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The Ashya King wardship judgment

We have all been eagerly awaiting this, and it is now out.

 

This is the judgment given by Mr Justice Baker in the wardship proceedings, setting out the reasons why on Friday of last week a solution was reached that Ashya would be able to receive proton-beam therapy treatment in Prague. Ashya is no longer a ward of Court, and all decisions about him will be made by his parents.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/2964.html

 

It is not one of those rambling long judgment that would be incomprehensible to non lawyers – it runs about four pages and most of it is in plain English. I don’t often suggest that normal human beings read a judgment, but in this case, I would. It is a very good piece of work by Baker J  (not surprisingly, he writes a good judgment)

 

[It doesn’t answer my law geek question of whether the parents received free legal representation – I hope that they did. They were certainly represented, and the firm they used does do legal aid work. And there’s no debate at the end about costs, so I hope they got legal aid. One suspects that even the Legal Aid Agency had enough common sense to not want to be seen to be saying that the family should spend their treatment fund on lawyers]

The judgment focuses rather more on treatment and the future than a forensic delve into the past and what has gone wrong (understandably, because a solution had been arrived at that would please everyone, and also because if there is to be any suing going on about what happened it is likely to focus on the issue of the European arrest warrant and the arrest and detention of the parents, which is outside of the scope of the family Court)

 

What the Judge does say about the application for wardship itself is this :-

 

32 When Mr and Mrs King took Ashya from hospital on 28th August, the medical staff were understandably very concerned that the boy would suffer significant harm by being removed from the specialist care they were providing. When the local authority was informed about what had happened, and that it was believed that the parents had left the country, the social workers understandably concluded that there were reasonable grounds for believing that Ashya was at risk of suffering significant harm by being driven across Europe without medical assistance at a time when he urgently required post-operative therapy. I therefore conclude that the local authority acted entirely correctly in applying to the High Court, and further that Judge Arthur was right, on the evidence before him, to make Ashya a ward of court. My comments are confined to the matters within the family jurisdiction. I make no comment as to whether or not it was appropriate to seek a European Arrest Warrant. I merely observe that one consequence of this course was that Ashya was separated from his parents and left alone for several days in the Spanish hospital. As I observed at the hearing on 2nd September, whatever the rights and wrongs of his parents’ actions, it was not in Ashya’s best interests to be separated from them in such circumstances.

  1. The steps taken by the local authority and Judge Arthur on 29th August were entirely justified on the evidence then available. As at that date, there were reasonable grounds for believing that Ashya was at risk of suffering significant harm. A week later, the picture had changed and the court was faced with a completely different decision.

 

 

I’m sure that there will be many who think otherwise, but this judgment is very helpful in setting out the facts of the case when there has been so much speculation.

 

I am pleased that Ashya is back with his parents and that he is receiving treatment, and whatever else we might feel about this case, I’m sure that all of us wish him and his parents all the very best for the future.

 

 

 

What is wardship?

 

I suspect that there will be a few people, including some journalists, who want to understand what Wardship is today.  (If it is okay, I’m going to try not to say too much about Aysha King specifically today, because the case is now before the Court and hasn’t been decided – the case is now in the High Court, a wardship order has been applied for and the Judge Mr Justice Baker has adjourned the case until Monday, to give the parents time to get lawyers and put their own position before the Court. But I will touch on what these things might mean for the King family at various points)

 

What is wardship?

 

If you aren’t a family lawyer, the only time you’ll have come across someone being a Ward is Dick Grayson being Bruce Wayne’s ward. (which seemed to involve very little in the form of care and nurture and much more in the form of dressing up garishly and fighting armed goons)

Wardship is quite an old phenomenon whereby a High Court Judge makes decisions about what is best for a child and no significant steps can be taken in relation to that child without the Court approving it. They were very common pre Children Act 1989 and were at that stage a creation of common law (i.e the law about Wardship was invented and adapted by Judges, rather than having been a law invented by Parliament and set down in an Act)

 

In fact, pre Children Act 1989 they were often a route for children being taken away from parents and placed into the care of a Local Authority.  (there was a power in the Family Reform Act 1969 to let them do just that, so the power kicked around for twenty years)

 

{Edit – am grateful to David Burrows for advising me that the child becomes a ward of Court on issue of the application, though the Court can of course decide whether that continues once they hear the case}

 

What are the powers of Wardship?

Wardship is part of the High Court’s Inherent Jurisdiction, and as long-term readers will know, the High Court is very fond of using the Inherent Jurisdiction as authority for doing just about anything, and often use the phrase “the powers of Inherent Jurisdiction are theoretically limitless”

 

The Practice Direction 12 D is quite helpful in explaining Wardship

https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/family/practice_directions/pd_part_12d
1.1
It is the duty of the court under its inherent jurisdiction to ensure that a child who is the subject of proceedings is protected and properly taken care of. The court may in exercising its inherent jurisdiction make any order or determine any issue in respect of a child unless limited by case law or statute. Such proceedings should not be commenced unless it is clear that the issues concerning the child cannot be resolved under the Children Act 1989.
1.2
The court may under its inherent jurisdiction, in addition to all of the orders which can be made in family proceedings, make a wide range of injunctions for the child’s protection of which the following are the most common –

(a) orders to restrain publicity;
(b) orders to prevent an undesirable association;
(c) orders relating to medical treatment;
(d) orders to protect abducted children, or children where the case has another substantial foreign element; and
(e) orders for the return of children to and from another state.

 

[You can see that (c) and (e) are pretty relevant to Aysha’s case]

Let’s look at it this way – the Children Act is like Batman – there are all sorts of powers and tools and gadgets in there, but they are all prescribed and laid out. You know if you bump into Batman that he has fighting prowess and Batarangs and Shark Repellent. But he can’t suddenly fly or shoot laser beams from his eyes or lift up a train. There are limits to Batman’s capabilities and we know what they are.  The Inherent Jurisdiction is more like Superman –  he can do pretty much anything you can think of (including, if you rely on the movies, flying around the world backwards to turn back time…  LET IT GO, Suesspicious Minds, get over it)

 

And just like Superman, Inherent Jurisdiction has huge power, but it also has Kryptonite

 

What can’t be done under wardship?

 

When the Children Act 1989 was being devised, there were people who wanted to get rid of wardship altogether, but they were finally persuaded to keep it, but to put into the Children Act 1989 a limit to its power.

 

s100 Children Act 1989 Restrictions on use of wardship jurisdiction.

(1)Section 7 of the M1Family Law Reform Act 1969 (which gives the High Court power to place a ward of court in the care, or under the supervision, of a local authority) shall cease to have effect.

(2)No court shall exercise the High Court’s inherent jurisdiction with respect to children—

(a)so as to require a child to be placed in the care, or put under the supervision, of a local authority;

(b)so as to require a child to be accommodated by or on behalf of a local authority;

(c)so as to make a child who is the subject of a care order a ward of court; or

(d)for the purpose of conferring on any local authority power to determine any question which has arisen, or which may arise, in connection with any aspect of parental responsibility for a child.

(3)No application for any exercise of the court’s inherent jurisdiction with respect to children may be made by a local authority unless the authority have obtained the leave of the court.

(4)The court may only grant leave if it is satisfied that—

(a)the result which the authority wish to achieve could not be achieved through the making of any order of a kind to which subsection (5) applies; and

(b)there is reasonable cause to believe that if the court’s inherent jurisdiction is not exercised with respect to the child he is likely to suffer significant harm.

(5)This subsection applies to any order—

(a)made otherwise than in the exercise of the court’s inherent jurisdiction; and

(b)which the local authority is entitled to apply for (assuming, in the case of any application which may only be made with leave, that leave is granted).

 

 

English please?

 

(i) The Court can’t use wardship to put a child in the care of the Local Authority.  That is important because otherwise it would let Judges put children into care even where the threshold criteria for making Care Orders wasn’t met.    [For Aysha’s case, that means that even if the Court make a wardship order, that does not amount to the child coming into care]

(ii) The Court can’t make a wardship order and then say “Local Authority, you make the decisions, I’ll leave it to your discretion”  – if there’s a wardship order, the High Court have to make the individual decisions

(iii) The Court can’t use wardship to do something that could be achieved by any other power in the Children Act   (i.e if you can get the job with Batman, Superman won’t be able to show up and help even if you prefer Superman)

 

Also, although this is not spoken of very often, all of the Human Rights Act provisions apply to wardship cases – so there is the article 6 right to fair trial and the article 8 right to private and family life which means that wardship can only be made if it is PROPORTIONATE and NECESSARY.    [There’s an intriguing section of the Supreme Court judgment in Re B, where Lord Neuberger is talking about article 8’s “necessary” test and says that for those purposes he adopts Lady Hale’s formulation of “nothing else will do”   – that doesn’t seem to have been picked up on generally yet to the extent that it was picked up on for Adoption cases]

 

Who can apply for wardship?

 

As you can see from the Kryptonite section, the Local Authority can apply, but ONLY if they can satisfy the Court that there is reasonable cause to believe that failure to apply would be likely to cause significant harm to the child. That is not an easy hurdle to cross – particularly since if that test applies they would have remedies under the Children Act 1989  (Emergency Protection Order, Interim Care Order, Recovery Order)

They can also be issued by a connected person, generally a parent  – and that’s usually where there’s a fear of abduction of the child to another country or an attempt to get the child returned.

Wardship applications can, and have, been issued by hospital Trusts seeking a declaration from the Court about medical treatment for a child, and that’s probably what has happened in Aysha’s case.

It is theoretically possible that the police could apply, but I’ve never come across such a case.  They might be reluctant to do so, since making the child a ward of Court means that the child can’t be interviewed without approval of the Court.

 

When does wardship run out?

 

It runs for as long as the Court want it to last, but the longest it can last is until the child is no longer a child. There aren’t any formal applications to discharge or revoke a Wardship order, but in practice, a person would seek a hearing before the High Court to persuade the High Court that wardship was no longer needed.

 

What about getting free legal advice?

 

This is a tricky question. If there’s an application for care proceedings, then the parent automatically gets what is called “non means, non merit” public funding  – what does that mean? Well, it means that a parent gets free legal advice and representation to fight the case even if they are a millionaire  (non means) or even if someone looking at the case would think that their argument is poor (non merits)

The next tier of public funding is those matters set out in Schedule 1 of LASPO http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/10/schedule/1/enacted  which can get public funding if they meet a means and merit assessment. Wardship is NOT in there.

Eep. What now?

Well, the final tier is Exceptional funding under s10* of LASPO.  If you are a lawyer, you are already wincing. This allows the Legal Aid Agency to grant free legal advice to exceptional cases where not having free legal advice would breach a person’s human rights.  Hardly ANY of these have been granted.

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/four-family-law-applications-for-exceptional-case-funding-have-been-granted-between-april-and-june-2014#.VAXrAGOgktV

In the last year, of 821 applications, 8 were granted. And only 4 for family cases.

 

Even if you could get public funding on exceptional circumstances – well the bad news is that that is still means tested.  What does that mean? Well, it means that if you have capital over £8000, you can’t get free legal representation.

(If you are wondering, yes, the Legal Aid Agency would treat all of the King family’s savings, and any donations for the treatment fund as capital.  It is not money that they would disregard or ignore. At the moment, this case is a police/nhs scandal, but it is about to become a legal aid scandal too)

 

What are your options if you CAN’T get free legal advice?

 

You could represent yourself. Not ideal in the High Court, dealing with life-changing and complicated things.

You could arrange a McKenzie Friend. There are some good and helpful ones, but a stand-alone wardship case is really very difficult.

You could contact the bar pro bono unit  (there are lawyers who will represent you for free.  http://www.barprobono.org.uk/

Or you could instruct lawyers paying privately and hope to win the case and get a costs order against the applicant. Cost orders aren’t easy, since if the applicant made the application in good faith and has not behaved dreadfully, it isn’t as simple as just “If there’s no wardship order the other side will have to pay costs”   – having said that, in a case like this, where the parents would be spending money that they want to spend on treatment, there might well be a sympathetic consideration of any costs application.

 

 

 

*{corrected, from s11 LASPO, my mistake. Thanks to David Burrows for spotting it}

Relinquishing a relinquishment

 

There’s an unofficial competition in this blog for ‘the worst case of the year’ and although it is only October, I think it may be hard to find one worse in the next two and a half months.  It is an unwelcome award and nobody tends to give an acceptance speech for them, it is more “I’d like to blame the following for this…” than a sobbing Gwyneth, and certainly not a Sally Field “You…like me”

 

“Relinquish” in this context means the decision by a parent that they cannot care for their child and would want a Local Authority to arrange for the child to be adopted – consensual adoption would be another way of putting it. I don’t really care for the word ‘relinquish’ myself, but we don’t seem to have settled on a better word yet.

 

Anyway, this is a case in which parents who had four children found themselves with a fifth on the way (at a time when they appeared to be in the midst of a separation) and decided that adoption was for the best for the new baby.  They asked the Local Authority to arrange this and the appropriate steps were taken, and prospective adopters were found who were willing to foster the baby during the process.

 

So far, everything is fine.

 

The problem arose when the parents changed their mind about adoption, and what happened then.

As this is a judgment about a Welsh case, the numbering of some of the statutory provisions may be slightly different to the English ones, but once you square the number of the section of the relevant Act, the wording is the same.

