account. Dr Jooste has behaved in an outrageous manner in his conduct towards the Interim Orders Panel and witnesses and in the entirely unmeritorious applications he has made to the High Court.

 

The Panel has received no evidence of any mitigating factors …

 

The panel has concluded that suspension would be wholly inadequate to mark the seriousness of Dr Jooste’s misconduct or to protect public confidence in the profession.

 

… The Panel has rarely encountered a doctor to whom so many of the indicative criteria for erasure apply. In short, Dr Jooste’s misconduct is fundamentally incompatible with his continued registration as a doctor.”

 

 

What is your prediction, at this point, as to whether the President is going to allow two doctors with this record to perform surgery on a woman with no capacity (who happens to be the wife of one of them…) ?

 

Yeah, me too.

 

To echo erstwhile comedian and labelled-welly-wearer Jimmy Cricket, come here, there’s more

 

9.As appears from his application form and the attached Annex E, the son made the application as SW’s attorney under a Lasting Power of Attorney (Health and Welfare) purportedly executed by SW on 18 October 2014 and registered on 9 January 2015. He had also been appointed SW’s attorney under a Lasting Power of Attorney (Property and Financial Affairs) purportedly executed by SW and registered on 17 June 2015. SW’s signature on the first of these documents had been witnessed by Dr Waghorn. The certificate declaring that SW understood what she was doing and was not being pressurised was given by Dr Jooste on 23 October 2014, who described himself as SW’s “friend for 10 years.” Both Dr Waghorn and Dr Jooste were described as “Dr” though each had by then been struck off.

 

There had also been litigation in the Court of Protection involving not SW as the vulnerable person but SAN

On 8 December 2014, Newton J gave judgment in the Court of Protection in proceedings (COP12599814) relating to SAN and the proposed treatment of his condition, in which Dr Waghorn appeared on behalf of SAN apparently pursuant to a lasting Power of Attorney (Health and Welfare) granted on 5 September 2013.

 

 

11.So far as material for present purposes, what Newton J said was this:

 

 

 

“… in order for the Court to exercise jurisdiction, in the Court of Protection, there has to be evidence that the patient does not have capacity …

 

The short [point] here is that all the evidence, in fact, points the other way. In fact there is absolutely no evidence that he lacks capacity at all, indeed quite the reverse. My attention has been drawn to the letter dated 16th October 2014 from Dr Bray which makes it clear that Dr Hunter, who is the consultant haematologist who is currently treating [SAN], is sure that he has full capacity regarding the decisions concerning his own health, but did not wish to pursue those other treatments.

 

Enquiries both of the insurers, and the legal advice by the medical group confirm that [SAN] has capacity, there is therefore no need for any best interests decision involving his power of attorney. In fact, Dr Bray spoke to [SAN] and he made it very clear that he did not wish for this matter to be pursued at that time and would like things left as they were. That point of view was reiterated by [SAN] himself as recently as Thursday of last week, when enquiries were made on behalf of NHS England. He made it plain that he was currently in remission, that he did not wish for the treatment to be pursued, and that he did not wish there to be court action.

 

Dr Waghorn feels that that very acutely, not least because of his expertise as a doctor, but also I have no doubt because of his concern and affection for his brother-in-law, he is deeply anxious that his brother-in-law simply does not grasp the full effect and indeed understanding of (A) his illness, and (B) what may be done to alleviate or assist him. And that is a point to which Dr Waghorn has repeatedly returned. But, counsel has pointed out, it seems to me correctly that that is for those are dealing with matters or treatment, and it is not for me in arrangement without first being able to establish lack of capacity …

 

It is a short point. As I explained to Dr Waghorn, in order for the Court to deal with the matter I have to have jurisdiction: there is no reason to believe, that he does not have capacity, as the lawyers or doctors understand it. His own treating clinician believes that he has capacity, she having treated him for some time. It is clear, as I understand the evidence, that he has consented to and understands his medical condition and the treatment options, as is plain from the papers. [SAN] himself does not agree that he lacks capacity: he believes that he has capacity to make decisions about his medical treatment and does not, in fact, agree with this application being made. The practitioner who spoke to him as recently as last week also considered, that he also did not lack capacity.

 

Therefore, whilst I understand the position in which Dr Waghorn has found himself, in my judgment I do not think, and indeed I am entirely satisfied that I do not have the jurisdiction to make any decisions in relation to [SAN’s] medical condition and treatment. I have no jurisdiction because there is no evidence that he does not have capacity, even on an interim basis (indeed quite the contrary).”

 

A company then sought to judicially review the NHS decision in this case not to allow surgery. Coincidentally, two directors of that company were Dr Waghorn and Dr Jooste. That application was dismissed on 9 June 2015 by Hayden J as being “totally without merit.” The judge observed that “The claim is at best vexatious, nor is it presented in any coherent or logical manner.”

The President remarks :-

13.There is a common thread to all three sets of proceedings, the purpose in each case being to obtain from the court relief facilitating or enabling Dr Waghorn and/or Dr Jooste to carry out an allogeneic bone marrow transplant from SW to SAN.

 

Dr Waghorn sought to involve the Anthony Nolan charity as interveners. Unsurprisingly, they declined. In much the same way that I would decline an invitation to “Tequilla-Fueled Sword Swallowing for Beginners, followed by candlelight dinner with Katie Hopkins and Eric Pickles”

 

 

 

15.Dr Waghorn sought to enlist the interest, and indeed involvement as intervenor in the present proceedings, of the well-known Anthony Nolan charity. On 28 February 2017 he received this stinging rebuff:

 

 

 

“… I would like to underline that we do not want to be involved in this case.

[Almost word for word what I said to Katie and Eric, btw. Well, actually, my response had certain rhyming qualities with the description of these two doctors in the title of the blog post…]

 

Anthony Nolan’s position is that allogeneic stem cell transplantation should be provided by registered specialist transplant physicians in an accredited NHS or accredited private transplant centre setting.

 

As such we do not want to be involved in this case in any way.

 

Please do not contact us again about this case.”

 

Dr Waghorn’s riposte was to threaten the writer of that letter with a subpoena to attend the hearing on 3 March 2017 – a threat which appears not to have been carried through.

 

 

The Judge then considers the position of SW, noting that the evidence as to her capacity or lack thereof was rather deficient. Her IQ was now around 78, having been previously about 90. That isn’t of itself, suggestive of a lack of capacity.

 

25.Quite apart from the issue of SW’s capacity, there are three particularly striking features of this application:

 

 

 

 

  1. i) First, there appears to have been, so far as I can see, and I pressed the son on this point, no discussion or consultation with SW about this application. I was told nothing about her wishes and feelings. What are they? More fundamentally, there seems to have been a wholesale failure to have regard to the fundamentally important principle in section 4(4) of the 2005 Act, requiring, “so far as reasonably practicable, [a decision-maker to] permit and encourage [SW] to participate, or to improve [her] ability to participate, as fully as possible in any act done for [her] and any decision affecting [her].”

 

  1. ii) Secondly, there appears likewise to have been no discussion or consultation with SAN about his wishes – a particularly egregious omission given everything Newton J had said as recently as December 2014. All the son could say, in answer to my probing, was words to the effect that ‘obviously he will agree because no-one wants to die.‘ Even as a general proposition this is not without its difficulties; in the present case it does not begin to address the obvious questions flowing from Newton J’s findings. This omission is also very significant for another reason for, according to the son’s skeleton argument, allogeneic bone marrow transplantation carries “a significant risk of mortality” for the donee.

 

iii) Thirdly, the application is put before me by the son explicitly on the basis that those with “clinical responsibility” for SW are two individuals who, although this was concealed from me, have in fact both been struck off the medical register, and that the relevant “treatment” is to be provided by one of these two struck off doctors. A prudent judge probably never says “never”, but I find it impossible to conceive of circumstances where the Court of Protection would ever contemplate authorising treatment of a kind referred to in PD9E (and this is such treatment: see PD9E, para 6(b), following Re Y, pages 116-117) where the treatment is to be given by a doctor who has been struck off.

26.A curious observation at the very end of the son’s skeleton argument, makes me wonder what, and who, are really driving this application. He is SW’s son, and puts himself forward as making the application as her attorney, yet he says of the declaration he seeks:

 

 

 

“If granted, such a Declaration will enable the public to obtain these life-saving, and curative treatments, from family members – not only for haematological cancers such as leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma but also for solid tumours, with minimal residual disease, such as metastatic breast, colon & pancreas.”

 

Is there some wider agenda at work here, and, if so, whose agenda is it?

 

 

I like “a prudent Judge probably never says Never”

 

 

 

As we all suspected, the application was dismissed, leaving just issues of costs and anonymity in any published judgment

 

33.As it has been presented to the court, this scarcely coherent application is totally without merit, it is misconceived and it is vexatious. It would be contrary to every principle of how litigation ought to be conducted in the Court of Protection, and every principle of proper case management, to allow this hopelessly defective application to proceed on the forlorn assumption that the son could somehow get his tackle in order and present a revised application which could somehow avoid the fate of its predecessor.

