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Author Archives: suesspiciousminds

Guidance for how to conduct remote hearings in Family Court

Very grateful to Gordon Exall of Civil Litigation blog for bringing this to my attention, and obviously a huge amount of work has gone into it by Mostyn J and MacDonald J.

 

Telephone hearings we are aware of and for short and reasonably non-contentious matters they are working well, but the issue facing us presently is how we do hearings where seeing the parties and assessing witnesses are to be done.

 

This document is not an ‘off-the-shelf’ solution, but it outlines the various challenges and solutions so that Courts can, with their local practitioners work out a scheme that works for them.  This probably is not going to be of interest to my non-lawyer non-Judge readers, its a long document and it is really getting into the nuts and bolts of how you make a hearing conducted electronically work.

 

But it is a piece of guidance that is going to save hundreds of hours of duplication over the country as individual LAs and local bar and Courts try to work out what is best for their area, and I’m extremely grateful for the work that has gone into it.

 

If you are ill, I wish you well, and if you are well, I hope you stay that way.  We are living through unprecedented times.

 

https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/The-Remote-Access-Family-Court.pdf

 

Diplomatic immunity and care proceedings take 2

 

I have previously written about the intersection of diplomatic immunity and care proceedings here.  (I mean, it is just nice to write the word ‘immunity’ without the word ‘herd’ in front of it this week…)

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2018/04/24/care-proceedings-and-diplomatic-immunity/

 

In that case

A Local Authority v X and Others 2018

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2018/874.html 

 

an allegation that a woman who worked for X High Commission had hit a child 40 times and shaved the head of another.  Knowles J decided in short that:-

  1. Diplomatic immunity ends 31 days after the position ends
  2. If there is diplomatic immunity, it means that there can’t be an arrest or prosecution
  3. But if the behaviour is outside of the diplomats professional functions, a civil case (such as care proceedings can be brought)
  4. Making of an ICO is not a breach of the child’s diplomatic immunity in relation to detention
  5. It isn’t possible, however, to commit a parent with diplomatic immunity to prison for breach of a Court order

 

 

In this case, Mostyn J was deciding a case in which the allegation was that the father, who was a diplomat, and the mother, had assaulted their six children with a belt and in relation to one child had hit her with a broken chair leg and that child had partially lost sight in one eye.   This being a Mostyn J judgment, it is carefully reasoned and gives a very interesting potted history as to diplomatic immunity, including this very specific recital to the first statute on the point

 

“Whereas several turbulent and disorderly persons having in a most outrageous manner insulted the person of his excellency Andrew Artemonowitz Mattueoff, ambassador extraordinary of his Czarish Majesty, Emperor of Great Russia, her Majesty’s good friend and ally, by arresting him, and taking him by violence out of his coach in the publick street, and detaining him in custody for several hours, in contempt of the protection granted by her Majesty, contrary to the law of nations, and in prejudice of the rights and privileges which ambassadors and other publick ministers, authorized and received as such, have at all times been thereby possessed of, and ought to be kept sacred and inviolable.”

 

It’s not quite as niche as Handel’s Naturalisation Act 1727 which applied to just one individual, but that is still a niche introduction

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handel%27s_Naturalisation_Act_1727

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2020/18.html

A Local Authority v AG 2020

The Local Authority sought Interim Care Orders, and the parents argued (without getting into the facts of the case that diplomatic immunity meant that civil proceedings could not be brought)

Mostyn J disagreed with the decision of the former President Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss in Re B 2003 and Knowles J in Re A Local Authority v X 2018 and that the diplomatic immunity did prevent civil proceedings being brought.  He cited the decision of the Supreme Court in In Reyes v Al-Malki & Anor [2017] UKSC 61, [2019] AC 735   (a case dealing with alleged race discrimination and employment law of a staff member of a Saudi diplomat. )

 

 

In essence, the only thing that could be done was to write to the FCO and ask them to liaise with the relevant country.

As discussed recently in the case about vaccinations, where a High Court Judge refers to an authority by another High Court Judge and disagrees with it, the law then shifts to be the latest decision  (unless and until another High Court Judge or a more senior Court disagrees with it).

Therefore, at the time of writing, diplomatic immunity means that child protection proceedings cannot be brought and the issue of whether or not the conduct occurred within the course of those professional duties does not arise.

 

I would anticipate an appeal in this case.  I don’t know which of Knowles J or Mostyn J is right   – I might possibly have my own view (legally, as indicated Mostyn J is now right and the relevant authority on the point) but it needs a Court of Appeal decision to let us know.

Collar me, don’t collar me – I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush

 

 

I know that I say a lot ‘this is an odd one’, but yep, this is an odd one.

Committal proceedings arising out of private law proceedings (where a mother and father are disputing arrangements for the children between themselves).  There were allegations that the father was misusing drugs.

There were further allegations that the father was thwarting drug testing of his urine samples by

running the tap and placing the testing strip in hot water, stockpiling negative tests, or by carrying an orange squash solution which he would pour into the sample pot pretending it to be his urine.

 

Which reminds me both of Withnail’s cunning plan to procure a child’s urine so that he could drink drive and escape justice and of the Wire where Bubbles comes up with a similar plan to obtain a clean urine test from someone else for Johnny who was having to submit clean samples to escape prison, thwarted when Johnny reminds him ‘yo, Bubs, who the hell do we know who has clean urine?’

 

Anyway, within the proceedings, a hair strand test was directed.  What happens next is a little odd.

 

 

13                As I indicated earlier, the father was due to file and serve the results of hair strand testing on 1 September 2019.  That did not happen and there was a suspicion about that in terms of the lapse of time.  Suspicions were heightened when father’s solicitor indicated in a telephone call that father himself was due to send him the report in short order.

 

14                It is unusual for a represented party to arrange the hair strand test themselves and, ordinarily, the results would be sent directly from the service, provided to the solicitor for onward circulation to the court and the parties.  It came to be that the statement from Cellmark was eventually circulated by the father’s solicitors on 20 September 2019 and that statement was authorised by one Alistair Derrick, a forensic scientist employed by Cellmark.  The statement is dated 10 September 2019 and outlined that the father provided a sample of hair on 6 September 2019 of 3.6cm in length.  The result suggested that no substances were detected.

 

It’s a little odd, because normally the report comes TO the solicitor, who then sends it out to their client, rather than vice versa.

The mum, in full-on Wagatha Christie mode, spotted that the length of the hair sample was longer than dad’s hair….

15                There are a number of curious features about that report: namely indicating that the father’s hair samples were 3.6cm and that did not accord with observations by the mother in relation to his hair length at contact handovers.  It was also odd that the father’s statement, circulated on 24 September 2019, made no reference whatsoever to the drug test results, which is a peculiar omission given that his progress of contact largely depended on whether he could provide evidence that he was drug-free.

