Readers of the blog may be familiar with Mostyn J’s continuing battle to have the Supreme Court change their mind about the deprivation of liberty test set down in Cheshire West, and failing that to simply disagree with their decision at every opportunity.
In this particular case, Rochdale had asked Mostyn J to authorise a care plan for a person lacking capacity that clearly amounted, on the Cheshire West test to a deprivation of liberty.
At the first hearing, Mostyn J told everyone that Cheshire West was nonsense (politely and judicially and intellectually, but that was the gist) and that the person was not being deprived of their liberty and thus there was no need to authorise it.
The case was appealed, and rather unusually, by the time that it got to the Court of Appeal EVERYONE agreed that the Mostyn J judgment should be overturned and that the person was being deprived of their liberty. The Court of Appeal approved a consent order to that effect but did not give a judgment explaining why Mostyn J had been wrong (perhaps wrongly thinking that where everyone agreed the Judge was wrong and that he had gone against a clear Supreme Court decision with which he did not agree but was not able to distinguish the instant case from, that it was somewhat plain)
It went back to Mostyn J to authorise or not, the deprivation of liberty. However, he declined and took everyone, including the Court of Appeal to task and said that a consent order without a judgment was not binding on him. And thus did not reach the point of authorising the deprivation, but instead set down a hearing to be conducted by himself as to whether there was a deprivation of liberty at all.
Incredibly bravely (but rightly), the parties appealed THAT, and the Court of Appeal determined it.
[Previous blog on Round 3 of this peculiar litigation is here https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/03/16/mostyn-powers/ ]
So, by way of catch-up here, in this one case, Mostyn J disagreed with the Supreme Court, then when the Court of Appeal disagreed with him, he disagreed with them. And now the Court of Appeal disagree with him again.
In the midst of all of this, are some real people with real problems to resolve, and a lot of taxpayers money being spent.
KW and Others v Rochdale MBC 2015
The Court of Appeal pull no punches whatsoever. In fact I understand that this was very much what it looked like when the Master of the Rolls removed his gloves after the judgment
But first, the technical part of the appeal – if the Court of Appeal approve a consent order overturning the decision of the original Judge but don’t give a judgment, is the case actually overturned? (I understand that this is actually one of the lesser known and unpopular Zen koans)
The grounds of appeal from the second judgment
- The principal ground of appeal is that the judge misinterpreted the consent order when he said that the Court of Appeal had not decided that KW was being deprived of her liberty.
- We accept that (i) nowhere does the order explicitly state that there was a deprivation of liberty; and (ii) the use in para 2 of the order of the words “to the extent that the restrictions in place pursuant to the Care Plan are a deprivation of KW’s liberty, such liberty is hereby authorised” might suggest that the court was not deciding that the restrictions were in fact a deprivation of liberty. But read in their context, that is clearly not the correct interpretation for at least two reasons. First, para 2 must be read in the light of para 1, which governs the whole order. Para 1 states that the appeal is allowed. The remaining paragraphs set out the court’s directions consequential upon the allowing of the appeal. When read together with section 6 of the notice of appeal, the order that the appeal was allowed necessarily involved the court deciding that KW’s care package does involve a deprivation of liberty. The words “to the extent that” etc are perhaps unfortunate, but they cannot detract from what allowing the appeal necessarily entailed. These words were derived from para 11 of the Model Re X Order which had been published on the Court of Protection website and which practitioners had been encouraged to use. We were told by counsel that this form of words is not universally used. We understand that the form of words more often used is along the lines of: “P is deprived of his or her liberty as a result of arrangements in the Care Plan and these are lawful”. This is undoubtedly preferable to the earlier version.
- Secondly, para 2 must also be read in the light of the consequential orders set out at paras 3 to 5 of the consent order. The reviews there provided for are clearly reviews of the kind contemplated where there is a deprivation of liberty.
