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Crime and care

 

This was an appeal decision, which really arose from the Court in care proceedings making findings that sexual abuse allegations against a father were proven (and then making Care Orders and Placement Orders) and the criminal trial then going down the route that the allegations were concocted and the jury unanimously acquitting the father.

The father applied for a re-hearing of the care proceedings.  As part of that re-hearing, it was vital to see exactly what the Judge in the criminal proceedings had said as part of his summing up to the jury before their acquittal. That information was very slow in coming forward and the Judge in the care proceedings refused father’s application for an adjournment to get that evidence.

 

Thus resulting in the summary of this case being :-

Appeal against refusal of an application for an adjournment of an application made by the appellant father for a re-hearing of care proceedings. Appeal dismissed.   {via Family Lore}

John Bolch at Family Lore managed to compress the nub of the appeal into a very short space, with remarkable economy.

Re U (Children) 2015  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/334.html

 

[I have to say that I don’t entirely agree with the Court of Appeal on this one. I’m not saying that I would necessarily have overturned the original findings, but I would have wanted to see exactly what the Judge in the criminal Court directed the jury, and probably the transcripts of evidence in the criminal case before deciding whether this was important fresh evidence]

In the care proceedings, there had been a number of allegations including of physical abuse, but the allegation in question was of a sexual nature.  The parents case was that these allegations were false and had been put into the child’s mind by a community worker named Raj.

 

  1. The final category of allegation made by ZU alone, was that she had been sexually abused by her father. The judge made findings set out in the schedule in relation to 4 occasions of attempted rape or sexual abuse. In addition to evidence of ZU and the parents, the court also heard evidence in relation to the sexual abuse allegations from a Miss Y and also from a community worker known as Raj.
  2. Raj was a community worker who became involved with the family around the 25 May 2013. It was a short lived connection as Raj and the parents fell out and he was no longer welcome in the family home by the 7 June 2013. It was to Raj that ZU made her first allegation on the 11 June 2013 and it was Raj who supported ZU when she reported the matter to the Social Services and thereafter to the police on the 21 June 2013. This was the extent of his involvement, he gave no evidence in relation to the events surrounding the physical abuse, nor could he.
  3. The focus in both the care proceedings (in relation to ZU’s allegations of sexual abuse) and the subsequent criminal proceedings, was as to whether Raj was a malign and dishonest influence, who encouraged a vulnerable girl to make false allegations against her father in revenge for his having been slighted by them. The reason it was said that ZU would have been susceptible to such influence, was her own desire to see her parents separate and to punish her father for being too strict and not allowing her enough freedom.
  4. In the care proceedings the judge concluded that Raj was an honest and hardworking member of the Tamil community. He regarded Raj’s evidence as much more reliable than that of the parents in relation to the circumstances in which their relationship broke down. In this, he said, he was supported by the evidence of the social worker in relation to issues of timing and ZU in relation to the influence that he exerted over her. The judge found as a fact that Raj did not use his position, such as it was, to persuade ZU to tell lies because the family had slighted him.
  1. Evidence was given by Miss Y on behalf of the parents; Miss Y alleged that Raj had shown photos of young girls of a sexual nature, and that she had heard that Raj had acted towards the mother in a sexual way. The judge regarded Miss Y as “utterly unconvincing witness” clearly “partial and biased”. He did not accept her evidence and believed it likely that she had been “put up to it by the father or someone on the father’s behalf”.
  2. Accordingly the judge, having analysed various inconsistencies that he had identified in the girls’ evidence and considered reasons why ZU might have made up the allegations, concluded that they were true and accordingly made the findings.

The Judge in the care proceedings thus went on to make findings of fact that ZU had been sexually abused by the father.

