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Author Archives: suesspiciousminds

Intercontinental telepathic love snails

Or “Snail mail”

It has been a while since this blog has given you something that is just weird and has no law implications, but as I am on leave this week, and I’ve learned about the Pasilalinic-sympathetic compass, I thought that I would like to share it with you.

In the mid 19th Century, a French occultist named Jacques-Toussaint Benoît was giving thought to the issue of communication over long distances. The telegraph had recently been invented, but the laying of transatlantic cables was proving arduous and the salt in seawater was rotting the cables. Something better needed to be invented, and Benoit was nothing if not inventive.

A hundred years earlier, some Rosicrucians had devised the system of the sympathetic alphabet – two people would have a portion of skin removed from one another’s arms, and transplanted onto the other, tattooing letters onto the new piece of skin, and considered that they could communicate remotely by pricking the desired letters on the tattooed portion, causing a sensation in the other person’s arm.

If you’re thinking – hmm, that sounds as though it might not actually work, buckle up buckaroo, because we’re just getting started.

Benoit’s starting point for creating a device that would allow two people to communicate over long distances was, naturally, the principle that once two snails have been in love they remain connected for life. Whatever happens to one snail would thus occur to the paired snail.

And of course, once you have thought about this principle, it is a small step to begin construction of a device involving twenty four snails, a ten foot scaffold, zinc bowls and copper sulphate. One person has one device, consisting of twenty four snails, each having mated with their pair that belongs to the other person’s device. (each snail corresponding to a letter of the alphabet – moving snail A on contraption one would cause snail A to be propelled on contraptation two – because once the snails have been in love, they are linked forever no matter what the distance, remember?), and so you could painstakingly spell out a message on what was effectively a giant snail typewriter. 24 rather than 26 because French was the language being used and they only use the letters W and K for words imported from other languages)

Benoit would need funding though, and for that he approached the owner of a gymnasium, Monsieur Triat, who I can only presume was blessed with the twin assets of being both solvent and gullible. Benoit told Triat that he would just need to acquire a few pieces of wood to make the invention work, and Triat allowed him to have free food and lodgings whilst the invention was perfected.

A year later, Triat became impatient (I’m not sure impatient is the mot juste there, it seems extraordinarily patient to have given this scheme more than 20 seconds ) and wanted to see the machine and have a demonstration.

Benoit initially stalled (hmmm, wonder why) but had to acquiesce and finally on 2nd October 1850 Benoit invited both Triat and a journalist Jules Alix to observe the machine and to demonstrate it. Benoit explained that at this point, he was in regular snail conversation with a collaborator in America, but for the purpose of this demonstration he had constructed two machines in the same room.

At one end of Benoit’s apartment rested a huge wooden frame, a large horizontal disc suspended beneath. In the disc were twenty-four holes, each containing a zinc dish lined with a cloth soaked in copper sulphate solution. The cloth was fixed by a copper blade, and in the dish, secured by glue, sat a living snail. Against each dish was written a letter of the alphabet. To transmit the letter, the operator would touch the snail in the dish, causing a sympathetic reaction in the corresponding snail in the other half of the apparatus – a device of identical construction at the other end of the room

Benoit explained that Triat would be at machine one, and would convey a word through the manipulation of the snails, and that Alix would be at the other. Triat asked if the machines could be separated perhaps through a curtain and Benoit explained that this was sadly not possible.

During the demonstration, to supervise closely and ensure that it was being done properly, Benoit stood very closely to the machines and walked between the two of them. Despite this less than perfect test condition, the word transmitted was still wrong.

Triat was very sceptical, but Alix wrote a glowing review for La Presse, even suggesting that this communication method, once refined, might even be worn by ladies as an accessory wrist band allowing them to communicate and look stylish – with 24 snails wrapped around their wrists.

On 27 October a glowing article appeared in La Presse: `…snails which have once been put in contact, are always in sympathetic communication. When separated, there disengages itself from them a species of fluid of which the earth is the conductor, which develops and unrolls, so to speak, like the almost invisible thread of the spider, [but] the thread of the escargotic fluid is invisible as completely and the pulsation along it as rapid as the electric fluid.’

Triat demanded a second demonstration, under properly strict conditions. It is almost as though he suspected that someone walking to and fro between the two devices could have just been conveying the word that was being transmitted though the medium of a whisper. Benoit agreed and a date was set.

But not kept. Benoit disappeared, and the Pasilalinic-sympathetic compass was never put into mass production.

During the 1871 barricades of Paris, Marquis Rochefort floated it as an idea for communication. He had previously rejected ideas such as ‘dropping hammers out of hot air balloons on our enemies’ and ‘release lions from the zoo to attack our enemies’ as outlandish, but something in the lovelorn telepathic snail telegram struck a chord in him.

There’s a very good episode on this on the Ridiculous History podcast, and also a great Atlas Obscura article, here

Psychic Snail Sex Couldn’t Replace the Telegraph, But One Frenchman Sure Tried – Atlas Obscura

and this one

CABINET / The Internet of Snails (cabinetmagazine.org)

“As shameful as this one is”

A case like this has been coming for a while. I’ve been writing for a long time about the crisis in welfare secure beds and the tendency as a result of chronic shortages in such beds for the High Court to be asked to approve placements exercising powers that are all but secure accommodation in name (and sometimes even greater ones) when the units are not Ofsted-approved for such secure accommodation.

We have finally reached a point where a High Court Judge, even faced with no other option for the child, decided that approval of the existing regime under inherent jurisdiction would be wrong, and indeed a breach of the child’s article 3 rights.

Wigan BC v Y (Refusal to Authorise Deprivation of Liberty) [2021] EWHC 1982 (Fam) (14 July 2021) (bailii.org)

Judgments given by a court should be sober and measured. Superlatives should be avoided. It is likewise prudent that a judge carefully police a judgment for the presence of adjectives. However, and as the hearing proved, in this case it is simply not possible to convey the appropriate sense of alarm without recourse to such language. In this case, having observed that in his thirty years at the Bar he had never been in a position of having to ask a court to authorise a regime for a child “as shameful as this one is”, Mr Martin conceded on behalf of the local authority that, boiled down to its essence, his submission was simply that the court must today prefer the lesser of two acknowledged evils, the hospital ward or the street, in circumstances where there is currently no alternative placement. But that is not a solution that can be countenanced in a civilised society. The test laid down by the law is not which is the lesser of two evils but what is in the child’s best interests having regard to the child’s welfare as the paramount consideration. The parens patriae inherent jurisdiction of the court is protective in nature. As I have observed above, it would border on the obscene to use a protective jurisdiction to continue Y’ current bleak and dangerous situation simply because those with responsibility for making proper provision for vulnerable children in this jurisdiction have failed to discharge that responsibility.

We know that the Supreme Court are to hear an appeal in relation to secure accommodation, Re T. Even if they are to go far further than I could envisage them doing and declare that the Government is breaching the article 3 rights of extremely vulnerable children by not providing sufficient welfare secure beds (and i really don’t think they will go that far), this isn’t a short-term fix. Even if they did that, and the Government accepted it and did something about it, planning, building, approving and staffing the twenty additional secure units that the system really needs is going to take years.

Why is demand for welfare secures so high? Well, in part because brand new concerns have arisen over the last ten years. Nobody was welfare securing children to protect from radicalisation, county lines or systematic grooming ten years ago. The problems with mental health and mental welfare of children has also increased considerably in that time. The favouring by units of criminal beds has also been a fairly recent phenomenon.

In looking at this case, I will describe some of Y’s problems first:-

“On 3 July 2021, Y attempted to strangle himself at the residential placement using a phone charger cable. Y was conveyed to the Emergency Department at the [named hospital] where he presented as agitated and combative on arrival. The history given at the Emergency Department was that care home staff had found Y distressed and threatening to kill himself. He had a screwdriver which he had used as a tool to self-harm and was blue in the face with a cord around his neck which they removed. Y was said to have had fought out against them and assaulted them by spitting and hitting them.

On arrival of the CAMHs practitioner at the emergency department Y was in full restraint with several police officers and staff. His legs were strapped together and his face covered with a guard to prevent him from spitting and biting. On the advice from the CAMHS practitioner, Y was given IV lorazepam following a discussion with the psychiatric consultant, Dr Amdan. Y was admitted to a paediatric ward.

The [named hospital] is not CQC registered to provide mental health care and does not have staff trained to provide physical restraint. During the course of the hearing Ms Davies on behalf of the hospital Trust reiterated that staff on the ward do not have the training or expertise or manage the challenging behaviour that is exhibited by Y and no training in the deployment of physical restraint techniques. Within this context, the local authority agreed to provide trained staff to undertake these tasks. Ms Davies contends however, that there have been difficulties with both the attendance of and the qualifications of the staff provided by the local authority. This has resulted in the Trust having to make frequent calls to the duty social worker in relation to the care provision for Y.

On 4 July 2021 at 3pm Y absconded from the ward following a further incident in which he had become aggressive and combative with staff. Y was recovered to the ward by police, social workers and security staff. He was returned to the ward in handcuffs. Upon removal of the handcuffs, Y crawled under the hospital bed and attempted to bring the bed mechanism down on himself. He was pulled out from under the bed by police and restrained on a mattress situated on the floor. The handcuffs were re-applied by the police at this point. Following this, Y had several incidents of holding his breath”

The current staffing ratio for Y is five to one. He is not able to have a proper bed, a pillow or a sheet. When he showers, the door to the shower has been removed, affording him no privacy. He is having regular intravenous tranquilsers administered, at the maximum dosage that doctors consider safe.

HE IS TWELVE YEARS OLD.

It is impossible to read any of this without feeling a deep sense of shame that this country has been allowing a damaged 12 year old boy to be treated in this way.

“HHJ Singleton QC extended the order authorising the deprivation of Y’ liberty on the hospital ward, the restrictions authorised comprising 5:1 supervision on the ward, the use of physical restraint and the use a fast acting tranquiliser administered intramuscularly if efforts to gain his co-operation proved impossible. HHJ Singleton QC expressly deprecated the use of handcuffs on Y as a method of restraint.

Y currently remains contained on the ward in a sectioned off area. The doors to the paediatric ward have been securely shut and the area cleared of all movable objects. The door to the shower in which he washes himself has been removed, and therefore Y has no privacy at all when showering or dealing with other aspects of his hygiene. He is at present sleeping on a mat on the floor and he is unable to have a pillow, or a sheet due to the risk of self-harm and suicide. Y is still being prescribed daily intra-muscular Olanzapine, which is an anti-psychotic, the hospital taking the view that without this chemical sedation Y’ behaviour would be simply unmanageable. Y does not socialise. In stark contrast to every other case of this nature that has recently come before this court (none of which involved placement on a hospital paediatric ward rather than in a residential setting), neither the evidence contained in the bundle nor the submissions made by the advocates identifies any positives with respect to Y current parlous situation, whether with respect to improvements in his behaviour, his relationships with staff or otherwise. His assaults on staff are frequent, violent and cause injuries to both Y and the staff.

The primary purpose of a paediatric hospital ward is to treat children, not to deprive them of their liberty by means of locked doors, sparse belongings and chemical restraint. There is now no clinical basis for Y to be on the hospital ward and he is medically ready for discharge. There is therefore also now no connection at all between purpose of the hospital ward on which Y is held and the deprivation of Y’ liberty. Within this context, Y currently remains contained on the ward in a sectioned off area that is not designed to restrict the liberty of a child but rather to provide medical treatment to children. The doors to the paediatric ward have been securely shut and the area cleared of all movable objects. Accordingly, not only is there no connection at all between purpose of the hospital ward on which Y is held and the deprivation of Y’ liberty, but the arrangements that are in place to restrict his liberty in that setting are, accordingly and necessarily, an entirely ad hoc arrangement that is not, and indeed can never be, designed to meet his needs.

