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Watching the detectives

This is a quirky little case. I should tell you at the outset that we don’t get a conclusion and all of the answers. Half of the answer, with perhaps another half to come at a later stage.

The question arose in care proceedings. One of the issues in the case was whether the mother had genuinely separated from the father, or whether they were simply pretending to have done so and carrying on the relationship in secret. This happens from time to time in care proceedings.

The Local Authority paid a private investigator to watch the father, and the private investigator produced evidence that the father was staying overnight at the mother’s home, for about a week. (However, the evidence did not show whether or not the mother was also there, allowing the parents to run a defence that the father had been staying at that property but that mother and the children had not been)

Two legal issues arose in the case.

1. Whether the LA had obtained the proper consents under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to conduct covert surveillance of a person, whether this was a breach of article 8 of the Human Rights Act and thus whether damages should flow from it. (which is the really interesting bit of the case and which SPOILERS doesn’t get answered)

and

2. If there was a failure to obtain the proper RIPA consents, is the evidence inadmissible?

The latter is of interest, because it may impact on other scenarios where evidence is improperly obtained (and of course, we are thinking here of clandestine recordings whether audio or video, done without the knowledge of those being filmed)

We DO get an answer to that.

This is a decision of a circuit Judge, so it is not binding case law, but it is an interesting overview of the law (and I agree with the conclusions)

Re E and N (no2) 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2017/B27.html

2. In the course of the hearing before me the applicant local authority sought to rely on surveillance evidence which covered the period of 28 and 29 April 2017. The evidence showed that the father had stayed at the mother’s address in circumstances where the parents had maintained that they have been separated since November 2016. The local authority accepted that the evidence did not show that the mother was present during the aforementioned period. The local authority relied on this evidence as part of a wider canvas to prove an allegation that the parents have remained in a relationship despite their maintained assertion that they have separated.

3. Both parents agreed that due to the father’s difficult personal circumstances at that time, with the mother’s permission, he stayed at the mother’s address. The mother was staying at her own mother’s property and she was not present when the father stayed at her address.

4. At the conclusion of the hearing the parties made detailed submissions. This included submissions about the surveillance evidence and the local authority’s asserted overzealous approach to the parents in attempting to prove its case. The parents invited me to make a number of findings in this regard. I decided to give a separate judgment on these issues so as not to jeopardise an expeditious resolution to the last hearing before me.

5. The local authority in its written submissions dated 7 June 2017 and refined in its written replies to the parents’ submissions dated the same, invites me to;

a. Endorse the decision to conduct such surveillance as reasonable, or to make no findings in circumstances where the court has not received any evidence on this issue, or

b. Make no comment about it (given that it does not go to the central issue of the disputed findings), or

c. Find that it would be inappropriate to make any findings on the mother’s submissions that go to or are capable of going to the issues of alleged breaches of her Article 8 rights, or

d. Transfer the decision on this issue to a different tier of the judiciary, and

e. Confine my judgment to the issues arising out of the hearing.
6. The mother having taken the lead on these submissions and supported by the father, invites me to find that;

a. The actions of the local authority were misjudged and deeply unfortunate given the duty on the local authority to act in a fair way within litigation against individuals,

b. The authorisation for the surveillance (if any) and the surveillance itself were not fair, reasonable or proportionate,

c. The local authority has not complied with the terms of the Act (below),

d. The mother has been unlawfully subjected to surveillance;

e. This is an example of an over-zealous prosecution of the local authority’s case against her,

f. The directed surveillance is a breach of her rights under Article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950).

The father further submitted that there is no justifiable reason or purpose for the surveillance to have extended to following the father to the reception area at the contact centre and at the father’s solicitors’ offices.

The Judge looked at the safeguards about agencies of the State carrying out covert surveillance of members of the public, that are set out within RIPA – the surveillance needs to be properly authorised under s28, and the officer authorising it must be approved under s30 to do so. (Here, what seems to have happened is that a senior manager of Children’s Services authorised it, which is not RIPA compliant)

28 Authorisation of directed surveillance.

(1)Subject to the following provisions of this Part, the persons designated for the purposes of this section shall each have power to grant authorisations for the carrying out of directed surveillance.

(2)A person shall not grant an authorisation for the carrying out of directed surveillance unless he believes—

(a)that the authorisation is necessary on grounds falling within subsection (3); and

(b)that the authorised surveillance is proportionate to what is sought to be achieved by carrying it out.

(3)An authorisation is necessary on grounds falling within this subsection if it is necessary—

(a)in the interests of national security;

(b)for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or of preventing disorder;

(c)in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom;

(d)in the interests of public safety;

(e)for the purpose of protecting public health;…

(4)The conduct that is authorised by an authorisation for the carrying out of directed surveillance is any conduct that—

(a)consists in the carrying out of directed surveillance of any such description as is specified in the authorisation; and

(b)is carried out in the circumstances described in the authorisation and for the purposes of the investigation or operation specified or described in the authorisation

The real point of this is that the authorisation of covert surveillance is firstly not a rubber stamp, and secondly, the decision about whether or not to authorise is taken by a RIPA officer someone who is trained in the application of the Act and the principles within it and not have a stake in the outcome of the investigation – i.e to scrutinise whether cover surveillance is really appropriate and proportionate.

The Judge did not reach a conclusion on whether the LA had failed to comply with RIPA or whether the parents article 8 rights had been breached – they would have to issue a claim and have proper evidence about this issue before a Court could rule on it. However, from what is said, I don’t think that what the LA did complied with RIPA (That doesn’t mean that they DIDN’T – they may have got a RIPA authorisation and not put that before the Court – though that seems a strange decision if so…)

In addition to the surveillance report, the only direct evidence in this connection is a document entitled “REQUEST FOR AUTHORISATION TO COMMISSION A PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR”. This documents was signed on 26 April 2017 by the “Director of Children and Learning Skills”. It is far from clear if the signature is that of the person making the application or the person authorising the request. On the face of it, the form does not appear to be a form authorising surveillance. This illustrates the evidential difficulties in the relief that the parents are seeking. These are exacerbated by further fundamental difficulties which include the lack of any formal application and the consequential lack of any formal reply. Therefore, having regard to the guidance that I have detailed above and the evidential difficulties that I have identified, in my judgment it would be entirely inappropriate for me to make any findings in respect of the local authority’s conduct, decision making processes and any alleged breaches of the parents’ Article 8 rights. Similarly, in my judgment it would also be entirely inappropriate for me to endorse the local authority’s actions. If there is to be such an enquiry into these issues, it must be undertaken in accordance with the guidance that I have set out above and by way of a formal application following which the court will give the necessary directions. Inevitably this will include the filing and service of appropriate evidence.

Anyhow, that whole issue will have to wait for part 3, if there is to be a part 3.

What we are left with is whether evidence that may have been obtained improperly is capable of being admissible, or whether it should not even get before the Court if it was obtained improperly.

15. However it is clear that the surveillance evidence is relevant to the issues in the case. Goddard LJ in the Court of Appeal decision in Hollington v. F. Hewthorn and Company Limited, and Another [1943] KB 587, at 593 and 594 explained the test in the following terms;

“Before dealing with the authorities, let us consider the question in the light of modern law relating to evidence … We say “modern law” because in former days, it is fair to say, the law paid more attention to competency of the witnesses that to the relevance of testimony …

It was not till the Evidence Act. 1843, that interested witnesses, other than the parties, their husbands and wives were rendered competent, and by the Evidence Act, 1851, the parties, and by the Evidence Act, 1853, their spouses, were at last enabled to give evidence …

But, nowadays, it is relevance and not competency that is the main consideration, and, generally speaking, all evidence that is relevant to an issue is admissible, while all that is irrelevant is excluded”.