 

 

34.The application must be struck out.

 

 

35.There remain two other matters I have to decide.

 

 

36.The first relates to costs. The HTA seeks costs which it invites me summarily to assess in the sum of £7,671.

 

 

37.As against the son, the claim for costs could not, in my judgment, be clearer. Given everything I have said, this is the plainest possible case for departing from the ordinary rule, set out in rule 157 of the Court of Protection Rules 2007, and applying the principles set out in rule 159. In saying this I make clear that I attribute no responsibility at all to the son for the previous litigation; but his conduct of the present proceedings is of itself more than adequate justification for ordering him to pay the costs. The amounts claimed are, in my judgment, plainly reasonable, and he has not sought to challenge any of the individual items or amounts. He says that he is “at this present moment” unable to afford the costs, praying in aid the fact that the Jobseekers Allowance he was previously receiving terminated in January 2017. That may be, but inability to pay is not, of itself, any answer to an otherwise appropriate order for costs and, in all the circumstances, I see no reason why he should not be ordered to pay the costs, and in the amount claimed. Impecuniosity does not provide immunity from the normal consequences of forensic folly.

 

 

38.As against Dr Waghorn and Dr Jooste, the question is not quite so simple because they, of course, were not applicants in the proceedings. But, and it is a very significant but, they each sought to be joined as a party and expressed themselves as consenting to the application; without any challenge on their part, they were put forward by the son as having clinical responsibility for SW; as I have already described, they seemed throughout the hearing to be making common cause with the son; and Dr Waghorn himself sought relief from the court. In these circumstances, and having regard to the principles expounded in Dymocks Franchise Systems (NSW) Pty Ltd v Todd [2004] UKPC 39, [2004] 1 WLR 2807, and Deutsche Bank AG v Sebastian Holdings Inc and another [2016] EWCA Civ 23, [2016] 4 WLR 17, to which Ms Khalique referred me, both Dr Waghorn and Dr Jooste, in my judgment, are persons against whom a costs order can be made even though are not, formally, parties to the litigation – and, if that is so, then for the same reasons as in relation to the son, it is, in my judgment, fair and just to order them to pay the costs.

 

 

39.I shall, therefore, order the son, Dr Waghorn and Dr Jooste to pay the costs, summarily assessed, in the sum of £7,671.

 

 

40.The remaining matter relates to the reporting restriction order. There is no reason why either SW or SAN should be named, and, indeed, every reason why they should not. Nor, in all the circumstances, is there any reason why the son should be named. Dr Waghorn and Dr Jooste, however, stand in a very different position. There is a very strong public interest in exposing the antics which these two struck-off doctors have got up to, not least so that others may be protected from their behaviour. I appreciate that the effect of naming Dr Waghorn may make it a matter of simplicity for anyone minded to do so to put names to both SW and SAN, but for reasons which will be all too apparent they also need to be protected, for example if there were to be any further attempt to embroil them in litigation. The balance is properly held, in my judgment, by varying the reporting restriction order so as to permit the naming of Dr Waghorn and Dr Jooste while continuing to forbid the naming of SW, SAN and the son.

The gift that keeps on giving – Princess Margaret’s will

 

Ms Benmusa, not content with the hint dropped from the last judgment, which was as heavy as an anvil catapulted into the air by Wiley Coyote only to come crashing back down on his bonce, revived her application to see Princess Margaret’s will, which would prove that she, Ms Benmusa, was the illegitimate daughter of Princess Margaret.

She filed a statement, making reference to her aunt, who was born in 1904.

As the President carefully pointed out, this aunt is thus purportedly the elder sibling of Queen Elizabeth II. That is difficult to countenance, because (a) being the elder sibling of Queen Elizabeth II would have made this Aunt the Queen, and perhaps more importantly (b) the alleged father of this aunt was King George VI who was born in 1895. I know times were different then, but I do honestly believe that if King George had fathered a child when he was just nine years old, that would have been something of a sensation.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/785.html

 

The judgment is short enough, and cool enough, to print in full, so I’m going to…

 

  1. I have before me, as President of the Family Division, another application by Malika Benmusa. I struck out a previous application on 14 March 2017: Re Benmusa [2017] EWHC 494 (Fam). This application is dated 20 March 2017 and was received by the court on 23 March 2017.
  2. This application, like the previous one, seeks “To apply to unseal the will of the late Princess Margaret.” The only difference is that, on this occasion, the application which, like the previous one, I am invited to deal with “without a hearing” is accompanied by a closely-spaced one page statement by the applicant dated 20 March 2017 and a copy of a death certificate of a woman, who was born in 1904 and died in 1997 and who, according to the applicant, was “my late Aunt.”
  3. I do not propose to set out the entire contents of the applicant’s statement. Its flavour can be judged by the opening part (again I set it out as written):
    1. “I MISS MALIKA BENMUSA, am the last child of the late princess Margret … I was born in Scotland. My mother married my father a year before I was born, then separated, but never divorced. I do not wish to give out my father id as he is a very well know. […] My mother was very frightened of her so called family, and felt I needed protection. I am the heir to the throne of England. This is why so much trouble has been taken to cover up my identity. I believe between the age of three years old I was raised by my mother older sister, not known to the public, due to my grandparents’ not been married, and because of the war at the time. When I was three years old I believe my mother was frightened by her own family member to give me up for adoption, my mother did not consent to this. They frightened her saying that she was a drunk and my father was a drug addict. And my mother was told to remove me from the care of her older sister who real name was [name as on death certificate] […] Last address was before she passed [address as on death certificate]. The Kings Georges oldest daughter.”

In charity to the applicant I quote no more.

  1. The application is self-evidently complete nonsense It is a matter of public record, of which I can take judicial notice, that the father of her late Royal Highness Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, was his late Majesty King George VI, who was born on 14 December 1895, and that her mother was her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who was born on 4 August 1900. They married on 26 April 1923. Quite obviously a woman born in 1904 could not have been, as the applicant asserts, her mother’s elder sister if, as she also asserts, her mother was HRH Princess Margaret. I have no hesitation in concluding that I should strike out the applicant’s claim, as I do. It is a farrago of delusional nonsense.

 

I am ordering in popcorn and waiting for round 3.

In which MacDonald J asks the question and answers it in paragraph 1 of the judgment

 

Which is something that I’d like to see more often.

 

The question before me is whether the High Court has power, under its inherent jurisdiction, to make a costs funding order against a local authority requiring it to fund legal advice and representation for a parent in wardship proceedings brought by the local authority where that parent has lawfully been refused legal aid. I am satisfied that the answer to that question is ‘no’.

 

In essence, that question arose because the Local Authority had read some of the previous authorities on radicalisation or alleged radicalisation of children to suggest that they ought to be issued as wardship proceedings (which doesn’t get non-means, non-merits legal aid) rather than care proceedings (which do).  That doesn’t feel right, because parents in such cases really do need legal representation.

A scheme so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel was devised (either nobody invited the LA to simply issue an application for care proceedings so that there would be legal aid for the parents or they did and the LA refused, I don’t know), but anyway an intricate scheme was attempted instead.

As you can see, MacDonald J said no to that.

HB v A Local Authority & Another  (Wardship Costs funding order) 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/524.html

 

However, MacDonald J clarified that in his mind, there was no obligation for an LA on a radicalisation case to issue solely in wardship and not in care proceedings.

In the circumstances, I am satisfied that, contrary to the view taken by the local authority, neither Hayden J nor the President have sought to lay down a general rule, or purport to give general guidance to the effect that the inherent jurisdiction should be used in preference to care proceedings in all cases of alleged radicalisation.

 

MacDonald J shoots up in the league table of my estimation by also dissecting the much discussed homily that the ‘powers of the inherent jurisdiction/magical sparkle powers are theoretically limitless’

 

I am satisfied that the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court does not give the court the power to require a local authority to incur expenditure to fund the legal representation of a litigant in wardship proceedings who has been lawfully refused legal aid in accordance with the statutory legal aid scheme put in place by Parliament.

 

  • Whilst the inherent jurisdiction is theoretically unlimited, it is, in reality, constrained by proper limits. In London Borough of Redbridge v SA [2015] 3 WLR 1617 Hayden J observed as follows at [36]:

 

“The High Court’s inherent powers are limited both by the constitutional role of the court and by its institutional capacity. The principle of separation of powers confers the remit of economic and social policy on the legislature and on the executive, not on the judiciary. It follows that the inherent jurisdiction cannot be regarded as a lawless void permitting judges to do whatever we consider to be right for children or the vulnerable, be that in a particular case or more generally (as contended for here) towards unspecified categories of children or vulnerable adults.”

In R v Central Independent Television Plc [1994] Fam 192 at 207-208 Waite LJ noted:

“The prerogative jurisdiction has shown a striking versatility, throughout its long history, in adapting its powers to the protective needs of children in all kinds of different situations. Although the jurisdiction is theoretically boundless, the courts have nevertheless found it necessary to set self-imposed limits upon its exercise for the sake of clarity and consistency, and of avoiding conflict between child welfare and other public advantages.”