The door to the shower in which Y washes himself has been removed, and therefore Y has no privacy at all when showering or dealing with other aspects of his hygiene. It must be beyond reasonable dispute that, whilst aimed at preventing him from harming himself, this is a grossly humiliating situation for a 12 year old child to be in and one that presents him with an invidious choice between embarrassment and the maintenance of personal hygiene. It would likewise appear that Y has no means of ensuring privacy on the ward when getting dressed and undressed. Added to this indignity, Y must at present sleep on a mat on the floor and he is unable to have a pillow, or a sheet due to the risk of self-harm and suicide. Y does not socialise. It is unclear on the evidence before the court how Y takes his meals or how he maintains any form of daily routine more generally. Once again, these ignominies have their roots in the fact that a paediatric hospital ward is simply not equipped to undertake the task that circumstance, and an acute lack of appropriate resources, has assigned to it.

I accept the submission of the Children’s Guardian that a further consequence of the paediatric hospital ward being a wholly inappropriate venue for the deprivation of Y’ liberty is that there is an increased risk that the restrictions authorised by the court as lawful risk being regularly exceeded in an attempt to manage Y in an inappropriate setting. There is indeed evidence that this has taken place in circumstances where, for example, Y has been deprived of a bed, pillow and blankets, where on occasion physical restraint is taking place by staff who are not properly trained and, whilst HHJ Singleton QC authorised the use of “fast acting tranquilisation” as a means of chemical restraint when efforts to gain Y’ consent fail, where the current regime of chemical restraint cleaves closer to that of constant sedation. This is not the result of malice or negligence but simply of an increasingly desperate attempt to contain Y in a situation that is not designed, in any way, for that purpose.

Further, and within this context, the fact that the hospital ward is a wholly inappropriate venue for the deprivation of Y’ liberty forces medical staff to step outside the normal safeguards that are put in place in that environment. As I have noted, Y is still being prescribed daily intra-muscular Olanzapine, which is an anti-psychotic, the hospital taking the view that without this chemical sedation Y’ behaviour would be simply unmanageable. However, as Dr SH has made clear, a medication plan is not in place nor set out for the Trust to follow, the Trust is not CQC registered to provide mental health services, paediatricians on the ward are not experienced at prescribing anti-psychotics and other psychiatric medication to patients and, in that context, the only guidance available is that provided by the Alder Hey medication protocol. All these factors in my judgment increase the risk to Y of being harmed by the restrictions that are in place.

In stark contrast to every other case of this nature that has come before this court, neither the evidence contained in the bundle nor the submissions made by the advocate identifies any positives with respect to Y current parlous situation, whether with respect to improvements in his behaviour, his relationships with staff or otherwise. His assaults on staff are frequent, violent and cause injuries to both Y and to the staff who are doing their utmost to care effectively for him. In this context, I accept the submission of Mr Jones that whilst the arrangements in cases such as Lancashire v G (Unavailability of Secure Accommodation) [2020] EWHC 2828 (Fam) or Tameside MBC v L (Unavailability of Regulated Therapeutic Placement) [2021] EWHC 1814 (Fam) were sub-optimal, and in certain respects inappropriate, Y’ current situation is orders of magnitude more severe having regard to the matters that I have set out above.

Having regard to the matters set out above, I cannot in good conscience conclude that the restrictions in respect of which the local authority seeks authorisation from the court are in Y’ best interests, having regard to Y’ welfare as my paramount consideration. Indeed, I consider that it would border on the obscene to use the protective parens patriae jurisdiction of the High Court to authorise Y’ current situation. I am further satisfied that this conclusion is not altered by the fact that, as at 12 noon yesterday, there was no alternative placement available capable of meeting Y’ needs. In this case, I consider that the current arrangements for Y are so inappropriate that they constitute a clear and continuing breach of his Art 5 rights. Within this context, the fact there is no alternative cannot by itself justify the continuation of those arrangements. All the evidence in this case points to the current placement being manifestly harmful to Y. Within that context, the absence of an alternative cannot render what is the single option available in Y’ best interests and hence lawful.

In circumstances where I am satisfied that the current arrangements for Y constitute a breach of his Art 5 rights, it is not necessary for me to go on to address the submission that Y’ Art 3 right not to be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has also been breached in this case. A given situation will cease to be in a child’s best interests long before that situation meets the criteria for a breach of Art 3 of the ECHR. However, I would observe that, whilst the threshold is a high one, there is considerable force in the argument that Y’s current situation as described above breaches Art 3 in circumstances where treatment is inhuman or degrading for the purposes of Art 3 if, to a seriously detrimental extent, it denies the most basic needs of any human being, particularly were Y’ current parlous situation allowed to persist for any longer.

The foregoing conclusions of course lead inexorably to a stark question. What will now happen to Y? The answer is that local authority simply must find him an alternative placement. Y is the subject of an interim care order and therefore a looked after child. Within this context, the local authority has a statutory duty to under Part III of the Children Act 1989 to provide accommodation for Y and to safeguard and promote his welfare whilst he is in its care. More widely, and again as made clear by Sir James Munby in in Re X (No 3) (A Child) [2017] EWHC 2036 at [36], Arts 2, 3 and 8 of the ECHR impose positive obligations on the State, in the form of both the local authority and the State itself. Art 2 contains a positive obligation on the State to take appropriate steps to safeguard the lives of those within its jurisdiction where the authorities know or ought to know of the existence of a real and immediate risk to life. Art 3 enshrines a positive obligation on the State to take steps to prevent treatment that is inhuman or degrading. Art 8 embodies a positive obligation on the State to adopt measures designed to secure respect for private and family life. Pursuant to s.6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, and within the foregoing context, it is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right.

Within this context, the court has discharged its duty, applying the principles the law requires of it, to give its considered answer on the two questions that fall for determination on the local authority application. That answer is that it is not in Y’ best interests to authorise his continued deprivation of liberty on a paediatric ward. The court having discharged its duty, the obligation now falls on other arms of the State to take the steps required consequent upon the courts’ decision, having regard to mandatory duties imposed on the State by statute and by the international treaties to which the State is a contracting party.

CONCLUSION

For the reasons set out in my judgment, I decline to authorise the continued deprivation of liberty of Y on the paediatric ward at [the named hospital]. Given the conditions in which Y is currently deprived of his liberty, which I am satisfied breach Art 5 of the ECHR, it is simply not possible to conclude that the restrictions that are the subject of the local authority’s application are in his best interests, even where there is no alternative currently available for Y.

Judgments given by a court should be sober and measured. Superlatives should be avoided. It is likewise prudent that a judge carefully police a judgment for the presence of adjectives. However, and as the hearing proved, in this case it is simply not possible to convey the appropriate sense of alarm without recourse to such language. In this case, having observed that in his thirty years at the Bar he had never been in a position of having to ask a court to authorise a regime for a child “as shameful as this one is”, Mr Martin conceded on behalf of the local authority that, boiled down to its essence, his submission was simply that the court must today prefer the lesser of two acknowledged evils, the hospital ward or the street, in circumstances where there is currently no alternative placement. But that is not a solution that can be countenanced in a civilised society. The test laid down by the law is not which is the lesser of two evils but what is in the child’s best interests having regard to the child’s welfare as the paramount consideration. The parens patriae inherent jurisdiction of the court is protective in nature. As I have observed above, it would border on the obscene to use a protective jurisdiction to continue Y’ current bleak and dangerous situation simply because those with responsibility for making proper provision for vulnerable children in this jurisdiction have failed to discharge that responsibility.

Once again, the difficulty in this case is that a child requires urgent assessment and therapeutic treatment for acute behavioural and emotional issues arising from past abuse within a restrictive clinical environment but no such placement is available. Once again, these difficulties are further exacerbated by the problems that arise when seeking to distinguish between psychiatric illness and the psychological impact of trauma for the purposes of the application of the domestic mental health legislation.”


  1. Two further matters call for comment. Whilst the focus of this court is, and has to be, on the welfare of Y, it cannot be ignored that the situation that has arisen in this case by reason of an acute lack of appropriate resources for vulnerable children in Y’ situation has impacted severely on many other children and families. In this case the absence of appropriate resources has resulted in many other children being denied planned surgery, being diverted to hospitals further from home at a time of illness and anxiety and in disruption to the paediatric care arrangements for an entire region of the United Kingdom. Within this context, the adverse impact of the lack of appropriate provision that the courts have to wrestle with week in and week out in cases of this nature is now also impacting on the health and welfare of children and families who have no involvement with the court system.
  2. Finally, I wish to make clear that nothing that I have said in this judgment constitutes a criticism of the doctors, nurses, social workers, police and other professionals who have been required to engage with Y. They have, I am satisfied on the evidence before the court, tried to do their best in a situation in which they should never have been placed. All those involved have done their level best in a situation that has bordered on the unmanageable. In so far as fault falls to be apportioned, it must settle on those who have not made the provision required to address the needs of highly vulnerable children such as Y.
  3. It is, once again, my intention to direct that a copy of this judgment is provided to the Children’s Commissioner for England; to Lord Wolfson of Tredegar QC, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice; to the Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP, Secretary of State for Education; to Josh MacAllister, Chair of the Review of Children’s Social Care; to Vicky Ford MP, Minister for Children; to Isabelle Trowler, the Chief Social Worker; and to Ofsted.
  4. That is my judgment.

What happens next for Y? Well, it isn’t at all clear. A proper secure unit, that has trained staff, if one can be found, a proper children’s psychiatric unit, if one will take him.

Y is probably the worst example that we’ve seen, but make no mistake. This is a nationwide crisis, and a crisis for which it is hard to find a fast solution. Specialist psychiatric children’s units that offer trained staff and trained support for children in crisis, regardless of whether their extreme behaviour emerges from a mental health condition or as a result of experienced trauma would be my suggestion, but that’s expensive, and won’t happen overnight – the units have to be planned (and believe me, no home owners are happy with the suggestion of planning permission for such units near their homes) and built, and staffed.

Something rotten in the state of hair strand testing?

There’s a decision reported on Bailii which was decided by the President of the Family Division.

Greater Manchester Police v Zuniga & Ors [2021] EWHC 1572 (Fam) (10 June 2021) (bailii.org)

It sounds very technical and dull – it was about what happens to evidence gathered in the family Courts if it is capable of being DNA tested (such as hair samples) when it goes to the police – who have various duties and responsibilities about this.

But far more importantly, it is about a lab based in Manchester who are under police investigation for falsifying the results of tests for alcohol and drugs – and that some 27,000 tests are under suspicion. A lot of this relates to criminal law cases. The suspicion is that in order to get commercial advantage and gain contracts with the police for their drug and alcohol testing, the lab cut corners – falsifying results and cutting and pasting results from one case into others.

The criminal investigation is ongoing, so we must be careful not to make conclusions that these allegations are proven, but one of the defendants has made admissions of a cover-up during two cases involving family Court where concerns arose and the Court was trying to get to the bottom of anomalous cases.