 

16                Those suspicions, coupled with the mother’s knowledge of the father’s historical untruthfulness, led the mother to requesting that her solicitor contact Cellmark to establish whether the report they received was legitimate.  To her dismay, and subsequently it became a substantial matter of concern to the Family Proceedings Court, the report circulated by the father was not the report prepared by them.  The report they prepared, in fact dated 26 July 2019, related to a sample taken on 12 July 2019.  The hair length was reported to be 1.5cm and the report confirmed that the result was positive for cocaine for the period covering the end of May 2019 to the end of June 2019.

 

 

In the words of Alexander O’Neal  – you’re a fake baby, you can’t conceal it – know how I know? Cos I can feel it

 

  It became apparent therefore, beyond doubt, that the father had resorted to the most extreme lengths by falsifying evidence for his own gain without any regard to the safety and welfare of Z.  I observe, so far as the court is concerned, that this type of deception undermines the system and devalues and seriously undermines the court’s ability to protect children in these circumstances.  It is a very serious issue.

 

18                There were a number of reports filed, and evidence filed subsequently, and it came to be that the father subsequently admitted that he did, in fact, change the witness statement of Alistair Derrick, and has described it as a serious error of judgment, and in these committal proceedings throughout has not tried to minimise his actions in any way and has been open in terms of what he has done and has shown true contrition and, furthermore, paid the mother’s legal costs throughout.

 

 

 

20                Matters came before the Family Proceedings Court on 1 October 2019 and there was an application to adjourn, and further directions were made for Cellmark to file their correct report of 26 July 2019, for a statement to be prepared by Alistair Derrick of Cellmark, and another statement from Cellmark in terms of the date of collection of the sample.

 

21                When the directions had been agreed in correspondence in advance of the hearing on 1 October 2019, the father subsequently admitted he had falsified the evidence and there was an attempt by him to retain the hearing as a final hearing, requesting that the lay justices consider this issue as part of their overall judgment.  This application was, to all intents and purposes, a complete waste of time and the justices were sufficiently concerned about the matter to refer the matter to a Judge for the consideration of contempt proceedings.

 

22                So it came to be, as is made plain from the recitals of the Magistrates’ order of 1 October 2019, that the matter came before me, and father was directed to provide a statement.  There was some difficulty, it was provided in manuscript; it should not have been.  I put that to one side, it is a minor aggravation considering the serious issues in relation to this case.

 

23                Crucially, and this is the matter of public interest to which I alluded earlier; within his statement the father confirms that he amended the report using a programme called Adobe Acrobat Pro.  He claims to have procrastinated for two months about what to do about the positive tests, yet he later suggested that he had acted suddenly.  It matters not, because the fact of the matter is that he used this programme and altered the results.

 

 

The Judge found, and the father admitted, that he had committed contempt by falsifying these results. The Judge gave him a twelve month sentence, suspended for 12 months.

Z (A Child : committal proceeding) [2020] EWFC B5 (24 January 2020)    

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2020/B5.html

 

 

A tale of five silks, five months and a seven day order

As Bob Dylan sang ‘But they got a lot of forks and knives, and they got to cut something”

 

As far as I know, there has never been a reported case about a Child Assessment Order. In fact, up until this case, there had only been three reported cases that mention one in passing in a case where one was made, and another three that just mention them by way of illustration. In 26 years of practice, I’ve only applied for one ever.  They are so niche, I couldn’t even find how many have been made from the Family Court statistics.  (I was told, anecdotally, that the one I applied for 8 years ago was the 14th ever)

 

They are very rare. I’ve never heard of one being contested. But here we are with not only a contested one, but an appeal about a contested one, with five silks in it to boot.

 

I write this post therefore in the knowledge that it is extraordinarily unlikely that any of the issues in the case will ever emerge again, but hey, if they do, the answers are here.

 

 

Re  I (Children : Child Assessment Order) 2020

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2020/281.html

 

Quick info-dump, a Child Assessment Order is pretty much what the title suggests – it is an order by a Court authorising an assessment to be carried out on a child.  It covers a similar function to section 38(6) where the Court controls what assessments are carried out on children who are within court proceedings, but is a stand-alone application.

You might, for example, use it in a case where you want to do an X-ray of a child whose sibling has a suspicious fracture and you are wanting to check whether the other child has any injuries and the parents say no, but you don’t want at that point to seek an Emergency Protection Order or Interim Care Order.

 

Why was one sought here, why was it controversial, why on earth are five silks involved, in an application generally considered to be niche and fairly trivial ?  Note that the assessment lasts for seven days, the application was made in October 2019, decided in December 2019, and appealed by February 2019, so the court process lasted for five months, or approximately twenty times the duration of the order under dispute.   You’ll see why there are broader issues in a moment, assuming you are still here…

 

Lord Justice Peter Jackson sets it all out very clearly, but the tl;dr is “Suspicions of radicalisation”

Ah, you say, now I get why everyone got silked up.  And why the case has wider-ranging issues that warranted all of this furore.

 

  1. This appeal concerns the court’s power to make a child assessment order under s.43 of the Children Act 1989. It arises in relation to a family with five children. The children, whose ages range between 18 and 9, are making excellent progress and have impressed everyone who has met them. Why then are they the subject of proceedings? The answer lies in their father’s conviction under the Terrorism Act 2000, for which he received a substantial prison sentence. His offences consisted of addressing meetings to encourage support for or further the activities of Islamic State. He had for many years been associated with extremist beliefs and has a previous conviction for violent disorder arising from a sectarian assault, for which he served a term of imprisonment in 2014. In January 2015 he was made the subject of an ASBO arising from earlier violent demonstrations. In December 2015 he was arrested for the terrorist offences.
  2. Following the father’s arrest, there was concern about the impact of his beliefs and activities on the family. It was found that one or more of the children had been taken to meetings at which the father had spoken, and an image of a beheading was found on one of the children’s phones. More recently, evidence emerged showing one or more of the children holding placards at a demonstration in support of the Caliphate. In early 2017 the local authority in whose area the family lives therefore carried out an investigation under s.47. At that stage the mother was assessed as recognising the risks and acting protectively. There was no evidence of her being implicated in the father’s views and activities. The local authority’s plan was for further assessment when the father was due to be released from prison.
  3. The father was released on licence in late 2018, and was placed in a hostel. A further s.47 assessment was undertaken by the local authority. By contrast with the earlier assessment, this raised considerable concerns about the mother’s protectiveness. She said that the father had strong views but that they were not criminal. She referred to the undercover officer whose evidence had led to the father’s conviction as a “snitch”. The assessment, completed on 13 March 2019, concluded that: a Child in Need plan was required (as the father wanted to go home); the Probation risk assessment should be obtained to identify the father’s current view of his offending; the father should be interviewed; an Intervention Provider should be instructed to talk to the children; fuller work should be carried out to provide the children with clear information about their father’s offending; the father’s interaction with the children should be observed.
  4. The mother opposed these interventions, describing them as a collective punishment driven by religion and not genuine concern. The local authority convened a Child Protection Case Conference on 20 May and the children became subject to Child Protection Plans. A referral was made to Prevent so that the case could be discussed within the Channel Panel, a multi-agency panel designed to safeguard individuals at risk. In June, the parents consented to direct work being done with the children but later that month they withdrew that consent. The mother declined to meet a representative from Prevent or engage with a parenting assessment. As a result, the Probation Service advised that the father’s licence conditions had been changed so that the mother was no longer approved to supervise contact. At the Channel Panel meeting on 5 July it was decided that the children should be assessed by an Intervention Provider to establish whether they required mentoring with the aim of increasing theological understanding and challenging extremist ideas that may be used to legitimise terrorism. The parents declined to consent to this assessment.
  5. These events added to the local authority’s concerns. On 22 July, it initiated the process leading to public law proceedings (the PLO process) by sending formal letters to the parents, as a result of which they qualified for legal representation. Then, on 20 August, the father’s licence was revoked due to a breach of his licence conditions. He remains in custody and his release date is not known.
  6. A PLO meeting took place on 5 September. The mother attended on her own. She refused to consent to unannounced visits, a parenting assessment, direct work with the children, or to work being carried out by an Intervention Provider. Further details of the parenting assessment and the direct work proposed were provided to the mother by letter but on 23 September she responded by saying that she did not consent to any work being carried out.
  7. On 7 October, the local authority decided to apply for a child assessment order, with a view to an assessment being carried out by an Intervention Provider. It issued its application on 4 November. Directions were given by Newton J on 13 November and the final hearing took place on 4 December. The application was opposed by both parents and by the four older children, who were separately represented (the eldest has since turned 18 and is no longer the subject of proceedings). It was however supported by the Children’s Guardian. He considered that it is not known whether the children have been exposed to the risk of radicalisation by their father’s actions and beliefs, or whether their mother is fully protective. The family’s unwillingness to work with the local authority has prevented it from assessing either the level of risk or what support can be offered.