- It follows that the judge was wrong to hold that it had not been decided by this court that KW was being detained by the state within the terms of article 5. The appeal must, therefore, be allowed.
Was the consent order made ultra vires?
- Was the judge right to say that the Court of Appeal took “a procedurally impermissible route” so that its decision was “ultra vires”? It is important that we comment on this statement in view of the general importance of the point and the fact that the judge’s comments have apparently given rise to considerable degree of public interest. We acknowledge that, despite these comments, the judge did say that the rule of law depends on first instance judges “complying scrupulously with decisions and orders from appellate courts”. And, as we have said, that is what he purported to do.
- An order of any court is binding until it is set aside or varied. This is consistent with principles of finality and certainty which are necessary for the administration of justice: R (on the application of Lunn) v Governor of Moorland Prison  EWCA Civ 700,  1 WLR 2870, at ; Serious Organised Crime Agency v O’Docherty (also known as Mark Eric Gibbons) and another  EWCA Civ 518 at . Such an order would still be binding even if there were doubt as to the court’s jurisdiction to make the order: M v Home Office  UKHL 5;  1 AC 377 at 423; Isaacs v Robertson  AC 97 at 101-103. It is futile and, in our view, inappropriate for a judge, who is called upon to give effect to an order of a higher court which is binding on him, to seek to undermine that order by complaining that it was ultra vires or wrong for any other reason.
- In any event, the judge was wrong to say that the consent order was ultra vires because it was made by a procedurally impermissible route.
- The issue turns on the true construction of para 6.4 of PD 52A. Rule 52.11 provides that the appeal court will allow an appeal where the decision of the lower court (a) was wrong or (b) was unjust because of a serious procedural or other irregularity in the proceedings of the lower court. It is concerned with the “hearing of appeals” which is done by way of a review or, in certain circumstances, a re-hearing. What is envisaged by rule 52.11 is a hearing which leads to a decision on the merits. To use the language of the first sentence of para 6.4 of the practice direction, this is what an appellate court normally does when allowing an appeal.
- The use of the word “normally” in this sentence presages a departure from rule 52.11 in specified circumstances. The word “normally” followed by the use of the word “however” in the following sentence makes it clear that what follows specifies the circumstances in which the court may depart from the norm. The second sentence states that the court may set aside or vary the order of the lower court without determining the merits of the appeal, but only if (i) the parties consent and (ii) the court is satisfied that there are good and sufficient reasons for taking this course. That such a decision will be made on paper is clear from the heading to para 6.4 and the words of the third sentence. It is true that the second sentence speaks of setting aside or varying the order under appeal, whereas the first sentence (faithful to rule 52.11) speaks of allowing an appeal. But we do not consider that there is any significance in this difference of language. Rule 52.10 provides inter alia that the appeal court has power to “(2)(a) affirm, set aside or vary any order or judgment made or given by the lower court”. These words are picked up precisely in para 6.4 which sets out the powers that the appeal court has when allowing an appeal.
- The appeal court, therefore, has a discretion to allow an appeal by consent on the papers without determining the merits at a hearing if it is satisfied that there are good and sufficient reasons for doing so. What are good and sufficient reasons? The answer will depend on the circumstances of the case, but we think that it would be helpful to provide some guidance. If the appeal court is satisfied that (i) the parties’ consent to the allowing of the appeal is based on apparently competent legal advice, and (ii) the parties advance plausible reasons to show that the decision of the lower court was wrong, it is likely to make an order allowing the appeal on the papers and without determining the merits. In such circumstances, it would involve unnecessary cost and delay to require the parties to attend a hearing to persuade the appeal court definitively on the point.
