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Social worker on the naughty step


 

 

 

This is a decision of a Circuit Judge, so not binding, but illuminating as heck.

M and N (Children : Local authority gathering, preserving and disclosing evidence) [2018] EWFC 40 (1 June 2018)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2018/40.html

 

It revolves around an investigation into a child who was two months old and how they sustained bruising to the neck and a fracture to the clavicle.

The social worker interviewed the parents, took handwritten notes and later produced a typed note. The LA case was that neither of the explanations for the injury offered by a parent (a trip and fall whilst carrying the child, or a bump in a car) accounted for the injuries, and the experts agreed.

 

On later enquiry within the care proceedings it emerged that the handwritten notes were used to produce that typed note two weeks later

 

 

  1. Social worker, (SW1), was charged with investigating the matter on behalf of the local authority. SW1 spoke with the mother on 22nd September when she was given the seatbelt explanation. On 25th September, the Monday, SW1 visited the parents’ home and met with the mother and the maternal grandmother. At this meeting, she was given specific details of the fall explanation. On 26th September, the following day, SW1 visited M at her school. Each of these meetings need further expansion but before doing so, I must comment on the way the meetings were recorded.

 

  1. During her evidence SW1 referred to her formal recording of the meetings which was set out in case notes and notes prepared for the purpose of the local authority section 47 report. Both sets are very similar as there was clearly a lot of copying and pasting from one to the other. Significantly, the formal notes were largely made up on 9th October, some two weeks after the meetings took place. When questioned by Miss Mallon about the potential for these notes being inaccurate because of the delay, the social worker was adamant that they were accurate as she relied on her memory, supported by her handwritten notes taken at the time. The cross-examination was highly relevant as there was a material dispute as to what was said during the meeting on the 25th.

 

The handwritten notes were duly requested and produced. Were they good? My good friends, they were not. Did they show an accurate record mapping clearly onto the typed version? My good friends, they did not.

 

 

  1. The handwritten notes had not previously been disclosed by the local authority and did not form part of the bundle. At the conclusion of SW1’s evidence, the court asked her if the notes existed and if they could be produced. It transpired the notes did exist and they were produced the following day and circulated. The contemporaneous notes comprised seven pages of handwritten material. It is difficult to overstate how unprofessionally prepared these notes were. They were largely undated, they failed accurately to recall who was present, much of the handwriting is illegible, they were in large part disjointed and had to be translated by SW1 who gave further evidence but despite their unsatisfactory condition, the notes were illuminating.

 

  1. Until the notes appeared, no plan of the living room of the family home had been prepared. The notes, however, contained a sketch plan of the room with a faint line which the social worker confirmed denoted the path M was taking when it was alleged that she had tripped falling on to N. The path is clearly towards N’s head and right shoulder. It is entirely consistent with the evidence given by the mother and the grandmother and suggests a graphic explanation for how M could have placed her knee on N’s right shoulder causing bruising to her neck but not to the remainder of her torso.

 

  1. The significance of this is twofold. Firstly, the fact that the mother was denied this crucial contemporaneous recording of what she said four days after the event was to deny her the opportunity of supporting her version of events with crucial evidence and left her to rely on her memory many weeks after the event. Secondly, it deprived the experts of corroborative evidence to explain how the neck could have been bruised but not the body.

 

  1. 16.             The handwritten notes contained a record of SW1’s meeting with M. They are as illegible and disjointed as the other notes but start with the words, “Naughty step”. SW1 was unable to explain why these words appear and could only speculate. The note contains a record of the child saying something and then correcting herself and concludes with the words, “Said never tripped/fell on to N/mat”.

 

  1. 17.             As a result of this meeting, it is claimed there is formal record supporting the local authority’s case that M has denied falling on to N. This has been taken up by the experts who have used this in support of their opinion that the event did not happen. This is not a criticism of the experts as they are entitled to assume M was interviewed in a professional manner. Unfortunately, she was not. During the social worker’s evidence she said that she had been ABE trained. If this is the case, I have grave reservations as to the quality and effectiveness of that training.

 

Ticket for one to the Burns unit please. Oh, that’s a deep burn.

 

 

Two tickets to the gun show

 

 

 

  1. On the third day of the five day hearing the local authority took stock of the evidence and, quite rightly, concluded that there was an unrealistic prospect of establishing threshold and asked the court for permission to withdraw its application. The court ordered the local authority to make its application formally by way of C2, supported by a child-in-need care plan. These have been filed and the children’s guardian has had the opportunity to consider the way forward.

 

 

 

  1. My analysis is as follows. If N had been injured by her seatbelt, she would have woken up and cried. She did not. It is medically implausible that this event caused the injury and, in my judgment, it did not.

 

  1. There is unanimity between the experts who attended court that N could have been injured in the way she was by M’s knee landing on her clavicle. I accept the evidence of the mother and the grandmother that this event occurred precisely as they say it did, that M was walking back to N who was lying on her changing mat, that M tripped, that M’s knee was the first part of her body to make contact with N and it did so directly on to her right clavicle. The break was caused by this mechanism. I am entirely satisfied that this was an unfortunate accident and that neither parent was in any way responsible for its occurrence.

 

  1. The local authority was right to apply for leave to withdraw its application but we now have a dreadful situation where both children have been separated from their mother and in N’s case her father’s unsupervised care for over six months. The parents have separated and it is unknown how much the stress of these proceedings has contributed to that. M, who we are told cannot understand why she has to live with her great grandmother, must now be told at some point and in the most sensitive way possible that the reason was because her parents had been accused of harming her sister when, in fact, the injury was actually caused by M herself. There is a significant amount of work to do to put this family back together again.

 

  1. The local authority has prepared a care plan and I am content that the care plan meets the children’s needs. Having considered the children’s welfare and in doing so having had regard to the welfare checklist, I am satisfied that it is in the best interests of both children for the proceedings to be withdrawn and give leave accordingly.

 

That’s all desperately sad – what a cost this family has paid for the failure of the social worker to properly record her notes, transcribe them accurately and grasp the importance of what was in them.

 

Judicial comment on gathering, preserving and disclosing evidence

 

  1. I cannot leave this case without making comment on the manner in which the local authority has conducted itself. I have three main areas of concern. Firstly, the gathering and recording of evidence by the social worker was, in my view, wholly inappropriate. The local authority was investigating an allegation of serious child abuse where it was thought possible that an 8-week-old baby had been seriously injured by one or other of the parents.

 

  1. 34.             In discharging its duties, the local authority could and should, in my view, have kept proper notes in a professional way which would have served as a coherent, contemporaneous record and this did not happen. To compound the problem, the notes were not made up into formal case notes until several weeks after the event, leaving much room for error caused by the inadequate contemporaneous notes and failing memory. If the local authority thought it appropriate to obtain evidence from a 4-year-old child, and it clearly did, it should have followed the ABE guidelines. Failure to do so renders any evidence obtained from the child to be of no value.