 

The Judge at first instance, declined to make the Child Assessment Order  AND ruled that he in fact had no jurisdiction to make one.

 

Here are the statutory provisions  (bits in red are mine for emphasis)

43 Child assessment orders.

(1) On the application of a local authority or authorised person for an order to be made under this section with respect to a child, the court may make the order if, but only if, it is satisfied that—

(a) the applicant has reasonable cause to suspect that the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm;

(b) an assessment of the state of the child’s health or development, or of the way in which he has been treated, is required to enable the applicant to determine whether or not the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm; and

(c) it is unlikely that such an assessment will be made, or be satisfactory, in the absence of an order under this section.

(2) In this Act “a child assessment order” means an order under this section.

(3) A court may treat an application under this section as an application for an emergency protection order.

(4) No court shall make a child assessment order if it is satisfied—

(a) that there are grounds for making an emergency protection order with respect to the child; and

(b) that it ought to make such an order rather than a child assessment order.

(5) A child assessment order shall—

(a) specify the date by which the assessment is to begin; and

(b) have effect for such period, not exceeding 7 days beginning with that date, as may be specified in the order.

(6) Where a child assessment order is in force with respect to a child it shall be the duty of any person who is in a position to produce the child—

(a) to produce him to such person as may be named in the order; and

(b) to comply with such directions relating to the assessment of the child as the court thinks fit to specify in the order.

(7) A child assessment order authorises any person carrying out the assessment, or any part of the assessment, to do so in accordance with the terms of the order.

(8) Regardless of subsection (7), if the child is of sufficient understanding to make an informed decision he may refuse to submit to a medical or psychiatric examination or other assessment.

(9) The child may only be kept away from home—

(a) in accordance with directions specified in the order;

(b) if it is necessary for the purposes of the assessment; and

(c) for such period or periods as may be specified in the order.

(10) Where the child is to be kept away from home, the order shall contain such directions as the court thinks fit with regard to the contact that he must be allowed to have with other persons while away from home.

(11) Any person making an application for a child assessment order shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that notice of the application is given to—

(a) the child’s parents;

(b) any person who is not a parent of his but who has parental responsibility for him;

(c) any other person caring for the child;

(d) any person named in a child arrangements order as a person with whom the child is to spend time or otherwise have contact;

(e) any person who is allowed to have contact with the child by virtue of an order under section 34; and

(f) the child,

before the hearing of the application.

 

 

Let’s deal with the jurisdiction point first, which might be classified as a ‘smarty-pants lawyer argument’.  I mean, I wouldn’t categorise it that way myself, but other less kind people might. Naughty other fictitious people.

 

The judge’s conclusion on jurisdiction

  1. The challenge to the court’s powers was pursued by both parents before the judge. However, on the appeal neither the mother (following a change of leading counsel) nor the children sought to uphold the judge’s decision in this respect and it was left to Mr Twomey QC and Mr Barnes to pursue it. The argument runs like this. The effect of ss. (1)(a) and (b) is that the local authority must have reasonable cause to suspect harm or likelihood of harm and the assessment must be required to enable it to determine whether harm or likelihood of harm exists. The local authority must, they say, demonstrate that it has “a suspicion (and no more)”. In this case, the local authority could only have decided to place the children on child protection plans and to activate the PLO process if it had already judged there to be the existence or likelihood of harm: Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018, page 45. Its state of mind was therefore one of belief, not suspicion, and accordingly the test under (a) is not satisfied. Nor, for the same reason, can the local authority meet the test under (b) because the assessment is not required to enable it to determine whether or not the children are suffering or likely to suffer significant harm: it already believes that they are. Even though as a matter of normal statutory interpretation, the greater includes the lesser (so here belief includes suspicion), that approach does not apply as this provision concerns the state of mind of the local authority.
  2. In oral argument, Mr Twomey asserted that as a matter of law the consequence of any one of local authority’s actions in calling the child protection conference, making child protection plans, or initiating the PLO process was to make an order under s.43 unavailable to the local authority and the court. It would not be open to the case conference to decide that an application under s.43 was an appropriate course to safeguard the children. Put another way, if the local authority wanted to seek an order under s.43, it was obliged to go to court before calling a child protection conference. Once it had reached the stage of ‘belief’ the only options open to it were (a) doing nothing, (b) continuing to seek the parents’ consent, or (c) issuing care proceedings. These outcomes are, he said, mandated by the plain words of ss.(1), but he was unable to suggest any good sense to this interpretation, either in terms of child welfare or good social work practice. In particular, he was unable to rebut the local authority’s argument that it would be fundamentally contrary to good social work practice and to statutory guidance for a local authority to apply for a court order before seeking to work with the parents by less interventionist means.
  3. The judge set out these and other arguments at some length, before stating his conclusion in a single paragraph:
    1. “36. Generally, as a matter of construction, the greater includes the lesser. In looking at the Act however, there is a gradual proportionate and cumulative incline in what is required to permit interference in a family’s life by the state. Section 43 is founded on a reasonable cause to suspect. Section 38(2) is founded on reasonable grounds for believing. Section 31(2) is founded on the court being satisfied. Each tier has available to it a raft of supporting powers proportionate to the level of inquiry and a possible conclusion. For that reason, it seems to me that the submissions made in respect of this point (the lesser not being included in the greater) are well founded, since I examining the local authority’s state of mind.”

