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Crisis in infinite Courts

 

The President has published his 15th View from the President’s Chambers, and it is a doozy. We waited a long long time for the 14th, but the 15th came soon after it.

 

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/15th-view-from-the-president-s-chambers-care-cases-the-looming-crisis#.V-I-7jU1Ouc

 

It has been pretty apparent for a long while that the number of care proceedings has just continued to climb from the post Baby P figures, which at the time everyone thought was a temporary surge in caution and new referrals and would eventually settle down.  (Back then it went from just over 6,000 per year, to around 8,000 per year.) It didn’t. There was a very short period when the numbers dipped, but those were clearly attributable to the issue of the brand new Public Law Outline and professionals getting to grips with the new model of doing things.  Over the last 8 years, care proceedings have just continued to climb, year on year, the only thing that differed was by how much.

But then over the last two years, the rate of increase dramatically shot up.

As the President observes in his View, we’re going to be pretty close to 15,000 sets of care proceedings this year, and are likely to pass that next year. He gloomily predicts that we are heading for 20,000 a year over the next few years (I’m not sure that I agree, and I’ll explain why later)

The critical thing, of course, is that this increase of between 200 and 300 % in the volume of care proceedings over the last ten years has not been matched by a 200-300% increase in the number of Judges or Court sitting days.  Nor by the number of social workers, or Guardians, or care lawyers.  And vitally important for the Crisis that even the President says is looming, is that there has ABSOLUTELY not been a 200-300% increase in the legal aid budget for care cases – in fact there’s not only not been increases in line with inflation, but actual cuts.

At the moment, each care case has a fixed fee in terms of solicitors (they can cost a bit more if the case takes twice as much work as the average) , so when care cases increase, the number of those fixed fees increase. When, as at the moment the increase in volume is about 23% on last year, which was in turn 20% on the year before, you can see that the portion of the Legal Aid budget that deals with fixed fees for solicitors, which has had NO INCREASE AT ALL is under huge pressure.

The other costs in terms of legal aid are – counsel’s fees, and the more cases that are in Court, the higher those will go – particularly as solicitors have more volume of cases to run in the office and are able to go to Court less, those costs will go up. And experts fees – there had been a considerable reduction in the use of experts since the 2014 law changes which meant that before the Court could agree an expert they had to be satisfied that it was NECESSARY rather than just helpful or useful.  But, that was all working on the basis that social workers would be doing more and more of the assessments, and if their volume of work has gone up like that, that’s less possible.

My best case scenario is that the legal aid budget for care proceedings is around 40% overspent from 2 years ago (it takes time for all the payments to filter through, but we could be in for that experience again where the Legal Aid Agency write no cheques at all in February and March, because they’ve got no money – it happened about 6 years ago, I think. If that happens now, firms will go under).  I think the overspend might be far worse than that, in reality.

 

So I agree entirely with the President when he says :-

 

Following implementation of the recommendations of the Family Justice Review, the average duration of care cases fell rapidly month by month – the graph, accordingly, showing a constant falling line. Over the last year or so the graph has ‘flat-lined’. That it has not, as yet, begun to climb must be a matter for congratulation to everyone involved in making the system work. To keep the line level as the caseload increased by 14% is an astonishing achievement. I hope I turn out to be wrong but I do not believe that this level of achievement can be maintained as caseloads continue to rise. The fact is that, on the ground, the system is – the people who make the system work are – at full stretch. We cannot, and I have for some time now been making clear that I will not, ask people to work harder. Everyone – everyone – is working as hard as they can.

We must, accordingly, assume that the line on the graph will start to go up – to move in the wrong direction. We are facing a crisis and, truth be told, we have no very clear strategy for meeting the crisis.

 

That’s brave and honest language from the man in charge of the system, and he is to be commended for it. Every time I’ve looked at the CAFCASS care demand stats, which are published each month, I’ve thought ‘either these numbers take a sharp dive over the next few months, or we’re all f***ed.’   And far from taking a dive, they’ve just ramped up higher and higher.

There IS no more money, there is not going to BE any more money.  So, either the Government and Legal Aid Agency work out a way of cutting VOLUMES, or COST PER CASE, or they just simply don’t pay nearly half the bills that come in, with no prospect of being able to pay them next year either.

 

As the President says
There are, in principle, three possible causes for the increase:

  1. that the amount of child abuse/neglect is increasing;
  2. that local authorities are becoming more adept at identifying child abuse/neglect and taking action to deal with it;
  3. that local authorities are setting more demanding standards – in other words, lowering the threshold for intervention.

I do not believe that child abuse/neglect is rising by 14% let alone 20% a year. So this cannot be the sole explanation. It follows that changes in local authority behaviour must be playing a significant role.

 

I think that there are fairly clear correlations between poverty in our society and neglect, and between poverty and substance and alcohol abuse (that’s not for a SECOND to say that all abuse is perpetuated by poor people, or that poor people are child abusers – just that as the level of poverty increases in the country, you’ll see a corresponding increase in the levels of neglect and alcohol misuse and substance misuse).  So I think there’s going to be an ongoing underlying increase until this country’s economic fortunes turn round.

 

Equally, I think that cuts to services that support and help families – which have happened and continue to happen, inevitably mean that some families without those services will fall into care proceedings.

My guess is that those two factors account for some of the underlying increase year on year – that 6-10% annual increase.  But the massive spikes – I don’t think that they are that, and there’s not the clear “Baby P” fear factor that we all thought accounted for the increases since 2008  (incidentally, the timing of the big increase and continued increases rather than care proceedings being roughly stable each year corresponds with the 2008 financial crisis and austerity since that time, disporportionately affecting the poorest and most vulnerable in society. With the benefit of hindsight, it wasn’t so much a Baby P factor as a ‘sub-prime mortgage’ factor)

 

The spike , my thinking is, is largely a result of the set of decisions within care proceedings that meant that Local Authorities who had children in care under s20 with parents not objecting to that were getting hammered by Judges for not having gone to Court earlier and being made to pay damages and costs.   Now, this is difficult, because I think that s20 drift (particularly with parents whose capacity to consent was compromised) was a genuine problem and a real issue and it needed to be tackled.  So I welcome those cases (though I think the damages figures are rather plucked out of the air in comparison to personal injury damages quantum), but you simply can’t get away from this :-

 

Judges told Local Authorities that if they held on to s20 cases and didn’t issue, they’d be told off, made to pay compensation, made to pay costs, and be in published judgments, so local and national press could report on them getting a judicial kicking.

Local Authorities issued way more proceedings.

 

 

Do I think s20 drift is an issue that needs addressing? Hell yes.

Do I think it is such an important issue that it is worth risking either – LAA not paying cheques for 3-4 months of the year and solicitors firms going out of business?  OR the alternative which is clearly attractive to the Legal Aid Agency – remove representation of children by lawyers, save 33% of the budget in one simple move?

I’m afraid that I don’t.

 

So, quick hotfix

 

  1. HRA damages claims about s20 drift or delay should be issued in the civil courts, as a civil case with the pre-action protocols.
  2. And not done within care proceedings or within care proceeding legal aid certificates.

 

Does this make it harder to get those HRA claims? Absolutely. Does it mean that s20 drift won’t be tackled as rigorously by the Courts as it is at present? Absolutely. Will it reduce the number of proceedings being issued. Hell yes.

 

 

I’m also afraid that from what I have heard about the effectivness of settlement conferences in avoiding final hearings in the pilot authorities, these are INEVITABLY  going to be rolled out, despite reservations that the Association of Lawyers for Children rightly have about them

Settlement Conferences

 

The biggest resource cost in care proceedings is the final hearing – that takes up Court time, Judge time, counsel fees, expert attendance fees.  So a scheme which in the pilots has changed the proportion of cases that settle before final hearing from about 30% to 90% is going to be massively attractive to the MOJ and the Legal Aid Agency.  Particularly in this climate. I can’t see how they won’t be rolled out nationally if the pilot when it reports even says that the proportion of cases that settle went from 30% to 50%.

 

Here is another idea of mine which would save money at final hearings but without being as queasy as the Settlement Conferences scheme.

 

At an IRH, if the parents are presenting as a couple and there are no issues which REQUIRE them to be separately represented by counsel at the final hearing, there will be a rebuttable presumption that they would have one counsel.  That will be a decision for the Judge to decide at IRH, having heard representations. Obviously if it is a case with allegations of domestic violence or coercive control, it won’t be appropriate for one counsel to represent the other, likewise if there is a disputed injury or sexual allegation where one party might have to implicate the other or decide on separation.  But I have lost count of the number of final hearings I’ve done where the Legal Aid Agency and hence the taxpayer, is paying for counsel to represent the mother and counsel to represent the father, and you could not slip a cigarette paper between their case and their submissions.  It adds to time, it adds to cost, and with a looming 40% budget overspend, it is a luxury we can’t afford.

To be honest, this is something which ought to be addressed at IRH’s anyway, but I’ve never heard parents counsel asked the question at any IRH – what is the need for parents to be separately represented here?

[In those cases where there’s an answer to that, then of course they should be separately represented, but too often it is just done without any thought or consideration, other than mum has her own team and dad has his own team.  It’s not going to save 40% of the budget, but it would be a start, and much better than robbing the child of a voice in the proceedings]

 

I think that the President places a lot of stock in shorter documents solving some of the problems of time and cost per case.  In my experience, shorter documents give less space for setting out the facts and the arguments clearly, and result in greater disputes.  To draw up a threshold which provides the factual allegations, the specific examples for which findings are sought AND contains the Re A analysis, is a constant battle to get into 2 pages, and LA’s are ALWAYS drawing them up with one hand tied behind their back. Something has to give, and if it is the choice between two lines where I can put in a significant allegation or dropping that allegation for a Re A analysis, I’ll drop the Re A every time. Sorry, but that’s how it is.   I think it was right to stop thresholds being so sprawling, but when Re A came in, the limit should have been made to 3 pages – 5 in exceptional cases.    (Try doing an FII threshold in 2 pages….)

Shorter social work statements – well yes, we’d all like to get rid of the waffle and duplication and jargon (not sure that the standard SWET model does absolutely anything in that regard) and a large chunk of the documents are now spent on the Re B-S analysis, so we can’t get rid of that.   Shorter statements, in space restrictions might also lead to less balance – if you have to squeeze everything in, isn’t there a tendency to focus on the stuff that helps your case, rather than provide the balanced accounts of the positive things that the parents have done. To write about the truly awful session of contact on 4th February but not make room for some of the positive feedback about other sessions?

 

In my experience, the most common question I hear posed to social workers in the witness box is :-

 

“But why isn’t this in your statement?”

 

So shorter statements might well be a mixed blessing. Less for people to read, but missing some of the facts, context, analysis and rigour that might lead to less need to call live evidence and to have final hearings.

 

I’m all for the President’s suggestion of research – let us perhaps start with a comparison of those authorities who are using SWET and whose Courts are hardline on page restrictions versus those who aren’t.  Does it affect number of proceedings, number of hearings, number of contested final hearings, time taken to conclude cases…

Who’s on first base – a family law spin

 

 

 

“Before I begin to deliver this judgment, I must make my most profound apologies to the transcribers who are about to have a miserable afternoon.

