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“An unhelpful cocktail”

 

The interesting case of Re A (A Child) 2013.

 

The Court of Appeal dealt here with a case where some pretty appalling case management occurred with the appellants legal team, and whether a costs order should flow from that. They determined that in the absence of being able to show that costs had been incurred by the other parties for which they could be compensated, one could not make a wasted costs order purely as a punitive measure, no matter how awful the litigation conduct.

 

But it is worth looking at the litigation conduct, just because it is a dull day indeed when one isn’t interested when “I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres. Thy knotted and combined locks to part, and each particular hair to stand on end. Like quills upon the fretful porpentine…. “

 

 

Lo, the case is here:-

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/43.html

 

 

The appeal related to a serious finding of fact hearing in care proceedings, a significant number of fractures on a very young baby, where the Judge found that these were caused non-accidentally.

 

Some time after those findings, the solicitors representing the parents became aware of the decision in London Borough of Islington v Al Alas and Wray [2012] EWHC 865 (Fam)    and legitimately considered the findings again in the light of that case, particularly whether there was an alternative medical explanation along the lines of vitamin D deficiency and rickets.

 

They sought leave to appeal from the trial judge, who refused.

 

They then applied to the Court of Appeal, primarily asking whether leave to instruct an expert to look at the case was required. The Court of Appeal considered the case, felt that a fresh expert assessment was desirable and granted that leave, then listing a Permission to Appeal hearing to take place after the expert assessment could be considered.

 

All of that is perfectly fine and proper.  

 

[I blogged about that appeal hearing HERE   https://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/11/22/more-on-vitamin-d-and-rickets/ 

 

In short, the Court of Appeal did not consider that the Judge at first instance was wrong, let alone plainly wrong, and that the medical evidence, including the fresh report came nowhere near substantiating a medical explanation for the fractures. ]

 

 

But this particular judgment comes about as a result of the Local Authority and Guardian feeling so aggrieved by the parents litigation conduct that they asked for a costs hearing.

 

This is why :-

 

 

  1. 6.       a) At the first, without notice, oral hearing the solicitors failed in their duty to provide the court with full and frank disclosure of all relevant material. In particular the bundle submitted did not include the original fact finding judgment or the section of the trial bundle that included the expert medical evidence;

b) The court was misled by an assertion in the grounds of appeal that the solicitors had had to prepare the case in a limited time period, whereas the reality was that they had the papers in the case for 18 weeks prior to filing their grounds of appeal;

c) After the September hearing the solicitors failed to disclose any relevant and necessary information to the Local Authority and the solicitors for the child until 16th October. The information withheld included a note of the 19th September hearing, the letter of instruction to Professor Nussey, Professor Nussey’s report (which had been received on 3rd October), the progress report sent by the parents’ solicitors to the Court of Appeal on 3rd October in accordance with my direction and any detail of the extensive supplementary questions and communications passing between the parents’ solicitors and Professor Nussey;

d) Professor Nussey was not instructed in a manner that would comply with the Family Procedure Rules 2010, Part 25 and the associated Practice Direction governing the instruction of experts. In particular, the Professor was not furnished with a copy of the 2010 fact finding judgment and/or the expert medical reports upon which the judge had relied. Instead the Professor was, for example, provided with the parents’ solicitors’ critique of that judgment setting out some 26 points which they said supported a benign medical explanation for the fractures that had been detected;

e) Once Professor Nussey’s report was available to the parents’ legal team, a clear view should have been taken that there was no longer any prospect of achieving permission to appeal. The decision to press on and mount arguments which this court ultimately found were unsustainable, went beyond the bounds of pursuing a hopeless case and amounted to an abuse of the court process.

  1. Ms Jo Delahunty QC, representing the child, supports the criticisms made by the Local Authority and seeks to stress the substantial degree to which, in her submission, the parents’ solicitors fell short of their duty to comply with the ordinary standards of transparency and co-operation required of those engaged in child protection proceedings in the Family Division. In particular, she points to the fact that the non-disclosure for nearly a month of information relating to the without notice hearing in September was not a result of inefficiency or incompetent administration, but arose from the deliberate assertion by the parents’ solicitors that the other parties were simply not entitled to any of this material unless and until permission to appeal is granted. She is also particularly critical of the way in which the expert was unilaterally lobbied by the parents’ legal team with, it is suggested, the aim of turning his initial adverse opinion into one which was more favourable to their case.
  1. In addition to the criticisms made of the litigation actions in the period between 19th September and 1st November, both counsel for the Local Authority and counsel for the child draw the court’s attention to the stance taken by the parents’ representatives at this hearing. Mr Prest drew attention to what he regarded was the startling difference between the world view in relation to these matters taken by the parents’ representatives and the reality of the approach required by the Family Justice System. In similar terms Ms Delahunty submitted that, in seeking to explain their behaviour and avoid adverse criticisms, counsel for the parents’ solicitors, Mr Michael Shrimpton, in his skeleton argument, was simply not speaking in the same language as the lawyers representing the Local Authority and the child. In particular Ms Delahunty points to the fact that, rather than offering an acceptance of poor case management and an apology to the court, Mr Shrimpton’s skeleton argument seeks to meet each of the matters raised head on and to question their validity. For example the case for the parents’ solicitors, who are a well known Birmingham firm of family specialists, questions the validity and legitimacy of FPR 2010 Part 25 insofar as it applies to Family Proceedings at first instance and asserts that, in any event, those provisions have absolutely no application to a pending appeal. They assert that the instruction of an expert in the course of an application for permission to appeal may be undertaken in total disregard of the Family Procedure Rules and the practice otherwise applicable to a family case.