There were, as I said earlier, other issues that went to threshold, including a finding that the children had been hit

 

The judge heard extensive oral evidence including (via video-link), evidence from ZU and AU. At the conclusion of the trial the judge made findings of physical and emotional abuse, and domestic violence. The findings of physical abuse made by the judge are summarised in a schedule presented to the court for the purposes of this hearing and include ZU and BU being assaulted by their father, he having beaten them with a wooden implement on 23 April 2013. This beating left ZU with, amongst other injuries, an area of severe bruising of 17 cm x 8 cm on her left forearm. Overall the judge concluded:

“Prior to the incident on the 23 April 2013, all members of the household (including all of the children, the mother and the paternal grandmother) had frequently been subjected to physical abuse by the father. The abuse against ZU, AU, the mother and the paternal grandmother was sometimes very serious. The abuse against ZU, AU and the grandmother included the use of implements at times. The physical abuse against BU was less serious and not very often, the abuse against the twins including them being smacked on their bottoms and on a few occasions they were hit when the father was hitting the mother or other members of the family who were then holding the children.”

The judge also found that the mother would on occasion, physically chastise the children, sometimes on the father’s instruction. The judge made the inevitable finding that the mother had failed to protect the children.

 

But, staying with ZU’s allegations of sexual abuse, the Judge in the care proceedings had concluded that the parents explanation that Raj had concocted these allegations and put them in ZU’s mind was not correct.

 

By the time the criminal proceedings took place, two months later, the mother, father, ZU and Raj all gave evidence and the father was acquitted of the sexual abuse allegations.

He then made an application for a re-hearing of the care proceedings, on the basis of what had happened during the criminal proceedings.

“5. It is understood that at the criminal trial of the father before HHJ Saggerson sitting with the jury ZU admitted under cross examination that she had only made allegations of sexual abuse against her father after she had met Raj and commenced a relationship with him. It is understood that she accepted her motivation had been to take revenge on her father as she desired that her parents separate. HHJ Saggerson directed the jury on the basis that there were many inconsistencies in the evidence given by ZU and that further the evidence of Raj could not be relied upon. The jury returned a unanimous verdict of “not guilty” and the father was acquitted.”

Remember that the criminal court is applying a higher standard of proof   [What most people still think of as ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ but is actually now to convict the juror must be persuaded ‘so that they are sure’ in percentage terms probably high 80s, if not 90s]  rather than the civil standard of proof in care proceedings [more likely than not – i.e 50.01% or more]

 

But this seemed to be more than a Judge just indicating that it was impossible to be sure, and verging towards an indication that the evidence of Raj and ZU was such that it would be unsafe to rely on it due to the flaws in it.

When considering the father’s application for re-hearing then, the substance of what the criminal Judge had said was vital.

  1. The local authority did not accept the accuracy of this summary in the absence of a transcript of the evidence or summing up. Accordingly when the matter came back before HHJ Wilding on the 27 October 2014, the application was adjourned by consent until 12 December 2014 to allow a transcript to be obtained. The order made by the judge on the 27 October 2014 contained a number of recitals including:

    And the court expresses the view that a transcript of the summing up by HHJ Saggerson in the trial of R v KU would assist the court in determining the issues.

  2. The matter came on before the judge on 12 December 2014, when unhappily, but perhaps predictably, the transcript remained unavailable notwithstanding that the requisite application form had been sent to the Crown Court by the proposed appellant’s solicitors some weeks previously.

 

On 12th December then, the father asked for an adjourment to get this evidence. The Court refused the adjournment and went on to consider the father’s application for a re-hearing in the absence of that evidence.

  1. The inevitable application for a further adjournment was made on behalf of the appellant in order for the transcript to be obtained. The application was opposed by both the local authority and the guardian, although supported by the mother. The judge refused the application for a further adjournment and set out his reasons in an extempore judgment. He then went on to hear the substantive application for a rehearing, which he refused for reasons to be given at a later date.

    The Refusal of the Adjournment

  2. The judge, as he identified in his extempore judgement, was faced with balancing two rival issues saying:

    “[8] Clearly there are a number of competing issues here. There is the need to ensure justice to the father and the mother and the children. There is a need to have finality in respect of the proceedings generally, but in relation to children particularly and to avoid delay. It is not I confess, an easy decision to make weighing up each of those factors.”