This is the final hearing within care proceedings. Those proceedings are issued by the Applicant Local Authority, Norfolk County Council.  The social worker is Ian Manager and the team manager is Helen Child. They are represented by counsel, Mr John Respondent.

The mother of the children,  Miss Evelyn Father, is represented by counsel, Ms Theresa Applicant.  (There should be an acute accent over the second ‘a’ in Ms Applicant’s name, transcribers)

The next party is Mr Ian Putative – he is the birth father of all three of the children. He is represented by Mr Kent Sussex of counsel.

The fourth party is the partner of the mother, Miss Father – Mr Evelyn Mother.  For a time, he was considered to be the putative father of the youngest child, but it was then established that the real father was Mr Putative.  Mr Mother is an intervenor in these proceedings and is the current partner of Miss Father, and he is represented by Mrs Michelle Parents of counsel.

The fifth parties are the maternal grandparents, Gene and Jean Father. They are represented by Mr Glenn Hampshire of counsel.

 

The children are represented through their Guardian, Mr Isw. That name is difficult to pronounce, and unfortunately, spelling it out is also likely to contribute to some confusion, as there is an independent social worker in the case, Mr Thomas Guardian.  The children –  Threshold, Inherent and Jurisdiction are represented through their counsel,  Mr Glynn Intervenor.

By way of crisp summary then, Mr Respondent represents the Applicant, whilst Ms Applicant represents one of the Respondents. Mr Intervenor represents the children and NOT the intervenor, who is represented by Ms Parents, who does not therefore represent the parents. The Local Authority is Norfolk, but we also have advocates named Hampshire, Kent and Sussex. Ms Child is the manager of the children’s social worker,  Mr Manager.

The mother’s name is Father, her partner is Mr Mother and he was the putative father of Jurisdiction, but the real father of Jurisdiction is Mr Putative.    The ISWs name is Guardian, and the Guardian’s name is Isw.  Threshold is in dispute in relation to Inherent and Jurisdiction, but is not in dispute in relation to Threshold.

Helpfully, my fellow Judges allowed some additional Part 25 expert instructions  for which I thank them profusely, and we therefore have a paediatric neuro-radiologist, Dr Mister, and a paediatric neurosurgeon, Mr Doctor.

 

In this case, the mother, Ms Father, met the father, Mr Putative, some seven years ago. They had two children together, Threshold and Inherent. The father, Mr Putative, then separated from the mother, Ms Father, who formed a relationship with Mr Mother, who it was thought for a time might be the father of Jurisdiction, though it emerged through DNA testing that he was not in fact the father of Ms Father’s baby, but that the real father was Mr Putative.

 

Excuse me, I’m going to rise for a few moments.

[There then follows a considerably long pause on the tape]

 

Thank you all for that time. The usher is disseminating amongst you some forms which I think will greatly assist. I have prepared change of name deeds for everyone. If you all sign those, for the duration of the judgment, and you can change back afterwards if so desired. ”

 

 

For those who aren’t familiar with the Who’s on first skit, here it is

 

Revoking adoption and IVF mistakes (again)

 

 

 

The President of the Family Division has been at the forefront of the litigation about IVF clinics that managed to make a mess of the paperwork such that people who fully intended to both be legal parents of a child conceived in that way have ended up not being legal parents and having to go through cost and emotional turmoil. Purely due to failures in using the correct forms. It is a trivial mistake, but one (as you can see from this piece) has huge emotional consequences and cost for those involved.

Case O (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008) [2016] EWHC 2273 (Fam) (13 September 2016)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/2273.html

 

The President notes that there are approximately 90 cases of such anomalies, where due to failure with forms and paperwork parents who intended in good faith to become legal parents of the child they were conceiving with help of the clinic did not actually become the legal parent.

 

In this case, when the parents were told of the mistake, the child had not yet been born.

 

 

 

 

17.When told by the clinic of the mistake which had been made, X and Y were, to use X’s word, “devastated.” Y was at home – in fact she was far advanced in her pregnancy with C2 – when Barts telephoned:

 

 

 

“They told me that I was not [C1’s] legal parent … I rang [X], instantly, I was sobbing. I could not believe what I had been told. Fortunately [she] was very close to home. When I received that telephone call I felt like my whole world had been ripped apart. I was no longer [C1’s] mummy. This still remains very raw.”

 

X remembers Y telephoning:

 

“[She] called me, [she] was sobbing and I could barely make out what she was saying.”

 

The legal advice they got at the time (which was probably right at the time – or at least what most lawyers would have said was the only answer) , before Theis J found the alternative route) was that there would have to be an adoption.

 

 

18.X and Y were told both by the clinic and by the solicitors they instructed – not those involved in the present proceedings – that the only solution was for Y to adopt C1. I have referred on previous occasions to how utterly inappropriate adoption is as a remedy in cases like this: see In re A, para 71(vii), and Case I, para 24. However, as I observed in Case I, para 23, my impression is that this erroneous view, shared at the time both by the HFEA and by the clinics whose actions I have had to consider, and, I might add, by many family lawyers, was based on assumptions, derived from Cobb J’s judgment in AB v CD and the Z Fertility Clinic [2013] EWHC 1418 (Fam), [2013] 2 FLR 1357, which were widespread until, in February 2015, Theis J gave judgment in X v Y (St Bartholomew’s Hospital Centre for Reproductive Medicine Intervening) [2015] EWFC 13, [2016] PTSR 1.

 

 

19.Y accordingly made an application to the Family Court to adopt C1. X and Y found the adoption process – and I can well understand why – very intrusive, very hurtful and a total invasion of their privacy. Y’s account is telling: “I felt I was stared at and judged. I felt that everyone analysed us.” But more fundamentally, as X put it, “the whole adoption process felt wrong.” Y’s anguished words are heart-breaking:

 

 

 

“I feel like a piece of me has been taken away from me. I cannot even start to explain the pain it has brought to us all. We tried our hardest to do things properly and yet it’s like I no longer feel like I am [C1’s] mummy. I was [C1’s] mummy but now I am [C1’s] adoptive mummy. We do not want [C1] to be different to [C2] … We feel disappointed and let down by Barts. We planned our family carefully. We want [C1’s] parenthood to be what it should have been. Adoption is not what we wanted.”

 

X’s words are equally raw:

 

“It broke my heart when I had to hand in [C1’s] original birth certificate. I am so upset that [C1] now has a different status as an adopted child. [C1] is now different to [C2], when [this] should not have been.”

20.The report of the adoption social worker prepared for the adoption proceedings contains this important passage:

 

 

 

“This application is quite unique.” After setting out the circumstances, the writer continued: “The couple have sought legal advice and have been advised that the only way to remedy this is for [Y] to formally adopt [C1]. The couple have found this situation extremely distressing and in all honesty do not want this process. However they want everything for [C1] to be proper and legal and for [Y] to be recognised legally as [C1’s] parent, as was always intended.”

21.In due course – this was all in 2014, before Theis J had given her important judgment – the District Judge made an adoption order. It was not a happy occasion for X and Y. In her report prepared for the present proceedings, C1’s guardian records their feelings:

 

 

 

“The description of that day was very emotional. “There were lots of other couples there celebrating. It was a special day for those families. It was a miserable day for us, a defeat, a horrible occasion.””

 

Having learned of the newer approach of the Family Courts, to fix the deficiencies in the process and make declarations of parentage which would achieve the legal status as the child’s parents without adoption, the couple sought advice and made an application to revoke the adoption order.

 

As readers of the blog will know, that’s a very rare application, and less than a handful of such cases have ever succeeded. Most reported attempts have failed.

 

 

22.The guardian’s report is insightful, empathetic and humane. It is a powerful and moving exploration of what has gone wrong:

 

 

 

“[The adoption] was an unwelcome, unwanted and intrusive process but one in which [Y] and [X] felt compelled to participate for they wanted legal certainty for [C1] and were told they had no other options. They are now, understandably, further distressed to learn that other remedies may have been available to them. They are seeking a Declaration of Parentage and a revocation of the adoption order. I unequivocally support their applications.

 

… The adoption application was made with great reluctance. Particularly cruel was having to hand in the original, and very precious, birth certificate. “We are private people. It was horrible having to talk to strangers about such a personal part of our lives. It was like being public property.” [Y] talked about being asked to leave the room by the Cafcass Reporting Officer who witnessed [X’s] consent. She described sitting in the kitchen and crying.”

23.The guardian comments that at no point in the process did anyone raise any queries about the unusual background circumstances or ask whether there might be a different route to securing parenthood for C1. She continues:

 

 

 

“[C1] now has a new birth certificate and a new status as an adopted child – something [Y] and [X] now know to be completely unnecessary, having been made aware that an alternative could have been made available to them … [They] feel a level of stigma about the adoption and an acute awareness of [C1’s] difference to [C2]. They are concerned that [C1] will worry about why [C1] was adopted and [C2] is not. They are concerned about how to explain this … They are upset and angry on [C1’s] behalf – and anyone hearing their account cannot help but be moved. “We are honourable, honest people. We believed the system and we did what we were told.” They are disappointed that other professionals at the time did not question the adoption process or suggest they seek alternative advice. They feel as if the adoption was entered into under false pretences. I consider their sentiments are both understandable and entirely justified and that [C1] should not have been adopted.”

24.Recognising that revocation of an adoption order is “a most unusual step”, the guardian is nonetheless unequivocal in her recommendations:

 

 

 

“However, from [C1’s] perspective, I can identify absolutely no need or justification for an adoption order, given that a realistic alternative would certainly have been pursued at the time had the parents received different legal advice … On [C1’s] behalf, I have no hesitation in recommending that the court revoke the adoption order and replace it with a Declaration of Parentage – the latter order being one that will equally meet [C1’s] welfare needs and interests. It will afford [C1] the permanence and security that all children should have, and will give effect to the legal relationship that had always been intended when the parents had the fertility treatment. It will remove the unnecessary stigma of [C1’s] status as an adopted child and afford [C1] parity with [C2].”

 

The guardian concludes with the hope that the original birth certificate be returned, this document having, as she says, “enormous significance” for X, Y and C1.

25.I wholeheartedly agree with the guardian’s observations and unequivocally accept her recommendations. For all the reasons she gives, C1’s welfare demands that the adoption order be revoked. Common humanity to X and Y demands the same. They have suffered very greatly from failings in the ‘system’. In the circumstances I have described, to deny them the relief they seek would seem an affront to justice. But does the law enable me to make the desired order? In my judgment, it does.