 

 

 

Let me just flesh that out, because it may be so peculiar that it does not quite sink in – they obtained permission to appeal saying that they had had ‘limited time to prepare their case’ (when they had in fact had 18 weeks – some people, not me, but some other people, might actually go so far as to say that this is not a generous interpretation or disingenuous, or misleading, but a straight downright lie)

 

having obtained the permission of the Court of Appeal to instruct an expert, the parents solicitors then don’t give the expert the medical reports AND Judgment in the fact finding hearing, but instead a sprawling 26 point submission prepared by them as to why rickets is the cause of the injury, they don’t try to agree a letter of instruction or include any questions that the other sides would like asked, they don’t initially disclose the report of that expert to the other sides, they try to get the expert to change his mind after seeing his report, and when all of this is highlighted to them, they argue that the Family Proceedings Rules don’t apply to appeals in, erm family proceedings.

 

 

I also like this bit – the parents solicitors, in another case (oh my god) had gone off to get an overseas expert without leave of the court and then (once it was favourable to rely on it)

In January 2012 the parents’ solicitors acted for different parents in an application for permission to appeal which is now reported as Re McC (Care Proceedings: Fresh Evidence of Foreign Expert) [2012] EWCA Civ 165; [2012] 2 FLR 121. In that case, without the knowledge of, let alone the leave of, the Court of Appeal, the parents’ solicitors obtained a medical report from an American paediatrician and sought leave to adduce it as fresh evidence to support a proposed appeal. In his judgment refusing permission to adduce the evidence, with which the other two members of the court agreed, Thorpe LJ said:

 

“14. There are many reasons for refusing this application. It does not begin to satisfy the conditions identified in the well known case of Ladd v Marshall [1954] 1 WLR 1489. It is a report which is deeply flawed in the manner of its production. The respondents to these proceedings were given no notice of the intention to go elsewhere and to knock on another expert door. No permission was sought from this court either to instruct another expert or to release documents from the case to that expert and such documents as were released were not comprehensive and were apparently partisan.

15. I would have absolutely no hesitation in refusing this application but I do want to emphasise that there is, in my judgment, an obligation on an applicant for permission, or an appellant who has obtained permission, to seek leave from this court before instructing a fresh expert and releasing court papers to that expert for the purposes of the hearing of either an adjourned application for permission or an appeal.

16. I would also emphasise the importance of the Guidelines for the Instruction of Medical Experts from Overseas in Family Cases, endorsed by the President and published by the Family Justice Council last month. They must by extension apply to appellate proceedings although the guidelines are of course written specifically in contemplation of proceedings at first instance.”

 

  • Mr X submits that both he and his instructing solicitors were unclear as to the meaning of those passages from Thorpe LJ’s judgment in Re McC. He tells me that they did not understand whether or not it was incumbent upon them to apply for the leave of the Court of Appeal before seeking to instruct an expert to provide a report for use in support of their application for permission to appeal. In their minds, therefore, the purpose of the 19th September hearing was simply to seek the direction of the Court of Appeal on whether or not a full blown application for leave to instruct an expert, which Mr X tells me would have been on notice to the other parties, should be made. 
  • I confess that I am at a loss to understand that submission and ask, rhetorically, how Mr X and the Solicitors Firm could fail to understand the words “there is …. an obligation …. to seek leave from this court before instructing a fresh expert”. The account given in the Notice of Appeal to the effect that the Court of Appeal decision in Re McC, from which I have quoted, had simply ‘expressed some sympathy’ with the view that leave to instruct an expert was required and that the decision had not by that stage been reported is, on the facts, plainly unsustainable. 
  • The words of Lord Justice Thorpe are entirely plain and clear and, for the record, I regard his words as being entirely uncontroversial. The general approach, if not indeed the detailed requirements, of the Family Procedure Rules must, as Thorpe LJ holds, by extension apply to appellate proceedings.

 

So even though the firm of solicitors had been slapped by the Court of Appeal for getting a back door expert, and the Court of Appeal had given clear guidance on this exact point, they didn’t understand what it meant?