  1. The background to the case is an investigation begun in 2017 and led by GMP into data manipulation by the seven Respondents, who are the suspects in the case, at a forensic laboratory which, via two different companies consecutively operating at the laboratory, provided services to police forces for the purposes of identifying drug use. The forensics analysed hair, blood, and urine for quantities of illegal substances, and the results provided, some of which were falsified, were used in in criminal, family, coronial or employment cases.
  2. The investigation has uncovered 27,000 reports which appear to have been affected, and therefore the potential injustices which have occurred as a result of the data manipulation are many and serious. It is worth recording that an investigation of this scale, complexity, and irregularity is difficult and skilled work, which necessarily takes time.
  3. The alleged activity occurred between 2011 and 2017 at the same Manchester testing centre, the Hexagon Tower. Two companies were primarily involved, and the Defendants span both: Trimega Laboratories (“TL”) operated at the Hexagon Tower from 2009, and continued under that name (after the Ingemino Group bought TL in 2012) until they ceased trading in April 2014 and the company was liquidated by KPMG; Randox Testing Services (“RTS”), bought the equipment and methodology from TL upon its liquidation and operated at the Hexagon Tower from 2014 onwards.
  4. The Respondents are said to have engaged in data manipulation practices for the purposes of ensuring rapid accreditation by the regulator, UKAS, by which the company could provide its forensics services to the police forces, thereby gaining commercial advantage over competitors. The object was therefore the raise the value of the company by gaining a larger market share.
  5. This data manipulation dates back almost a decade and takes a variety of forms, including copying results and quality assurance data from one sample and pasting it into another, as well as manipulating quality controls and suitability tests, and falsifying identification of drugs and validation data.
  6. Against this background, the seven suspects have been served as Respondents in the case on the basis that they are affected by the order, following the Criminal Procedure Rules Part 47. None has chosen to appear to oppose the application.
  7. The alleged data manipulation first came to light in January 2017, when RTS contacted GMP following their discovery of data manipulation at Hexagon Tower. Both RTS and GMP began concurrent investigations, and RTS cooperated with GMP throughout. RTS discovered the erroneous results in the forensic data during a trial of a person accused of driving under the influence of drugs, in which the prosecution’s expert evidence was challenged and, upon the defence instructing an expert, the two experts were unable to agree due to data anomalies which undermined the reliability of the report from RTS. RTS investigated this and found that the anomalies were data duplication that could only have been carried out by a laboratory assistant with extensive knowledge of the system. Their investigation uncovered that the data manipulation had been ongoing since before they purchased the laboratory and equipment in 2014.
  8. GMP’s investigation also involves the cover up of data anomalies relating in particular to two family court cases. These cases are “the Welch case” and Bristol City Council v A & A and Others (2012): in Welch a woman contested the results from TL of hair testing for drugs, and the another forensic provider was employed to test her hair; in Bristol City Council, TL’s drugs testing was challenged by a woman whose children had been removed from her care on the basis of drugs use. In both cases TL’s tests were contradicted by newly instructed forensics providers, and TL acted defensively, possibly for the purposes of competition with the alternative forensic providers used in those cases. Bayliss admitted in police interview to involvement in a cover-up during these two cases. The anomalies in these cases were discovered at the same time as the sale of TL to Ingemino. If disclosed, the fact of the anomalies would have dramatically reduced the value of the sale. There is also investigation into what the senior management of TL knew of these cases at the time.

I wrote about the Bristol case at the time.

Hair we go again – or blip versus tip | suesspiciousminds

I’ve written before also about how unsatisfactory it is, given the huge amount of public money spent on drug and alcohol testing and the huge decisions that can be made as a result of the results, that we simply can’t get a straight answer on how reliable these tests are.

Help, it’s the care-hair bunch! | suesspiciousminds

(goddamn it, that piece was nine years ago – I’ve been yeeting on about this for nine years)

The decision of the President in this case is twofold – firstly all of the material held about the testing in the family cases under suspicion is going to go to the police and secondly, the family members involved are entitled to ask for that from the police and also get evidence from the police about what the concerns are that led to their tests being considered suspicious.

It isn’t clear to me whether the police will be contacting the alleged victims of these suspicious tests or whether it is for the victims themselves to chase this up. But if you did have drug tests conducted by Trimega using the Manchester labs between 2007 and 2017 you may want to contact your solicitors and see if anything can be done.

I’d really welcome this whole topic being properly cleaned up – we can’t have rival labs hiding behind commercial advantage and competition as a rationale for not being properly transparent about how accurate these tests are.

E-mail justice

This is a curious little appeal – I’m slightly surprised it went to an appeal rather than just got reconsidered at local level but it seems like the attempt to do that was rebuffed.

M (Children: Applications By Email) [2020] EWCA Civ 806 (28 May 2021) (bailii.org)

Basically, a Court had directed in care proceedings that there be a psychiatric assessment of the mother. The mother didn’t turn up for the appointment and the psychiatrist alerted everyone and offered a second appointment. Mother’s solicitors were asked why mum had not attended and they didn’t have instructions. The Guardian considered that the appointment should not be reoffered. The children’s solicitor, quite properly, notified the Court that there had been a slip in the timetable.

However, between draft 1 of the notification which was sent to the Court by email and it being actually sent, there was a development. The social worker informed the lawyers that the children’s grandmother had died a few days earlier and that of course the mother was devastated.

That really should have made everyone take stock and decide to notify the Court that the appointment was missed and that enquiries were going to be made as to whether a second appointment could be offered and once the impact on the timetable was known, the Court would be asked to consider matters.

Instead, the email went as drafted, without that key piece of information, but with a draft order for the Judge to approve. (Slightly oddly not the Judge dealing with the case but the Designated Family Judge).

Within 15 minutes of receipt of the email from the children’s solicitor, those representing the mother sent an email contacting the Court.

The Court made an order discharging the direction for a psychiatric assessment. Those representing the mother contacted the Court to ask this to be reconsidered and the Court said that the decision had been made and were standing by it.

So far as the court was concerned, the entire procedure consisted of three emails sent and received within a period of an hour and a quarter.

Hi, it looks like you’re lodging a draft order that isn’t actually agreed. Do you want to get it agreed ? YES / NO

The Court of Appeal in looking at this stressed that there are circumstances, such as the parties inviting the Court to consider a CONSENT ORDER to which everyone CONSENTS, where matters could be dealt with by way of email, but this was not a consent order and the email from the children’s solicitor had not even set out that some of the parties had an alternative view or were without instructions.

  1. Taking stock:

(1) There was, first and foremost, an obligation upon the mother’s solicitors to bring to the court’s attention a development that impacted on the timetable. The children’s solicitor was observing the ‘compliance order’ and following good practice by engaging with the other parties about this, and in drawing it to the attention of the court before a deadline was breached.
(2) However, the making of an application to discharge the order was evidently a step beyond what the compliance order required. It is far from clear why the Guardian considered that the assessment as a whole should be scrapped without some better understanding of the mother’s position. It is clear from the sequence of events that she formed her view before she knew of the mother’s recent personal difficulties, and that she did not revise it when that information was given by the local authority. There is no information about whether or not the children’s solicitor took the Guardian’s further instructions about making an application after that further information came to light.
(3) It is in any case unfortunate that the children’s solicitor’s message was not amended in the light of the information that became available after it was dictated and once it became clear that the application was opposed by the mother. The message to the court did not set out these matters as it should have done. Nor did it explain that on 7 April Dr D had offered the mother another appointment on 25 April.
(4) Further, an application made by email must confirm whether the proposed variation is agreed. The position of the other parties (the local authority, the children’s fathers and the uncle and aunt) was not stated, if indeed it was known at all to the Guardian and the children’s solicitor.
(5) By allowing requests to vary orders to be made by email, the court had used its power to dispense with the requirement for an application notice. In doing so, it had ordered that any such application was to be made to the allocated judge. We asked why this application had been made to Judge Williscroft, who is the Designated Family Judge and had had no previous dealings with the case, and not to District Judge Gillespie, the allocated judge. We were told that this is because the DFJ takes a close interest in the timetabling of cases in her area. That is as it should be, but it does not justify parties approaching a DFJ to make orders in cases allocated to other judges, unless there is some special reason why that should happen in a particular case.

The appeal was obviously allowed and directions made for the assessment to take place.

40. For these reasons, I conclude that the order was wrong and unjust for serious procedural irregularity: indeed, the error in the order was the direct result of the errors in the procedure. The appeal will be allowed and the order will be set aside. The overall circumstances speak in favour of a revision of the timetable, and not for remittal. The original order will revive, with revised dates and (because Dr D is no longer able to report in time) a different expert, who has been identified. The order will record that the mother has promised to attend her appointment and I know that those supporting her will help her to do that; if she fails without good reason, she can expect the order to be discharged. I hope she will be assessed, because even if the child cannot return to her care, the report will be of value in planning for their future, as identified in the District Judge’s original order.

Finally, I make these observations about the procedure for making applications without the filing of an application notice.

Rule 18 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010, which is in similar terms to rule 23 of the Civil Procedure Rules, concerns applications made within existing proceedings. The respondents to an application are the parties to the proceedings (rule 18.2). Rule 18.4 reads:

This framework allows the court to accept and consider applications made without a formal application notice and to make orders without a hearing. It is desirable, at a time when the courts are under considerable pressure of work and where remote case management hearings have become common, for these powers to be used flexibly in the interests of justice and, in the Family Court, in the interests of children. To this end, the court must distinguish applications that can appropriately be made without an application notice from applications that should, because of the importance of the issue or for some other reason, be made by formal notice. The fact that it has given a general permission for applications to be made by email obviously does not prevent it from requiring an application notice to be filed in a specific instance.

Similarly, the court must discriminate between those applications that require a hearing and those that do not. The default position is that there should be a hearing, as the court can only make an order without a hearing if it does not consider that a hearing would be appropriate. It should be on solid ground if it makes an order without a hearing when, as the rule contemplates, the parties agree that a hearing is not required, or where the order is agreed. It may also decide to dispense with a hearing in other circumstances, for example where the issue is not of particular importance, or where the proper order is obvious, or where the documents contain all the information and arguments and a hearing is unlikely to add much. There will be other reasons why an application can be fairly dealt with without hearing – it is all a matter of judgement.

The essential point is that, whatever form an application takes and whether or not there is a hearing, the same standards of procedural fairness apply. The fact that an application is made by email or decided without a hearing does not mean that it should receive less careful scrutiny. On the contrary, a judge considering an application on the papers must be alert to ensure that the rules and orders of the court have been followed and that the process is as procedurally fair as if the parties were present in person.

Head-banging therapy

When I was at middle school, our deputy head announced that from that point on, at school discos, ‘head-banging’ was forbidden. She went on to explain how dangerous it was to bang your head on the floor repeatedly. This was one of the early moments in my life where I realised that adults are not infallible. (It’s particularly weird, looking back, because our school disco was run by the caretaker who owned only three records – Prince Charming, Stand and Deliver and Eye of the Tiger. We must have been head-banging to Eye of the Tiger. Also, frankly as none of us had long hair head-banging was utterly pointless )

Anyway, this case involves the welfare stage of a set of care proceedings, some devastating findings having been made at a fact finding stage by Keehan J.

K (Children) [2021] EWHC 1409 (Fam) (26 May 2021) (bailii.org)

Some of what Keehan J said about the parents included this: –

The mother and the father have serially lied to the court, to the social workers, to the children’s guardian and to every other professional with whom they have had contact, including the police and health professionals.

  1. The mother is the most egregious liar I have ever encountered. The father has also serially lied to the court, to the social workers and to the children’s guardian.

There was an abduction of the children during proceedings and a concealed pregnancy.

The President of the Family Division dealt with the welfare portion of the case

The Court instructed an expert, Dr Banks, to try to understand why the parents were locked into a pattern of denial of the findings and whether this pattern could be broken.

In oral evidence, Dr Banks said this:-

Because of the nature of the parents’ difficulties, and particularly the mother’s approach which is to push and talk so as to ‘bamboozle’ others, Dr Banks advised that the therapist needs to do, what he called, ‘head-banging’ therapy, so as to be directive with respect to each parent, rather than passive.

