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When is immediate not immediate?

 

Removal of a child subject to a Care Order from a parent – if you are a parent, or parent’s lawyer this case gives information and advice about how you might stop that, and if you are a social worker or Local Authority lawyer this case tells you that it is FAR LESS simple than you might imagine, and you’d better be ready to show your working.

 

The High Court in 2014 in Re DE 2014 told everyone that their previous thinking that under a Care Order a Local Authority had the power and authority to remove a child if they wished and the remedy of the parents would be to apply to discharge the Care Order if they disagreed was WRONG.

 

A Care Order gives the Local Authority the legal POWER to remove a child without a further Court hearing. The case law says rather differently though – that just because you have that POWER doesn’t mean you are free to exercise it as you see fit. There are hoops to jump through.

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/06/04/an-answer-to-an-important-question-you-didnt-know-you-had/

 

And that effectively, unless a situation arose that was the equivalent of a situation that would allow a Court to make an Interim Care Order (the child’s safety requires IMMEDIATE SEPARATION) then there was instead a long and careful process to go through before the Local Authority could trigger a removal under a Care Order.

 

To my mind, where a care order has been granted on the basis of a care plan providing that the child should remain at home, a local authority considering changing the plan and removing the child permanently from the family is obliged in law to follow the same approach. It must have regard to the fact that permanent placement outside the family is to be preferred only as a last resort where nothing else will do. Before making its decision, it must rigorously analyse all the realistic options, considering the arguments for and against each option. This is an essential process, not only as a matter of good practice, but also because the local authority will inevitably have to demonstrate its analysis in any court proceedings that follow the change of care plan, either on an application for the discharge of the care order or an application for placement order under the Adoption and Children Act 2002. This process of rigorous analysis of all realistic options should be an essential feature of all long-term planning for children. And, as indicated by Munby J in Re G, the local authority must fully involve the parents in its decision-making process.

 

While this process is being carried out, the child should remain at home under the care order, unless his safety and welfare requires that he be removed immediately. This is the appropriate test when deciding whether the child should be removed under an interim care order, pending determination of an application under s.31 of the Children Act: Re L-A (Children) [2009] EWCA Civ 822. The same test should also apply when a local authority’s decision to remove a child placed at home under a care order has led to an application by the parents to discharge the order and the court has to decide whether the child should be removed pending determination of the discharge application. As set out above, under s.33(4) of the 1989, the local authority may not exercise its powers under a care order to determine how a parent may exercise his or her parental responsibility for the child unless satisfied it is necessary to do so to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare. For a local authority to remove a child in circumstances where its welfare did not require it would be manifestly unlawful and an unjustifiable interference with the family’s Article 8 rights.

In submissions before the district judge, and before this court, it was argued on behalf of the local authority that its removal of D from the family home was lawful simply by reason of the care order. That submission is fundamentally misconceived. The local authority’s removal of the child would only be lawful if necessary to safeguard or promote his welfare. Any other removal, or threatened removal, of the child is prima facie unlawful and an interference of the Article 8 rights of the parents and child. In such circumstances, the parents are entitled to seek an injunction under s.8 of the HRA.

 

The Court of Appeal have just considered, for the first time, a scenario post Re DE 2014 where a Local Authority removed under a Care Order, saying that it was an emergency, a situation akin to an ICO triggering event.

The parents disputed this, and an application to discharge the Care Order (and somewhat oddly an inherent jurisdiction application) was lodged. The Court at first instance decided that the LA were entitled to remove in the interim and arguments and decisions about whether that would be permanent would have to wait for the final hearing of the application to discharge

The parents appealed

Re K (A child) 2018

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/2512.html

 

I think there are three points of interest in this case

 

  • The emergency/non-emergency point, and how hard the LA has to work to show their full consideration of interim removal under a Care Order
  • Whether the inherent jurisdiction is the right route (hint, no)
  • And finally, the position where a Local Authority had, and declined, the opportunity to cross-examine father about allegations against him and a Judge went on to in effect make findings against the father.

 

 

I’ll deal with those in reverse order.

 

 

 

Failure to cross-examine father

 

44.The judge made findings against the mother to the effect that she was in breach of the written agreement. In particular, the judge accepted (as he was entitled to do) the evidence of PC Tonse, that the mother had told her she had been the victim of two previous assaults at the hands of the father. That she had said this was denied by the mother, who gave evidence and was cross-examined.

 

 

45.At the hearing, counsel (Mr Richardson for the father) offered to call the father in order for him to be cross-examined about the events of 30 December and, no doubt, in relation to the two earlier alleged incidents. No party required him to be called.

 

 

46.Having heard and seen both the mother and PC Tonse give oral evidence, in my judgement, the judge was undoubtedly entitled to conclude that the mother was not being honest and to accept the police officer’s account of what the mother had said to her in the flat in the early hours of the morning. The judge, however, went on (without having heard evidence from the father) to conclude at paragraph 13:

 

 

 

“So we have three assaults in three weeks. [The mother] is, unfortunately for her, telling the truth when she said that the police officer and therefore 30 December is not an isolated incident in the relationship between her and [the father]… So there was that; there was direct contact on at least, to my mind, three known occasions during which [the mother] was assaulted.”

47.And At 23:

 

 

 

“I have already found that there has been at least three incidents when he has assaulted her. There may have been, and I do not know, other occasions when he has come to the property.”

 

The Court of Appeal decided

 

 

 

71.The judge necessarily had to make findings as to what occurred on the night of 30 December. He found that the mother had seen and been assaulted by the father on three separate occasions. It follows from that finding, that the mother had not told either the police or the local authority about the two earlier occasions of violence. The judge further found that the mother’s written and oral evidence to the court was untrue and the product of her realisation of the consequences of her account of the events given by her that evening to the police.

 

 

72.In order for the judge to reach these damning findings of fact, he was required to consider all the available evidence. In my judgment, a serious error was made by the local authority in failing to cross-examine the father. It is not enough, metaphorically, to shrug the shoulders and say: “He would say that wouldn’t he?” of the father’s statement in support of the mother’s account. The father’s evidence was directly relevant. More serious still is that the judge made specific findings of assault against the father, a man who was both a party and a witness, without hearing his evidence, in circumstances when he was available and willing to give evidence and to be cross-examined. In my judgment, this was clearly unfair and a serious procedural irregularity.

 

 

73.Almost by a side wind, there is now a finding of fact that this father assaulted the mother on three separate occasions, all within a matter of weeks of each other, when a non-molestation injunction was in place, and at a time when his wife was being given (on the local authority’s case) one last chance to bring up their child. It is rightly difficult for a party to go behind a finding of fact made against them by a judge after a trial where a party has been represented. But as a consequence of the findings, all future assessments of this father, and any decisions made in respect of either K (and indeed any child this father may have in the future) will have these serious findings as their starting point. Mr Richardson submitted that, in some way, the findings carried less weight because this was an interim hearing and could be, therefore, reviewed at a final hearing; I am afraid I cannot accept that to be the case.

 

 

74.Having read and reread the judgment, it is abundantly clear that this judge was making positive findings that this father had assaulted the mother on three separate occasions, and indeed all the evidence available makes it absolutely clear that, from 7 March onwards, the local authority has proceeded on precisely that basis. These findings were made, without the father having an opportunity to give evidence in circumstances where he was present in court and willing to go into the witness box and expose himself to cross examination.

 

 

(Being old-school, I always operate on the basis that if you are offered the opportunity to cross-examine a witness and decline to do so, you are accepting the account they give. You can’t call someone a liar in submissions if you didn’t have the decency to call them a liar to their face and give them the opportunity to deny it)

 

The inherent jurisdiction

 

33.As already recorded, K was the subject of the full care order. In those circumstances, the court was bound by the jurisdictional principles which relate to care orders and care planning. That means that the inherent jurisdiction cannot be used as a means of diluting, or circumnavigating, a local authority’s right to exercise parental responsibility following the making of a care order under section 33 and subject to section 34(4) of the Children Act 1989.

 

 

34.That this is the case could not have been stated more clearly than was done by Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead in Re: S (Minors) Care Order Implementation of Care Planning; Re: W (Minors) Care Order Adequacy of Care Planning [2002] UKHL 10; [2002] 2 AC 291; [2002] 1 FLR 815 at 23:

 

 

 

While a care order is in force the court’s powers, under its inherent jurisdiction, are expressly excluded: section 100(2)(c) and (d). Further, the court may not make a contact order, a prohibited steps order or a specific issue order: section 9(1).”

35.Also, more recently in Re: W (Care Proceedings Functions of Court and Local Authority) [2013] EWCA Civ 1237; [2014] 2 FLR 431 Ryder LJ said:

 

 

 

“71. It can be stated without question that once a full care or supervision order is made the family courts’ functions are at an end unless and until a jurisdiction granted by Parliament or otherwise recognised in law is invoked by an application that is issued.”

36.Whilst the court has jurisdiction under its inherent jurisdiction to prevent the removal of a child (subject to a care order), the House of Lords made it clear in Re: S that an injunction under the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA 998) can be utilised in order to achieve a similar outcome.

 

(I think there’s a missing ‘no’ between has and jurisdiction in para 36….)

 

37.From paragraph 22 onwards of Re: DE, Baker J traced the jurisdictional route to an application for an injunction under HRA 1998. Baker J noted that other potential remedies (for example, judicial review) do not ordinarily provide adequate protection for a family when a local authority is planning to remove a child, and that, as a consequence, the appropriate route will be for an application to be made under section 7 of the HRA1998.

 

 

Now, the emergency issue

 

When the Judge made a Care Order, placing K at home with the mother, the Judge said this

 

9.The judge concluded at 73:

 

 

 

“For all those reasons, I consider that the welfare of [K] demands that, if at all possible, he stay in the care of his mother and the wider family. If at all possible, it requires his parents to stay away from alcohol and it requires his parents to stay away from each other. That is not an easy thing to ask of anyone. 74. You have gone a long way down that road. It has been said that your motivation is caused by compulsion. This is arguable but I know many psychiatrists who would say that it does not matter what causes the motivation, motivation is important and the important thing is that it sticks. I am going to be making a Care Order subject to many conditions, subject to written agreements, subject to court orders and subject to you being honest not only with yourselves but with each other, with [K], with [H] and with the local authority. I believe you can do it but if you do not there is only one place where this matter will go and you will have both lost your son.”

 

This raising three issues of significance – being abstinent from alcohol, the parents staying away from each other, and the mother being honest with professionals.

 

 

What happened was that the child, K, became unwell and was admitted to hospital. The father became aware of it and went to mother’s home at about 2.00am on 30th December. There was an allegation of an altercation and a claim that father assaulted mother, knocking her unconscious. The police attended and took a statement. The mother told the officer that she had consumed three beers.