 

  • Within this context, I am satisfied that the limits that are properly imposed on the exercise of the inherent jurisdiction for the sake of clarity and consistency, and of avoiding conflict between child welfare and other public advantages in this case are those that must be applied when considering the nature and extent of the court’s jurisdiction to order a public authority to incur expenditure. As Lord Sumption pointed out in Prest v Petrodel Resources Ltd [2013] 2 AC 415 at [37], courts exercising family jurisdiction do not occupy a desert island in which general legal concepts are suspended or mean something different. Imposing the limits that I am satisfied must apply, I regret that I cannot accept the submission of Mr Hale and Mr Barnes that the inherent jurisdiction of this court is wide enough to encompass a power to order a public authority to incur expenditure in order to fund legal representation in wardship proceedings for a parent who does not qualify for legal aid because that parent does not satisfy the criteria for a grant of legal aid laid down by Parliament, notwithstanding the considerable benefits that would accrue to the parent, and to the child, from such funding.

 

 

 

 

 

That’s when I start promising the world to a brand new girl I don’t even know yet

 

Next thing, she’s wearing my Rolex.

 

I wrote about Part 1 of the Pauffley J hearing about alleged radicalisation where all of the evidence that might prove whether threshold criteria existed or not was in the hands of the security services and they (having originally tipped off the LA that they should do something) decided they didn’t want to cough up the material.

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2016/12/28/cloak-and-dagger-threshold/

I feel very very uncomfortable about this sort of thing.  I fully understand that in order to protect the citizens of this country, the security services will watch individuals and don’t want those under suspicion to know exactly what the security services knows and how they know it. I get that. But by the same token, if a parent is being accused of being a risk to their child and faces the possibility of losing their child, they are entitled to see what the evidence against them is and to test it.

The alternative is that we end up with a set of care proceedings run along the lines that Christopher Booker imagines happens all the time, where the parents aren’t told what they are supposed to have done and don’t get to fight the allegations.

I’m not sure how you square that circle. My gut feeling is that the children probably stay with the family unless and until the security services either have enough to charge the parents with a criminal offence, decide there is no risk, or that the information known can be safely shared without putting others at risk.

Anyway, you may remember from Part 1, that it ended with the Security services telling the Court that they were going to get a Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate signed by the Secretary of State about the documents.

This is what happened next.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/692.html

C (A Child), Re (No 2) (Application for Public Interest Immunity) [2017] EWHC 692 (Fam) (31 March 2017)

 

Those representing the Secretary of State asked for a CLOSED hearing. In basic terms (and I’m massively oversimplifying to make it possible for normal people to follow) that means that the lawyers for the Secretary of State would address the Judge about the documents and why they could not be shared, and nobody else would be in the room.

 

 

Discussion of procedural steps

 

  • I quite accept that the courts and the SSHD are even now in the relatively early stages of grappling with the problems consequent upon proceedings of this kind. I would be the first to accept that I have been engaged in a learning exercise. I suspect the same may be true for those advocates who have not hitherto had much experience of dealing with cases where PII might be asserted in circumstances such as these.
  • There have been several complicating factors leading to delay identified by Ms Wheeler in CLOSED session which are inappropriate for inclusion within this OPEN judgment.
  • At all events, there are some obvious conclusions to be drawn from events in this case. The first is that where the SSHD is faced with disclosure orders relating to material which is or may be sensitive and where the likelihood is that PII will be asserted, it is incumbent upon the GLD to set up a process for early and definitive decision making.
  • The spectre of a potential PII claim was manifest in this case from as far back as 3 November 2016. On that day, I received an urgent letter from the GLD, indicating there was material which for reasons of national security the SSHD was not at liberty to disclose. A further period of 28 days was requested to further consider the information with a view to either effecting disclosure, advancing a claim for PII or seeking a declaration under s.6 of the JSA 2013.
  • By the time of the 2 December hearing, the indications were that if the SSHD was unsuccessful in her bid to revoke the 4 October 2016 disclosure order, she would claim PII. As I observed towards the end of the December judgment, until there was a PII Certificate containing the SSHD’s judgment as to the harm to the public interest that would be caused by disclosure and the weight to be given to competing public interests, there was no appropriate mechanism for action.
  • It is disappointing to say the least that the PII Certificate was not issued until 7 March 2017, some three months later, and at a time when no fewer than four distinguished legal teams had spent a great deal of time and effort considering a landscape which did not comprise a claim for PII. Had the claim been made sooner, those endeavours would have been largely unnecessary.
  • Doubtless the GLD is an over-stretched organisation with many competing calls upon the time of those who work within. However, with an eye to the future and other similar cases, it seems to me that there must be mechanisms for significantly swifter specialist advice and consequent action. Had there been an application for PII in the autumn of last year, it would have been resolved before Christmas; the hearing of 2 December would have been superfluous to requirements; and the care proceedings would not have been mired in procedural argument for more than three additional months pending resolution of these issues.
  • As Mr Twomey suggests, delays, lack of clarity and inconsistency in the approach of the SSHD are unhelpful and tend to give rise naturally enough to scepticism and suspicion. The earlier there is (can be) precision the better. The stop / start approach of the last four to five months has been distinctly unhelpful. By some mechanism or another, strategies for avoiding anything similar should be devised as a matter of urgency.

 

Potential for conflict

 

  • Arising out of events on 25 January 2017, there was the potential for unfairness which Mr Twomey was right to identify in his written submissions. As he correctly identifies, on 25 January I met briefly with two members of the GLD to take possession of a bundle of CLOSED material; and I concluded that a hearing in CLOSED would be required. Mr Twomey maintained that the parties were unaware of what was said on behalf of the SSHD on that occasion and what I was shown. In fact, as Ms Wheeler related in her submissions of 6 February 2017, the documents I had read were CLOSED submissions and a Sensitive Schedule (also known as a damage assessment) explaining why the SSHD contends material should be withheld, the nature of the damage were disclosure to be ordered and the reasons for delay in progressing a formal claim for PII. But I was not provided with the material over which a claim for PII is being considered.
  • As for anything discussed between the GLD lawyers and me on 25 January, I can confirm that nothing of any substance was said. The sole purpose of the meeting was so as to comply with the necessary procedures for dealing with CLOSED material. My clerk, for example, is not able to handle CLOSED material. Thus it was necessary for me to meet with Mr Fitzgibbons and Mr da Silva to take possession of and later relinquish the CLOSED file.
  • Mr Twomey asked me to confirm whether or not those documents form part of the PII application. If they did not, then it would be necessary to consider whether I could fairly determine the PII application and / or how those documents could be treated so as to ensure a fair hearing.
  • In response to those submissions, I indicated that Ms Wheeler’s CLOSED submissions from late January had not been made available to me in readiness for the hearing on 15 March. Ms Wheeler’s initial view had been that there was no need for me to consider her earlier submissions afresh given that more pertinent material was now available in the form of the OPEN Certificate. Given the potential for a sense of unfairness if the January submissions were not once more made available, a copy was provided in advance of the CLOSED hearing.
  • No party sought to suggest there was any reason associated with events on 25 January, materials read or discussions with the GLD, which could have prevented me from dealing with the claim for PII. Accordingly, satisfied as I was that there was no reason to recuse myself, I convened a CLOSED hearing at which I heard Ms Wheeler’s oral submissions and probed a number of issues.
  • There was no judgment at the end of the CLOSED hearing. I indicated I would be preparing an OPEN judgment.

 

 

 

The Court considered the principles in deciding whether documents should be withheld from distribution under the Public Interest Immunity process

 

 

 

The three steps involved in making a PII claim – R v. Chief Constable of the West Midlands Police, ex parte Wiley [1995] 1 AC 274

 

  • There are three required steps when the SSHD considers whether to make a claim for PII. First, whether the material is relevant and passes the threshold test for disclosure in the applicable proceedings – (Certificate §11). Second, if the threshold test is passed, whether the material identified as relevant and subject to disclosure attracts PII. The test is whether there is a real risk that disclosure would cause ‘real damage’ or ‘serious harm’ to the public interest – (Certificate §13 and 19). Third, if applying the ‘real damage’ test, the material attracts PII, the question arises as to whether the public interest in non-disclosure is outweighed by the public interest in disclosure for the purpose of doing justice in the proceedings. The factors in favour are set out in the Certificate at §18; those against between §§19 and 26.

 

 

Slightly disappointed that Pauffley J did not indicate that R v Chief Constable of the West Midlands Police, ex parte Wiley is a party guy and he knows it, but bigger fish to fry, no doubt.