 

  1. Secondly, I have concerns over the failure of the local authority to present a full picture to the experts. If Dr. Elias-Jones had known the explanation given by the parents days after the event in the manner that it was given to the social worker, this would have changed his opinion. This is clear because when he did understand it, his opinion changed but unfortunately this was four and a half months after he filed his report. Dr. De Soysa in his report dated 27th September, which will have been read by the other experts, reports:

 

“SW1 had interviewed M with regard to this incident. SW1 informed me that M had no recollection of this event.”

 

  1. There is reasonable scepticism as to whether a 4-year-old should have been interviewed at all. However, if she had been interviewed appropriately, and by that I mean in accordance with the ABE guidelines, the outcome may have been very different. It may be that she would have given an accurate account of events which would have meant this whole case could have lasted days rather than six months. One can only speculate. In any event, to have given an account of events of what M said was, in my judgment, irresponsible as the experts could not be expected to question the basis upon which this information had been obtained.

 

  1. My third and final area of concern is on the matter as to whether the parents and the children have had the benefit of natural justice in this case and thereby whether their Article 6 rights have been breached by a local authority which is, of course, an instrument of the State. These proceedings are borne out of a serious allegation of child abuse which, if found, would have had a profound effect upon the parents and the way they would be able to care for their children in the future.

 

  1. 38.             I have already given my comment upon my interpretation of the local authority’s duty of care on gathering evidence but I feel obliged to comment on the local authority’s failure to disclose material evidence in advance of being required to do so during the final hearing. It is clear that the content of the social worker’s contemporaneous notes was material in securing the sea‑change in the professional opinion of Dr. Elias-Jones. The parents should not be expected to have to go on a search to obtain such important evidence which supports their case.

 

  1. 39.             The local authority should have made this evidence available to the parents and their advisors at the earliest opportunity. It is again speculation as to what effect this would have had on the length these proceedings have taken but it is, in my judgment, worth speculating. For the future, the comments I have made highlight, in my view, that there may be significant areas for improvement in the training the local authority gives to its social workers, particularly in the areas of gathering, preserving and disclosing evidence in care proceedings

 

If you’re a social worker, now would be a very good time to find your handwritten notes, and have a serious hard look at whether the typed ones capture everything.  If you’re a local authority lawyer, ask your social worker on any NAI/CSA case to let you have their handwritten notes. If you’re a parent solicitor or representing a Guardian, ask for those notes.

 

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Making Special Guardianship Order before child has lived with prospective carers

This Court of Appeal decision raises a number of interesting and important issues.

(It doesn’t have anything amusing in it or any 80s references, but you can’t have it all.  If you want, you can momentarily imagine that this is some litigation involving Barry Chuckle and Jimmy Krankie having a dispute as to who gets custody of a tiny hedgehog in a hat and that the key pieces of evidence involve (i) Jean Claude Van Damme doing the splits in the witness box (ii) how many ferrets Fred Dineage can pop down his trousers and (iii) the enduring mystery of exactly how much smack Zammo Maguire hoped to obtain by stealing and pawning Roland Browning’s alarm clock, thus making Roland late for an exam.  It  has none of this.  I remain on the lookout for such a case)

 

P-S (Children) [2018] EWCA Civ 1407 (18 June 2018)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/1407.html

 

Essentially, the Court at first instance, was invited by the LA and the Guardian to make Special Guardianship Orders to grandparents for two children – S aged 2 and P aged 5. The parents were seeking the return of the children to their care – it had been a FDAC (Family Drug and Alcohol Court) case and the parents had withdrawn from that process – the judgment does not deal much with the parents case, as it was not the subject of the appeal.

 

[The parents had withdrawn from the Court process, thus at final hearing it was only the Local Authority and the Guardian playing an active part, both of whom supported the making of SGOs]

 

The Court declined to make Special Guardianship Orders, in part relying on a letter circulated by Keehan J to Judges on the Midlands Circuit to the effect that

“a special guardianship order should not be made, absent compelling and cogent reasons, until the child has lived for an appreciable period with the prospective special guardians.”

 

The Court instead made a full Care Order – in effect deciding that the Local Authority, in consultation with the grandparents, should decide the point at which the case should come back before the Court with an application for a Special Guardianship Order. That also, in effect, envisaged the Care Order being a short-term order, rather than the permanent or long-term order that it is commonly viewed as.

 

The Court of Appeal judgment deals with a number of issues :-

 

  1. The need for solid evidence-based research about whether SGOs being made before a trial placement are a beneficial or adverse approach
  2. The status of the guidance given by Keehan J – and the representations made to the effect that it was being followed by the Courts in the Midlands circuit as though it were binding upon them
  3. What role prospective Special Guardians should play in the Court process
  4. What approach the Court should take, where potential suitable carers come forward late in the process.

 

All of this is useful.

 

 

 

  1. There are three strands to the errors that all represented parties before this court identify in the family court’s decision: a) the lack of any adequate reasoning for making care orders rather than interim care orders or special guardianship orders, b) the reliance of the judge on informal guidance that was neither approved guidance nor peer reviewed research capable of being scrutinised or challenged by the parties and c) procedural unfairness. I shall take each in turn. The court is mindful of the fact that each of the represented parties before it (except S’s father) have taken the same position in respect of each issue and accordingly the court has tested with the interveners each of the propositions in respect of which they would otherwise have reached a consensus.

 

 

 

  1. The propositions about which there is a large measure of agreement are as follows:

 

 

 

 

  1. The judge was wrong to make care orders: no party who was present supported the making of the same and on the merits and in particular having regard to the un-contradicted special guardianship assessments, the care orders were disproportionate;

 

  1. b. The judge’s characterisation of the care orders that were made as ‘short term care orders’ was wrong in principle given that there is no statutory mechanism for the making of time limited care orders or orders that will be discharged on the happening of an event, including the expiration of time;

 

  1. The judge was wrong to rely upon the extra-judicial guidance of Keehan J to the effect that children should live with proposed special guardians for a period of time before a court entertains an application for an SGO;

 

  1. The judge was wrong not to make provision for effective access to justice for the grandparents by their joinder, the disclosure of documents to them, time for advice to be taken by them, the facility for them to take a proper part in the proceedings, an adjournment or otherwise.

 

  1. It is helpful to trace the judge’s reasoning by setting out how he came to his conclusion in his judgment. The following extracts are sufficient:

 

 

 

 

 

“1….It is not a case in which I must consider rival realistic options in terms of the children’s future placements. Instead, the main question for me to resolve is the appropriate legal order which should govern a placement with the children’s respective paternal grandparents……

 

 

7.…the local authority and the Guardian contend that the children’s placements should take place under special guardianship orders………During the trial it has largely been left to me to raise concerns as to whether special guardianship orders in favour of the two sets of grandparents would be premature…….

 

 

  1. In this case the children might be placed with the paternal grandparents under either a care order, a special guardianship order, or a child arrangements order. These are very different orders. A care order creates parental responsibility in the local authority which, under section 33(4) of the Act may be exercised by the local authority if they are “satisfied that it is necessary to do so in order to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare”…….