 

 

20.During the course of all this, and whilst still at the mother’s house (according to PC Tonse’s notes), the mother told her that the father had assaulted her 2 weeks previously and then again a week later, on which occasion he had punched her nose causing it to bleed. These two instances had not been reported to the police. The mother, as recorded by PC Tonse, had said “that she would not have called for the police tonight had it not been for her son, who she felt was at risk due to the father’s aggressive behaviour.” The officer’s focus, not unreasonably given the view of the paramedics, was on the assault. The mother’s focus, also not unreasonably, was on her baby. Eventually, it was agreed that the mother and K would go by ambulance to hospital.

 

 

21.When K was examined in hospital he was diagnosed as suffering from meningitis. He was admitted and remained in hospital for 10 days. The mother stayed with him day and night for the whole period of his stay in hospital.

 

 

22.A note of the doctor is recorded in the judge’s judgment:

 

 

 

“Talked to mother. Had two beers last night. First time for a long time. Father came to her house as worried about son. Mother said she asked him to leave but he hit her and she called the police.”

23.On 2 January 2018, the local authority was informed (by what means is unclear) that the mother and K were in hospital. The mother that same day was handed a letter entitled “Notice of intention to remove [K] from your care on or after 5 January 2018”. The letter referred to District Judge Alderson’s judgment (referred to above) and the written agreement, before going on to say:

 

 

 

“Due to the significant risk posed to [K] by you not being abstinent from alcohol and from other domestic violence perpetrated on you by [the father] and any contact between [the father] and you, in relation to your failure to inform the Local Authority or the police of at least two occasions in December 2017 when you subsequently alleged to the police on 30th December 2017 that you had been subjected to domestic violence from [the father], the Local Authority has determined that it is necessary to remove [K] from your care to foster care and that there is no other means of safeguarding him.”

24.According to a statement, filed upon the direction of this court on 7 June 2018, the local authority say that they first became aware that K had been admitted to the Whittington Hospital on 2 January. At about 13.30 that day, the mother was spoken to by the duty social worker, and was told at the hospital that same afternoon that K would be taken into foster care upon his discharge.

 

Without labouring the point, the triggering incident happened on 30th December (the day before New Years Eve) and the Local Authority found out about it on 2nd January, the next working day, and issued notice that they would be taking K into foster care when he was medically fit for discharge from hospital.

The LA took the view that they had learned of the mother drinking alcohol, of father coming to the home and assaulting mother perhaps on three occasions, and of a lack of honesty in mother telling them about the earlier incidents, and given what had been said by the Judge, considered that this was an immediate safety risk (if the child were to go back to mum after discharge from hospital)

 

The parents argued otherwise.

 

40.The local authority and the child’s guardian each submit that the appeal should be dismissed. The local authority submits that the issue at the hearing was to decide whether K’s welfare demanded “immediate separation”. They submit that, given their view that instant removal was required, the guidelines contained in Re: DE had not been engaged. For example, whilst they submitted that the 10 days’ notice period provided for in the written agreement had not been complied with, that was acceptable given that the local authority considered the case to be an emergency.

 

At the hearing to consider whether the child should be returned to mother in the interim (in effect whether the LA were wrong to have removed in the interim)

 

48.The judge concluded that K was at serious and immediate risk of harm as, he said, nothing could be put in place which would protect him from his father’s behaviour. At the request of counsel for the father, the judge went on, in the briefest of terms, to consider the welfare checklist. In relation to any change in circumstances, the judge noted that this was “a big change in the circumstances for [K]” but that it was a “proportionate approach”.

 

 

49.With respect to the judge, in my judgment, such a bland recording, insufficiently reflected the reality of what was happening to K. K had never been apart from his mother. All those involved throughout his life to date accepted unreservedly that the mother’s care of K was excellent, as was their attachment. At no stage had the local authority sought to limit the mother’s care of K whilst he was in hospital, which was at all times wholly unsupervised. Nowhere, in either the judgment or the local authority material, have I seen any indication of anyone considering the effect on this baby of removal from the care of his mother. K had been dangerously ill and was only starting to convalesce and to recover; then was discharged, not home to his mother and all his familiar surroundings, but to a strange place with only strangers around him. I say this to highlight why the protocol set out in Re: DE exists and should be applied in all cases.

 

 

50.In giving permission in this case, I directed the local authority to provide a statement setting out the manner in which they complied with the Re: DE protocol and, in particular, to provide full details of the involvement of the applicant in the decision-making process, and the details of the process by which the local authority – to use the words of Baker J in Re: DE – “rigorously analysed all the realistic options; considering the arguments for and against each option” prior to removing K from care of his mother. The local authority was further directed to exhibit all minutes and written recordings in relation to the decision not to return K upon his discharge from hospital, including the written records required under the Re: DE protocol.

 

 

51.The statement supplied by the local authority in response to that direction makes no mention of the case of Re: DE at all. It does not exhibit any minutes or written recordings in relation to its decision to remove; it does not explain how the mother was consulted, save to detail (by way of chronology) how the previously made decision was conveyed to her at hospital by the duty social worker.

 

 

52.Mr Parker, who has only recently been instructed on behalf of the local authority, acknowledged this to be the case and apologised to the court. The local authority could offer no explanation for the failure to follow the Re DE protocol other than to say that the local authority regarded the case as an emergency. Further, the local authority suggests that in granting permission to appeal and referencing “what is likely to be permanent removal” in respect of K, demonstrated an incorrect approach and incorrect analysis of the judgment on my part. The hearing was, they submitted, focused solely on K’s safety which required immediate removal, and the long-term plan was a matter for the application to discharge the care order. The local authority submit that it would have been premature for them to have engaged in any sort of Re: BS analysis as required by Re: DE, or indeed to “rigorously consider other options”. That, they say, could be done later.

 

 

53.I do not accept that to be the case. I would have found such a submission more convincing if it had not been patently clear from the papers that, from as early as 2nd January, the local authority had no intention of rehabilitating K to his mother once he had been removed.

 

 

54.The position as recorded on the order and confirmed orally to the judge at the hearing was that, far from consideration being given to K returning to the care of his mother, the local authority was forthwith considering placing him with a family member in Australia. This was confirmed only two weeks later in the care plan dated 21 March 2018. In addition, it is absolutely clear, by reference to the fact that the decision to remove K from his mother’s care was made the very day the local authority was informed of the crisis, that no consideration was given as to whether anything could be done to salvage the situation rather than the knee-jerk reaction of immediate removal.

 

 

55.During the course of the trial, those representing the mother sought to call and adduce evidence in respect of the quality of her care of K on a day-to-day basis, and particularly in relation to her exemplary care of him whilst he was in hospital.

 

 

56.The judge declined to hear any evidence to this effect. The judge said he was working on the assumption that the mother was able, in principle, to “look after the child”. It is because, he said:

 

 

 

“She allegedly had failed to keep to the written agreement and that she has put the child at risk. That is the issue. It is simple as that. It is a very easy, very short and very small issue.”

57.I do not agree.

 

 

The thrust is this – even if the LA assert that the circumstances are such that it is an emergency interim care order style scenario, they need to be able to evidence their decision-making process as to why this is the case, what steps they considered to manage the risk in another way, what efforts they made to communicate with the parents and if not, why not. They had to avoid a knee-jerk decision, and they had to avoid making a final decision that having removed in the interim, that was that.   (It was rather brave to claim that they hadn’t made any final decisions when it was said at the initial hearing that their plan was to consider placing the child with relatives in Australia…)

 

 

 

63.In my judgment, the absence of the availability of the guidance in Re: DE resulted in the judge having too narrow a focus and led to him failing properly to consider the wider issues. I note from Mr Richardson’s position statement at first instance that, without referring to Re: DE specifically, he urged the court to consider all possible options, an invitation declined by the court.

 

 

64.I am conscious of the submission made by both the local authority and the guardian that the court will approach “slow burn” or “gradual deterioration” cases somewhat differently from crisis cases. That is undoubtedly right. But that does not mean, where a child has been living successfully at home under a care order, that following a crisis that child can be unilaterally removed by the local authority without any of the protective processes enumerated in Re: DE having been carried out.

 

 

65.In the case of a true emergency, once the child in question has been removed there should, thereafter, be a rapid and thorough implementation of the applicable parts of the Re: DE protocol without having to wait for an application to discharge the care order being made. This is with a view to seeing whether the child can be returned home with different or further support or supervision pending a final hearing. It remains of considerable concern to me that, notwithstanding my order, no evidence has been produced in relation to the decision-making process in this case. I can, therefore, only conclude that the decision was made rapidly and has not been reconsidered since.

 

 

66.One of the things that went wrong in the present case was the delay in the matter coming to court – some 7 weeks. In my judgment, applications such as the present, properly brought under the HRA 1998, should be brought before the court with the same speed and urgency as an initial application for an interim care order where removal of a child is sought. Each application involves the proposed removal of a child from his or her home and (it is accepted by the local authority) the test for immediate removal is the same in both cases, namely: “does the child’s safety demand immediate separation?”

 

 

67.All attempts should be made to adhere to this, although I fear this may be a counsel of perfection given that a parent’s only route to court (once a full care order is made) is via an application to discharge that care order, coupled with an application under the HRA1998. Unlike care proceedings, there is no automatic right to legal aid in discharge proceedings and inevitably there is, therefore, a delay as the application for legal aid for the parents is processed. It is to the immense credit of the mother’s solicitor that he managed to obtain legal aid for her application at the speed he did.

 

 

68.Further, when making a removal order in respect of a very young child and where it is inevitable that the final hearing will not take place for several months, the court must balance the effect of long-term removal of the child from its parents with the risk of short-term harm if he or she remains with him: Re: M (Interim care order removal) [2016] 1 FLR 1043.

 

The appeal was granted and the case sent for re-hearing. That does, of course mean that K has been separated from his mother since 2nd January and a decision still has not actually been reached about interim removal.

 

(I think… I couldn’t find any reference in the judgment to the child having been returned, just that the application for discharge is still proceeding and that there’s a directions hearing coming up about it.  It does seem that if you’ve appealed the judicial endorsement of interim removal successfully, the child ought to be at home whilst that discharge hearing takes place, but I can’t see from the judgment whether that’s what actually happened)

 

 

 

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Car crash, Hot Tub, (wish they had a) Time Machine

 

 

I’m sure there are boring cases that come into the list of Her Honour Judge Lazarus, but I’m yet to read one.

 

She opens this cracker with the line

 

 

 

  • “ I likened it to arriving at the scene of a car crash, and wondered what one could do about it. This situation should never have arisen. It’s caused huge tension, including within any recommendation, and I’ve tried to keep X at the centre of it. ” This evidence from the independent social worker effectively summarises the key issues in this case.