 

But all of that is okay, because the counsel representing them (although not a care lawyer, or indeed a family lawyer) is :-

 

 

a member of British Mensa and that he ‘by definition brings a Mensa-level intellect to the analysis of complex scientific and legal issues’

 

 

[If you are wondering, the quotation marks do indeed indicate that the Court of Appeal are quoting directly from counsel’s own skeleton argument. Yes, in a costs hearing in the Appeal Court, before Lord Justice McFarlane, this barrister put in writing that he was clever…. – not just in writing, but orally, and not just once, but “on a number of occasions”]

 

 

Oh. My. God.

 

If you aren’t cringing, writhing a tiny bit and dying a little bit inside on behalf of this man, you are a crueller person than even I am.

 

 

  1. Mr X’s approach to these proceedings readily supports the submissions that I have recorded from both of the opposing counsel to the effect that the case he presents comes from a totally different ‘world view’ and speaks in a ‘different language’ from that of the local authority and the child’s legal team. Mr X is a brave and confident advocate who gives the strong impression of believing the cause for which he advocates. These various factors, high intellect, a lack of understanding of the justification for the approach taken in family proceedings and the brave championing of a cause, are, in my view, the unhelpful cocktail of elements which have come together in counsel’s presentation of the parents’ case in these proceedings. The local authority seeks to hold the parents’ solicitors responsible for this on the basis that they selected the particular counsel for these hearings. That submission is, in my view, not sustainable when it is clear, as it is, that the argument that became the focus of the application and was then sustained on to the second hearing was crafted by counsel and not by the solicitors. Mr X told the court that, following receipt of Professor Nussey’s report, the solicitors sought his advice on the future viability of the application for permission and that as a result of that advice the case continued. An indication of counsel’s faith in his clients’ case at the second hearing was the very surprising information, as reported to me during the hearing, that Mr X had approach Ms Delahunty outside court to enquire if the children’s guardian was going to support the application for permission to appeal.
  1. My clear conclusion is that the manner in which the application for permission was pursued, after receipt of Professor Nussey’s report had removed from it any true validity, arose almost entirely from the wholly over optimistic judgment of counsel and not from any improper or unreasonable act or omission of the solicitors. By the end of the present hearing this understanding of events seemed to be shared by Mr Prest for the local authority when, after all of the submissions were complete, he made an application to include Mr X in the wasted costs application. I refused that application on the basis that the case had by then been heard and concluded on the basis that Mr X was not in the frame and that it would by that stage be oppressive to alter the focus of the application to include him.

 

 

Oh, I want to look at that again, let’s just do this one bit

 

Mr X is a brave and confident advocate who gives the strong impression of believing the cause for which he advocates. These various factors, high intellect, a lack of understanding of the justification for the approach taken in family proceedings and the brave championing of a cause, are, in my view, the unhelpful cocktail of elements which have come together in counsel’s presentation of the parents’ case in these proceedings

 

 

He was SO lucky to escape without a cost order.

 

 

It must have been fairly close as to whether the costs of the appeal hearing itself, were incurred as a result of advice which could not be sustained on the evidence.  It was in part, I think, the fact that it was counsel’s clear advice and driving of the process that absolved the solicitors from blame in not abandoning their appeal once the expert they had instructed (and attempted to nobble) hadn’t supported them.  If you can’t persuade an expert who you have blatantly tried to manipulate into supporting your case to support you, you really don’t  have a winnable case and that would be the time to abandon the appeal. They didn’t. They pressed on.  One can see from the previous blog and judgment just how much work went into that appeal hearing, particularly from leading counsel for the child, Ms Delahunty.

 

 

Of course, I could be wrong – perhaps the Mensa level intellect which counsel brought to bear in the case foresaw that as the Guardian and LA hadn’t included him in the wasted costs application, he could save his solicitors from a wasted costs order that was otherwise heading their way by convincing the Court that all of the faults were of his making. Perhaps he was nobly falling on his sword and was in reality blameless.

 

I would politely suggest that any counsel who are card-carrying members of Mensa to eschew the desire to flaunt this in front of the Court of Appeal in any future hearings.

 

 

[I’m sure 95% of Mensa members are witty, suave, urbane, good company, romantically successful, essentially happy, well-balanced, productive, helpful and fascinating, and that I have just been very  unlucky in meeting the small proportion who spoil it for them….   I did also remove an “a bit like the American Express advert – it’s four letters too long”  joke from this piece, but I’m sure you can work it out for yourselves]

 

 

If you are interested in instructing an overseas expert in care proceedings – perhaps you like paperwork, perhaps you enjoy the game of Russian Roulette that is incurring costs that the LSC might or might not underwrite, perhaps you just enjoy having telephone calls at 4.00am, there’s some guidance about how to do it, here :-

http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/JCO%2FDocuments%2FFJC%2Ffjc_guidelines_for_overseas_experts_Dec2011.pdf

 

 

 

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About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

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