 

 

  1. Section 14A provides for those who may make an application for a special guardianship order…….the grandparents come within the definition of those who may apply for a special guardianship order.

 

 

  1. There is also a power for a court to make a special guardianship order of the court’s own motion. That power is found at section 14A(6)(b).

 

 

  1. ……It suffices to say that during my time as designated family judge here at the Central Family Court I must have made upwards of 30 special guardianship orders. I have, however, yet to encounter an application for such an order. On every occasion I have been invited by the local authority, whether opposed by another party or unopposed, to make the order of my own motion. That is not just the default position, but it appears to be the universal practice amongst authorities who use this court centre. This is the largest family court centre in England…….My purely personal impression is that the practice has changed in recent times.

 

 

  1. Whilst I do not suggest that these children should be the subject of care orders for their minority, the real balance in the case is in my judgment between special guardianship orders now and care orders (although not interim orders). The care plan under such care orders would be that if all goes well, then applications for special guardianship orders should follow in due course. By the expression ‘in due course’ I mean ‘when the new placements are regarded as settled and working well for the children’. In this case that might perhaps be in about a year from now…….

 

 

  1. ……both sets of grandparents have been assessed in accordance with the Statute and the accompanying Regulations. The assessments are positive……

 

 

  1. My first concern is, however, that neither child is currently living with the proposed special guardians. During the course of argument, I mentioned that, last year, a letter had been written to interested parties by Keehan J, the Family Division Liaison Judge for the Midlands Circuit. It discussed the use of special guardianship orders. The view promulgated by Keehan J, as a result of a meeting with the chairs of the Circuit’s Local Family Justice Boards, was that “a special guardianship order should not be made, absent compelling and cogent reasons, until the child has lived for an appreciable period with the prospective special guardians.” Such guidance is not, of course, binding upon me but in passing I observe, with some deference, that it appears to amount to sound common sense……

 

 

  1. All this leads me to believe that someone has to be in charge of a process which oversees not just the move of the children to a new home, and their settling in, but also the implementation and progression of a closely controlled contact regime in circumstances where it is unclear what the parents’ reaction will be to the children’s move and equally unclear as to how they will handle time with the children in the very different circumstances which would apply……

 

 

  1. 30. The next matter which concerns me is the position of the grandparents – within these proceedings as well as towards the children. As I listened to the case being developed, I did so in the complete absence of the grandparents – of the proposed special guardians. They were not parties. They were not represented. They were not present. They were not intended to be witnesses. Had an application been made – properly sponsored by the local authority which after all is the prime mover in this change to the children’s lives – then the grandparents would have been parties, represented, present and witnesses……

 

 

31 ….I have had the conduct of this case since the IRH on 3 February 2017. I could then have (i) made the grandparents parties (although that would not necessarily have secured representation for them); (ii) asked them to file a statement; (iii) invited them to give evidence; (iv) encouraged a special guardianship application at that stage. I did not take any of these steps, nor was I invited to do so……In truth, however, with the exception of my concerns surrounding their lack of participation in the process, the grounds on which I propose to reject the local authority case for special guardianship orders would have remained whatever step had been taken at the IRH. I know a great deal about the grandparents. I am not making special guardianship orders, but it is not because I lack information about the proposed special guardians.

 

 

  1. I invited the grandparents into court before they spoke to the professionals (all of whom were of course advocating special guardianship) so that at least they could hear the guardian, the representatives and myself debating the issues as the guardian gave evidence. They spoke with professionals afterwards. The result of this exercise was that they confirmed their wish to be special guardians immediately and for the children not to be subject to care orders…….I remain concerned, however, as to the process here. I am not convinced that the grandparents have been sufficiently involved. It is stating the obvious to observe that the effect of making an application to a court is to involve the applicants closely in the process.

 

 

  1. A short-term care order meets many of the concerns expressed in the previous paragraphs…..It is common ground that the transfer of the children to the grandparents, which is happening as I write this judgment, will not be delayed for want of special guardianship orders, or by any further assessment process.

 

 

  1. ……There would remain untested placements.

 

 

  1. ……the Guardian…….emphasised that “there was enough of a relationship that it is not an impediment to a special guardianship order…….”

 

 

The Court of Appeal considered this carefully

 

 

 

16.It is evident that the judge recognised that the only realistic placement options that he had were with the paternal grandparents. His concern was the viability of those placements: not because they were unassessed but because they were untested in the specific context of the possible interference with them by the children’s mother and the father of S. It was in that context that on the merits the judge wanted to be assured that the control and parental responsibility which vests in special guardians would be sufficient to manage the relationship with the parents. The alternative was control and parental responsibility being vested in the local authority through care orders. The problem to be solved was whether the relationships and capabilities of the grandparents were strong enough or needed to be supported and tested before SGOs were made.

 

 

 

  1. The solution to the problem was in the choice of order: SGO, care order or interim care order and an adjournment. The route to the solution lay in an evaluation of the evidence including oral evidence from professional witnesses, the parents and the proposed carers i.e. the paternal grandparents. It is clear from the judgment and from a transcript of the judge’s discussions with the advocates during the hearing that the judge had the problem and the solutions in mind. What was missing was a route to the preferred solution. Having identified the problem and the range of solutions the judge did not go on to evaluate that evidence. That necessarily meant that the propositions advanced in the discussion and the conclusions reached in the judgment take the form of assumptions that were not reasoned and which are now challenged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. As I remarked at [16] and [17] it was the absence of any testing of the assumptions raised in discussion which created the problem with which this court now has to grapple. The judge was concerned about the relationship between the grandparents and each of the children in the context of continuing discord with the mother and the father of S. It is also right to note that it was not until the commencement of the appeal before this court that the special guardianship support plans were agreed between the local authority and the grandparents. The judge identified what were potentially adverse factors to balance against the positive factors in the special guardianship assessments which might lead to the conclusion that a trial placement of the children was required before vesting parental responsibility and control in the grandparents. That deserved more than a cursory analysis not least because the local authority and the children’s guardian had come to a clear and agreed contrary opinion on the basis of rigorous assessment material that apparently demonstrated that the positives outweighed the negatives.

 

 

 

  1. In order to test the assumptions the judge had described in his discussion with the advocates, he could have heard evidence about them and from that drawn conclusions. The judge records in his judgment that he heard some oral evidence but it is plain from his judgment that such evidence as there was either did not touch on the issues that he was raising or was unhelpful. That may be unsurprising given that the local authority and the children’s guardian disagreed with the judge and were agreed among themselves and also that no advocate was pursuing the issues the judge wanted to pursue. In that circumstance, as inquisitorial tribunals know, there must be an enhanced caution in a judge not to ‘simply’ rely on his or her own pre-conceptions or opinions and to ensure that as provisional conclusions are formed in judgment they are adequately tested so that they are soundly based on evidential conclusions.