 

In short – because the LA had held a case conference and registered the children, they had crossed a test of ‘reasonable grounds to believe they were at risk of significant harm’, whereas the test for a Child Assessment Order is ‘suspicion that they are at risk of significant harm’.   You may well be saying, but the test for a Child Assessment Order is LOWER, so if they met the former, the latter must be met too. And you would underestimate the smartness and ability of a silk to make what seems like a bad point into an argument.   The argument here is that in over-shooting the test, it is no longer a ‘suspicion’ but a ‘reasonable belief’ and thus it is not open to the LA to seek a Child Assessment Order because their evidence is TOO GOOD.

You can see that the Court of Appeal were sceptical, because the natural end point of this is that the LA ought to dash into Court to seek an order rather than to seek to work with the parents under a PLO or a Case Conference, which flies in the face of the way things are supposed to work.

Fascinating though the suggestion that an examination of the local authority’s state of mind is needed is, the Court of Appeal were not convinced.

 

  1. With respect to the judge, I consider that he was wrong to reach this conclusion for these reasons:
  2. (1) Section 43 must be read in the context of the legislation as a whole. As Mr Samuels QC and Mr Lefteri submit, the scheme of the Act points to the child assessment order as forming part of the initial stages of investigation and assessment. As Ms Howe QC and Ms Chaudhry say, the purpose of the section is to enable proper assessment to establish whether there is a need and justification for any further action. This is also the effect of the statutory guidance quoted above.

(2) The condition at ss.(1)(a) provides a relatively low threshold of reasonable suspicion. This is a threshold to be crossed, not a target to be hit. The normal rule of statutory construction applies to this provision as to any other. The reason given for departing from it, namely that the court is examining the local authority’s state of mind, has no logical foundation.

(3) The only restriction on the use of s.43 where the threshold is crossed is that provided by ss.(4) which prevents the making of a child assessment order when an emergency protection order should instead be made.

(4) The condition in ss.(1)(b) plainly exists to ensure that an assessment can only be ordered if it is required, i.e. necessary. However, a determination of whether a child is suffering or likely to suffer harm is not confined to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. The assessment is designed to provide a range of information, identifying not only whether harm may exist, but also describing its nature and extent. Nothing less will allow the local authority to understand the child’s situation and determine how best to proceed. The narrow interpretation of the provision accepted by the judge overlooks the essential qualitative character of the assessment process. It also fails to connect with his own description of the underlying question as being “under what circumstances might the parents’ religious views and activities result in harm to the children’s physical and emotional health and wellbeing?” That was the question to which the assessment would be directed.

(5) The suggested interpretation does not provide “the sensible approach to child protection” spoken of by Baroness Hale. It conflicts with good social work practice and needlessly limits the flexibility with which the powers under the Act should be exercised. It is clear from the guidance that it is not the intention of the legislation to push the local authority into making an application under Part IV in order to obtain an assessment. That might then lead to substantial litigation and an application for the proceedings to be withdrawn, as happened in the radicalisation cases A Local Authority v A Mother and others [2017] EWHC 3741 (Fam) and In re A and others (Children)(Withdrawal of Care Proceedings: Costs) [2018] EWHC 1841 Fam; [2018] 4 WLR 146. This would fly in the face of the principle of proportionality and if it were correct it would effectively render s.43 redundant.

  1. For these reasons I would unhesitatingly conclude that as a matter of law the court had the power to make a child assessment order in this case.

 

Of course, the parents could make use of the argument in section 43(4) that the Court can’t make a Child Assessment Order if the Court considers that it should make an Emergency Protection Order instead, but you can easily see why that would not be an attractive argument to deploy on behalf of a parent.

 

So, having ruled that the Court COULD make a Child Assessment Order, the Court of Appeal then considered whether in the circumstances of the case, the Judge was wrong to decide not to make one.

 

 

  1. The judge then concluded:
    1. “48. The evidence and legal principle in this, as in other such cases, is complex and has to be considered on a case by case basis. Applying well established principles to the evidence that has been available to the Court, I am satisfied that the authority in this case has not satisfied the provisions of s.43.

49. Once the absent evidence has been obtained, even at this belated stage, further urgent decision making will be required about whether or not it is appropriate that there needs to be intervention and of what sort. The approach of the family will obviously be an important part of that analysis.”

  1. Because the judge did not express himself with reference to the terms of the statute, it is not easy to be precise about his reasons for refusing the local authority’s application, but they would seem to be these:
  2. (1) He had no power (as above).

(2) It is too late. There were probably reasonable grounds for suspicion in 2015, and the local authority should have acted then. After “4 uneventful years” now is not the time to assess the risk.

(3) (Though not said in terms) the local authority does not have reasonable grounds for suspicion. The application needed more than a “historic” foundation. The failure to gather available evidence about the father from the probation and prison service means that there is no current evidence of the children having been affected by their father’s views.

(4) Alternatively, and for the same reasons, the assessment is not required.

(5) In any case, an order would be disproportionate.

(6) It is unlikely that the older children will participate in an assessment. Endeavouring to compel them to be assessed would be heavy-handed, disproportionate and possibly unfair.

(7) Given the children’s stance, an assessment would not be likely to produce better information than is presently available.

(8) The local authority can think again once it has more information.

 

The Court of Appeal set out the arguments of the LA and Guardian urging a Child Assessment Order and the parents urging that the initial decision should stand.

Their conclusions

 

  1. This aspect of the appeal is from an evaluative decision of a trial judge and it can only succeed if the decision is one that the judge could not reasonably have reached on the evidence before him. That is a high hurdle, but I conclude that it has been cleared in this case for these reasons:
  2. (1) The judge’s approach to the two questions that faced him was inherently inconsistent. Having decided the question of law on the supposition that the local authority was overprovided with information, he based his evaluative decision on the conclusion that it had insufficient evidence for its concerns.

(2) The circumstances of this case present a clear basis for serious concern about the welfare of these children, which their good progress alone could not dispel. Risk of this kind can never be regarded as “historic” until it has been positively shown not to exist, but the judge gave little or no weight to the obvious risks inherent in the father’s long-held views, which were only magnified by the family’s more recent withdrawal of cooperation. The alignment of position between the parents was a further troubling development.

(3) In contrast the judge gave disproportionate weight to his view of the local authority’s approach. In effect he substituted for the requirement for reasonable suspicion a test of whether the local authority had acted reasonably. And even if it was appropriate to criticise the decision to await the father’s release before refreshing its assessment (and for my part I can see no reason to regard that approach as unreasonable) the court was obliged to deal with the case on the facts as they were, not as they might have been.

