Holman J has given judgment in an appeal, London Borough of Ealing v JM and Others 2014
The appeal is not concluded (the Judge has asked for some more information about the placement proposals and family finding) and I hesitated a bit about writing at it whilst it is still ongoing, but the judgment was published, and it does raise one interesting aspect, which I don’t think we have seen the last of.
Now that the European jurisprudence about proportionality has been echoed by our Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, the underlying context to that is that when deciding whether adoption is proportionate one has to be looking to what would happen or be likely to happen to the children at home.
In this particular case, the mother tried unsuccessfully to run a “Kenneth Williams defence” (Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me)
- The sad and worrying part about this case is that, between her decision and judgment in mid July 2013 and the outcome hearing which began in late November 2013, the district judge had deliberately afforded a significant period of time within which there could, amongst other matters, be an assessment of the mother by an expert in order to try to find out why she had injured her two children in the ways described. Unfortunately, the mother did not cooperate with, or properly participate in, that assessment and therefore it is not possible to know whether she injured the children as a result of manageable stress or some other force of circumstances which could be recognised and managed in the future, or whether she did so out of, frankly, callousness or brutality. Unfortunately, the reaction of the mother to these proceedings and to the fact finding decision of the district judge in July has effectively been one of almost total denial. Instead of acknowledging and facing up to what she had done and seeking help about it, the mother adopted what the district judge was later to describe as a “conspiracy theory”. She has said and continued to say that the allegations had been fabricated; hospital documents, including photographs of the injuries, faked or forged; and she has said even that the examining doctor at the hospital is a non-existent person.
The part of the appeal that I am going to focus on relates to the findings of harm, and the case run by the parents that even if those findings were correct, this was not the sort of harm that justified adoption. (In effect that there are two separate thresholds – “significant harm” in the context of s31 of the Children Act, but then the sort of significant harm which would make adoption a proportionate response). Almost certainly what was in their mind was the finding of the original judge that the injuries to the children had been ‘relatively minor’
- As I understand it from the judgment of the 7th January 2014, these children were living together with both their parents who were, and still are, themselves living together. In October 2012 the daughter, then aged three-and-a-quarter, said certain things at the children’s nursery which led to the children being examined first at the nursery and later at a nearby hospital. The hospital observed and recorded a number of scratches and other minor injuries on them, and the daughter gave what was described as “a vivid account” of how they had happened and blamed her mother. In the upshot, after the five-day hearing during June and July 2013, the judge concluded that the perpetrator of all the injuries was the mother. She concluded that the daughter had sustained nine minor injuries to her body, and the son had sustained five minor injuries to his body, all of which were caused non-accidentally. In other words, no less than 14 minor injuries, essentially scratches, had been deliberately caused to these two children by their mother. Additionally, and seemingly of even greater concern, the mother had caused two non-accidental -that is, deliberate – boot mark injuries to the shoulders of her daughter.
- The district judge herself very clearly acknowledged and recognised, as had the children’s guardian, that the injuries themselves were not of a serious kind nor requiring any medical treatment. She said, at paragraph 122 of her outcome judgment of the 7th January 2014:
“The injuries … were not very serious. They were relatively minor.”
And this is how the parents developed that argument
As proposed ground 6 of the proposed appeal (namely at paragraph 41 of their skeleton argument for today) Mr and Mrs Haines have argued that:
“This placement order is made as a result of injuries to [the girl] which were very much on the lower end of the scale, to the extent that they did not even require any medical treatment, and it is submitted that a placement order is a disproportionate response to such injuries.”
That is a point which Mrs Julie Haines further developed and submitted this afternoon. It does not, in my view, afford the slightest ground of appeal. First, as I have observed, the district judge herself was well aware that the injuries in question were not very serious and were relatively minor. Second, it is not actually correct to limit the injuries only to those to the daughter, for, as I have said, it clearly emerges from paragraph 9(1) of the outcome judgment that there were also five minor injuries to the son. So the picture here is of deliberate infliction of injury, albeit minor, to both children. Third, although overall the injuries may be described as “minor” they do include non-accidental, that is, deliberate, boot mark injuries to a girl who was at the material time aged about three. All this is evidence of a deliberately abusive attitude by a mother to both her young and vulnerable children.
And as you can see, Holman J, simply wasn’t convinced by that as a ground of appeal at all. IF Re B ever gets to the European Court of Human Rights, this issue might be revisited. For the time being, crossing the threshold is sufficient, without needing a two tier significant harm test (one for orders that involve the child not being permanently separated, and one for orders that do)