 

 

 

  1. It would also have been legitimate, if properly reasoned, for the judge to conclude that he needed more evidence with the consequence that the time for the proceedings might need to have been extended. In order to come to either conclusion the judge needed to identify the risk that he sought to protect the children against and reason the options that were open to him on the evidence. He ought to have tested his own assumptions and the opinions of the professional witnesses in oral evidence and by hearing evidence from the paternal grandparents. He would have been assisted by evidence from the mother and the father of S but, as has sadly been the case more than once in these proceedings, they had absented themselves and the judge was left with a history from which only inferences could be drawn. Had the judge reasoned his concerns on the evidence he would have had a proper basis for conducting an evaluation of the benefits and detriments of each order that was available to him.

 

 

 

  1. In that context, it is not surprising that the judge’s evaluation of the merits of each option and the available orders was incomplete. The judge agreed with the parties that a child arrangements order was not in the interests of either child and he was right to do so on the merits. No-one pursues that option before this court. That left SGOs, full care orders and interim care orders with an adjournment.

 

 

 

  1. I agree with the paternal grandparents of S that if and in so far as the judge needed more time to ensure that the relationship of the grandparents with the child and the parents was such that it was in the interests of each child to make an SGO, that could, if reasoned, have been an appropriate basis upon which to adjourn the proceedings

 

 

 

Alleged contempt, whilst in prison for contempt

 

This is a curious case, including the giving of evidence by the solicitor representing the person complaining of the contempt.

 

 

 

Egeneonu v Egeneonu & Anor [2018] EWHC 1392 (Fam)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2018/1392.html

 

Mr Egeneonu is a father of 3 children, who at present appear to be in Nigeria. Various Court orders have been made and the father was in prison for contempt of Court.

 

(I wrote about THAT contempt here

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2017/01/18/rock-bands-impenetrable-vocabulary-and-peers-of-the-realm-making-off-with-wards-of-court/

 

and as you can see from the title, it is a blogpost which covers some ground. Also, I see that I use a Bravo Two Zero reference within the post, which has made me smile.  It gets better with every read, Lynn. )

 

It is alleged that whilst in prison, the father made a series of telephone calls to Victor Egenonu (V) who is either his brother or his son, with a view to perverting the course of justice.

 

It is alleged that he failed to cause the children’s return from Nigeria in accordance with Court orders, that he caused false letters to be written purporting to be from the children giving their wishes and feelings and produced false statements from third parties.

 

The Court has not yet established either way whether those allegations are proven – the prima facie evidence for them is said to be telephone calls between the father and V, which were recorded by the prison and are said to set out the detailed plan for these actions between father and V. This hearing was to decide whether leave would be given to invite the Attorney General to consider whether to bring a prosecution (under Family Procedure Rules 37.13(2) – the copy of the FPR I have on legislation.gov.uk stops at 36, so I can’t tell you what that provision actually says, how curious. Because the allegations relate to perversion of the course of justice – the Court has to consider whether to approve release of the case to the Attorney General, who then decides whether to prosecute)

 

The father declined legal representation, despite being told that he was entitled to free legal representation and the possible consequences for him of not doing so.

 

 

 

Amongst the documents filed by the father was –

 

 

  1. v) A statement from Chief Ted Ofoduru, a traditional chief in Nigeria which pointed out that this court has no power or right to tell ‘us’ what to do.

 

Which might explain why the father is not following the well-known maxim of Abraham Lincoln about a man who represents himself.

 

That’s all quite interesting, but where it gets more interesting, is the discussion of how Mother’s team HAD the prison phone call transcripts

 

  1. i) On 11 August 2017 Roberts J made an order in the following terms

 

HM Prison Thameside/HM Prison Service shall…. Provide the following information and documents

 

 

 

(a) Provide the itemised call records in relation to all telephone calls made and recived by [F} from hs incarceration

 

 

 

(b) Confirm whether or not the telephone calls are recorded

 

 

 

(c) Confirm whether or not they would object to an order being made by this Honourable Court that audio copies should be released and/or a transcript of the calls should be disclosed…..

 

There’s nothing in there to say that the Prison should provide the transcripts. It is an exercise to establish whether any recordings exist, and what the Prison’s view would be if an order were to be made for their release.  It rather appears as though the Prison thought they were supposed to hand over the transcripts, and so did the mother’s solicitors, so when the Prison wrote saying ‘let us know which tapes you want’, the solicitors wrote back and said ‘these ones I’ve marked, thanks’ and the Prison then sent the tapes/transcripts and the solicitors got them translated from Igbo to English. None of which was in the Court order.

 

 

 

 

  1. ii) It is immediately apparent that the order did not require the Prison Service to disclose the recordings or the transcripts.

 

iii) The sealed order was sent out by the court on 23 August.

 

  1. iv) Ms Bennett said she had not been at the court hearing as she was on leave. When the order came in she said she did not have a memory of reading it but assumed she would have done.

 

  1. v) On 23 August 2017 Ms Bennett’s para-legal drafted and sent a letter to HMP Thameside enclosing the Court order and accurately setting out the terms of the order in the body of the letter.

 

  1. vi) On 11 September 2017 HMP Thameside responded providing a list of all calls made and received by F and confirmed that they were recorded. The letter said ‘…please.. provide me with a list of numbers which you would like the telephone recordings for, I will then ask the Security staff to review these calls and burn them to disc’. It is clear from this response that the author thought the court order required or authorised the release of the recordings of the calls themselves rather than just the details of the calls.

 

vii) On 15 September 2017 Bindmans responded saying ‘We have highlighted the calls we want recordings from. Please see attached.’ The author of the e-mail was a para-legal. Ms Bennetts evidence was that when she discussed the response with the para-legal she was working on the assumption that the order authorised the release of the transcripts. She said she did not go back to the order to check its precise wording but assumed because the prison had said they could have the recordings that that was what the order authorised. She accepted in evidence that she was mistaken in her belief about what the order provided for. She said she did not realise the transcripts had been provided not in compliance with the order until F’s solicitors pointed it out on 13 December 2017.

 

viii) She was pressed hard by F and by me on how it can be that an officer of the court could have authorised the sending of an e-mail which furthered the release of material which was not in compliance with the terms of a High Court order which plainly envisaged a further application would be made to this court to seek an order that the transcripts or recordings be provided. Ms Bennett accepted that it was a failure on her part. She appeared, rightly, somewhat embarrassed that this had happened on her watch. F put it to her that it was a deliberate attempt to mislead the prison and to get evidence by improper means. She denied this and pointed out that there was nothing to be gained in doing so as the court would almost certainly have approved the obtaining of the recordings that had been sought.

 

  1. ix) Having regard to all the circumstances I accept that this was a mistake rather than a deliberate act. The letters sent between Bindmans and the prison, her explanations and the absence of any motive to have deliberately mislead the court persuade me that a combination of matters led to a situation where both the prison service and Bindmans mistakenly assumed the order provided for the release of the recordings themselves.

 

  1. x) Given the context of these applications, namely contempt of court and in particular interference with the administration of justice this is regrettable but it is not malign.