(4) The judge was plainly unimpressed by the inter-agency working in this case. He considered that information about the father’s current mindset was necessary and should have been obtained before assessing the children. But even if dependable information about that could be obtained from other agencies, it would only fill in part of the picture and an assessment of the children was likely to be necessary in any event. The argument that an assessment should not be ordered because there are gaps in the evidence is circular.

(5) In any event, the judge appears to have accepted that all the information was needed (see paragraph 49 of his judgment). If he considered more information about the father was a precondition to an assessment of the children, he could have given directions for that information to be obtained. The absence of evidence from the parents is also something that should have been noted. Having taken the position that the judge did, the appropriate response was not to dismiss the application but to adjourn it.

(6) The level of past cooperation by the mother or children could not be of much significance if they have withdrawn cooperation before the local authority has the information that it needs to plan its child protection strategy.

(7) The proportionality exercise in this case went awry. The description of the assessment proposal as heavy-handed, disproportionate and overbearing cannot be sustained. High-performing, law-abiding children are not immune from the insidious lure of extremism. The proposed assessment was by no stretch of the imagination disproportionate to the risk in this case. The submission that the children would be left in a vulnerable position without legal representation or that they might be placed in a situation that was unfair is a misreading of the nature of the child protection and litigation processes. Social workers and intervention providers are not threats from whom the children must be protected, but public servants who are seeking to protect these children by means of the least intrusive intervention. The children’s committed lawyers (both those they instruct directly and those representing the Children’s Guardian) will surely not become unavailable to them at the moment the order is made, in the face of an imminent brief assessment.

(8) Even if the reasons for refusing an order in the case of the older children could be sustained on the basis of their views, that would not warrant a refusal to make an order with respect to the youngest child.

  1. A yet further argument was presented by Mr Twomey. He suggests that s.43 does not permit an assessment of the children’s religious faith as that is not a facet of their health, development or treatment by their parents. That argument is self-evidently unsound. What is being assessed is not the children’s religious faith but their vulnerability and resilience in the face of extremist propaganda masquerading as religious faith.
  2. I would however hold that the judge was right to find that the opposition of the older children was not an obstacle to the making of an order. In this respect, his approach is to be preferred to the dicta in Re Q (see paragraph 30 above). As can be seen from the statutory guidance, it is not strictly correct to characterise a child assessment order as an emergency intervention. Nor as a matter of principle is it unlikely that a child assessment order will be made with respect to a competent child who may refuse to submit to assessment: it will depend on the circumstances.

 

[Whilst the statute says that a competent child who says no, is not compelled to participate in the assessment, that does not stop the Court making an order, it just means that at the point of arranging the assessment itself, the objection of a competent child will stop the assessment of that child and override the order, pace section 43 (8)

  1. Drawing matters together, a child assessment order allows for a brief, focussed assessment of the state of a child’s health or development, or the way in which he or she has been treated, where that is required to enable the local authority to determine whether or not the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm and to establish whether there is a need and justification for any further action. The purpose of the assessment is to provide a range of information, identifying not only whether harm may exist, but also describing its nature and extent. It is part of the process of gathering information so that any child protection measures can be appropriately calibrated. It is the least interventionist of the court’s child protection powers and is designed to enable information that cannot be obtained by other means to be gathered without the need to remove the child from home. It is not an emergency power and it may be particularly apt where the suspected harm to the child may be longer-term and cumulative rather than sudden and severe. The order is compulsory in relation to parents but not for a competent child who refuses to participate. The views of an older child are an important consideration when a decision is taken about making an order, but it cannot be said that opposition makes an order unlikely: it depends on the facts of the case and the nature of the risk and the assessment.
  2. Seen in this light, the circumstances of this case might be seen as a paradigm example of a case for which s.43 was intended. More than that, I would conclude that the evidence so clearly pointed to the making of a child assessment order that the judge’s contrary conclusion cannot stand. The outcome, by which the local authority was told to go away and think again after a process that had already hung over the family for a full year since the father’s release, fails to address obvious risks that now require careful assessment. The only remaining way in which the assessment can be made without the issuing of care proceedings is by means of a child assessment order. There is no purpose in remitting the decision, and I would therefore allow the appeal and make the child assessment order in the terms now helpfully drawn up by the parties.
  3. Finally, we would like to address the young people at centre of this case. We know that you will give the same serious attention to this order and the reasons for it that you showed when three of you, one now being an adult, attended the appeal hearing. Our order has only one purpose: to help to keep you safe. We know that the order is not what you wanted, but we believe that it is the very best way of resolving the present situation and of allowing you to get back to the things that you have been doing so well. Three of you have the right to say no, but we hope that you will allow the assessment to take place, as it will do for the youngest one of you, and that you will all do your best.

 

Interim care order – revision to the separation test

The Court of Appeal have decided a case called Re C (A Child: Interim Separation) 2020 and this adds an additional component to the test for separation, so all child protection lawyers, social workers and Guardians need to be aware of it.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2020/257.html

 

It builds upon another Court of Appeal case called Re C 2019 (I have not written about that one, because it was very difficult to ascertain whether it was intending to introduce new principles or was fact specific, this one is much clearer)

 

The test for interim separation (or continued separation) is now

“(1) An interim order is inevitably made at a stage when the evidence is incomplete. It should therefore only be made in order to regulate matters that cannot await the final hearing and it is not intended to place any party to the proceedings at an advantage or a disadvantage.

(2) The removal of a child from a parent is an interference with their right to respect for family life under Art. 8. Removal at an interim stage is a particularly sharp interference, which is compounded in the case of a baby when removal will affect the formation and development of the parent-child bond.

(3) Accordingly, in all cases an order for separation under an interim care order will only be justified where it is both necessary and proportionate. The lower (‘reasonable grounds’) threshold for an interim care order is not an invitation to make an order that does not satisfy these exacting criteria.

(4) A plan for immediate separation is therefore only to be sanctioned by the court where the child’s physical safety or psychological or emotional welfare demands it and where the length and likely consequences of the separation are a proportionate response to the risks that would arise if it did not occur.

(5) The high standard of justification that must be shown by a local authority seeking an order for separation requires it to inform the court of all available resources that might remove the need for separation.”

For the purposes of his decision in this case, the judge summarised it this way:

“The test is whether the child’s safety is at risk and, if so, any removal should be proportionate to the actual risks faced and in the knowledge of alternative arrangements which would not require separation.”

 

The 5th point is the new addition – that the LA must be able to set out to the Court what available resources could be put in place which might remove the need for separation.