 

 

Which, you’ll agree, is a belter.

 

Perhaps this opener is better

“Once upon a time, in a place now known as Montana, dinosaurs roamed the land. On a fateful day, some 66 million years ago, two such creatures, a 22-foot-long theropod and a 28-foot-long ceratopsian, engaged in mortal combat.”

http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2018/11/06/16-35506.pdf

 

 

 And this might be my favourite line in any judgment

Dr Muir Wood asked her in cross-examination why she did not simply Google the word “prick” and she answered with admirable succinctness: “Because it would have shown me porn and penises

Martinez (t/a Prick) & Anor v Prick Me Baby One More Time Ltd (t/a Prick) & Anor [2018] EWHC 776 (IPEC) (11 April 2018)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/IPEC/2018/776.html

 

But the opener here is indupitably a cracker.

 

 

Z v Kent County Council (Revocation of placement order – Failure to assess Mother’s capacity and Grandparents) [2018] EWFC B65 (18 October 2018)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2018/B65.html

 

I’ll try to capture the background quickly and simply.

 

In December 2017, a different Judge made a Care Order and Placement Order in relation to a child, Z.

 

Z’s mother had some significant mental health problems and had spent time (including during the proceedings) in a psychiatric unit.

 

Early on in the 2017 case, people became concerned that mother might not have capacity to instruct a solicitor (i.e didn’t understand enough about what was going on in the case or what Courts were etc to be able to tell their solicitor what to do. If you have capacity, you can instruct your solicitor to ask for what you want – even if it doesn’t have much chance of success, that’s your right. If you don’t have capacity, someone else – often the Official Solicitor, will decide what the solicitor should ask for on your behalf)

 

The Court gave directions for mother to be assessed to see if she had that capacity. The mother was also insistent that her parents (Z’s maternal grandparents) should not be assessed as carers. She did not attend that assessment. The Court (not HHJ Lazarus, the initial Judge) made a series of orders basically saying that UNLESS mum attended a cognitive assessment she would be deemed to have capacity by the Court. She did not.

Mum told her solicitors, just before the final hearing, that she agreed to Z being adopted, and a Care Order and Placement Order were made.

 

(That’s important, because the Court didn’t ever actually resolve whether mum had capacity to instruct her solicitor to agree to adoption. Agreeing to adoption is very rare in care proceedings – sometimes parents decide not to oppose the plan, but in 25 years, I’ve only seen one parent actually consent to adoption in care proceedings. It ought to have rung some alarm bells about whether mum really understood what she was doing)

 

To make matters worse, as Z’s maternal grandparents had been shut out of the case in accordance with their daughter’s wishes, they did not find out that Z existed until FOUR DAYS AFTER the Placement Order was made. Z had been placed, 3 weeks before that, with foster to adopt carers who wished later to adopt Z.

 

When the maternal grandparents put themselves forward as carers for Z, everyone accepted that they were capable of caring for Z, AND IF they had been considered within the care proceedings, the Court would almost certainly have placed Z with them under a Special Guardianship Order and not gone the adoption route.

 

The grandparents applied to revoke the Placement Order and for the Court to make a Special Guardianship Order for Z, placing her with the grandparents.

What HHJ Lazarus was faced with was then a competing argument between the maternal grandparents, and the prospective adopters (who had been caring for Z for 11 months, with the intention always of adopting her)

 

The prospective adopters, Q and R, gave evidence together in the witness box :-

 

 

 

  1. Q and R were sworn and gave evidence together, in a process known colloquially as ‘hot-tubbing’. This was proposed by me and agreed to by all parties as a sensible and effective time-saving device, and I consider that in the process I gained a good impression of each of them and of them together as a couple.

 

[See, although my titles are madness, yet there is method in’t. I know a hawk from a hand-saw.]

 

Oh, by the way, R was the step-aunt of the child’s older siblings, so it was a quasi family placement, so not just a straight fight between family v adopters.

 

The case, as well as the nightmarishly difficult task of deciding what was best for Z, raised two important issues of law

 

  1. What happens when a parent is thought to lack capacity, but they don’t cooperate with the assessment that would answer that question?
  2. If a parent refuses to allow relatives to be considered as potential carers, is that the end of it, or is there a responsibility on the Local Authority to consider them anyway if the only other plan is adoption?

 

 

  • What happens when a parent is thought to lack capacity, but they don’t cooperate with the assessment that would answer that question?

 

 

There’s some lovely analysis here, set out carefully and precisely.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. c)       Under section 1(2) of the Mental Capacity Act “ A person must be assumed to have capacity unless it is established that he lacks capacity ”. This is more generally known as the ‘Presumption of Capacity’. My underlining points out a critical, and often misunderstood, element of this provision

 

(WordPress has lost its underlining function, so I’ve put the judicial underlining in red)

 

 

 

  1. d)       Sections 2 and 3 set out the factors to be considered in determining whether or not someone lacks capacity, and are not directly in issue here. However, section 2(4) provides: “ In proceedings under this Act or any other enactment , any question whether a person lacks capacity within the meaning of this Act must be decided on the balance of probabilities .”

 

  1. e)       It is well established and follows from the wording of those provisions:

–         the Presumption is an important starting point;

 

–         however information may raise a question whether a person lacks capacity and so lead that Presumption to be questioned;

 

–         such a question is to be decided on the balance of probabilities by reference to the relevant factors in sections 2 and 3;

–         it is therefore a matter of fact to be determined on evidence by the court;

 

–         the Presumption is thus rebuttable, and may be rebutted if lack of capacity is established by that determination.

 

 

 

  1. f)       The philosophy and purpose behind this Presumption is not a matter for detailed explanation in this judgment, but one significant intention is to prevent inaccurately assuming lack of capacity in apparently vulnerable individuals without it being properly established on evidence. It is emphatically not there to obviate an examination of such an issue.   Nor can it have been Parliament’s intention to place a vulnerable person in danger of their lack of capacity being overlooked at the expense of their rights by a slack reliance on this Presumption, and as is made clear in the law I refer to below.

 

In short, whilst deciding that a person lacks capacity requires a judicial decision and evidence, that doesn’t mean that where you have doubts about a person’s capacity you just go with the presumption unless there’s a cognitive assessment to say otherwise.

 

 

 

 

  1. k)       Medical evidence is “ almost certainly ” required for the purposes of establishing lack of capacity.   In Masterman-Lister v Brutton and Co (Nos 1 and 2) [2003] 1 WLR 1511 at paragraph 17H Kennedy LJ said: “ even where the issue does not seem to be contentious, a district judge who is responsible for case management will almost certainly require the assistance of a medical report before being able to be satisfied that incapacity exists ”.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. l)           But what should be done if there is no expert evidence available?    

 

In Carmarthenshire County Council v Peter Lewis     [2010] EWCA Civ 1567 Rimer LJ was considering an application for permission to appeal against a decision in which the first instance judge had made an order that “ unless the applicant allowed an examination of himself by a particular specialist by a specified date, he was to be debarred from defending the claim ”. The purpose of the proposed examination was to assess capacity. In that case, the applicant did not allow the examination, and at the final hearing, the first instance judge determined the claim against him without further consideration of the issue of capacity. On appeal, Rimer LJ said this:

 

“ In my view the problem raised by this case is as to how, once the court is possessed of information raising a question as to the capacity of the litigant to conduct the litigation, it should satisfy itself as to whether the litigant does in fact have sufficient capacity. I cannot think that the court can ordinarily, by its own impression of the litigant, safely form its own view on that. Nor am I impressed that the solution is the making of an “unless” order of the type that Judge Thomas made. The concern that I have about this case is that an order may have been made against a party who was in fact a “protected party” without a litigation friend having been appointed for him ”.

 

 

  1. m)       In Baker Tilly (A Firm) v Mira Makar [2013] EWHC 759 (QB) the Respondent refused to co-operate in an assessment of her capacity. The Master hearing the case at first instance made his own assessment, based on the information available to him, that the Respondent lacked capacity. On appeal to the High Court, Sir Raymond Jack noted the dictum of Rimer J (above) that the court cannot ordinarily , by its own impression of the litigant, safely form its own view of capacity. But he also noted that “ In most cases where a question of capacity has arisen the person whose capacity is in question has co-operated with the court and the court has been provided with the assistance of appropriate medical experts ” and that “ counsel has not found any case where the court has had to resolve a situation as has arisen here where the litigant has refused to co-operate in an assessment of their capacity ” (paragraph 8). In the case then before him, having taken into account further information not available to the Master, he came to the opposite conclusion as to capacity. But it is noteworthy that there is no suggestion that the Master should not have attempted the exercise, or could have properly left the issue of capacity unresolved.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. n)         In Re D (Children) [2015] EWCA Civ 745 the issue before the appeal court was whether the court at first instance had failed properly to determine whether or not the mother had litigation capacity at the time proceedings were heard.

 

 

King LJ said this at paragraph 30: “ Evidence from a suitably qualified person will be necessary as to the diagnosis [cf. section 2(1) Mental Capacity Act]. This will usually be someone with medical qualifications. … ”.

 

 

And at paragraph 56:

 

“ This case does however perhaps provide a cautionary tale and a reminder that issues of capacity are of fundamental importance . The rules providing for the identification of a person who lacks capacity, reflect society’s proper understanding of the impact on both parent and child of the making of an order which will separate them permanently. It is therefore essential that the evidence which informs the issue of capacity complies with the test found in the MCA 2005 and that any conflict of evidence is brought to the attention of the court and resolved prior to the case progressing further . It is in order to avoid this course causing delay that the Public Law Outline anticipates issues of capacity being raised and dealt with in the early stages of the proceedings .”

 

In that case the Court of Appeal described the steps that had been taken at first instance to establish capacity as a “ serious procedural irregularity ” but declined to order a fresh capacity assessment and a retrial on the basis that the mother was not adversely affected and no practical difference was made to the hearing or outcome as a consequence. The court validated the proceedings retrospectively.

 

 

  1. o)       There therefore remain, to some extent, tensions between the dicta in the Court of Appeal cases referred to above, and arising between:

 

 

–           on the one hand the absolute necessity to determine an issue of capacity, as a matter of fact, with the assistance of expert or other medical opinion, and as a matter of urgency;

 

 

–           and on the other hand, the possible absence of an expert or other medical opinion through the parent’s non-engagement, refusal to attend assessments, or due to a failure to provide information by the relevant medical sources.

 

 

  1. p)       There does not appear to be a clear and authoritative decision that provides guidance with direct reference to this problem. It cannot have been intended that proceedings should be hamstrung and in stasis by an inability to determine this issue in the absence of co-operation with medical assessment or availability of medical evidence.