 

  1. xi) Ms Bennett also explained how the recordings came to be interpreted and transcribed. It is clear that the following is the case

 

  1. a) The transcripts were prepared by an NRPSI (National Register of Public Service Interpreters, an independent voluntary regulator) interpreter in Igbo/English, Charles Chinedu Mottoh.

 

  1. b) In a series of witness statements dating from 24 October 2017 to 11 January 2018 he produces the transcripts of 222 clips of recordings which he identifies by Exhibit No and by their File Name.

 

  1. c) The clips themselves are identifiable by a code (File Name) which appears on the list provided by HMP Thamside. Thus 146203 01 07 2017 10_38_18 refers to a call recorded on 1st July 2017 at 10.38 and 18 seconds in the morning. The first 6 digits seems to be a code applied by the prison service to the individual.

 

  1. d) Each transcript produced by Mr Mottoh bears the File name and so each is readily identifiable by date and time.

 

  1. e) Each transcript contains only the English translation of what was said not the Igbo original.

 

xii) I am satisfied that the transcripts are readily identifiable as relating to F, that their dates and times are ascertainable and that the contents are a bona fide interpretation of what Mr Mottoh heard. It may be that F or V would be able to identify errors or mistakes in the transcripts but I am satisfied they represent a sufficiently reliable record of what passed between F and V for the purposes of this application. If F or V produce alternative transcripts then the interpreters may need to give evidence but that is a matter for another day. F says Mr Mottoh’s interpretation of certain Igbo phrases is either wrong or too definitive and that some words can bear more than one meaning. F will no doubt identify any errors in the critical transcripts M relies on.

 

That evidence having been obtained improperly (though by mistake rather than by malice) are they admissible?

 

The law

 

 

 

 

12.In the criminal field the courts have considered the application of section 78 PACE in relation to improperly obtained evidence in a number of cases

 

 

 

 

  1. i) Regina-v-Khan (Sultan) [1997] AC 558

 

  1. ii) Regina-v-P [2002] 1 AC 146

 

iii) Regina -v-SL and Others [2001] EWCA Crim 1829

 

13.The following principles emerge from these authorities.

 

 

 

 

  1. i) The power to exclude evidence under s.78 PACE is at least as wide as the common law power to exclude evidence in the interests of a fair trial.

 

  1. ii) The principle test for admissibility of evidence is relevance.

 

iii) Relevant evidence is not excluded simply because it has been unlawfully or improperly obtained, this includes evidence obtained in breach of a persons Article 8 ECHR rights. Illegally or improperly obtained evidence does not amount to a breach of a person’s Article 6 ECHR rights.

 

  1. iv) Unlawfully or improperly obtained relevant evidence may be excluded if it would have such an adverse effect on the fairness of the proceedings.

 

  1. v) Fairness includes fairness to the prosecution and to the defendant. Trial by ambush may be unfair.

 

  1. vi) Evidence obtained by flagrant non-use or misuse of authorised procedures may well provide grounds for exclusion because it will affect the fairness of the trial. In extreme cases where the abuse of process is of such gravity the prosecution may be halted.

 

vii) The court must consider all the circumstances in determining whether a trial will be fair or unfair.

 

 

14.In the civil arena the Court of Appeal considered the admissibility of illegally or improperly obtained evidence in Jones-v-University of Warwick [2003] 1 WLR 954. The Court of Appeal referred to some of the above cases and principles concluding that the approach must be dictated by the over-riding objective of dealing with a case justly. The court must balance all the circumstances including the relevance of the evidence and the effect of its exclusion. There may be cases where the behaviour of the person obtaining the evidence was so outrageous that the case based on it should be struck out. It may be that improper behaviour should have costs consequences whilst the evidence is admitted.

 

 

15.It will be apparent from the foregoing that whether I apply the s.78 PACE criteria or the CPR 1 and 32 approach the approach is broadly the same. There is no automatic exclusion unless the circumstances reach such a high level or impropriety as to offend the courts conscience or sense of justice. The court must consider all the circumstances and decide whether relevant evidence should be excluded so as to ensure a fair hearing.

 

20.My conclusions on the admissibility point are that the transcripts are not to be excluded for the following reasons;

 

 

 

The facts

 

  1. i) The transcripts appear to be a proper interpretation into English of Igbo conversations between F and V. The interpreter is qualified and has provided statements of truth with appropriate records evidencing the recordings he has interpreted.

 

  1. ii) The evidence is relevant to the Grounds of Committal against F and V. As I will explain below, in respect of F (I have not looked in detail at V’s position) it is strong evidence and without it the Grounds could not be pursued. That would be unfair to M.

 

iii) It was not obtained illegally or dishonestly or as a result of behaviour that might qualify as a gross misuse of process or abuse so as to fall into a category where the court might contemplate its exclusion on the basis that its obtaining and deployment was itself an abuse of process and offensive to justice.

 

  1. iv) F will have the opportunity to challenge the contents of the conversations in his own evidence; there is no ambush.

 

  1. v) It would be to ignore reality to exclude the evidence.

 

 

The Court approved the release of the information to the Attorney General to consider whether to bring a prosecution

 

 

24.I consider it appropriate to grant permission

 

 

 

 

  1. i) The evidence is strong both that the acts were committed and they were done knowingly. As examples

 

  1. a) The transcript at Exhibit 28 (p.491) appears to show F dictating to V the words of a letter purporting to be from the children which appears in almost identical words at Exhibit 29(p.524) and which was submitted to the court.

 

  1. b) The transcript at Exhibit 32 (p.539) appears to show a conversation between F and V on 25 August 2018 about creating a witness statement from Ola Ajibola which subsequently was produced to the court dated 24 August 2018.

 

  1. c) The transcript of 27 July 2017 at Exhibit 22 (p.354) and 28 July 2017 at 360 appear to show conversations between F and V in which the whereabouts of the children are discussed as are arrangements for moving them around. The subsequent statements in which F denies any control or knowledge over their whereabouts are plainly inconsistent. I disbelieved his evidence but the transcripts arguably provide a very clear and different reality.

 

  1. ii) I am unable to ascertain the children’s best interests. I have appointed Cafcass as their guardian in an attempt to make some progress in looking at ways in which their current best interests might be ascertained.

 

iii) I do not accept that the committal proceedings are counter-productive. F did not secure the return of the children during the 3 years he was at liberty in Nigeria. I do not know whether what F says about the position of the family and community in Nigeria are correct. I am not able to rely without independent verification on material produced by F. He has still not produced the later order he asserts has been made by a Nigerian court.

 

  1. iv) M is pursuing committals for breaches of orders and it is more proportionate for these proceedings to be dealt with at the same time rather than a public authority pursuing them

 

  1. v) The nature of the contempts if proved are very serious indeed and would represent a concerted effort to create false evidence to deliberately mislead the court.

 

  1. vi) It is in the public interest to determine these serious allegations. I do not consider it appropriate to make a request to the Attorney-General given the other aspects of committal which would be proceedings in this court in any event.

