Readers may recall the case of Riaz , where Keehan J used the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court to make injunctions against a number of men, banning them from contact with any child under 18 and allowing them to be ‘named and shamed’ as people who may have sexually exploited or groomed children. (They may also remember my doubts that the inherent jurisdiction, which is undoubtedly pretty elastic, stretched quite as far as Keehan J was deciding. “I’m like a rubber band, until you pull too hard”, as Sia sings)
We then had the Redbridge case, in which Hayden J said just that, that the inherent jurisdiction could properly be used to protect a named child from harm from named individuals, but not to protect ALL children against such men.
Both of these Judges are High Court Judges, so the conflict between Riaz and Redbridge will have to be decided by a more senior Court if at all.
Birmingham City Council vand SK 2016
In this case, however, Keehan J made a “Riaz” style injunction against a man, only to later have the Local Authority who asked for it to come back rather sheepishly to say that they had obtained such a serious injunction against the wrong man.
[Hopefully this time the “Riaz” injunction didn’t end up with the national or local press ‘outing’ this man as someone who exploits or grooms children. Am wondering what the remedy would be if so – you can’t sue for defamation for something that is said in Court so the LA telling the Judge that the man LG posed a sexual risk would be protected, a newspaper reporting the Court order would be protected. I guess it would have to be a claim for negligence?]
- SK, from the age of 13, was absenting herself form the family home. It was discovered that she was keeping the company of much older men. She was beyond the control of her parents. Her case came to the attention of the local authority and of the police. Hence the care proceedings were issued and an application for an injunction was made against an individual, LG, who it was believed was sexually exploiting SK.
- There was a meeting of MASE on 5 October 2014 when he was mentioned as a possible perpetrator of child sexual exploitation against SK.
- The local authority thus made the application for a Birmingham City Council v Riaz and othrs  EWHC 4247 (Fam)  2 FLR 763 (‘Riaz‘) style injunction against him. On the basis of the information then before me on 24 March, I granted the injunction as sought.
- Within days of making that order, however, it became evident that there had been a serious lack of communication and/or a misunderstanding between the police and the legal department of the local authority. It also became clear that LG had quite wrongly been identified as a possible perpetrator of a child sexual exploitation of SK at the multi agency meeting held on 20 January 2015.
- Quite properly the local authority immediately applied to me to discharge the injunction against LG. I granted the same but required a detailed explanation from the local authority and from the police as to how such a serious mistake had been made. I was promptly provided with an explanation which I accept. I do not propose to lengthen this judgment by reciting the same save that I accept it was a genuine and unintended error borne of lax and less than rigorous procedures.
- The local authority and the police, with the court’s approval, wrote an entirely suitable and regretful letter of apology to LG. The material passages of that letter are:
“… The order had been granted by the High Court on the basis of evidence and information gathered by the local authority in the exercise of its safeguarding duties. The information that indicated that you might have involvement with the individual named in the order was provided to the local authority by West Midlands Police at a meeting on 23rd September 2014, again as part of safeguarding procedures….
….On the 27th March 2015 information was received by the local authority legal department from West Midlands Police. That information made clear that it was not thought that you were in fact involved with the child in question….
….The reason that Birmingham City Council sought an order against you was that information was received from West Midlands Police (WMP) at a social services meeting in September 2014, that there was a log connecting you to a relevant address and potentially to the child in question.
However, a break down of safeguarding procedures within the local authority meant that this link with LG was considered to be accurate even after, at another safeguarding meeting on the 20th January this year, West Midlands Police made it clear that LG was not thought to be involved with the child.
Prior to the hearing at court on the 24th March 2015 the local authority sought to ensure that the information it relied upon remained accurate. However, the steps taken failed to highlight that you were not involved with the child…..”
- The positive outcome of this most serious and unfortunate set of circumstances has been the creation of a Protocol devised by the local authority and the police. It is an extremely helpful document which is the result of many, many hours of discussion and debate between the various agencies engaged in the field of child sexual exploitation.
The misidentification of LG as a potential perpetrator of child sexual exploitation was, to put it mildly, extremely unfortunate. I am satisfied that the same resulted from a series of unintended errors and misunderstandings, of greater importance, however, for the conduct of future cases is the Protocol agreed between the local authority and the police. It provides a clear and detailed procedure for the steps to be taken in cases of actual or suspected child sexual exploitation. The protocol is the result of careful consideration over many months, by a number of agencies, with the benefit of counsels’ advice and drafting.
You can find the Protocol laid out in the judgment, if you are interested.
What is perturbing me, however, is how the Judge came to make the “Riaz” injunction without it coming to light that LG had been wrongly named as a sexual risk. That suggests strongly to me that LG was not present at the application – since if he was, surely he would have been saying that there had been a terrible mistake. So did Keehan J make such a serious order ex parte? (without LG being present to oppose it?)
We can’t be sure of that, since the judgment doesn’t explicitly say so, or set out what evidence was presented, but it is surely a lesson for the Courts as much as the LA? In all other applications, there is clear guidance and case law as to the risks of a hearing taking place with only one side present and the very limited circumstances in which that can occur, the caution that the Court needs to take and often the very high evidential bar that the applicant needs to surmount before an order can be made.
Given the huge implications of a “Riaz” style injunction (let’s not forget that the subject would be barred from any contact with children, and might be placed in very awkward situations having to explain that they cannot visit family or friends who have children, let alone the publicity issue), surely the very high evidential bar that exists with say Emergency Protection Orders ought to be in place. Particularly given that there’s some doubt about the jurisdictional issue.
I could be wrong. Maybe LG WAS present at the injunction application and either didn’t say that this was mistaken identity or wasn’t believed.
On a broader issue, we do need the conflict between Riaz and Redbridge to be resolved. We all know that different Judges approach things in slightly different ways and as human beings bring their own experience to bear, but it cannot be right that a person like LG faced with an application of this kind would have some Judges who would absolutely not make the injunction and some who would, on exactly the same facts. That cannot be right or fair.