Not children’s parties, as in the woman who sent some parents an invoice for failure to attend at her child’s party at a dry ski slope resort.
This is the Court of Appeal setting out whether children who are the subjects of an order can appeal that order, or be made a party to the appeal.
RE M (Republic of Ireland) (Child’s objections) (Joinder of children as parties to appeal) 2015
(The Republic of Ireland bit only refers to the country where the children were being ordered to return to – this is a classic Article 13 Hague Convention piece of litigation, and the principles apply across the board)
The Court of Appeal indicate a degree of growing tired of appeals about article 13 and indeed Brussels II, and I have to say that I feel their pain.
- In cases under the1980 Hague Convention, speed is of the essence. The object of the Convention is to return abducted children as soon as possible to their home country, restoring the status quo and enabling the courts there to determine whatever disputes there are about their future upbringing. The longer the time that elapses following a wrongful removal or retention, the more difficult it becomes to return the child. In recognition of this, judgment is expected to be given no later than 6 weeks after the commencement of the proceedings (see Article 11(3) of Brussels IIa (Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 of 27 November 2003, hereafter simply “Brussels IIa”) and Article 11 of the 1980 Convention. The procedure adopted is summary.
- It may be thought paradoxical that a summary procedure such as this should have generated the quantity of jurisprudence that the 1980 Convention has. Over the years there have been many technical and sophisticated legal arguments about how its terms should be interpreted and a significant number of appeals.
- Technicality of this sort gets in the way of the objectives of the Convention. In Re P-J (Children)  EWCA Civ 588 1 WLR 1237, Wilson LJ (as he then was) observed, “Nowadays not all law can be simple law; but the best law remains simple law.” In recent times, it has become increasingly apparent that the law relating to child’s objections under Article 13 of the Convention, as it is presently perceived to be, is far from simple law. To judge by the number of applications to the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal on this point, it is not at all easy to put into practice. Does this have to be the case?
There were two major rows in this appeal. The first was whether a previously decided case, Re T (which indicated that if a child did object to a move, that would probably be determinative of the application) was now wrong, in the light of the principles arising from the Supreme Court that children as young as 6 could voice an objection – and the Court of Appeal decided that Re T doesn’t really stand up any more on that point – the child’s objection is one of the range of factors to be considered but is not determinative of the application.
The second was whether the children, who manifestly were objecting but the original trial judge had held were not, could be parties to the appeal or even bring an appeal.
The Court of Appeal decided that children CAN appeal or be joined and also give some practical guidance.
- There was no dispute that there was binding Court of Appeal authority establishing that the children could in principle be permitted to bring their own appeal, even though they had not been parties in the court below, see for example George Wimpey Ltd v Tewkesbury Borough Council  1 WLR 1649, referred to in Re LC by Lord Wilson at §11. Neither was there any dispute that they could be joined as parties for the first time at the appeal stage of proceedings. However, the procedural framework for their participation is possibly somewhat deficient.
- The FPR 2010 deal comprehensively with the participation of children in proceedings but it was agreed between the parties that when the question of the participation of a child arises for the first time at the Court of Appeal stage, it is not the FPR 2010 which apply but the CPR 1998, which do not cover the ground as thoroughly.
- I have already referred to Rule 16.2 FPR which provides that the court may only make a child a party if it considers that it is in the child’s best interests to do so. There is no equivalent provision in the CPR. Rule 19.1 and 19.2 CPR provide:
“19.1 Any number of claimants or defendants may be joined as parties to a claim.
19.2 (1) This rule applies where a party is to be added or substituted except where the case falls within rule 19.5 (special provisions about changing parties after the end of a relevant limitation period).
(2) The court may order a person to be added as a new party if –
(a) it is desirable to add the new party so that the court can resolve all the matters in dispute in the proceedings; or
(b) there is an issue involving the new party and an existing party which is connected to the matters in dispute in the proceedings, and it is desirable to add the new party so that the court can resolve that issue.
(3) The court may order any person to cease to be a party if it is not desirable for that person to be a party to the proceedings.
(4) The court may order a new party to be substituted for an existing one if –
(a) the existing party’s interest or liability has passed to the new party; and
(b) it is desirable to substitute the new party so that the court can resolve the matters in dispute in the proceedings.”
- Rule 52.1 defines “appellant” and “respondent” for the purposes of part 52 as follows:
“(d) ‘appellant’ means a person who brings or seeks to bring an appeal;
(e) ‘respondent’ means –
(i) a person other than the appellant who was a party to the proceedings in the lower court and who is affected by the appeal; and
(ii) a person who is permitted by the appeal court to be a party to the appeal;”
It includes no guidance at all as to when a person should be permitted by the appeal court to be a party to the appeal, let alone any guidance tailored to the situation of a child who wishes to participate. This does not mean, in my view, that welfare considerations are irrelevant to the decision whether to join the child; they are, as I observed in Re LC, “by no means out of place”. But they are not necessarily determinative and there is no best interests threshold such as there is in the FPR. Although not strictly applicable, I see no reason why regard should not be had to the guidance provided in Practice Direction 16A of the FPR to the extent that it may prove useful in the rather different circumstances of the Court of Appeal and the specialist sphere of Hague Convention proceedings. Lord Wilson referred to it at §§50 et seq of Re LC and I will not rehearse it further here.