Furthermore, the test for deciding “relevance” was succinctly expressed in the House of Lords decision by Simon LJ Director of Public Prosecution v Kilbourne [1973] 1 All ER 440, at 460 J in the following terms;

“Your Lordships have been concerned with four concept in the law of evidence: (i) relevance; (ii) admissibility; (iii) corroboration; (iv) weight. The first two terms are frequently, and in many circumstances legitimately, used interchangeably; but I think it makes for clarity if they are kept separate, since some relevant evidence is inadmissible and some admissible evidence is irrelevant in the sense that I shall shortly submit). Evidence is relevant if it is logically probative or disprobative of some matter which requires proof.”
16. Keeping the concepts of “relevance” and “admissibility” separate, I will first deal with the issue of relevance before turning to consider the issue of admissibility. The factual matters that the local authority sought to prove included an allegation that the parents remain in a relationship. Therefore on a cursory analysis of the facts that remained in issue and required the court’s determination, it is clear that the surveillance evidence was relevant to this allegation. Indeed no party has sought to submit that it was not.

17. As to the question of admissibility, I have made it clear earlier in this judgment I am not making any findings in respect of the local authority’s conduct or whether the surveillance is compliant with the provisions of the Act. However the questions of compliance and legality have a close connection to the question of admissibility. There is no automatic bar to admissibility of evidence that has been improperly or illegally obtained. In the context of family law, this was considered and illustrated in the Court of Appeal decision in Imerman v Tchenguiz and others [2011] 1 All ER 555where at paragraph 177 Lord Neuberger MR concluded that;

“Accordingly, we consider that, in ancillary relief proceedings, while the court can admit such evidence, it has power to exclude it if unlawfully obtained, including power to exclude documents whose existence has only been established by unlawful means. In exercising that power, the court will be guided by what is “necessary for disposing fairly of the application for ancillary relief or for saving costs”, and will take into account the importance of the evidence, “the conduct of the parties”, and any other relevant factors, including the normal case management aspects. Ultimately, this requires the court to carry out a balancing exercise, something which, we are well aware, is easy to say in general terms but is often very difficult to effect in individual cases in practice.”

A Local Authority v J [2008] EWHC 1484 (Fam) is an example where surveillance evidence was admitted by the court, although Hogg J in this case was not asked to consider the provisions of the Act.

Furthermore, Re DH (A MINOR) (CHILD ABUSE) [1994] 1 FLR 679 whilst predating the Act and concerning an individual, Wall J admitted the covert recording of a child by the child’s father.
18. In these circumstances I have assessed the surveillance evidence to be relevant and admissible. Accordingly I have admitted the same as evidence in the case. I made the relevant findings in my first judgment after considering the surveillance evidence together with a number of other pieces of evidence and have considered it in the context of the totality of the evidence that was before me. However the issue of admissibility of evidence is entirely separate to the requirements of public authorities and public bodies to comply with statutory provisions that regulate their conduct and their duties to the public. In circumstances where a public authority or public body has acted in breach of statutory provisions and where any evidence that is adduced as a consequences of those actions is admitted by the court, this will not absolve the public authority or body from its duties under any relevant enactment

Evidence, if it is relevant, can still be admissible even if it was obtained unlawfully. I have wondered for a long time whether Re DH’s principle survived the HRA. As this is not precedent, and of course, a Circuit Judge can’t overrule the principle that Wall J set down in a superior Court, but it is an interesting debate that might be had at a later stage.

The Judge draws the interesting distinction that whilst the evidence itself might be admissible, that doesn’t stop a Court taking action about the improper or unlawful conduct – just because they got to use the evidence, doesn’t mean that they get away scot-free if they behaved badly in obtaining it.

Morocco Mole too…. inspired by my trip to Marrakech

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Snug as a bug in a rug

 

Well, you write up one case about bugging, and then another one comes along. If I get a third, it is going to have to be entitled “Mind the bugs don’t bite”  (which is what my parents used to say to me when I was a tiny tot before I went to sleep. I’m sure there weren’t actually bugs… They used to say ‘snug as a bug in a rug’ if I was tucked up in bed under the covers.  Perhaps my father had been Gregor Samsa before changing his name)

 

 

"As Gregor SAMOSA awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, HE found that he was very delicious, but that his bedsheets were somewhat greasy"

“As Gregor SAMOSA awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, HE found that he was very delicious, but that his bedsheets were somewhat greasy”

 

You see, here you can get updates about the law, literary references, and information about tasty snacks. It is a one-stop shop for those things.

This case is actually the same Judge, who is probably being very careful about what he says on the telephone at the moment, but this time it is the police doing the bugging of parents, not a parent bugging their child.

 

Cumbria County Council v M and Others 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2016/27.html

 

In this case, the police were investigating the death of a baby. There were also care proceedings about the baby’s siblings, and the family Court had to consider how that baby had died and whether either of the parents were responsible and whether there were any risks to the siblings. Within the care proceedings, as is usual, there was an order that the police provide ALL of the material from their investigation.

The police provided material, confiming that they had sent everything. That hadn’t gone that smoothly, a witness summons was issued and a representative of the police had to come to Court and confirm that everything had been provided.

Within the care proceedings, a finding of fact hearing took place and the family Court ruled that the father was responsible. The police later charged the father with manslaughter. As part of the criminal proceedings, it emerged that the police had bugged the family home, hoping to hear conversations between father and mother which might incriminate either one of them.

When the Guardian learned of this, they went back to the family Court to inform the Court that there was potentially valuable evidence that had not been disclosed into the family Court case.

 

 

  • his is the second and final published judgment in these family proceedings. The first is reported at [2014] EWFC 18.
  • The proceedings, which concern child A, were thought to have ended in July 2014 when this court determined that her father was responsible for the death of her baby brother K. However, in January 2016, the matter was rightly restored for further consideration by A’s Children’s Guardian in the circumstances described below.
  • This was necessary because of the admitted failure of Cumbria Constabulary to comply fully with orders requiring the disclosure of all material arising from the police investigation into K’s death. A great deal of material was in fact supplied in late 2013 and early 2014, albeit the process was not as smooth as it ought to have been. On one occasion, the second most senior investigating officer attended a hearing before me with a legal adviser and on a later occasion a witness summons had to be issued to ensure that (so it was then thought) all information had been supplied.
  • However one piece of information had not been supplied and did not come to the attention of the parties to these proceedings until September 2015. This was a covert recording made by the police in the parents’ home on 27/28 September 2013, immediately after their release on bail following their arrest. The recording had been authorised under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. It is of poor quality but it includes a conversation involving the mother that on one interpretation might conceivably have been relevant to the accounts given by the parents about K’s death.
  • After the 2014 family court hearing, the police reinvestigated and the father was charged with manslaughter. It was only at an advanced stage in the criminal disclosure process that the Crown Prosecution Service, having itself become aware of the recording, advised that it should be disclosed to the defence. Prosecution counsel also appreciated that it should have been disclosed to this court in 2013 and so advised. At that point the parties to the family proceedings and the court were informed and in due course the Guardian made his application.
  • In November 2015, the father stood trial and, having exercised his right not to give evidence, was acquitted by the jury. In the meantime, the 2014 judgment had not been published so as to avoid prejudicing the criminal trial and, latterly, to await the resolution of the issues surrounding the recording.
  • The Guardian’s application has had three purposes: to make the court aware of what had occurred; to raise the possibility that this court’s findings may need to be reopened; and to establish whether there were any safeguarding issues affecting A.
  • Directions were given, joining the police as a party and directing the filing of evidence by it and by the local authority. In response the Constabulary has filed a full account of events from seven witnesses: two officers involved in the 2013 investigation (including the senior officer who appeared before me), two officers who were respectively concerned with the quality of the covert recording and with record-keeping, one very senior officer who was responsible for the reinvestigation, and two legal advisers.

 

 

There were two issues in the case – firstly, did anything from the tape recording within the home justify re-opening the finding of fact hearing or considering amending those findings? And secondly the practice issues of something so important having been kept back from the family Court despite assurances that EVERYTHING had been provided.