 

 

  1. q)       However, the key may be in the words ‘ ordinarily ’ and ‘ almost ’ in the Carmarthenshire and Masterman cases, and the word ‘ likely ’ in PD15B paragraph 1.2 which appear to give some leeway.

 

 

  1. r)         Paragraph 44 of the updated 2018 Family Justice Council guidance states: “ A parent may decline professional assessment. In those circumstances, it will be for the court to determine the issue on the best evidence it has available. ”

 

 

  1. s)         This may enable courts faced with this challenge where there is no expert or medical assessment evidence to meet the absolute requirement that capacity issues must be fully addressed and determined, and to do so by reaching appropriate pragmatic evidence-based decisions, while ensuring that both the overriding objective and the protected party’s rights are fully in mind.

 

 

  1. t)         Such a determination could be based on a careful review of the other relevant material that may be available, such as a report from a clinician who knows the party’s condition well enough to report without interviewing the party (if available and appropriate), other medical records, accounts of family members, accounts of the social worker or other agency workers who may be supporting the parent, and occasionally direct evidence from a parent. [2]    

 

 

  1. u)       Any such finding made without expert assessment evidence that leads to a declaration of protected party status due to lack of litigation capacity could always be reviewed upon expert evidence being obtained to suggest that the finding was incorrect, and by ensuring that the question of assessment is regularly revisited with the protected party by their litigation friend, their solicitor and the court. Such a review and correction is anyway the case where a party has regained capacity and the issue is addressed with the benefit of an updating expert opinion.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. v)       What can be derived as following from the above statutory provisions, guidance and case law as clearly impermissible or inappropriate, and would likely lead to a failure to apply the required procedural approach and lead to breaches of that party’s Article 6 and 8 ECHR rights? :

 

 

–             failure to grasp the nettle fully and early,

 

 

–             ignoring information or evidence that a party may lack capacity,

 

 

–             purporting to ‘adopt’ the Presumption of Capacity in circumstances where capacity has been questioned,

 

 

–             making directions addressing the capacity issue, but discharging them or failing to comply with them and thereby leaving the issue inadequately addressed,

 

 

–             failing to obtain evidence (expert or otherwise) relevant to capacity,

 

 

–             use of ‘unless’ orders,

 

 

–             similarly, using personal service or ‘warning notices’ on that party,

 

 

–             relying on non-engagement by that party either with assessments or the proceedings,

 

 

–             proceeding with any substantive directions, let alone making final orders, in the absence of adequate enquiry and proper determination of the capacity issue,

 

 

–             treating a party as having provided consent to any step, let alone a grave and possibly irrevocable final step, where capacity has been questioned but the issue not determined.

 

 

 

INVESTIGATION OF FAMILY MEMBERS

 

 

There’s a long and careful analysis of the principles with sources (which I’d recommend as vital reading for any lawyer or professional grappling with the issue of whether to consult with family members where the parent is dead-set against it but where adoption appears a realistic outcome if suitable family members are not found.) But here are the conclusions.

 

 

  1. s)         The legal and best practice framework and local policies set out above are a small summary of a much wider range of authorities, statutory provisions and guidance. In combination, the following principles can be derived:

 

 

–             Unless a child’s welfare requires it a child’s interests are best promoted by living with their family.

 

 

–             Interference with the living arrangements for children by a Local Authority must pass a threshold. If there is insufficient evidence to establish that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm the court, at a Local Authority’s invitation, cannot interfere with a child’s living arrangements.

 

 

–             Where it becomes clear to a Local Authority that a child is at risk of suffering significant harm there is a duty under section 17 Children Act 1989 to provide services to a child to try to allow them to live within their family.

 

 

–             When public law proceedings are contemplated and removal of the child from their primary carer is a realistic possibility the Local Authority should identify at the earliest opportunity if there are wider family and friends who may be able to care for the child, for example from their own records.

 

 

–             A referral to a Family Group Conference should if possible be made when proceedings are contemplated. One of the purposes of the Family Group Conference is to identify if there are wider family members who can offer support or care for the child.

 

 

–             Where capacity is an issue the Local Authority should consider if an advocate is necessary to assist a parent.

 

 

–             If a Family Group Conference referral is refused legal advice should be sought. Any parental objection to wider family members being assessed or involved in proceedings requires scrutiny.

 

 

–             Identifying alternative carers for a child should if possible take place during the pre-proceedings process under the Public Law Outline, failing which it should be raised with the court once proceedings are issued.

 

 

–             Once in proceedings the Local Authority still has a duty to continue identifying wider family members who may be assessed to care for the child. This is part of the duties required of Local Authorities to promote the child’s welfare.

 

 

–             A child’s right to respect for private and family life may include the right to know wider family members who have not been part of the proceedings and may not have met the child.

 

 

–             When adoption is being considered the Local Authority has a duty to ascertain the wishes and feelings of relatives regarding the child and the plan for adoption.

 

 

In this case

 

 

 

  1. o)         I acknowledge that there may be good reasons on occasions for other family members not being approached, but these need to be understood rather than glossed over. And, while there is case law relating to certain extreme examples where the question of who should be contacted about or made parties to family proceedings has been considered, there does not appear to be authoritative guidance on the type of circumstances as arose here in relation to Family Group Conferences.

 

 

  1. p)         Here, given the concerns over Y’s capacity the Local Authority should at least have been alert to consider very carefully her failure to put forward any relative. Reliance on her exercise of parental responsibility cannot sit together with the Local Authority’s own concerns about her capacity, without further careful enquiry.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Errors, traps and temptations that should have been avoided :

 

(Can I please say how much I like these helpful subheadings in the judgment – albeit that I can only imagine how cringe-making it must be for those involved in the proceedings to listen when a Judge announces that as a chapter title…)

 

 

  1. I)                     Relying on Y’s purported exercise of parental responsibility in saying that she did not propose the maternal grandmother as a potential carer. In particular where she was thought to lack capacity, this is not a step that somehow relieves or prevents the Local Authority from considering what steps needed to be taken to meet its duties to consider other family members.

 

 

  1. II)                   Believing the Presumption of Capacity replaces or obviates the need for the court to determine the issue of litigation capacity on evidence as a matter of fact, or entitles the parties or the court to ignore a capacity problem, particularly where there were worrying recent accounts of Y being significantly unwell. It is simply a rebuttable assumption and a starting point. Any suggestion that capacity is in issue should lead to the opposite approach, namely to take steps that would enable the court to determine whether the assumption remains in place or lack of capacity is established.

 

 

III)                 Ignoring glaring evidence or information suggestive of lack of capacity. This is an abrogation of responsibility to acknowledge the implications of such information, albeit it is easier to shut an eye to it in order to avoid its inconvenient effects on the case, particularly where a case outcome appears obvious or a solution is readily to hand.

 

 

  1. IV)               Relying on Y’s non-engagement or non-attendance at hearings, or employing ‘unless’ orders as a basis for progressing the case and discharging directions critical to the question of her capacity. A vulnerable person who may be a protected party due to lack of capacity may well find it difficult or impossible to engage or attend without the appropriate support or identification of her status and appointment of a litigation friend. This compounds a breach of her Article 6 rights.

 

 

  1. V)                 Personal service and warning ‘Notice’ – these steps make no sense in law or natural justice if Y lacked capacity, and simply seem to lack common sense. What might such steps or notices actually mean to a vulnerable person who lacks litigation capacity?

 

 

  1. VI)               Discharging directions critical to the determination of the capacity issue, and not complying or following up on non-compliance with those directions. This is case management failure with direct consequences for the procedural propriety of the case.

 

 

VII)             Making permissive directions to obtain the treating clinician’s certificate of capacity, rather than mandatory and time-limited directions.

 

 

VIII)           Treating Y’s wishes and feelings obtained by the Social Worker and over the telephone with her solicitor as a capacitous decision consenting to very grave and complex and potentially irrevocable orders, compliant with section 52(5). Her diagnosis of emotionally unstable personality disorder and alcohol dependence were well known. Directions had been made that she should be subject to capacity, cognitive and psychiatric assessment, but had not resulted in any assessments nor other medical information being provided. There was no adequate information before the court to assist with any question of her abilities or suggestibility or understanding.

 

 

  1. IX)                 Her position was erroneously described as ‘consent’ and named as such in the order, when it was not put forward as formal consent in the Position Statement prepared on her behalf, and the exercise of considering whether her consent should be dispensed with by undertaking a welfare-based consideration of the checklist factors was not done, despite her solicitor flagging it up.

 

 

  1. X)                   As the Social Worker and Children’s Guardian acknowledged, the parties became caught up in the ‘excitement’ of having found a solution for X’s placement that avoided stranger adoption, and so lost sight of wider issues that had been overlooked.

 

 

  1. XI)                 The temptations of a precipitate approach, naturally abetted by the lure of completing a case within the required 26 weeks time-limit, and by the existence of ‘a solution’ for X which tempts professionals and the court not to address the harder, wider or longer questions which might cause any delay, leading everyone to push ahead to final orders despite serious procedural irregularities.

 

 

XII)               No party, representative nor the court spotted or voiced or prevented or corrected the series of avoidable errors around failing to address a key issue which had riddled the case from the outset, and the case was allowed to progress and ultimately extremely serious final orders were made on the back of those serious procedural irregularities. This collective shared failure seems something akin to group-thinking or peer pressure or a gross shared example of confirmation bias.

 

 

 

 

This is already a piece which is far too long, but in terms of the final decision, HHJ Lazarus decided that Z should stay with Q and R (the step-aunt) who had originally intended to adopt her, but under a Special Guardianship Order, and that there should be a Child Arrangements Order giving contact between Z and the grandparents.   The reasoning is too long to set out here, and it must have been a very difficult task – readers who are interested are referred to the judgment paragraphs 51 onwards. There was the involvement of an independent social worker whose evidence was very helpful to the Court in reaching the decision.

 

Delays inflicted by other public bodies

 

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

 

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

 

Re H (Children) 2018

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

However,

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

I went on:

 

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

 

I added (para 54):

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

Social Services were like the SS of Nazi Germany

It won’t be the first time anyone in family cases has heard that comparison, but it is certainly the first time I’ve heard it from a Judge.

I’m very grateful to Ian from Forced Adoption for bringing this story to my attention. It arises from an appeal in Sheffield Crown Court from a criminal trial, where a father was convicted of harassing a school.

The conviction was upheld on appeal but the Judge was extremely sympathetic to the father and extremely critical of the social workers and social work that had put him in that position.

We don’t have a judgment in this case – you’d only really get a judgment in a criminal case if it was a criminal Court of Appeal decision, otherwise you just get judicial summing up and sentencing remarks, which are not generally published. I don’t know whether the Ministry of Justice will publish these judicial comments in full (which are a matter of public interest, if anonymised) .