 

 

26.I have been taken to the authorities: see In re F(R) (An Infant) [1970] 1 QB 385, Re RA (Minors) (1974) 4 Fam Law 182, In re F (Infants) (Adoption Order: Validity) [1977] Fam 165, Re M (Minors) (Adoption) [1991] 1 FLR 458, In re B (Adoption: Jurisdiction to Set Aside) [1995] Fam 239 (affirming Re B (Adoption: Setting Aside) [1995] 1 FLR 1), Re K (Adoption and Wardship) [1997] 2 FLR 221, Webster v Norfolk County Council and the Children (by their Children’s Guardian) [2009] EWCA Civ 59, [2009] 1 FLR 1378, Re W (Adoption Order: Set Aside and Leave to Oppose) [2010] EWCA Civ 1535, [2011] 1 FLR 2153, Re PW (Adoption) [2013] 1 FLR 96, Re W (Inherent Jurisdiction: Permission Application: Revocation and Adoption Order) [2013] EWHC 1957 (Fam), [2013] 2 FLR 1609, Re C (Adoption Proceedings: Change of Circumstances) [2013] EWCA Civ 431, [2013] 2 FLR 1393, and PK v Mr and Mrs K [2015] EWHC 2316 (Fam). See also, in relation to the revocation of a parental order made under section 54 of the 2008 Act, G v G (Parental Order: Revocation) [2012] EWHC 1979 (Fam), [2013] 1 FLR 286.

 

 

27.There is no need for me to embark upon any detailed analysis of the case-law. For present purposes it is enough to draw attention to a few key propositions:

 

 

 

  1. i) Under the inherent jurisdiction, the High Court can, in an appropriate case, revoke an adoption order. In relation to this jurisdictional issue I unhesitatingly prefer the view shared by Bodey J in Re W (Inherent Jurisdiction: Permission Application: Revocation and Adoption Order) [2013] EWHC 1957 (Fam), [2013] 2 FLR 1609, para 6, and Pauffley J in PK v Mr and Mrs K [2015] EWHC 2316 (Fam), para 4, to the contrary view of Parker J in Re PW (Adoption) [2013] 1 FLR 96, para 1.

 

  1. ii) The effect of revoking an adoption order is to restore the status quo ante: see Re W (Adoption Order: Set Aside and Leave to Oppose) [2010] EWCA Civ 1535, [2011] 1 FLR 2153, paras 11-12.

 

iii) However, “The law sets a very high bar against any challenge to an adoption order. An adoption order once lawfully and properly made can be set aside “only in highly exceptional and very particular circumstances””: Re C (Adoption Proceedings: Change of Circumstances) [2013] EWCA Civ 431, [2013] 2 FLR 1393, para 44, quoting Webster v Norfolk County Council and the Children (by their Children’s Guardian) [2009] EWCA Civ 59, [2009] 1 FLR 1378, para 149. As Pauffley J said in PK v Mr and Mrs K [2015] EWHC 2316 (Fam), para 14, “public policy considerations ordinarily militate against revoking properly made adoption orders and rightly so.”

 

  1. iv) An adoption order regularly made, that is, an adoption order made in circumstances where there was no procedural irregularity, no breach of natural justice and no fraud, cannot be set aside either on the ground of mere mistake (In re B (Adoption: Jurisdiction to Set Aside) [1995] Fam 239) or even if there has been a miscarriage of justice (Webster v Norfolk County Council and the Children (by their Children’s Guardian) [2009] EWCA Civ 59, [2009] 1 FLR 1378).

 

  1. v) The fact that the circumstances are highly exceptional does not of itself justify revoking an adoption order. After all, one would hope that the kind of miscarriage of justice exemplified by Webster v Norfolk County Council and the Children (by their Children’s Guardian) [2009] EWCA Civ 59, [2009] 1 FLR 1378, is highly exceptional, yet the attempt to have the adoption order set aside in that case failed.

 

 

 

28.I bear in mind, also, two important observations that appear in the authorities. The first is the observation of Sir Thomas Bingham MR in In re B (Adoption: Jurisdiction to Set Aside) [1995] Fam 239, page 251:

 

 

 

“The act of adoption has always been regarded in this country as possessing a peculiar finality. This is partly because it affects the status of the person adopted, and indeed adoption modifies the most fundamental of human relationships, that of parent and child. It effects a change intended to be permanent and concerning three parties. The first of these are the natural parents of the adopted person, who by adoption divest themselves of all rights and responsibilities in relation to that person. The second party is the adoptive parents, who assume the rights and responsibilities of parents in relation to the adopted person. And the third party is the subject of the adoption, who ceases in law to be the child of his or her natural parents and becomes the child of the adoptive parents.”

 

The other is that of Hedley J in G v G (Parental Order: Revocation) [2012] EWHC 1979 (Fam), [2013] 1 FLR 286, para 33:

 

“the adoption authorities show that the feelings of an injured party are not germane necessarily to consideration of an application to set aside. The hurt of the applicants in both In re B (Adoption: Jurisdiction to Set Aside) [1995] Fam 239 … and Webster v Norfolk County Council and the Children (by their Children’s Guardian) [2009] EWCA Civ 59, [2009] 1 FLR 1378, was immeasurably greater than here and it availed them nothing.”

29.The present case is unprecedented, indeed far removed on its facts from any of the previously reported cases. The central fact, even if no-one recognised it at the time, is that when Y applied for the adoption order she was already, not merely in fact but also in law, C1’s mother. It follows that the entire adoption process was carried on while everyone, including the District Judge, was labouring under a fundamental mistake, not, as in In re B (Adoption: Jurisdiction to Set Aside) [1995] Fam 239, a mistake of fact but a mistake of law, and, moreover, a mistake of law which went to the very root of the adoptive process; indeed, a mistake of law which went to the very root of the need for an adoption order at all. The entire adoption proceeded upon what, in law, was a fundamentally false basis.

 

 

30.Flowing also from this is that the consequence of an order revoking the adoption order will in this case be fundamentally different from in any of the other cases. There will be no uprooting of C1 from one set of parents and return to another set of parents; C1 will remain, as hitherto ever since birth, with the same people, the people who, to C1, as also to X and Y, are and always have been C1’s parents in every sense of the word, parents emotionally, psychologically, socially and legally. X and Y always intended to be, and in law always were, C1’s parents.

 

 

31.To make an order revoking the adoption order, as I propose to do, will not merely right a wrong; it will recognise a legal and factual reality and put an end to a legal and factual fiction, what Ms Fottrell rightly described as a wholly contrived position. And it will avoid for the future – and this can only be for C1’s welfare, now, into the future and, indeed throughout life – all the damaging consequences to which X, Y and the guardian have drawn attention. As Ms Fottrell put it, C1’s welfare will be better served by restoring the status quo ante and setting aside the adoption order. I agree. I can detect no convincing argument of public policy pointing in the other direction; on the contrary, in this most unusual and highly exceptional case public policy marches in step with justice to X, Y and C1; public policy demands that I make the order which so manifestly is required in C1’s best interests.

Woman kept in a cage

 

This case, involving an 18 year old woman who had lived in England until she was nearly 17 and then went to live with her father in Saudi Arabia, attracted a lot of press attention – the headline of this piece is how it was portrayed in a lot of the Press coverage. The story was that this woman was locked up by her father, to keep her away from men, and was locked up in a cage – the High Court made orders that she be released (although with an acknowledgment that there was nothing the English Court could do if the father didn’t comply)

 

The case is now reported, so we can see the facts.  Al Jeffery v Al Jeffery (Vulnerable Adult : British Citizen) 2016

 

Not "JEFFREY"  - Al-Jeffrey (But on fleek to find a Rainbow picture that has a court vibe. Yes. I am aware that UK Judges don't use gavels)

Not “JEFFREY” – Al-Jeffrey
(But on fleek to find a Rainbow picture that has a court vibe. Yes. I am aware that UK Judges don’t use gavels)

 

 

(Let’s be honest, when the other members of Rainbow zipped up Zippy’s mouth, it is hard not to see that as a deprivation of Zippy’s liberty)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/2151.html

 

In a similar way to the “woman who sparkled” case, once again, the Press don’t come out of it too well – they had access to this information, and of course used it to doorstep the woman’s relatives. Stay classy, San Diego.

 

I am aware that this has led to considerable publicity in print and online, much of it under a headline “Woman kept in a cage” or words to that effect, the accuracy of which I will later address. I was told (and if it is true, I regret it) that this led in turn to press harassing members of the family in Wales

 

The ‘cage’ element is obviously the major motif of the story,  but there is perhaps more to that than one might think from the Press coverage

 

 

The “cage”

 

  • I refer under a discrete heading to the issue of a “cage” because I am aware that this has given rise to some rather sensational headlines in the media. Further, in two national newspapers last Saturday (it may have been in more) I myself saw large colour pictures of the photograph now at bundle p.C84. It is the case that Amina herself has referred to her being kept “in a cage” or “in a massive cage”. This may have led headline writers and/or their readers to visualise that she was being kept actually in a cuboid cage of the type that an animal might be kept in with some form of bars all around and on top of it. That is not what happened; and the purpose of this section of this judgment is to create some objectivity and proportionality, and to describe as best I can what appears actually to have happened. I stress, however, that I have not heard any oral evidence and I have only seen the two photographs at pp.C84 and 85.
  • Within the father’s flat there were two vertical barred panels. One, now seen at p.84, is yellow. It is a large metal framework of bars upon which is affixed, probably by welding, a metal diamond shaped lattice grille. Each diamond shape in the lattice is smaller than an adult hand. It is the sort of security structure that could be fixed over windows or doors to prevent entry, or could be used as a security partition in, for instance, a store room. It is a form of caging, but not itself a cage. The other, now seen at p.C85, is, in the photograph, a mid-brown colour. It is roughly the size and shape of a full height vertical door. It consists of a hinged metal frame with metal vertical bars through which an adult could not squeeze. It is the sort of security structure that is occasionally seen as an added security door or gate outside a front door, or could be used as a security door or gate in a corridor. It, too, is caging, but not itself a cage.
  • The father admits that both these structures were affixed within his flat. He says through Mr. Scott-Manderson that the yellow lattice grille is simply affixed over external windows to prevent Amina from shouting out to the street below, the flat being on the fourth floor. From the appearance in the photograph at p.84 I am sceptical about this. Amina herself is in the foreground, with the grille beyond her, so the windows could not be in the foreground but off the photograph. Beyond the grille there does, indeed, appear to be a wooden framework which appears to contain glass panes, but they do not have the appearance of external windows. They do have the appearance of an internal glazed screen or partition, like a “room divider”. I say that, because it appears from the photograph that in part of the area beyond the grille there is a hanging cupboard or something similar, and above that the appearance of artificial electric light shining through from beyond. The father says that the glass panes are, indeed, external windows and that the light is merely a reflection from a light within the room. The father says that the purpose of the brown barred door or gate seen at p.C85 was, indeed, to restrict Amina’s access to parts of the flat, including the front door, but that it was removed several months ago. He describes it as a “barrier partition”.
  • On the father’s own account, the purpose of both these structures was to restrict Amina, whether from access to parts of the flat and the front door, or from simply looking or calling out of the window. Further, the father does admit that when he himself leaves the flat to go to his part time work he does lock her in. I conclude that Amina was not literally in a cage, but that her freedom of movement was, and is, admittedly constrained in a way that I would regard as severe, having regard to her age and full capacity. She was, and, so far as I am aware, still is, deprived of her liberty and could be described as “caged”, although not “in a cage”.