 

 

 

  • The first issue is whether the findings of the family court should be revisited in light of the disclosure of the recording. The threshold for reopening is that there is a real reason, based on solid grounds, for believing that a different outcome might result. Having studied the issue closely, none of the parties applies for this to happen. For my own part, I am independently satisfied that the further information falls far short of crossing the threshold for reopening the case. In particular, the confused and partially audible recording does not cast significant doubt upon the mother’s evidence or supply any plausible alternative explanation for K’s injuries. True it is that the father has not been convicted of any offence and continues to deny responsibility for K’s death, but that is no reason for this court to reconsider its conclusions.
  • There will therefore be no further hearing in this court in relation to these matters.

 

 

Practice issues

  1. Turning to the non-disclosure, I find that the nub of the matter is as follows. The existence of the recording was known to the three investigating officers in 2013, but they did not consider that it had any evidential value. It should have been obvious, in particular to the officer who appeared before me just four weeks after the recording was made, that it had to be disclosed, but it was not. Because of its special status, it was not held on the case file. The Constabulary’s lawyers and the officers who were not involved in the investigation process were therefore not aware of its existence until a much later stage.
  2. The efficient process of disclosure between the criminal and family jurisdictions is essential to the proper administration of justice. It is governed by protocols and on occasions reinforced by court orders. The criminal and family courts must be able to rely on assurances that all relevant material has been disclosed, though in some cases they may have to resolve claims of public interest immunity.
  3. In this case, the process took place against a background where concerns had already been expressed about the investigation into K’s death. Moreover, there was an unusually drawn-out sequence of events surrounding police disclosure. In those circumstances, the failure of Cumbria Constabulary to disclose the recording was particularly regrettable. It has led to further anxiety for the mother and significant extra expense for the public.
  4. However, it is important to record that there is no evidence to suggest that the recording was withheld from the court deliberately or that there was any bad faith on the part of the officers who were responsible. I also note the expression of regret made on behalf of the Chief Constable, reflected in the attendance of the Assistant Chief Constable at this hearing, and the assurances that lessons have been learned from this unhappy episode. In the circumstances, there is in my view nothing to be gained from any further action by the family court. These proceedings are accordingly concluded.

 

 

The lesson may be that simple acceptance of an assurance that all documentation has been provided might not be sufficient – there may be a need to go back with particularised questions “Do the police have X?” “Did the police carry out Y?”

 

 

Bugs, bunny

M v F (Covert Recording of children) 2016

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2016/29.html

Mr Justice Peter Jackson, in the High Court, dealing with a case where a parent in a custody dispute made clandestine recordings of the child – and because the father wanted to know what the child was saying during meetings with the social worker and Guardian, he placed bugs on the child’s clothing.

 

It is almost always likely to be wrong for a recording device to be placed on a child for the purpose of gathering evidence in family proceedings, whether or not the child is aware of its presence. This should hardly need saying, but nowadays it is all too easy for individuals to record other people without their knowledge. Advances in technology empower anyone with a mobile phone or a tablet to make recordings that would be the envy of yesterday’’s spies. This judgment describes the serious consequences that have arisen for one family after a parent covertly recorded a child in this way.

 

Let us have a look at the recording that was done

 

 

  • The dispute between the parents was bad enough for the local authority to have become involved and for the court to have appointed a Children’’s Guardian for Tara. All in all, the proceedings ran for 18 months and during that time there were a number of meetings between Tara and her social worker, a family support worker and the Guardian. Unfortunately, the father and his partner were determined to know what the child was saying at these meetings and also to record what the professionals were saying. As a result they embarked on a plan of action described in this extract from the original judgment:

 

“”The father’’s recordings19. At a core group meeting with the social workers in late January 2016, the father disclosed that he had been making covert recordings since the end of 2014. In a statement dated 21 February, he produced a number of transcripts dating back to November 2014.

20. At the outset of the hearing, I was asked to rule on whether the father’’s recordings should be admitted in evidence.

21. The first task was to establish the facts, and I heard from the father in evidence on this point specifically. Having done so, it emerges that the facts are these:

(1) The father produces transcripts of 16 conversations running to over a hundred pages(2) All but one of these are conversations involving Tara

(3) The exception was a local authority pre-proceedings meeting (see below)

(4) A significant number of recordings have not been transcribed or produced

(5) The first recording was made in November 2014, the last in March 2016

(6) The proceedings had been ongoing for well over a year before the existence of the recordings was revealed

(7) At least four devices were used

(8) At least two of these were small recording devices (bluntly, bugs – the one I was shown was no larger than 3 x 1.5 cm and can be bought on the internet for a few pounds)

(9) The other devices were iPhones or iPads belonging to the father and his partner

(10) The bugs were bought by the partner

(11) She sewed them into to a false bottom to the breast pocket of Tara’’s school blazer

(12) On some occasions a second bug was sewn into Tara’’s school raincoat and used at the same time to maximise the chance of picking up conversations

(13) On a day when a meeting was happening, the partner sewed the bug(s) into Tara’’s clothing just before she left for school – any earlier and the battery would have run out by the time a meeting took place at the end of the school day

(14) The bug would therefore be running all day, recording everything that Tara did

(15) Tara was therefore recorded at school, when with her teachers and friends, and at the contact centre when she went to meet her mother or speak to her on FaceTime

(16) Recordings were also made at home, when the social workers and Guardian visited

(17) At the end of the day, the bug(s) would be removed from the clothing so the contents could be downloaded

(18) The partner would make transcripts of what she and the father regarded as relevant conversations

(19) Other conversations were recorded by the father using his iPhone as a recording device

(20) He would leave it running in the breast pocket of his shirt or hold it, apparently innocently, in his hand

(21) At other times, when professionals were visiting the home, the father or his partner would leave an iPad or iPhone running in the top of the partner’’s handbag in the room where the conversation was likely to occur

(22) In February 2016, the father attended a pre-proceedings meeting with the social workers. They challenged him about his recently revealed use of recordings and he turned his phone off. He did not tell them that he had a second device running, with which he continued to record the meeting.

(23) Importantly, the father and his partner state that Tara has never been aware that she has been bugged

22. The father said that he had done all this to protect his daughter, but had not considered the consequences. Initially, he had not intended to disclose the fact that he had been making the recordings. His motivation was to find out about abuse and to hear Tara saying things to social workers that she might not say to him. He and his partner wanted to know what she was saying to them. They wanted to understand why she was so reluctant to see her mother. As matters developed, he wanted to be able to show that Tara was saying things to professionals that they were not reporting or acting on. Although the partner took most of the practical steps, it was planned together and he was responsible.

23. The father accepted that at an earlier stage he had carried out surveillance on the mother, including by using a private detective and by monitoring the in-car tracker device. He gave “”no comment”” answers to questions about accessing her private emails or iPad location service, but he admitted to accessing and making a screenshot of her private Facebook page when it was open on Tara’’s iPad. He had also taken hundreds of photographs in and of her home during the financial proceedings in order to substantiate his claim that she had a live-in boyfriend.

24. Having heard the father’’s evidence, I ruled that the recordings should be admitted and deferred explanation until now, so that the possible relevance of these actions to Tara’’s welfare could be considered in the wider context.

25. The mother did not oppose the admission of the recordings. Counsel on behalf of Tara drew attention to the court’’s powers under FPR 22.1 to control the evidence it receives. This includes the power to exclude evidence that would otherwise be admissible. She urged that as a matter of public policy conduct of this kind should be discouraged and that the resulting evidence should only be admitted in exceptional circumstances. Moreover, the material that the father wished to file was selective. If the court did not exclude the evidence obtained in this way, it would send the wrong message to other parents. At the same time, she contended that the fact that the recordings were made is in itself relevant and, indeed, important when considering Tara’’s welfare. She submitted that the recordings were not unlawful and do not constitute a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998 because they fall within the ‘’domestic purposes’’ exemption provided by s.36:

 

36 Domestic purposes.

Personal data processed by an individual only for the purposes of that individual’’s personal, family or household affairs (including recreational purposes) are exempt from the data protection principles and the provisions of Parts II and III.