Foster carers v A, B & A Welsh Local Authority [2019] EWFC B52 (27 June 2019)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2019/B52.html

 

The case was decided by Francis J

 

5                     It is important that I record from the outset that Mr Boothroyd, on behalf of the local authority, has made a complete, fulsome and obviously well-meant apology for the failings of the local authority in this case.  I hope that in due course the carers and the parents will be able to accept that apology, for without the failings of the local authority these proceedings would not, in my judgment, have been necessitated.  Whether, and if so, to what extent proceedings are later taken against the local authority is not a matter for me – or certainly not a matter for me at the moment.  I do tentatively suggest, however, that if any proceedings against the local authority are taken at a time when I am still a judicial office holder, it would be appropriate for such applications to be heard by me.

 

6                     I said at the outset of these proceedings, and it is worth me repeating now, that the human misery in this court is palpable.  From everything that I have read and heard, although I have heard no oral evidence, it seems obvious to me that the applicants and the parents are all thoroughly decent people who all wish the very best for A, with whom this court is concerned.

 

7                     In circumstances which I shall shortly relate, these two decent couples have found themselves pitted against each other in litigation which none of them could have wished for in their worst nightmares.  In short, the position can be described as follows, although I shall relate it in more detail shortly.  Because the birth parents already had four children between them, and because at the time when it was anticipated that A would be born they had personal difficulties and had briefly separated, they formed the conclusion, at least for a time, that it would be better for them, their children, and most particularly for A, if they were to relinquish her for adoption.  It is hard to think of a decision, as a parent, that is more difficult to make, but I am completely persuaded from everything that I have seen and heard that they decided to relinquish A out of love for her and the desire to do the best for her.

    …When the mother informed the local authority social worker of her decision to relinquish her unborn child, it was immediately accepted by that social worker as being for the best, and the local authority put in place proposed adopters from birth.  In my judgment, they had a duty to discuss this with the mother, in fact with both parents, in detail, before accepting the position rather than actively encouraging them to go through with the adoption.  The Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005, and the Welsh equivalent, pursuant to s.53 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 mandate the local authority to provide pre-birth counselling to the mother, which would include whether the mother could care for the child with support or whether there were members of the family who could care for her in the short or long term.  Following the birth, the social worker must counsel the mother to see if she still wanted to the child to be adopted.  At the first statutory review, consideration should be given to whether there still remains a chance that the child will return home.  The local authority must do whatever it can to ensure that the child is brought up within her birth family if at all possible.  Prospective adopters, who are selected to accept a relinquished baby from hospital, should be informed they will need to be robust because of the possibility that the parents may change their minds.

The child has lived with the prospective adopters since she was 3 hours old, and had recently had her first birthday.

 

Leading up to the difficulties, around three months after the birth of A

24                 On 25 September 2018, the mother met with the guardian to sign the relevant consents to relinquish A, but due to the mother’s reservations the guardian advised the mother not to sign the consents.  In my judgment, this event on 25 September 2018 is a critical event.  The following day the guardian sent an email, in which she recorded that she was unable to have the consent form signed as it was, and I quote, “Clear that the parents want A to be returned to their care.  They feel circumstances have changed since relinquishing.”  The guardian wisely advised the parents to seek legal advice.  I repeat that this was 25 September 2018, about nine months ago.

 

25                 A contact recording on 5 October 2018 notes, and I quote, “Whilst the mother was cuddling A she whispered to her, ‘I’m going to get you back’, before repeating, ‘Mummy is going to get you back.’”  On 8 October 2018, the social worker recorded that the mother said that she felt that giving A away was a mistake and that she was due to see her solicitor on Thursday.  There is a great deal more in the guardian’s chronology, but what is abundantly clear is that it was only a short time after the birth that the mother, and then, in due course, supported by the father, showed increased anxiety about her decision and increased reluctance to let A go.

 

It was clear by this stage that the mother was having significant doubts about A being adopted.

 

26                 It is evident, and Judge Garland-Thomas so found in the care proceedings to which I will shortly refer again, that in October 2018 the mother was informed by a local authority social worker that if she changed her mind an assessment would need to be carried out which would involve the other children.  This was as devastating for the mother as it was incorrect.  It was devastating because it terrified the mother and, I dare say, the father when she relayed it to him that further local authority involvement with their family would now ensue, with all the risk to the other children that they had been through already, as I’ve recounted above.

 

27                 It is completely evident to me that the birth parents became frightened that an inquiry would now follow into their capacity to care for the four children already at home with them — certainly three of them, one of them I dare say being above the relevant age.  The mother was understandably concerned about previous local authority involvement.

 

28                 Judge Garland-Thomas found that by March 2019 both parents had indicated, reluctantly, that they agreed that A should be placed for adoption.  Judge Garland-Thomas found, however, that on the way back from court on 3 April 2019, the mother disclosed that she did not agree with the plan and that she wanted A back in her care.  It was this comment of the mother’s that persuaded the local authority that they should issue care proceedings.  Judge Garland-Thomas found, and it is obvious to me that she was correct in this finding, that the placement of A shortly after her birth as a foster to adopt placement was not one which had any legal foundation.  It is accepted that the parents agreed accommodation under s.76 of the 2014 Act, but there was no compliance with other legislative requirements.

 

The parents withdrew their consent to adoption.  (it is not clear as to whether they formally withdrew their consent to section 20 foster care accommodation or were informed that they had the legal right to do this)

The Local Authority issued care proceedings for A.  That seems, to me, to be a sledgehammer approach but in the interests of fairness there probably wasn’t any other “legal” mechanism for resolving this.  (the Court can make all sorts of useful declarations under an Adoption application, but an adoption application could not be made).  I’d like to know more about what attempts were made to resolve matters via conversation and social work and possibly legal advice for the parents, but we just don’t know from this judgment.  So if the LA felt that a Court should make the decision as to whether A would go home to parents or stay with the current carers, that was the only legal route for doing so.  (The question of whether it was necessary for the Court to make such a decision is a different matter)

I’m also not sure about threshold, and it turns out that my uncertainty was echoed by two Judges.

 

32                 At the first directions hearing within the now issued care proceedings, it was evident that threshold was disputed.  The local authority sought to rely on the likelihood of emotional harm and neglect arising from the fact that A was relinquished at birth and there had been no contact between the parents and A since October 2018.  Judge Garland-Thomas found herself having to grapple with the relevant date for threshold.  It transpired that the local authority had pleaded three different relevant dates.  Their initial threshold document pleaded the relevant date was 4 July 2018, being A’s birth date.  On behalf of the local authority, this was abandoned by Mr Boothroyd at the hearing before Judge Garland-Thomas and the second threshold document dated 24 May 2019 pleaded the relevant date as 3 April 2019, the date on which the mother requested that A be returned to her care.  Later, in submissions, Mr Boothroyd on behalf of the local authority suggested that the only feasible relevant date could be the date on which the mother originally changed her mind, namely about 25 September 2018. 

 

33                 Judge Garland-Thomas found that it is clear to her that the only date which could possibly be the relevant date is A’s date of birth, 4 July 2018.  She found that the submission that the relevant date is either 3 April 2019 or possibly 25 September 2018 is not sustainable.  On each of those dates A remained in local authority care, where she had been since 4 July.  The judge found that any date other than 4 July 2018 is therefore an artifice seeking to place some blame on the parents for their change of stance.

 

I’m not at all convinced that a parent lawfully exercising their statutory right to change their mind about giving a child up for adoption (particularly when papers had not been signed) gives rise to a likelihood of harm to that child attributable to the care given by the parents not being what it would be reasonable for a parent to provide.

 

36                 The judge found, in paragraph 28 of her judgment, that it would be necessary for the local authority to show, on any of the dates proposed, that there is a lack of care being provided by a parent which gives rise to threshold.  The judge said that she was satisfied, and she so found, that the local authority cannot establish that A has suffered, or that she is at risk of suffering, significant harm attributable to the parents as at any relevant date.  The judgment of Judge Garland-Thomas, therefore, brings the public law care proceedings to an end.  The application for a care order has been dismissed and the care proceedings now will formally end today with the handing down of her judgment

 

There might be a scenario, when the reasons for relinquishing in the first place obviously and clearly give rise to a likelihood of harm if the child is at home with the parents, but just changing their mind isn’t it.

Judge Garland-Thomas, correctly in my judgment, concluded that when the local authority proceeded on the basis of a foster to adopt placement they did not have in place the legal framework to enable them to do so, and care proceedings should have been issued earlier than they were.  It was completely clear by at least 25 September 2018 that the parents were equivocating about their consent to adoption.  There is a duty on this local authority to support and assist parents in the position that these parents were in, and I have already set out the relevant Adoption Agencies Regulations that apply here in Wales.

 

38                 Instead of providing that support and counselling, the local authority actively encouraged the parents to proceed along the adoption route, and even, albeit implicitly rather than explicitly, allowed the parents to feel that failure to continue to relinquish A for adoption could give rise to an inquiry in relation to the other children.

 

39                 Mr Boothroyd on behalf of the local authority, has referred me to a famous but now somewhat old lecture given by Lord Mackay of Clashfern in1989, when he delivered the Joseph Jackson memorial lecture.  It is to be remembered that 1989 is the year of the Children Act, albeit it that did not come into force in 1990 or maybe even 1991.  During the course of that lecture, Lord Mackay said this,

 

“The integrity and independence of the family is the basic building block of a free and democratic society and the need to defend it should be clearly perceivable in the law.  Accordingly, unless there is evidence that a child is being or is likely to be positively harmed because of a failure in the family, the state, whether in the guise of a local authority or a court, should not interfere.”

 

40                 The lecture is to be found reported in New Law Journal vol 139 at p.505.  The quoted paragraph being at p.507.

 

41                 Mr Tillyard in sensitively but, if I may say so, in characteristically bold fashion, criticises the local authority.  He lists inter alia the following failings:

 

42                 1.  When the mother informed the local authority social worker of her decision to relinquish her unborn child, it was immediately accepted by that local authority to be for the best, and the local authority put in place the proposed adopters from birth.

 

43                 I agree with Mr Tillyard’s submission and so find that they had a duty to discuss this the parents in detail before accepting the position, rather than actively encouraging them to go through with the adoption.

 

44                 2.  The local authority should have permitted the mother time to reflect on her decision to relinquish A following the birth, rather than asking her to leave hospital within three hours of A being born.

 

45                 3.  The applicants, that is the carers, had not been approved as foster carers, and so A should not have been placed with them from birth.

 

46                 I wish to make it completely clear that in saying this I do not criticise the carers at all. I criticise the local authority.

 

47                 4.  Once A was placed with the carers, the local authority took far less interest in the mother’s welfare than they should have done.  It took them some three weeks before they even organised contact.

 

48                 5.  The local authority was placed on notice by the guardian in September 2018 that the parents’ consent was likely to be in issue.

 

49                 In my judgment, the local authority should have fully investigated this as soon as it became evident to them.  That was their clear duty.  The local authority told the mother that once she signed the papers for adoption in September or October there would be a final contact session.  The mother was not aware, because nobody told her, that she could have requested ongoing contact.

 

50                 It is clear that, had the local authority carried out its statutory duties pursuant to statute and regulation, from at least 26 September 2018, these proceedings would not be happening. It is overwhelmingly likely that had that action been taken last September, as I have said just over nine months ago, the parents would have been rehabilitated with A and the carers, however sadly, tragically and reluctantly, would have conceded this.  It is almost beyond belief that we are now some nine months later.  Who can possibly blame the carers now for bringing the applications that they do, both within wardship proceedings and for seeking leave to bring the adoption application?

 

 

As a side note, the Judge noted that the mother and father, who stood shoulder to shoulder and had absolutely no conflict between them were represented separately.  This does seem to have become simply the de facto norm position rather than anyone turning their mind to an actual conflict or the genuine possibility of a conflict.  The Judge made remarks which may have wider significance

51                 The mother and the father have each been separately represented in these proceedings before me.  I questioned the need for this; not out of any sense of criticism, but because it seems to me that they stand together shoulder to shoulder in this application.  Of course, as I have recounted above, there was a time when they were separated and that separation appears to have been a significant part, although not the only reason, for the decision to relinquish the baby.  I can well understand that that led people to think that they should be separately represented, however, when questioned about this the best answer that I was given as to the reason for separate representation is that this is what normally happens in public law care proceedings.

 

52                 As I have said, I do not intend to and do not criticise either of the birth parents nor any of the legal representatives for the decision for separate representation.  I do, however, tentatively suggest that if it is obvious to advocates that two parties to proceedings have identical cases, ambitions and evidence, attention should be given to the possibility of single representation.

 

Moving on

 

instead of accepting the facts, the local authority proceeded, as I have said, as if consent was still forthcoming.  I am the first to recognise that local authorities work under intense pressure of work and in circumstances where funding has been persistently and repeatedly reduced.  The pressure on local authority social workers and lawyers is often intolerable.  However, the local authority should not, and cannot, make the mistakes of the kind that have been made by this local authority in this case.  I have already used the words “human misery” above, and I repeat those words now in the sense that the human misery caused by the failings of this local authority are almost too much to bear.

 

55                 Moreover, and in any event, the cost in pure monetary terms of these proceedings, and of any likely proceedings that may in due course be brought against the local authority, will far outweigh any possible savings that could have been made by the inadequate attention that was given to this case.  It is not my task in the course of this judgment, least of all when I have heard no oral evidence, to blame individuals.  Whether this is the failure of one or two individuals in the local authority, or a systemic failure is not something that I can or should comment on in this judgment.  I can only hope, however, that there will be a thorough review by those at the top of the legal department of this local authority to consider what failings were made, and how steps can be put in place to make sure that they can never be repeated.

 

56                 It is clear to me that the carers of A are thoroughly decent people, who have thought of her arrival into their lives as the fulfilment of a dream.  To have that dream taken away from them, as these proceedings invite, is to heap upon decent people misery of a kind that is completely unacceptable.