  3. The judge then weighed up, on the one hand the detriment to the welfare of the children in the event of further delay and on the other, the prejudice to the father if his ability to make an effective application for a rehearing was undermined by the denial of a further adjournment.

 

Of course, in a practical sense, the delay for the children still occurred, since the decision was appealed, and the appeal Court didn’t hear the case until mid March. It might have been a far less disruptive delay to have waited until mid January to actually get the transcript of the Judge’s summing up…

 

The Court of Appeal accepted that any decision made by the Judge hearing that application would be imperfect.

  1. When the judge heard the application for an adjournment on 12 December 2014, it was already 19 months since proceedings had been issued and over 5 months since the placement orders had been made. Had the judge allowed the adjournment, it was anticipated that it would be something in the region of 5 months from the date of the making of the application, until the next case management hearing, (just a little under the statutory time limit for the whole of a care case from beginning to end). It was accepted by Counsel that if he were to succeed in his ultimate goal to set aside the findings of sexual abuse, there would thereafter be further substantial delay for these children; the summing up when obtained would not be evidence in itself but would provide a pointer as to which, if any, transcripts of evidence from the criminal proceedings should be obtained for consideration by the court in determining the father’s application.
  2. In the event that the judge, having examined the transcripts of evidence ultimately allowed the case to be reopened, further delay would ensue as many months would inevitably pass before a retrial of the sexual abuse allegations could be accommodated. The judge was only too well aware that the two younger children, settled in their adoptive placement, were developing the attachments vital to their future well being, and that their prospective adoptive parents would be living with the near intolerable strain brought about by the protracted uncertainty as to the children’s future; strain which would necessarily impact on the family environment to the detriment of the children.
  3. The older children too were, and would be, further affected by delay. They were in foster care, still connected to their family and living with the uncertainty of whether the case had come to an end or whether, in AU’s case, she might have to give evidence again.
  4. If delay sat heavily on one side of the scales, on the other side was the prejudice to the father if he were unable to draw upon what he asserted to be the evidence in the criminal proceedings; evidence which it was submitted on his behalf, had led to an acquittal and which notwithstanding the differing standard of proof applicable in the two jurisdictions, significantly undermined the findings made in the care proceedings. The care judge recognised that there was little the father could do to further his application without more than the assertions he was putting forward as to the content of the summing up.
  5. The judge frankly recognised the difficulties inherent in whichever decision he reached, but a decision had to be made. This was a classic example of a case where any decision made by the judge would be “imperfect”.

 

With that in mind, the Court of Appeal considered that there had been a proper balancing exercise about the pros and cons of the father’s application for an adjournment and the Judge was right to refuse it

  1. In my judgment the judge was entitled to conclude that the balance lay in favour of refusing the application for a further adjournment. He properly identified the competing arguments and weighed each one up briefly but with care. He clearly had at the forefront of his mind the importance of the application and the potential prejudice to the father’s case which would result from a refusal. The judge had had the advantage of conducting a lengthy trial and of making his own assessment of the parties prior to making the findings of fact to the civil standard of proof. He appropriately considered the father’s case at its highest and properly bore in mind the other extensive findings, which were unaffected by the criminal trial and which were in themselves serious, before concluding that the further substantial delay which would be occasioned by a further adjournment could not be countenanced in the interests of the children.
  2. In my judgment the judge conducted the appropriate balancing exercise and reached a conclusion which cannot be categorised as wrong and accordingly I would dismiss Grounds 1–3 of the Grounds of Appeal which relate to the refusal to adjourn.