 

 

It reads more as being in a room that had a barred window and that she was not permitted to leave the home and had very restricted access to the outside world – as Holman J says, she was deprived of her liberty and could be described as being caged, but she was not ‘in a cage’

 

[Google image has let me down here – I really wanted a picture of Andromeda from Clash of the Titans (1981) in her gilded cage that Calibos was keeping her in.  With a vulture jailer, no less, who would pick up the cage in his beak and carry her off… But no joy. Bah. Anyway, here’s a picture of her as she is awaiting for Poseidon to “UNLEASH THE KRAKEN”  and her liberty is definitely being deprived]

 

There was no doubt in my mind aged 11 that I wanted to rescue this lady

There was no doubt in my mind aged 11 that I wanted to rescue this lady

 

The Judge had made as part of his order that the father must allow his daughter to speak to her solicitor in confidence to provide instructions. That did not happen

 

 

  • Notwithstanding the father’s position as recited in the order and summarised above, the order made three orders, each qualified as being “without prejudice to the issue of jurisdiction”: [i] continuing forced marriage protection orders; [ii] for the immediate return of Amina to England and Wales; and [iii] directing the father to make Amina available for an interview at the British Consulate prior to the fact finding hearing. By the time of the next directions hearing on 5 July 2016, Amina and the father were represented respectively by Mr. Henry Setright QC and Mr. Marcus Scott-Manderson QC who represent them again at this hearing. The order recited that the court had determined that “arrangements must be made for [Amina] to give instructions without fetter or any perception of fetter to her solicitors privately and confidentially” at the British Consulate in Jeddah. Paragraph 15 of the order itself ordered the father to facilitate the attendance of Amina at the consulate “… in order to enable her to speak privately and confidentially to her solicitors from those premises, for the purpose of giving instructions for, and approving, the statement” which another part of the same order ordered Amina to file and serve. I will for convenience refer to that particular provision of the order with regard to attendance at the consulate as “the paragraph 15 order”. Overarchingly, the order of 5 July repeated by reference the order to cause the immediate return of Amina to England and Wales.
  • The father has not returned Amina to England and Wales and has not complied with the paragraph 15 order. As a result, Miss Hutchinson has not been able to speak privately and confidentially and without fetter or any perception of fetter to Amina, and she has not in fact been able to communicate at all with Amina since June 2016. As to the father’s non-compliance, Mr. Scott-Manderson said at the hearing that:

 

“The father consciously decided in breach of paragraph 15 not to take her to, or make her available at, the consulate, although he knew all the detailed arrangements which had been made and no excuse or explanation (e.g. ill health, car breakdown etc.) is put forward. There is an impasse.”

The result was that the fact finding element of the hearing which had been fixed for last week was completely ineffective. Mr. Setright and Miss Hutchinson have no recent instructions from their client. They have no “proof of evidence” from her. They have been unable to take her through, or seek her instructions upon, the several statements and exhibits filed by or on behalf of the father. And, of course, they have been unable to prepare any statement from her. The father did, as required by another paragraph of the order of 5 July 2016, take Amina to the Hilton Hotel in Jeddah last Monday at the start of the hearing, from which evidence was to be given by each of them by video link (or, as I was told on the day, by Skype) to the Royal Courts of Justice. However, Mr. Setright was, in my view quite rightly, unwilling to embark on any consideration of oral evidence in those circumstances. It is elementary that a client is not, as it were, put into the witness box blind. It is elementary that an advocate does not cross-examine without having his own client’s instructions as to what the case is. There were in any event no safeguards of any kind as to the circumstances of Amina in the hotel or what pressures, influence or “fetter” she might be under. For these reasons, too, I myself would in any event have been quite unwilling to embark upon the projected “fact finding” exercise.

 

  • I wish, therefore, to make crystal clear that the reason I did not, and could not, embark upon the “fact finding” that had been scheduled for this hearing was, and is, entirely because of the conscious decision of the father not to comply with the paragraph 15 order. It is his responsibility, not mine, that I am impelled to decide the outcome of this hearing on a consideration of the documents, untested and un-supplemented by any oral evidence. Precisely because that evidence is lacking, I do not by this judgment make any considered judicial finding as to any of the disputed facts. I merely record them, although I must comment upon them.
  • Although the father consciously did not comply with the paragraph 15 order, with its more rigorous terms and safeguards and the express purpose of enabling unfettered communication with Miss Hutchinson, he had complied with the earlier order of 12 May to the extent of permitting Amina to have a meeting at the Hilton Hotel in Jeddah with a British consular representative, Amna Ghulam. The father personally was not in the room. However, he insisted on a lady being present who has been described during the hearing as “the father’s representative”. That lady made a note, which has since been typed up in English and is now at bundle p.C165, and she has made a statement that her note is accurate. In view of para.6(b) of the order of 5 July 2016, I will omit parts which make or include allegations against individuals other than the father who is now the sole respondent to these proceedings, but the note requires to be read in full by any court subsequently engaged in this case.

 

“Note: Amina appears dishevelled, strangely unlike her sister covered with a niqab. She appears to have written ‘kill’ or ‘killing’ on her right wrist with blue ink and red or pink ink.

When asked what were her (Amina’s) future plans, if she wanted to stay in Saudi Arabia or if she wanted to leave the country, Amina responded that she would like to leave the country but her family are not allowing her to leave.

Amina stated that she has been locked up in her room for over a year.

Amina stated whilst the British court case is continuing in the UK her family have informed her that she will only get her freedom (study and work) only after the case in the UK closes.

… Since [she dropped the last case] Amina stated she was abused and locked up, which is why she would like to return to the UK.

When asked why is her older sister allowed to have a phone and she is dressed well and not covered, Amina responded that two years ago she kissed a guy (in KAUST [a university in Saudi Arabia]) who proposed to her twice but her family refused him.

Amina stated her family manipulated her younger sister even before she came to Saudi Arabia that Amina is an evil girl and that she should not speak to Amina. Amina continued to say that when her younger sister came to Saudi she already had a bad image of [Amina] but when she came to Saudi Arabia she found a locked up girl with a shaved head.

… [Her father] is the one who locks me up. And the reason for that is because she had kissed a guy two years ago.

Amina was asked if she is still locked up. She responded that the metal bars are no longer in her room but she is still locked up in the house and she is not allowed to use the phone or internet.

… Amina confirmed that the reason why she ran away and build a case … is because she wants to study, work and get married.

When asked if she wants to get married by her way or her family way, Amina responded that she does not care who she marries, she wants to get out in any way possible …

When asked why she chose to come back and live with her family after running away and not choose the shelter, Amina responded that she did not have the choice, the police threatened her with jail if she did not return to her father. She continued to say that her father has the choice to take her to prison and that he always threatens her with it, she also added that the Saudi police advised her father to take her to prison after hearing what she did.

Amina stated that she would like to inform the judge that she is put in a difficult situation because she will get in trouble with her family if the case does not end. But at the same time she does not trust her family.

When asked to clarify what she wanted, Amina responded that her family wants her to say that she lied about her accusations. She stated that it is not true. And that the judge should know that she is not lying. Amina is afraid that if the case continues her father will continue to hit her.

When asked if her father still hits her Amina responded yes. She stated that her father recently threatened her that if she decides to leave he would take action against her.

Amina continued to say that her father pretends to be cooperative with the Saudi authorities, she stated that he once informed a Saudi judge that if she wanted to complain about him he would take her to the police himself. Amina stated that she had asked her father to take her to the police station after he hit her and strangled her, but he refused.

When asked again if her father hits her, Amina responded yes …

Amina is afraid for her safety if she cannot leave Saudi Arabia. She asked that the court would allow the British Embassy to check up on her every month … She also stated that [she was] prevented from going to the bathroom for one month, she was forced to urinate in a cup. She stated that she would get punished when she used her room as a toilet.

Amina requested to speak with her lawyer.

By the end of the meeting Amina had a phone conversation with her lawyer in the UK.

A note was passed under the table to the British representative.”

 

  • The conversation with the lawyer in the UK was not with Miss Hutchinson but with her assistant, Mrs. Wendy Ramus. I do not know what was said, being privileged, but in any event it was not the private, confidential and lengthy opportunity to take instructions without fetter which the later paragraph 15 order required. The consular representative, Amna Ghulam, with whom the meeting took place, has supplied to Miss Hutchinson by email her own account of the meeting. The existence of the email has been disclosed to the court and to the father’s lawyers but the contents are stated by Mr. Setright to be privileged, as the intended purpose of the meeting (thwarted by the presence of the father’s representative) had been to provide a conduit for information and instructions from Amina to her solicitor, and her lawyers here (who cannot obtain her instructions) do not consider that they can, or should, waive the privilege. As the father’s representative’s note was, of course, prepared in the first instance for the father, I do not know what else may have been said which the father’s representative decided not to record. Mr. Setright indicated in veiled terms, but in open court, that Amina’s team consider that Amina could be at heightened risk if her father saw the consular representative’s own email. The note of the father’s representative refers at the end to “a note was passed under the table to the British representative”. As I understand it, that note has not itself been transmitted here to London. Photo shots of it made by a mobile phone have been. They are apparently hard to decipher, but in any event Mr. Setright asserts that similar considerations apply to it as to the consular representative’s own email record and they claim privilege. I have not seen it and I do not know what it says.

 

 

Far from what was needed, which was the chance for this woman to talk in private with her lawyers, to be able to speak freely and to obtain advice.

 

It was a very difficult scenario. On the one hand, the Court was looking at someone who was an adult living in another country – a country where rules and law and customs are not exactly the same as ours and the potential of interfering with that sovereign state, and on the other there was a British citizen crying out for help and no prospect of it arriving if the English Courts did not intervene.

 

Discretion

 