Lions and lawyers and Jesus, oh my

 

 

This isn’t an English case, but people were kind enough to send me the link yesterday, and it is a cracker, so I can’t resist.

 

Couple lose custody of their child after using a stuffed lion as their lawyer

 

(bad choice already. Why did they do that?)

 

They thought the lion was Jesus.

 

(ah)

 

I’m not about to talk smack about Jesus, but he’s not known for his Court room skills. The guy had one trial, and that didn’t work out for him. He would not be my first call. Even if he does have a clear diary and now, a fluffy tail.

 

Couple lose custody of child after using toy lion they thought was Jesus as their lawyer

 

I’ve written this week about a press report based on a court case with a misleading headline (and I see that some people on my Twitter feed have got the BBC to change their headline), but this one isn’t.

 

In the Supreme Court of British Columbia

AJ v British Columbia 2018

http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/sc/18/09/2018BCSC0903.htm

There’s some quite nasty stuff in the body of the allegations, which I won’t repeat.

 

The parents certainly had strong views about religion

 

[34]        On April 28, 2017, A.J. sent an email to a social worker, Melanie Crowston, to schedule future access dates but also wrote the following:

God is doing a great work here. And believe me, you want the wicked and corrupt things addressed, because everyone suffers when evil is allowed to harm you and families. So we need Jesus to clean up the corruption and bring justice back to this place. How filthy and corrupt your job is and the people you work for. I am ashamed for you. It is evil. I’m sorry you work for such an ugly corrupted company too…

[35]        As evidenced by this email, the parents continued to have difficulty working cooperatively with others. The mother often demonized those seeking to help her. For example, the parents were asked to leave the parish they were attending. On April 29, 2017, the pastor, on the recommendation of the church leadership, called the police to see what steps were needed to get a restraining order against the appellants. The parents returned to the church on May 3, 2017 and caused another disturbance at a support group meeting. The pastor then sent the parents an email indicating that they were no longer welcome to attend the church.

[36]        On May 10, 2017, A.J. sent an email to [then] counsel for the Director stating the following:

Be prepared for your house to see a very large debt come across and bankruptcy due to the criminal charges against the court system and the ministry of children and youth and particularly the judicial system that has imposed the degradation of children and harm to the families. The Lord Jesus has now come in to judge and he has seen the demise of what He had set in place for good has now been corrupted and covered in greed and filth.

[37]        The trial judge stated that the email “could be perceived as threatening”. At this stage, correspondence was being directed through the office of the Director because the parents refused to communicate with the social worker.

 

 

I know, you all want to know about Jesus, Lawyer Lion.  Hold on, it’s not far off

 

Jesus Lion Lawyer, how did you get the Sword of Omens through Court security? They made Cheetara take off her high heeled shoes.

 

[41]        At the October hearing, the trial judge heard that the parents continued to attend churches with the goal of cleansing them from demonic influences. The parents had also refused to participate in the parental capacity assessment.

[42]        At trial, A.J. testified that she had an application pending to change the name of the child. She wanted C.J. to have a hyphenated first name including Jesus and a middle name of JoyoftheLord. She was also applying for a change in her first name to the Risen Lord Jesus–A, a new middle name of Refinersfire–Deanne, and a change in her last name to add the name Christ.

[43]        One last issue in this case was the conduct of the appellants at trial. First, they refused legal aid assistance and maintained that their legal counsel was the Lord Jesus. Second, the parents verbalized words that were not discernible to the court; they appeared to be speaking in tongues. They spoke in tongues to their stuffed animal, a lion, and claimed that through this lion they were hearing directly from their counsel the Lord. Third, when cross-examining witnesses, the appellants advised each witness that it was their lawyer Jesus Christ asking the questions through the voice of the parent. Fourth, the trial judge found the parents not to be credible witnesses: see paras. 43, 72, 95 and 100.

 

 

I thought that the stuffed lion lawyer who was also Jesus was the best detail, until I read  ‘the judge found the parents not to be credible witnesses’.  What a beautiful bit of understatement.

The appeal was refused. There is no name of a lawyer representing the parents in the appeal, so I don’t know if they were in person, or if the Lawyer Lion padded up for the appeal too.

Obviously whilst there are amusing elements to this story, it is ultimately sad, and I hope the child is okay and that the parents get the help that they clearly need.

 

Is, Was and Ever Will Be

 

 

This is a Court of Appeal decision in relation to significant harm in care proceedings, where the harm was said to be emotional harm. And this is always a hot-button topic.

 

Re S & H-S Children 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/1282.html

 

It also deals with the grammatical weirdness that is in the Children Act at section 31, which we all tend to forget to an extent. The Act never talks about whether the child  ‘has suffered’ significant harm, although that’s the language that we all use.  Instead it says “Is suffering” and the law has subsequently developed to say that you are looking at the past, to when protective measures were taken as the relevant date.   (That was a solution derived because care proceedings were being issued where a child had suffered significant harm and then gone into foster care or been placed with a relative – so on the day of issue, it would be inaccurate to say that the child ‘is suffering’ significant harm. So we routinely use the present tense of the Act to talk about the past tense of the relevant date)

 

In these proceedings, they were initiated on the basis of allegations about the children being physically harmed by father, and the LA accepted freely that at the time the proceedings started, they had no intention of issuing proceedings in relation to mother’s care.  The allegations about father fell away – the Court found that he had physically chastised them, but left no marks, and that they had not suffered significant harm as a result of his chastisement and it was not over-chastisement.

However, within the proceedings, the assessments that took place highlighted emotional harm, and in particular the children’s poor attachment to their mother.  The Court found that the children had suffered emotional harm.

The appeal was brought on the following points

  1. The mother’s grounds for appeal represent a root and branch challenge to the judge’s conclusion with respect to the threshold criteria relating to the child L. In summary, the following points are made:
    1. a) The proceedings were commenced in response to allegations of physical harm to the older two children perpetrated by their father. Those allegations were, in the event, not found proved in the terms of the threshold. The stress of the proceedings, however, triggered a marked deterioration in the mother’s mental well-being to the extent that, by the end of the proceedings, she conceded that she could not at that time provide a home for any of the children. The judge is criticised for failing to distinguish between the mother’s presentation and her parenting prior to the relevant threshold date of 9th March 2015, and the compromised state that she descended into thereafter during the proceedings.

b) Evidence from social workers, community support workers and health visitors prior to 9 March, insofar as it mentioned the mother and L, was positive and gave no cause for concern.

c) It was conceded by the local authority that no social worker was contemplating issuing care proceedings with respect to the mother’s care of the children as at 9 March 2017.

d) The judge wrongly equated a perceived lack of attachment between the mother and L with the establishment of “significant harm”.

e) A failure to follow the guidance given by the Supreme Court in Re B to the effect that it is necessary for a judge to identify a precisely as possible the nature of the harm that L was suffering or likely to suffer as at 9 March 2017.