26. I have not heard further argument about this, and it is unnecessary to determine whether the father’’s actions were illegal. That said, I believe that there may be good arguments for saying that the covert recording of individuals, and particularly children, for the purpose of evidence-gathering in family proceedings would not benefit from the domestic purposes exemption. Uneducated, I would assume that the exemption is intended to protect normal domestic use, which this is not.

27. In this case, I am in no doubt that the recordings were rightly admitted. The manner in which they were made is directly relevant to an assessment of the parenting offered by the father and his partner. They are so extensive that it would be unreal to exclude them, particularly after I had heard evidence from the father about their creation. It would be theoretically possible for the court to receive evidence of the making of the recordings but not their contents, but this would risk unbalancing the evidence if the contents were in fact of any value.

28. This case is a striking example of the acute difficulties that can be caused by adults recording children for the purposes of litigation. From the time the recording programme was revealed, everyone involved in these proceedings, except the father and his partner, immediately realised that it was wrong. The mother, rightly in my view, described it as “”unbelievable””. Even so, the full extent of the deeply concerning ramifications for Tara’’s welfare only became apparent as the hearing progressed. By the final day, even the father appeared to be beginning to understand the difficulties that he had created not just for his case but for his child.

29. This issue has also meant that the difficult question of whether Tara should be told that she has been recorded must be faced. It has also compounded the costs of the proceedings.””

 

 

Moving on, were the recordings useful to the Court?

 

 

  • The main reason for changing Tara’’s home base was the conclusion that the father and his partner could not meet her emotional needs as main carers. The recording programme was not the only indicator of this, but it was a prominent one. The mother was entitled to say that she objected to her daughter being brought up by someone who sewed recording devices into her clothing, something she described as “”really disturbing””.
  • Next to consider are the consequences for the proceedings of a large mass of material being produced at a late stage. The recordings put forward were selective and were not at first professionally transcribed. In the end, the issue increased the length and cost of the hearing, yet it did not produce a single piece of useful information. Instead:

 

i) It further damaged relationships between the adults in Tara’’s life.ii) It showed the father’’s inability to trust professionals.

iii) It created a secret that may well affect Tara’’s relationship with her father and step-mother when she comes to understand what has happened. As I said:

“”She is also at risk of harm arising from the recordings. I accept the Guardian’’s compelling assessment that it would be extremely damaging for Tara if the information comes to her in future in some uncontrolled way, something that is likely to cause her confusion or distress and seriously affect her ability to trust people.

I also accept the Guardian’’s analysis that the safer course is for Tara to be informed of the facts in a sensitive way in the relatively near future, once the immediate aftermath of this hearing has passed. There then needs to be a concerted effort by the family and the professionals to make sure that the information is contained within the group of people who will need to know it in order to carry out their statutory responsibilities. The consequences for Tara and her whole family of the father’’s behaviour coming to wider knowledge could be very serious, with unpredictable social and legal outcomes. However, the alternative – a conspiracy between those in court and the court itself to keep the matter secret from Tara and everyone else – is unacceptable in principle and unworkable in practice. It is a problem that needs to be faced and that is best done at a time when Tara is surrounded by professionals who know her situation and are well placed to help her make sense of it.””

iv) As indicated, the family’’s standing in the community has been put at risk. It is not hard to imagine the reaction of other parents at the school if they learn that their children were being recorded as a result of talking to Tara or even being near her, and the consequences of that for the father and most of all for Tara.

v) It involved an enormous waste of time on the part of the father and his partner in setting up the recordings and in transcribing them.

vi) It significantly escalated the cost of the proceedings. The father had to pay to have the recordings transcribed (£1,500) and on top of that I ordered him to pay the proportion of the mother’’s costs attributable to time spent on the recordings (£9,240). At the same time, there is an issue about whether the family can afford to pay Tara’’s school fees.

 

  • Anyone who is considering doing something similar should therefore first think carefully about the consequences.

 

Given that for large parts of Tara’s school day, every single thing she said (and was said to her) was recorded, these actions have invaded the privacy of every other child that she came into contact with. If the parents of those children learn that father did this, I should imagine they’d take an exceptionally dim view of it.

The Judge made some general observations about clandestine recording

 

 

  • This judgment does not relate to the practice of recording adults covertly for the purposes of family proceedings, or of recording children in other ways. Experience suggests that such activities normally say more about the recorder than the recorded (as in Re C [2015] EWCA Civ 1096), but there are so many possible circumstances that it is not possible to generalise. I note that the Cafcass Operating Framework (at 2.27) says that its officers should have nothing to fear from covert recording, but should bring it to the court’’s attention if they become aware of it, and ensure that it is dealt with methodically. That is no encouragement to the production of recordings, merely a reflection of situations that sometimes arise.
  • The Cafcass framework also mentions (at 2.29) that one form of covert recording may be the concealing of a device on a child, but makes no comment about that. In my view, that scenario does deserve comment of the kind that appears in the first sentence of this judgment.

 

The judgment is NOT authority for parents not being able to openly request to tape meetings with social workers – this is about covert recording of the child.

 

 

 

 

Social workers slammed for lying on oath

 

I know the title seems pure clickbait, since it is the sort of thing that is alleged quite often, but this is a case where the Judge did actually make that conclusion.  It involves social workers and managers who set out to change the parenting assessment conducted by another worker (who the Judge found to be blameless) so that it reached different conclusions and painted a wholly different and negative picture and then lied to the Court about it. This is social workers interfering with the parents right to a fair trial. It really is deeply shocking stuff.

 

A, B, C, D and E (Final Hearing) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B186.html

 

The case was decided by His Honour Judge Horton, and involved Hampshire County Council. Some of the workers involved no longer work at Hampshire and they are not spared.

 

 

12. This is I hope an unusual case. I certainly have not previously come across one quite like it either at the Bar or as a judge.

 

13. My previous judgments explain these comments but in my experience it is exceptional to find a case in which there has been deliberate and calculated alteration of a report prepared by one social worker in order to make that assessment seem less favourable, by another social worker and the Team Manager; the withholding of the original report when it was ordered to be disclosed and the parties to the alterations lying on oath one of them twice, in order to try to cover up the existence of the original report. Those people are referred to and named in my December judgment but given the enormity of what they did and the fact they still work as social workers it is right that I should name them again so that practitioners and members of the public coming across them are aware of their shortcomings in this case.

  1. Sarah Walker Smart the children’s Social Worker lied twice to me on oath. I was told during this hearing that she has been promoted to Team Manager within this authority.
  2. Kim Goode, Sarah Walker Smart’s then Manager, was the person who initiated the wholesale alteration of the original report and who attempted to keep the truth from the parties and me. At the time of the last hearing she was District Manager for the Isle of Wight. I was told during this hearing that she is still in post.
  3. Lisa Humphreys was Kim Goode’s Manager. Her evidence was deeply unimpressive. She made a ‘hollow’ apology to the parents during her evidence; she regarded a social worker lying on oath as “foolish” and she failed to accept any personal responsibility for what had gone on under her management. At the date of the last hearing she was Assistant Director of Children’s Social Care with Lambeth Borough Council.
  4. In my December judgment I concluded that the parents’ and children’s Article 6 and 8 Rights had been breached. The children had been removed illegally and the parents had not had a fair parenting assessment carried out due amongst other things to all professionals both childcare and legal, failing to identify M’s communication difficulties and the need for a psychological assessment. I therefore at the parents’ suggestion, directed that Symbol a parenting assessment organisation which specialises in people with learning and communication difficulties, should carry out a full parenting assessment. This was to be coupled with individual therapy for both parents. This ‘dual’ approach had been suggested by Dr Halari a highly qualified adult clinical psychologist who had seen each parent, prepared reports and who gave evidence. The plan was for the therapists and assessors to work together in order to give the parents the best possible chance of making the agreed and much needed changes to their parenting.