  • The question now is whether, in my judicial discretion, I should actually exercise jurisdiction and make an order and, if so, what order. I have, indeed, approached this case with very great caution and circumspection. I have had firmly in mind from first to last the risk of exorbitance. Caution and circumspection obviously do not depend on the length of hearing alone, but I did hear this case over four long days, during which I heard sustained argument from very experienced leading counsel. I have had very considerable “thinking time”, both during the hearing and since, while preparing this judgment. I have in fact moved during the course of the hearing from a starting position in which I openly expressed extreme doubt and reservation whether I should actually exercise a discretion to make an order, to the position (which, anticipating the outcome, I now disclose) that I should do so. In my view, the admitted or core facts of this case all point to Amina being under a constraint from her father which, having regard to her age, is severe. Her father admits to locking her in the flat for several hours when he goes out. He admits that until recently the barred door in the photograph at p.C85 was in position, restricting her access to parts of the flat, including the kitchen. He admits that the yellow grille at p.C84 is still in place, and although he says that its purpose is only to prevent her from shouting out of the window, that in itself is a constraint upon her means of communication with the outside world. As I explained at para.33 above, I am sceptical that that grille is not in fact restricting her movement within the flat as well.
  • I agree with Mr. Setright that the terms of the document of the Saudi Arabian court dated 12 April 2016 at bundle p.D12 themselves indicate a person under severe constraint. Although now aged 21, she undertakes not to challenge her father’s authority over all her affairs and not to leave the house without his permission. The father’s own evidence in para.15 of his statement dated 16 June 2016 is that if she were to run away, the police, far from offering her protection from her father, would put her in prison. The very recent events in this case, and the father’s refusal to comply with para.15 and to allow Amina even to have unrestricted confidential and secure access to her consul and her own solicitor, vividly illustrate and underline the degree of continuing control and constraint being exercised. Overarchingly, she is under constraint if, at the age of 21, she wishes to leave Saudi Arabia, whether to travel to Britain or anywhere else, and is being prevented by her father from doing so.
  • In all these ways, Amina is disabled from functioning as an independent adult, not merely just out of childhood at the age of 18, but already aged 21. Amina is a citizen of Saudi Arabia. These constraints may be acceptable and even the norm under the law and culture of Saudi Arabia. But she is also a British citizen, and under the law and culture of Britain they are not. They are, indeed, totally unacceptable, and do represent in the words of Munby J in Re SA “… some significant curtailment of the freedom to do those things which in this country free men and women are entitled to do”. If Amina chooses voluntarily to remain in Saudi Arabia, of which she is a citizen, she must, of course, respect and adhere to the law and culture of that society. But the current constraint is denying to her the right to choose to be British and to live in Britain and to respect, adhere to and be regulated by the law and culture of British society. It is true that she is currently present and habitually resident in Saudi Arabia, but that results from her obedience to the will of her father in 2012. It is accepted that she did not travel there voluntarily and of her own free will.
  • In my view, the current circumstances are such that this British person does require protection, in the language of Lady Hale and Lord Toulson in Re B at para.60; and she is currently in a peril from which she requires to be “rescued”, in the language of Lord Sumption in that case at para.87. Nevertheless, I must exercise great caution and not be exorbitant. There are other factors which weigh in favour of exercising jurisdiction. They include that not only is she British, but she was born and brought up and educated in Britain until the age of almost 17. This is a very significant factor. I would take a very different view of this case if Amina had been born and lived her whole life in Saudi Arabia but happened to be British by descent. Her mother and several of her siblings currently still live in Britain and, although she may be estranged from them, their presence here still indicates the continuing connections between this family and Britain.
  • However, there are also powerful factors which militate against exercising jurisdiction. Her father is Saudi and Saudi alone. She herself has dual nationality. The Hague Convention on Certain Questions Relating to the Conflict of Nationality Laws done at the Hague on 12 April 1930 provides at Article 4 that “a State may not afford diplomatic protection to one of its nationals against a State whose nationality such person also possesses”. Britain is a signatory to that Convention, although Saudi Arabia is not. The view of the British Government, expressed in para.3.2 of its Home Office Nationality Instructions, is that:

 

“Commonly known as the ‘Master Nationality Rule’, the practical effect of this Article [viz Article 4] is that where a person is a national of, for example, two States (A and B), and is in the territory of State A, then State B has no right to claim that person as its national or to intervene on that person’s behalf …”

This may in part explain the position taken by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in their letter of 14 December 2015 that “Amina is a dual national … there is little that we can do to assist her”. But I am being asked to make an order against the father personally. I am not being asked to “afford diplomatic protection” or in any way to act “against” the State of Saudi Arabia in the language of Article 4, and there is no question of my doing so. In any event, in Re A the child concerned had dual British and Pakistani nationality and that was not suggested by the judgment of Baroness Hale to represent an obstacle to the exercise of jurisdiction, save to the extent that dual nationality was one of the considerations which had been raised by Mr. Setright and referred to in para.64.

 

  • The fact that Amina is present and habitually resident in Saudi Arabia undoubtedly militates against the exercise of jurisdiction, but is tempered in this case by the circumstances in which she came to be there: her father’s insistence and command, from which she has since been unable to escape. In Re B at para.59 Lady Hale and Lord Toulson identified “three main reasons” for caution when deciding whether to exercise jurisdiction. First, that to do so may conflict with the jurisdictional scheme applicable between the countries in question. There is no jurisdictional scheme between Britain, or Wales and England and Saudi Arabia. Second, that it may result in conflicting decisions in the two countries. In view of the proceedings in Saudi Arabia in April 2016, this is, of course, a weighty consideration in the present case. As I understand it, however, the “decision” in the Saudi court in April was not so much a decision imposed by the court in the exercise of its own judgment; rather, it was that court expressing its approval of that which the parties themselves had agreed. Whilst Mr. Scott-Manderson argues that Amina’s more appropriate remedy is to make some application of her own to that court, her ability freely to gain access to that court may itself be limited by the constraints, and she certainly has no means with which to fund a lawyer. Further, I regret that I lack confidence that that court would permit and enforce against the father that she is able to return to Britain, since Saudi Arabia does not recognise dual nationality. The court might not, therefore, recognise what might be the fundamental basis of her application, namely her British nationality.
  • The third reason identified by Lady Hale and Lord Toulson is that it may result in unenforceable orders. In relation to that reason, they said on the facts of that case that “it is possible that there are steps which an English court could take to persuade the respondent to obey the order”, although, so far as I am aware, those steps were not further identified. Enforcement is undoubtedly a significant issue in the present case. Generally, courts do not make orders which they cannot effectively enforce, although almost daily judges of the Family Division do just that in relation to children who have been abducted to countries which are not parties to the Hague Convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction. I accept that there is little or nothing that this court could do to enforce against the father in Saudi Arabia any order which it may make if he was determined not to obey or comply with it. There are no conventions in operation between Wales and England, or Britain and Saudi Arabia. There is no reciprocity. The courts of Saudi Arabia would not even recognise the basis upon which I claim and assert jurisdiction, namely the British nationality of Amina, since the State of Saudi Arabia does not recognise dual nationality and, therefore, her British nationality.
  • The father has no assets here of which I am aware, unlike in the case of Re B (see para.21 of the judgment of Parker J at [2013] EWHC 3298 (Fam) at the remitted hearing), but that does not preclude the persuasive force of an order, particularly one made after a very full and thorough hearing in which, although not personally present, the father engaged and fully participated and was fully heard throughout. The situation that will pertain after this judgment is very different from the situation that pertained under the earlier orders, many of which were expressed to be “without prejudice to the issue of jurisdiction”. By this judgment the issue of jurisdiction has been resolved. Further, the father himself voluntarily chose to live for many years in Wales; to educate and to bring his children up here; and to subject himself to both the protection of, and the constraints of, the laws of Wales and England and the legal system of Wales and England. His wife, from whom he is not estranged, and several of his children continue to live here. He may later, if not sooner, wish or have reason to visit Wales or England again, but he could not safely do so if he remained in breach of a significant order of this court, for he would be liable to be punished (if still in breach) for his continuing contempt of court.
  • For all these reasons, I consider that, although the father may ultimately decide to defy any order I make, this court does have considerable moral and also practical “hold” over him. There is no reason why I should assume or suppose that he will not obey any proportionate order which I may make; and I consider that I should proceed on the assumption that he will obey it.
  • There is one further factor to which I should refer. In Re A at para.65(vi) Baroness Hale referred to the absence of any enquiry being made about how the children in that case were. In Re B at para.86 Lord Sumption referred, rather similarly, to an independent assessment of the situation of the child abroad and said “unless the facts were already clear, that would be the least that a court should do before it could be satisfied that she should be compulsorily returned to this country”. This led Mr. Scott-Manderson to submit that, before making any stronger order, this court should first direct or request some similar assessment of Amina by some appropriate authority in Saudi Arabia. There is, however, the significant difference that Re B concerned a child aged seven by the time of the hearing in the Supreme Court who could not speak for herself. The present case concerns an adult aged 21 who (subject to the constraints) can and does.
  • Balancing all these considerations, I have come slowly and cautiously, but ultimately very firmly, to the conclusion that I should exercise the jurisdiction and should make such orders as I can to protect Amina. If citizenship means anything at all, it does include the right to seek help and protection and, weighing all those factors, I should not deny help and protection to Amina. To do nothing at all would, in my view, amount to a dereliction towards Amina and in effect just giving up on her.

 

What order?

 

  • The next and final question is what order I should actually make. There was much discussion during the hearing about my simply repeating an order in the terms of para.15, hoping that now that a full hearing has occurred the father would permit a private meeting to take place at the consulate. He has, however, persisted in his position that he will not do so unless the Foreign and Commonwealth Office give a prior written assurance that if Amina were to seek diplomatic protection or “sanctuary” in the consulate, the consulate would not give it to her, but would hand her over to the Saudi authorities of the Ministry of the Interior. I see little point or purpose in repeating a para.15 order. Its main purpose when made on 4 July was to enable instructions to be taken from Amina so that a detailed up to date statement could be prepared for her, and an effective fact finding hearing could take place. That having been thwarted by the father, I am not now willing to set up another projected fact finding hearing in inevitably several months’ time. There has been far too much delay already in proceedings which ultimately concern liberty and which were commenced now almost eight months ago last December.
  • There has also, incidentally, been far too much expense. I was told by Mr. Setright that the costs and disbursements of Amina, all funded by English legal aid, are already of the order of £50,000. The litigation has not yet cost the father personally anything, since his costs and disbursements are apparently all being funded by or through the Saudi Arabian Embassy, although he may be required later to repay them.
  • In my view, I should, rather, move directly now to an order against the father personally that he must permit and facilitate the return of Amina, if she so wishes, to Wales or England and pay the air fare. He must at once make freely available to her both her British and her Saudi Arabian passports. She needs the former to enable her freely to enter Britain. She needs the latter to enable her freely to re-enter Saudi Arabia if later she wishes to return there for any purpose. I will specify the date by which Amina must be enabled to return as Sunday 11 September 2016. That allows about five and a half weeks for the father to reflect on this judgment and to make orderly arrangements. I myself will be sitting again here at the Royal Courts of Justice from Monday 12 September 2016, and very shortly after that date this case must be listed again before me. If Amina is, indeed, here, she must attend and I will decide what further orders, if any, should be made. If she is not here, I will similarly decide what further orders should be made or action taken.
  • As I require Amina personally to attend, that hearing will, in the first instance, be listed in private so she is not initially burdened by the presence of the media. However, at or before the conclusion of the hearing I will in some way (by judgment or by a statement) inform the public and any interested representatives of the media the gist of what has occurred between now and then. I wish to make crystal clear that, apart from requiring her attendance before me at that hearing, if she has indeed voluntarily returned to Wales and England, I do not make any order whatsoever against Amina herself. The purpose is not to order her to do anything at all. Rather, it is to create conditions in which she, as an adult of full capacity, can exercise and implement her own independent free will and freedom of choice. To that end, I will give further consideration with counsel after this judgment to what mechanism can now be established to enable her freely to state, if that be her own free decision and choice, that she does not now wish to avail herself of the opportunity provided by my decision and this order to return to Wales or England.
  • I conclude this judgment by expressing my sincere thanks to Mr. Setright QC and his junior counsel Mr. Michael Gration, and to Mr. Scott-Manderson QC for their sustained and distinguished written and oral arguments in this case; and to the solicitors on both sides who instruct them.

 

 

See-Saw

 

Although the President reads this blog or at the very least is aware that it is “a well-known and respected law blog”* :-

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/1668.html

 

(*sadly that’s probably stronger empirical proof that he DOESN’T read it)

 

my beautiful piece of legislation, the Residence Schemesidence Act is still not on the statute books.  To gaze upon my works, ye mighty and despair, look here

 

The “Residence/Schmesidence Act 2015”

 

Instead of which, we have this distillation of the many principles on habitual residence in family law, derived from a variety of judicial authorities.  Now, bear in mind that this distillation is the work of someone extremely dilligent and bright and who slaved long and hard to make the judicial authorities as SIMPLE as possible.