Dr Banks in his written report made these observations :-

  1. Dr Banks conducted three sessions with the mother and two with the father, each over a video link. With respect to the father, Dr Banks considered that there was a deficit in the father’s ability to integrate emotional and cognitive information in order to provide a sound conclusion. This deficit might lead to distortions in his presentation and to misunderstanding. The father is unlikely to understand the role of formal organisations and institutions and is unlikely to be able to balance competing priorities leading him to be ‘mono directional’ in his decision-making and choices. Dr Banks identified ‘a high level of denial and lack of insight as to the impact of the father’s overall behaviour on the outcome of the current proceedings.’ In short, the father did not consider that he had acted in a way that might demonstrate a lack of cooperation or deception. The father, in Dr Banks’ view, feigned helplessness and lack of understanding of the English legal process as an explanation; a claim that Dr Banks considered was ‘likely to have little foundation’.
  2. The father explained to Dr Banks that, although he had agreed with the court order requiring him not to have any contact with his wife in order to facilitate the rehabilitation of the two boys to his care, he took the view that the court had overstepped its boundaries in imposing this restriction, had not given him any explanation as to the reasons for it and that it was, therefore, an unfair request. He claimed that he had effectively agreed to the conditions under duress.
  3. Dr Banks found the father to be ‘particularly psychologically defended using high levels of denial and minimisation to protect him from feelings of guilt, shame and blame’, with regard to his involvement in the difficulties in the court process and the removal of the children. Importantly, Dr Banks advised ‘this process will ultimately inhibit the father’s capacity for change where he will find it difficult to manage future behaviour when not recognising that outcomes are a consequence of past behaviour.’ Further, Dr Banks considered that the father had difficulties in mentalising and emotionally appreciating his children’s experience and, when specifically asked about the impact on the children, the father gave more detail about the emotional impact on himself.
  4. In view of the father’s reliance upon an interpreter, Dr Banks decided that it was not appropriate to undertake psychometric testing of him.
  5. With respect to the mother, Dr Banks’ initial appraisal was:
  6. Dr Banks considered that the mother’s adult attachment style was motivated by fear (of the authorities) leading to strategies of withdrawal and escape, and ways of dealing with the perceived threat which would become incoherent, self defeating and non-productive.
  7. The mother is seen as by far the more dominant of the two parents within their relationship.
  8. During his sessions with the mother, Dr Banks saw evidence of false beliefs, and an underlying theme of anger towards professionals. There was also ‘a high degree of fragmentation and false innocence and blame with distorted episodes’ which indicated that, essentially, the mother has difficulty in integrating both emotional and cognitive information. The mother identified difficulties in her relationship with the father, and displayed anger with respect to his behaviour, as she alleges it, of making contact with other women. Whilst the mother accepted that she had ‘done wrong’, Dr Banks, despite pressing on more than one occasion, was unable to illicit more that minimal examples of this from her – for example accepting that she had made a false allegation against the father with regard to the original injury to R in May 2017.
  9. During the exercise of psychometric testing, the mother’s scores indicated a high level on the ‘Obsessive Compulsive Subscale’. Dr Banks advised that such individuals tend to be fairly rigid and follow their own personal guidelines for conduct in an inflexible manner, even when this may conflict with social norms. The mother also demonstrated elevated scores on the paranoia scale and the hyper-vigilance subscale. She demonstrated a markedly elevated score on the ‘dominance scale’. Such a score, Dr Banks advises, identifies an individual who is generally domineering and tends to have little tolerance for those who disagree with their plans and desires.
  10. In a further test designed to assess socially desirable responding, the mother’s score on the ‘self-deceptive enhancement scale’ was very much above average indicating, in Dr Banks’ view, that she shows ‘a form of self-enhancement best described as rigid overconfidence akin to narcissism’.
  11. More generally Dr Banks considered that the father exhibited passive aggressive characteristics of a type that would typically result in attempts to sabotage agreements or disrupt agreements that have been reached, while attempting to appear cooperative. It is particularly difficult to resolve the source of conflict within such individuals, due to it being denied.
  12. The mother, too, is seen by Dr Banks as having passive aggressive personality characteristics. He considers that ‘The mother is now faced with a situation where even with her back against the wall, she does not show good reflective qualities to consider alternative strategies to those that have clearly failed her.’ She has a poor reflective capacity, which may give some insight to explain why the children’s needs were not prioritised.
  13. Dr Banks considers that ‘individuals who show passive aggressive behaviour are highly manipulative and tend to avoid responsibility for their behaviour.’ He further (and importantly) concluded:
  14. Dr Banks found that both parents take the view that Keehan J ‘got it wrong’ and that the court process was flawed. Both parents ‘struggled to agree any point in the judgment’.
  15. Despite his appraisal, Dr Banks concluded:

The parents would benefit from a couples therapy approach which would need to take place with two family therapists who could work with the parents to help achieve an alteration in the parents’ perspectives of their behaviours. The approach here will need to be direct and challenging and certainly not a non-directive type approach, as this would only lead to both parents going round in circles and having their existing views confirmed.”
Dr Banks advised that a minimum of twenty sessions would be needed, but that this was within the children’s timescales in his opinion.

The Court had to consider whether to make the Care and Placement Orders sought by the Local Authority or whether to extend the proceedings to commence the ‘head-banging therapy’ recommended by Dr Banks. The President analysed the issue here

  1. Of particular note is Dr Banks opinion (set out at paragraph 35 above) that it would be very difficult to establish a cooperative agreement with the parents that would hold up, due to the high level of the parents’ defensive avoidance, their denial and their huge degree of psychological defendedness. This conclusion is entirely supported by the analysis offered by Dr Banks with respect to each parent. Both the psychological labels that he attributes to the various elements of what he has identified from the parents’ behaviour, and the, at times, striking evidence that he reports of their responses to him during his sessions, justify the application of terms such as ‘high level’ and ‘huge degree’. Yet, despite the coherence of his analysis and his negative conclusion as to the ability of the parents to enter into a sustainable working agreement, Dr Banks’ recommendation is that this couple could respond sufficiently to a single course of therapy to such a degree that his opinion as to their ability to abide by an agreement could change sufficiently for the authorities to trust them to work cooperatively in the future. With due respect to Dr Banks, that recommendation seems to be wholly at odds with, and not supported by, the body of his report.
  2. No matter how directive and robust a therapist may be, the task in hand, namely bringing about sufficient change to establish a situation where the parents can each be trusted not only to enter into, but to stick with, a working agreement with the social workers for the protection of their children, is a very complex and substantial one. Not only must the therapist seek to challenge and turn around a long-established element of the mother’s character, which is maintained by a high level of avoidant behaviour and denial, he or she must also address the difficulties that exist in the couple’s relationship and enhance the father’s ability to understand and resolve his own difficulties. In addition the therapist will be working with a couple for whom lies and deceit are second nature, and who are each in almost total denial that they have any problems that need to be resolved.
  3. Dr Banks advises, and I readily accept, that it is not necessary for parents to exhibit a significant degree of understanding or acceptance of the nature of their difficulties before embarking on therapy. But, where the issue is should the course that would otherwise be in the children’s interests be put on hold for months, there surely needs to be some basis for the court understanding and accepting that there is at least the potential for sufficient change to take place. Here, the description of the nature of the parents’ difficulties, the degree to which those difficulties have been seen to be entrenched over years and the absence of any indication from the parents that they even recognise that they have those difficulties, make it difficult to accept that a single course of couple therapy could provide a commensurate remedy.
  4. After reading his report and then hearing his oral evidence, I was therefore left in the position of understanding and accepting his analysis of the problems, but far less able to understand and accept that his recommendation for therapy offered a sustainable potential solution.

The President went on to look at the written evidence and the parents oral evidence,

  1. the court has the parents’ respective responses to the detailed findings of fact made by Keehan J. These can only be described as being wholly minimal and self-serving. In the mother’s case, once those elements which are indisputable (for example ‘the police came to the hospital’ and ‘by chance a nursing professional in America identified the mother and alerted the authorities’) are removed, the only statement which is a genuine acceptance of an adverse finding is that the parents colluded with each other to conceal the birth of Q and her presence in England. In the father’s case, the only matters of genuine acceptance are that he lied about events in May 2017 and that he never had any intention of being a sole carer for the two boys. It is of further note that the mother’s admission that the parents colluded together to conceal the birth of Q, is wholly at odds with the father’s assertion that he did not even know of the pregnancy until he was introduced to his baby daughter at the age of four months.
  2. Despite Keehan J’s express and detailed findings, and despite stating that they accept that the judge made those findings, the parents’ evidence at this hearing demonstrated that, far from accepting that the findings have been made and must form the basis of planning for the children’s future, they still deny many matters of significance and seek to establish alternative conclusions. This is particularly so in relation to the bruise on R’s eyebrow, the trip to Stranraer, the calling of police in December 2019 and the attempt to flee with Q via Gatwick Airport, but the reality is that (as the parsimonious response to the findings of fact demonstrates) this is their approach to any of the adverse findings save for the minimal matters that have now been admitted.

strikingly given the stage that the court process has reached, the identification of her problems by Dr Banks, and the proposal for therapy to address those problems, during her evidence in chief the mother volunteered a detailed account of church-based therapy. Her account was, even on its own basis, internally lacking in credibility. It was roundly denied by her husband, who had only attended a few early sessions, but had not found them helpful and had withdrawn. He considered that there were still significant difficulties in the couples relationship. Against his evidence, the mother’s account of a course of couple counselling for well over a year, totalling over 100 sessions, and which had resolved all the difficulties in their relationship can only be a blatant lie.

(If you are going to lie, at least get your stories straight)

The President reached this conclusion

  1. Once the parents’ evidence is brought into consideration, the prospect of therapy being able to achieve and maintain a sufficient change in each parent are, in my view, further reduced to a significant degree. The findings that I have now made as to there being nothing other than minimal change in the parents’ acceptance of past harmful behaviour, and their apparently undiminished ability to produce and develop new lies to this court, do not provide any basis at all for identifying that there is any prospect of change on the part of either of them (paragraphs 95 to 98).
  2. Neither parent accepts Dr Banks’ assessment of their individual problems; the mother simply does not see herself as Dr Banks sees her. Rather than receipt of the expert’s report providing a mirror that each parent can look into and gain some understanding of what now needs to be addressed, this potentially dynamic moment has come and gone without any hint of impact in terms of enhanced self-awareness, and with the parents’ dishonest behaviour presenting as firmly embedded as ever. One is driven to the conclusion that, when the parents say that they are willing to undergo therapy and will do whatever is necessary to establish that they can care for their children, they are simply saying what they perceive is necessary and doing no more than paying lip-service towards accepting that there is a need for therapy. It may be that they are not deliberately doing so. It may be that they are incapable of seeing the truth of what Keehan J has said about their past behaviour and what Dr Banks says about why they behaved as they did. Be that as it may, the result is that they have not demonstrated to this court that they genuinely understand why they need therapy.
  3. Taking this appraisal of the parents’ evidence and presentation in the court process into account alongside my concern that the prospect of success in therapy does not seem sustainable even on Dr Banks’ evidence because of the scale of the problems to be addressed, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that there is no realistic prospect of therapy producing sufficient enduring change of the scale and degree necessary to justify consideration of placement of the children in their care on the basis that it would then be sufficiently safe to do so.
  4. Given my conclusion, which is that, despite Dr Banks recommendation, the evidence does not establish that the parents’ problems might be sufficiently resolved through therapy, it is not strictly relevant to consider the question of an adjournment of the case for four months to monitor how the parents might engage with the therapist and establish a therapeutic relationship. Even if a positive report were received after four months, my conclusion that the degree of change that is needed to establish safe parenting is beyond the scope of the proposed therapy would still stand. Indeed to take four months even to reach that stage indicates just how much work would then need to be done in the months that followed, thereby stretching the time during which the children were, yet again, waiting for a permanent placement yet further.
  5. On the issue of capacity, therefore, my sad conclusion is that the current lack of capacity to provide sufficiently safe, stable and nurturing care for their children cannot be reversed by a single course of therapy, starting as it would, from a baseline where the parents simply do not accept that there is any problem that needs to be addressed

The Court went on to make Care and Placement Orders.

ICE CREAM – I thought part 2, but it turns out part 1

Three years ago, in the pre-Covid times which now seem like a lifetime ago and that if you watched TV footage from 2018 everyone would be wearing kipper ties and dressed in maroon and brown, Mostyn J published a judgment about an application to discharge a Care Order.

It was one of those judgments that made the press

Boy, 8, was taken off mum by social workers who said ‘she had not taken him for ice cream’ – Mirror Online

And the case itself

GM v Carmarthenshire County Council & Anor [2018] EWFC 36 (06 June 2018) (bailii.org)

(which does indeed feature ice-cream’, but of course it was not the reason for the removal – but it was one of the only concrete examples of the mother failing to meet the child’s emotional needs that the social worker was able to give in evidence, and Mostyn J was perfectly right to be scathing about the weakness of that evidence)

Ms Tommason-James was asked to identify her best example of the mother failing to meet L’s emotional needs. Her response was that until prompted by the local authority mother had not spent sufficient one-to-one time with L and had failed on one occasion to take him out for an ice cream. This struck me as utterly insubstantial criticism, and indeed it must have struck the legal representatives of both the local authority and the guardian in the same way because this was not put to the mother in cross-examination by either of them. A further criticism in this vein was that the mother had failed to arrange for L’s hair to be cut in the way that he liked. Again, this is obviously inconsequential, and again it was not put to the mother in cross-examination. A yet further criticism was that on one occasion the mother allowed L into the house of Mr S, the father of A and K. The local authority’s case is that Mr S represents a risk to L, although this has not prevented them approving the placement of A and K with him. On the occasion in question the mother had gone up to Mr S’s house to get some money for A, and L was allowed to visit the downstairs lavatory while the mother was talking to Mr S outside the front door. How this is supposed to represent a failure by the mother to meet the physical or moral needs of L is completely beyond me. It does seem to suggest that objectivity and disinterested fairness is not being applied to the mother.

