I found quite a lot of Re F (Children) 2016 to be fairly stodgy porridge, eaten in the Scottish style with salt rather than sugar. That is to say, that whilst it would no doubt have been very good for me, I didn’t enjoy it much and spent most of my time with it pushing it around rather than actually consuming it.
It was Hague Convention proceedings, and I can’t actually face discussing the facts or the decision, which I’ll provide a link to if you are keen to read it.
There were two diamonds in it though, and as they were delivered by the President, expect to see him quoting them in future judgments approvingly and building upon them.
The first was in relation to criticisms about what was missing from the judgment of the original trial Judge. One might expect that the President, who after all authored Re B-S and the call to arms for judgments to show their working and be robust and leave no stone unturned, might get vexed by things being missed out of a judgment, but that of course was BEFORE the Court of Appeal got drowned in appeals and sick to the back teeth of appeals where the decision itself seemed okay but the judgment didn’t tick all of the boxes.
So we have a Court of Appeal shift in emphasis (this has been building over the last two years, but this really does put down a marker. Don’t come to us on the basis of absence of ‘show your working’ unless the sums are also clearly wrong). I mean, it isn’t often that the Court of Appeal (still less the President) leans on a quotation from Mostyn J to demonstrate a point.
Like any judgment, the judgment of the Deputy Judge has to be read as a whole, and having regard to its context and structure. The task facing a judge is not to pass an examination, or to prepare a detailed legal or factual analysis of all the evidence and submissions he has heard. Essentially, the judicial task is twofold: to enable the parties to understand why they have won or lost; and to provide sufficient detail and analysis to enable an appellate court to decide whether or not the judgment is sustainable. The judge need not slavishly restate either the facts, the arguments or the law. To adopt the striking metaphor of Mostyn J in SP v EB and KP  EWHC 3964 (Fam),  1 FLR 228, para 29, there is no need for the judge to “incant mechanically” passages from the authorities, the evidence or the submissions, as if he were “a pilot going through the pre-flight checklist.”
I’m totally in favour of judgments focussing on a robust analysis of the evidence and laying that evidence alongside the law, and setting out how the decision is reached, rather than the current model I see SO often in the Bailii reports of “If I namecheck and quote from every relevant authority, it will be assumed that I had those principles in mind, so I don’t actually need to show how I applied them, I just need to put in 10 pages of boilerplate that will bore the parties to tears, just to be a boilerplate bullet-proof vest against an appeal”
[I only started seeing those AFTER the Re B-S guidance, but correlation is not causation 😉 ]
And thus on appeals, Piglowska is back in favour, as opposed to the ‘can I find fault with the judgment’ approach that we had for a year or so post Re B-S
- The task of this court is to decide the appeal applying the principles set out in the classic speech of Lord Hoffmann in Piglowska v Piglowski  1 WLR 1360. I confine myself to one short passage (at 1372):
“The exigencies of daily court room life are such that reasons for judgment will always be capable of having been better expressed. This is particularly true of an unreserved judgment such as the judge gave in this case … These reasons should be read on the assumption that, unless he has demonstrated the contrary, the judge knew how he should perform his functions and which matters he should take into account. This is particularly true when the matters in question are so well known as those specified in section 25(2) [of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973]. An appellate court should resist the temptation to subvert the principle that they should not substitute their own discretion for that of the judge by a narrow textual analysis which enables them to claim that he misdirected himself.”
It is not the function of an appellate court to strive by tortuous mental gymnastics to find error in the decision under review when in truth there has been none. The concern of the court ought to be substance not semantics. To adopt Lord Hoffmann’s phrase, the court must be wary of becoming embroiled in “narrow textual analysis”.
The next point, touching on the recent case of Re E, where the Court of Appeal flagged up that the Supreme Court’s decision that there was no presumption, rebuttable or otherwise, that a child ought not to give evidence, did not seem to have filtered through to Courts and lawyers on the ground.
As the appeal had already been rejected, the President acknowledged that nothing turned on what he was about to say, but the word “Obiter” is not carved into his heart in Times New Roman 12 point font for nothing…
- The starting point is, of course, Article 12(2) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 11(2) of Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003, commonly referred to as BIIA, both of which identify the obligation on the court to ensure that the child is given the opportunity to be “heard”. Next I refer to the well-known passage in the characteristically prescient judgment of Thorpe LJ in Mabon v Mabon  EWCA Civ 634,  2 FLR 1011, paras 28-29, culminating in his observation that “judges have to be … alive to the risk of emotional harm that might arise from denying the child knowledge of and participation in the continuing proceedings.” Thorpe LJ returned to the same theme in Re G (Abduction: Children’s Objections)  EWCA Civ 1232,  1 FLR 1645, para 15, a case where (see paras 20-21) Thorpe and Smith LJJ themselves met the child, a 13-year old girl, and again in Re J (Abduction: Children’s Objections)  EWCA Civ 1448,  1 FLR 457, paras 33, 42.