 

 

 

Positions of the parties

 

  • The local authority’s position is that it will await the outcome of the PII hearing and will then take stock. Ms Morgan understandably submits there is a limitation upon the assistance she can give in relation to the Wiley balancing exercise, given that she has no knowledge of the material over which the SSHD asserts her claim for PII. Ms Morgan does though make a number of observations particularly as to the sufficiency of primary evidence absent disclosure. Ms Morgan’s overarching observation is that I should approach the balancing exercise on the basis that if the care proceedings conclude for want of established threshold criteria, the likelihood of the local authority being in a position to safeguard the child – or justify interference in his life – in any effective way would be virtually non-existent.
  • Mr Twomey suggests that the very significant delay in making the PII application calls for an explanation and raises a serious issue as to the merits of the claim. Mr Twomey suggested that when I considered the claim there were a number of issues which may be relevant but which might only be probed in CLOSED session. He cited eight matters and asked a number of associated questions – all of them useful to me during the CLOSED session.
  • On behalf of the child’s guardian, Mr Parker suggests there are two points which undermine confidence in the SSHD’s evaluation. First, that the unwillingness to provide disclosure was a position arrived at long before the balancing exercise set out within the Certificate. There is a risk, accordingly, that the Certificate is simply an ex post facto justification of the SSHD’s position. Mr Parker’s second general point is that the premise for the balancing exercise is flawed in that the SSHD understands the local authority’s application is for a supervision order whereas the interim measure does not reflect the true nature of the proceedings.
  • Mr Parker makes four points in relation to the Wiley balancing exercise which, he submits, increase the balance in favour of disclosure – the insufficiency of available primary evidence, the inappropriateness of the Channel programme as an alternative method of safeguarding, the current unavailability of the Desistence and Disengagement Programme and the unreasonableness of requiring the mother to surrender her travel documents permanently.

 

1. Relevance

 

  • The first question, as to relevance, is simply satisfied. The SSHD proceeds on the assumption that the material is relevant and, in principle, disclosable as the result of the 4 October 2016 orders for disclosure. That is clearly right.

 

2. Would disclosure damage the public interest?

 

  • The second issue is confronted within the Certificate in this way. The SSHD identifies that the Government’s approach to PII requires her to focus specifically on the damage that would be caused by the disclosure of the particular material in issue and to assert PII only if satisfied that disclosure of that material would bring about a real risk of real damage to an important public interest. The SSHD expresses herself satisfied that the material referred to in the sensitive schedule would cause serious harm as it includes information of one or more of eleven specified kinds.
  • Within her OPEN submissions, Ms Wheeler explained that the reasons include those relating to national security though it is not possible to be more specific in OPEN about the nature of the harm that would be caused by disclosure. The effect of the material engaging national security considerations was that disclosure would create a real and significant risk of damage to national security (§19 of the Certificate).
  • I have sound reasons for agreeing with the SSHD’s evaluation based upon materials provided to me in CLOSED.

 

3. The Wiley balance – factors for and against disclosure

 

  • The last part of the Wiley exercise involves balancing the factors in favour of and against disclosure. The SSHD when considering the impact of non-disclosure takes into account three specific points – the nature of the material, the open and available material and other powers to protect the child.
  • The SSHD considers the factors in favour of disclosure to fall into two categories. First, the strong public interest in ensuring that children are protected from the risk of harm and that the material of potential relevance should be available to parties to family court proceedings. And second, that in general legal proceedings should be conducted openly; open justice principles are in play and are an important factor in protecting the rights of individuals and maintaining public confidence in the justice system.
  • To my mind, the most significant, weighty and powerful of the factors militating against disclosure is that the material engages considerations of national security. The SSHD formed the view that disclosure would create a real and significant risk of damage to national security. I accord great respect to and share that assessment on the basis of the material made available to me in CLOSED session, namely Ms Wheeler’s CLOSED submissions and the Sensitive Schedule (or damage assessment).
  • The conclusion of the SSHD that national security considerations are engaged, a judgment formed on the basis of comprehensive materials made available to her, in Ms Wheeler’s submission, should properly be accorded great deference. As Lord Templeman observed in R v. Chief Constable of the West Midlands Police, ex parte Wiley [1995] 1 AC 274 @ 281, “As a general rule the harm to the public interest of the disclosure of the whole or part of a document dealing with defence of national security or diplomatic secrets will be self-evident and preclude disclosure.

 

Other available evidence

 

  • Ms Wheeler urges me to consider the other factors put forward in favour of non-disclosure. Firstly, the existence of other available evidence from which the court may be able to draw inferences and find the threshold criteria satisfied. Second, in the event that the threshold criteria could not be satisfied and thus a public law order was unavailable, there could be recourse to other safeguarding measures such as the ‘Channel Programme’ and a new Home Office initiative, the ‘Desistence and Disengagement Programme.’ Thirdly, steps could be taken to disrupt travel plans involving flight to a war zone by continued passport restrictions.
  • It is clear that the SSHD’s contention as to the availability (and sufficiency) of other evidence causes the local authority, in particular, very real anxiety. Unwittingly, I suspect that I have contributed to the problem by observations made in the December judgment which play into the argument that further disclosure from the Home Office was (or is) necessary: see §§ 35, 39 – 42.
  • At that stage, however, I had not been required to consider the Wiley balancing exercise, I was not privy to Ms Wheeler’s CLOSED submissions and I had not considered the Sensitive Schedule. The landscape now is very different and disclosure questions call for a modified response.
  • Ms Wheeler is right to draw my attention to the available evidence. It amounts to a mixture of established facts as well as matters which give rise to likely inferences. It is unnecessary to descend into the particulars beyond observing that both parents have been stopped at airports (father in June 2014 and February 2016; mother in January 2016) and questioned pursuant to Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. A police officer from the Safeguarding Unit of the Metropolitan Police Service Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) has made a statement. So, too, other officers who conducted the port stops and interviews.
  • More detail of available evidence is set out within paragraphs 3 to 8 of Ms Wheeler’s submissions dated 14 March 2017. Furthermore, Ms Wheeler makes the valid point that the letter from HM Passport Office dated 3 August 2016 refusing the father’s application for a replacement passport is of significance. It can and should be taken into account, argues Ms Wheeler, as part of the evidential picture.
  • I agree with Ms Wheeler’s submission that the Home Secretary’s decision to exercise the Royal Prerogative so as to refuse to issue the father with a passport (based on the assessment that he is an Islamist extremist who seeks to travel to Syria for jihad) is ‘evidence.’ The Home Secretary’s decision is amenable to judicial review but there has been no challenge.
  • I also agree with the suggestion that the denial of a replacement passport on the basis of the exercise of the Royal Prerogative would not be, of itself, sufficient to establish the threshold criteria. Clearly it is a factor of relevance which could be taken into account as part of the evidential picture though it is impossible to assess quite how much weight might be attached in advance of any hearing.

 

As I said earlier, these cases leave me uncomfortable. Yes, a flimsy and vague threshold could be constructed on the basis that the parents have been stopped at airports and questioned under the Terroism Act and that the Secretary of State has seen material such to persuade them to refuse to issue the father with a passport, but if the parents assert that these actions were wrong, mistaken or the result of some form of racial profiling without foundation in reality, how is an LA to prove likelihood of significant harm?

 

The Judge says something very important about the documents that have not been shared. In essence, they wouldn’t themselves establish threshold even if they could be seen and relied upon

Nature of the material – future progress of litigation

 

  • With the future of these proceedings in mind, it is appropriate that I should discuss a matter which arose during the course of CLOSED session. It seems highly unlikely that the material upon which the SSHD has formed her assessment leading to the application for PII would advance the local authority’s case to any significant degree. On any view, the material could not be provided to (and therefore be used by) the local authority for the purpose of legal proceedings, whether to inform its assessment of risk or for the purpose of commissioning any expert intervention. Moreover, the material does not advance an understanding of the parental relationship or contact with or intentions towards the child.

 

 

The judgment and story rather fizzles out there. Perhaps there was an application to withdraw the proceedings, perhaps not. We may never know.

 

 

 

Reading the will

 

Of all of the various duties that one might imagine the President of the Family Division to have, being in charge of whether the late Princess Margaret’s will should be unsealed and opened to find out whether an individual is her illegitimate child (said individual having ABSOLUTELY NO evidence) is not one I had in mind.

Yet we learn today that it has happened not once, but twice.

 

Re Benmusa 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/494.html

 

This new judgment is short enough to set out in full

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division :

 

  • I have before me, as President of the Family Division, an application by Malika Benmusa dated 6 March 2017 and received by the court on 9 March 2017.
  • The application was made on a Form N244. In answer to question 3 on the Form, What order are you asking the court to make and why? the applicant has said “To apply to unseal the will of the late Princess Margaret.” In answer to question 5, How do you want this application dealt with? she has placed a v against the words “without a hearing.” In answer to question 10, What information will you be relying on, in support of your application she has placed a v against the words “the evidence set out in the box below.” That reads as follows (I set out the manuscript exactly):

 

“My name was changed as a child as my date of birth, I belive around the age between 3 to 4 years old. My mother did not consent to this, but later on found out. I belive that both names are in the will. And it is explained. My father was in charge of my mother will, but failed to give me what is rightfully mine. So I belive this has been taken out of his hands and put back to the president of the Family Division (Sir James Munby.)”

Below that the applicant has signed the usual statement of truth.