So the quotations come from the Court reporters who were present, and we have to proceed on the basis that they are accurate. If the Local Authority involved want to respond to this, I’m more than happy to print their response, but I appreciate that for data protection and confidentiality issues they may not be able to.

Here’s the Press report. (I expect some of the nationals might well be in touch with the Barnsley Chronicle to run this story.)

https://www.barnsleychronicle.com/article/draconian-social-services-blasted-by-judge

From the story, four things seem to have happened

  1. A six year old whose mother had committed suicide ten weeks earlier told her school that she ‘wanted to be with her mummy’ and that was reported by the school to social workers
  2. A referral was received by social workers suggesting that the paternal grand- father had sexually abused the child, that allegation was not substantiated.
  3. The father was either asked or told, to agree to a child protection medical (or one took place without his consent – the article gives two conflicting accounts on this), where the child was intimately examined to see if there was any sexual abuse.
  4. The father became outraged at the school for putting the child through this, and started a campaign of harassment including derogatory leaflets about the school and headteacher.

The father was then convicted of harassment against the school. He appealed that, unsuccessfully, but the Judge attributed a lot of responsibility for the situation on the social workers.

However, he blasted social services for their handling of the case. They became involved after an unrelated allegation – which police said was unfounded – was levelled against his father. That led to social services investigating the youngster’s welfare and temporarily stopped her from seeing with her grandfather, contact which has now resumed.

“Social services were like the SS of Nazi Germany,” Judge Moore said. “They’re literally the SS in their name and their manner of working is somewhat draconian.

“But the facts are clear. I have sympathy for the appellant as I did at the beginning of this case, but what came afterwards was the harassment of a headteacher when really the school were only following their orders.

“Had the headteacher have argued against social service officers’ intervention, they would have found themselves before a disciplinary hearing.”

Generally speaking, either parental consent or a Court order should be obtained before conducting a medical examination of a child, particularly an intimate one.

It isn’t clear to me whether the father consented (but felt under duress to do so) or wasn’t asked.

The article opens with

A JUDGE likened Barnsley social services to the Nazi Party’s SS after a young girl who had expressed suicidal thoughts was subjected to a naked medical examination without her father’s consent.

which suggests no consent

But later, the father is quoted as saying

Speaking after the hearing, he told the Chronicle: “Despite previous investigations finding no evidence of any risk of sexual abuse, I was forced to allow Barnsley social services to take my daughter out of school and transport her to Barnsley Hospital where, without my consent, she was stripped naked and examined from head to foot.

Which suggests that he did allow the child to be taken for the medical, but did not know or agree to the medical being of the nature it ended up being. Obviously have no way of knowing whether or not he is right about that, because we don’t have a forensic judgment looking at all of the evidence and reaching a conclusion, but he was certainly left feeling considerably aggrieved after the investigation, and a Judge felt that there was considerable force in some of his complaints, to the point of using extremely strong language of condemnation.

What I don’t know in this case is whether it was the circumstances in which the medical came about that the Judge was appalled by, or whether he was just appalled that the child was medically examined at all (which rather depends on exactly what the original allegation about dad was about, and whether the medical examination was proportionate to the allegation). I don’t know whether this Judge also has a care ticket, but I’d expect even a Judge who exclusively does crime to be familiar with medical examinations for alleged sexual abuse. It might be that the allegation, on examination was so patently threadbare or malicious that the child should not have been put through a medical and wasn’t a credible allegation. I don’t know.

Copy that, copy cat

 

 

The only usual intersection between family lawyers and copyright is the wail of annoyance you get when you are drafting a document with bullet points (a)-(f) and you find that at the third point, the c wants to turn into a little copyright symbol.

 

Well, that and memories of doing your schoolwork and noting someone peeking over at your work you write a quick © on it to prevent someone copying it. Generally this is accompanied by the chant of ‘copycat, copycat, don’t know what you’re looking at’ (this is generally frowned upon in Court)

 

 

 

But I’ve seen a couple of judgments coming onto Bailli, where the rubric asserts Crown Copyright, for example this one (not singling this one out, it is happening quite a bit at the moment)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2018/2658.html

 

 

This Transcript is Crown Copyright. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part other than in accordance with relevant licence or with the express consent of the Authority. All rights are reserved.

 

(the judgment itself is interesting, and there are all sorts of things within it which would be worthy of discussion, but who wants to go off and get a licence to be able to quote from a Crown Copyright document? Not me, that’s for sure)

 

That sounds very much as though you are not allowed to quote from it unless you have a licence, or express consent to do so. That’s a bit of a problem for journalists, or bloggers, or any advocate who wants to quote it in a skeleton or case summary, or Judge who wants to quote it in a judgment, or litigant in person or MacKenzie Friend who wants to quote it in a case.

I think this is being wrongly added to judgments, and it should stop. I don’t know whether it is a conscious decision or just some cut and paste being done without thinking it through.

I’m afraid I’m just about to hit you with some Copyright law, but the tl;dr bit is that in this paragraph

 

This Transcript is Crown Copyright. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part other than in accordance with relevant licence or with the express consent of the Authority. All rights are reserved.

I think only the first four words are right.

 

So first, what is Crown Copyright?

Crown copyright is a form of copyright claim used by the governments of a number of Commonwealth realms. It provides special copyright rules for the Crown, i.e. government departments and (generally) state entities.”Copyright protects original expression in literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works”. Each and every single Commonwealth realm has its own distinct Crown copyright regulations….Crown copyright applies “where a work is made by Her Majesty or by an officer or servant of the Crown in the course of his duties”. The Crown can also have copyrights assigned to it.

 

I think the document is CAPABLE of attracting Crown Copyright, being a work created by an officer of the Crown (a Judge) in the course of their duties. There is original expression, and a judgment is a literary work. Some of them might have more literary merit than others, but they are all literary works.

 

The legislation is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 2008

163 Crown copyright.

(1)Where a work is made by Her Majesty or by an officer or servant of the Crown in the course of his duties—

 

(a)the work qualifies for copyright protection notwithstanding section 153(1) (ordinary requirement as to qualification for copyright protection), and

(b)Her Majesty is the first owner of any copyright in the work.

 

(2)Copyright in such a work is referred to in this Part as “Crown copyright”, notwithstanding that it may be, or have been, assigned to another person.

(3)Crown copyright in a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work continues to subsist—

(a)until the end of the period of 125 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was made, or

(b)if the work is published commercially before the end of the period of 75 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was made, until the end of the period of 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was first so published.

(4)In the case of a work of joint authorship where one or more but not all of the authors are persons falling within subsection (1), this section applies only in relation to those authors and the copyright subsisting by virtue of their contribution to the work.

 

So the copyright provisions on a judgment published in 2018 last until 2143. I suppose there might still be an interest in a judgment 125 years from now (we do still cite very old cases from time to time) but that’s certainly no use for a topical blog. There’s absolutely no chance that readers in 2143 will be interested in my pop culture references of the 1980s and 1990s, even if I do get my brain preserved in a jar so that I can keep writing.

 

However, there are two valid exceptions in the copyright provisions, which mean that I think that applying for a licence or permission to quote from a published judgment is not necessary.

Section 30 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 2008 says there’s no copyright in fair use for review or reporting

 

30 Criticism, review, quotation and news reporting.

 

(1)Fair dealing with a work for the purpose of criticism or review, of that or another work or of a performance of a work, does not infringe any copyright in the work provided that it is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement [F2 (unless this would be impossible for reasons of practicality or otherwise)] [F3 and provided that the work has been made available to the public].

 

[F4 (1ZA)Copyright in a work is not infringed by the use of a quotation from the work (whether for criticism or review or otherwise) provided that—

(a)the work has been made available to the public,

(b)the use of the quotation is fair dealing with the work,

(c)the extent of the quotation is no more than is required by the specific purpose for which it is used, and

(d)the quotation is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement (unless this would be impossible for reasons of practicality or otherwise).]

 

[F5(1A)

For the purposes of [F6subsections (1) and (1ZA)] a work has been made available to the public if it has been made available by any means, including—

(a)the issue of copies to the public;

(b)making the work available by means of an electronic retrieval system;

(c)the rental or lending of copies of the work to the public;

d)the performance, exhibition, playing or showing of the work in public;

(e)the communication to the public of the work,

 

but in determining generally for the purposes of [F7those subsections] whether a work has been made available to the public no account shall be taken of any unauthorised act.]

 

(2)Fair dealing with a work (other than a photograph) for the purpose of reporting current events does not infringe any copyright in the work provided that (subject to subsection (3)) it is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement.

 

 

(3)No acknowledgement is required in connection with the reporting of current events by means of a sound recording, film [F8 or broadcast where this would be impossible for reasons of practicality or otherwise].

 

[F9(4)To the extent that a term of a contract purports to prevent or restrict the doing of any act which, by virtue of subsection (1ZA), would not infringe copyright, that term is unenforceable.]

 

If you are writing about a judgment for the purpose of sharing news, critiquing it or reviewing it, you can quote from it, as long as you acknowledge who the author was, and your use of quotations is fair in conveying what you are discussing. (That’s what lets book reviewers put quotations from the book in the review, but stops them just printing large chunks of it unless the publication pays the author for the serialisation rights)

That doesn’t help with advocates wanting to cite the case and highlight certain passages though, so more importantly, it also seems to me that section 45 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 2008 means that no such licence or express consent is needed

 

 

 

45 Parliamentary and judicial proceedings.

 

 

(1)Copyright is not infringed by anything done for the purposes of parliamentary or judicial proceedings.

 

 

(2) Copyright is not infringed by anything done for the purposes of reporting such proceedings; but this shall not be construed as authorising the copying of a work which is itself a published report of the proceedings.

 

For example, in the Dan Brown Da Vinci Code case where it was alleged that Dan Brown had stolen his ideas from another book, neither of the authors could claim that the Judge, in setting out quotations from the book was breaching their copyright. S45 (1), but for our purposes s45(2) means that reporting such a judgment is not infringing any copyright. And what you are doing when you cite a passage from a case is giving a report of the decision the Court made and the factors that influenced that decision. Hence, reporting.

The second part of s45(2) says in effect that if someone writes a dazzling analysis of a piece of judgment or a fabulous analogy about adoption law and passive aggressive post-it notes on a student fridge, and then someone else chooses to lift all of that dazzling analysis into their submissions or skeleton without crediting the original author, THAT can be a breach of copyright.   (For my part, I’m happy for people to steal any of my stuff, as long as they name-check me, and I’ve never come across any example of people not doing that)

 

So, you* can continue as you were, unless you are responsible for that Crown Copyright rubric being added, in which case I’d prefer that the practice stops, because I think it adds nothing and has the potential to make people who intend to use them for perfectly legitimate aims .