- Well before then, in In re D (A Child) (Abduction: Rights of Custody)  UKHL 51,  1 AC 619, paras 57-61, the House of Lords had indicated that merely enabling the child to meet the judge might not be sufficient. Having observed (para 59) that “children should be heard far more frequently in Hague Convention cases than has been the practice hitherto. The only question is how this should be done”, Baroness Hale of Richmond continued (para 60):
“There are three possible ways of doing this. They range from full scale legal representation of the child, through the report of an independent CAFCASS officer or other professional, to a face-to-face interview with the judge.”
I add another possibility, the child giving evidence but without being joined as a party: see Cambra v Jones (Contempt Proceedings: Child joined as party)  EWHC 913 (Fam),  1 FLR 263, paras 10, 14.
- The Supreme Court returned to the topic, this time in the context of care proceedings, in In re W (Children) (Family Proceedings: Evidence)  UKSC 12,  1 WLR 701, holding that there is no longer a presumption, or even a starting point, against children giving evidence in family proceedings. In In re LC (Children) (Reunite International Child Abduction Centre intervening)  UKSC 1,  AC 1038, the Supreme Court considered whether a 13-year old girl, T, should be joined as a party to Hague proceedings. Reversing this court, it held that she should.
- Next, I should refer to In re M and others (Children) (Abduction: Child’s Objections)  EWCA Civ 26,  Fam 1, para 155, and, more particularly, to In re D (A Child) (International Recognition)  EWCA Civ 12, paras 41, 44, 47, 48, where the obligation of the court to ensure that the child is given the opportunity to be heard and “the right of the child to participate in the process that is about him or her” were said to be fundamental principles of universal application, “reflected in our legislation, our rules and practice directions and our jurisprudence” and where it was said that “the theme of the case law is an emphasis on the ‘right’ of participation of those ‘affected’ by proceedings.”
- Finally, I refer to the very recent decision of this court in Re E A Child)  EWCA Civ 473, paras 46-48, 56-63, and, in particular, McFarlane LJ’s acid observation (paras 48, 56) that Baroness Hale’s judgment in In re W “would seem to have gone unheeded in the five or more years since it was given” and that “the previous culture and practice of the family courts remains largely unchanged with the previous presumption against children giving evidence remaining intact.”
- It is apparent that in relation to all these matters there has been a sea-change in attitudes over the last decade and more, even if on occasion practitioners and the courts have been and still are too slow to recognise the need for change or to acknowledge the pace of change. Moreover, and I wish to emphasise this, the process of change continues apace.
- In April 2010, “Guidelines for Judges Meeting Children who are Subject to Family Proceedings” were issued by the Family Justice Council with the approval of Sir Nicholas Wall P:  2 FLR 1872. In December 2011, and following the decision of the Supreme Court in In re W, the Family Justice Council issued Guidelines, endorsed by Sir Nicholas Wall P, on “Children Giving Evidence in Family Proceedings:”  Fam Law 79. More recently, the whole topic, with other related matters, has been considered by the Children and Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group which I established under the Chairmanship of Russell and Hayden JJ in May 2014. Their interim report was published in July 2014 (see  Family Law 1217) and the final report in February 2015 (see  Family Law 443). The Family Procedure Rules Committee is currently considering the extent to which, given limited resources, the recommendations of the Working Group can be fully implemented. Whatever the outcome of that discussion, it is plain that the further changes in our approach to these matters which are now widely acknowledged require to be implemented, and sooner rather than later.
- One thing is quite clear: that proper adherence to the principles laid down in In re W will see ever increasing numbers of children giving evidence in family proceedings.
- One of the drivers for this is the point which this court emphasised in In re KP (A Child) (Abduction: Rights of Custody)  EWCA Civ 554,  1 WLR 4326, paras 53, 56, namely, that a meeting between the child and the judge is “an opportunity: (i) for the judge to hear what the child may wish to say; and (ii) for the child to hear the judge explain the nature of the process;” that the “purpose of the meeting is not to obtain evidence and the judge should not, therefore, probe or seek to test whatever it is that the child wishes to say;” and that if “the child volunteers evidence that would or might be relevant to the outcome of the proceedings, the judge should report back to the parties and determine whether, and if so how, that evidence should be adduced.” The corollary of this is that, quite apart from all the other drivers for change, there are likely for this reason alone to be more cases in future than hitherto where the child either gives evidence, without being joined as a party, or is joined as a party.
Heavy hint being dropped there that the Court of Appeal are itching to get their hands on an appeal where a Judge has refused to hear from a child, and that there’s a judicial speech already drawn up to deliver on it. Consider yourselves warned.