 

[It is really hard for me to put out of my mind that the reason father’s case was prejudiced here was not due to any inaction on his part or those acting for him, but on the delays in the Court process of obtaining a transcript that was so vitally important. The Court of Appeal have remarked many times on how slow the transcription of judgments for appeals has been and how the system gets bogged down. Here, that transcript was not just an informative document but a piece of evidence that the father was deprived of making use of, because the system is so unfit for purpose. That leaves a very bad taste in my mouth]

 

Having lost the argument that the application for an adjournment should have been granted rather than refused, the father was inevitably going to lose the second part of his appeal that the re-hearing should have been ordered.

  1. Application for a rehearing
  2. By Ground 5 the father seeks to appeal the judge’s dismissal of the substantive application for a rehearing pursuant to s31F(6) Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984.
  3. In considering this application the judge made his decision by reference to the test found in Re ZZ, (Children)(Care Proceedings: Review of Findings) [2014] EWFC 9;[2015] 1WLR 95, an approach which was not resisted by any of the parties. Re ZZ adopts a three part test first propounded by Charles J in Birmingham City Council v H and Others and adopted by the President in Re ZZ at [12] as:

    …Firstly the court considers whether it will permit any reconsideration or review of or challenge to the earlier finding…If it does the second and third stages relate to its approach to the exercise. The second stage relates to, and determines, the extent of the investigations and evidence concerning the review. The third stage is the hearing of the review and thus it is at this stage that the court decides the extent to which the earlier finding stands by applying the relevant tests to the circumstances then found to exist

  4. In considering the first stage the President said [33]

    ……one does not get beyond the first stage unless there is some real reason to believe that the earlier findings require revisiting. Mere speculation and hope are not enough. There must be solid grounds for challenge. But for my part I would be disinclined to set the test any higher.

  5. The judge explained that there was no evidence to support the father’s submission other than his own assertions about what had happened at the trial The judge’s decision to refuse to permit a reconsideration of the findings of sexual abuse did not rely exclusively on the absence of the availability of the summary of evidence that the father had hoped would be found within the summing up. The judge concluded there were no grounds, let alone solid grounds, for revisiting his findings. The judge pointed to the fact that he had seen and heard all the witnesses and that he was alert to the father’s case that ZU had ulterior motives for making the allegations. In relation to the criminal trial, the judge observed that even had the judge conducting the criminal trial said that which the father alleged he had in the summing up, care proceedings are conducted to a different standard of proof. The judge alluded also to the likelihood there was significantly more surrounding evidence available to the him as the judge in the care proceedings than that put before the jury in the criminal proceedings; an observation accepted on behalf of the father.
  6. Not only did the judge unequivocally conclude that the first limb of the test was not satisfied, but he referred to the other serious findings of physical and emotional abuse and domestic violence saying There is no suggestion… that those findings would not stand against the father, and indeed the mother. Finally the judge concluded that even had the father passed the first test in Re ZZ, there would be no reason for further investigation as there was more than adequate material which is unchallenged, to found the making of the orders that have been made in respect of each of the children.
  7. I agree with the analysis of the judge, who was well aware that his decision meant that the father would be unable to challenge the findings of sexual abuse. Given the totality of the unimpeachable findings and the need for finality in the interest of these four damaged children, I cannot see upon what basis the court could conclude that the earlier findings need revisiting in order for a court to reach the right decision in the interests of the children.
  8. I would accordingly dismiss the father’s appeal in relation to the substantive application for a rehearing of the finding of fact hearing.

 

I personally think that if the father had been able to obtain a transcript from the criminal trial showing that an experienced Judge had seen ZU and Raj crumble under forensic examination and shown themselves to be unreliable witnesses who had concocted this story and more importantly that ZU had accepted in her evidence that she HAD fabricated the allegations, that would have been enough to meet the test.

Of course, it might be that the transcript would, if obtained, fall substantially short of that. Perhaps father was over-stating it. Perhaps he was completely right. We will never know. It doesn’t seem that it even materialised for the Court of Appeal hearing.

Have the Courts here really upheld the father’s article 6 right to fair trial? Given that father was deprived of the key piece of evidence not because he was dilatory or hapless, but because the Court system for getting a vital transcript was so hopeless.