And I was SURE that I’d written about it, but I can’t find it. It had all the ingredients of something I would have written about – Mostyn J judgments are always worth a write-up, the ice-cream thing, the media coverage, a scathing attack on attachment theory. But I can’t find the piece, and I have to assume that I just didn’t do one.

The significance of the case, legally was this:-

In that decision it was stated that on an application to discharge a care order, while there is no formal requirement on the local authority to demonstrate the continued existence of the statutory threshold under s. 31 of the Act for the making of a care order, something close to a formal threshold requirement applies. It was further stated that a discharge application should not be refused unless it can be shown that the circumstances are exceptional and that the outcome is motivated by an overriding requirement pertaining to the child’s best interests

 

and the judgment was also highly critical of attachment theory and expert evidence about attachment theory

First, the theory, which I suppose is an aspect of psychology, is not stated in the report to be the subject of any specific recognised body of expertise governed by recognised standards and rules of conduct. Indeed, I asked the advocate for the guardian whether he was aware whether a student could undertake a degree in attachment theory, or otherwise study it at university or professionally. Mr Hussell was not able to answer my question. Therefore, it does not satisfy the first criterion for admissibility as expert evidence.
Second, the theory is only a theory. It might be regarded as a statement of the obvious, namely that primate infants develop attachments to familiar caregivers as a result of evolutionary pressures, since attachment behaviour would facilitate the infant’s survival in the face of dangers such as predation or exposure to the elements. Certainly, this was the view of John Bowlby, the psychologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst and originator of the theory in the 1960s. It might be thought to be obvious that the better the quality of the care given by the primary caregiver the better the chance of the recipient of that care forming stable relationships later in life. However, it must also be recognised that some people who have received highly abusive care in childhood have developed into completely well-adjusted adults. Further, the central premise of the theory – that quality attachments depend on quality care from a primary caregiver – begins to fall down when you consider that plenty of children are brought up collectively (whether in a boarding school, a kibbutz or a village in Africa) and yet develop into perfectly normal and well-adjusted adults.
For my part I would say with all due respect that I do not need a social worker to give me evidence based on this theory to help me form a judgment about L’s attachments.
In her executive summary Cathy Webley says:
“On balance, I feel that the risks to L of a return home at this stage are too high and that he should have the opportunity to consolidate the evident progress he is making in his settled foster placement. My conclusion may have been different if L’s foster placement was unsuitable or was in danger of disrupting. However that is not the case. L is happy, settled on making secure attachments in the way that his care plan was designed to achieve. L is more resilient than he was but he remains more vulnerable than most children. I would be concerned about disrupting him again and moving him into an uncertain future with his mother.”
This opinion is based on supposed expert evidence, but it seems to me to be no more than a standard welfare officer recommendation, and one that does not place any weight at all on the principle of proportionality, or on the right to respect for family life, as explained by me above, let alone on the positive duty of the local authority to take measures to achieve a reunification of the blood family. Indeed, it is noteworthy that on page 15 of her report the very first matter relied on by the independent social worker against the mother’s case is in these terms:

“L has been told he will be staying long-term with [the foster parents] and has made an emotional investment in his new family. He would undoubtedly find separation for his foster family, whom he has learnt to love and trust, distressing, even if he appeared outwardly happy.”
If L has been told that he will in effect be staying permanently with his foster parents then that would be a major dereliction from the positive duty imposed on the local authority to seek to take measures to reunify this family. I cannot see how this factor can be relied on first and foremost by the independent social worker.

I cannot say that this so-called expert evidence has assisted me in reaching the decision I must make.
In my judgment, in any future case where it is proposed that expert evidence of this nature is adduced I would expect the court to determine the application with the utmost rigour, and with the terms of this judgment at the forefront of its mind.

It sometimes feels as though the Court of Appeal have a To-Do list which includes ‘keep an eye out for any case that comes before us where we can overturn an old Mostyn J judgment that we disagree with’ – of course they don’t. I’m being snarky – but I’ve seen quite a few cases now where the Court of Appeal allow an appeal from a different Judge and use as their decision-making framework an explicit overruling of a legal principle set out in a Mostyn J case, and it is pretty rare to see that happen with other Judges.

However, here the Court of Appeal were hearing an appeal about an application to discharge a Care Order where the Judge at first instance had been taken to the Mostyn J decision and applied it.

TT (Children) [2021] EWCA Civ 742 (20 May 2021) (bailii.org)

The Court of Appeal say in the early part of the judgment, when explaining why the appeal had been given permission

The mother sought permission to appeal, which I granted in part on 25 March 2021. In doing so, I noted that it was doubtful that any of the grounds of appeal had a real prospect of success, but that there was a compelling reason for the appeal to be heard as it offered an opportunity for this court to consider the correctness of the decision in GM v Carmarthenshire County Council

The Court of Appeal with reference to Carmarthenshire said this:-

In that decision it was stated that on an application to discharge a care order, while there is no formal requirement on the local authority to demonstrate the continued existence of the statutory threshold under s. 31 of the Act for the making of a care order, something close to a formal threshold requirement applies. It was further stated that a discharge application should not be refused unless it can be shown that the circumstances are exceptional and that the outcome is motivated by an overriding requirement pertaining to the child’s best interests. For the reasons given later in this judgment, these statements are not correct and should not be followed.

The reasons later begin at para 39

  1. I lastly turn to the decision in GM v Carmarthenshire. In that case a 5 year old child was taken into care in mid-2015 and a care order was made in February 2016. In August 2016, the child’s mother applied to discharge the care order. In November 2017, Mostyn J adjourned the application and directed that there should be a six month contact regime of a kind that he described as conventional in a private law dispute. At the final hearing in May 2018, by which time the child was 8¾ and had been with the foster carers for 2½ years, he granted the mother’s application. He described the local authority’s objections to the child returning to his family as inconsequential and trivial and he replaced the care order with a supervision order.
  2. The decision is clearly one that could have been taken on the basis of established principles, but Mostyn J instead approached s. 39 of the Act as if it was untrodden ground. At paragraphs 3 to 9 of his judgment, he developed a series of propositions based on In re KD (A Minor) (Ward: Termination of Access) [1988] AC 806, Re B, and the Strasbourg authorities. In the course of this, he observed that:
  3. In their submissions in the present case, Mr Taylor and Mr Lord agree that this analysis is incorrect. In brief, they note that it does not refer to previous authority on the subject of the discharge of care orders. They submit that it is misleading and unhelpful to suggest that “something close to” a threshold applies to decisions about the discharge of care orders. The construct of a ‘near-threshold’ is imprecise, does not fit into any statutory framework, and distracts from a full and balanced welfare evaluation and proportionality check. Care orders exist in a wide range of circumstances and the approach to applications to discharge must be broad and flexible. The implication that there is a presumption in favour of discharge in anything other than exceptional circumstances is not right. The overall analysis is not sustained by any of the six decisions cited above, indeed it conflicts with them.
  4. With respect to Mostyn J, I agree with these submissions. I would only repeat that the reference in paragraph 198 of Re B to a “very strict” test arises, as Baroness Hale stated, in cases involving the “severing of the relationship between parent and child”. In the great majority of cases where there is no plan for adoption, there will not be a severance of this kind, and references to a “very strict” test or to “nothing else will do” are not applicable to an application for a care order, still less on an application to discharge such a care order.
  5. I would also add that the irrelevance of thresholds to decisions under s. 39 is seen in ss. (5), which allows for the making of a supervision order without proof of threshold.

In relation to the comments made by Mostyn J about attachment theory begin at paragraph 36.

  1. An independent social worker instructed with the permission of the court, had provided a report that referred to the child’s attachments. Mostyn J was critical of this evidence (paragraphs 16-21), and he described attachment theory as “only a theory” and “a statement of the obvious”. At paragraph 17 he stated his understanding that attachment theory is not the subject of any specific recognised body of expertise governed by recognised standards and rules of conduct and that it therefore does not qualify to be admitted as expert evidence, and he concluded:
  2. In making these observations, Mostyn J did not refer to other authority about attachment theory. In fact, the subject of attachment and status quo was considered in Re M’P-P (Children) [2015] EWCA Civ 584 at paragraphs 47-51. In that case, where a birth family was seeking to recover children from prospective adopters, McFarlane LJ stated:
  3. McFarlane LJ returned to the topic in Re W (A Child) [2016] EWCA 793, a case in which a child had been with foster carers who were interested in adopting:
  4. The issue of attachment theory does not directly feature in this appeal, but I refer to it because it was addressed in GM v Carmarthenshire. It is one thing to find that a particular witness may not be qualified to give specific evidence about a child’s attachments, but it is another thing to question the validity of attachment theory as a whole or to state that it cannot be admissible in evidence. Nor is it correct to say that, if a child’s attachment to substitute carers is so strong as to lead a court to refuse an application to discharge a care order, that would deprive s. 39 of meaning. That approach risks looking at matters from the point of view of the parent at the expense of a rounded assessment of the welfare of the child. The decisions to which I have referred in the two preceding paragraphs make clear that the court has to give appropriate weight to all the relationships that are important to a child, and that there may be a role for expert advice about attachment in cases of difficulty. Insofar as the observations in GM v Carmarthenshire suggest otherwise, they cannot stand.

The test for determining discharge of care order applications is therefore reset to Re S 1995 – has the parent shown that the order for discharge is better for the child than continuing with the status quo.

“159. I am now going to turn to the relevant law. The long-established test I have to apply is within section 1 of the Children Act 1989, the paramountcy of the children’s welfare. This was confirmed, for example, in the early case of Re S [1995] 2 FLR 639, Waite LJ at 634 making it clear that a parent does not need to establish that the threshold criteria no longer exists. That decision was followed in Re C [2009] EWCA Civ 955 and it has not been doubted since.

  1. There is a burden on the applicant to show that the order – that is discharge – is better than not making the order. That follows from section 1(5) of the Children Act. It might be said that that is an evidential burden on the applicant. In the case of Re MD and TD [1994] FL 489 [sic – the citation is from Re S] it was said that “the previous findings of harm would be of marginal reference and historical interest only and the risk to be considered would normally focus on recent harm and appraisal of current risk”. Of course, every case is different and the extent to which a previous finding is historical in the sense of no longer relevant or less relevant will vary case by case.

Care Orders at home, and abandoning search for missing children

This is a decision by MacDonald J

Manchester City Council v D (Application for Permission Withdraw Proceedings after Abduction) [2021] EWHC 1191 (Fam) (11 May 2021) (bailii.org)

It was a case where three children who were at home with the parents under Interim Care Orders were removed to Pakistan by their parents, and all efforts to find them have been unsuccessful.

The Local Authority applied for leave to withdraw the care proceedings, and to have the children instead made wards of Court.

The Court noted in passing (but helpfully for my purposes, because it sets out the current judicial thinking on Care Orders at home) that the Guardian in the case had recommended that the children be made the subjects of Care Orders under a care plan of them remaining with the parents.