 

It doesn’t need to be in a full-blown alternative care plan like full Care Orders and Neath Port Talbot, but I have found a useful approach to be

 

Imagine that the Court don’t grant removal and the child stays with the parent – what would that look like?  (TM my friend Becca Carr-Hopkins).  What would be your ingredients of the protection plan or written agreement or contract of expectations.  Then, in relation to those, what resources could the LA reasonably put in place to assist with each of these?  Having done that, the social worker, the lawyers, and the Judge can consider – would those manage the risks that are present, in full or in part? Would the parents realistically be able to comply with those requirements?

 

So it becomes not only a useful piece of information for the Court, but an actively useful analytical and decision-making tool for the Local Authority.  It helps hone down on ‘do we really need separation, or could we manage this risk another way?’

 

 

Turns to dust – vaccinations and confusion

This is YET another judgment in the Cestui Cue Vie litigation, this time about vaccinations.  And it has made my head hurt.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2020/220.html

 

T (A child), Re [2020] EWHC 220 (Fam) (07 February 2020)    

 

The previous law on vaccinations of children who are in care, where parents object, is  “Don’t do it under section 33 of the Children Act 1989, make an application and let the Court decide”

 

[Section 33 basically allows a Local Authority who hold an Interim Care Order or Care Order, to take actions that they think are necessary to safeguard or promote the welfare of the child. In effect a veto/overule to parental objection]

MacDonald J in Re SL (Permission to vaccinate) [2017] EWHC 125 (Fam):

 

 

33. In this case the court is concerned with the issue of vaccinations in the context of children who are the subject of care orders and thus the dispute is between the local authority sharing parental responsibility for the child and the parent with parental responsibility. In the circumstances where SL is in the care of the local authority, by virtue of s 9(1) of the Children Act 1989 the local authority cannot apply for a specific issue order with respect to the issue of vaccination. Further, given the gravity of the issue in dispute, it is not appropriate for the local authority simply to give its consent to immunisation pursuant to the provisions of s 33(3) of the Children Act 1989 on the basis of its shared parental responsibility for SL under the interim care order

 

 

Vaccination is a hot-button topic, though not QUITE as much as it is in America, but still something that some people hold very strong views on, particularly the MMR vaccine and the theory (well and truly debunked) that it causes autism or can cause autism.  Still, it is something that parents often feel very strongly about.

 

In this case, the LA made such an application

Hayden J says

 

I have no doubt at all that if the Local Authority had signalled its intention to have T vaccinated under the authority of s.33(3) CA, this would have led to an immediate application on behalf of the parents to invoke the inherent jurisdiction. Nonetheless, I, for my part, can see no reason why what are ultimately routine vaccinations should not fall within the scope of the interventions contemplated by s.33(3) CA. Indeed it strikes me as disproportionate to expect a Local Authority to be required to apply to a High Court Judge to initiate proceedings, the result of which has been in every reported case to authorise vaccination

and

I consider that this question of immunisation properly falls within the Local Authority’s remit, as prescribed by s.33(3) CA.

 

He considers the application anyway, because he identifies that if the LA had proposed to authorise vaccinations under s33, the parents would have made an application to block it under the inherent jurisdiction.

 

Why has this made my head hurt? Well, because we now have two High Court Judges, one who says ‘Oh, you HAVE to apply to Court, you can’t do it under s33’ and the second who says ‘you shouldn’t be bothering the Court with this, do it under s33’

 

So, if a parent in a case says  “I don’t want my child to have the MMR” and the child is subject to an ICO or a Care Order, what do you do?

 

I’m very grateful to Chris Barnes and David Burrows for helping me get this straight.  As best as I can tell, Hayden J’s decision that you should do it under s33 and NOT make an application binds Justices, District Judges, Circuit Judges. Court of Appeal or Supreme Court could overturn it.   And a High Court Judge should stick with Hayden J’s decision unless persuaded that a key binding or persuasive authority that should have been shown to Hayden J wasn’t.

If I had to guess at what would happen if the issue comes up before MacDonald J again, I imagine that he would agree that he is bound by Hayden J but without a deal of enthusiasm. I’d try to avoid it if possible.

(It is a bit like Referees and the FA Disciplinary Panel – if the Referee sees the scything tackle and gives a yellow card, the video panel can’t give a ban, but if the ref says he didn’t see it then the video panel can ban the naughty player.  Here, because Hayden J was taken to all of the relevant authorities, everyone else OUGHT to follow his decision. This arises from Colchester Estates v Carlton Industries 1984)

 

Where a decision at first instance has itself been considered by a second judge at first instance, I do not regard myself as free to depart from the second decision (unless persuaded that some binding or persuasive authority has been overlooked): Colchester Estates v Carlton Industries [1984] 2 All ER 601. 

 

From Futter v Futter and Others 2010   paragraph 3 https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2010/449.html

 

So, the state of play is, vaccines are now authorised under s33, and the Court will only get involved if the parent makes an application under the inherent jurisdiction to prevent it.

 

Moving away from the big picture, I always find that a Hayden J judgment contains at least one masterful piece of prose, and this doesn’t disappoint.  Poor counsel for mum is faced with making an anti-vaxx argument based on research that has clearly not quite stood up to rigorous scrutiny.

  1. In his position statement, Mr Bailey, on behalf of M, particularises her views, in relation to her other children, in order to establish what he terms to be “the potential impact on T“:
      1. (i) X (22) was in pain for many years after receiving the Gardasil vaccination (HPV), and also led to her being hospitalised for a week. No diagnosis was ever made and still suffers pain today. She was also given 5 doses due to a nurse telling us it was perfectly fine to have extra doses. The recommended dose is 3.

(ii) After receiving vaccinations Y’s (11) development was delayed which has led to him having to receive growth hormone replacement. It was ruled out that his condition was genetic and to this day it remains a mystery as to why this has happened.

(iii) U (18), F’s son, was in good health growing up but now has a condition called Russell-Silver syndrome (SRS-a congenital condition). This was diagnosed when he was 8 years old;

(iv) V (16), F’s son, began fitting a week after having the first set of MMR vaccinations. He was subsequently diagnosed with West syndrome (severe epilepsy). V’s IRO has informed the parents that V no longer has this condition and no other diagnoses have been made. Currently, V is in a wheelchair, cannot walk, talk, or do anything for himself. He wears nappies 24/7 and self-harms by punching and biting himself. He is said to have a developmental age of a 6 month-old baby.

(v) Research (undisclosed for the purposes of this Position Statement) indicates that a. some vaccinations contain aborted human foetus matter and b. some vaccines contain other ingredients that the mother objects to.

(vi) If T is to have vaccinations then the mother would want these to be given separately as research (undisclosed for the purpose of this Position Statement) shows that multiple vaccines at the same time shock the system and some children go on to develop autism and other conditions. The mother believes that it is safer for T to be given vaccinations separately.

(vii) T is now 10 months old and is in very good health. Apart from a few colds (in foster care) he has not had any childhood illnesses in spite of not being vaccinated and has a strong immune system. Research (undisclosed for the purposes of this Position Statement) shows that babies and children who have a good healthy balanced diet with the correct nutrition build a healthy immune system and do not need to be injected with viruses and heavy metals.