 

57                 For the birth parents who have pleaded for the return of their child for many months, they have had to endure many months of misery, litigation, and what can probably only be described as hell.  It is, if I may say so, a tribute to the birth parents and to the carers that they have sat in court in close proximity and they continue to offer each other support.  I can only express the hope that one day A will realise that she has not two, but four, wonderful adults in her life.

 

 

The carers were asking the Court to deem that they had the right to make an adoption application, or failing that, to grant them leave to make an adoption application. That was the only legal route they had, if they wanted A to remain with them.  The Court was against that, without criticising them for pursuing it.

 

    Mr Momtaz properly recognises that if A was placed with the carers as foster carers rather than prospective adopters, as I find to be the case and he has properly conceded, then he must apply for leave for them to make an adoption application.  He contends that they should be given leave.  In para.30 of his first skeleton argument he identifies the correct principles as follows:

 

  1. The welfare of the child was a relevant, but not the paramount, consideration.
  2. Another relevant consideration is whether the proposed application has a real prospect of success.
  3. He refers me to the judgment of Wilson, LJ, as he was, who indicated his view that the requisite analysis of prospects of success will almost always included the requisite analysis of the welfare of the child.

 

74                 However, I am clear that this does not permit me, and still less does it encourage me, to draw up some sort of balance sheet between the competing debits and credits of these two decent couples.

 

75                 It is of course the case that A has bonded with her carers, who, as I have repeatedly said, have provided her with an unquestionably good level of love and care.  Within the context of her own young world, I have no doubt that A regards the carers as her parents.  Mr Tillyard submits, and I accept, that I have to weigh this against the rest of A’s life.

 

76                 What is the right of this court to terminate A’s right to family life with her family – by which I mean her birth parents and siblings?  The right of the state to interfere in A’s young life does not, in my judgment, exist.  Judge Garland-Thomas has dismissed the care proceedings and there are no longer any public law proceedings on foot.  The carers, as I have said, are temporary foster parents.  So to describe them will appear to them, I know, to be the deepest of insults.  I do not describe them in this way in any pejorative or critical sense, I am merely using the language of the statute to define the legal position: they are foster carers, and the birth parents are the birth parents.

 

77                 Mr Momtaz concluded his excellent written submissions with a short but, I am certain, correct proposition that the applicants, the carers, only want what is best for A.  He then says that they want the court to be able to make an informed and balanced decision as to her welfare.  The fatal flaw with Mr Momtaz’s submissions, in my judgment, is that I do not get to that welfare stage.

 

78                 Mr Momtaz asks why A should be introduced to the care of her biological parents.  In my judgment this is the wrong question.  The correct question is why A should be prevented from being in the care of her biological parents, when this is precisely what her biological parents want.  I do not for a second question the proposition that what the carers want is what is best for A.  The phrase “what is best for” is emotive and implies all sorts of subjective tests.  I am driven to make my conclusions based on the law.  The law is that adoption is a process of last resort unless consent from the parents is forthcoming.  Everyone in this case recognises that the consent of the parents is not forthcoming now, if it ever was.  There is no material evidence on which I could base a finding that the consent of the parents should be dispensed with.  My task is to find whether the carers have a reasonable prospect of success in their adoption application.

 

79                 With the care proceedings having been dismissed, there is no basis on which I could find that the birth parents are other than, to use the language of family lawyers, good enough parents

 

 

And the application was dismissed, meaning that plans were put in place for A to return to the care of her parents

 

81                 I am driven to the conclusion that the carers have no reasonable prospect of success in their adoption application.  Indeed, I am driven to the conclusion that it is bound to fail.  Accordingly, there is no basis on which I can give them permission to make the application.

 

82                 This leads me to the most painful and difficult debate as to how now to reintegrate A into her birth family.  With exceptional kindness, love and understanding, the carers have offered, even in the face of the prospect of losing their application, to do all that they can to help to integrate A into her birth family should they lose this application, as it is evident to them that they now have.  Should they change their mind in relation to this, nobody, least of all me, would criticise them.  If, however, after a period of contemplation following this judgment, they feel able to continue in this offer, then I know that the birth parents and this court would be grateful to them.

 

83                 It may even be, and I express this very sincere hope, that they can play a part in A’s life as she grows from the toddler that she now is into the girl, and the woman, that she will become.  That is, of course, not a matter for this court but a matter for the four individuals who have patiently listened to this case for some three days.

 

84                 In my experience as a judge in the Family Division I have rarely, if ever, seen such decent accommodation by individuals, of the horrible circumstances in which they all find themselves, and I end where I started by thanking all four of them, and express the hope that the goodwill seen by me in this court will continue, not just in the days and weeks to come, but in the years and decades to come.

 

85                 Accordingly, I therefore dismiss the application for leave to bring an adoption application, and I will dismiss the wardship proceedings.

County Lines and Magical Sparkle Powers

 

 

County Lines is the name that the police have given to the involvement of young adolescents in Organised Crime Gangs (OCG), usually transporting drugs from an urban centre where supply is readily available to rural areas where there is less supply and hence the price can be more lucrative for the OCG. Often there are competing OCGs in these areas, and hence there’s a degree of physical risk to the young adolescents as well as the criminal behaviour itself as the gangs compete for territory and access to those markets.

Magical sparkle powers is the pejorative nickname I have given to the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court, largely arising from the frequently cited quotation that the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court is theoretically limitless.

 

 

Fetch the bolt cutters Ryan

 

A City Council v LS & Ors (Secure Accommodation Inherent Jurisdiction) [2019] EWHC 1384 (Fam) (04 June 2019)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2019/1384.html

 

6.The background can be shortly stated and is derived in the main from intelligence reports that have been communicated by the police to the local authority. KS lives with his mother in the south of the city. Since 2017 KS has been considered to be at risk of criminal exploitation. The police assessment is that KS is an active member of a named OCG. That OCG is believed to be involved in violent feuds grounded in attempts to take control of drug trafficking activity in identified areas of the city, further exaggerated by racial tensions. Police intelligence indicates that KS is presently in dispute with other members of the criminal community in the south of the city. The police consider that those ‘nominals’ he is in dispute with have the ability to use firearms and display a willingness to conduct retaliatory attacks and to seek violent acts of retribution.

 

 

7.In August 2017, KS was found in the company of an OCG drug dealer and was deemed to be a victim of criminal exploitation. Police exercised their powers of protection pursuant to s 46 of the Children Act 1989. In September 2017 KS was said to have witnessed a gang related stabbing in the south of the city that took place that month when a young male was stabbed in the neck. Also in September 2017 KS was found to be carrying a baseball bat and a brick and was arrested for a racially aggravated assault having allegedly threatened a female with a baseball bat and thrown a brick at her. In October 2017, KS was made the subject of a child protection plan by the City Council.

 

 

8.In May 2018 KS was found in possession of a quantity of heroin and offensive weapons were found in the property in which he was arrested for conspiracy to supply Class A drugs. No charges were brought on that occasion. In July 2018 KS was arrested at a festival in possession of a quantity of cocaine on suspicion of selling drugs. Later in July police received intelligence that KS had been involved in a street altercation in which he wounded a person with a knife. In October 2018 KS was convicted of possessing an offensive weapon and assault occasioning actual bodily harm arising out of the incident in September 2017 and was made the subject of a Youth Rehabilitation Order for 18 months.

 

 

9.In late 2018 KS was attacked in the street by males wielding a machete and a knife. He was stabbed five times. He stated he did not know his attackers and would not make a complaint. A month later a male from a rival OCG suffered severe knife injuries following a window being broken at KS’s home address whilst his younger siblings were present. No complaints were made by any of the parties involved.

 

 

10.In February 2019 police intelligence suggested that KS had been involved in the discharge of a firearm. In March 2019 KS was arrested following a knife attack that Police intelligence indicated was a targeted attack by members of the named OCG. A search of the family home revealed two large knives, one under KS’s bed and one under the sofa. Following a strategy meeting, it was agreed that KS could return home on condition that the mother work openly with the local authority. In April 2019 KS was served with a ‘Gun Crime Nominal Notice’. This is a ‘disruption notice’ designed to alert a person that their activities have generated Police attention and that advice and support is available should they choose. The Police identified KS as a “Gold” gun crime nominal and as being one of “top six gun crime nominals in the police force area”.

 

 

11.Thereafter, KS was identified by Police as a suspect in the shooting of an adult male who had been shot in the leg in broad daylight in the presence of members of the public. KS was arrested on that date on suspicion of attempted murder and bailed. A search of his property recovered an axe. Within this context, the police considered that KS’s life was under threat from reprisals following the shooting. However, KS rejected advice that he leave the area and reside in alternate accommodation, and refused to accept that he was at risk. As the result of a Strategy Meeting, the mother was advised to leave the family home with KS’s two younger siblings and to stay outside the area. She has done so. A secure panel meeting concluded that the risks to KS and to other’s from KS were so high as to warrant an application for an order authorising his secure accommodation.

 

 

12.Within the foregoing context, in her statement dated 15 May 2019, the social worker summarises the risks to KS arising out of the circumstances outlined above as follows:

 

 

 

“The Local Authority feel that it is necessary for a continuation of deprivation of liberty in respect of KS. KS remains at risk of significant harm or harming someone else if he is to remain in the care of [the mother] and remain in [the south of the city] and immediate surrounding areas. It is known from police information that KS is in possession of a firearm and there is information to suggest that he has used this on more than one occasion. The risks to KS’s personal safety have been escalating since the beginning of the year and the police have indicated that there is a significant risk to his own safety and life due to potential reprisals as a consequence of the shooting incident…”

 

(KS disputed that any of those things were true)

 

In this case, the young person KS was 17.  (Too old for a Care Order to be made). His mother objected to him being accommodated in secure accommodation, so he could not be accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act, therefore there was no mechanism under the Children Act 1989 for him to be accommodated at all. And therefore, there was no legal basis for the LA to seek a section 25 Secure Accommodation Order

The Local Authority therefore asked the Court to authorise under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court for authority to deprive KS of his liberty.

 

(There is talk in the judgment of it being a DOLS application – deprivation of liberty application, but it clearly can’t be, because there’s no medical evidence that KS met the test in the Mental Capacity Act 2005 for not having capacity to make decisions for himself. Many would say that he was making very BAD decisions, but people are allowed to make BAD decisions, as long as they have capacity)

 

 

Cutting to the chase of the decision

 

 

1.Does the High Court have power under its inherent jurisdiction, upon the application of a local authority, to authorise the placement in secure accommodation of a 17 year old child who is not looked after by that local authority within the meaning of s 22(1) of the Children Act 1989, whose parent objects to that course of action, but who is demonstrably at grave risk of serious, and possibly fatal harm. I am satisfied that the answer is ‘no’.

 

The judgment sets it out in more detail, of course, but that’s the nub of it.  So this is a case which adds a limit to those theoretically limitless powers, and the cases that do that are always significant.

 

DISCUSSION

45.Having considered carefully the evidence and submissions in this case, and accepting that the evidence presently before the court justifies the concerns of the professionals in this case who are endeavouring to keep KS safe, I am satisfied that this court is not permitted to use its inherent jurisdiction to authorise KS’s the placement in secure accommodation in the manner requested by the local authority. My reasons for so deciding are as follows.

 

 

46.There is no care order in force in respect of KS and an application for such an order cannot be made by virtue of his age (Children Act 1989 s 31(7)). KS has not been accommodated by the local authority for the purposes of the Children Act 1989 (whilst the order of HHJ Sharpe did result, briefly, in KS’s placement at the non-secure unit, in light of the conclusions set out in this judgment, that order was not capable of causing KS to be “accommodated” by the local authority for the purposes of the Children Act 1989). KS’s mother retains exclusive parental responsibility for him. She did not and does not consent to his accommodation and, accordingly, KS cannot be accommodated by the local authority for the purposes of the 1989 Act (Children Act 1989 s 20(7)). In the circumstances, KS is a child who is neither “in the care of” the local authority or “provided with accommodation” by the local authority. I am satisfied that this position has two key consequences.

 

 

47.First, KS is not a “looked after” child for the purposes of s 25 of the Children Act 1989 and does not therefore fall within the terms of that section. In the circumstances, this is not a case where a declaration under the inherent jurisdiction is sought by the local authority in order to render lawful a non-secure placement for a looked after child that amounts to a deprivation of liberty due to a lack of suitable secure beds preventing an application under s 25 of the Children Act 1989. Rather, in this case, the local authority seeks an order under the inherent jurisdiction because s 25 of the Children Act 1989 cannot apply to KS.

 

 

48.Second, and within this context, in circumstances where KS is not and (in circumstances where his mother objects to his accommodation and where KS cannot be made the subject of a care order by reason of his age) cannot be a looked after child, the order the local authority seeks under the inherent jurisdiction is one which would not only authorise the accommodation of KS in a secure placement, but would, a priori, have the effect of authorising his removal from his mother’s care without her consent for this purpose in circumstances where his mother, who retains exclusive parental responsibility for him, objects to this course of action. In the circumstances, I am satisfied that the effect of the order sought by the local authority under the inherent jurisdiction would be to require KS to be removed from his mother’s care and be accommodated by the local authority. This course of action is prohibited by s 100(2)(b) of the Children Act 1989.

 

 

49.The intention and effect of Section 100(2)(b) is to prevent the court in wardship or under the residual inherent jurisdiction making any order which has the effect of requiring a child to be accommodated by a local authority. That end can only be achieved by satisfying the requirements of the statutory regime for accommodating children provided by (amongst other provisions) s 20 of the Children Act 1989. For the reasons I have given that outcome cannot be achieved in this case under the statutory regime. In such circumstances, it is clearly established that the High Court cannot exercise its inherent jurisdiction to grant authority to the local authority to accommodate a child where the local authority would not otherwise be able to do so under the statutory scheme (Re E (A Child) [2012] EWCA Civ 1773 at [16] and Re M (Jurisdiction: Wardship) [2016] EWCA Civ 937 at [39]).