 

  • The practice in relation to the sealing of royal wills, and the actual events surrounding the sealing of the will of HRH Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, who died on 9 February 2002, were explained by the then President, Sir Mark Potter P, in Brown v HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and others [2007] EWHC 1607 (Fam), [2007] WTLR 1129, paras 6-10, and, on appeal, by Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers CJ, giving the judgment of the Court of Appeal, in Brown v Executors of the Estate of HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and others [2008] EWCA Civ 56, [2008] 1 WLR 2327, paras 4-8. The circumstances in which a royal will might be unsealed, and the process by which and the persons by whom such an application might be made, were considered by the Court of Appeal in Brown, paras 35-48.
  • The will of HRH Princess Margaret is contained in a sealed envelope which bears the following inscription:

 

“HRH PRINCESS MARGARET

(ORIGINAL WILL)

SEALED PURSUANT TO THE ORDER DATED 19th JUNE 2002

NOT TO BE OPENED WITHOUT LEAVE OF THE PRESIDENT”

I have personally examined the envelope, but I have not opened it. I have not read the will of HRH Princess Margaret nor do I have any idea as to its contents.

 

  • I have no hesitation in concluding that I should strike out the applicant’s claim. My reasons for doing so are shortly stated. The applicant has not articulated any intelligible basis for her claim. The facts alleged by the applicant neither assert nor identify in any intelligible way either any link with HRH Princess Margaret or any link with her will. The applicant has not identified the grounds or the source or sources of the various beliefs upon which she relies. In short, her application is hopelessly defective.
  • The application is, accordingly, struck out.

 

 

 

The linked cases are more detailed, and set out the last time that this happened.

 

In that case, Mr Robert Brown alleged that he was the illegitimate son of Princess Margaret and that her will would prove it.  It was perhaps unfortunate that the only material evidence he had in this regard was his birth certificate, showing that the two people who brought him up were registered as his parents. If that proves it, then I myself am now ninth in line to the throne, I fancy.

 

  • In his affidavit of some 26 pages the Plaintiff states at the outset (at paras 1.1 and 1.2) that the purpose of his application is to identify whether the Royal wills make any provision for or concerning an illegitimate child, he having an interest in the matter because he claims that he is the illegitimate child of Princess Margaret.
  • As part of the matters relied on in support of that claim, he produces a Kenyan birth certificate signed by Cynthia Joan Brown (nee Lyall) in which she names herself as his mother and states that he was born in Nairobi in Kenya on 5 January 1955, his father being Douglas Richard Brown, a builder by occupation. The relevant Kenyan Ordinance (No 2 of 1928 dated 9 June 1928), exhibited to the affidavit of the executors’ solicitor, Mr Bridges, states its purpose as being “to Provide for the Notification and Registration of Births and Deaths and Other Matters Incidental Thereto”. It makes clear that the registration of the birth of a child in Kenya was compulsory (section 8(1)) and that the provision of false information or particulars was a criminal offence (section 20).
  • In law a birth certificate is prima facie evidence of all matters required by statute to be entered in the certificate: see re: Stollery [1926] Ch. 284 at 310 and Jackson v Jackson & Pavan [1964] P. 25 at 30. The birth certificate is thus prima facie evidence that the Plaintiff’s mother was Cynthia Brown. Furthermore, it is clear from the rest of his affidavit, that the Plaintiff accepts that Cynthia Brown, now deceased, recognised and brought him up as her own child. Curiously, he makes no reference to Douglas Richard Brown, named as his father in the birth certificate save, in passing, as follows. He states that he does not accept for the purposes of his application that his birth certificate is an accurate record on the grounds that such date is inconsistent with an entry in the ‘Births’ section of the Times of 7 January 1955 which gave his birthday as the 6 (not the 5) of January which, he adds, is also that recorded in the hand of “D R Brown” in his tax return for the year 1955. Nonetheless, in exhibited correspondence with the Treasury Solicitor, he refers to Douglas Brown as ‘the name of the gentleman that ‘raised’ me’; and in a letter addressed to Buckingham Palace in 2002 (see para 33 below) he makes reference to aspects of his upbringing by Douglas Brown. Thus it does appear that the Plaintiff was brought up by Cynthia and Douglas Brown (both now deceased) as their own child.
  • At paragraph 42 of his affidavit the Plaintiff states:

 

“I have not been told that I am the illegitimate child of Princess Margaret, or even that I was adopted. It is a conclusion I have arrived at be [sic] deduction.”

At paragraph 2, he explains that process of deduction as follows:

“[M]y conclusion that I am the illegitimate child of Princess Margaret is based upon a jigsaw of personal recollections, events, circumstantial evidence, conversations, reactions and extensive research.”

 

  • None of the matters subsequently set out at length remotely constitutes evidence supportive of the Plaintiff’s claim.
  • At paragraph 2.3 the Plaintiff asserts in respect of Princess Margaret that “there could have been a hidden pregnancy.” In support, he states that Princess Margaret was reported as ill with a “rattling cough” during the “early days of 1955” and that “photographs suggest a growing waistline compared with the elfin waist of 1954”. He also refers to the record of a Privy Council meeting held on 5 January 1955, ostensibly to discuss measures to be adopted in the face of a threatened rail strike, and states that “Examination of the reports and subsequent events of the rail strike left me unconvinced that the reason for the Council meeting was the strike.”
  • At paragraphs 4.1 to 4.4 of his affidavit he relies on his ‘Personal Outlook’ or ‘Instinct’ as being ‘the key element and driver’ of his claim, citing a sense of not belonging to the family environment in which he was brought up and refers to instances of members of his family in England having appeared reticent in responding to his enquiries about his origins. At paragraph 4.5 he describes the relationship of his ‘mother’ with his siblings as having been closer than with himself

 

 

 

The Court of Appeal (I think very kindly) had this to say about the foundation of his claim.

 

This belief is without any foundation and is irrational. It is, however, held in good faith

 

If you listen closely, you can hear a thousand conspiracy theories fermenting about this sealing of the will.

I think best left sealed up, in case the will establishes that James Delaney has no legitimate claim on Nootka Sound. You don’t want to upset James Delaney…

 

“I have a use for you”

Now wash your hands

 

The thing that makes family law worthwhile is that every time you think you’ve seen everything, a case comes along and makes you go “nope, not yet.”

This is one of those.

 

 

East Sussex v AG (Finding of Fact) 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/536.html

 

This involved an infant, now aged 13 months old, but only a couple of months old when the strange things occurred. He spent time at three different hospitals, and in each of these, he was observed to have very high levels of alcohol in his system – high enough to be potentially life-threatening, and also high levels of anti-histamine.

How did the alcohol get there?

Well, the defence deployed by the parents (chiefly the mother) is that it must have happened through the application of sterilising hand-wash, which contains alcohol. He was in a hospital, parents wanted to make sure he didn’t get any germs, so hand-wash was liberally applied. It must have been that.

 

Mother’s case ended up being that she was rubbing hand-sanitiser into the baby’s arms thirty or forty times per day. That sounds like a hell of a lot – could a baby end up with alcohol levels like these as a result?

Here’s what the expert had to say about it:-

 

  • Whilst considerable time was spent on the validity of Dr McKinnon’s calculations of the amount of alcohol by volume that would be required to cause the levels of alcohol that were found in AG’s system (he having undertaken such calculations in response to being requested to provide an opinion on the likely doses given to AG), the central point made by Dr McKinnon, both in his report and in his oral evidence, is that, absent any evidence to suggest that the analysis of AG’s samples was compromised (and Dr McKinnon was clear that he had no reason to believe that the tests had not been performed satisfactorily), the samples taken from AG showed that he had very high levels of alcohol in his system on three occasions and a level of antihistamine in his system on one occasion.
  • Within this context Dr McKinnon was at pains to emphasise that, with respect to alcohol, the actual readings from the samples taken from AG indicated clearly that AG had been administered significant amounts of alcohol independent of the calculations that attempted to work out the precise doses of alcohol in milligrams required to cause those readings. Dr McKinnon repeatedly emphasised that the alcohol readings obtained from the samples were “extremely” high and, on occasion, the highest he had ever seen, or heard of, in an infant. Indeed, he was aware of no reported cases in which the readings had been higher. Dr McKinnon was clear that this indicated AG had ingested a large amount of alcohol.
  • Dr McKinnon was pressed extensively on the mother’s contention that the explanation for the high levels of alcohol in AG’s system were the result of her alleged use of high levels of hand sanitiser on AG. Accepting that calculations can only be approximate in circumstances where the physiology of individuals varies and the physiology of adult skin is different to that of infant skin, Dr McKinnon was nonetheless very clear that even had the mother used the hand sanitiser at a higher level than she claims, this would still not have been enough to produce the levels of alcohol seen in AG, even assuming a generous level of absorption of alcohol through the skin of an infant of 10% (the level of absorption in adults being between 2.5% and 5%). Within this context, Dr McKinnon also emphasised that the mother states that she used the hand sanitiser over the course of a day and that, accordingly, any alcohol that was absorbed would have begun to be eliminated between applications, further negating the possibility of alcohol from the hand sanitiser accumulating in AG’s blood to the levels seen. Dr McKinnon further stated that for the blood alcohol levels to be caused by AG ingesting hand sanitiser he would have needed to have ingested the equivalent of 44 “squirts” of that substance to reach the highest blood alcohol concentrations seen, ruling out, in his view, accidental ingestion from hands or toys as cause of the levels seen.
  • With respect to the anti-histamine, whilst conceding that anti-histamine can be passed from mother to infant in breast milk, Dr McKinnon noted that the mother had not been breast feeding for a considerable period of time prior to the antihistamine being detected in AG’s system, negating as a possibility that route of administration.