 

B (A Minor : Habitual Residence) [2016] EWHC 2174 (Fam)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/2174.html

 

  • In her document Ms Chokowry distils a number of propositions that she contends can be gleaned from the five Supreme Court judgments, addressing habitual residence, delivered since 2013: A v A and another (Children: Habitual Residence) (Reunite International Child Abduction Centre and others intervening) [2013] UKSC 60, [2014] AC 1, sub nom Re A (Children) (Jurisdiction: Return of Child) [2014] 1 FLR 111 (“A v A”); In re L (A Child) (Custody: Habitual Residence) (Reunite International Child Abduction Centre intervening) [2013] UKSC 75, [2014] AC 1017, sub nom Re KL (A Child) (Abduction: Habitual Residence: Inherent Jurisdiction) [2014] 1 FLR 772 (“Re KL”); In re LC (Children) (Reunite International Child Abduction Centre intervening) [2014] UKSC 1, [2014] AC 1038 sub nom Re LC (Children) (Abduction: Habitual Residence: State of Mind of Child) (“Re LC”); In re R (Children) (Reunite International Child Abduction Centre and others intervening) [2015] UKSC 35, [2016] AC 76, sub nom AR v RN (Habitual Residence) [2015] 2 FLR 503 (“Re R”); Re B (A child) (Habitual Residence: Inherent Jurisdiction) [2016] UKSC 4, [2016] 2 WLR 557 (“Re B”).
  • I think that Ms Chokowry’s approach is sensible and, adopt it here, with my own amendments:

 

i) The habitual residence of a child corresponds to the place which reflects some degree of integration by the child in a social and family environment (A v A, adopting the European test).

ii) The test is essentially a factual one which should not be overlaid with legal sub-rules or glosses. It must be emphasised that the factual enquiry must be centred throughout on the circumstances of the child’s life that is most likely to illuminate his habitual residence (A v A, Re KL).

iii) In common with the other rules of jurisdiction in Brussels IIR its meaning is ‘shaped in the light of the best interests of the child, in particular on the criterion of proximity’. Proximity in this context means ‘the practical connection between the child and the country concerned’: A v A (para 80(ii)); Re B (para 42) applying Mercredi v Chaffe at para 46).

iv) It is possible for a parent unilaterally to cause a child to change habitual residence by removing the child to another jurisdiction without the consent of the other parent (Re R);

v) A child will usually but not necessarily have the same habitual residence as the parent(s) who care for him or her (Re LC). The younger the child the more likely the proposition, however, this is not to eclipse the fact that the investigation is child focused. It is the child’s habitual residence which is in question and, it follows the child’s integration which is under consideration.

vi) Parental intention is relevant to the assessment, but not determinative (Re KL, Re R and Re B);

vii) It will be highly unusual for a child to have no habitual residence. Usually a child lose a pre-existing habitual residence at the same time as gaining a new one (Re B); (emphasis added);

viii) In assessing whether a child has lost a pre-existing habitual residence and gained a new one, the court must weigh up the degree of connection which the child had with the state in which he resided before the move (Re B – see in particular the guidance at para 46);

ix) It is the stability of a child’s residence as opposed to its permanence which is relevant, though this is qualitative and not quantitative, in the sense that it is the integration of the child into the environment rather than a mere measurement of the time a child spends there (Re R and earlier in Re KL and Mercredi);

x) The relevant question is whether a child has achieved some degree of integration in social and family environment; it is not necessary for a child to be fully integrated before becoming habitually resident (Re R) (emphasis added);

xi) The requisite degree of integration can, in certain circumstances, develop quite quickly (Art 9 of BIIR envisages within 3 months). It is possible to acquire a new habitual residence in a single day (A v A; Re B). In the latter case Lord Wilson referred (para 45) those ‘first roots‘ which represent the requisite degree of integration and which a child will ‘probably‘ put down ‘quite quickly‘ following a move;

xii) Habitual residence was a question of fact focused upon the situation of the child, with the purposes and intentions of the parents being merely among the relevant factors. It was the stability of the residence that was important, not whether it was of a permanent character. There was no requirement that the child should have been resident in the country in question for a particular period of time, let alone that there should be an intention on the part of one or both parents to reside there permanently or indefinitely (Re R).

xiii) The structure of Brussels IIa, and particularly Recital 12 to the Regulation, demonstrates that it is in a child’s best interests to have an habitual residence and accordingly that it would be highly unlikely, albeit possible (or, to use the term adopted in certain parts of the judgment, exceptional), for a child to have no habitual residence; As such, “if interpretation of the concept of habitual residence can reasonably yield both a conclusion that a child has an habitual residence and, alternatively, a conclusion that he lacks any habitual residence, the court should adopt the former” (Re B supra);

 

  • If there is one clear message emerging both from the European case law and from the Supreme Court, it is that the child is at the centre of the exercise when evaluating his or her habitual residence. This will involve a real and detailed consideration of (inter alia): the child’s day to day life and experiences; family environment; interests and hobbies; friends etc. and an appreciation of which adults are most important to the child. The approach must always be child driven. I emphasise this because all too frequently and this case is no exception, the statements filed focus predominantly on the adult parties. It is all too common for the Court to have to drill deep for information about the child’s life and routine. This should have been mined to the surface in the preparation of the case and regarded as the primary objective of the statements. I am bound to say that if the lawyers follow this approach more assiduously, I consider that the very discipline of the preparation is most likely to clarify where the child is habitually resident. I must also say that this exercise, if properly engaged with, should lead to a reduction in these enquiries in the courtroom. Habitual residence is essentially a factual issue, it ought therefore, in the overwhelming majority of cases, to be readily capable of identification by the parties. Thus:

 

i) The solicitors charged with preparation of the statements must familiarise themselves with the recent case law which emphasises the scope and ambit of the enquiry when assessing habitual residence, (para 17 above maybe a convenient summary);

ii) If the statements do not address the salient issues, counsel, if instructed, should bring the failure to do so to his instructing solicitors attention;

iii) An application should be made expeditiously to the Court for leave to file an amended statement, even though that will inevitably result in a further statement in response;

iv) Lawyers specialising in these international children cases, where the guiding principle is international comity and where the jurisdiction is therefore summary, have become unfamiliar, in my judgement, with the forensic discipline involved in identifying and evaluating the practical realities of children’s lives. They must relearn these skills if they are going to be in a position to apply the law as it is now clarified.

The simple message must get through to those who prepare the statements that habitual residence of a child is all about his or her life and not about parental dispute. It is a factual exploration.

 

 

I greatly admire Hayden J here for being able to spell out those THIRTEEN principles and then in the next breath use words like ‘clear’ and ‘simple’.

 

Anyway, with those 13 principles in our mind – we’re now super confident that we can deal with any question on habitual residence.

 

Let us examine the facts of the case at hand

 

 

  • Mr Gration, who appears on the half of the mother, has provided a convenient chronology setting out the extent of B’s travels. I pause to note that neither the mother nor the father seemed to have any sense that this level of chaos in their child’s life might be detrimental to her welfare. Indeed, the mother seems to have believed that the opportunities for travel, before she started school, were a good thing for her daughter. I emphasise that B is, at the time of this hearing, still only 3 ½ years old.
  • Another striking fact of this case is that both parent’s call their child by a different name. The father was asked, by Mr Gration, whether he thought that was a bad thing for his daughter. He responded that he had come to realise, during the course of these proceedings, that other people might think this was a bad idea and he volunteered, in future, to call his daughter by the mother’s chosen name. Mr Gration submits that this reveals little insight into the needs of a child. In addition I also note that when in her father’s care, B has found herself cared for, for quite long periods by babysitters that the father has engaged to look after her and who sometimes have been entirely unknown to her.
  • Mr Gration’s chronology, which is agreed, requires to be stated in full:

 

a) November 2014 – December 2014, to Amiens, France with the mother and the father;

b) 19th December 2014 – 21st January 2015 to London, England with the father;

c) 21st January 2015 – 24th January 2015 to Lille, France with the father;

d) 24th January 2015 – 9th February 2015 to Italy with the father;

e) 9th February 2015 – 16th February 2015 to Paris, France with the father;

f) 16th February 2015 – 18th February 2015 to London with the father;

g) 18th February 2015 in London with the mother;

h) 20th February 2015 – 6th March 2015 to Paris, France with the mother;

i) 6th March 2015 – 28th March 2015 in London with the father;

j) 28th March 2015 – 8th May 2015 to Senegal with the father;

k) 8th May 2015 – 5th June 2015 in London with the father;

l) 5th June 2015 – 22nd July 2015 to Paris, France with the mother;

m) 22nd July 2015 – 29th October 2015 in New York, USA with the mother;

n) 30th October 2015 – 31st October 2015 to Paris, France with the mother;

o) 31st October 2015 – 11th January 2016 in London, at times with the father but also being cared for by others;

p) 11th January 2016 – 13th March 2016 to Senegal with the father.

 

  • By way of completeness it should be added to the above that between the 13th March 2016 and 22nd April 2016 B was in London with the father.

 

 

Erm, yeah

 

 

With masterful understatement, Hayden J says this:-

 

It is obvious from the chronology that B’s habitual residence does not reveal itself instantly.

 

(I applaud, but ‘back it up’ also works)

 

Moving on to the see-saw

 

 

  • In my review of the case law I note the observations of Lord Wilson in Re B (a child) (supra):

 

“Simple analogies are best: consider a see-saw. As, probably quite quickly, he puts down those first roots which represent the requisite degree of integration in the environment of the new state, up will probably come the child’s roots in that of the old state to the point at which he achieves the requisite de-integration (or, better, disengagement) from it.”

Well, you know, I’m the dude who explained adoption law with a riff about iguanadons, so I’m perhaps not the UK spokesman for simple analogies. But I have to confess that I’m not sure where the see-saw analogy gets us to with that sort of chronology.

The sensible conclusion, with that sort of chronology is that for the best part of 18 months, this child never had a settled COUNTRY never mind home. The longest B ever goes is about three months before moving across the Atlantic one way or another.

The Judge applies the 13 principles and comes down on London as being the habitual residence.  I think you could make a case for New York, London, Paris (not Munich, annoyingly) or Senegal.

Whereas on my rules, probably Paul Young gets some new fans, and the child is habitually resident in Dudley.  On the plus side, the complexity of habitual residence law now means that you can ALWAYS make some sort of argument and run up a huge legal bill and squander the scarce resources of the High Court. Oh wait, that’s not actually on the plus side column.

Er, okay, on the plus side, if you read out the case headnote, 2016 EWHC 2174 (fam), the last bit makes you sound ‘street’, because “Fam” is slang now.  (Like ‘blud’  or ‘bred’ren’ or ‘squad’ or indeed ‘homies’ if you’re taking it back to the old school).

Suesspicious Minds –  law blogger  (Fam)

 

 

99 problems but a book ain’t one

Aren't you sharp as a tack? you some kind of law or something?