 

 

50.I am, of course, acutely conscious of the nature and extent of the risks to KS identified in the evidence before the court and of the duty of this court to act in a manner that is compatible with KS’s rights under Art 2, which duty includes a positive obligation on the court to protect the right to life. However, the authorities that articulate this positive obligation make clear that it is to be discharged by the relevant public authority through taking “measures within the scope of its power” (see Osman v United Kingdom). For the reasons I have given, the orders sought by the local authority lie outside the scope of the court’s power under the inherent jurisdiction.

 

 

51.Given my conclusions with respect to the determinative effect in this case of s 100(2)(b) of the 1989 Act, I do not consider it necessary to address the arguments advanced by Mr Bagchi regarding the existence of a statutory lacuna in respect of children in KS’s position and Mr Spencer’s competing submission that the use of the inherent jurisdiction to place KS in secure accommodation would be to cut across a statutory regime that excludes children in KS’s situation from the statutory scheme.

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

52.As Mr Spencer points out in his careful and comprehensive Skeleton Argument, any reader of the local authority documentation in this case would be struck by the immense seriousness of this case, involving as it does references to attempted murder, criminal gangs, firearms and ‘County lines’ drug dealing. Whilst this court has made no findings in respect of these matters, on its face it is a situation that embodies the seemingly increasing tragedy of vulnerable young people for whom involvement in Organised Criminal Groups is perceived as a means of protection, of belonging, of mattering to an apparently indifferent world and who, in consequence, grasp for these things on a path that ultimately offers nothing but futility, pain and sometimes even death. As I noted at the conclusion of the hearing, in these circumstances the local authority cannot be criticised for seeking to explore the outer boundaries of the court’s jurisdiction in an effort to protect KS from the risks it has identified.

 

 

53.Within this context, it may also be considered by some to be surprising that the High Court cannot simply invoke its inherent jurisdiction in the manner requested by the local authority to address KS’s situation. However, as Hayden J observed in London Borough of Redbridge v SA [2015] 3 WLR 1617 at [36]:

 

“The High Court’s inherent powers are limited both by the constitutional role of the court and by its institutional capacity. The principle of separation of powers confers the remit of economic and social policy on the legislature and on the executive, not on the judiciary. It follows that the inherent jurisdiction cannot be regarded as a lawless void permitting judges to do whatever we consider to be right for children or the vulnerable, be that in a particular case or more generally (as contended for here) towards unspecified categories of children or vulnerable adults.”

 

 

Therefore, if the adolescent is over 17, not subject to a Care Order, and the parent objects to section 20, there isn’t a family law solution to the problem. It would have to be a criminal remand to a secure unit. That’s quite an unusual set of circumstances, because with an adolescent under 17, the LA could have sought an Interim Care Order and then secured.

Not a vacuum but a low pressure vessel

 

The case of

            CS v SBH & Ors [2019] EWHC 634 (Fam) (18 March 2019)    

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2019/634.html

is the most complicated argument that I have read in a family law judgment that doesn’t contain the words “Brussels II” at some point.  It also involves David Burrows in some capacity in the litigation, and David is an assiduous and careful legal commenter and one of the most precise human beings I’ve ever known, so that adds to my pressure in trying to simplify and clarify the decision without getting it wrong.

 

In case that’s prompting you to close the browser and eat some biscuits instead – it is an important decision for any solicitor representing a child, or Guardian, or a parent’s lawyer giving advice as to whether the child could be separately represented.  It also involves two children’s solicitors duking it out over which of them would represent the child, which is not something I’ve ever seen before. Read on.

 

At essence, it was an appeal from a private law order that the child should live with the father, the child expressing that she wanted to live with the mother.  The child lodged the appeal, but one of the solicitors for the child was actively opposing the appeal.  (Yes, that dull pain around your temples is normal at this point)

The child had two solicitors.

One instructed by the Guardian, who considered that the child did not have capacity to instruct a solicitor (and hence could not bring this appeal properly, as the Guardian had not given instructions to lodge such an appeal)

One instructed by the child directly (and who was acting pro bono (for free) , because she was concerned that the original proposal was that the mother was funding the child’s legal fees) who considered that the child DID have capacity to give instructions, wanted to appeal the order and so the appeal should be heard.

So the first thing for the Court to work out was which of these two solicitors was actually representing the child. If the child had capacity, it would be Ms Hopkin.  If the child lacked capacity, it would be Ms Coyle.

 

But even beyond that, the Court had to at great length decide whether an appeal was a continuation of existing proceedings or fresh proceedings.

 

  1. After all those preliminaries we were able to get onto the question of the preliminary issue. I had thought that some oral evidence from Ms Hopkin and Ms Coyle might be desired but in the event Ms Hopkin was appearing as the advocate and in any event no party wished to put questions to either Ms Coyle or Ms Hopkin and so the matter proceeded on submissions. As arguments developed this appeared to boil down to two particular issues:
  1. i) Firstly whether an appeal constituted new proceedings, such that the provisions of FPR 16.6 (3) applied, in which case Ms Hopkin’s opinion on whether the child was able having regard to her understanding to give instructions in relation to the appeal appeared to be determinative.

ii) Secondly if the appeal was part of a continuation of proceedings whether pursuant to FPR 16.6 (5) and (6) the court considered that the child has sufficient understanding to conduct the appeal concerned without a children’s Guardian. This involved consideration of both the law and the evidence.

  1. As I shall return to later this apparently clear delineation between the role of Ms Hopkin and the role of the court turns out not to be so following a deeper dive into the authorities.

 

(I’m pleased that it was ‘apparently clear’ to Williams J, because this caused me such pain in my cortex that I had to contemplate an MRI scan before moving on.  But joy, it turns out NOT to be so ‘clear’)

 

In a nutshell, if the case is new proceedings, then the child instructs a solicitor Ms Hopkins, and if Ms Hopkins thinks the child can give her instructions well then what Ms Hopkins says effectively goes on capacity. But if it is a continuation of proceedings, the Court has to consider whether the child has sufficient understanding to instruct solicitors.

So is an appeal new proceedings, or a further stage in existing proceedings?

 

  1. The following matters suggest that an appeal is fresh proceedings:
  2. i) The appeal is made in the High Court not in the family court and is allocated a specific number. It is made by an Appellants Notice not a C2 ‘Application in existing proceedings.’

ii) Legal Aid treats proceedings with a different case number as ‘new proceedings’ and an appeal after a final order is not covered by the same certificate.

iii) Cost are dealt with separately.

  1. The following matters suggest that an appeal is part of a continuum of proceedings:
  1. i) An application for permission to appeal may be made in either the lower court or the appeal court. This suggests the appeal process is linked as between the lower court and the appeal court.

ii) The appeal court has all the powers of the lower court (FPR 30.11)

iii) The appeal court’s powers directly affect the order made by the first instance court, including the power to vary any order or judgment, refer any application or issue for determination by the lower court, order a new hearing (FPR30.11 (2) and stay the order of the first instance court. These all suggests a direct jurisdictional connection.

iv) The appeal court’s function is identified at FPR 30.12 is reviewing the decision of the lower court unless it considers it to be in the interests of justice to hold a rehearing.

v) The appeal court powers include substituting its own decision or exercising its own discretion fresh rather than remitting the matter to the first instance court; Fallon v Fallon [2010] 1 FLR 910 CA. The court may also admit fresh evidence and may hear oral evidence.

vi) The respondents to the appeal are the other parties to the proceedings in the lower court (see FPR 30.1 (3)) and the appellant’s notice must be served on any children’s Guardian.

vii) Where a child is a party to the first instance proceedings they are automatically a party to the appeal proceedings the rules do not provide for the court to reconsider their party status or whether they will be represented by a Guardian and who will be appointed as the solicitor.

 

  1. Notwithstanding the points which point towards an appeal being separate proceedings I conclude that the factors pointing in favour of an appeal being a continuation of proceedings are far more compelling. In particular the seamless continuation of party status and the powers of the appeal court all point to an appeal being another stage of proceedings; albeit different in nature. I don’t consider that the use of an appellant’s notice, rather than a C2, shed much light on the issue. Applications in existing proceedings can also be made by the use of other forms under the part 18 procedure. Seems to me the appellant’s notice and the giving of a separate case number are administrative matters rather than affecting the substance of the proceedings. Nor do I consider the rules relating to the availability of legal aid shed much light on whether the proceedings are separate or part of a continuum. The rules applied by the Legal Aid Agency are a matter for that agency.
  2. For all of the reasons identified above I conclude that an appeal is a continuation of the first instance proceedings. It is another step or stage in those proceedings and thus the provisions of FPR 16.6 (5) apply.
  3. That being so it is for me to decide whether the child has sufficient understanding to conduct the appeal proceedings without a Guardian.

 

 

(The Court also took the view that as a result of Re CT the Court ultimately had discretion anyway, so all of that was rather academic, but at least we all now know that an appeal is a continuation of existing proceedings, not new proceedings)

In Re CT (A Minor) (Wardship: Representation) [1993] 2 FLR 278, [1994] Fam 49, [1993] 3 WLR 602, CA Court of Appeal (Sir Thomas Bingham MR, Waite and Staughton LLJ) specifically considered the effect of the identically worded predecessor to FPR 16.6 (3) (b)(i) namely FPR 1991 9.2A (1) (b) (i). The Court of Appeal considered that taken together with FPR 1991 9.2A (10) that the court retained the ultimate right to decide whether a child required a Guardian or not. Lord Justice Waite said

‘…if the rule is to be construed according to the whole tenor of the Act and its subsidiary legislation, it must in my view be taken to reserve to the court the ultimate right to decide whether a child who comes before it as a party without a next friend or guardian has the necessary ability, having regard to his understanding, to instruct his solicitor’

 

 

Moving on then, as the Court had to decide whether the child had sufficient understanding to instruct a solicitor, what did they take into account?

 

 

 

  1. Having regard to the jurisprudence I consider that Lady Justice Black’s summary in paragraph 36 of her judgment in Re W (highlighted above) draws together much if not all of the earlier observations on the issue. What is clear is that there has been a shift away from a paternalistic approach in favour of an approach which gives significantly more weight to the autonomy of the child in the evaluation of whether they have sufficient understanding. Thus the earlier authorities need to be approached with a degree of caution in terms of the level at which they set the ‘bar’ of understanding. The autonomy issue sounds both in pure ‘understanding’ terms and in welfare terms.
  1. i) In assessing understanding the court is likely to attribute more weight to the child’s views of the issues and the reasons they give for wishing to be involved amongst others. The expression of a wish for an objectively ‘unwise’ (or unsound) outcome might now not undermine the evaluation of sufficient understanding in the way it might have in 1993. It is perhaps also likely to hold the child to a somewhat lower expectation of understanding of the litigation process than emerges from Booth J’s judgment cited in Re N (above) which appeared to contemplate an ability to negotiate complexities of litigation which many adults might struggle with.

ii) In so far as the welfare of the child is a primary consideration in the decision-making process (Art 3 UNCRC and Mabon suggest it is) the welfare of the child sounds both in favour of their involvement (recognising the value they may add to the process and their rights as a person significantly affected by the decision) and against (where involvement may expose them to harmful emotional consequences).

  1. Thus in determining whether the child has sufficient understanding to give instructions to pursue an appeal and to conduct the appeal I need to consider a range of factors including
  1. i) The level of intelligence of the child

ii) The emotional maturity of the child.

iii) Factors which might undermine their understanding such as issues arising from their emotional, psychological, psychiatric or emotional state.

iv) Their reasons for wishing to instruct a solicitor directly or to act without a guardian and the strength of feeling accompanying the wish to play a direct role.

v) Their understanding of the issues in the case and their desired outcome any matter which sheds light on the extent to which those are authentically their own or are mere parroting of one parents position. Some degree of influence is a natural component of decision making but the closer to the ‘parrotting’ end of the spectrum one gets the lower the level of understanding there is likely to be. An unwise decision does not mean the child does not understand although it will no doubt depend on the extent to which the child’s view diverges from an objectively reasonable or wise decision.

vi) Their understanding of the process of litigation including the function of their lawyer, the role of the judge, the role they might play and the law that is applied and some of the consequences of involvement in litigation. Care should be taken not to impose too high a level of understanding in this regard; many adults with capacity would not and we should not expect it from children. An ability to understand that their solicitor put their case but also has duties of honesty to the court, an ability to understand that the judge makes a decision based on an overall evaluation of the best interests of the child which balances many competing factors; the ability to understand that they might attend court, could give and evidence, could read documents; the ability to recognise the stress of exposure to the court process and the arguments between others. The presence of all of these would be powerful signs of a high level of understanding. Conversely the absence of them or evidence of a distorted understanding would be contra-indicators.

vii) The court’s assessment of the risk of harm to the child of direct participation for the risk of harm arising from excluding the child from direct participation and the child’s appreciation of the risks of harm.

  1. Ideally the assessment would be swift and pragmatic without too deep a dive into the issues in the case and the competing analyses of the solicitors involved. In some cases, an expert assessment might be required in particular where the solicitors assessments are relatively evenly balanced or the court is otherwise unable to reach a clear view

 

 

In this case, the Court had two solicitors, both experienced at representing children, and both with competing views as to whether the child had capacity to instruct them.