 

So you can see that timing is important. At the time proceedings were issued, one could not now say that the children ‘is suffering significant harm’ (I know, the tenses make me feel queasy too. I wish the Act just said ‘has suffered’ but it doesn’t.)  Any harm actually occurred within the proceedings. So the first limb isn’t met, and the LA would have to rely on the second limb, that there’s a likelihood of harm in the future.

 

The other bit I’m interested in is

d) The judge wrongly equated a perceived lack of attachment between the mother and L with the establishment of “significant harm”.

 

We hear a lot about attachment in care proceedings, and an awful lot of what we hear is misusing terminology and confusing quality of relationship or emotional closeness with attachment, which is not something you can assess by reading some contact notes or watching mum play with a toddler.  We also hear a lot about  attachment problems without ever giving the context of how prevalent poor attachment is in the general population. Trust me, I’m not saying that flawed attachment has no impact on a child’s childhood and later life (seriously, trust me, I’m well aware of how many of my own problems are due to exactly this issue), but one needs to be careful if pathologising something which is not that unusual.  Remember, the wording of the Act says that the harm has to be attributable to the parent not providing care which it would be reasonable for a parent to provide – if a third of parents in the general population have difficult attachment styles, whilst that may be harming the child, is the parent culpable and behaving unreasonably?

 

The Court of Appeal said this :-

 

  1. Before this court Mr Taylor has advanced the mother’s case with force and clarity both in his skeleton argument and at the oral hearing. He seeks to establish five basic submissions:
      1. i) The lack of clear and bright reasoning within the judgment falls so far short of what is required so as to amount to an unfair process.

ii) The judgment confuses evidence as to the state of affairs prior to 9 March with evidence of what consequently occurred as a result of the mother’s mental collapse during the proceedings.

iii) The necessary process of evaluation of the threshold criteria, as required by Re B, has not been undertaken.

iv) The findings made by the judge as to the mother’s character are insufficient of themselves to support a finding on the threshold criteria.

v) Various findings made by the judge with respect to other aspects of the case are insufficient to support a finding of threshold with respect to L.

  1. The appeal is opposed by the local authority and the children’s guardian. L’s father takes a neutral stance.
  2. Looking at the mother’s appeal in more detail, it is, unfortunately, correct that both the judgment and the court order lack clarity with respect to the judge’s findings as to threshold relating to L. The following points are, in my view, established in the appellant’s favour:
    1. a) The judgment makes no reference to the judge’s previous findings as to the mother’s psychological well being set out in her judgments of 11 November 2015 and 4 July 2016.

b) The judge’s finding (paragraph 106) that “the attachment difficulties seen in the children…are evidence of emotional harm” does not expressly amount to a finding of “significant” harm as required by s 31.

c) Paragraph 107, which is lengthy, includes reference to material arising both prior to 9 March and, thereafter, during the proceedings. Again, the finding in that paragraph relates to “emotional harm” and not “significant harm”.

d) Although the phrase “significant harm” appears in paragraph 109, the judge there refers to “the other factor relevant to whether the children have suffered significant harm as a result of the mother’s presentation” and describes the emotional impact on the children of the mother raising the allegations of physical chastisement which, in turn, led to the institution of proceedings. Paragraph 109 does not make a finding that the children did suffer “significant harm” in this respect. The finding is that the mother’s past behaviour “cause(s) me to think she will continue to have anxieties about the care of her children and therefore potentially undermine any placement of the children away from her care”.

e) Paragraph 110 does include a finding that the mother’s emotional stability and her presentation are such that “the children have suffered from significant emotional harm”. The finding is not, in that paragraph, tied to the period prior to 9 March and there is no finding with respect to likely future significant harm.

f) As Miss Gillian Irving QC and Mr Zimran Samuel for the local authority before this court who did not appear below, reluctantly concede, the judge’s statement of “threshold findings” posted at the end of the judgment cannot, as a matter of law, be said to satisfy the requirements of s 31. The paragraph is confined to a summary of the judge’s findings as to the mother’s mental well being both now and in the future. The paragraph does not contain any explanation for the judge’s finding that as a result of the mother’s condition the children have suffered significant harm.

g) The court order, which simply records the making of care orders, fails to include any recital as to the court’s findings with respect to the threshold criteria.

The Court of Appeal were critical of the Judge’s failings in the judgment, particularly the conflation of emotional harm and significant harm, and linking the comments on harm to the wording of the Act.

However

  1. As the extracts that I have set out from Dr Hall’s written and oral evidence demonstrate, the attachment that these children, including L, had with their mother was compromised to a significant degree so that it was on the borderline of being characterised as disordered. Dr Hall’s opinion was that without secure attachment the children would suffer significant detriment, not only to their emotional and psychological functioning, but to the very development of their brain during infancy.
  2. The attachment, or lack of it, formed between L and her mother must relate to the period when L was in her mother’s care prior to 9 March 2017. It arose from core intrinsic elements in the mother’s psychological makeup, rather than arising from the recent collapse in the mother’s mental health. Dr Hall’s description of the mother being unable to control her emotional reaction to relationships and events with unpredictable and regular oscillation between the extremes of hyper-arousal and hypo-arousal, accords entirely, as she herself said it did, with the mother’s presentation as recorded by the previous expert in 2014.
  3. It is clear that the evidence upon which the judge relied, and her findings, relate to the mother’s long-standing condition and its impact on the children, rather than any deterioration that occurred during the proceedings.
  4. This material amply supports a finding that L was suffering significant emotional harm as at 9 March 2017 and would be likely to suffer significant emotional harm in the future as a result of the care provided by her mother were she to return to the mother’s home. Although, for the reasons that I have given, the judge’s judgment lacks precision and clarity, there is in my view, sufficient in paragraphs 106 to 110 of the judgment to identify the threshold findings made by the judge in this regard.

 

 

  1. In the circumstances, whilst accepting, as I do, the validity of the criticisms that Mr Taylor makes as to the lack of clarity and focus in the judge’s analysis, Dr Hall’s evidence and the judge’s previous findings as to the mother’s behaviour provided a very solid basis for finding the threshold established and it is plain that the judge adopted that analysis, which was in part based upon her own findings made two years earlier, in concluding that the threshold was crossed with respect to L in this case.
  2. For the reasons I have given, I would, therefore, dismiss this appeal and uphold the judge’s finding that the threshold criteria in CA 1989 s 31 was established as at 9 March 2017 with respect to L as a result of the care given by her mother on the basis that, at that date, L was suffering significant emotional harm and was likely to suffer significant emotional harm.

Note that even though the Court of Appeal are telling the Judge off for not using ‘is suffering’ as the test, they themselves slip readily into the language ‘was suffering’.  It is almost impossible not to do it.

 

(I was somewhat surprised that this appeal didn’t succeed – on my reading there were enough failings in the judgment to overturn it, but the Court of Appeal felt that there was sufficient cogency to the judgment in full that they could apply a little bit of Polyfilla to the cracks, rather than declaring that it was so flawed it had to be reheard. I can see that they considered that it was slightly loose use of language rather than a failure to identify whether the children met the s31 test)

 

The Court of Appeal gave a coda of lessons to be learned (whilst not noting that they’d not followed their own lessons in the very same judgment, cough)

 

Lessons for the Future?