 

(* By ‘you’ there, I mean ‘me’, because I’m not giving you legal advice about copyright law and I would not claim for an instant that I was in a position to do so. I’m NEVER giving legal advice to any individual on this blog, but sometimes it is just worth reiterating that)

Magical sparkle powers (repeat to fade)

 

The quirky case of Mostyn J and the using magical sparkle powers to place a child in quasi secure accommodation under inherent jurisidiction (child met test for secure but no secure beds) but wait, the child is consenting to their detention, has come up for appeal

 

Original blog here (and yes, I super simplified the issues in that quick summary)

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2018/04/19/magical-sparkle-powers-secure-accommodation-and-consent/

 

The appeal is here

 

Re T (A Child) 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2018/2136.html

 

In the Mostyn J case, the Judge decided that whilst a valid and enduring consent could block the Court’s use of the inherent jurisdiction (and perhaps s25 Secure Accommodation), what he was presented with was not in fact a genuine and enduring consent. The young person had capacity to agree to their detention, but the Judge thought that is was not a consent given with the intent of honouring it (which may be supported by the evidence of said young person escaping from the secure unit shortly afterwards)

 

The Court of Appeal decided that Mostyn J was wrong, though not for the reason the appeal was brought. The appeal was saying ‘don’t add that ‘enduring’ component to consent’  and the Court of Appeal said that in a secure accommodation or quasi-secure accommodation setting, lack of consent of young person wasn’t required and thus their giving consent did not prevent a Judge making the order or using the inherent jurisdiction.

In effect, Mostyn J had been persuaded that consent was more significant than it in fact was, and it wasn’t necessary to add the gloss that he applied to reach the right outcome.

 

The technical bits follow in bold, skip if you like – there’s better stuff after that of a wider interest

 

Discussion: Is a lack of valid consent a pre-requisite to the exercise of the inherent jurisdiction authorising restriction of the liberty of a young person?

  • Although the point is now conceded for the purposes of this appeal, it is helpful to record brief reasons why the Appellant’s concession on the question of whether a lack of valid consent is a pre-requisite to the exercise of the inherent jurisdiction to restrict liberty was correctly made.
  • On the basis of the ECtHR and domestic case law, and on the basis of the statutory scheme for secure accommodation in CA 1989, s 25 and SSW(W)A 2014, s 119, it is clear that, whilst a lack of valid consent may be an element in determining whether a person is deprived of their liberty in any given circumstances for the purposes of Art 5, lack of consent is not a jurisdictional requirement either for making a statutory secure accommodation order or for the High Court to exercise its inherent jurisdiction to authorise a local authority to restrict a young person’s liberty. That conclusion is established on the following four bases:

 

a) The consent, or otherwise, of the young person is not a relevant factor in the statutory scheme;

b) There is no domestic authority to the effect that it is necessary to find an absence of valid consent before the court may authorise a local authority to restrict the liberty of a young person;

c) To hold otherwise would be to confuse the distinct temporal perspectives of Art 5 and an application for authorisation;

d) It would also mistake the purpose of an order under the inherent jurisdiction authorising the placement of a child in the equivalent of secure accommodation.

(a) The statutory scheme does not require lack of consent

  • The consent, or lack of it, of the young person who is the subject of a secure accommodation application is not a factor to which reference is made in any part of the statutory scheme under CA 1989, s 25 or SWW(W)A 2014, s 119. The statutory scheme has been held to be compatible with, and not in breach of, ECHR Art 5.
  • The fact that ‘consent’ is not a factor in the statutory scheme, in contrast to the requirements of Art 5 when determining whether there has been a deprivation of liberty as established by the second element of Storck, points up the essential difference between the two processes. Section 25 and s 119 are concerned with the authorisation of the placement of a child in secure accommodation: “… a child … may not be placed … in accommodation … for the purpose of restricting liberty (“secure accommodation”) unless …”. By s 25(2) and s 119(2) regulations may ’empower the court from time to time to authorise a child to be kept in secure accommodation’ for such period as the regulations may specify. Where the statutory criteria in s 25(1) or s 119(1) are satisfied the court ‘shall’ or ‘must’ ‘make an order authorising the child to be kept in secure accommodation’ (s 25(3) and s 119(3)) – see Re M (Secure Accommodation).
  • The effect of a court order under s 25 or s 119 is, therefore, to ‘authorise’ the applicant local authority to keep the subject child in secure accommodation. The effect of authorisation under s 25 is most clearly demonstrated by s 25(5A) which spells out the effect of a secure accommodation order for a placement in Scotland:

 

(5A) Where a local authority in England or Wales are authorised under this section to keep a child in secure accommodation in Scotland, the person in charge of the accommodation may restrict the child’s liberty to the extent that the person considers appropriate, having regard to the terms of any order made by a court under this section. [emphasis added]

  • In contrast to a sentence of imprisonment passed by a criminal court, a local authority is not required to restrict the liberty of a young person who is the subject to a secure accommodation order; s 25 and s 119 do no more than establish a system for the authorisation of such placements. The statutory scheme is therefore focused upon whether or not the factual circumstances are such as to be sufficiently serious to justify restricting liberty.
  • The welfare of the child, whilst relevant, is not the paramount consideration for a court when determining an application for a s 25 or s 119 order (Re M (Secure Accommodation Order) [1995] 1 FLR 418). The judgment of Butler-Sloss LJ (as she then was) in Re M justifies reading in full, but the reasons supporting her conclusion, with which Hoffmann LJ and Sir Tasker Watkins agreed, included the following:

 

a) Section 25 sits within Part 3 of CA 1989 which is structured to cast upon the local authority duties and responsibilities for children in its area, including those who are being looked after.

b) The general duty of a local authority under Part 3, which is to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare, is not the same as the duty of a court under CA 1989, s 1 to afford paramount consideration to the child’s welfare.

(b) No domestic authority requires there to be a lack of valid consent

  • Save possibly for the decision of Keehan J in Local Authority v D to which I will now turn, and, of course, Mostyn J’s decision in the present case, this court has not been taken to any authority for the proposition that a lack of valid consent is a necessary jurisdictional pre-requisite before the High Court may exercise its inherent jurisdiction to authorise restriction of liberty. The role of the High Court, in holding as closely as possible to the scheme of s 25 and s 119 in these cases, is that of determining whether a local authority is to be authorised to restrict liberty.
  • This court was told that, in the present case, since the making of the order in March, the regime at the second placement has been relaxed so that the appellant now spends over three hours each day of ‘free time’ with the expectation that the amount of free time will increase by 30 minutes each week. The relaxation of the regime was a matter within the discretion of the local authority under the structure of the order made by Mostyn J who, rather than requiring restraint, had simply sanctioned its use.
  • In like manner to the effect of a secure accommodation order, an order under the inherent jurisdiction in these cases does not itself deprive a young person of his or her liberty, it merely authorises the local authority (or those acting on their behalf) to do so. This distinction was, unfortunately, not made sufficiently clear by Keehan J in Local Authority v D when he summarised the issue before the court (at paragraph 9) in terms of determining whether or not C was deprived of his liberty. With respect, the issue in such cases is, rather, whether the court should give a local authority the authority to deprive a young person of their liberty should they consider that that is necessary. In the event, Keehan J’s determination turned on the different basis that, because of the agreement of the young person it was not necessary for the court to give such authority to the local authority at that time.

 

(c) The different perspectives of Article 5 and an application for authorisation

  • This further consideration also points to the same overall conclusion. A determination that a person has or has not been deprived of their liberty in breach of Art 5 will often be a retrospective evaluation of the individual’s current and past circumstances. In that regard the question of whether or not they have or had consented to the restrictive regime is likely to be an important element; one cannot normally be said to be deprived of liberty when one has freely agreed to the relevant regime. This is in contrast to the court’s role under s 25 and s 119 or under the inherent jurisdiction, where the court’s perspective is normally prospective, determining whether circumstances exist that justify a local authority placing a child or young person in accommodation for the purpose of restricting their liberty.

 

(d) The purpose of an order under the inherent jurisdiction authorising the placement of a child in the equivalent of secure accommodation.

  • The need for an order authorising a local authority to place a child in the equivalent of secure accommodation derives from two factors. The first, and fundamental aspect, is to ensure that the absence of available secure accommodation does not lead to the structure imposed by s 25 being avoided. The terms of s 25 should be treated as applying to the same effect when a local authority is placing a child or proposing to place a child in the equivalent of secure accommodation. When viewed from this perspective, it is clear that a local authority cannot invest itself with the requisite authority and that a child’s agreement or consent cannot authorise such a placement. Neither the local authority nor a child/young person can authorise what Parliament has decided only the court can authorise.
  • The second factor derives from Article 5. The court’s authorisation means that if the authorisation is used for the purposes of depriving a child of their liberty the legal requirements of Article 5 will also have been fulfilled: see Re K (Secure Accommodation Order: Right to Liberty) [2001] 1 FLR 526. The court will necessarily have determined that the child’s welfare justifies, or even requires, him/her being deprived of their liberty for the purposes of maintaining the placement in the secure accommodation.
  • Drawing these matters together, once it is seen that the court’s power under s 25 / s 119 is not dependent upon any question of consent, the difficulties that arose in this case, as it was presented to the judge and, initially, to this court, disappear. The fact that any consent may or may not be ‘valid’ or ‘enduring’ on the day the order is sought, or at any subsequent point, or that a ‘valid’ consent is later withdrawn, is irrelevant to the scope of the court’s powers, whether they are exercised under statute or under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court. The existence or absence of consent may be relevant to whether the circumstances will or will not amount to a deprivation of liberty under Art 5. But that assessment is independent of the decision that the court must make when faced with an application for an order authorising placement in secure accommodation, registered or otherwise.
  • This approach, where the question of whether or not an Art 5 deprivation of liberty occurs depends upon the facts on the ground at a particular time and is not necessarily required by, or created by, the court order but by the act of those caring for the child under the court’s authorisation, accords with the ECtHR jurisprudence summarised at paragraph 23 and onwards above.

 

Further, the need for there to be an absence of valid consent before the Storck criteria are established, does not mean that the presence of an apparently valid consent prevents the circumstances from amounting to a deprivation of liberty (see De Wilde, Ooms and Versyp, Storck para 75 and Buzadji). In terms of domestic authority, paragraphs 23 to 31 of MM and PJ could not be more clear – “where conditions amounting to a deprivation of liberty are compulsorily imposed by law, the agreement of an individual cannot prevent that compulsory confinement from constituting a deprivation of liberty”. In like manner, it is to be recalled that the court in De Wilde stated:

“Finally and above all, the right to liberty is too important in a “democratic society” within the meaning of the Convention for a person to lose the benefit of the protection of the Convention for the single reason that he gives himself up to be taken into detention. Detention might violate Article 5 even although the person concerned might have agreed to it” [emphasis added].