 

 

 

The December judgment had escaped my attention, so here it is

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B227.html

 

The portions setting out the failings of the Local Authority are long, but because they are so powerful, I will set them down in full   (I really can’t believe that I missed this judgment first time around).  Underlining, as ever, mine for emphasis (though I could almost underline every word). Apologies that the paragraph numbering goes all over the place.

 

  1. The factual matrix underpinning the breaches
  2. Removal
  3. Social worker Ms X was allocated to these children on 27 October 2011 and remained their social worker until Sarah Walker Smart was allocated the case in June 2013. During this time she formed a working relationship with the family.
  4. She was clearly concerned at A and B’s lack of schooling, failure to engage fully with health professionals and issues of basic neglect. Such was her concern that she initiated the PLO process on 12 April 2012. The PLO letter was clear and Ms X spelt out what was required. See Mrs Randall’s comments at D131.
  5. As early as 11 May 2012 Ms X had identified that the parents were unsure how to work with professionals and that the parents become aggressive and hostile.
  6. By April 2013 Mrs Randall’s opinion based on the recordings of Ms X was that little had really been achieved during 18 months of PLO process. D133
  7. In late Spring early summer 2013 Ms X obtained a new post within the authority. She made her last visit to the family on 4 June 2013. By this time Ms X had begun compiling information for Core Assessments on all the children and it was made a condition of her leaving that she completed Comprehensive Core Assessments. I heard evidence that I accept that Lisa Humphreys and Kim Goode were exasperated by Ms X’s failure to complete them.
  8. The new social worker allocated to the children was Sarah Walker Smart. She was new to this team and relatively inexperienced in child protection work. Her manager remained Kim Goode who was and is extremely experienced in such work having been in it for 18 years.
  9. Kim Goode and Sarah Walker Smart carried out an introductory joint visit on 20 June 2013. I am satisfied that Kim Goode and Sarah Walker Smart found a situation that they had not been fully prepared for by Ms X’s case recordings. This was not only in relation to the condition of the home and children but also the attitude of the parents. The mother in particular was difficult and hostile. I pause there to record that whilst I make criticism of the parents it must be seen in the context of their then unidentified difficulties and the attitude of Kim Goode who I am quite sure did nothing to calm the situation. I have seen and heard Ms Goode. She is a strong willed, forceful, opinionated person who it would be difficult to challenge effectively or at all. Her manner of answering during cross examination amply demonstrated this.
  10. As a result of what they saw and as a result of there having been 18 months without sustained change Ms Goode and Ms Walker Smart decided that the case should be taken to a legal strategy meeting. This took place on 24 June 2013. see K136.
  11. It was decided that the Comprehensive Core Assessment “with concerns” should be concluded as soon as possible, that care proceedings should be instigated and that a new PLO letter would be written. This was delivered to the parents on 27 June which was the same date as Sarah Walker Smart’s first statement.
  12. On 11 July Ms Walker Smart visited the home and found things largely the same as before but that the children’s presentation was “Ok”.
  13. On 12 July Care Proceedings were issued and on the 15 July directions given including a direction for the LA to file and serve the “current assessments to which the Social Work statement refers”. A21
  14. Also on this date the Housing Officer visited the home. He was clearly concerned by the condition of the property; a number of problems with the condition of the property that had not been reported and the overcrowding but I am satisfied he does not “condemn” it or say that it is dangerous. He did believe that the family should be temporarily or permanently re-housed.
  15. On 15 July the court made directions including giving a hearing date for a contested ICO.
  16. On 16 July Ms Walker Smart spoke to the Housing Officer. She purportedly interpreted what he said as the house was condemned, dangerous and unfit for the family to remain in. It is clear from Ms Walker Smart’s e mail of the same date that she was trying to get Mr Sibley to say that the property was unsafe and dilapidated due to the parents’ neglect and makes it clear that “we are planning to remove the children” and “need as much evidence as possible based on the home conditions being unsafe”.
  17. I am satisfied that by this date Kim Goode and Sarah Walker Smart had decided that the children should be removed from their parents care and that they intended to bolster their case by involving the housing department. This is clear from the wording of the e mail and I interpret the e mail as pressure being put on the Housing Officer. It was clear from his evidence to me that he was not prepared to do so.
  18. Lisa Humphreys told me that she had approved the cost of B&B and that she had not approved the removal of the children from their parents. This does not fit in with the content of the e mail and I have trouble believing that Kim Goode would construct a plan for removal without the approval of her DSM.
  19. On 17 July at 09:00 Sarah Walker Smart made a visit to the home. It was she said her view that the children were “no longer safe in the home and that if they remained they could experience significant harm”. In reality I doubt that anything was very much different from before and I am certain that the grounds for immediate separation were not there. She reported on what she saw to Kim Goode.
  20. At 11:17 that day Kim Goode set out an action plan. That action plan clearly expected the police to use their administrative powers to remove the children. She does record that if the police won’t agree to do so then the mother is to be asked to go to B&B with the children. Ms Walker Smart never offered this option to the mother and I am satisfied from the video footage and her evidence that this option was never in her mind. It is probable that Kim Goode never discussed this option with her.
  21. At 15:30 that day a joint police and social services visit took place. The LA accepts that the visit and removal was unlawful and breached the family’s Human Rights. The details of the breaches are set out later in this judgment.
  22. I have viewed the Body Worn Camera footage. I can well see why the LA makes the admissions it does. The removal was a flagrant breach of this family’s Human Rights. There were insufficient grounds for such action and it is clear the police felt that too as they did not try to use their administrative powers; the correct procedure was not followed; no true consent was obtained, and that which was obtained came from F under duress. Further he did not have power to give consent for the older two children as he did not have parental responsibility a fact Ms Walker Smart should have known.
  23. I am asked by F to find that the use of the police was a manipulation to coerce the parents. I am not satisfied that the social workers were deliberately trying to manipulate the police although I am satisfied that the effect on the parents was to coerce them. The parents, mother in particular could be verbally aggressive and had been so to Ms Goode. In circumstances where it had been decided to remove the children from their parents and it could reasonably be anticipated that the parents could be hostile, it would be appropriate to involve the police to avoid there being a breach of the peace. However, the video footage shows that the situation was badly handled with 8 police officers and two social workers descending on the parents and presenting them with no choice but to relinquish their children. There were no grounds for such removal, there was no discussion, no alternatives offered and it was clearly the intention of Ms Walker Smart to remove the children from their parents’ care come what may by asking for consent to s20 accommodation if the police did not act.