Discussion

  1. Each case must be approached on its own facts. The stage at which I am assessing the issue of sufficiency of understanding comes relatively late in these proceedings where an experienced family court circuit judge has already determined the substantive issue and made findings which are relevant to my evaluation of the sufficiency of the child’s understanding.
  2. The views of Ms Hopkin on the one side and Ms Coyle on the other are diametrically opposed. There is however an immediate and obvious difference between them. That is not the age and experience of the solicitor conducting the evaluation but rather the extent to which the evaluation is an informed evaluation. Ms Hopkin’s evaluation is based primarily on her meeting with the child supported by what she can glean from communications that she has had with the child or which she has been sent by the child and some other modest exposure to information. Although her evaluation has not taken place in a vacuum it is very much in a low pressure vessel in terms of the material that has been available to her to assist in the evaluation. Ms Coyle’s evaluation has been taken with exposure to the full atmosphere of information which bears upon the issue. As Ms Hopkin accepted in submissions, an initial evaluation of a child may very well have to be reassessed the light of further information that becomes available. This is far from a simple case given the history of it. Thus initial impressions almost certainly would have to be reassessed.
  3. Turning thus to some of the factors which I need to weigh in the balance in making my own evaluation of whether this child is of sufficient understanding to conduct the appeal without a children’s Guardian my conclusions are set out below and draw upon all that I have set out in this judgment as well as what I have read and heard.
  1. i) The level of intelligence of the child: she has the intelligence of or slightly above her chronological age.

ii) The emotional maturity of the child: she lacks emotional maturity, this being evidence by an inability in particular to hold a balanced view of her father or an understanding of her position.

iii) Factors which might undermine their understanding such as issues arising from their emotional, psychological, psychiatric or emotional state: the extent of her enmeshment with her mother and the emotional harm that she had suffered from that is likely to diminish her ability to understand the true nature of the issues.

iv) Their reasons for wishing to instruct a solicitor directly or to act without a guardian and the strength of feeling accompanying the wish to play a direct role: I accept that the child has felt her voice has not been listened to or heard but that actually does not reflect the reality given that she has had a Guardian and solicitor both in the original proceedings and recently. Whilst inevitably her reasons for wanting to have a solicitor and appeal will be mixed, arising at least in part from the fact that her solicitor and Guardian did not achieve the outcome she desired I consider that it is also likely that her position has been influenced by her mother and maternal family either directly or indirectly. Although every child is of course different the fact that this child has not been in direct contact with Mr Burrows or Ms Hopkin pushing for information, seeking answers or otherwise proactively pressing her case indicates to me that her desire to have her own solicitor in Ms Hopkin and to pursue the appeal is not particularly strong. Her acceptance of the possible withdrawal of proceedings in summer 2018 is further evidence of this.

v) Their understanding of the issues in the case and their desired outcome any matter which sheds light on the extent to which those are authentically their own or are mere parroting of one parents position: the child’s lack of a full appreciation of the reasons for living with her father in part at least arises from the fact that the issue has not been addressed in therapy although I note that the Guardian understood that the child had knowledge of the reasons but had not processed it. The child’s wish to live with her mother was accepted by the Guardian and HHJ Meston QC as a genuine one. Inevitably it is in part a product of influence (whether direct or indirect and see HHJ Pearl’s conclusion) but all our views are in part a product of influence of others views. The child’s wishes in this case are closer to the authentic end of the spectrum than the parroting end although they probably fall closer to the middle.

vi) Their understanding of the process of litigation including the function of their lawyer, the role of the judge, the role they might play and the law that is applied and some of the consequences of involvement in litigation: Ms Coyle’s analysis but also the contents of some of the child’s expressed views whether in letters or to the Guardian do not indicate much of an understanding of the court process, the functions of a solicitor, the role and function of a judge or the consequences of having a solicitor acting directly. They emerge as very simplistic and unrealistic. Although neither Ms Hopkin or Ms Coyle specifically addressed the question of the child’s understanding of the appeal process, the nature of an appeal is in many ways harder to understand than the first instance process given it is a review of the judge’s decision rather than a rehearing of the application.

vii) The court’s assessment of the risk of harm to the child of direct participation for the risk of harm arising from excluding the child from direct participation and the child’s appreciation of the risks of harm: both the Guardian and HHJ Meston QC considered that the child would accept an outcome that was contrary to her expressed wishes. It is clear from the Guardian’s report that continued litigation is contrary to the child’s welfare. In particular the burden that it is considered that she carries to promote the mother’s position is harmful. Further involvement in litigation in this appeal or otherwise will likely be contrary to her welfare interests. Exposure to sensitive information to a child of this age and with this history will be harmful. Although her actual involvement in this appeal might be limited the process of challenging the judgment would inevitably involve detailed discussions with the child about the evidence. On the other hand, she has expressed a desire to have Ms Hopkin act for her and to appeal. This has endured since HHJ Meston QC’s adverse judgment. However it is not pressed proactively and the Guardian and Ms Coyle did not detect any real desire to appeal in any event. Thus preventing the child from engaging directly in this litigation with the effect that it would very probably bring the appeal to a juddering halt is not likely in my view to be perceived by the child as a significant insult to her autonomy as an individual.

  1. Giving all due weight to the child’s personal autonomy and having regard to the welfare implications of her not being able to instruct a solicitor to pursue her appeal overall and taking account of all of those matters which weigh in favour of the conclusion that she does have sufficiency of understanding I am quite clear that the factors which support the conclusion that the child does not have sufficient understanding substantially outweigh those pointing the other way. Inevitably the evaluation is more an art than a science and the weight to be given to each component cannot be arithmetically totted up. The overall impression that clearly emerges is one of a child who does not have sufficient understanding to conduct the appeal without a children’s Guardian. That is not to say that Ms Hopkin’s initial evaluation was wrong; it has to be looked at in the light of the totality of the material available. The test in FPR 16.6 (6) is not met. My conclusion would be the same as if I were considering the test under 16.6 (3) as to whether the child is able having regard to her understanding to give instructions in relation to the appeal.

 

 

Delays inflicted by other public bodies

 

Much as Patrick Swayze and his gang wearing masks and brandishing shooters might proclaim when busting into a bank dragging a hapless Johnny Utah in their wake, “We are the Ex-Presidents” this is a judgment from the Ex-President.  (He was still the President at the time of the judgment)

 

You know, for a hippy Buddhist surfer, you sure do own a lot of firearms, Bodhi

 

Re H (Children) 2018

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2018/61.html

 

Our former President is good at a punchy opening. He doesn’t do enough pop-culture references for my own idiosyncratic tastes, but punchy nonetheless

 

1.In this care case, which came before me at Newcastle on 12 July 2018 pursuant to an order made by His Honour Judge Simon Wood on 19 June 2018, the mother’s position statement, prepared on her behalf by Mr Dorian Day, began with these arresting words: “These proceedings are entering Week 109.”

 

The case involved an alleged deliberate injury to a girl, aged five weeks, who in April 2016 was admitted to hospital with very serious life-threatening injuries. The Local Authority issued proceedings in May 2016. By November, so within 26 weeks, the Court had held a finding of fact hearing and found that (a) the injuries had been inflicted by the father and (b) there was no fault or blame attributed to the mother who knew nothing about it.

Both parents had been charged by the police. The direction of travel in the case ought to have been a rehabilitation to the care of the mother  (assuming that the parents would separate and this would be sustained – the judgment isn’t explicit about that, but it is a reasonable inference).

However, the police and CPS were adamant that the criminal charges on both mother and father would stand and go before a jury. They were invited to change the bail conditions (that were restricting mother’s ability to be with the girl and the older brother of the girl) on several occasions and refused to do so.

 

 

The criminal trial was delayed and took place in October 2017, nearly a year after the mother had been exonerated by the family Court. The Crown Court judge directed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty on the mother, which they did. The jury retired to consider their verdict on the father and delivered a verdict of not guilty.

 

 

5.The effect of the protracted criminal proceedings was not merely that the best part of a year had been lost since Judge Wood’s fact finding judgment. There were three other consequences:

 

 

 

  1. i) First, the mother’s bail conditions seriously hindered the necessary process of assessing the mother’s capacity to look after both children, one of whom, unhappily, has significant ongoing disabilities and extremely complex needs. I am told that, despite this, applications to vary her bail conditions were opposed by the prosecution and refused by the Crown Court.

 

  1. ii) Secondly, the mother lost her accommodation.

 

iii) Thirdly, the entire process subjected both the mother and the wider family to very considerable stress.

 

It is unsurprising that Mr Day, on her behalf, goes on in his position statement to say that the delay has exasperated the mother, the social work team, the children’s guardian and at times the court, and has also contributed to family tensions

 

As a result of those problems, a brand new problem arose, which was finding some accommodation for the mother and children to live in. The girl had special needs as a result of her injuries, and therefore had specific requirements for her accommodation.

 

 

6… Despite much endeavour on the part of the local authority, it was not until the last week in May 2018 that what turned out to be a suitable property was found. It was in that state of play that Judge Wood, who had earlier voiced his concerns at a directions hearing on 23 April 2018, at a further hearing on 19 June 2018 made the order to which I have already referred.

 

 

7.As I have said, the hearing before me which Judge Wood had directed was fixed for 12 July 2018. By the week commencing 2 July 2018 there was reason to believe that the property which had been identified in May would be both suitable (subject to certain work being done) and available for the mother and her children. On 10 July 2018, two days before the hearing, the mother was given the keys to the property.

 

 

8.In these circumstances, the primary purpose of the hearing before me had fallen away. Indeed, the parties were agreed that no directions were needed in relation to the accommodation issue. I directed that the final hearing of the care proceedings be listed before Judge Wood on 13 August 2018. My order recited that the local authority “wishes to do everything possible to support [the mother] in moving into her new home.” It was common ground that various works required to be done to the property, including the installation of a lift. My order went on to record the local authority’s indication that the installation of the lift would take approximately four months, and my “hope … that the lift … could be installed by the next hearing.”

 

 

9.I made an order that the local authority was to serve, by 17 July 2018, “an action plan in a tabular format setting out explicitly the timeline for works to be carried out in order to allow the plan of rehabilitation to commence at mother’s new property.” The action plan, dated 17 July 2018 and displaying an appropriate sense of urgency, spelt out with commendable precision, in tabular form under the headings “Objective/Task”, “Responsibility (name and job role)”, “Start Date” and “Completion Date”, a comprehensive list of all the works required to be done to the property, including but not limited to the installation of the lift, and of the furniture (some specialist) and equipment to be provided for the mother and the children.

 

 

10.To bring that part of the story to its conclusion, on 14 August 2018, Judge Wood made a supervision order, as proposed by the local authority and supported by both parents, thereby bringing the care proceedings finally to an end in week 116.

 

However,

 

 

 

11.In a position statement and more particularly in a detailed and carefully argued skeleton argument circulated to the other advocates on the morning of an advocates’ meeting on 9 July 2018, Mr Day raised a wider issue. Although by then it seemed that the accommodation issue was well on the way to being resolved, Mr Day indicated that he wished to retain the hearing before me for a rather different purpose, namely to “look at the wider ramifications of delay in proceedings in the family court” and, specifically, to address two questions:

 

 

 

  1. i) What can the family court do to avoid delay which is engendered by concurrent criminal proceedings?

 

  1. ii) What can the family court do when the delay to proceedings is engendered by the acts and omissions of other government departments or agencies?

 

Referring to the present case, he asserted that “Progress to permit a child to come home to a mother has been paralysed by the unnecessary and disproportionate delay and approach in the criminal proceedings”, compounded by the fact that there has been “very slow progress by the relevant housing authority to find a property for the mother that is suitable for [her daughter].” The delay here, he says, has thus been caused by factors external to the care proceedings.

 

As one would expect from the Ex-President, the judgment contains a careful and thorough analysis of all of the case law and the legal principles as to the extent to which the Family Court can seek to influence or control the actions of public authorities (over and above the influence and control that they may have over the social work department of the Local Authority bringing the care proceedings)

 

 

 

 

20.The starting point is the fundamental point of principle articulated and elaborated in a well-known series of cases in the House of Lords and, more recently, the Supreme Court: A v Liverpool City Council [1982] AC 363, In re W (A Minor) (Wardship: Jurisdiction) [1985] AC 791, Holmes-Moorhouse v Richmond upon Thames London Borough Council [2009] UKHL 7, [2009] 1 WLR 413, Aintree University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust v James [2013] UKSC 67, [2014] AC 591, and, most recently, N v A Clinical Commissioning Group and others [2017] UKSC 22, [2017] AC 549 (dismissing the appeal from the decision of the Court of Appeal in In re N (An Adult) (Court of Protection: Jurisdiction) [2015] EWCA Civ 411, [2016] Fam 87). That principle, as explained by Lord Scarman in A v Liverpool City Council, is that:

 

 

 

“The High Court cannot exercise its powers, however wide they may be, so as to intervene on the merits in an area of concern entrusted by Parliament to another public authority.”

21.Authorities which there is no need for me to refer to (see my judgment in In re N, para 19) demonstrate the application of this principle in many contexts where a family court is involved, for example, where the child or the parents are subject to immigration control, where the child or the parents are the subject of a police investigation or criminal proceedings, or where there is dispute as to the provision of statutory services by other agencies, for example, in the provision of health care by the NHS or the provision of social housing by a local authority.

 

 

22.For present purposes, this fundamental principle has two corollaries. First, that a family court cannot dictate to another court or agency how that court or agency is to exercise its powers. It follows, secondly, that, absent statutory provision to the contrary, the ambit of family court judicial decision-making is constrained by the extent of the resources made available by other public bodies. So, the family court cannot direct that resources be made available or that services be provided; it can merely seek to persuade. How far can persuasion go? The answer is that the family court can seek to persuade but must not apply pressure: Holmes-Moorhouse v Richmond upon Thames London Borough Council [2009] UKHL 7, [2009] 1 WLR 413, paras 38-39 (Baroness Hale of Richmond).