 

 

 

Note the ‘ingested the equivalent of 44 squirts of the hand-sanitiser above” – that’s not had it put on him, that’s ingesting it – swallowing it or such.

 

The Judge considered that possibility very carefully

 

 

  • I am further satisfied that the alcohol and anti-histamine that I have concluded was present in AG’s system and that caused each of the then unexplained episodes was deliberately administered to AG on repeated occasions as opposed to entering his system by way of some species of accidental or inadvertent administration.

 

(i) Hand Sanitiser

 

  • By the conclusion of their oral evidence, both parents appeared to be moving towards accepting that the levels of alcohol found in AG could not have been caused by the application of hand sanitiser to his hands and arms, the father being, ultimately, perhaps more accepting of this than the mother. In any event, I am satisfied that the levels of alcohol found in AG’s system were not caused by the use of hand sanitiser containing alcohol. I have reached this conclusion for two reasons.
  • First, I am not satisfied that the mother is telling the truth in respect of the levels at which she used hand sanitiser on AG whilst he was an in-patient having regard to the following matters:

 

i) The use of hand sanitiser assumed no significance at all in either of the police interviews of the parents conducted immediately after their arrest in May 2016. The mother claims that this was because she was not aware at the time of the interview that the hand sanitiser contained alcohol.ii) The mother’s first statement, directed by the court specifically to address the question of hand sanitiser and dated 14 August 2016, details lower rates of application than those for which the mother now contends, she stating that she first used hand sanitiser on AG on 26 April 2016, using two doses. Specifically, the mother stated “I also put 2 pumps into my hand and wiped it over both of AG’s hands and arms” (my emphasis). She states that she did the same on 28 April 2016. At the Evelina Children’s hospital the mother states that she used hand sanitiser on AG 30 to 40 times per day “at the highest”. Dr McKinnon’s report ruling out the use of hand sanitiser as the cause of the levels of alcohol found in AG is dated 4 November 2016. The mother thereafter filed a second statement dated 25 January 2017 in which she said of her first statement “what I mean is that I used two pumps on the left hand and arm and two pumps on the right hand and arm”, amounting to between 120 and 160 pumps per day. The mother denied that she inflated her account in her second statement to match the emerging medical evidence. However, given the size of the discrepancy between the two descriptions and the fact that the second statement followed the report of Dr McKinnon, I am satisfied that this is evidence of the mother having changed her account of the level of use in response to the conclusions reached by Dr McKinnon.

iii) In circumstances where the mother contends that her use of hand sanitiser on AG continued in the PICU the local authority sought confirmation as to whether members of staff saw the mother use hand sanitiser at the levels she claims whilst AG was on the PICU. By an email dated 25 August 2016, Professor Ian Murdoch, Professor of Paediatric Intensive Care at the Evelina confirmed that medical staff had not witnessed the mother use hand sanitiser on AG. Whilst that confirmation is in the form of an email rather than a statement in the proper form, it is corroborated to an extent by the evidence of the father who stated in his written and oral evidence that he saw the mother use hand sanitiser on only two occasions, stating in cross examination by Mr Bennett that he did not see the mother apply it with the frequency she claimed and did not himself see excessive use. In the circumstances, no person who came regularly into contact with the mother and AG whilst at hospital appears to have seen her using hand sanitiser on AG at the levels she claims.

iv) The clarification contained in her second statement is to the effect that the mother was using high levels of sanitiser from the outset, commencing that use on 26 April 2016. However, this appears to be at odds with a text exchange between the parents in respect of “hand gel” on 28 April 2016. On that date the father texted the mother stating “The reason I told you to use the gel stuff is cos there’s at least four kids in here with pneumonia including rose (sic) in front of us and her mum gave you a cuddle”). The mother replied “Oh ok I’ll make sure I use it a lot then”. In my judgment this exchange is inconsistent with the mother’s evidence to the effect that she was using between 120 and 160 doses a day on AG from 26 April 2016.

 

  • In the circumstances, I am satisfied that the evidence before the court suggests strongly that the mother has sought to construct, after the fact, an account of excessive use of hand sanitiser to seek to explain the high levels of alcohol found in AG’s system. This conclusion is of course also relevant to the question of whether the court can identify who administered alcohol to AG and I deal with this further later in this judgment.
  • Second, and in any event, I accept the expert evidence of Dr McKinnon that even on the revised figures for dosage provided by the mother in her second statement, the level of use suggested by the mother would not result in the levels of alcohol found in AG even if administered all at once and assuming a generous figure for absorption of ten percent to account for an infant’s skin being more porous than the skin of an adult. More importantly, I note again that Dr McKinnon was clear that the manner in which the mother contends she in fact administered the hand sanitiser, namely repeatedly over the course of the day, would not have been able to result in the levels seen because AG would have begun eliminating each dose over time after it was applied, meaning it could not accumulate to the levels seen. On this basis, even assuming a greater absorption than in adults, the use of hand sanitiser at the level contended for by the mother could not result in very high concentrations of alcohol seen. Dr McKinnon was equally clear that the father’s contention that AG might have ingested alcohol by means of hand sanitiser on his (AG’s) hands and toys was not a plausible explanation for the levels of alcohol seen in AG.
  • In the foregoing circumstances, I am satisfied that the high levels of alcohol in AG were not caused by the use of hand sanitiser on him

 

 

 

The Court found that the alcohol and anti-histamine at high levels in the baby’s test results were as a result of him having been administered those substances by one of his parents.

(ii) Human Agency

 

  • There is no evidence before the court of any other accidental or inadvertent mechanism for the administration of alcohol to AG whilst he was an in-patient. There is no suggestion of an organic cause for the levels of alcohol found in AG. In the circumstances, and being satisfied that the levels were not the result of the use of hand sanitiser, I am satisfied that there is no explanation for the administration of alcohol to AG other than human agency.
  • Whilst the father posits the possibility of negligent administration by medical staff or the use of antihistamine as part of AG’s treatment regime that medical staff subsequently failed to record, neither parent seeks to suggest that antihistamine came to be in AG’s system other than by way of the same being administered to him by somebody. On the evidence of Dr McKinnon, it is clear that fact that the mother in the past took antihistamine does not explain its presence in AG in May 2016 in circumstances where the mother had not been breast feeding for a month prior to the antihistamine being detected. There is no explanation before the court for the levels of antihistamine found in AG on 17 May 2016 beyond administration by human agency. I accept the evidence of Dr Ward that the presence of antihistamine in AG’s system indicates that someone administered that substance to him.

 

Perpetrator(s)

 

  • Satisfied as I am for the reasons set out in the foregoing paragraphs that the alcohol and antihistamine found in AG’s system whilst he was in hospital was administered to him at that time by human agency, I turn now to consider the question of who administered those substances to AG. In summary, I am satisfied that the alcohol and antihistamine were deliberately and covertly administered to AG by one or other of his parents or both of them.
  • There is no evidence before the court that alcohol and antihistamine were administered to AG by one of his treating doctors or nurses. As I have already observed, neither parent has sought to suggest explicitly that the alcohol and antihistamine found in AG’s system was administered by a member of medical staff. Further, in my judgment, there is evidence before the court that positively points away from a conclusion that it was one of AG’s treating doctors or nurses who was responsible. Namely, that AG suffered unexplained episodes that I am satisfied were caused by the administration of alcohol and/or antihistamine in three different medical locations that do not share common staff. In my judgment this undisputed fact militates against the possibility that a member of staff was responsible. This conclusion is in my judgment reinforced by the fact that AG’s unexplained episodes ceased immediately upon the parents being arrested notwithstanding that AG remained an in-patient in hospital for a period of time thereafter. Neither parent has sought to allege it was another family member who administered alcohol and anti-histamine to AG and there is no evidence to that effect before the court.

 

 

 

The Judge carefully explained to the parents that it would be in their best interests now to be honest about what had happened.

 

parents who fail to be frank with the court regarding how their child came to suffer harm may often believe that they thereby put themselves at an advantage. In fact, the very opposite is true. The family courts are not concerned with punishment but with the welfare of the child. An early and frank admission by a parent who has harmed their child allows the court to establish accurately what occurred, to direct a fully informed assessment of risk and, in an appropriate case, to formulate and approve a plan for the safe return of the child to the parent, if necessary with a tailored package of support to address the deficits that first led to the harm. Conversely, where a parent or parents make a conscious decision to hide the truth, the court is much more likely to be left in a position where it will be unable to conclude that the parent can safely parent the child in the future. This is especially the case where the court is compelled to conclude (as it is entitled to do) that the harm was caused by one or other or both of the parents but that it is not possible to tell which. In such a situation, additionally, the parent who did not inflict the harm is materially prejudiced by the failure to be frank of the parent who did.