Conclusion

  • It inevitably follows from the above analysis, and from the Appellant’s concession, that Mostyn J’s initial misgivings were well-placed but that he was unfortunately drawn into a legally erroneous position by accepting that it was necessary for the court to find a lack of valid consent before it could grant the local authority’s application. In the circumstances any question of the judge being correct in adding the gloss of ‘enduring’ to this non-existent jurisdictional requirement falls away.
  • I should make clear that this case does not concern the placement of children in other than the equivalent of secure accommodation. Different considerations will apply when an application is directed towards, and only directed towards, a deprivation of liberty. In that situation, subject to De Wilde, the question of whether or not the subject of an application to authorise the deprivation of liberty of a young person under the inherent jurisdiction is in agreement with the proposed regime may form part of an evaluation of whether such authorisation is necessary. Local Authority v D is an example of a case where the judge concluded that the young person’s stance rendered a court order unnecessary.
  • Conversely, as referred to above, once the court has authorised placement in secure accommodation or its equivalent, it may properly be considered that the matter can be left to those who are authorised to operate the care regime on a day to day basis and, as in the present case, they may work with the young person in a flexible manner using their powers of restriction or deprivation when necessary, but relaxing them when it is safe and appropriate to do so. Such issues are fact-specific to each case and are not matters of jurisdiction.
  • The Appellant’s appeal, as it had become by the close of argument, is now no more than a challenge to the judge’s discretion and could only succeed if this court were to be satisfied that the judge was wrong to grant authorisation to the local authority notwithstanding the apparent consent of the young person. There is no basis for holding that Mostyn J was ‘wrong’ to authorise restriction of liberty in this case. Indeed, as the judge himself observed, the breakdown of the placement so soon after the January order had been made vindicated his determination on that occasion; it also justified the making of a further order in respect of the new placement.

 

 

The Court of Appeal also made broader comments about the chronic and acute lack of beds for children who present with these difficulties, and the inherent unsuitability of using the inherent jurisdiction as a sticking plaster for the lack of bed space.

 

  1. This appeal relates to the exercise of the inherent jurisdiction by the High Court, Family Division when called upon to make orders which, but for a lack of capacity in the statutory system, would be made as secure accommodation orders under Children Act, 1989, s 25 (CA 1989).
  2. Official figures published by the Department for Education[1] show that, as at 31 March 2018, there were some 255 places in secure children’s homes in England and Wales. These places are taken up either by young people sent there through the criminal justice system or under CA 1989, s 25 secure accommodation orders. As will be explained more fully below, a child who is being looked after by a local authority in England or Wales may only be placed in secure accommodation in a children’s home if that home has been approved for such use either by the Secretary of State in England or the Welsh Government in Wales. This court understands that, in recent years, there has been a growing disparity between the number of approved secure children’s homes and the greater number of young people who require secure accommodation. As the statutory scheme permits of no exceptions in this regard, where an appropriate secure placement is on offer in a unit which is either not a children’s home, or is a children’s home that has not been approved for secure accommodation, the relevant local authority has sought approval by an application under the inherent jurisdiction asking for the court’s permission to restrict the liberty of the young person concerned under the terms of the regime of the particular unit on offer.
  3. Despite the best efforts of CAFCASS Cymru (this being a case concerning a Welsh young person), it has not been possible to obtain firm data as to the apparent disparity between the demand for secure accommodation places and the limited number available, nor of the number of applications under the inherent jurisdiction in England and Wales to restrict the liberty of a young person outside the statutory scheme. The data published by the Department for Education referred to in paragraph 2 simply measures the occupancy rate within the limited number of approved secure places without attempting to record the level of demand.
  4. This court has been told by counsel, on a broad anecdotal basis, that each local authority may, on average, make an application for a restricted liberty declaration under the inherent jurisdiction in one case each year. If that is so then, across England and Wales, the total number of such applications would be in the region of 150 per year. The understanding, again anecdotal, of judges hearing these cases is that that figure is probably a very substantial under-estimate; for example, in one week recently a medium-size court outside London heard five such applications. Again, by way of example, Mr Justice Holman described the situation in one week in the High Court in 2017 with a tone of wholly appropriate concern in A Local Authority v AT and FE [2017] EWHC 2458 (Fam):
    1. “5. It appears that currently such authorisation can only be given by the High Court in exercise of its inherent jurisdiction.  This week I have been sitting here at the Royal Courts of Justice as the applications judge.  This case is about the sixth case this week in which I have been asked to exercise the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court to authorise the deprivation of liberty of a child in similar circumstances.  There are two yet further similar cases listed before me today.

6. Quite frankly, the High Court sitting here at the Royal Courts of Justice is not an appropriate resource for orders of this kind, and I personally have been almost drowned out by these applications this week.  Further, although I have no time properly to consider this today, I am increasingly concerned that the device of resort to the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court is operating to by-pass the important safeguard under the regulations of approval by the Secretary of State of establishments used as secure accommodation. There is a grave risk that the safeguard of approval by the Secretary of State is being denied to some of the most damaged and vulnerable children.  This is a situation which cannot go on, and I intend to draw it to the attention of the President of the Family Division.”

  1. It is plainly a matter for concern that so many applications are being made to place children in secure accommodation outside the statutory scheme laid down by Parliament. The concern is not so much because of the pressure that this places on the court system, or the fact that local authorities have to engage in a more costly court process; the concern is that young people are being placed in units which, by definition, have not been approved as secure placements by the Secretary of State when that approval has been stipulated as a pre-condition by Parliament

 

The need for precision about the sort of restrictions that a children’s home can place on children and the need for training, inspection and monitoring of homes that are authorised to do so sprang out of the Pindown scandal, and the ingredients are in place for us to slide back into those sorts of dreadful abuses that began with good intentions but got so far removed from how the State ought to be dealing with its most vulnerable children. I hugely applaud the Court of Appeal here – the lack of secure beds is an accident waiting to happen.

 

The wider issues and the need for scrutiny

  • Before concluding this judgment, I return to the concern (referred to in paragraph 5) that so many young people are now being placed in secure accommodation outside the statutory scheme laid down by Parliament in units which, by definition, have not been approved by the Secretary of State as secure children’s homes. Whilst the High Court has a duty to consider such cases and must come to a decision taking account of the welfare needs of the individual young person, in the wider context the situation is fundamentally unsatisfactory. In contrast to the Secretary of State, the court is not able to conduct an inspection of the accommodation and must simply rely upon what is said about any particular unit in the evidence presented to it. In like manner, where a local authority, as is typically the case, is looking to place a young person in a bespoke unit a great distance away from their home area, the local social workers must make decisions at arm’s length and, it must be assumed, often without first-hand detailed knowledge of the particular unit.
  • The wide-ranging and powerful submissions of the ALC raise issues which are beyond the compass of this appeal but nevertheless deserve consideration in other places. The ALC identifies the following four key questions arising from the fact that a parallel system now exists under the inherent jurisdiction with respect to the secure accommodation of young people who would otherwise fall within the statutory code:

 

i) What is the impact, if any, on children of there being in use two parallel processes?

ii) Is there a disparity in the adherence to due process obligations or in the safeguarding a child’s access and participation in court decisions between these two processes?

iii) Is there a disparity in the practical protection afforded to children through the two processes which may result in arbitrary unfairness?

iv) What are the effects on the Convention Rights of children and the protection of their Article 5 and 6 rights of having two processes and in particular when does the ECHR case of Storck apply?

  • In the circumstances, a direction will be made that a copy of the judgments in this case is sent to each of the following: the Secretary of State for Education, the Secretary of State for Justice, the Chair of the Education Select Committee, the Chair of the Justice Select Committee, the Welsh Government and the Commissioner for Children.

 

 

Having ended the blog proper, two bits of shameless self-promotion (I say shameless, but I’m scarlet and writhing with shame as I type, honestly)

 

  1.  I am on the shortlist for Legal Commenter of the year at the Family Law Awards.  I’ve won this before, so I didn’t want to campaign for it, feeling that the goodness should be shared. But it was amazing to be nominated, and the words said were very kind.  My readers should vote, if they can spare a minute, and if you want to vote for me that’s very sweet (but don’t feel obligated to do so)  . Voting ends on Friday 19th October, so there’s time if you want to.   https://www.familylawawards.com/ehome/familylawawards2018/vote
  2.  As this blog is about Secure Accommodation, a plug for my book In Secure, which is fiction and set in a secure accommodation unit with ten children – there’s magic, adventure, romance, shocks and scares. It’s Tracy Beaker with Tentacles basically. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d love you to read it. You can get a e-book for 99p and the gorgeous paperback for eleven quid.  If you have read it, please put a review on Amazon, it makes a huge difference. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Secure-Andrew-Pack/dp/1911586947/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1539007741&sr=8-2

 

Separate representation of a child – a thorny problem

 

It is well-established that in care proceedings, if a child is capable of instructing a solicitor and disagrees with the recommendations or conclusions of the Guardian that they can be separately represented, and have their own lawyer, who takes instructions directly from them.

You don’t get many cases which describe what happens where there is a disagreement about whether the child SHOULD be separately represented  (in my experience, when the child’s solicitor says that the child has capacity and disagrees with the Guardian, it is accepted by everyone and the Court that the Child should be separately represented)

So this is a case where there was such a dispute, and the Court gave a decision, and also summed up some useful guidance. It is a CJ decision, so NOT BINDING, just informative.

 

Re Z (A Child – care proceedings – separate representation) 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2018/B57.html

First things first. It was VERY very clear that the child was extremely bright. He wrote a letter to the Court setting out a table of balancing factors in the case (a task which is beyond many of the other stakeholders in the family Courts…) and he absolutely had intellectual capacity to instruct a solicitor.  One of the barristers instructed in the case described the child as having a ‘fierce, analytical intelligence’ and that seems to me absolutely on the nose.