  1. The Local Authority undertook a comprehensive programme of assessment of the parents. The father was assessed to continue to pose a significant risk to the children in the circumstances I have outlined in the foregoing paragraphs. The assessment of the mother however, was positive. In the circumstances, the local authority’s care plan approaching the conclusion of the care proceedings was for the three children to remain in their mother’s care under a court order, the nature of which was to be determined at the final hearing, the local authority contending that the order should be a supervision order under s.31(1)(b) of the Children Act 1989. Whilst the Children’s Guardian agreed that the children should remain in the care of the mother, she contended that this should be under the auspices of a final care order rather than a supervision order.
  2. I pause to note that the practice of placing children at home under final care orders has recently been the subject of some scrutiny by the Public Law Working Group chaired by Keehan J. That scrutiny has had added significance with respect to cases decided on the Northern Circuit in circumstances where it is said that this Circuit has a higher than average number cases in which the placement of children at home under a care order is the final welfare outcome endorsed by the court. In this context, I note the following important passage from the best practice guidance contained at Appendix F of the final report of the Public Law Working Group published with the imprimatur of the President of the Family Division at the beginning of March 2021:

“Care order on a care plan of the child remaining at home
[33] There may be good reason at the inception of care proceedings for a child to remain in the care of her parents/carers/family members and subject to an ICO pending the completion of assessments.
[34] The making of a care order on the basis of a plan for the child to remain in the care of her parents/carers is a different matter. There should be exceptional reasons for a court to make a care order on the basis of such a plan.
[35] If the making of a care order is intended to be used a vehicle for the provision of support and services, that is wrong. A means/route should be devised to provide these necessary support and services without the need to make a care order. Consideration should be given to the making of a supervision order, which may be an appropriate order to support the reunification of the family.
[36] The risks of significant harm to the child are either adjudged to be such that the child should be removed from the care of her parents/carers or some lesser legal order and regime is required. Any placement with parents under an interim or final order should be evidenced to comply with the statutory regulations for placement at home.
[37] It should be considered to be rare in the extreme that the risks of significant harm to the child are judged to be sufficient to merit the making of a care order but, nevertheless, the risks can be managed with a care order being made in favour of the local authority with the child remaining in the care of the parents/carers. A care order represents a serious intervention by the state in the life of the child and in the lives of the parents in terms of their respective ECHR, article 8 rights. This can only be justified if it is necessary and proportionate to the risks of harm of the child.”

I hadn’t seen this guidance, so it is helpful to have it set out

Message from the President of the Family Division: publication of the President’s Public Law Working Group report | Courts and Tribunals Judiciary

I’ve practiced family law all over the country, and the North West circuit is the only place where I’ve heard of Care Orders with the children at home being anything other than a 1 in every 5 or 6 years phenomenon. Everywhere else, its incredibly rare. I’m not sure why it sprang up as being a solution in the North West and really nowhere else. It leaves families with the threat of the child being removed at any time, and leaves Local Authorities with responsibility for the child and having the repeated issue of ‘is THIS the thing that tips the balance that means that the child is now removed’? (I think it is much better in these situations for it to be a Judge to decide whether or not the child should be placed in foster care)

Onto the broader issue of the case,

  1. in my judgment the chances of securing the return of the children to this jurisdiction in a timescale commensurate with the statutory timescale for proceedings of this nature as set out in s.32(1)(a)(ii) of the Children Act 1989 is low. Whilst the court is able to extend the statutory timescale for care proceedings where necessary to enable the court to resolve the proceedings justly pursuant s.32(5) of the Act, in deciding whether to do so the court is required pursuant to s.32(6) of the Act to take account of any the impact revision to the timetable both on the child and on the duration and conduct of the proceedings. In the current circumstances, any extension would be an extension of unknown duration, with little by way of reliable evidence before the court to suggest a realistic end date. Further, and within this context, whilst the children remain the subject of care proceedings, and the subject of interim care orders pursuant to s.38 of the Children Act 1989, the local authority has statutory duties with respect to them as looked after children pursuant to s.22(1) of the Children Act 1989 and the Care Planning, Placement and Review (England) Regulations 2010. Whilst the children remain outside the jurisdiction the local authority is precluded from discharging effectively those statutory obligations.
  2. It of course remains possible, particularly in light of the developments in the use of remote hearings that have taken place in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, to deal with the determination of these proceedings by way of remote hearing, at which hearing the parents could attend by video link from Pakistan and Italy respectively. However, whilst superficially attractive, in light of the position adopted by the parents with respect to co-operation with these proceedings I consider it unlikely that the parents would engage with a final hearing. Further, and more fundamentally, in light of the position set out above regarding the current paucity of directly effective reciprocal legal instruments between this jurisdiction and Pakistan, the court must also look to the situation that would pertain at the conclusion of such a remote final hearing. If that hearing resulted, in light of the developments in this case since 3 November 2020 evidencing the mother’s inability to safeguard the children from the risks the father has been assessed to present, in the court considering that the mother could not safely care for the children, the court would be left in the position of making orders that it could not readily enforce. Were the decision to be that the children should remain in the care of their mother, the court would not be able to rely on any plan for supporting the mother and addressing deficits in her capacity to protect the children being implemented. In addition, and importantly, continuing the care proceedings notwithstanding that the children are now in Pakistan, with the attendant focus on the return of the children to this jurisdiction, is likely in my judgment to leave children in state of considerable stress and uncertainty.

In the foregoing circumstances, and notwithstanding the answer that I am satisfied is returned by the applicable principles absent account being taken on the abduction of the children from this jurisdiction, the reality of the situation that now pertains in this case leads me back to the observation by Ward LJ in London Borough of Southwark v B that there is no advantage to any child in being maintained as the subject of proceedings that have become ineffective in result by keeping alive proceedings that have no current efficacy and have lost the momentum derived from the support of the local authority that initiated them. To refuse the application made by the local authority, and supported by the Children’s Guardian, would be to retain public law proceedings before the court during which the local authority could not discharge its statutory duty to the children and following which the court could not enforce any order it considered should be made to safeguard and promote the children’s best interests. Within this context, it is much more difficult to see the relevance of the potential result of continuing the proceedings to the future care plans for the children. Further, the court would be compelling the local authority to engage in proceedings that it no longer seeks to pursue. In these circumstances, it is also far less clear that the time the investigation would take and the likely cost to public funds could be justified.

  1. However, whilst I accept Ms Lennox’s submission that it would be inappropriate to make an order warding each of the children until they reach their respective ages of majority, it is my intention that the children shall remain wards of this court for a further period. The evidence before the court is that the GMP continue to investigate this case as a criminal offence of child abduction and are still working with Interpol and the authorities in Pakistan in that regard. Whilst satisfied that the timescales of that investigation are, on the evidence before the court, out with those of the care proceedings, I am satisfied that whilst these criminal investigations continue it is in each of the children’s best interests that they remain wards of this court, in order that the court can intervene quickly with respect to their welfare should the criminal investigation be brought to a successful conclusion. In light of the timescales contemplated by GMP I am satisfied that in the first instance the wardship proceedings should be listed for a further review in six months’ time. At that point, further consideration can be given by the court to whether those proceedings should continue or should also be brought to a conclusion, having regard to any further progress made by GMP in the criminal investigation in concert with Interpol and the authorities and the police in Pakistan.
  2. In conclusion, I grant the local authority permission to withdraw the care proceedings in respect of the children. The children will however, continue to be wards of this court. I will list the wardship proceedings for review in six months’ time, at which review the court will give further consideration to the progress of the criminal investigation by GMP, in concert with Interpol, into the parents abduction of the children from this jurisdiction and determine whether it is appropriate for the children to remain wards of court at that juncture.
  3. Finally, I wish to make abundantly clear that my decision in this case has been reached on its own very particular facts. My decision should in no way be taken to represent acquiescence by the court in the face of the actions taken by the parents in this case, as an acceptance of those actions or to suggests that parents involved in care proceedings can avoid those proceedings by removing their child from the jurisdiction of the court.
  4. To the contrary, parents who abduct children as a means of avoiding local authority involvement with those children or during the course of subsequent care proceedings can expect the court to bring to bear the full weight of the law in seeking the return of those children to this jurisdiction, and to continue in that effort until all legal avenues have been exhausted. A case in point is the decision of this court in Re K (Wardship: Without Notice Return Order) [2017] 2 FLR 901, in which this court ordered the return of the children to this jurisdiction some five years after they had been abducted by their mother as a means of avoiding local authority involvement with the children’s welfare. The courts of this jurisdiction will pursue all reasonable measures to ensure that subject children abducted by their parents or relatives during the course of care proceedings are returned to this jurisdiction.
  5. Within that context, I direct that a copy of this judgment be sent to the Greater Manchester Police and I give permission to the Greater Manchester Police to disclose the judgment to Interpol and to the authorities in Pakistan with whom the Greater Manchester Police are co-operating with respect to their ongoing criminal investigation into the abduction of the children.
  6. That is my judgment.

Special Guardianship Order AND a Care Order

This is going to be a bit niche. If you want to read a blog post with wider applicability, may I point you towards

Wellbeing fatigue / Pink Tape instead

This case is about a curious wrinkle in the Children Act 1989, where the making of a Special Guardianship Order automatically discharges a Care Order but not vice versa. That always led to the theoretical possibility that a Court could make an SGO, and then moments later make a Care Order. And the curious issue of just who has overriding Parental Responsibility in that situation.

Theoretical that is, until now.

F & G, Re (Discharge of Special Guardianship Order) [2021] EWCA Civ 622 (30 April 2021) (bailii.org)

  1. This is an appeal against a judge’s decision refusing to discharge a special guardianship order (“SGO”). The children who are the subject of the SGO are twin girls, F and G, now aged ten. Their special guardian is their former step-father, K. The appellant is the girls’ mother.
  2. The unusual – indeed almost unique – feature of this case is that the girls are subject not only to the SGO but also to a care order. The principal issues arising on this appeal are whether as a matter of law the two orders can coexist and, if they can, whether in the circumstances of this case the judge was wrong to allow the SGO to continue.

I note in passing the weird situation that allows for a step-father to have a Special Guardianship Order, which is perfectly permissable in the Act, but feels like it maybe shouldn’t be.

6. At a final hearing before HH Judge Sharpe on 9 April 2020, the care proceedings concluded with the making of an SGO in favour of K and a care order in favour of the local authority. No judgment was delivered setting out the reasons for this outcome. The order recorded that all parties agreed that the two orders should be made. It further recorded that the local authority had not yet filed final care plans, directed the authority to file the plans by 20 April, and recorded that the final orders would be made “administratively” assuming no party objected on receipt of the plan. A final plan was duly filed on 16 April and no party raised any objection at that stage.

Anyway, SGO was made on 9th April 2020. By the end of May 2020, the LA were giving notice that they intended to apply to remove the twins. The step-father applied for an injunction to prevent this. By 16th June, the twins were in foster care.

So step-father was the Special Guardian whilst actively caring for the twins for just over 2 months. They had been living with him as sole carer for about a year before that.

At a final hearing in November 2020, the mother made an application to discharge the Special Guardianship Order, which continued to give K, the step-father, parental responsibility for the twins and a greater parental responsibility than she had as their mother.

10. According to a chronology prepared for this appeal, on 27 November, three days before the “final” hearing, the mother filed a notice of application for discharge of the SGO. No copy of that application was included in any of the bundles filed in connection with this appeal. At that stage, the mother had not been granted leave to make the application. In the skeleton argument prepared for the hearing on 30 November, the mother’s counsel invited the court to grant permission for an application for discharge of the SGO to be made “in the face of the court”. It seems, however, that this application was either not pursued or not granted. There is no reference in the ultimate order to the mother being granted leave to apply and in paragraph 16 of the judgment the judge recorded that he was “content to regard the matter as being one which fell within s.14D(2), Children Act 1989 whereby the court of its own motion may vary or discharge existing SGOs even in the absence of an application by any party so entitled”.

At the hearing on 30 November, the mother was the only party seeking discharge of the SGO. By that stage, the local authority and the guardian had changed their positions and concluded that there was a positive benefit to the order continuing alongside the care order. Having heard legal argument, Judge Sharpe indicated that he would not discharge the SGO. The hearing was adjourned for the delivery of a judgment which was distributed in draft before a hearing on 22 December and then ultimately handed down in its final form on 12 February 2021 setting out the judge’s reasons for refusing to discharge the SGO, together with a supplemental judgment in which he gave reasons for attaching a condition to the SGO under s.11(7) of the Children Act and for refusing the mother permission to appeal. On this latter point, the judge stated that he was following convention in allowing this Court to decide whether to grant permission, and that, but for that convention, he would have been minded to grant permission “in order that the issues raised in this case could be considered at an authoritative level”,

The order made following the hearing did not fully reflect the judge’s decision. It referred to the father’s application to discharge the order (which had not been pursued) but made no reference to the mother’s application to discharge the SGO. It recorded that:

The mother immediately filed notice of appeal against the judge’s decision refusing to discharge the SGO. On 18 February 2021, I granted permission to appeal. On 25 February, the mother filed an application to amend the grounds of appeal to include an appeal against the condition attached to the SGO.