Aren’t you sharp as a tack? you some kind of law or something?

 

Thank you all of you fabulous people. 3 weeks to go on the crowd-funding for the book, and we just hit 99%. It has been amazing how kind and generous people have been.

Where we are at now is that I just need £30 to get the book funded, and out there to all of the wonderful supporters. I’m pretty sure we can make that. And payday is here, or looming.

The next stage, after it is funded is for me to finish the hard rewrite  – that’s where you’ve left a book completely alone for 3 months so that you’re not so close to it and you can make the cuts. What Fitzgerald refers to as ‘killing your darlings’ – that sentence or image you’re so proud of but that in the cold light of day doesn’t move the scene forward or slows the pace, you’ve got to cut it.  If a whole scene doesn’t quite deliver, you might have to cut it out, or rewrite the whole thing.  The early chapters before your characters took on their own life where you were just dragging them round like wardrobes – you need to rewrite those bits now that she starts, she moves, she seems to feel the stir of life along her keel.

You can’t do that until you’ve got some professional distance from the book you’ve written, because whilst on rewrites adding new words and moments is really easy, cutting them is the hard bit. It really is killing your darlings.

I like rewrites generally, but cuts are hard.  That’s hopefully the bit that turns an okay book into a good one, and with an authors eye, boy can I spot when a published writer wasn’t able to do it. It is those bits in a book that make you wince with clunkiness and pull you straight out of the scene and ruin the whole willing suspension of disbelief that’s so vital.  (If you’re not sure what I mean, pick up a copy of the Da Vinci Code, turn to any page at random and read it. The first sentence that you read that makes you go “oh, that’s awful”  is the bit that should have been cut or rewritten.

I’m a naked and unashamed fan of Raymond Chandler, and one of the true joys of his work is that if you get a second copy and a red pen, you can pick any page at random and try to cut a passage or a line or a word to improve the work, and it is extraordinarily difficult or even impossible. Every word there is doing work, it carries its own weight, and it is necessary.

[Mark Twain]

“When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them–then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are far apart.”

 

[Damn right. Similarly be brutal with all the  ‘she exclaimed’, ‘he retorted’ ‘she sneered’ ‘Michael roared’  – use only very sparingly, if at all]

After that, I get to work with the Unbound editor, and that’s when we really start the polishing process, and then when that’s done, all the sexy exciting stuff like working on a cover and getting the final version and the proofs and an Amazon listing gets going!

Thank you again so much, and if you haven’t funded yet but keep meaning to get round to it, this is a really good time.

 

In the words of Jay-Z himself, “Thank you thank you thank you, you’re far too kind”

 

 

https://unbound.com/books/in-secure

Tape recording of an expert (a SHOCKING case)

Truly, absolutely shocking.

This was a set of care proceedings, transferred up to the High Court before Mr Justice Hayden. A  consultant clinical psychologist, Dr Ben Harper, was instructed by the Court to assess the mother. The mother unknown to him, tape recorded their sessions. After the report of Dr Harper arrived, containing words set out in quotation marks attributed to the mother that she says she did not say, those tape recordings were transcribed and showed that she was correct.

 

Re F (A Minor) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/2149.html

 

Here are the findings that mother’s team invited the Court to make – you’ll see that they are very powerful  (perhaps even career-damaging stuff)

 

  1. Ms Taryn Lee QC and Ms Olivia Weir prepared a very extensive schedule prefaced by the following summary of the findings they invited the Court to make:
    1. 1. Dr Harper has either misread or exaggerated the mother’s presentation during the appointments. The recordings do not support the assertion that the mother was at any point agitated, abrupt, irritated, defensive or frustrated. Indeed in respect of (iii) and (v) the conversations never, in fact, took place.

2. Dr Harper misrepresents, inaccurately surmises and/or falsely asserts that the mother made comments listed in the body of the schedule. The comments set out and attributed to the mother were either (a) not said by her in those terms, or (b) other factual information provided by the mother has been re-interpreted by Dr Harper and presented as a quote of the mother with a negative or twisted emphasis attached to it. Dr Harper then uses these ‘quotations’ by the mother to form his conclusions and recommendations.

3. Dr Harper records that the mother reported/stated various facts and/or provided the accounts listed below when in fact there is no evidence during either appointment that the subject was even discussed or if the subject was discussed these comments were not made at any point. Dr Harper has fabricated these conversations/responses and has chosen to attribute negative comments to the mother including assertions that during the assessment sessions the mother called previous experts liars, which she simply has not done. Dr Harper has abused his position of trust as a professional and as a doctor and his actions in fabricating these conversations, comments and conclusions are abusive to this vulnerable mother and are a contempt of court.

4. Dr Harper states that he completed the following psychometric tests: It is not easy to discern at what point in the assessment sessions Dr. Harper states he administered these psychometric tests and he is invited to provide (a) all of the relevant guidance and assessment papers/questions and identify within the transcripts where the assessments were conducted.

5. Dr Harper suggests that the mother was reluctant and/or unable to provide information in the following matters: Dr Harper did not, in fact, ask any specific or structured questions to elicit a response to any of the matters that he then seeks to criticise the mother for and in respect of. Some matters that he suggests she refused to provide information/answer questions in respect of [they] were never at any point raised by Dr Harper.

6. Dr Harper misrepresents what the mother has actually said, in such a manner as to create a negative impression of the mother in the examples identified.

7. Dr Harper inaccurately quotes other experts’ reports in a manner that presents a negative impression of the mother.

8. Dr Harper then relies upon his own false reporting of what the mother is supposed to have said to reach his conclusions, which ultimately lead to a recommendation of separation of the siblings and adoption of the youngest two children.

9. It is asserted that neither Dr Harper’s handwritten notes nor his comments regarding the 6th April 2016 can be relied upon for the reasons asserted in the schedule.

  1. As these findings were particularised it became clear that the allegations extended to: ‘false reporting’; ‘inaccurate quoting’ designed to present the Mother in a ‘negative light’; ‘fabrication of conversations’ and deliberate ‘misrepresentation’. In cross examination Ms Lee accused Dr Harper of ‘lying’.

 

 

Holy wow.

 

Dr Harper was invited to intervene in the proceedings, and was represented by Fenella Morris QC.

 

The Judge did not approach the matter on the basis of the schedule of findings drawn up  (that’s rather annoying for me, as it would have helped to look at such particularised findings, but that was a judicial decision)

 

  1. Whilst I am full of admiration for the industry which underpins the extensive schedule prepared by the Mother’s team and the equal energy expended in the detailed response document, I am bound to say that the two do not provide a user friendly framework to negotiate the contested issues. Partly for this reason but primarily because I consider it to be a distraction, I do not propose to address many of the minute allegations which, as I have indicated during the course of exchanges with counsel, are of varying cogency and forensic weight. What I propose to do is to analyse, in what I consider to be a proportionate manner, those allegations which it is necessary for me to determine in order properly to resolve the issues in the care proceedings. Thereafter I must consider a further important question: are the findings made out against Dr Harper sufficiently serious so as to render his evidence in these proceedings unreliable?

 

  1. Dr Harper’s report is dated 11th April 2016, it is 70 pages in length. At its conclusion it contains the following, now standard, declarations:
  2. i) ‘I have exercised reasonable care and skill in order to be accurate and complete in preparing this report’;

ii) ‘I understand that this report will form the evidence to be given under oath or affirmation’;

iii) ‘I am likely to be the subject of public adverse criticism by the Judge if the Court concluded that I have not taken reasonable care in trying to meet the standards set out above’;

iv) ‘I confirm that I have acted in accordance with the Codes of Practice for Experts’.

  1. Finally, the ‘STATEMENT OF TRUTH’ appears at the very end of the report. Familiar though it is, it requires to be repeated here:
    1. “I confirm that the contents of this report are true to the best of my knowledge and that I make this report knowing that if it is tendered in evidence, I would be liable to prosecution if I have wilfully stated anything that I would know to be false or that I do not believe to be true”

 

Responding directly to the schedule of findings sought by mother’s team, Dr Harper said this

 

  1. Responding directly to the schedule Dr Harper makes this concession:
    1. 12. There are a number of occasions where I have referred to Mrs Mother as having said something by way of italicised text within double quotes. It is quite clear to me that anyone reading my report would have interpreted these as suggesting they were verbatim quotes. I did not, however, take verbatim notes and a number of sentences attributed to Mother are inaccurate.”

 

Yes, if I read a report from an expert that said

 

Mother said she was sorry for all the trouble she had caused

I would think that there was an apology along those lines but not that this represented a verbatim account but

 

Mother said “I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused”

 

I would read as being, the expert is reporting the words that she used and is stating with confidence that she used those words.

So having remarks in quotation marks that mother did not actually say is a significant deficiency.

What did the Judge say about that?

  1. I have read this paragraph a number of times. It seems to me to do Dr Harper no credit at all. It is crafted in a way that seems designed to minimise the extent of the very significant failing it represents. When pursued in cross examination it was revealed that extensive parts of the report which purport, by the conventional grammatical use of quotation marks, to be direct quotations from the Mother, are in fact nothing of the kind. They are a collection of recollections and impressions compressed into phrases created by Dr Harper and attributed to the Mother. They convey to the reader of the report only one impression, namely that they represent the authentic voice of Mother herself. The quotations are also italicised and drafted in full sentences in the idiom of the Mother rather than in the formal argot of psychology which characterises the remainder of the report. Within the context of the evaluative exercise that the Court is involved in, during care proceedings, the accurately reported phrases and observations of the parties themselves are inevitably afforded much greater forensic weight than e.g. opinion evidence, hearsay or summary by a third party. It is very likely that a Judge reading such ‘quotations’ in the report of an experienced expert witness will at least start with the strong presumption that they have been accurately and fairly recorded. It is, to my mind inconceivable that a witness of Dr Harper’s experience, which I have taken care to set out in some detail above, would not have appreciated this. Indeed, it strikes me that it would be obvious to any lay party or member of the public. Moreover, I find the concession in the statement, where mention is made of ‘a number of sentences’ is a complete distortion of the reality of the document. The report is heavy with apparent reference to direct speech when, in truth, almost none of it is. Thus, the material supporting the ultimate conclusion appears much stronger than it actually is. Given the forensic experience of Dr Harper and his extremely impressive academic background I cannot accept that he would have failed to appreciate the profound consequences of such distorted reporting.
  2. In the course of the public law proceedings the Court authorised interviews between one of the children and Dr Harper. I very much regret to say that the purported quotations in that report i.e. presented as if they were the words of the child himself are also nothing of the kind. Dr Harper used the same approach there. They are in fact a jumble of phrases extracted from jottings and / or perceived recollection. Dr Harper voluntarily submitted his notes to scrutiny, they can properly be characterised as minimal. They prompted this submission on behalf of the children’s Guardian by Mr Cohen QC and Mr Edwards:
    1. “It is hard to know why Dr Harper has reported as he has. His methodology and minimal notes of the 3 meetings with the mother would have made it very difficult to accurately record what she had said. The court will form its own view as to his evidence. We do not suggest that he had an intent to mislead but he showed a carelessness which verged towards recklessness in making statements which he must or should have known were to be relied upon. His evidence may also have shown an overconfidence in his own professional judgment and ability that was indifferent to the correct assessment process.”