 

  1. Factual matrix underpinning the failure to disclose material evidence
  2. This relates to the Comprehensive Core Assessment that Ms X completed and sent to Kim Goode for what has been described “Quality Assurance”.
  3. Ms X completed writing her CCA on 18 June 2013. See P125. The Assessment contained both positives and negatives. It was therefore a balanced report. She e mailed it to Kim Goode.
  4. On 27 June 2013 Sarah Walker Smart swore her first statement asking the Court to read her statement along with the ” Core Assessment (July 2013) completed by Ms X” (my emphasis).
  5. On 10 July Ms Melanie Kingsley asked Kim Goode to forward Ms X’s core Assessment. Kim Goode replied saying she just wanted to “pad out the conclusion before it goes off”.
  6. On 15 July the court directed the LA to file and serve the “current assessments to which the Social Work statement refers”.
  7. On 16 July Kim Goode made substantial changes to Ms X’s Comprehensive Core Assessment (CCA) which are recorded by the word processing programme by way of tracked changes. All the substantive changes made are negative. The changes change the tenor and conclusions of the report completely. The picture painted by it is now wholly negative and would if accepted, have the effect of substantially improving the LA’s case for removal of the children, probably permanently. In my judgment these changes amounted to a wholesale rewrite and were not a proper use of the Quality Assurance system.
  8. Ms X never approved the changes.
  9. Kim Goode sent the track changed document to Sarah Walker Smart on 17 July at 13:02 who made few if any and no substantial changes. She could not make many changes as she had little knowledge of the family due to her brief involvement. She signed the assessment as if it were her own and it was served on 6 August.
  10. Ms X’s CCA was not filed in accordance with the court order.
  11. An order was made for the CCA to be filed by 30 July. Ms X’s version was never filed.
  12. Solicitors for the parents asked on numerous occasions for the disclosure of the document referred to in Ms Walker Smart’s statement and for any documents prepared by Ms X.
  13. On 22 August 2013 Melanie Kingsley in response stated in an e mail: “an assessment was started by Ms X but not concluded. The decision was taken that because Ms X no longer works for the department, the new social worker SW would compile an entirely new assessment, as it would not be appropriate for her to complete another person’s partially completed piece of work. Accordingly Sarah Walker-Smart wrote and filed a new Core Assessment which is in this bundle. There is nothing outstanding from Ms X which may be filed with the parties”
  14. I am satisfied that this e mail gave a deliberate and entirely false impression. Kim Goode and Sarah Walker Smart knew that Ms X had completed her assessment. The problem was that Kim Goode did not like it. In her opinion it did not fit in with her assessment of the family’s circumstances. Kim Goode knew Ms X had completed it because she had changed it. Ms Walker Smart knew Ms X had completed it as she had seen the tracked changed document which was obviously based on Ms X’s completed work.
  15. I am also satisfied that the legal department knew of the existence of the Ms X piece of work as Ms Kingsley had referred to it in her e mail of 10 July.

 

[A quick break here to say “Holy F**ing s**t!”]

 

  1. Twice more did Ms Coates ask for Ms X’s “draft” to be filed and served. Ms Kingsley replied on 13 November 2013 “there is nothing that can be filed”. Again this was patently untrue.
  2. On 31 March 2014 Sarah Walker Smart commenced giving evidence before me. A transcript of her evidence is at 72.1 of the transcript section.
  3. She was asked in chief: “Have you ever seen a core assessment completed by Ms X? “No” “Can you explain the reference to one in your statement?” “.. there was an assumption that Ms X had completed a Core Assessment..so I relied upon an assessment that did not exist. That’s completely my error.” I then asked: “You have given the date of July 2013 which rather implies that you had some basis to believe that there had been a Core Assessment carried out. What was your factual basis for that?” Answer:” The team manager” Kim Goode, “assumed that Ms X had written one”.
  4. I asked whether Kim Goode had checked for the Core Assessment. I was told that she had and that she could not find it.
  5. Sarah Walker Smart went onto to say that she had not checked. She said: “I’ve never seen a Core Assessment in Ms X’s name.”
  6. I have considered this evidence very carefully and been mindful of the two fold test in the R v Lucas direction that I must give myself when encountering lies.
  7. I am satisfied that her evidence that she had never seen a completed Core Assessment by Ms X was a lie. Sarah Walker Smart had seen a completed Core Assessment by Ms X. She had seen the tracked changed version e mailed to her by Kim Goode. I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that this was a deliberate lie to try to deflect attention from the existence of that document. I do not make this finding lightly or willingly but the evidence drives me to it. This lie was repeated in her evidence given to me on 25 November 2014.
  8. I am also satisfied that she lied when she said that the reference to such an assessment in her statement was a “mistake” based on an “assumption”. I am satisfied that the reason she mentioned it was because she had seen Ms X’s Core Assessment and she did not think there was anything wrong in referring to it. It was only afterwards that the import of what she had done became clear. In my judgment this is the only logical reason why she would have mentioned it. Her attempts to say it was a wrong “assumption” on the part of herself and Kim Goode was a fabrication. Again I do not reach this conclusion lightly but it is an inevitable one. Again she repeated this lie in evidence in November.
  9. Ms Walker Smart had the opportunity to disclose the existence of the Ms X assessment during the April part of this final hearing but did not take it. She chose to try to get away with the deception she had practised. I made it clear at the end of that hearing that I was worried about this issue and that I required full enquiries to be made to see if such a document existed. See 72.45 line 30 of the transcript of Ms Walker Smart’s evidence.
  10. Lisa Humphreys was also at court during the April hearing. She knew that the parents’ advocates wanted Ms X’s assessment disclosed and she knew of its existence yet she did not then or afterwards bring its existence to the attention of the court, the new social work team or the legal department. She could have accessed it easily as it was located in her ‘Outlook’ programme on her computer.
  11. The completed Ms X Comprehensive Core Assessment was eventually disclosed inadvertently as part of the disciplinary proceedings’ file in relation to Ms X in early August 2014. Kim Goode had initiated disciplinary proceedings against Ms X as a result of what she saw were serious failings in her work. As a result Ms X was dismissed from her employment. Her health is now so poor that she was unable to give evidence. I do not know whether her poor health and the disciplinary proceedings are linked but they cannot have helped her. This is not the place to comment on the appropriateness of that investigation, its fairness or its conclusions but I do ask the LA to robustly review their conclusions and decision in the light of this judgment and all that is now known about this case.
  12. Kim Goode’s involvement in this deception was examined in the November hearing.
  13. I am satisfied she knew of Ms X’s completed CCA as she had changed it. I am also satisfied she knew that the parties and court wanted it disclosed and she had decided that she would not.
  14. At one point I asked her: “So it was a deliberate decision by yourself not to let the court and the parents have” the Ms X Comprehensive Core Assessment and the guardian. Is that right?” “Yes” she answered.

 

A second break to say again “Holy f**ing s**t!”

 

 

  1. Whilst she tried to persuade me that she did this out of concern for the children as she felt the assessment was not accurate, I find this suggestion breathtaking. This is a manager with 18 years experience deliberately flouting the lawful request of the parents for disclosure of information and more to the point flouting court orders for such disclosure. At one point she tried to suggest that she was unaware of the duty to disclose, which I find as Mr Ker-Reid put it “incredible” in both senses of the word.
  2. There was a particularly telling piece of cross examination by Mr Ker-Reid when he put this question to her: “You were overtly, determinedly, seeking to deceive courts of justice, put your head together with other professionals in your department, whether legal or social workers, to tell judges of the Family Court that there was not an assessment by Ms X which you knew there was? That is right is it not?” Answer: “It is but I..” Q: “It is”. Answer: … “gave the explanation”. Q: “We have your answer, done”.
  3. I am satisfied that this question and answer perfectly sums up the thinking of Kim Goode and her approach to this case. I heard Kim Goode’s “explanation” and I am not satisfied by it. Her perception of whether the assessment was correct or not was not a reason for non-disclosure particularly in the face of a Court order. It was as she conceded dishonest to have said that there was no assessment from Ms X. I am satisfied that this “explanation” was in fact an attempt to deflect blame away from herself.
  4. I have already commented on my impression of Ms Kim Goode from my observation of her in the witness box and from her work on this case. She is a strong personality and I am satisfied that those subordinate to her would find it hard to challenge her. This atmosphere is probably what led Ms Walker Smart into such grave error. Whilst this may be an isolated incident in her career I have very grave concerns as to Kim Goode’s working practises in this case and in my judgment a thorough review of her work and management style should be undertaken by the LA.
  5. I have made some comments about the involvement of Lisa Humphreys in this case. I found her to be a very strong and forceful personality. Whether her management style fed into or off Kim Goode I cannot say but I am clear that they are similar in management style. Subordinates would find it hard to say no to or challenge her.
  6. Her response to hearing of Ms Walker Smart’s lies to me was astounding. She thought it was “foolish”. I am afraid that is not the way I see it and it is not the way she should have seen it. Such a comment makes the lies seem like minor misdemeanours which they are not.
  7. I also found her failure to accept personal responsibility for what has happened in this case depressing. Whilst of course managers cannot be responsible for rogue employees and their decisions are only as good as the information they are given by their subordinates, they should at least sound as if they mean any apologies they give. The one she gave the parents during her evidence did not sound heartfelt and I noted that there was no apology to the Court for the lies that had been told or the unnecessary delay that had occurred by those under her. It is probable that she saw no harm in withholding the Ms X CCA as she seemed to me to be fully in support of withholding it, because in her view it was not an accurate piece of work.