Well, they have upheld his Article 6 rights , because the Court of Appeal say so. But I haven’t read many Court of Appeal decisions that made me feel so squirmy and uncomfortable  (Cheshire West in Court of Appeal  was the last one I felt like this about)

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About suesspiciousminds

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

9 responses

  1. HOW can this decision be even remotely proportional?
    This is dysfunctional on so many levels.
    The ongoing and deliberately fragmentary instead of holistic nature of care proceedings is at root here. Why couldn’t the interim care orders simply be renewed monthly until the criminal trial judge’s summation was properly disclosed to the father’s representatives? This family’s access to justice has been categorically denied when it mattered most by a family court which has dragged itself into disrepute by over-egging the pudding – both at first instance and at appeal. HOW have these judges done right by this father and his family as citizens of the Crown and as stipulated in their Judicial Oath of Office? I hope they take it further …

    • I think sadly once in a while you get a case where the correct answer legally speaking does not correspond with the correct answer that most people would suggest applying basic fairness. This is one of them. I honestly don’t know whether the original decision to make Care Orders and Placement Orders would have still been made if the Judge at the time had known that ZU would go on to admit in a criminal trial that she had made up the allegations of sexual abuse, but it seems to me a question that needed more consideration than was given to it here.

      If the father was over-egging the pudding and his acquittal was more of a technical nature, then at least get the transcript and find that out. If what he says was accurate, then it does need a proper analysis.

      I wonder whether when the adoption application is made, this amounts to a change of circumstances for the test, giving dad a second bite at it, hopefully with the transcript this time. I wouldn’t think that he has much hope of appealing the Court of Appeal (I don’t think that they were wrong in law, rather I think that they didn’t really balance fairness sufficiently)

  2. Heaven 17 – (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang

    • No Andrew, rather than a solitary instance this is symptomatic of a dysfunctional system unfit for purpose. I’m appalled at the relative ease whereby this family’s legal rights have been extinguished severing the birth bonds and at the David and Goliath predicament that they’re now in which happens far too often.

      It’s common sense that a fair trial is predicated on access to justice which itself is based on EFFECTIVE legal representation, obviously going to the interplay of Art. 6 taken with Art. 8, as consistently upheld by the ECtHR, yet here a fair trial has been denied and flouted at a critical time in the care proceedings using unreliable and shaky so-called evidence, which has had the effect of rendering the whole family’s established family life and human rights merely ‘theoretical and illusory’. As such, arguably the Final Care Order is itself void ab initio.

      What’s annoying is WHY the father’s legal representatives DIDN’T request an Adjournment pending due disclosure of the criminal trial transcript at the Final Hearing in the care proceedings and then simply walk out and Appeal any refusal? There is a cancer of OVER-ZEALOUSNESS in the British family court system afflicting social services, lawyers and judges alike which ultimately destroys the very vulnerable families they’re beholden to help.

      Recurring instances like this case regularly leave UK Family Law incompatible with the ECtHR – sticking out like a sore thumb compared to our more restrained European neighbours who actually implement real balances and checks in practice to ensure non-consensual adoption is restricted for only when nothing else will do.

  3. Seems little mention here of Article 8 which surely is breached if the allegations/ findings are untrue……How can an adoption be fast forwarded in such a crude manner?…… I am suprised Article 8 wasn’t pleaded with the intensity needed…..correct and complete information comes to mind among other facets.

  4. Ashamed to be British

    The natural rules of justice say – decision makers must take into account all evidence that may lead to a different decision.

    Maybe the Judge had already made his decision on the basis of the physical punishment rendering the criminal proceedings useless anyway, however, this is not made clear

    • I think that must play a part, but it is hard to say that the sexual abuse allegations did not factor into the disposal of the case – when deciding whether the risks are manageable in the future, one has to know what the risks are.

  5. No conviction, no crime. What else is there to argue? Give the children back. And adoptions should be reversible.

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