 

 

23.I have referred to a family court. I emphasise, what is quite clear on the authorities, that, in this respect, exactly the same principles apply whether the case is in the Family Court or the Family Division of the High Court (or, for that matter, in the Court of Protection), and whether it is a private or a public law case. The High Court has no greater powers in this respect than the Family Court, even if the child is a ward of court: see In re N, paras 13, 14.

 

 

24.How then, while remaining loyal to these principles, is a family court to engage with another court or agency which is also involved in the family’s life. This, as it happens, is an issue I had to address almost exactly ten years ago in Re M and N (Parallel Family and Immigration Proceedings) [2008] EWHC 2281 (Fam), [2008] 2 FLR 2030. I said this (para 31):

 

 

 

“In all such situations the family court will need the fullest and most up-to-date information. And where the outcome is dependent upon or is likely to be affected by the decision of some third party, whether, for example, a local authority housing department, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Crown Prosecution Service, or a NHS Primary Care Trust, or whoever, the family court will also need the fullest and most up-to-date information as to where exactly that decision-making process has got to, what the decision is, if it has been given, or when it is expected if it is still awaited. Consideration will also need to be given – and at the earliest possible stage – as to whether and if so how that third party decision maker should be brought into some appropriate form of direct engagement with the family proceedings.”

25.It will be noticed that in Re M and N I referred (paras 6, 30) to the then recent decision of the Court of Appeal in Holmes-Moorhouse v Richmond-upon-Thames London Borough Council [2007] EWCA Civ 970, [2008] 1 FLR 1061. The decision of the Court of Appeal was subsequently reversed by the House of Lords: Holmes-Moorhouse v Richmond upon Thames London Borough Council [2009] UKHL 7, [2009] 1 WLR 413.

 

 

26.For present purposes what is important is what Lord Hoffmann (para 17):

 

 

 

“In my opinion the Court of Appeal was wrong to suggest that a housing authority should intervene in family proceedings to argue against the court making a shared residence order. It will obviously be helpful to a court, in dealing with the question of where the children should reside, to know what accommodation, if any, the housing authority is likely to provide. It should not make a shared residence order unless it appears reasonably likely that both parties will have accommodation in which the children can reside. But the provision of such accommodation is outside the control of the court. It has no power to decide whether the reasons why the housing authority declines to provide such accommodation are good or bad. That is a matter for the housing authority and, if necessary, the county court on appeal. Likewise, it is relevant for the housing authority to know that the court considers that the children should reside with both parents. But the housing authority is not concerned to argue that the court should not make an order to this effect. The order, if made, will only be part of the material which the housing authority takes into account in coming to its decision. The two procedures for deciding different questions must not be allowed to become entangled with each other.”

 

In saying this, Lord Hoffman was, in substance, adopting exactly the same approach as the one he had explained in the Court of Appeal in R v Secretary of State for Home Department ex parte T [1995] 1 FLR 293, a case involving the interface between family and immigration proceedings.

27.Nothing in what Lord Hoffmann said affects, in my judgment, either the general thrust or most of the detail of what I said in Re M and N. Given the decision of the House of Lords, what I said in Re M and N at para 30 is best ignored; but this does not affect the continuing validity of what I said (para 31) in the passage quoted above.

 

 

It had been suggested in this case that witness summons be issued to compel the key decision-makers in the criminal proceedings and housing department to come to Court and account for their actions, perhaps even be cross-examined.

 

 

 

 

28.In this context, the question is what, to use my terminology, is an “appropriate form of direct engagement with the family proceedings” for the third party decision maker? In relation to this, Lord Hoffmann’s observations are of great importance: the third party decision maker should not be made an intervenor in the family proceedings and should not be required to “argue” its case.

 

 

29.On the other hand, the family court can properly seek from the third party decision maker information – information both as to what has happened and as to what it is anticipated will or may happen – and, where necessary, documents. Moreover, if this is necessary to enable the family court to perform its task and to come to a decision on the matter before it, the family court can legitimately ask the third party decision maker to explain why it has come to its decision and, if this is necessary for the family court properly to understand the decision, to probe the proffered explanation, if need be by asking searching questions. What, in contrast, the family court cannot legitimately do, is to require the third party decision maker to justify its decision, let alone with a view to putting it under pressure to change its decision.

 

[To use an analogy, the Family Court could ask Madonna to EXPLAIN why she chose to make the film Swept Away, but she doesn’t have to JUSTIFY her love – just as Jay-Z doesn’t have to justify his thug.]

 

30.Where, in any particular case, one draws the line between explanation and justification may be difficult; but the principle is clear. It is not for a family court to require a third party decision maker to justify its decision; that is a matter, if at all, for the Administrative Court exercising its powers of judicial review. And, as I pointed out in In re N, para 82,

 

 

 

“it is not a proper function of … the family court or the Family Division … to embark upon a factual inquiry designed to create a platform or springboard for possible future proceedings in the Administrative Court.”

31.It is also clear that the family court can, if this is necessary to enable it to dispose of the proceedings before it justly and fairly, make an order requiring the third party decision maker, or an individual specified by the family court for the purpose, to disclose relevant documents or to give evidence (see further, paragraph 38 below). The jurisdiction to make such an order is quite plainly conferred by section 31G of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984, to which Mr Day referred me, and there is nothing, whether in section 31G itself, or in the provisions of the Family Procedure Rules, or in the case-law or in principle, to exonerate the police, the CPS or any other public agency or authority from the reach of section 31G. Section 31G goes to the power of the court to make an order for the disclosure of documents or the giving of evidence; it does not, I emphasise, empower the court to disregard the principle that although the court can demand an explanation it cannot require the third party to justify its decision.

 

 

32.It follows from the principle in A v Liverpool City Council that a family court cannot dictate the contents of its care plan to a local authority: see In re N, paras 34-36:

 

 

 

“34 It is the duty of any court hearing an application for a care order carefully to scrutinise the local authority’s care plan and to satisfy itself that the care plan is in the child’s interests. If the court is not satisfied that the care plan is in the best interests of the child, it may refuse to make a care order: see In re T (A Minor) (Care Order: Conditions) [1994] 2 FLR 423. It is important, however, to appreciate the limit of the court’s powers: the only power of the court is either to approve or refuse to approve the care plan put forward by the local authority. The court cannot dictate to the local authority what the care plan is to say. Nor … does the High Court have any greater power when exercising its inherent jurisdiction. Thus the court, if it seeks to alter the local authority’s care plan, must achieve its objective by persuasion rather than by compulsion.

 

35 That said, the court is not obliged to retreat at the first rebuff. It can invite the local authority to reconsider its care plan and, if need be, more than once: see In re X; Barnet London Borough Council v Y and X [2006] 2 FLR 998. How far the court can properly go down this road is a matter of some delicacy and difficulty. There are no fixed and immutable rules. It is impossible to define in the abstract or even to identify with any precision in the particular case the point to which the court can properly press matters but beyond which it cannot properly go. The issue is always one for fine judgment, reflecting sensitivity, realism and an appropriate degree of judicial understanding of what can and cannot sensibly be expected of the local authority.

 

36 In an appropriate case the court can and must “be rigorous in exploring and probing local authority thinking in cases where there is any reason to suspect that resource issues may be affecting the local authority’s thinking”: see In re B-S (Children) (Adoption Order: Leave to Oppose) [2014] 1 WLR 563, para 29. Rigorous probing, searching questions and persuasion are permissible; pressure is not.”

33.Not infrequently, an important component of the appropriate care plan will be input from – services to be provided by – another public authority, for example, health care to be provided by the NHS as part of a holistic care plan, or social housing to be provided by another local authority. In such a case the family court can engage with the third party decision maker both indirectly and/or directly: indirectly, by requiring the local authority, as part of its consideration or reconsideration of its care plan, to discuss and negotiate with the third party; directly by the court making orders against the third party of the kind referred to in paragraphs 29, 31, above.

 

 

The Court went on to consider the position of orders for police disclosure that were not being followed. It ought to go without saying that the police should obey such Court orders, but it clearly doesn’t in all cases, and thus having this chapter and verse is handy

 

 

 

 

38.Part A, para 7, provides in terms for the making by the family court of orders for disclosure against the police and/or the CPS. Para 7.4 states that:

 

 

 

“The police and the CPS will comply with any court order.”

39.It might be thought that this statement is otiose, for it is, after all, as Romer LJ said in Hadkinson v Hadkinson [1952] P 285, 288, in a passage endorsed by the Privy Council in Isaacs v Robertson [1985] AC 97, 101:

 

 

 

“… the plain and unqualified obligation of every person against, or in respect of whom, an order is made by a court of competent jurisdiction, to obey it unless and until that order is discharged. The uncompromising nature of this obligation is shown by the fact that it extends even to cases where the person affected by an order believes it to be irregular or even void.”

40.In Re W (Adoption Order: Leave to Oppose); Re H (Adoption Order: Application for Permission for Leave to Oppose) [2013] EWCA Civ 1177, [2014] 1 FLR 1266, para 51, I referred to:

 

 

 

“the slapdash, lackadaisical and on occasions almost contumelious attitude which still far too frequently characterises the response to orders made by family courts.”

 

I went on:

 

“There is simply no excuse for this. Orders, including interlocutory orders, must be obeyed and complied with to the letter and on time. Too often they are not. They are not preferences, requests or mere indications; they are orders.”

 

I added (para 54):

 

“Non-compliance with an order, any order, by anyone is bad enough. It is a particularly serious matter if the defaulter is a public body such as a local authority.”

 

The same, it ought to be needless to say, obviously applies also where the order is directed to the police.

41.I make no apologies if I seem to be labouring a point which ought to require no emphasis. However, I was recently confronted, in a care case that came before me on circuit, with a letter, written by the legal department of a police force one really might have thought would have known better, which, responding to an order made by a Circuit Judge sitting in the Family Court for disclosure by the police of certain documents, sought to explain why it was proposed by the police not to comply with this “request” (as it was described) because, in the view of the writer, it was inappropriate. Without having thought it necessary to require the hapless writer of this astonishing missive to be brought to court to provide an explanation, it would not be fair to assume that this was impertinence or defiance rather than simple ignorance and incompetence; but either way it is deeply troubling that any police force can have thought that this was an appropriate response to an order of the court, even if it was a family and not a criminal court.

 

 

42.The point is very simple: if a public authority to whom an order is directed by a family court wishes to challenge the order rather than comply with it, the authority must, and, moreover, before the time for compliance has expired, either appeal the order or if, as will often be the case, the order was made without notice to and in the absence of the authority, apply to the court which made the order for it be discharged or varied. Otherwise, the authority may find itself on the wrong end of proceedings for contempt of court.

 

 

 

Judge versus Fostering Panel

 

Actually, this was more of a Triple Threat match, with Judge versus Fostering Panel versus Agency Decision Maker, but you get the general idea.

 

Re T (A child) 2018  EWCA Civ 650

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/650.html

 

This is a Court of Appeal decision with Jackson LJ giving the lead judgment.

 

At final hearing, the LA sought Care Orders and Placement Orders with a plan of adoption. After hearing seven days of evidence, the Judge decided that on balance, the right legal framework for the child was to live with paternal grandmother under a Care Order.  Before the orders could be made, however, the Judge needed to establish whether that was legally possible.

That’s because as a result of the way the Children Act 1989 is constructed, a Local Authority can only place a child who is the subject of a Care Order with  (a) his or her parents OR (b) with a foster carer approved by the Fostering Panel.   Everyone who isn’t a parent has to fit into the second category, which means that the grandmother would need to be approved as a foster carer.

(There is one super obscure third way, which didn’t come up in this case… it takes about two pages of very very very detailed explanation, but the gist of it is that you use section 22C(6) (d), to sanction the placement, which needs approval of the IRO rather than Fostering Panel. Let’s ignore it for now. It’s uber-geeky. )

 

The Local Authority took their case to Fostering Panel,   who unanimously said no

 

  • The panel unanimously resolved not to recommend the grandmother as a connected foster carer. They gave these reasons, which I again quote verbatim:

“(1) The risks and vulnerabilities outweigh strengths to the application.

(2) It is likely that Alan’s needs for emotional stability, sense of positive role modelling of internal family dynamics, safeguarding of contact and sense of identity will be compromised.

(3) Panel members felt the likely risk to Alan’s safety around contact with birth parents and the grandmother’s ability to manage this over the long term.

(4) The grandmother’s lack of insight into the impact of her relationships and family dynamics and discord has on children in her care and her ability to manage this.

(5) The grandmother’s inability to grasp the emotional needs of Alan given his traumatic start to life and future uncertainties.

(6) Concern that the grandmother may not work in partnership with professionals in an open and honest way.

(7) That the following National Minimum Standards for fostering are not met:”

It can be seen that the social workers did not advance the court’s assessment at the panel but instead contested it and gave the panel to understand that they “could not or would not commit to” a care order, which they described as an intrusion.

 

Then, because this case isn’t already bogged down with ponderous technicalities about how a Local Authority works, the recommendation of the Fostering Panel had to go to the Agency Decision Maker to make the decision.  The Agency Decision Maker is a statutory office, a senior member of the Local Authority.  That’s because by law, Fostering Panel has to have people who AREN’T in the LA  as part of the make-up of the Panel, but also by law, people who AREN’T part of the LA CAN’T make DECISIONS on behalf of the LA.  So they make a recommendation and then the Agency Decision Maker decides it.

 

I didn’t make these rules, I’m just trying to explain them.

Also, the Agency Decision Maker said no. 