 

 

Wow. Just wow.

 

 

  1. Conclusions and Findings on Human Rights breaches
  2. It follows from my conclusions above that this family’s Human Rights have been breached. The parties have produced one combined document for me to consider covering the breaches that the parents, A, B and the Guardian allege have occurred and the LA’s response to each of them. In short the LA has albeit late in the day, conceded all of the general breaches alleged and most of the specific facts that go towards those general conclusions. I have amalgamated the various breaches from this composite document and my findings and condensed them into a manageable form. My findings are as follows.
  3. Removal of the children on 17 July 2013
  4. The LA accepts and I find that it acted unlawfully and disproportionately by removing the children from the care of the parents on 17.7.13 purportedly pursuant to section 20 of the Children Act 1989. I am satisfied that it did this by:
  1. a) Taking a decision to pursue police protection in preference to the provision of alternative accommodation;
  2. b) Failing to consider making an application for an EPO or short notice ICO;
  3. c) Failing to consider whether any family placements were available;
  4. d) Failing to inform the parents of the available options such as B&B
  5. e) Failing to encourage the parents to seek legal advice or the advice of family or friends;
  6. f) Acting without the Father’s informed consent to the removal;
  7. g) Acting without the consent (informed or otherwise) of the Mother;
  8. h) Acting without the consent of any person with parental responsibility for A and B;
  9. i) Purporting to act under section 20 of the Children Act by seeking the consent of the parents in the presence of 8 uniformed police officers presenting an overt threat of police protection;
  10. j) Acting in knowledge of the Father’s expressed belief that the police would act to remove the children in any event;
  11. k) Removing the children in circumstances which did not reach the test for an emergency removal;
  12. l) Purportedly justifying the removal at the time and subsequently by way of reasons which were incorrect and/or known to be untrue by the Social Worker namely that the home had been condemned; and
  13. m) Failing to obtain the wishes and feelings of the children contrary to section 20(6) of the Children Act 1989.
  14. n) Failing to have in place a policy document guiding procedures when social workers attend a family with police, such document having been directed by HHJ Levey DFJ to be produced in or about January 2013;
  15. o) Upon it becoming known to the Team Manager and/or District Service Manager that the Social Worker had acted disproportionately by removing the children from the care of the parents on 17.7.13 the LA should have taken steps to rectify matters by offering to reunite the children and parents in alternative accommodation but failed to do so.
  1. Failure to disclose material evidence
  1. The LA accepts and I find that it acted unlawfully by materially failing to comply with its duty to disclose documents which modified and/or cast doubt on its case and/or supported the case of the parents by:
  2. Failing to disclose the Comprehensive Core Assessment of Ms X as directed as early as 15 July 2013 or at all prior to its inadvertent disclosure pursuant to a court order on 11.8.14 relating to disclosure of disciplinary proceedings concerning Ms X;
  3. Failing to disclose the ICS Core Assessments of Ms X as directed or prior to 1.4.14;
  4. Failing to disclose ICS notes with the District Service Manager’s comments due to inconsistent practices in recording information by her;
  5. Failing to disclose case recordings until directed to do so by the court on 3.3.14; and
  6. Failing to inform the parties of the existence of the video of the children’s removal and/or disclose the video itself until directed to do so by the court in May 2014. This video was in the possession of Kim Goode and viewed by her within weeks of the unlawful removal. She knew that the removal was unlawful but failed to do anything about it.
  7. The non-disclosure of the Comprehensive Core Assessment of Ms X in the face of repeated requests from the parties and directions of the court was deliberate and the decision not to disclose the document was known to Sarah Walker-Smart, Kim Goode, Lisa Humphreys and the Legal Department.
  8. The LA misled the court and the parties as to the existence of a Comprehensive Core Assessment undertaken by Ms X.
  9. In particular the LA does not dispute and I find that Sarah Walker Smart lied on oath on 31 March 2014 when she said she had never seen a core assessment completed by Ms X; that Kim Goode had looked for one and had not found one and that the reference in her first statement to such an assessment was therefore an error.
  10. Further, Sarah Walker-Smart repeated the lies on oath on 25 November 2014.
  11. The LA’s failure to comply with its duty of disclosure caused an incomplete picture to be presented to the Guardian and to the court within the LA’s evidence filed before 7.4.14.

 

  1. Denial of fair opportunity to participate in decision making
  2. I make the following findings in relation to this head.
  3. The parents were not consulted about the removal of the children.
  4. Neither the Court nor the parents were provided with the investigations and recordings which precipitated the applications to separate C from A and B or to apply for a section 34 order to “terminate” contact;
  5. In respect of the application to terminate contact, Hampshire County Council relied upon reports from foster carers upon which they did not seek the parents’ instructions. The foster carers’ reports were inconsistent with Hampshire’s own evidence such as contact supervisor recordings;
  6. Hampshire County Council undertook sibling assessments without discussing the children and their attachments with their parents, or indeed observing the children together;
  7. Hampshire County Council failed to convene a Family Group Conference or take any steps to explore potential family support, which led to their overlooking the Gs and issuing placement applications although the parents did not bring the existence of the Gs or their willingness to offer care to the attention of HCC until August 2014;
  8. It is alleged that the parents have been excluded from LAC and PEP reviews and all medical appointments for all of the children. I have not been addressed in submissions on this point and so can make no findings. If it is thought significant I will hear further submissions on this point;
  9. Hampshire County Council failed to provide the parents with contact notes and foster carer records in accordance with the Court’s direction or on a regular basis. This has deprived the parents of the ability to address any identified issues and effect change.
  10. Hampshire County Council had been “put on notice” of their Human Rights breaches by the order of 07.04.14 (A121); further order on 08.05.14 and Mother’s detailed skeleton argument setting out both limbs of her argument which was filed and served on 17.06.14. However, they continued to deny any wrongdoing until:
    1. On or about 10.11.14 in respect of the unlawful removal;
    2. On or about 14.11.14 in respect of the material non-disclosure. Indeed this was described by Hampshire on 29.07.14 as a ” last minute fishing expedition speculatively raised” [135].
  11. Failure to promote family life
  12. The LA breached the children’s right to family life by failing to set up or maintain regular family or inter-sibling contact during proceedings up until 31 March 2014.
  1. I am also satisfied that FC2 particularly Mrs FC2 became inappropriately attached to the children she was looking after. She allowed herself to become emotionally involved so that she tried to “claim” them for herself. This was not picked up upon by the social workers quickly enough. They were getting reports from FC2 that conflicted with the reports of their own contact supervisors yet this was not properly or timeously investigated. It was this failure to control FC2 that led to no proper inter-sibling contact taking place and E not seeing his parents for a considerable period of time.
  2. As a result of the failures of Hampshire County Council to provide all relevant material and to conduct the matter in an open and fair way, the care plans for A and B as presented to the court for the hearing commencing 31 st March 2014 were particularly distressing in that they provided not only for separation of the siblings but that for B he was to have very restricted contact with his parents and siblings; such care plans were wholly unjustified and were changed by the then Service Manager Lisa Humphreys on or about 1 st April 2014 it being noted that this was without the court or any party having heard any evidence on this issue.
  1. Other failures
  1. The evidence presented to the court in the statement of Sarah Walker-Smart dated 27.6.13 upon issue of the LA’s application and in support of its application for interim care orders was unfair in that it was unbalanced and in parts inaccurate.
  2. As conceded immediately in evidence by Ms Gibson the LA purported to but failed to undertake a full and fair assessment of the parents’ ability to care for the children by way of the assessment by the family centre worker and the social work assessment of Sarah Walker-Smart.
  3. The LA purported to but failed to undertake a full and fair sibling assessment in particular because they were undertaken without sibling contact being observed.