The appeal hearing took place on 5 March 2021. The mother’s appeal was opposed by the father, the local authority and the children’s guardian. At the outset of the hearing, we granted the mother permission to amend the grounds of appeal. At the conclusion of the hearing, judgment was reserved.

I’m already intrigued as to why the Local Authority would oppose the mother’s application. I stopped reading the judgment at this point and spent ten minutes trying to think of a reason why they would. The closest I got was ‘K is an important figure for the children and removing the SGO removes his PR and thus it should continue so that he can continue to play a part in their lives’ (which seems like it could be achieved by a recital that the LA would continue to involve him, or the Court granting him parental responsibility as a step-parent under section 4A of the Children Act 1989), but I couldn’t come up with anything else.

That does seem to be the nub of it (with counsel for mother also suggesting that the Court could use inherent jurisdiction to declare that K be treated as a ‘significant person’ for the children by the Local Authority).

K’s argument also included this point :-

37…. Although he is not at present the children’s carer, it cannot be said with any certainty that he will not resume care at some point in the future. In the event that he were to resume care under the SGO at some point in the future, he would be entitled to support at a level which would not be available if he was not a special guardian. The importance to the children of allowing K to continue to be their “father” and be recognised as a parent now and in the future was central to the decision.

The three questions for the appeal were these :-

  1. The mother advanced three grounds of appeal, recrafted in her skeleton argument in these terms:

(1) SGOs and care orders cannot coexist in law: Parliament never intended that they could or would coexist. The two are plainly and simply incompatible. Any formulation and/or crafting and/or interpretation of the legislative framework to reach a conclusion that they can coexist is wrong.
(2) In the alternative, if the orders are lawfully permitted to coexist, on the facts of this case the judge was wrong to allow the SGOs to continue.
(3) The imposition of the singular specified condition, on the facts of this case, was wrong both in principle and, in the alternative, in its content.

The Court of Appeal decided that

1.Yes, they could co-exist (provided they are the correct way round – SGO first, Care Order second can co-exist, Care Order first then SGO second can’t, because the SGO in statute automatically discharges the Care Order)

2. In the facts of this case, whilst the Court of Appeal felt that the Judge had considered things carefully, there were solutions to the difficulties that were not put before the trial Judge that had been explored at the appeal, and that a Care Order with a carefully worded care plan with how K was to be included and consulted and kept involved would have been the better solution.

So point 3 didn’t arise to be settled.

But the Court of Appeal also settle the ‘if there’s an SGO AND a Care Order, whose overriding PR overrides, if any?’ question that has been on nobody’s lips – I mean, it’s something I asked idly about 8 years ago in a post, but it was hardly a burning question.

Not like the burning question that I was presented with yesterday, which was “In the Blondie song, Hanging on the Telephone, is Debbie Harry’s character a stalker? And secondly, if she is, is that somehow okay if she looks like Debbie Harry?”

Blondie – Hanging On The Telephone – YouTube

To which the answers in my view are – yes, she kind of is, and that’s quite hard but yes it sort of is but no it can’t be because of the wider implications that throws up so no, no it isn’t okay. No .

Anyway, the Court of Appeal answer:-

Under s.14C(1)(b), a special guardian is entitled to exercise parental responsibility to the exclusion of any other person with parental responsibility, but only “subject to any other order in force with respect to the child” under the Act, including a care order. Under s.33(3)(b)(i), the local authority has the power to determine the extent to which a parent or special guardian may exercise parental responsibility, provided it is satisfied it is necessary to do so to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare. The consequence is that, once a care order is made, a special guardian’s power to exercise exclusive parental responsibility is overridden by the local authority’s power to determine the extent to which any person holding parental responsibility may exercise it

Half-time submissions (again)

This is a case where the Court was invited to consider at the close of the Local Authority case whether the Local Authority application should be dismissed without hearing from other witnesses.

It was decided by Mr Recorder Howe QC sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge.

BB (Care Proceedings) (Mid-Trial Dismissal and Withdrawal of Allegations) [2021] EWFC 20 (03 March 2021) (bailii.org)

Long-time readers may remember that Sir Mark Hedley considered this issue in

AA & 25 Ors (Children) (Rev 2) [2019] EWFC 64 (16 April 2019) (bailii.org)

which as it was pre-covid seems like a hundred years ago, but was actually just two years.

No case to answer in care proceedings | suesspiciousminds

In that case, the Court decided that the Court DOES have power to bring the case to a conclusion at a mid-way point, although declined to do so in that case.

In Re BB, the failures in the investigation process were awful but sadly familiar.

16. I have heard oral evidence from a number of professionals who received and recorded allegations made by the children. Those witnesses have included the 2 interviewing police officers, the supervising investigating officer, the foster carers for the children, 2 fostering agency supervising social workers, 2 local authority social workers and a fostering agency support worker. All of these witnesses, except the fostering agency support worker, have accepted that their meetings with the children, be they formal interviews or not, have breached the terms of the Achieving Best Evidence [ABE] Guidance. All of the witnesses, save the fostering support worker, accepted to a greater or lesser degree that their manner of questioning of the children either did or may have influenced the responses of the children. All of the witnesses accepted that they failed to take adequately detailed notes that included detail of the questions asked of the children. All of the witnesses, save the fostering support worker, accepted that they should, in hindsight, have behaved differently and all, other than the foster support worker, agreed that they would now behave differently.

18.The witnesses accepted that the children were given praise and attention when allegations were made. It has been accepted by all that they had questioned the children and not just listened and recorded the allegations made. All of the witnesses, save one interviewing officer, said that they believed the children’s allegations and as a result of that belief accepted that they had not kept an open mind. Both of the interviewing officers accepted that they conducted the interviews with the aim of having the children repeat the allegations they had made to the foster carers or to the fostering support worker.

19,All of the professionals receiving allegations from the children had received either no training concerning the application of the ABE guidelines, had attended training but many years ago that had not been repeated or had received training but could not adequately recall its content. Where some principles had been recalled from training received, all witnesses accepted that they had not applied those principles consistently, or at all, when interacting with the children.

20.It is these breaches of the ABE guidance that form the basis of the submissions made by the Respondents that no court could properly make findings of sexual abuse on the basis of the evidence this court has received. The Respondents have provided detailed schedules describing the breaches of guidance that they submit are present. These schedules particularise the breaches said to have occurred in the investigation of each allegation made by each child.

21. The Local Authority accepts there were very many breaches of the ABE guidance, although it has not in its response to the interim application engaged in any way with the particulars provided by the Respondents. The Local Authority accepts that the court may reach the conclusion that it cannot make the findings sought but it submits that the court cannot make that determination until it has heard all of the evidence in the case, including the evidence of the Respondents.

I think that every time I have written a blog post about a reported case involving Achieving Best Evidence interviews the judgment has always been critical and outlining the flaws in the process. I honestly cannot recall an example where the ABE interview is held up as being even competent, let alone praised for quality. It is so depressing that the lessons from many many cases just don’t seem to be learned. The guidance in Achieving Best Evidence are there to get the best quality evidence about an allegation – whether true or untrue, to help proper decisions to be made about criminal proceedings and about the welfare of children. Failure to properly conduct them leads to confusion, uncertainty, the parents and child being potentially wrongly separated and vast amounts of money and time being spent picking over a flawed interview to see what, if any, reliance can be placed on it.

PLEASE – if you are involved in the conduct of an Achieving Best Evidence interview or the planning of one, or are aware that one is planned to take place, take some time to ensure that the training is up to date, that the principles of Achieving Best Evidence are understood and that the planning of how the interview is to be conducted takes those principles properly into account. Two hours of planning before the interview can save many more hours of forensic dissection of the flaws that emerge, and it is not just the experience for the witness. Poorly planned ABE interviews LET CHILDREN DOWN.

The Court heard the representations from each of the parties as to whether the case should continue until each party had given evidence or be brought to a conclusion at this mid-way point.

The Judge decided:-

59.I have reached the clear conclusion that I cannot, until I have heard all of the available evidence including the evidence of the Respondents, determine the factual allegations pleaded by the Local Authority. In my judgment, there is an evidential purpose to hearing the evidence of the Respondents and I am unable to conclude that no court could properly make the findings sought by the Local Authority. I have reached these conclusions for the following reasons:

(a) I accept the Local Authority’s submission that, in family case, there is an expectation that the parents, and others who have voluntarily intervened, will give oral evidence to answer the allegations raised against them. In Re I-A (Children) [2012] EWCA Civ 582, Etherington LJ said there is a “need for a particularly conscientious and detailed examination of all the evidence” in cases involving allegations of sexual abuse, including the evidence of those accused and any evidence of previous dishonesty by the children making the allegations. At paragraph 22, Etherington LJ said “In my judgment, it would have been right and proper, in a case of this kind where there was a requirement for a detailed and conscientious assessment of all the evidence in relation to each specific allegation, for each specific allegation to be put to the witness so that there was a possibility of refuting it in whole or in part or at any event providing more details”. In my judgment, the need for conscientious examination of all the evidence does not just apply to those aspects of the evidence that might support those facing allegations. It also, in my judgment, applies to the consideration of the Local Authority’s case and the allegations made by the children.
(b) At the ‘half-time’ stage of a case, the Court has heard only part of the evidence. In my experience, the case of a Respondent can often be described as being at its height at the end of the Local Authority case as skilled cross-examination of the Local Authority’s witnesses can often appear to have undermined the reliability of the Local Authority’s evidence. However, save in exceptional circumstances, it is in my judgment the responsibility of the court to provide the Local Authority, and the children represented by the Guardian, with the same fair opportunity to cross-examine the Respondents as the Respondents have had to challenge the Local Authority’s evidence. This ensures the court is able to reach its conclusions on the basis of the best evidence. In my judgment the court should not readily reach a conclusion that cross-examination of a witness would serve no purpose. As described by Munby P in Re S-W [2015] EWCA Civ 27, at paragraphs 55 to 59:

“58. … I am not suggesting that a parent has an absolute right to cross-examine every witness or to ask unlimited questions of a witness merely with a view to ‘testing the evidence’ or in the hope, Micawber-like, that something may turn up. Case management judges have to strike the balance, ensuring that there is a fair trial, recognising that a fair trial does not entitle a parent, even in a care case, to explore every by-way, but also being alert to ensure that no parent is denied the right to put the essence of their case to witnesses on those parts of their evidence that may have a significant impact on the outcome.

  1. Quite apart from the fundamentally important points of principle which are here in play, there is great danger in jumping too quickly to the view that nothing is likely to be achieved by hearing evidence or allowing cross-examination, in concluding that the outcome is obvious. My Lord has referred to what Megarry J said in John v Rees. The forensic context there was far removed from the one with which are here concerned, but the point is equally apposite. As I said in Re TG, para 72:
    “Most family judges will have had the experience of watching a seemingly solid care case brought by a local authority being demolished, crumbling away, at the hands of skilled and determined counsel.”
    In my judgment, these same principles must also apply to the Local Authority as they do to the Respondents. If the court is informed by the Local Authority, in this case an authority represented by Queen’s Counsel, that it has legitimate and forensically necessary questions to put to the Respondents, the Court should be very slow indeed to deny the Local Authority the opportunity it seeks. Of course, the Local Authority’s questions need to be more than a fishing expedition and be addressed to issues that the court must determine. As with any cross-examination, the matters upon which the questions refer must have some basis in the evidence before the Court. If there is no evidence, the witnesses can simply deny the suggestion and the matter goes no further.
    (c) In my judgment, the investigation of inconsistency and dishonesty by the cross-examination of family members is an essential part of the process in public law care proceedings. Much of what the court has to examine takes place behind closed doors. The Court is most often in the dark about what actually took place and has to piece together a picture of what is most likely to have occurred from the jigsaw pieces of evidence, pieces that come from many different sources available and from the different perspectives of each participant in the events being considered. In my judgment, the court should only deprive itself of this otherwise essential source of evidence where it can be satisfied that there is nothing that can be said by the witnesses that will inform its conclusions.