 

CONCLUSION

 

  • In conclusion, I make the findings set out in the Schedule appended to this judgment. I will allow a short period for the parents to consider the findings made by the court and to respond by way of a further statement to those findings. I will then give directions for the welfare stage of this hearing.
  • Finally, for the reasons I have set out, I am satisfied that neither of the parents has been entirely frank with the court. I am satisfied that they have each made a conscious choice to withhold certain matters rather than giving an account of all that they know about the circumstances in which AG came to have extremely high levels of alcohol and levels of antihistamine in his system. Within this context I have had to try and divine what happened to AG in circumstances where his parents have chosen not to assist the court fully with that task. This judgment represents my considered attempt to discharge the duty of the court in those circumstances on the evidence available to me at this hearing. In so far as the mother and the father consider that this judgment does not represent the full picture of what befell AG, the responsibility for that lies solely at their respective doors.
  • There now comes a very important decision for the parents. To adopt the words of Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead in Lancashire CC v B at 588, in the present case AG is proved to have sustained significant harm at the hands of one or other or both of his parents. Within this context, the parents have a choice. They can consider the findings of the court and choose now to provide the information that I am satisfied that they have thus far withheld from the court to ensure that the local authority assessment that will follow this hearing constitutes a fully informed assessment of risk and allows the court the best possible opportunity to determine whether AG can be safely returned to their care. Conversely, they can continue to withhold information from the court and from professionals and increase thereby the risk of the court of having ultimately to conclude that AG cannot be safely returned to their care.
  • That is my judgment.

 

SCHEDULE OF FINDINGS 

  • Whilst an in-patient at the local hospital and the Evelina Children’s Hospital in London, AG experienced repeated unexplained episodes of unusual limb movements, apnoea, unconsciousness and coma, some of which incidents were life threatening and required intubation and ventilation.
  • No medical explanation for AG’s episodes was found despite extensive testing being undertaken.
  • Specialist blood tests undertaken on 17 May 2016 identified high levels of alcohol in samples of AG’s blood taken on 27 April 2016, 10 May 2016 and 17 May 2016.
  • Specialist urine analysis undertaken on 17 May 2016 identified high levels of alcohol and levels of antihistamine in AG’s urine.
  • Analysis of a sample of AG’s gastric aspirate taken on 17 May 2016 identified high levels of alcohol and levels of antihistamine in his gastric aspirate on that date.
  • The levels of alcohol found in the samples taken from AG were extremely high and would have caused serious toxicity and could have been potentially fatal to him but for the emergency treatment he received as an in-patient.
  • Each of the unexplained episodes experienced by AG at the local hospital and the Evelina Children’s Hospital in London were caused by AG being administered alcohol and / or antihistamine, including those episodes in respect of which blood and urine testing was not undertaken.
  • Each of the unexplained episodes was caused by the mother or the father or both of them deliberately and covertly administering alcohol and /or antihistamine to AG.
  • In deliberately and covertly administering alcohol and /or antihistamine to AG, the mother or the father or both of them caused AG to be subjected to extensive, unnecessary, uncomfortable and painful invasive tests to try and ascertain the cause of the episodes (including but not limited to MRI imaging, electrophysiology, two lumbar punctures, genetic and metabolic testing and video telemetry) and extensive, unnecessary uncomfortable and painful treatments (including, but not limited to, extensive blood testing, catheterisation, intravenous and arterial cannulation, intubation, mechanical ventilation and the administration of antibiotic, anticonvulsant and anti-reflux medication).

 

 

 

 

Extraordinary case – I’ve never come across anything like it.  Luckily, when it comes to matters of hand-washing within a hospital setting, we have the Marx Brothers to give us a visual demonstration.   (In this scene, Groucho has been pretending to be a physician, Dr Hackenbush. He is about to be unmasked by a real doctor, Dr Steinberg. What follows is a masterclass in stalling for time)

 

 

Jack Russell and lackadaisical assessments

In which a Judge describes family placement assessments as ‘lackadaisical’  and orders fresh assessments with the LA to pay for them. And in which I try, but fail, to avoid the pun of “ruff justice”

Cheshire East Borough Council v PN & Ors (Flawed Local Authority Assessments) [2017] EWFC 20 (03 March 2017)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2017/20.html

 

it is a matter of very considerable dismay to the court that it has been necessary, on the second day of this final hearing and having heard the evidence presented by the local authority in support of its case, not only to grant the maternal aunt’s application for a further assessment of her and her partner by an independent social worker, but to direct a further assessment of the paternal great aunt and her husband by an independent social worker, in order to remedy patent defects in the local authority’s assessments caused by social work that has, at best, been lackadaisical and, at worst, is in plain contravention of the applicable statutory guidance and long established good practice.

 

Let us explore further

 

 

There were two assessments – one  was of maternal aunt and her partner, and one of paternal great aunt to care for a baby where there had been findings that the parents had caused him significant head injuries.

 

Problem 1  – although the assessment was of the aunt and her partner, the assessor hadn’t in fact met the partner – she had one short phone conversation with him, whilst he was at work.  AND she just ended the assessment once she knew of the findings, unilaterally.

 

 

 

 

 

19.The assessment conducted by Ms Fallows makes it plain that the assessment was intended to be of both the maternal aunt and her partner, CS (at times incorrectly referred, as I have already noted, to as ‘CN’ in the assessment). Notwithstanding this, Ms Fallows was forced to concede in cross-examination that, apart from a very brief conversation with him on the telephone whilst he was at work, she had not spoken to CS as part of her assessment. It would appear that whilst Ms Fallows had planned to speak to CS (and indeed had cancelled a number of appointments with him) she changed her mind after becoming aware of the outcome of the finding of fact hearing, apparently concluding without discussing the findings with CS (and possibly before she had discussed the findings with the maternal aunt) that the findings made by the court were simply fatal to any proposed placement of PN with the maternal aunt and CS.

 

 

20.Having listened to the evidence of Ms Fallows, I was left entirely unclear why she considered she was justified in drawing such a definitive conclusion without first speaking to CS to establish the extent to which he constituted a protective factor and, accordingly, the extent to which his presence in the household mitigated any concerns Ms Fallows had regarding the maternal aunt’s capacity to protect PN from the identified risk of harm presented by the mother and the father. Whilst it might be the case that CS does not constitute a protective factor, it might also be the case that he does. The point is that Ms Fallows made no professional effort whatsoever to assess the position before reaching her conclusion that the assessment of the maternal aunt and her partner was negative.

 

 

21.In particular, Ms Fallows took no time to explore with CS his understanding of the findings made by the court, his acceptance of those findings, his attitude towards those findings and, in light of the information provided by him, the nature and extent of his ability to protect PN from the identified risk of harm consequent upon the findings of the court, including those in respect of the maternal aunt. This despite the fact that Ms Fallows’ task was to assess the capacity of the maternal aunt and CS to protect PN from harm, including from any person who presents a risk of harm to her. In the circumstances, Ms Fallows assessment of the maternal aunt and her partner contains a patent lacuna and is fundamentally flawed.

 


Call me old-school, but it is rather tricky to assess someone without meeting them.

 

Problem 2  – the key issue in the assessment of great aunt was obviously going to be her  ability to keep the baby safe from the parents. That wasn’t covered in the assessment at all.  The section on risk dealt solely with stair guards, the green cross code and a Jack Russell.   (I am not even kidding)

 

22.The assessment of the paternal great aunt and her partner by Mr Twigger gives the court even more cause for concern and is of extremely poor quality. It comprises little more than a collection of bare statements of fact with virtually no evaluation or analysis, leading to conclusions that are so simplistic and anodyne as to be little more than a statement that the paternal great aunt and her husband have successfully raised children before and would be able to promote PN’s identity.

 

 

23.However, of most concern is the manner in which the purported assessment deals with the key issue when assessing the viability of the placement, namely the ability of the paternal great aunt and her partner to protect PN against the identified risk of harm presented by the mother and the father. In this respect, the relevant part of the initial assessment in November 2016 and the same part of the updated assessment completed following the finding of fact hearing read in the following identical terms:

 

 

 

“Ensuring safety (Describe the applicant’s capacity to protect the child from harm and danger, including any person who presents a risk to them.)

 

[NM] and [HM] would wish to ensure that PN is taught age appropriate life and safety skills as she grows older and matures in their care. From an early age this would include issues such as safety around the home and they would of course ensure that they had the necessary safety equipment in place once PN became mobile. This would incorporate such items as stair gates and plug guards etc. As PN grows older she would be taught basic road safety and personal safety e.g. not talking to strangers and always telling someone where she is going which is what the couple have taught their own children and then grandchildren.