 

 

I have read law reports where Local Authorities have got things wrong. I have read law reports where Local Authorities have got things badly wrong. I have read law reports where they have been unfair, or stupid, or failed to act promptly, or acted in a knee-jerk way. I have read law reports where the Court disagreed with their recommendation and told them that they had badly misunderstood the law. But I’ve never read anything like this. It is utterly astonishing.  It is every conspiracy theory about what social workers do, come to life.

It is shocking, it is appalling. It is a damn scandal. It brings the profession into disrepute. The only tiny crumb of saving grace in the whole affair is that those involved were caught and that His Honour Judge Horton has shone a light into this scandal. I can only do my small part by telling my readers about it.

 

Back to this November 2015 judgment.  (I haven’t read the end of it yet, but I hope it ends in a whacking big cheque being written, or indeed the judgment being sent to the Attorney General)

The Judge had sent everyone away in December to conduct fresh assessments and also for the parents to be given therapy – there were problems with their parenting, but clearly in light of everything above, they had not been given a fair assessment.

There is a bit in the judgment about the mother clandestinely recording meetings with professionals (it is rather hard to blame her for doing that)

 

During the mother’s evidence she mentioned that she and F had covertly recorded a meeting with the Guardian and some contacts. The M had used her phone and F a digital recorder that looked like a slightly fat pen. He produced the pen recorder and 4 recordings. As the Court security staff had not come across such a device before I took steps to inform HMCTS of the existence of such devices. The recordings provided by F were not listened to by me and no one sought to rely on their contents.

 

 

Sadly, the assessment work with Symbol – an independent specialist assessment service had not gone as well as one might have hoped.  Against the backdrop of everything above, it is perhaps no surprise that the parents found it difficult to trust professionals.

 

         She [The Symbol worker] told me that it became clear that the parents have an absolute antipathy towards the LA and social workers to the extent that they even objected to Ms Hinton being involved in the assessment. In her and Symbol’s opinion it was an impossible task for the parents to work with or trust any professional which was a significant barrier to moving on. She said that whilst professionals were not challenging or agreeing goals, things went fine but when they tried to work with the parents the situation broke down “sharply, remarkably and quickly”. Anyone who attempted to monitor or change their parenting behaviour would she opined, meet great hostility.

116. She was criticised by the parents for not acknowledging properly or at all the enormity of the emotional toll and distress on the parents and the children caused by the events of the summer of 2013. In particular Symbol were criticised for not going through the judgment with the parents and not recording any discussion about these topics. If they had it was submitted, the parents could have ‘moved on’ and the assessment would not have stopped

The Judge spends several pages discussing the assessments and the evidence, and that I’m afraid would make an already long article too long. Sadly, he reaches this conclusion

 In my judgment it has not been evidenced that the parents have made the necessary changes that could allow them to make sustained improvements to their parenting styles or allow them to co-operate with professionals. Whilst they have demonstrated some ability to engage with therapy and have attended a parenting course they have not demonstrated that their fundamental attitude towards professionals has changed. Indeed I saw evidence during their oral evidence of their continued, deep seated mistrust and their tendency to accuse professionals of lying when challenged or disagreed with. Furthermore, I am satisfied that the failure of the Symbol assessment has reinforced in their minds that professionals cannot be trusted and this will make it even more difficult than before for professionals to work with them.

One can quite see how it would be extremely difficult for any parent to trust professionals after that December hearing – even with wholly fresh professionals to work with and therapeutic help, there was just too much damage done for the relationship to be repaired.

406. I am therefore satisfied that I must make care orders with respect to all five children to Hampshire County Council. I approve the plans for their placements as they are the plans that will promote the children’s welfare throughout their minority and protect them from significant harm. I am satisfied that no lesser intervention or order can achieve this aim due to the parents’ inability to work with professionals, in particular the LA.

It is very hard to feel comfortable about this. The Judge was clearly a Judge who was prepared to take on the Local Authority when they had been unfair and dishonest and who set up fresh and independent assessments and ensured that the parents got therapeutic help. So the parents got a fair hearing from the Court. But weren’t they just screwed by a system that says “you’ve got to work with professionals” and condemned them for not being able to, even though almost anyone in the same position would not have been able to trust again after the most shocking breaches of trust?  Very hard.

Even though I’ve had nothing at all to do with this case, or any of the sort of things that have happened in it and I never would, today is one of those days where I feel ashamed to even be part of the Family Justice system.

The damages bit hasn’t yet been dealt with. When I see the report of that, I will share it.

I was reminded by the parties that the parents and children have outstanding damages claims for the breaches of their Human Rights. As I indicated at the beginning of the hearing I have agreed with Hampshire’s DFJ that he should hear this part of the case. I will direct as part of the order arising from my judgment that a directions hearing be listed before him at his convenience.

417. I was concerned to learn that the three social workers who I previously criticised had not apparently been subject to disciplinary proceedings. I direct that my December judgment and this one be sent by the Director for Children’s Services to the Director of Social Services, Ofsted and those social workers’ supervisory bodies with a view to them considering whether further action against them is required.

I know that my commenters will want to talk about this case, and will probably be very cross about it. Please try to stay away from defamatory remarks (what the workers did in this case and what you think about it is fair game, what you think of them as people is for somewhere else, not here)

I also know that some of you will be wondering about perjury.  It is true that lying under oath is a criminal offence.  The police aren’t able to investigate perjury unless directed to do so by a Judge and a prosecution for perjury can only take place if the Attorney General authorises it

The Perjury Act 1911

1 (1)If any person lawfully sworn as a witness or as an interpreter in a judicial proceeding wilfully makes a statement material in that proceeding, which he knows to be false or does not believe to be true, he shall be guilty of perjury, and shall, on conviction thereof on indictment, be liable to penal servitude for a term not exceeding seven years, or to imprisonment . . . F1 for a term not exceeding two years, or to a fine or to both such penal servitude or imprisonment and fine

section 13 of the Perjury Act 1911, which sets out the corroboration needed to prove perjury can sometimes be difficult

A person shall not be liable to be convicted of any offence against this Act, or of any offence declared by any other Act to be perjury or subornation of perjury, or to be punishable as perjury or subornation of perjury, solely upon the evidence of one witness as to the falsity of any statement alleged to be false.

 

[I.e Victoria saying that Colin is lying is not sufficient, there needs to be something more. Here of course, there were the computer records and emails in addition. The criminal standard of proof is high, and perjury prosecutions are very rare. And I am no expert in criminal law, so the furthest I can go is to say that it is a possible case where the Atttorney General might have a decision to make if asked]

 

Misfeasance in a public office is the other one that comes up from time to time. Not a criminal offence, but a civil tort.  That’s probably not much use because the compensation for that would be something that could be awarded under the Human Rights Act for the breaches already found in any event.  Though it is possible that the damages would be higher.

[Watkins v Home Office 2006

There is great force in the respondent’s submission that if a public officer knowingly and deliberately acts in breach of his lawful duty he should be amenable to civil action at the suit of anyone who suffers at his hands. There is an obvious public interest in bringing public servants guilty of outrageous conduct to book. Those who act in such a way should not be free to do so with impunity.[1]

[1] [2006] UKHL 17, paragraph 8.  ]

 

And there’s the social work regulatory bodies who could be asked to take action. Social workers can and have been disciplined for bad conduct.