 

  1. To assist the experts, Z prepared a detailed ten-page statement setting out his account of what has happened in the past and his wishes and feelings so far as concerns his future.
  2. The first point to make about this letter is that it bears eloquent testimony to this young man’s considerable intellect. The quality of his writing and of his arguments suggest a maturity beyond his years.
  3. In his letter Z describes the years of abuse he suffered whilst in the care of his parents and the domestic abuse he observed between his parents. He talks about the impact all of this has had upon him, especially upon his emotional well-being. He says he finds it very difficult to understand his emotions and deal with them. He has self-harmed and explains why. He describes his mother’s mental health problems and the impact they have had on him. He says that he vividly remembers ‘trying to stop my mum from killing herself’.
  4. In his letter, Z makes it clear that the outcome he seeks is to return to the care of his parents whom he forgives for the past. He does not believe there would be a risk of further abuse if he returns home. Adopting a balance sheet approach, he analyses what he considers to be the risks and benefits of returning home. He adopts the same approach to analyse the risks and benefits of remaining with his grandparents. Finally, again adopting the same balance sheet approach, he analyses the risks and positives of him remaining either in long-term foster care or in a residential placement. So far as this last option is concerned, he argues that there are no positives. On the contrary, such a placement would damage both his mental health and his education. That could make him suicidal. He says he would run away from home.

 

It was also very clear that he disagreed with the Guardian and had his own case to run.

 

  1. Z has also written a much briefer letter to the guardian and to his solicitor, Kerry Boyes. He makes the same key points made in his letter to the experts. This, though, is a more emotional letter. He says,

‘I would like it to be known that I am going to do absolutely everything in my power to make sure that these recommendations do not happen and that I hopefully move back to my parents. If not then I stay with my grandparents…Because of the present situation, I am going to obtain proper legal advice as to what I should do next. I am going to fight to get back to my parents’ care, no matter what. Every child deserves the chance to get a proper education, feel safe and secure and feel loved and cared for. Therefore, I would think it is your duty to properly review these recommendations based upon this and really think about what is in my best interests. Is it really a good idea to take me kicking and screaming away from my grandparents’ house and into a house full of strangers.’

 

  1. After these letters, on 5 th June Z wrote a letter to me. In his letter he pleads not to be ‘kidnapped’ into foster care. If the court approves a placement in foster care or residential care, Z says,

‘I would categorically refuse to go. I would not get into the car…I would run away back to my grandparents as many times as would be needed for people to listen to me. Foster care or residential care is not the right environment for me to be in.’

 

  1. Z is particularly concerned about the possibility that a move into long-term foster care or residential care would mean that he would need to change school. He says that,

‘By moving my school, you would destroy my only support network. At school…I have the support of teachers, who at times have become like second parents, and what’s more, it is one of the only places that I can be truly happy…if you forced me to move school it would do catastrophic damage to me both emotionally, socially and developmentally.’

 

That seems, therefore, to meet the two criteria for separate representation.

The argument was whether Z had the emotional capacity to instruct a solicitor and be involved in the proceedings, and what caused particular anxiety was him having unfettered access to the court documents and papers.  I haven’t seen this argument being run, so it is interesting to see how it plays out.

The Judge, His Honour Judge Bellamy, set out the principles that he had derived from statute and authorities. (Selfishly, I think it is a shame that they are not annotated to show where each principle is derived from, but you can’t have everything)

(I have put some particular interesting elements in red for emphasis)

 

  1. In deciding whether Z has sufficient understanding to instruct his solicitor directly, the solicitor (or the judge if the issue is being decided by the court) will find guidance given by senior judges in previous cases. In particular, the solicitor must have in mind:

(1)           that the child has the right to express his views freely in all matters affecting him and the right to be heard in any judicial proceedings affecting him;

(2)           that the child has the right to respect for his private and family life;

(3)           that the decision to be made relates to this child;

(4)           that the fact that the child’s views are considered to be misguided in some way does not necessarily mean the child does not have sufficient understanding to instruct a solicitor;

(5)           that the fact that the child is unwilling to accept findings already made by the court does not mean that he does not have sufficient understanding to instruct his solicitor;

(6)           that the fact that a child disagrees with an independent professional assessment of what is good for him is not sufficient to lead to a conclusion that the child lacks sufficient understanding to instruct his solicitor;

(7)           that whether the child has the capacity to instruct his solicitor will depend, in part, upon the issues involved and the child’s capacity to give reasonable and consistent instructions on those issues;

(8)           that the child’s direct participation may pose a risk of harm to him and, if it does, the solicitor must consider whether the child is capable of understanding that risk;

(9)           that a child’s understanding increases with the passage of time;

(10)       that a child’s age is not the only relevant consideration;

(11)       that not allowing the child to participate directly in the proceedings by instructing his solicitor may itself cause the child emotional harm;

  1. If the solicitor decides that the child does not have sufficient understanding to instruct his solicitor direct, the court can be asked to review that decision. The judge will come to his own independent decision after taking into account the points just made.

 

 

Those bits in red are important – a person or young person can have capacity to instruct a solicitor and tell them what to fight for without having to be dispassionate or reasoned – you can make an emotional decision rather than a coldly logical one, as long as you have the capacity to understand the facts and that there are pros and cons to your decision. Just as a parent can decide not to follow their legal advice and to instruct their lawyer to present a different case (including one that their lawyer considers is foolish), so can a young person.

 

At the actual hearing, none of the parties were supporting Z being made a party. The LA and Guardian were against it, and the parents were essentially neutral – seeing that Z had capacity but being worried about the emotional impact on him.

 

The conclusions – red is mine for emphasis.

 

  1. All three parties accept that if the test to be applied were based solely on intellectual capacity then Z should be given permission to instruct his own solicitor. All three parties express concern about Z’s emotional capacity to be able to instruct his own solicitor and about what they perceive to be the risks of allowing him to do so. All three raise a particular concern about the likely harmful impact on Z’s emotional well-being of him having access to the court documents.
  2. Z clearly has the intellectual capacity necessary to give him the ‘understanding’ required by the rules, though I accept that intellectual capacity is not the only relevant factor the court must consider when deciding whether a child should be allowed to instruct his own solicitor.
  3. Z well understands that the ultimate welfare decision which the court must make is a decision that may have a profound impact on the future direction of his life. However, the reality is that even with the help of the best professional guidance available (and that is the position I am in) neither the professionals who give that advice nor the court can be absolutely certain of the impact decision-making today will have on the future course of Z’s life. Making decisions about Z’s future involves an element of risk. Z is as aware of the reality of that as I am.
  4. In making decisions the court will have in mind the approach required by the law that Z’s welfare must be the court’s paramount consideration. The court will also have in mind that Z has the right to respect for his private and family life
  5. Concern has been expressed in the experts’ report that Z’s wish to instruct a solicitor direct ‘is part of his bid to regain control in a system populated by adults he does not fully trust to represent his needs’. In my judgment the fact that an intelligent, articulate teenager wishes to have some control of decision-making that could have a profound effect on the future course of his life is hardly surprising. Z is astute enough to realise that as matters stand at the moment, although his Children’s Guardian will faithfully represent his views to the court she will also set out her own assessment of what the appropriate welfare outcome should be. She will make it plain that she does not agree that Z’s clearly expressed wishes and feelings accord with his best interests. She is likely, therefore, to recommend to the court that Z’s wishes and feelings should not be followed. Currently, Z does not have an advocate who will not only inform the court of his wishes and feelings but will seek to persuade the court that an outcome that accords with his wishes and feelings will meet his best welfare interests.
  6. One of the reasons why the experts do not agree that Z should be able to instruct his solicitor direct is because ‘it is our assessment that Z is profoundly confused about his own mind and about his best interest’. In my experience, that confusion and uncertainty is experienced by many adolescents who are the subject of care proceedings. I am doubtful that that is a factor which should be considered, of itself, to make it inappropriate for that young person to be given permission to instruct his own solicitor. In this case, I accept that Z himself has said that he finds it very difficult to understand his emotions and deal with them. In my judgment, that does not mean that he lacks the emotional ‘understanding’ to instruct his solicitor. On the contrary, it could be said that the fact that Z recognises his emotional challenges means that he would be able to engage in an open discussion with his solicitor about the case he wishes to put before the court.
  7. All three parties express concern about Z having access to court papers in the event that he is allowed to instruct his own solicitor. In my judgment, that concern is misconceived. Z is already a party. The decision I am called upon to make has nothing to do with the issue of party status. As a party, the rules already give him a conditional right to have access to the papers. As I noted earlier, the rules require the guardian to advise the child of the contents of any document received so long as the guardian is satisfied that the child has ‘sufficient understanding’. Whether the child should be allowed to see a particular document or simply be given a summary of that document is, for understandable reasons, a matter that is left to the discretion of the guardian. The rules impose a similar duty on the solicitor. In my judgment, that duty arises whether the solicitor receives his instructions through the guardian or direct from the child. In each case the solicitor is not under a duty to allow the child to see documents that have been served upon him but, rather, ‘if the child is of sufficient understanding [to] advise the child of the contents of any documents’ received. It is for the solicitor to come to a judgment about whether the child has ‘sufficient understanding’. If the solicitor is uncertain whether the child has ‘sufficient understanding’ and whether the child should be allowed to read a document or simply be given a summary of the contents of that document, the solicitor should seek guidance from the court. The ultimate responsibility for deciding whether a child or young person should have access to the court papers is, always, that of the court.
  8. As I noted earlier, in this case the experts have prepared for Z an excellent age-appropriate summary of its report. The authors are of the opinion that it would be detrimental to Z’s welfare for him to be allowed to read the full report. For the reasons I have already given, in my judgment, if the court were to allow Z to instruct his solicitor direct it does not follow, as a matter of law, that Z then becomes entitled to unfettered access to all of the documents placed before the court. Deciding precisely what Z should be allowed to see is a matter for the exercise of discretion and is a decision in which some regard must be had to his welfare.
  9. Mr Johal expresses concern ‘about the risk of full participation’ by Z. He submits that Z lacks the insight to fully appreciate the risks of participation. The risks he refers to are the risk arising from access to the court papers (to which I have just referred) and the risk that participation ‘has the potential to significantly contribute to Z’s documented emotional and psychological difficulties and limit the future success of any therapeutic treatment.’ He does not set out in what way there is a risk to the future of any therapeutic treatment. Z has made it very clear that he is willing to engage in therapy. I do not read the experts’ report as highlighting such a risk.
  10. Set against those risks, the decisions made by senior judges, to which I referred earlier, highlight the risk of emotional harm being caused to a young person by not allowing him to participate more fully by means of having his own solicitor. In this case, Z is very concerned indeed to ensure that his voice is heard and, in particular, to ensure that his wishes and feelings about his education are understood and respected. I am in no doubt that if he were not allowed to have his own solicitor there is a real risk that that decision would cause him emotional harm.

Conclusion

  1. I have come to the conclusion that in this case Z does have the ‘understanding’ required by the rules to enable him to instruct his own solicitor. There are no sufficient welfare reasons why that should not happen. I shall therefore order that Z has permission to instruct his own solicitor. It is important that the solicitor appointed is appropriately experienced and skilled for the task in hand. That is an issue I will return to when judgment is formally handed down.

 

 

A lot of useful content there, particularly for Guardians and children’s Solicitors.