  1. On 9 November, the Agency Decision Maker made a decision accepting the panel’s recommendation. She did so by signing the minutes against the pre-entered word ‘Agreed’. Her signature appears at the foot of a box entitled ‘Decision’, which was left empty. The parties received the decision on 10 November, which was a Friday.

 

On the Monday, still staggering with the effects of shell-shock from that decision, the parties attended Court. None of them had really sketched out their Plan B, understandably. I don’t know whether there was an application to adjourn to take stock or not, but what ultimately happened was that the Judge decided in essence :- I’ve already decided that narrowly, a placement with grandmother under a Care Order is the only alternative to adoption, so if I can’t legally place with grandmother under a Care Order, there is no alternative to adoption, so Care Order and Placement Order.

 

The Court of Appeal note that they (the Court of Appeal) had more assistance from the advocates as to the legal options than had been given to the Judge at the time.

 

The first option, obviously, was for the Judge to explore further the Fostering Panel’s recommendation (given that it does not seem obvious that they were properly informed of the Judge’s decision following seven days of evidence and the reasoning), and the Agency Decision Maker’s decision, which did not follow any of the Hofstetter principles

  1. In Hofstetter v LB Barnet and IRM [2009] EWHC 328 (Admin), Charles J gave guidance on the Agency Decision Maker’s approach in relation to adoption approval. This has been endorsed for use in fostering cases by statutory guidance (The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 4: Fostering Services at 5.40). It is good discipline and appropriate for decision-makers to:
  2. list the material taken into account in reaching the decision;
  • identify key arguments;
  • consider whether they agree with the process and approach of the relevant panel and are satisfied as to its fairness and that the panel has properly addressed the arguments;
  • consider whether any additional information now available to them that was not before the panel has an impact on its reasons or recommendation;
  • identify the reasons given for the relevant recommendation that they do or do not wish to adopt; and
  • state (a) the adopted reasons by cross reference or otherwise and (b) any further reasons for their decision.
  1. Of course none of that was done in the present case.

 

It was literally a box-ticking exercise rather than that detailed analysis.

So the Court could have explored that further and invited the ADM to attend and to give evidence, with a view to seeing whether the decision could be reconsidered.

 

The Court could also have explored a range of other legal framework options – although a Care Order might have been viewed as the best option, if it were not available, it wasn’t simply that no option existed and hence adoption had to be the plan. A lesser order, whilst less desireable, had to be properly weighed against adoption. A Special Guardianship Order, Child Arrangements Order, Supervision Order or Interim Care Order (with presumably the Court sanctioning the placement using the Cardiff City Council v A decision of the President that this could be done as an assessment under s38(6) were all possibilities that could be considered.

 

And of course, the Court of Appeal note, that the Judge could have wheeled out the Enola Gay option of wardship

 

  1. Another potentially relevant decision that was not brought to the judge’s attention was Re W and X (Wardship: Relatives Rejected as Foster Carers) [2004] 1 FLR 415. In that case, three children were living with their grandparents. The local authority wanted to continue the placement under a care order, but the statutory and regulatory provisions that were then in force meant that if a care order was made, the children would have had to be removed. Hedley J responded by making private law orders, supervision orders and orders in wardship, all with the agreement of the local authority. The case is different on its facts, as the legislation has since been amended to make particular provision for the approval of family foster carers, but it shows that wardship can exceptionally be available to achieve a good outcome where other avenues are blocked.

 

 

So the decision to make a Placement Order was overturned and sent back for re-hearing.

 

Conclusion

  1. Drawing these matters together, as regards the parents the threshold for intervention was not in doubt, and the conclusion that they could not care for Alan was clear and, in the end, undisputed. The welfare decision as to whether there could be a family placement with the grandmother was in contrast finely balanced. The judge carried out a thorough fact-finding process and a careful welfare evaluation, leading her to the conclusion that this placement was in Alan’s interests, provided that the necessary local authority services were made available. That was her first preference as a way of promoting Alan’s welfare and respecting the Article 8 rights that were engaged. Her preference was not supported by the decision of the local authority’s fostering panel which, on a much more limited set of data, evaluated the grandmother’s ability to care for Alan differently. For her part, the Agency Decision Maker gave no indication of exercising an independent judgement beyond a simple endorsement of the panel’s recommendation.
  2. Faced with this unfortunate situation, the judge did not press the local authority further. She treated its stance as being beyond the power of the family court to amend and she removed placement with the grandmother from the list of realistic options. She then went on to balance adoption against the (unrealistic) option of long-term fostering before reaching her conclusion.
  3. It is entirely understandable that the judge wanted to reach a final decision. Alan was by then a child aged 15 months who had been in foster care all his life. The statutory obligation under CA 1989 s.32, requiring the court to timetable the proceedings to conclude within 26 weeks had been repeatedly exceeded and extended. The proceedings had been on foot for 14 months. The judge was demonstrably aware that such extensive delay was seriously disadvantageous for a child of this sensitive age, and of the psychological advantages to him of being able to forge bonds with adopters. However, the extensions of time to conclude the proceedings could only have been granted because the court considered them “necessary to enable the court to resolve the proceedings justly”: s.32(5). To state the obvious, the proceedings could only be concluded if they could be justly concluded.
  4. In the end, I am in no doubt that, despite the difficulties of the situation, the judge was wrong to make a placement order at the point that she did, for these essential reasons:
  5. (1) The judge underestimated her powers. She should not have accepted the local authority’s unchanged position without calling it to account for what was on the face of it an unconvincing response to her careful assessment of risk and welfare. This could have been done in a number of ways, as suggested by Ms Seddon, Mrs Hendry and Mr Messling.

(2) It is true that the judge stayed her order to allow for judicial review proceedings, but that amounted to an acknowledgement that the resources of the family court were exhausted, when they were not. In effect, she accepted the submission of the local authority, recorded at paragraph 34 above, that the decision in relation to whether the child should be placed in the care of the grandmother was not a question for the court. It was.

(3) Even if the point arrived where a decision had to be taken in circumstances where the local authority maintained a refusal to approve the grandmother as a foster carer, it was necessary for the judge to re-evaluate the remaining options for Alan’s future. By not doing this, she effectively boxed herself in. Had she looked at matters afresh, she would inevitably have confronted the fact that this was a child who was being sent for adoption as a direct result of a decision of a non-court body, an outcome unprecedented in modern times so far as I am aware. She would then have been able to weigh that prospect against a range of lesser legal orders (interim care order, private law order, supervision order, injunctions, special guardianship, wardship) in order to arrive at a valid welfare outcome.

(4) The fact that the local authority’s decision arose as a result of a second process (fostering approval) does not alter the general principles that apply. The Agency Decision Maker was not obliged to follow the recommendation of the panel. Nor was the Agency Decision Maker in relation to fostering approval responsible for the case put by the local authority to the court. The judge’s further investigations would have led her to better understand who was ultimately directing the local authority’s thinking and to achieve an effective engagement with them until the issue had been satisfactorily resolved.

  1. For these reasons, I agreed that the appeal should be allowed and that the matter should be reheard by a different judge. The rehearing will be limited to a consideration of the grandmother’s position and not involve any reconsideration of the parents as carers.

Parents can consent to restriction of liberty for children under 18, Court of Appeal rules

This appeal overturns Keehan J’s decision that whilst a parent could consent to a foster care arrangement that involves a restriction of liberty for a child under 16 (which thus means that it does not require either Secure Accommodation or court authorisation), they cannot do so for a child aged 16-17 and 363 days.

Re D (A child) 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2017/1695.html

The Court of Appeal considered things very carefully and in huge detail. I don’t have time for the detailed analysis that the case merits, but it is an important decision, so people need to know it. The Court of Appeal felt, looking at things closely, that there was no magic in the age 16 when dealing with young people who lack capacity.

84.This has an important corollary. Given that there is no longer any ‘magic’ in the age of 16, given the principle that ‘Gillick capacity’ is ‘child-specific’, the reality is that, in any particular context, one child may have ‘Gillick capacity’ at the age of 15, while another may not have acquired ‘Gillick capacity’ at the age of 16 and another may not have acquired ‘Gillick capacity’ even by the time he or she reaches the age of 18: cf, In Re R (A Minor) (Wardship: Consent to Treatment) [1992] Fam 11, pages 24, 26.

128.In my judgment, in the context with which we are here concerned (see paragraphs 84-85 above), parental responsibility is, in principle, exercisable in relation to a 16- or 17-year old child who, for whatever reason, lacks ‘Gillick capacity’.

Consider a dentist, who is deciding whether to treat someone who is not an adult. If a 7 year old says “I don’t want you to take my teeth out” the dentist will of course look to the parent to say yes or no, and won’t take the child’s views as being final. If a 15 year old says that, the dentist may try to encourage and persuade, but can’t really just operate against the 15 year old’s will, and nor can they just take parental consent. The 16 year old with capacity has autonomy over their own body and mouth. BUT if the parents come with a 16 year old and explain that as a result of special needs, the young person lacks capacity, the dentist would probably be able to take the parental consent as being valid. The parents are exercising parental responsibility for a young person who does not have Gillick competence to make their own decisions (even though they are of an age where most young people would be)

I’m not sure that I agree with this conclusion, and I feel that it has some issues with Lord Kerr’s formulation in Cheshire West.

“77 The question whether one is restricted (as a matter of actuality) is determined by comparing the extent of your actual freedom with someone of your age and station whose freedom is not limited. Thus a teenager of the same age and familial background as MIG and MEG is the relevant comparator for them. If one compares their state with a person of similar age and full capacity it is clear that their liberty is in fact circumscribed. They may not be conscious, much less resentful, of the constraint but, objectively, limitations on their freedom are in place.

78 All children are (or should be) subject to some level of restraint. This adjusts with their maturation and change in circumstances. If MIG and MEG had the same freedom from constraint as would any child or young person of similar age, their liberty would not be restricted, whatever their level of disability. As a matter of objective fact, however, constraints beyond those which apply to young people of full ability are – and have to be – applied to them. There is therefore a restriction of liberty in their cases. Because the restriction of liberty is – and must remain – a constant feature of their lives, the restriction amounts to a deprivation of liberty.

79 Very young children, of course, because of their youth and dependence on others, have – an objectively ascertainable – curtailment of their liberty but this is a condition common to all children of tender age. There is no question, therefore, of suggesting that infant children are deprived of their liberty in the normal family setting. A comparator for a young child is not a fully matured adult, or even a partly mature adolescent. While they were very young, therefore, MIG and MEG’s liberty was not restricted. It is because they can – and must – now be compared to children of their own age and relative maturity who are free from disability and who have access (whether they have recourse to that or not) to a range of freedoms which MIG and MEG cannot have resort to that MIG and MEG are deprived of liberty.”

And later

157.The ECHR enshrines the rights of the citizen, but its principal purpose and function is the protection of rights by engaging the State. The Convention is not an academic exercise. Key questions in every case where the Convention is invoked are: on the facts, is there an obligation for the State to become involved? Are the domestic laws and procedures apt to engage the State when necessary, and to protect the citizen’s rights? But these are questions to be asked and answered of the domestic law, for our purposes the common law.

158.It should be no surprise that the common law has provided the answer here. Although it is not necessary for the decision in this case, I also agree with the President that the question whether there is “confinement” should be approached in the careful way analysed by Lord Kerr in Cheshire West, at paragraphs 77 to 79. A three year-old child must be restrained for her own safety if walking near a busy road, or playing near a bonfire. This restraint would be unlawful if exercised over an adult. But it is lawful if exercised by any adult looking after the child. In my view, there is no need for an elaborate analysis of delegated parental responsibility to explain this. In such circumstances, restraint to keep the child safe lawfully could (and normally should) be exercised by any nearby adult. The true analysis is that explained by Lord Kerr. For all present purposes, “confinement” means not simply “confining” a young child to a playpen or by closing a door, but something more: an interruption or curtailment of the freedom of action normally to be ascribed to a child of that age and understanding. In most of the myriad instances in life where children are restrained in one way or another – by being compelled unwillingly to go to school, go to bed at a given time and so forth – there can be no question of their being “confined” so as to fulfil the first limb of the test in Storck.

159.Where there is confinement in the sense I have indicated, so that there may be a need for the State to engage to prevent possible abuse, the questions then become whether parental rights (and duties) can justify the confinement, and whether the State may have an obligation, to be discharged by local authorities and perhaps by the courts, to intervene. Excessively cautious or strict parenting, leading, let us say, to a fourteen year-old who is prevented from ever leaving the house save to be transported to and from school by a parent, might be a case of “confinement”. Other more extreme examples clearly would do so. Then the issue of whether the confinement is justified may arise. It will be evident that such cases are highly fact-specific and that the State will accord great flexibility to parents in caring for their children. That flexibility must reflect the facts, including the “discretion” of the child.

It rather seems to me that the nuts and bolts of Cheshire West are that one compares whether the restrictions on a child are part and parcel of family life or above and beyond that, not by comparing X child with one of similar needs and circumstances but with a child of a similar age. And that means that it would NOT be reasonable for a foster parent to lock the bedroom door of a 17 year old or restrain them if they tried to leave the home, and it doesn’t become reasonable just because X happens to lack capacity and needs those restrictions to keep them safe.

The Court of Appeal have clearly spent hours and hours on this, and my gut feeling is just my gut feeling, so it would be utterly wrong of me to try to argue that the Court of Appeal are wrong here.

Re D is the law now. Re D is.

Re D is.