 

The couple have a dog that is a Jack Russell dog. As stated elsewhere in this report [NM] and [HM] have stated that they are aware that PN becomes alarmed by sudden noises and for this reason if their application were to be successful they have suggested that they would be willing to re-home the dog to their nephew who also has a Jack Russell”

 

24.Despite the Form C prompting the need to include harm and danger from any person who presents a risk to them, there is no reference at all in the updated assessment to the plainly identified risk of harm presented by the parents or to any engagement with the paternal great aunt and her husband regarding their response to that identified risk of harm and the manner in which they would propose to ensure PN is protected from such risk. Indeed, the courts detailed findings of fact do not appear to be set out anywhere within the body of the updated assessment.

 

 

25.Of further concern is that the relevant part of the initial assessment in November 2016 and the same part of the updated assessment completed following the finding of fact hearing are in identical terms. Indeed, it is plain that the latter has simply been ‘cut and pasted’ from the former. Within this context, the concern engendered by Mr Twigger’s assessment is heightened still further by Mr Bolt confirming during his oral evidence that the paternal aunt and her husband have not been shown the finding of fact judgment of this court, are not aware of the precise terms of the court’s findings against the mother and the father and that the same have not been discussed with them by the local authority.

 

 

26.In the circumstances, Mr Twigger’s assessment of the paternal great aunt and her husband is wholly inadequate and fundamentally flawed. Whilst Mr Twigger deals with road safety, stairgates and a loud Jack Russell, there is no assessment or evaluation whatsoever of the central question of the ability of the paternal great aunt and her husband to protect PN against the clearly identified risk of harm presented by the mother and the father, nor does any attempt at all appear to have been made to undertake such an assessment. The inevitable result is that there is no assessment of this cardinal issue before the court in relation to those proposed carers.

 

 

See, I told you I wasn’t kidding…

An unmanageable risk

 

 

27.Finally, there were also very real difficulties with the evidence of Mr Bolt when it came to the question of the capacity of the paternal great aunt and her husband to protect PN against the identified risk of harm presented by the mother and the father.

 

 

28.Despite the fact that he claimed to have considered the assessments of both Ms Fallows and Mr Twigger when arriving at his final care plan, Mr Bolt demonstrated a marked inability to recall even basic elements of the contents of those assessments relevant to the question of capacity to protect. In particular, he had apparently not identified the patent and obvious deficiencies in each of those assessments that I have outlined above. Further, he was not able to assist the court with even the most basic information concerning other matters highly relevant to the question of the capacity of the paternal aunt and her husband to protect PN from harm. For example, having revealed that the father had, between his release from a recent custodial sentence and until last Thursday, been permitted by the paternal great aunt and her husband to sleep at their property because the paternal great aunt was not prepared to see the father sleep on the streets, and that the father had not disclosed this information, Mr Bolt was unable to assist the court with answers to the very obvious questions that flowed from that information and which the court would have expected an allocated social worker to investigate.

 

 

29.In particular, Mr Bolt was entirely unable to assist the court with how long the father had stayed with the paternal great aunt and her husband for, whether the paternal great aunt and her husband had volunteered the information that the father had been staying with them or had been discovered allowing him to do so and whether the paternal great aunt and her husband considered it appropriate to allow the father to reside with them when they were putting themselves forward as carers for PN. Mr Bolt’s evidence reached a remarkable nadir when he claimed, in answer to questions put by the maternal aunt regarding number of contacts the paternal great aunt had had with PN (in the context of the paternal great aunt having only recently commenced contact with PN and her husband having had only one contact with PN despite the fact he is retired and does not have work commitments), that it was “not necessary” for him to know the details of how many times the paternal great aunt had had contact with PN since the very recent commencement of that contact.

 

 

30.Accepted good practice in respect of assessments is plainly established by statutory guidance and longstanding good practice. The statutory guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children (HM Government March 2015) sets out at [35] the principles and parameters of good assessment.

 

 

31.These principles and parameters include the need for such assessments to be rooted in child development and informed by evidence, to involve children and families, to adopt an integrated approach, to be a continuing process and not an event and to be transparent and open to challenge. It is self-evident that the need for the assessment to involve children and families and to be informed by evidence will require information to be gathered from all of those adults in the child’s household or in the household it is proposed the child should live.

 

 

32.The three domains of the assessment specified at paragraph [36] of the guidance should be the child’s developmental needs, the parents’ or carers’ capacity to respond to those needs and the impact and influence of wider family, community and environmental circumstances. Once again, it must be self-evident that an assessment of the carers capacity to respond to the child’s needs (including their capacity to respond to the child’s need for protection against an identified risk of harm) must involve contact and communication with each of the carers who are, or it is proposed will be, responsible for meeting the child’s needs.

 

 

33.At [37] the guidance makes clear that the interaction of these domains requires careful investigation during the assessment and that it is important that (a) information is gathered and recorded systematically, (b) information is checked and discussed with the child and their parents/carers where appropriate, (c) differences in views about information are recorded and (d) the impact of what is happening to the child is clearly identified. With respect to the assessment and management of risk, at [47] the guidance further provides that in order to manage risks, social workers and other professionals should make decisions with the best interests of the child in mind, informed by the evidence available and underpinned by knowledge of child development. Overall, Working Together makes clear that the aim of an assessment is to use all the information to identify difficulties and risk factors as well as developing a picture of strengths and protective factors.

 

 

34.Within this context, when undertaking an assessment concerned with establishing capacity to protect against an established risk of harm, in addition to ensuring that an assessment of the carers capacity to respond to the child’s need for protection against an identified risk of harm involves discussions with each of the carers who are, or it is proposed will be, involved in meeting the child’s needs, it is also surely self-evident that the assessment must include a process that ensures that those who are the subject of the assessment of their capacity to protect from risk of harm are aware of what the precise nature of the risk of harm is. Further, it must likewise be self-evident that having been made aware of the precise nature of the risk of harm, each of those being assessed must be the subject of a comprehensive evaluation of their understanding of and attitude towards that risk in order to establish the extent to which they have, or do not have, that capacity.

 

 

35.Having regard to the summary of the deficiencies set out above in respect of each of the assessments, and to the summary of the applicable statutory guidance also set out above, I am entirely satisfied that the assessments completed by Ms Fallows and by Mr Twigger are inadequate and fundamentally flawed. I am further satisfied that, in the circumstances, the assessments do not permit the court to reach a properly informed or fair decision at this final hearing as to which of the placement options before the court best meets PN’s identified welfare needs or, indeed, whether either is capable of doing do. The patent deficiencies in the assessments are such that, the court having heard Ms Fallows and Mr Bolt give evidence and be cross-examined, Mr Haggis on behalf of the local authority has been compelled to concede that the assessments were each insufficient to allow the court to reach a properly informed and fair decision. Notwithstanding the concession made by the local authority I make clear that this is my conclusion in any event having read the assessments and heard the oral evidence to which I have referred.

 

 

36.With respect to the assessment of the paternal aunt and her partner it is plain that the local authority simply decided, unilaterally, that the finding of fact judgment justified it terminating the assessment notwithstanding that that assessment of the couple was plainly incomplete and failed properly to address the key issue with which the court would be concerned at the final hearing. With respect to the assessment of the paternal great aunt and her husband, the assessment is entirely cursory and fails to engage in any meaningful way with the key issue that the court is required to resolve in determining whether the placement can meet PN’s identified welfare needs. It is apparent that, following the outcome of the fact finding hearing, the local authority felt that it could simply take a short cut by terminating prematurely the assessment of the maternal aunt and her partner and by undertaking the most cursory of updating assessments of the paternal great aunt and her partner. That is an entirely impermissible approach in circumstances where the process of assessment must not only constitute a comprehensive assessment of the child’s identified welfare needs and how those needs are best met in accordance with the statutory guidance, but also must be fair and be seen to be fair.

 

 

37.Before the court takes a final decision as to the welfare of a child it must be astute to ensure that the case has been fully and properly investigated and that all the relevant evidence necessary for the decision is in place, both to ensure that the court makes a fully informed decision as to the child’s welfare and to ensure that the proceedings are fair, the former being an aspect of the latter. Having regard to the matters set out above, I am wholly satisfied that the court is not in a position to conclude that the central question of respective capacities of the maternal aunt and her partner and of the paternal great aunt and her husband to protect PN from the identified risk of harm from the mother and father has been full and properly investigated and that all relevant evidence necessary to determine that issue is in place before the court.

 

 

38.Within this context, and with much regret, I am entirely satisfied that it is not possible to conclude the final hearing fairly without further assessment of the maternal aunt and her partner and the paternal great aunt and her husband, in particular as to the central question of their respective capacities to protect PN from the identified risk of harm from the mother and father. In the circumstances I have set out above, those additional assessments are plainly necessary for the court to deal with this case justly. I am further satisfied that the additional assessments should be conducted by an Independent Social Worker and should be funded by the local authority. In light of the patent omissions in the assessments of the local authority as identified above, those who are to again be assessed cannot reasonably be expected to have any confidence in a further local authority assessment. Further, in circumstances where the further assessments are required solely by reason of the local authority having comprehensively failed to discharge its duties I am entirely satisfied that it should pay for the additional assessments that are require in consequence of that default.