- Neither is there any equivalent in the CPR to the provisions of the FPR which require or permit a guardian to be appointed for a child. It may be that the provision in CPR Rule 52.10(1) whereby, in relation to an appeal, the Court of Appeal has all the powers of the lower court, would provide a basis for the appointment of a guardian. But that does not arise for decision in this case. Adequate protection for the child’s interests on an appeal can generally be achieved in any event by means of a litigation friend appointed in accordance with Part 21 CPR.
- Part 21 CPR deals with children and protected parties. A ‘child’ means a person under 18 years of age (Rule 21.1(2)(b)). Rule 21.2(2) provides that a child must have a litigation friend to conduct proceedings on his behalf unless the court makes an order under Rule 21.2(3) permitting the child to conduct the proceedings without. Rule 21.2(4) provides that an application for an order under Rule 21.2(3) can be made by the child. If the child already has a litigation friend, it must be made on notice to the litigation friend but may otherwise be made without notice. The court may appoint a litigation friend by order (Rule 21.6). Alternatively, Rules 21.4 and 21.5 deal with becoming a litigation friend without an order.
- The functions of a guardian are well understood by family practitioners and are set out in the FPR. CAFCASS guardians (often with a social work background) are the most familiar guardians but they are not the only type. Lord Wilson observed in Re LC that, had Cobb J made T a party to the first instance proceedings in that case, she would have been required to act by a guardian but that such a status might have been conferred on her solicitor. He also observed (§55) that the grant of party status to a child leaves the court with a wide discretion to determine the extent of the role which he or she should play in the proceedings. He explained the sort of involvement he would have contemplated had T been a party and said that it would have been for her guardian to decide which of the documents filed in the proceedings should be shown to T.
- The functions of a litigation friend are no doubt fully understood in the usual civil context in which the system operates although the researches of counsel did not produce any authorities to enlighten us further about how they actually carry out their functions or as to the principles that the court should apply when deciding whether to order that a litigation friend is not necessary. How a litigation friend is to function in the very different environment of an appeal in a Hague Convention case is rather more opaque. No guidance is to be found about that.
- Fortunately, this area of work is well served by very experienced solicitors who are familiar with these sorts of proceedings and extremely capable of looking after the interests of the children affected by them. In this case, the solicitor for J and D was appointed as their litigation friend and appears to have been able to discharge that role efficiently and without encountering any difficulties in practice. This sort of arrangement may often commend itself where the question of joining children at the appeal stage arises.
- Children need to know that their views are being listened to and that their particular concerns are not being lost in the argument between their parents but it must be recognised that direct participation in proceedings can be harmful for children. As Lord Wilson said in §48 of Re LC, “[t]he intrusion of the children into the forensic arena….can prove very damaging to family relationships even in the long term and definitely affects their interests”. I therefore contemplate that it may be necessary for a litigation friend to guide and regulate the child’s own participation in the proceedings, just as a guardian would. He or she will no doubt determine which documents filed in the proceedings should be shown to the child and take decisions, in consultation with the child, about whether the child should attend the court hearing. In the very unlikely event that an intractable issue arises between the litigation friend and the child, there may be no alternative but to ask the court to give directions, but I would expect such a situation to be extremely rare. What I do not think a litigation friend can do is provide a welfare assessment for the court in relation to the child as a guardian would do. However, where the litigation friend is the child’s solicitor, as I anticipate will be so in the vast majority of cases, he or she will no doubt assess the case and guide and support the child in their approach to the litigation, as any solicitor would do for an adult client.
Just in case you were thinking that a door has been opened here, the Court of Appeal try to close it, just like you might if you open your door on a Sunday just as Sky Super Sunday is about to begin only to find two well-dressed people wanting to talk to you about Jesus. The door might still be technically open, but there’s no way that anyone is feeling like there is a welcome invitation to come in and break Jammy Dodgers with you.
I end this section of my judgment with a cautionary note. It should not be expected that an application for children to be involved in proceedings, either as appellants or as respondents, for the first time in the Court of Appeal will be received sympathetically. By the time the matter reaches the Court of Appeal, it is usually far too late in the day to address this sort of issue. I have said several times already, and make no apology for saying again, that this needs to be thought of at the very outset of the proceedings. As to how an application made at that stage may fare, nothing that I have said in this judgment is intended to affect the existing jurisprudence on the subject.