Re D is

Re D is

(And if you aren’t reading Tom King and Mitch Gerard’s “Mister Miracle”, can I urge you to do that in the strongest possible terms? It is a mark of how great they currently are that the only work to compare to it this year is the same creative team’s run on Batman. )

The Court of Appeal stress that if a Local Authority are relying on parental consent to authorise a restrictive regime in foster care, they can’t simply rely on generic section 20 consent to authorise this.

149.Finally (paras 126-128), Keehan J rejected the local authority’s contention that the parents’ consent to D being accommodated pursuant to section 20 of the Children Act 1989 was a valid consent to D’s confinement at the residential unit. He disagreed with Mostyn J’s analysis in Re RK (Minor: Deprivation of Liberty) [2010] COPLR Con Vol 1047. Furthermore, he said (para 128):

“the “consent” is to the child being accommodated. It cannot be inferred that that consent means that those with parental responsibility have consented to whatever placement the local authority considers, from time to time, appropriate.”
150.I agree with Keehan J that the mere fact that a child is being accommodated by a local authority pursuant to section 20 does not, of itself, constitute a parental consent for Nielsen purposes to the particular confinement in question. In the first place it needs to be borne in mind that parental consent is not, in law, an essential pre-requisite to a local authority’s use of section 20: see Williams and another v Hackney London Borough Council [2017] EWCA Civ 26, [2017] 3 WLR 59. Moreover, even where there is such consent, there remains the powerful point made by Keehan J: to what precisely have the parents consented? That is a matter of fact to be decided in light of all the circumstances of the particular case. Here, as we have seen, Keehan J, found (see paragraph 9 above) that his parents had agreed to D’s being placed at Placement B just as he had earlier found (paragraph 107 above) that they had previously agreed to his being placed at Hospital B. I can see no basis for challenging either of those findings of fact.

(I’m not at all sure now of the status of Keehan J’s previous assertion that whilst parents can consent to restriction of liberty in foster care under s20, they can’t do so under ICOs because the threshold has been found to be crossed. That wasn’t in the case that was appealed, and it has always seemed to me a rather arbitrary distinction. I can’t see that the Court of Appeal look at this, but it is a long judgment, I may have missed it.)

Re D is.

Someone had blundered

 

I’ve written many times about how unusual it is for a Court to revoke an adoption order. If memory serves, I have only found four examples before – one last year where the adopters physically abused the child who returned to birth mother and who felt very strongly about wanting the order revoked, one where a step-parent adoption was made where the mother had not told the birth father that she was terminally ill and if he had known that he would not have consented and I can’t remember the details of the other two – they were both from the 1970s.

 

This is the fifth one.  Which also, bizarrely, became the sixth one as well. This child may well, in due course, have the unusual and unique history of being adopted twice by the same people.

 

RE J (A Minor: Revocation of Adoption) 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/2704.html

And it is just frankly, a mistake.

It seems that there was a hearing before a Circuit Judge. The mother attended, wanting to oppose the adoption. There was no social worker present, and it appeared that the Judge became muddled as to what application she was dealing with.

 

  1. The appropriate course might have been to impress on the mother the complexity of her application and her need to seek legal advice and/or representation. In any event, given the emphasis on ‘due process’ which operates, by definition, reciprocally between the parties, the mother ought to have been required to file evidence and directions given accordingly. From this, would have stemmed further directions for a statement in response by the Local Authority, appointment of a CAFCASS guardian and an inter partes re-listed hearing.

 

  1. It is abundantly clear, I regret to say, that the Judge became confused as to what application she was hearing and what procedure she was following. The Judge adjourned to consider her decision, handing down a written judgment on 3 October 2017. Very properly the Judge addressed the criteria in Section 47(5), concluding that the mother had failed to demonstrate sufficient change to justify ‘reopening the issue of the plan for [J]’. She observed that J was happily placed with devoted carers and that his placement ‘has offered a boost to his positive development’ and that ‘with every week that passes he is progressing well’. The Judge went on to note that the mother’s own assertion that she had stopped drinking alcohol (one of the causes of her parenting deficits) for a period of three months was insufficient to establish the first element of the test in Section 47. Judge Penna noted ‘there is a substantial risk that I would be setting her up to fail’. The Judge went on to consider the benefits of J’s placement in the context of the wider discretionary exercise and concluded that J’s mother had ‘not shown sufficient change for me to grant her leave to oppose the adoption’.
  2. Had the Judge stopped there all might have been well but, inexplicably she proceeded to grant an adoption order to the applicants, at this first directions hearing. She manifestly had insufficient material before her to make the Order which is perhaps the most draconian in the Family law canon. This was a complete aberration and plainly flawed. The Judgment was handed down on the 9 October 2017, circulated both to the parties and to the Registrar General, in order to make an entry in the Adopted Children Register in the form specified by regulations. It must be stated unambiguously that the Order provided that ‘the child is adopted by [K] and [N], the applicants.’ Finally, the Court directed that the entry in the Register of Live Births be marked with the word Adopted. As I understand it, J’s carers now believe him to be their adopted son.

 

 

When the Local Authority legal department received the order, they immediately realised that something had gone wrong. They contacted the Judge, who realised her mistake, but compounded the error by revoking the Adoption Order (which she did not have power to do. She perhaps had not realised that she was exceeding her power and also that this was only the fifth time that an adoption order had been revoked)

 

  1. A number of basic principles need reiteration. Once a child is adopted this entirely severs all legal ties with the birth family and introduces a new legal parental relationship with the adopter’s family. The Court does not make an adoption order unless it is satisfied both that nothing else will do and, for the particular child, nothing else is better. It follows, that the Court will be similarly cautious when contemplating a revocation of an adoption order which is intended to be final and lifelong. Such revocations were described by Pauffley J in PK the Mr & Mrs K [2015] EWHC 2316 (Fam) as ‘highly exceptional and very particular’. Their ‘exceptional’ nature has been repeatedly emphasised see Re. B (Adoption: Jurisdiction to set aside) [1995] Fam 239, Re. Webster v Norfolk County Council and the Children (by their children’s guardian) [2009] EWCA Civ 59, Re. W (Inherent Jurisdiction: Permission Application: Revocation and Adoption Order) [2013] 2 FLR 1609. I draw the inference that Judge Penna revoked the Order in recognition of her error on the basis of the facts and chronology that I have outlined. They permit of no other interpretation. The Judge did not set out her reasoning in any additional judgment.
  2. More problematically, the process of revocation requires the High Court to invoke its inherent jurisdiction. This signals both the rarity of the Order and, inevitably, its unavailability to Judge Penna sitting in the County Court. As it transpired, before the Order was drafted, or sealed, the matter came to the attention of HHJ Newton, the Designated Family Judge. Judge Newton informed me of the situation and transferred the case to me on 23 October 2017. Judge Newton’s prompt action was doubtless driven by her recognition of the real potential for distress to both the birth parents and the adopters in consequence of what has occurred. An equally swift response is therefore required from me. I have not requested the attendance of the parties and have been able properly to deal with this case administratively,
  3. It strikes me that there are two equally legitimate alternatives here, either to refer the matter to the Court of Appeal or to address it myself in this Court. The latter course has the obvious attraction of avoiding delay. Primarily however, I have come to the conclusion that as Judge Penna’s purported Revocation Order was outside her powers, thus plainly void and as it was intercepted before being drawn or sealed, consideration of revocation may properly be addressed in the High Court. On the facts of this case, probably uniquely, I am also satisfied that the Court can and indeed should consider revoking the Order of its own motion.
  4. For the reasons which are set out above, I consider the circumstances in which this adoption order was made are ‘highly exceptional and very particular’ to use Pauffley J’s elegant and succinct phase. Whilst the Law Reports do not reveal this situation as having occurred before, there are some similarities with Re. K (Adoption & Wardship) [1997] 2 FLR 221. There the Court of Appeal indicated that where an adoption procedure had been fatally flawed, an application to revoke should be made to the High Court. Here there was, in short, a complete absence of due process and a wholesale abandonment of correct procedure and guidance. That is a clear basis upon which to consider whether the Order should be revoked.
  5. I am profoundly conscious of the impact of my decision on both the birth parents and the prospective adopters both of whom will be distressed and unsettled by this uncertainty. I would however, emphasise one important and, in my judgment, inalienable right, namely, that of J to know in the future that the process by which he may have been permanently separated from his family was characterised by fairness, detailed scrutiny and integrity.

 

 

So, this was not the finest hour of the family Court.  But by way of scant consolation, I will tell you all about an Australian Court, where the Court was deciding whether a fall from a horse constituted a “motor accident”  (the horse was startled by a car horn and bolted).  The judgment in the case was 138 pages long, which seems long, but perhaps it was warranted. What was NOT warranted, was the Judge reading the whole thing aloud to the parties, a process which took 17 HOURS.

FOUR FULL DAYS of listening to a judgment.

 

And the Judge in question, to keep the suspense going, didn’t hint at the result until part way through day three.

I appreciate that I am a sad legal geek, and there are many judgments that I really enjoy reading. But even I would baulk at sitting and listening to someone read out a judgment over 17 hours.

If Mr Justice Peter Jackson was delivering a judgment on conjoined twins, one of whom was a Jehovah’s Witness and one who was Plymouth Brethern and there were allegations of Fabricated or Induced Illness, AND the Judge had managed to deliver the judgment via séance with Richard Burton reading it out loud on his behalf (with occasional bursts of Peter Sellers doing voices of any witness who was quoted verbatim), I’d still have had enough after a day. Four days would be excessive even for that.

https://loweringthebar.net/2017/10/judge-read-138-page-opinion.html

 

And oh, by the way, the Judge in that case was overturned on appeal, so a complete waste of four days.

 

https://www.caselaw.nsw.gov.au/decision/58ec7f40e4b0e71e17f58abe

 

It is also of concern, as Payne JA has pointed out, that the primary judge made, at best, minor reference in his reasons to the framework within which the legal questions posed for consideration fell

 

If you’ve made me sit and listen for four full days, I don’t expect the legal framework to have only been given MINOR REFERENCE….

 

In which MacDonald J asks the question and answers it in paragraph 1 of the judgment

 

Which is something that I’d like to see more often.

 

The question before me is whether the High Court has power, under its inherent jurisdiction, to make a costs funding order against a local authority requiring it to fund legal advice and representation for a parent in wardship proceedings brought by the local authority where that parent has lawfully been refused legal aid. I am satisfied that the answer to that question is ‘no’.

 

In essence, that question arose because the Local Authority had read some of the previous authorities on radicalisation or alleged radicalisation of children to suggest that they ought to be issued as wardship proceedings (which doesn’t get non-means, non-merits legal aid) rather than care proceedings (which do).  That doesn’t feel right, because parents in such cases really do need legal representation.

A scheme so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel was devised (either nobody invited the LA to simply issue an application for care proceedings so that there would be legal aid for the parents or they did and the LA refused, I don’t know), but anyway an intricate scheme was attempted instead.

As you can see, MacDonald J said no to that.

HB v A Local Authority & Another  (Wardship Costs funding order) 2017

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/524.html

 

However, MacDonald J clarified that in his mind, there was no obligation for an LA on a radicalisation case to issue solely in wardship and not in care proceedings.

In the circumstances, I am satisfied that, contrary to the view taken by the local authority, neither Hayden J nor the President have sought to lay down a general rule, or purport to give general guidance to the effect that the inherent jurisdiction should be used in preference to care proceedings in all cases of alleged radicalisation.

 

MacDonald J shoots up in the league table of my estimation by also dissecting the much discussed homily that the ‘powers of the inherent jurisdiction/magical sparkle powers are theoretically limitless’

 

I am satisfied that the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court does not give the court the power to require a local authority to incur expenditure to fund the legal representation of a litigant in wardship proceedings who has been lawfully refused legal aid in accordance with the statutory legal aid scheme put in place by Parliament.

 

  • Whilst the inherent jurisdiction is theoretically unlimited, it is, in reality, constrained by proper limits. In London Borough of Redbridge v SA [2015] 3 WLR 1617 Hayden J observed as follows at [36]:

 

“The High Court’s inherent powers are limited both by the constitutional role of the court and by its institutional capacity. The principle of separation of powers confers the remit of economic and social policy on the legislature and on the executive, not on the judiciary. It follows that the inherent jurisdiction cannot be regarded as a lawless void permitting judges to do whatever we consider to be right for children or the vulnerable, be that in a particular case or more generally (as contended for here) towards unspecified categories of children or vulnerable adults.”

In R v Central Independent Television Plc [1994] Fam 192 at 207-208 Waite LJ noted:

“The prerogative jurisdiction has shown a striking versatility, throughout its long history, in adapting its powers to the protective needs of children in all kinds of different situations. Although the jurisdiction is theoretically boundless, the courts have nevertheless found it necessary to set self-imposed limits upon its exercise for the sake of clarity and consistency, and of avoiding conflict between child welfare and other public advantages.”

 

  • Within this context, I am satisfied that the limits that are properly imposed on the exercise of the inherent jurisdiction for the sake of clarity and consistency, and of avoiding conflict between child welfare and other public advantages in this case are those that must be applied when considering the nature and extent of the court’s jurisdiction to order a public authority to incur expenditure. As Lord Sumption pointed out in Prest v Petrodel Resources Ltd [2013] 2 AC 415 at [37], courts exercising family jurisdiction do not occupy a desert island in which general legal concepts are suspended or mean something different. Imposing the limits that I am satisfied must apply, I regret that I cannot accept the submission of Mr Hale and Mr Barnes that the inherent jurisdiction of this court is wide enough to encompass a power to order a public authority to incur expenditure in order to fund legal representation in wardship proceedings for a parent who does not qualify for legal aid because that parent does not satisfy the criteria for a grant of legal aid laid down by Parliament, notwithstanding the considerable benefits that would accrue to the parent, and to the child, from such funding.