(viii) The Local Authority once informed M than T had contracted measles, but to date this has never been confirmed. If this was in fact the case then M will say that this shows that T’s immune system naturally fought of the virus and his immune system is strong.”

  1. Very properly, Mr Bailey highlights, at (v) and (vi) above, that the research said to support these submissions is “undisclosed for the purposes of this position statement.” By this, Mr Bailey was signalling, I think, that he had not seen any such research. In any event, he did not produce any during the course of his oral submissions. Though attractively presented, the submissions are both tenuous and tendentious. They were supported by F, who read from a document which purported to say that some of the vaccinations contained “MRC-5, the genetic code of a human male.” I pressed F on this, as to what it actually meant, and, in particular, I asked him whether this was the point raised on behalf of M to the effect that some vaccinations contained “aborted human foetus.” He agreed that it was.

 

 

The representations continued, with mother’s counsel arguing that the LA had just taken a pro-vaccination stance generally, and had not applied thought to whether it was necessary in the case of this individual child

 

  1. Mr Bailey argued that the Local Authority had advanced its application by supporting the principle of immunisation generally. That approach would be misconceived. It was deprecated in Re SL (supra); in Re C and F (supra); and in LCC v A and Ors (Minors By Their Children’s Guardian) [2011] EWHC 4033 (Fam). Mr Bailey queried whether Dr Douglas had seen T’s medical records. Whilst the inference of his report was that he had seen the records, it was certainly not explicit. This led Mr Bailey to submit that Dr Douglas and, by implication, the Local Authority itself had not approached the issue with the necessary “individuation.” By this he meant that the merits and demerits of vaccination had been considered theoretically rather than with specific focus on this child.
  2. With respect to Mr Bailey, this point turns to dust in the face of the adoption medical report, which reveals Dr Douglas, in my judgement, to have a detailed and empathetic understanding of his patient. The report highlights:
      1. 2. Growth and development. T was born with moderately low birth weight (between 2 and 2.5kg) which is probably due to maternal smoking in early pregnancy. Low birth weight can be associated with poor growth and delayed development although he has shown good catch-up growth since birth and his development is within normal limits at present. However, his growth and development need ongoing monitoring and recognition of any problems such as decreased growth velocity, motor delay or speech and language delay should prompt early referral for assessment

 

 

I’m sure that there have been many occasions when I have been striving to make what I hoped was a good point, or at least a point, and the Judge could have retorted that my point has turned to dust.  (I can think of a hearing I did last year where Mr Braithwaite of counsel helpfully pointed out that I’d got something wrapped entirely round my neck, but in his usual charming way).  I hope that I never have to hear that being said in a judgment.

 

Is this the end of the Cestui Cue Vie case? Surely not.

 

 

 

 

I must confess I still believe

 

It is such a quintessential movie moment, the killer slinks into the confession box and breathlessly tells all to the priest on the other side who fumbles nervously at his rosary – he knows the truth, but can never tell…

This doesn’t come up very often in family law – insert your own withering remark about Catholic priests here if you wish. This, however, is a case that not only relates to it, but helpfully gives us a Victorian era criminal law authority for the legal sanctity of the confession box.

(It is also timely because I had to break off from House of Games last night for a short debate as to whether or not Reverends who appear on television HAVE to wear the dog collar even when they are on a game-show, so ecumenical matters are at the forefront of my mind this week)

 

Lancashire County Council v E & F [2020] EWHC 182 (Fam) (04 February 2020)
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2020/182.html

 

This arose from a case in which the mother spoke to the members of her Jehovah’s Witnesses Church about allegations that the father had sexually abused the children.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses Community also spoke with the father about these matters and it seems carried out their own investigation.

Within care proceedings, the Local Authority wished to see those notes.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses Community opposed that, and when a witness summons was issued sought to set it aside.  They were willing to provide the records relating to the conversations that they had had with the mother (who was consenting to the production) but not those with the father.

  1. Mr Achonu argues there is a duty of confidentiality by elders or Ministers of religion and they are unable to disclose information which has been communicated to them in the course of confidential “spiritual counselling” without the express consent of the individuals concerned. He says that that duty of confidentiality is protected by article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In the light of this argument he says that A and B are prepared to disclose information given to them by the Mother, because she has provided her consent, but not by the Father because he has not given consent. It is not at all clear how in practice this would work, given that much of the information sought relates to both of them. However, this issue is somewhat academic given the conclusions I have reached in this judgment.
  2. Mr Achonu argues that A and B are under a spiritual duty not to disclose confidential religious communications and that if such confidence is breached then individuals might no longer confide in their ministers.
  3. He relies by analogy on the approach in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) Schedule 1, and the provisions therein, which protect confidential information, including that relating to spiritual counselling in s.12 (b), and a balancing exercise has to be undertaken under Schedule 1 of PACE when disclosure of such records is sought. He argues there is an analogy with the position in R v H 2019 1 WLR 3744 where the Court of Appeal refused to order the disclosure of discussions between an offender manager and an offender. The Court said that it would only order such confidential discussions to be disclosed if there was a very good reason, because it would be contrary to public policy to do so. I note that at [39] the boundaries of the confidentiality being asserted are expressly said to be “apart from child protection issues….“. Therefore this case is of no assistance to Mr Achonu on the facts of the present case.

 

Ouch.

  1. R v H at [53 states];
      1. Firstly, it would in our view be contrary to public policy to breach the confidentiality of discussions of the kind save for very good reason. Such discussions are not subject to privilege in the sense that something a defendant or appellant tells his lawyers would be; and the internal rules of Camden social services (or of any other local authority’s officers) are not binding in the courts; but we regard them as well drafted, sensible and worthy of respect. There is a distinction between disclosure necessary to avoid imminent future criminality (in particular a threat to someone’s life or safety) and the obtaining of admissions to past offences. It would be extremely unfortunate if convicted defendants (whether young or adult) were deterred from speaking to those charged with their supervision or rehabilitation until any appeal against conviction had been dealt with.
  2. Mr Achonu argues that the communications with A and B, and the documents sought under the witness summons, should be treated in the same way as a religious confession. He relies on R v Hay (1896) 2 F&F4, which is cited in Archbold at 12-21, as support for the proposition that; “the position of priest and penitent has not been authoritatively decided, but the tendency of judicial dicta is that, while in strict law the privilege does not exist, a minister of religion should not be required to give evidence as to a confession made to him.”

 

Well, if you don’t think we’re about to look at R v Hay and find out what it is all about, then you don’t know me very well.

 

In R v Hay, a priest was found to have a stolen watch, and had thus (unwittingly received stolen goods). The police wanted to know who had sold him the watch and the priest refused.  At a trial, the priest had to give evidence. He refused to answer questions as to who had sold him the watch.