- At para 14 of his judgment, the judge said that, where a merits based decision has been reached at first instance which all parties agree should be set aside on appeal, para 6.4 requires there to be a hearing and a judgment. He added: “The judge whose decision is being impugned is surely entitled to no less, and there is a plain need to expose error so that later legal confusion does not arise”. We disagree. Para 6.4 does not require a decision on the merits in every case where there has been a decision on the merits in the lower court. There is no reason to restrict in this way the wide discretion conferred by para 6.4 to allow an appeal by consent without a hearing followed by a decision on the merits. The words “good and sufficient reasons” are very wide. Further, we reject the notion that the judge whose decision is under appeal has any entitlement to a decision on the merits. In deciding whether to make a consent order without a decision on the merits, the appeal court is only concerned with the interests of the parties and the public interest. The interests of the judge are irrelevant.
- We accept, however, that there will be cases where it may be in the interest of the parties or the public interest for the court to make a decision on the merits after a hearing even where the parties agree that the appeal should be allowed. Mostyn J referred to cases in the field of family law. For example, in Bokor-Ingram v Bokor-Ingram  EWCA Civ 27,  2 FLR 922, the parties by consent asked the court to allow an appeal, set aside the order below and make a revised order. Thorpe LJ said:
“5. A short disposal might have followed but for our concerns that the judgment below had already been reported …..and was causing, or was likely to cause, difficulty for specialist practitioners and judges in this field of ancillary relief.
6. Accordingly, we decided to state shortly why we had reached a preliminary conclusion that the appeal, had it not been compromised, would in any event have been allowed.”
- The fact that the decision of the lower court in that case was causing difficulty led the appellate court to conclude that there were not “good and sufficient reasons” for departing from the normal procedure of conducting a hearing and giving a decision on the merits.
- An example from a different area of law is Halliburton Energy Services Inc v Smith International (North Sea) Ltd  [EWCA] Civ 185. The lower court had held that a certain patent was invalid. Following the issue of appeal proceedings, the case was settled. The Court of Appeal was asked to make a consent order for the restoration of the patent to the register without deciding the merits of the appeal. The court decided that it had to hear the merits on the grounds that, for a patent to be restored to the register, what was needed was a decision reversing the order for revocation and showing that the previous decision was wrong. Here too (but for a very different reason), the appellate court considered that a decision on the merits was needed.
But you aren’t here for the technicalities. You want to see what happened with that boxing glove and the horseshoes.
- Mostyn J’s first judgment did not raise any issue of law. It is true that his criticism of Cheshire West (what he describes in para 20 of the second judgment as his “jurisprudential analysis”) raised a question of law. But this question has been settled by the Supreme Court relatively recently. The judge’s analysis was, and could be, of no legal effect. It was irrelevant. Indeed, he purported to apply Cheshire West to the facts of the case. The basis of the appeal was that he had failed to apply Cheshire West to the facts properly. The public interest in the first judgment has focused on his criticisms of Cheshire West. Unlike Bokor-Ingram, the decision of the lower court in the present case should have caused no difficulty for practitioners or judges in the field. It was a decision on the facts which, with benefit of the advice of counsel and solicitors, the parties agreed was wrong. The Court of Appeal must have taken the view that the parties had advanced plausible reasons for contending that the judge’s decision was wrong, so that there were good and sufficient reasons for allowing the appeal without deciding the merits. In our view, it was clearly right to do so.
- This litigation has an unfortunate history. The judge has twice made decisions which have been the subject of an appeal to this court. On both occasions, the parties have agreed that the appeal must be allowed. This has led to considerable unnecessary costs to the public purse and unnecessary use of court time. We regret to say that it is the judge’s tenacious adherence to his jurisprudential analysis leading to his conclusion that Cheshire West was wrongly decided that has been at the root of this. He says at para 26 of the second judgment that “the law is now in a state of serious confusion”. Even if Cheshire West is wrong, there is nothing confusing about it.
- In our view, the judge’s passionate view that the legal analysis of the majority in Cheshire West is wrong is in danger of distorting his approach to these cases. In the light of the unfortunate history, we are of the opinion that the review should be conducted by a different judge, who need not be a high court judge,
- For the reasons that we have given, this appeal is allowed.