  1. Before leaving this case, and with Lady Hale’s more detailed judgment in Re B in mind, I hope it is helpful to make the following observations as to how the difficulties that have led to this appeal could have been avoided in practice.
  2. In the course of a necessarily long judgment covering a range of issues and a substantial body of evidence, where the threshold criteria are in issue, it is good practice to distil the findings that may have been made in previous paragraphs into one or two short and carefully structured paragraphs which spell out the court’s finding on threshold identifying whether the finding is that the child ‘is suffering’ and/or ‘is likely to suffer’ significant harm, specifying the category of harm and the basic finding(s) as to causation.
  3. When making a finding of harm, it is important to identify whether the finding is of ‘significant harm’ or simply ‘harm’.
  4. A finding that the child ‘has suffered significant harm’ is not a relevant finding for s 31, which looks to the ‘relevant date’ and the need to determine whether the child ‘is suffering’ or ‘is likely to suffer’ significant harm.
  5. Where findings have been made in previous proceedings, either before the same judge or a different tribunal, a judgment in subsequent proceedings should make reference to any relevant earlier findings and identify which, if any, are specifically relied upon in support of a finding that the threshold criteria are satisfied in the later proceedings as at the ‘relevant date’.
  6. At the conclusion of the hearing, after judgment has been given, there is a duty on counsel for the local authority and for the child, together with the judge, to ensure that any findings as to the threshold criteria are sufficiently clear.
  7. The court order that records the making of a care order should include within it, or have annexed to it, a clear statement of the basis upon which the s 31 threshold criteria have been established. In the present case, during the oral appeal hearing, counsel for the guardian explained that, following the judgment, she had submitted a detailed draft order to the court by email for the judge’s approval. We were shown the draft which, whilst in need of fine tuning, does provide a template account of the court’s threshold findings. It is most unfortunate that counsel’s email, which may not have been seen by the judge, did not result in further consideration of the form of the order and statement of threshold findings. Had it done so, the need for the present appeal may not have arisen.

 

 

Application to not disclose a CAFCASS report

 

This is a bit of a weird set of circumstances, although the nature of the facts behind it are not that uncommon.

Basically, in private law proceedings, a CAFCASS officer was about to share their report.  A final hearing was listed for 3 weeks time, so everyone understandably wants to know what the CAFCASS report is going to say.

However, before the CAFCASS officer finished the report, they became aware via the police that there was a child protection investigation taking place about the father, the investigation being done by both English police  in Dorset and New Zealand police – that’s obviously quite a logistical challenge, because of both the time zones and the accents.  The police weren’t ready to as the Judge described ‘go over the parapet and confront the father and interview him’ and didn’t want him tipped off as to the nature of the allegations before doing so.

Obviously the CAFCASS officer can’t simply ignore that they’re now aware of an allegation that father has committed sexual offences against a child and that there’s a police investigation, but doesn’t want to jeopardise that investigation by tipping father off.

 

So, an application was made to Court for the report not to be shared, yet.

 

I don’t actually know what CAFCASS are supposed to say when they are chased up by the parents solicitors, since I don’t think they can actually say ‘there’s a court order that says we don’t have to share it yet’ because the obvious next question will be ‘why?’

 

(I did immediately wonder why the parents wouldn’t twig that ‘hey, I live in Dorset and father lives in New Zealand, and we’ve got a private law hearing at the end of May, is this about us?’, but the judgment was published AFTER the CAFCASS report was ordered to be disclosed)

This particular set of circs is unusual, but the whole ‘police know something but they don’t want it shared yet’ is not that unusual.

 

So, here’s a High Court authority if you want it.

 

G v G and Another 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2018/1100.html

 

And obviously you should buy my book, which is out now, and being reviewed (over charitably as ‘more enjoyable than Harry Potter’  and ‘From Dusk till Dawn meets Tracy Beaker’ – fair, I think)

 

 

BUT if you want a chance at winning a copy, come up with a good Suesspicious Minds type headline for this piece. I sat down assuming something with Kiwi or Dorset would come to me readily, but it didn’t happen.  A signed copy to the answer I like best.  Poor puns, pop culture references are the way to my heart.  Or frankly, just tweet me at @suesspiciousmin with really good pictures of Natalie Dormer.

 

If you’ve read the book, please take five minutes to pop a review on Amazon. Because of the way their robot algorithms work, the more reviews I get, the more the book pops up on other people’s “Hey you might like this” bit. Also, I genuinely want to know what people think of it.

Oversharing

Some of you might be aware of the story that Coronation Street are currently running about Aidan and male mental health, with a view to starting an important dialogue.

I’m going to overshare now, hence the title, in that same spirit. So trigger warning for anyone who may not be in the right place to deal with this – I’m not going to go into any details and I hope that it might be inspiring rather than making people miserable. I’m not doing this for sympathy or because I want comfort or pity, but rather because being ashamed and not able to talk about it is one of the most powerful weapons that mental illness has over people, and I’m taking that weapon away from mine.

I have had problems with depression for my entire adult life. Before I had depression, I thought about it the same as everyone else ‘cheer up, pull yourself together, what have you got to be miserable about’

Which, as it is due to chemical deficiencies, is about as realistic as saying to someone with diabetes ‘just digest sugar better’

I’ve learned to cope with depression, but usually in very unhelpful ways. I’ve learned how to hide it, how to mask it from people, how to keep going and have nobody around me have a clue that inside my head my own thoughts are attacking me relentlessly.

The best description I can give you of the sort of depression I have is that my mind employs the very best ad agencies to come up with and play constant adverts to me, knowing me better than Facebook data mining ever could, to sell me the message that I am an awful human being, worthless and hateful in every way and that the whole world would be remarkably better off without me in it.

Now, this is drivel. And some days, some hours, I’m well aware that it is drivel. I’m a human being who has like everyone else some good qualities and some faults. But when that’s the soundtrack to your life, it’s corrosive.

And a large part of what’s corrosive about it is ‘dont tell anyone, it will just make them hate you’

Well, everyone that I’ve ever been brave enough to talk to has not hated me, or run away. They haven’t always understood and sometimes they’ve been shocked or frightened, but all of them without fail have done their absolute best to help, and it has been a huge help.

The stupid adverts don’t stop, but the more honest I am, the quieter they are and the more loudly I can reply ‘this is just an illness and i don’t have to believe that message’

Sorry everyone, I know you come here for law and 80s pop culture, but telling everyone in one go is the scariest thing I can imagine but now it is out there. Don’t worry about me, the darkest days of it are well behind me. I hope that sharing this might empower someone else to speak out, or helps you to start a difficult but vital conversation with someone you love and care about.

Talking helps. Honesty helps. Friends really do care about you, and you are not alone. If you are able to talk, just to one person, it is one of the most powerful and significant moments in your life and it will help.

Take care

Andrew