 

 

I am genuinely shocked by this. It undermines a lot of credibility of expert witnesses, if an expert attributes quotations to a parent and a child that they did not say, that were ‘impressions’ and that the note keeping was minimal.

 

As these ‘quotations’ were not present in the tape-recorded formal sessions, there was some consideration of whether they were instead conversations or discussions that took place at one meeting on 6th April, which appears to have been a contact session and two discussions on the way in and way out of the session

 

  1. Ms Lee and Ms Weir pitch the findings they seek very highly indeed, they are of the utmost gravity. It is for this reason that I required counsel to be very clear about the legal framework. Ms Lee has, in the proper presentation of her case, repeatedly impugned Dr Harper’s integrity and honesty during the course of her cross examination. It is alleged that he has fabricated the fact of the discussions between himself and the Mother and, says Ms Lee, where there is no written note of any topic of discussion it has been, in effect, invented by Dr Harper. There is no ambivalence in the way Ms Lee advances her case. In her closing written submission she asserts:
    1. “For the avoidance of doubt, it is submitted on behalf of the mother that Dr Harper’s account of the ‘discussions’ that took place on the 6 April is a lie. Likewise his handwritten note is a fabricated document (Finding 9) in which he has attempted to back-fill some of the gaps that he knew would come to light once he was alerted to the fact that the assessment sessions on the 15 and 23 March 2016 had been recorded; he of course being present at both sessions and knowing exactly what he discussed and what he did not. As such, it is submitted that his handwritten note can not be relied upon.”
  2. Given that the earlier meetings were recorded and transcribed it must follow that the purported quotations from the Mother not covered on those sessions must therefore have taken place at the meeting at the contact centre on the 6th April 2016. This inevitably therefore has been the focus of the dispute at this hearing. The first conflict of evidence is as to the length of the meeting. There were in fact two meetings, one before the children arrived for an observed contact session and a second later encounter in the car park at the conclusion of the session.
  3. The 6th April was a day on which plans went awry. The Mother had been led to believe that her meeting with Dr Harper was to provide her with advice on how best to manage the eldest child’s challenging behaviour. On Dr Harper’s account he had decided to change the agenda and look at what he has referred to as ‘the inconsistencies of the Mother’s various narrative accounts’. He had, to my mind, settled on the view, for reasons that I will come to below, that this was the key issue in this case. The undoubtedly discrepant histories of her own childhood and relationships recorded from the Mother are, as Ms Morris QC (on behalf of Dr Harper) describes them, ‘polar opposites’ and ‘at a 180 degrees to each other’. Essentially, there is both a light and benign version of these issues alongside a dark and abusive account. In any event what is clear is that the Mother finds discussion of both these areas to be highly unsettling and distressing. That she would do so was anticipated by Dr Harper but nonetheless so important was this issue to him that he forced it through in circumstances which were, in my judgement, insensitive to the Mother. Of course it follows from this comment that I have accepted his account of the 6th April, at least in part. In fairness I should record that Dr Harper offered the Mother a further appointment which she did not take up.
  4. In addition, building work was being undertaken at the contact centre and it was necessary to shorten the contact. This had not been communicated to the Mother, Dr Harper or I assume the children either. The conditions both in which to observe contact and to undertake important features of the assessment of the Mother were inimical to constructive and fair assessment. I am satisfied that the Mother was understandably upset and that Dr Harper’s account of her as agitated is an honest expression of his perception.
  5. The second meeting in the car park was cursory and ended peremptorily in the rain. The first meeting was, on either party’s view no longer than 15 minutes. It is not necessary for me to resolve the conflict as to the duration of the meeting, there is very little between the Mother’s recollection and Dr Harper’s. What is significant is that in this period Dr Harper contends that he dealt with somewhere between 13 and approximately 20 significant points of assessment.

 

 

[That does not sound terribly plausible]

 

  1. From his notes of assessment it is clear that some of the issues were discussed. The notes are silent on other issues. In his analysis Mr Cohen submits that Dr Harper ‘has produced no satisfactory explanation of the inconsistencies nor is his credit enhanced by what seems to us to be an unwillingness to recognise the effect of his wrongdoing’. This leads Mr Cohen further to submit:
    1. “We suggest that as a result of his admissions the burden should shift to him to show that he has accurately reported the gist of what the mother has said in interviews. In light of the above this is a difficult burden for him to satisfy and he has failed to do so.
  2. Ms Morris vigorously resists this approach, she contends that the burden of proof rests on the applicant and does not shift. I agree. Certainly Dr Harper’s admissions require him to explain his admitted misconduct but they do not cast upon him some additional burden of proving the accuracy of his notes of what he contends the Mother said to him in interview.
  3. I do not propose further to burden this judgment with a list of the various topics which Dr Harper contends were discussed on the 6th April. In response to Mr Cohen Dr Harper accepted that there were 13 topics. I simply fail to see how this range of challenging and difficult material could have been covered to the extent that Dr Harper purports in such a limited time. It would have involved rapid fire question and answer on each topic. Given the circumstances and the nature of the material, such a process would have also required a degree of brutality or at least gross insensitivity. The subject matters ranged across e.g. domestic abuse, childhood experiences, sexual issues. Having listened to Dr Harper in the witness box he does not strike me for a moment as a man capable of such crassness. His work has been widely respected. I do consider that there was an enthusiastic effort by him to cover some of the material that day. I entirely accept his evidence that his notes are genuine and not fabricated, as Ms Lee contends, but I find on the balance of probabilities that some, though not necessarily all, of the material which is not corroborated by the notes was most likely drawn from other sources and incorporated into the report again as if it were direct speech from the Mother to Dr Harper.

 

 

The Judge’s overall impression and his decision about whether Dr Harper’s report could be relied upon in the care proceedings :-

 

  1. The overall impression is of an expert who is overreaching his material, in the sense that whilst much of it is rooted in genuine reliable secure evidence, it is represented in such a way that it is designed to give it its maximum forensic impact. That involves a manipulation of material which is wholly unacceptable and, at very least, falls far below the standard that any Court is entitled to expect of any expert witness. It simply cannot be reconciled with those duties which I have pointedly set out above at para 10 and 11. Moreover, it is manifestly unfair to the Mother, who it should be emphasised is battling to achieve the care of her children whilst trying to manage life with diagnosed PTSD. Ipso facto this is a case of unique gravity and importance. Common law principles of fairness and justice demand, as do Articles 6 & 8 of the ECHR, a process in which both the children and the parents can properly participate in a real sense which respects their autonomy. Dr Harper’s professional failure here compromised the fairness of the process for both Mother and children. These are fundamental principles emphasised in Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 1146 and Re A [2015] EWFC 11.
  2. Mr Rowley, on behalf of the Local Authority, submits that Dr Harper’s central thesis is probably correct. He summarises it succinctly thus:
    1. “Dr Harper’s concern about the mother’s inability to provide a consistent narrative about her relationship history and childhood experiences is again objectively valid. It cannot be sensibly argued that the mother has done anything other than provide wildly divergent accounts of such experiences. Whether this is, indeed, impression management or the consequences of her PTSD it robs the psychological professional of a baseline for diagnosis and thus prognosis and treatment recommendations. This makes it, as Dr Harper concludes, difficult (to say the least) for measurement and management of risk.”
  3. Mr Rowley may very well be right. He goes on to suggest that notwithstanding the significant criticisms made of Dr Harper, his report should be allowed to stand, with the Judge who hears the case entitled to give it such weight, if any, as he thinks fit. I disagree. These are such fundamental failures of methodology that I do not consider any Judge could fairly rely on the conclusions. Furthermore, there is an inevitable risk that were I not to order that a new expert be instructed the Judge might at the conclusion of the hearing find a lacuna in the evidence in consequence of his being unable to rely on Dr Harper’s opinion. That would result in further delay for the children in a case where I have been told the final hearing is now unlikely to be effective in any event. The delay in this case in already unacceptable, the harm caused to the children because of it is the responsibility of the professionals not, I emphasise, the Mother.
  4. I should say that my conclusions here are predicated substantially on my evaluation of Dr Harper’s evidence and the available written material. I have found myself unable to place a great deal of weight on the Mother’s own evidence even where my findings are essentially in her favour. I agree with Ms Morris, who advances the point sensitively and elegantly, when she says that the issue in the Mother’s evidence is ‘reliability’ not ‘credibility’. Her reliability is sadly compromised by her inconsistent accounts which may well be, as Dr Harper has postulated, a facet of her psychological distress. I have in mind Re H-C ( Children) [2016] EWCA Civ 136 and R v Lucas [1981] QB 720.
  5. Finally, there has been much discussion at the Bar as to how I should characterise Dr Harper’s professional failings. Ultimately I have come to the conclusion that the language or nomenclature is irrelevant. What matters is the substance of my findings and their impact on these children.
  6. Ms Lee is right to emphasise the observations of Butler-Sloss (P) in Re U: Re B (serious injury;standard of proof) [2004] 2 FLR 263 at para 23iv:
    1. “The court must always be on guard against the over-dogmatic expert, the expert whose reputation or amour-propre is at stake, or the expert who has developed a scientific prejudice”
  7. I do not consider that Dr Harper has developed a scientific prejudice nor that he is jealous to guard his amour-propre but I do consider that his disregard for the conventional principles of professional method and analysis displays a zealotry which he should recognise as a danger to him as a professional and, more importantly, to those who I believe he is otherwise genuinely motivated to help and whom he plainly has much to offer.

 

 

[I’m not sure why the Courts have felt that amour-propre is an expression in common use, but basically ‘reputation’ would do the trick just as well – the self-esteem that comes from the opinion of others]

 

It is a bitterly ironic twist that part of the disputed attributed quotations were Dr Harper stating that the mother had been critical of other (past) experts, calling them liars.

 

This concept of an expert taking an impression but then attributing quotations to the mother that she did not say and that the notes could have given no indication of her having said is a truly shocking one.  As the Judge says, doing this gives the conclusions and recommendations of the report far more weight as it seems to come directly from mother, she condemning herself out of her own mouth, rather than the expert stating that he had the impression  (which of course can be cross-examined as to the forensic basis of this)

Let us be honest – if the mother simply asserted that she had not said this, and had not tape-recorded the sessions, who would have been believed? We have to be able to trust experts – they may genuinely form the wrong opinion, and may be shifted in cross-examination, but there has to be trust that if a report says  Mother said “X Y Z” that she actually said those things.  Future of children is at stake here.  We must demand higher standards from experts than we would of political journalists, surely.

 

(I’m reminded a little of the Overegging the Pudding case  https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/11/28/over-egging-the-pudding/    though of course this goes still further, from cherry-picking only the negatives to flat out creation of quotations that the mother did not in fact say)

 

It is also an interesting comparison, given that both were Hayden J to the criticism he made of the ISW in the radicalisation case (which were about competence rather than integrity) and the fairer process here where the expert had the opportunity to be represented and respond to the criticisms – in both cases they could have a serious impact on livelihood of the experts, for whom reputation is a vital component in them obtaining future instructions.