(d) I accept the submission made by the Local Authority that the court will be assisted by hearing evidence from the Respondents, particularly from the parents concerning the sexual knowledge demonstrated by the children in the allegations that they have made. Asking the parents questions on these issues is not reversing the burden of proof. It is a legitimate enquiry to enable the court to understand what might be the sources of this knowledge. The parents may simply not know but, equally, the answers to such questions might provide the court with some insight into how this knowledge developed. The answers to this legitimate and necessary area of enquiry are as likely to assist the parents as the Local Authority.

(e) Similarly, I agree with Mr Thomas that an exploration of the views of one mother as expressed in her police interviews may provide evidence of particular relevance. Why this mother seemingly accepted that her husband had sexually abused the children and, during her interview, threated to kill him as a result of that belief has obvious relevance to the court’s determinations.

(f) In my judgment, the Court can only reach a conclusion that no court could safely make findings after having heard all the available evidence. The Respondents rely on the decision of the Court of Appeal in JB (A Child)(Sexual Abuse Allegations)[2021] EWCA Civ 46, and the decision by Baker LJ not to remit the case for a rehearing on the basis that the breaches of the ABE guidance were ‘on a scale that no court could properly make the findings of abuse’. The decision of Keehan J in Re EF, GH, IJ (Care Proceedings) [2019] EWFC 75 was also relied upon. At paragraph 286, Keehan J said “I am satisfied that the conduct of the police investigation by DC Andrews was so woeful and her conduct with the ABE interviews so seriously and serially breached the ABE Guidance that I can attach little or no weight to the allegations made by the boys and in those police interviews”. Both judgments are said to be illustrative of the likely outcome in this case, it being said that the breaches of guidance here are as bad, if not worse, than those in the aforementioned cases.

However, the conclusions in JB (A Child)(Sexual Abuse Allegations) were reached on an appeal following a first instance trial hearing during which all the evidence had been heard. In his judgment in Re EF, Keehan J describes in detail his impression of the family witnesses and how hearing that evidence supported his ultimate decision that the allegations of the children were unreliable.

There are other reported Court of Appeal decisions that do not order a retrial after a successful appeal (Re W, Re F [2015] EWCA Civ 1300 being just 1 example) on the basis that no court could reasonably have found the allegations proved on the basis of the evidence before the court but no party has drawn my attention to a reported case where such a serious, and determinative, conclusion has been reached without having heard from those accused of perpetrating abuse.

I remind myself that I am considering the evidence in this case and it is not my function to reach a conclusion that ‘no court’ could make the findings sought. My function is to examine the evidence in this case and decide if I find the Local Authority’s allegations proved to the required standard.

(g) I accept that a judicial evaluation of the evidence is required for the 2 examples given by Sir Mark Hedley in AA v 25 Others. However, in my judgment the evaluation of the evidence that is required in this case is much more detailed than is appropriate to undertake at this stage of the case. An expert witness informing the court that an image on an X ray is not, as was previously thought, a fracture may remove from consideration all evidence of an inflicted injury having occurred. There is very little judicial evaluation required. That is a very different situation to the court having to consider each of the breaches of guidance alleged to have taken place and then trace through the chronology to assess how that breach has affected the reliability of the evidence that has come later. In my judgment the number of breaches highlighted by the Respondents does not reduce or remove the need for the court to undertake a detailed evaluation of all the evidence. The number of breaches in this case is closely matched by the number of allegations. What connection one has with the other, if any, is a matter requiring close examination that should, in my judgment, occur only once all the evidence has been received.

60.In my experience, where there are blanket denials of allegations of sexual abuse, the hearing of the evidence from those facing allegations can be a surprisingly quick exercise. If it is said that these events did not happen and are a product of a child’s imagination, the answers to questions are often a simple ‘it did not happen’. However, I have reached the conclusion for the reasons given above that there is a clear forensic purpose to hearing that evidence. The Respondents were present in both homes at times when it is said that these events were taking place. It is, in my judgment, essential that the court hears from them in response to the allegations that are made.

It may well be that in reaching my final conclusions, having heard all the evidence, that I will agree with the submissions now made by the Respondents. I may not. As I said during the hearing of the evidence, I accept that Family Court judges are expressing views about the reliability of the evidence they hear on a daily basis, both at the case management stage of proceedings and during the hearing of the evidence in trial. A ‘judicial steer’ to the Local Authority is an integral part of the Family Justice system that helps to ensure the appropriate use of the court’s resources. In the circumstances of this case, I have required the Local Authority to keep its case under review but I take the view that any further ‘steer’ is unnecessary as Mr Thomas is aware of the difficulties now present in the case he advances on behalf of the Local Authority. I have reached the clear conclusion that it would be inappropriate for me to express any view concerning the consequences of the breaches of guidance on the ability of the Local Authority to prove its case. My conclusions can only be reached after a careful examination of all the evidence and for the reasons given above, I will not make any determinations until after the Local Authority has had an opportunity to ask questions of the Respondents.

Care proceedings where parent was adopted

I’ve not come across this question before, so that’s always attractive to me.

And then having seen a question to which I didn’t know the answer, I see that Cobb J is the Judge, so I’m going to get an answer that is clear and shows all the working but succinctly. I’m fairly redundant as someone who summarises and makes things shorter and simpler when I get a Cobb J judgment. I could just put up the link and call it quits.

Anyway, the question is – when a parent in care proceedings is adopted, and the birth family have come back into their life, do the LA have a duty to assess the BIRTH family as potential carers for the child?

F, Re (Assessment of Birth Family) [2021] EWFC 31 (12 April 2021) (bailii.org)

Within these public law proceedings, is there any obligation on the Local Authority to assess members of the ‘original family’[1] (i.e., the biological/birth family) of the mother of the subject infant child (F), where the mother herself was adopted as a child and raised by adoptive parents?

The arguments of the parties

Ms Persaud argues that it is incumbent on the Local Authority to assess members of the birth family; she essentially argues:
i) they are bound to the mother and to F by a relationship of consanguinity; the legal severance of the family relationship has been “socially undone” by their recent contact;

ii) they know of F’s existence;

iii) they are interested in F; at this stage, F’s ‘birth’ maternal grandmother has not indicated any wish to care for F, but wishes to have contact;

iv) the birth maternal grandmother apparently successfully cared for a child after the adoption of the mother and her brother;

v) the mother continues, even now, to maintain some relationship with her birth father by text and phone;

vi) there are members of the wider family in respect of whom it is understood there are no social work concerns and who appear to be caring adequately for their own children.

She further argues that I could not/should not make the decision now but should await further outline information from local authorities in which members of the birth family live (they are scattered around the country) in order to reach a more informed view.

Ms Anning on behalf of the mother strongly opposes this approach. She argues that the decision should be made now, and that there should be no assessment of her client’s birth family. She makes the following points:
i) The mother strongly opposes any assessment of the birth family; she sees her adoptive family who raised her since she was six as her ‘family’. The mother’s view must weigh heavily in the evaluation of the issue;

ii) The mother contends that the birth family would be wholly unsuited to care for F; she relies on their historical failure to care for her, and what she knows of their current lifestyles; her relatively brief re-engagement with them has adversely affected her;

iii) The mother has in fact currently ‘fallen out’ with her birth mother; the prospects of any family placement within the birth family being free from conflict or drama is small;

iv) The mother feels sufficiently strongly about the issue of assessment that were it to go ahead, she fears that it could destabilise her currently reasonable mental health, and jeopardise her own chance to care for F; she does not feel that she is in a psychologically strong place, and feels anxious about embarking on the next phase in which she will be assessed in the community with F with this ‘hanging over her head’; I have in mind the expert opinion which suggests that if the mother engages successfully in psychological therapies, she may well be in a position safely and appropriately to care for her daughter;

v) Any assessment of the birth family would create divisions within her family – her parents who adopted her many years ago; and with her foster parents;

vi) The birth family, as a matter of law, ceased to be legally the mother’s family when the mother was adopted; there are no recognisable enduring legal rights;

vii) The Article 8 ECHR rights of the birth family are non-existent, or at best highly tenuous, given the lack of legal rights and the limited relationship between the birth family and the mother and particularly F; Miss Anning understandably relied in this regard on the comments which I made in Re TJ (Relinquished Baby: Sibling Contact) [2017] EWFC 6, and those of Peter Jackson J as he then was in Seddon v Oldham MBC (Adoption: Human Rights) [2015] EWHC 2609 (Fam) at 2, to the effect that the making of an adoption order brings pre-existing Article 8 rights as between a birth parent and an adopted child to an end.

Ms Kelly, on behalf of the Children’s Guardian, is, first and foremost, critical of the Local Authority for the delay in bringing this issue to the court many months after it first accommodated F. She further contends that no obligation falls on the Local Authority to assess the birth family in this case, and indeed that given the mother’s opposition to this course, it would be counter-productive for it to do so. In this, she aligns herself with the position taken, and the arguments advanced, by Ms Anning on behalf of the mother. She makes the additional point that one of the key philosophies which underpins a family placement for a child who cannot be cared by his/her parents is to ensure the continuity for the child of blood ties within established networks, where a parent may be able to continue to play a normal/natural role; this, she submits, would not truly be available here for although blood ties would be restored/preserved, the current difficult and tenuous emotional ties between the mother and her birth family, and the absence of legal relationship which was of course dissolved by the adoption many years ago, would make any placement very problematic indeed.

My gut feeling on this, having read those arguments, is that I can see why the Local Authority wanted the Court to answer this question and that I agree with the arguments put forward by the mother that where the mother doesn’t want her birth family assessed, that is the end of it. If the mother were actively putting any of them forward, I’d say they should be assessed.

Conclusion

For the reasons articulated clearly and comprehensively by Ms Anning and Ms Kelly (summarised at [15] and [16] above), and further elaborated on in the section above addressing ‘legal principles’, I am satisfied that the Local Authority should not embark on any assessment of the birth family in this case.
I am satisfied that the mother’s birth family are her ‘original’ family (as per ACA 2002) but are not her current ‘family’ nor are they her ‘relatives’ as those terms are used in Part III of the CA 1989. In that respect, their status (if any) in relation to F is materially different from the status of the extended or wider family as discussed in the caselaw referred to above, namely Re A, B, C and Re H. Furthermore, the birth family’s limited experience of F during a short visit in March 2020 (which culminated in a section 47 investigation as a result of the serious injury to F) falls a long way short of supporting any finding that they had acquired Article 8 rights to a family life with F. This right is not established on the basis of biological kinship alone.
Even if the birth family could bring themselves within the definition of ‘family’ for the purposes of the statute/caselaw, this does not place upon the Local Authority any obligation under statute to inform, consult, assess, or otherwise consider them in circumstances such as these (see [21]/[22]/[23] above). In that regard, I have assessed what the mother says about her birth family and have done so objectively and critically. In this context, I have been able to undertake the necessary ‘analysis’ of their potential as ‘realistic options’ as long-term carers of F at this stage, without undertaking or commissioning a fully-fledged ‘assessment’ (see Re JL & AO at §92(2)). On the evidence presented, there are at least four clear pointers steering away from the birth family as a realistic option to care for F: (a) the fact of the mother’s adoption 14 years ago following her upbringing characterised by turbulence and significant neglect (see [6] above); (b) the events surrounding the injury to F in March 2020, and their failure to report the same (see [9] above); (c) the accepted fact that the mother and her birth mother have a difficult relationship (see [12] above), and (d) the current view of the professionals that the mother should avoid contact with her family (see [9] above).
Quite apart from those considerations, I accept that the mother has a strong opposition to the birth family being assessed; this carries significant weight in my assessment (see Re A, B, C at §89(6)(5), Re JL & AO at §50, Re H at §37). In this case, I am further satisfied that involving the birth family in assessment would be likely to have a deleterious effect on the mother’s fragile mental health, at a critical time when she herself is being assessed in the community as a long-term carer for her daughter. It would also, I am satisfied, cause unwelcome and avoidable division in the relationship between the mother and her parents (Mr M and Ms N).
I should add that I could see a situation in which a birth family could properly fall to be assessed in circumstances such as these, where for instance the previously adopted parent (the mother or father of the subject child) had re-connected successfully with his/her birth family, and this had been a wholesome and successful reunion. But that is plainly not the case here.
That is my judgment.