The Judge said :-

I have already told you plainly I cannot enter into this question. All I can say is you are bound to answer. From whom did you receive that watch. On the ground I have stated to you, you are not asked to disclose anything that a penitent may have said to you in the confessional. That you are not asked to disclose; but you are asked to disclose from whom you received stolen property on the 25th of December last. Do you answer it or do you not?

When the priest continued to refuse to answer the Judge sent him to prison for contempt.

 

The decision of the Court was that whilst the priest could legitimately refuse to answer any question about what had or had not been said to him in the confessional, he could not extend that beyond it even if it were about a parishioner who came to confession. The watch had not been sold to him in the confession box, so the protection did not apply.

I’m afraid I can’t find a link to the judgment, but the Wikipedia page gives more detail for those who are interested.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R_v_Hay

 

It immediately seems to me that the church was on a sticky wicket trying to rely on R v Hay as authority for not disclosing the evidence, because the case is very specific that it applies only to evidence obtained in the confessional.

Mr Achonu argues that the duty of confidentiality is not limited to the confessional but can have a wider remit. He says that any information revealed during spiritual counselling is subject to the duty of confidentiality. It is not entirely clear to me what would be covered by spiritual counselling, but given that A and B are refusing to produce any information about what they knew or what investigations were made unless consent is given, it would appear to be being argued that all information relating to the alleged sexual abuse was related to spiritual counselling and thus confidential.

 

Hard to be sure when you can’t see the documents to see what was and wasn’t spiritual counselling, but it seems a thin argument. The thinness of the argument is emphasised when Canadian authorities are produced in aid. Unless Lancashire is suddenly transplanted to Quebec, it is going to be of limited value.

  1. Mr Achonu relies on a Canadian Supreme Court case R v Gruenke [1991] 3 RCS 263. The issue was whether the communications between the Defendant, who was accused of murder, and her pastor were protected by common law privilege or under the Canadian Bill of Rights. The approach of the Court was not to apply a strict approach to what was a confession, see [291], but to look at all the relevant circumstances and apply what is known in Canada as the Wigmore criteria. These are set out at p.284 as follows;
      1. 1. The communications must originate in a confidence that they will not be disclosed.

2. This element of confidentiality must be essential to the full and satisfactory maintenance of the relation between the parties.

3. The relation must be one which in the opinion of the community ought to be sedulously fostered.

4. The injury that would inure to the relation by the disclosure of the communications must be greater than the benefit thereby gained for the correct disposal of litigation.

  1. These criteria are very similar to the approach taken in article 9(1) and (2). The communications must fall within the said religious duty of confidentiality and if they do so any order to disclose must meet a proportionality test.

 

Given that the purpose of disclosure is to assist the Court in deciding what harm, if any, the children suffered and thereafter to make decisions about their welfare, it is hard to see proportionality coming to the aid of the Church here.

 

 

Conclusions

  1. There are a whole series of reasons, some overlapping, as to why the witness summons should be upheld and disclosure ordered and why I reject Mr Achonu’s submissions.
  2. Firstly, there is no evidence that the material sought through the witness summons was in any sense a confession or akin to a confession. It appears that the allegation of sexual abuse came to the elders’ attention because the Mother reported it, not because the Father confessed to the elders, or sought spiritual counselling. The elders then carried out some form of investigation and met with the Father, probably on more than one occasion. It is possible that at some point the Father “confessed”, but I have no evidence this was the case. In any event, the investigation cannot itself amount to a confession. Therefore, to the degree that there is a duty of confidentiality in relation to a confession, which I am prepared to assume on the basis of R v Hay, but not decide, it would not arise here.
  3. Secondly, the material that the Council seeks also does not, on the evidence, amount to “spiritual counselling”. There was an investigation into E’s allegations. The whole focus of Mr Achonu’s submissions on this point appears to me to be misconceived. To describe the material sought as being the product of spiritual counselling is to focus on the Father and concerns about his religious confidentiality, rather than on the child. The elders appear to have been neither carrying out an investigation into the child’s allegations and how she could be protected, nor providing spiritual counselling to the Father. Mr Achonu’s submission in my view provides a plain example of his clients, with or without the agreement of the Congregation more widely, putting the Father’s interests above those of the child.
  4. Thirdly, and in any event, the Congregation’s own policy, certainly that of 2013 and probably the 2018 version, indicate that where a conversation amounts to spiritual counselling but indicates that a child may be at risk of harm, then it “will be conveyed to the extent necessary to ensure that the policies and procedures herein expressed shall be properly followed so as to safeguard children.” In the 2018 policy at para 5, it says that the elders will be told to report the matter if the child is still at risk of abuse. It seems highly likely that E was still at risk of abuse up to July 2019, yet the elders did not report the allegations.
  5. The stance that Mr Achonu has taken in this case, namely that the material will only be disclosed when the individual consents, is not reflected in either of the policy documents and he could give me no support for that approach.
  6. There does appear to be a strong suspicion that the Congregation’s own published guidance, both 2013 and 2018 was not followed, not just by A and B, but also by more senior figures in the Congregation. From a child safeguarding viewpoint this is deeply troubling, not least because the policy documents are ones which seem to be produced for public consumption but not to be effective to protect children.
  7. To the degree it is argued that although there might have been a requirement under the policy to report the allegations earlier, that does not mean that the information should now be disclosed, I reject that suggestion. The information held by the Congregation has the potential to be highly relevant both for the future protection and wellbeing of E and F, but also of other children. The information is likely relevant to three key questions for the Court – whether the threshold findings of fact in respect of the Father are made out; whether the Mother failed to protect E; and what future risk the Father poses to E if she lives with her Mother. It is also potentially highly relevant to whether the Father poses a risk to other children. This is a situation which is concerned with future child protection, and not simply past criminality, it therefore falls on the other side of the line applying the approach in R v H at [53].
  8. Fourthly, Mr Achonu accepted that whether the duty of religious confidentiality is examined through the common law or article 9 it is not an absolute duty. This is clear from the caselaw, R v H, R v Hay and the words of article 9(2). Respect for A and B’s religious beliefs is given by article 9(1), but that is qualified by article 9(2) including in the interests of public safety, the protection of health and morals, and the protection of the rights and freedom of others. It could not be more obvious that a freedom to manifest ones religious beliefs must give way to the need to protect a child from sexual abuse. That balance is to some degree reflected in the two policy documents, but has not been reflected in A and B’s approach to this case. The evidence points inexorably to A and B having protected their and the Father’s religious beliefs at the expense of the protection of the child.
  9. Fifthly, it therefore follows that the witness summons and the requirement for full statements from A and B, together with the documents sought are a proportionate interference in A and B’s right to manifest their religion. The interference in their religious rights is in my view relatively slight, given the terms of the two policy documents and the fact that the information does not appear to have been given in a confession or in any real sense as spiritual counselling. The other side of the proportionality balance is that the need for the protection of E and F, as well as other children is a highly weighty if not overriding factor.