This is a case involving surrogacy – yet another private surrogacy arrangement which unravelled and left a huge wake of ugly disaster behind it.
Re X (a child) no 2 (private surrogacy) 2016
There’s a part 1 here
Where Holman J refuses the application of the birth mother to reopen the decision of Her Honour Judge Singleton that the child should remain with the commisioners of the surrogacy arrangement – permission to appeal already having been refused.
This case has interest for two reasons, really. The first is that we hear bad things about MacKenzie Friends from time to time (for example THIS guy, who acted as a MacKenzie Friend in family proceedings and got the partner in his business, who was also his girlfriend, to write a psychological assessment to benefit his client – said girlfriend was not actually a psychologist – not that it would have been okay if she was, but it compounded things. He’s now in prison. https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/law/mckenzie-friend-jailed-for-deceit-in-family-court/5058352.article )
But I’ve met good, decent MacKenzie Friends, who work damn hard and give valuable assistance to parents who have nowhere else to turn, so it is nice when a High Court Judge gives a good news story about one
There was a strong objection on behalf of the father and mother to Mr Culshaw acting as McKenzie Friend since he, too, is undoubtedly a campaigner, who participated in several of the protests I have mentioned. But many people who are willing and motivated to act as McKenzie Friends are indeed campaigners, and if they were all prevented from doing so on that ground alone, many rather helpless litigants, like the sister in this case, might be left with no effective help or support at all. I wish to record that within the four walls of this courtroom, which is, of course, the extent of my observation of him, Mr Culshaw has acted impeccably and within the proper boundaries of a McKenzie Friend. He has shown respect and courtesy to the court. He has been a model of restraint. He has not sought to become an advocate and nor would I have permitted him to do so, but he has provided visible and obvious help and support to the sister, and he has helped her to formulate sensible and well judged questions.
The second point of interest is that the birth mother campaigned against Her Honour Judge Singleton’s decision, and did so in creative ways
- In August 2015 Her Honour Judge Singleton decided that the child should move from living with the birth mother to living with the father and the mother, and she has done so ever since. The birth mother had changed her mind during the pregnancy and before the birth, and wished to keep and bring up the child herself. There is no doubt that she very bitterly opposed that decision and she has never, at least until this week, accepted that decision. She tried to appeal it. She very actively publicised and campaigned against it online and by protests at the homes of the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, the Minister for Children, Edward Timpson, the previous guardian, Alexandra Sayer, and Her Honour Judge Singleton herself. She issued in May 2016 an application, which was before me this week, for the decision and order of August 2015 to be reversed so that the child returned to live with her. After hearing submissions from the birth mother, I summarily dismissed that application for reasons which I gave in my short judgment last Tuesday, 8 November 2016 at  EWFC 54.
She was actually convicted of harassing the Judge, which shows the extent of her behaviour, since Judges don’t make complaints to the police lightly.
Mr Justice Holman discussed that the original Judge had wanted there to be some direct contact between the child and the birth mother, and that he wanted to open the door to that, despite the campaigning, which had clearly crossed the line
- Like Judge Singleton in August 2015, Mr Sanders does consider that it is in the best interests of the child to have some direct contact with her birth mother and her sister, provided that can be done without destabilising the child or destabilising the father and the mother. I agree with Mr Sanders. He has generously offered to engage in a very active way in this case for at least a year under the provisions of a family assistance order, and with his help the very detailed provisions of the order have been negotiated.
- The birth mother has repeatedly said during this hearing that she now absolutely accepts that the child will live with the father and the mother. She has said that she will stop the protesting and campaigning, and will abide by all the detailed provisions of the order.
- The father and mother clearly remain very sceptical about that. They both said in evidence yesterday that they remain very scared of what the birth mother may do. They say that if she can campaign with the intensity that she has, including by placing so much material online and by protesting at the homes of so many people, several of them quite unconnected with the case, they cannot have any confidence that she will not carry the campaign to their own home or into the course and content of any contact.
- I perfectly understand their position, but I do believe that this hearing has offered an opportunity – albeit only a start – for each side to this dispute to begin to have a greater appreciation and acceptance of the other. All parties have expressed their confidence in Mr Sanders, and said that they will engage with him and move contact forward in line with his recommendations and plan, and with his assistance. In my view it would do a great disservice to the longer term needs and welfare of the child to cut out now any further direct contact with her birth family, for the reason only of the events, however destabilising, of the last year or so.
- For these reasons I will make an order in the very detailed terms and conditions which have been drafted, which essentially provides for two occasions of supervised direct contact each year between the child and her birth mother and, on quite separate occasions, her sister, together with forms of indirect contact in the intervening periods.
- There are very detailed terms and conditions and “rules” which all parties clearly understand and must adhere to. The birth mother in particular must understand that this is a last chance. She is, of course, entitled in a free society to campaign and to protest, provided she does not break the criminal law. But if she does do so again, the pressure that that puts upon the father and mother will be just too great, and inevitably all the contact which I have so painstakingly striven to promote this week will be jeopardised, probably for ever. I sincerely hope that these long, painful and rather exhausting few days can represent a new beginning, from which all parties can move forward and begin to work together in the best interests of this child whom they all undoubtedly love very dearly.
I hope it works out for all of them.