I had meant to write about this over the weekend, but the Muse just never came to me.
Re D 2014
Please read Allan’s excellent piece here
Basically it is a judgment by the President, building on Q v Q, and also the decision of Baker J in Re D. The case involved a child who was at home with parents under a Care Order – the LA felt it had gone wrong and removed the child. Baker J heard a case where the parents (the father lacked capacity) wanted to challenge that, and the only option seemed to be an application to Discharge the Care Order. Baker J found that the other option is an application under the Human Rights Act.
The parents did not qualify for legal aid as a result of LASPO, and thus were represented by counsel acting for free. Not ideal, because that is dependent on a man with learning difficulties (a) KNOWING that there’s something he can do and what it is and (b) convincing a lawyer to do the case for free for him.
Next, what happened was that the Local Authority decided that they were not going to rehabilitate the child to the parents care and a Judge agreed. Due to the age of the child, the alternative plan was adoption. The Local Authority applied for a Placement Order, which authorises the child to be placed for adoption.
You will recall all of the Court of Appeal decisions this last year about how serious an order adoption is, so of course, if a parent is facing a plan to adopt their child, they get free legal advice and representation to fight the case, right?
IF THE PLACEMENT ORDER application happens WITHIN care proceedings, the parent has free legal advice and representation to fight the case. BUT, if the Placement Order is a stand-alone application (i.e the Care Order has already been made) then they do not qualify automatically for legal aid.
Instead they rely on the Legal Aid Agency deciding that their case is exceptional and that their human rights would be breached if they were not represented. That’s the s10 LASPO powers that the LAA repeatedly fail to use, even when Judges tell them that if it is not used in a particular case it would breach the parents article 6 rights.
Even worse than that, because the father had no capacity, the Official Solicitor has to be invited to represent him. Without public funding, the Official Solicitor is potentially exposed to any costs order. So, in this case, the lawyers representing father (who, remember, aren’t earning a penny out of the case) had to give the Official Solicitor an INDEMNITY – a legally binding promise that if the Court eventually made a costs order against the father that the other sides costs be paid, those would be met by the lawyers out of their own pockets rather than by the Official Solicitor.
If you think that it might be tricky to find a lawyer to represent you for no payment, it is, but it is possible. But I’ve never heard before of a lawyer representing someone for no payment who also took on a financial risk of paying the other sides costs. These were extraordinary people.
So, the case got before the President, it being one of those case post Q v Q, where the Court might consider who should pay for the parents legal costs.
The judgment DOES NOT deal with the merits of the case, or why the child was removed, or whether adoption is right or wrong – it is purely dealing with whether a system that simultaneously says “Adoption is the most draconian order available in the law” and “you can’t have a lawyer to fight it, even if you can’t read” is a fair system.
In the circumstances as I have described them, the parents’ predicament is stark, indeed shocking, a word which I use advisedly but without hesitation.
31. Stripping all this down to essentials, what do the circumstances reveal?
i) The parents are facing, and facing because of a decision taken by an agent of the State, the local authority, the permanent loss of their child. What can be worse for a parent?
ii) The parents, because of their own problems, are quite unable to represent themselves: the mother as a matter of fact, the father both as a matter of fact and as a matter of law.
iii) The parents lack the financial resources to pay for legal representation.
iv) In these circumstances it is unthinkable that the parents should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation. To require them to do so would be unconscionable; it would be unjust; it would involve a breach of their rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the Convention; it would be a denial of justice.
(v) If his parents are not properly represented, D will also be prejudiced. He is entitled to a fair trial; he will not have a fair trial if his parents do not, for any distortion of the process may distort the outcome. Moreover, he is entitled to an appropriately speedy trial, for section 1(2) of the 1989 Act and section 1(3) of the 2002 Act both enjoin the court to bear in mind that in general any delay in coming to a decision is likely to prejudice the child’s welfare. So delay in arranging for the parents’ representation is likely to prejudice the child. Putting the point more generally, the court in a case such as this is faced with an inescapable, and in truth insoluble, tension between having to do justice to both the parents and the child, when at best it can do justice only to one and not the other and, at worst, and more probably, end up doing justice to neither.
vi) Thus far the State has simply washed its hands of the problem, leaving the solution to the problem which the State itself has created – for the State has brought the proceedings but declined all responsibility for ensuring that the parents are able to participate effectively in the proceedings it has brought – to the goodwill, the charity, of the legal profession. This is, it might be thought, both unprincipled and unconscionable. Why should the State leave it to private individuals to ensure that the State is not in breach of the State’s – the United Kingdom’s – obligations under the Convention? As Baker J said in the passage I have already quoted, “It is unfair that legal representation in these vital cases is only available if the lawyers agree to work for nothing.”
The President very neatly identifies the problem, but is there a solution? (well, there’s an immediate one – declare s10 LASPO incompatible with article 6 – it is not being implemented as it is written, and in any practical sense it is now incompatible. Also the schedule in LASPO that does not provide for Placement Orders to attract non-means non-merit funding is incompatible with article 6)
We’re not going down that route yet though. Instead, the President keeps inviting the knuckle-heads who have got us into this mess to come up with a solution.
- What then is the appropriate way forward?
- If legal aid is not available for the parents then I need to explore whether there is some other public pocket to which the court can have resort to avoid the problem. There are, in theory, three other possible sources of public funding. As I said in
- Q v Q  EWFC 7, para 18:
“In a public law case where the proceedings are brought by a local authority, one can see a possible argument that failing all else the local authority should have to pay. In a case … where one party is publicly funded … it is, I suppose, arguable that, if this is the only way of achieving a just trial, the costs of the proceedings should be thrown on the party which is in receipt of public funds. It is arguable that, failing all else, and bearing in mind that the court is itself a public authority subject to the duty to act in a Convention compliant way, if there is no other way of achieving a just and fair hearing, then the court must itself assume the financial burden, as for example the court does in certain circumstances in funding the cost of interpreters.”
I continued (para 19):
“May I be very clear? I am merely identifying possible arguments. None of these arguments may in the event withstand scrutiny. Each may dissolve as a mirage. But it seems to me that these are matters which required to be investigated”.
The need for such investigation in the present case is, if anything, even more pressing than in
Q v Q.
I have accordingly directed that there be a further hearing at which, assuming that the parents still do not have legal aid, I shall decide whether or not their costs are to be funded by one, or some, or all of (listing them in no particular order) the local authority, as the public authority bringing the proceedings, the legal aid fund, on the basis that D’s own interests require an end to the delay and a process which is just and Convention compliant, or Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, on the basis that the court is a public authority required to act in a Convention compliant manner.
Copies of this judgment, and of the order I made following the hearing on 8 October 2014, will accordingly be sent to the Lord Chancellor, the Legal Aid Agency, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, inviting each of them to intervene in the proceedings to make such submissions as they may think appropriate. If they choose not to intervene, I shall proceed on the basis of the conclusions expressed in this judgment, in particular as I have set them out in paragraph 31.
In the meantime, bear in mind that any plan of the child being at home with a parent, or with a relative under a Care Order carries huge risks for all involved.
The parent may find themselves, if all goes wrong, faced with a removal that they haven’t got legal aid to fight, and a Placement Order application that they haven’t got legal aid to fight.
And a Local Authority may find themselves, depending on the outcome of the next stage, facing the prospect of paying parents lawyers to litigate against them in a future application for a Placement Order if it all goes wrong.
[I have a loophole solution to this, which I am happy to share with any lawyer who contacts me – I’m not going to put the solution up online to tip off the LAA as to the loophole though]