RSS Feed

Category Archives: cafcass

Application to dismiss a Guardian for bias

Very rare application this, and one that should interest both professionals and parents alike.  It also raises important issues about the fine detail in the construction of a Position Statement at an interim hearing, particularly for lawyers representing the child.

 

QS v RS & Another 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/1443.html

 

This was a case in the High Court before MacDonald J  involving international adoption – two people had adopted a child in Nepal, the girl now being ten years old and her ‘parents’ were British citizens. (I’ll drop the air-quotes from here on to keep it simple).  Her parents moved with her to Dubai, and applied for British Citizenship and obtained that for her.  The parents later split up and there was an argument as to whether the child should stay in Dubai with father, or be in England with mother. So it isn’t a run-of-the-mill care case, but some of the general principles applied by the Court and the issues it throws up are relevant.

The Court appointed a Guardian to make enquiries into the case and to represent the child in the proceedings.

As part of the process, the Court had directed the Guardian (who was a replacement for the initial Guardian who left the service) to file and serve a Position Statement commenting on the outcome of a meeting with T, the child.  This wasn’t the final hearing, nor the final Guardian’s report.

The Guardian’s position statement included the following :-

 

The children’s guardian takes the view from talking to T and interpreting her wishes and feelings captured in her ‘How it looks to me’ submission annexed as MH1 that her family life is firmly rooted in Dubai and up until now this appears to have worked for her, even in the absence of M for three years

Now, not all of the evidence had been received by that point, and it seems that some of the material which had also been directed to be produced by the parents and their representatives had not yet made its way to the Guardian.  In fact, looking at the end of the judgment, it seems that the Guardian’s Position Statement was drafted and filed BEFORE the due date, and thus ahead of the father’s evidence.  The Judge criticised that decision to file early and hence out of sequence.

The mother took the view that the Guardian, who would be in a powerful position to make final recommendations, had by giving that clear view of the case reached a decision and conclusion before seeing all of the evidence and that there was a perception of bias.

 

[I must briefly comment that in a EVERY set of private law proceedings I ever did for parents, my client always told me without fail having met the CAFCASS officer that the CAFCASS officer had taken against them and was siding with the other parent. Fifty per cent of times, when we got the report and it didn’t recommend what my client wanted, they would say “See, told you?” – the other fifty per cent they would say either “well, that surprised me” or “It just goes to show how strong my case is that even a biased CAFCASS officer didn’t dare go against me”.   Sometimes, there are valid reasons for being unhappy with a CAFCASS report – but actual evidence of bias is pretty rare.  When it is flawed, it is more likely to be as a result of shoddiness, lack of care, failure to double-check assertions or being rushed. Those things absolutely do happen, I’m afraid. ]

 

So mother applied to the Court to discharge the Guardian on the grounds of bias or apparent bias.

What’s the application in those circumstances?

 

  • FPR 2010 r 16.25 provides as follows in respect of the power of the court to terminate the appointment of a children’s guardian appointed under FPR 2010 r 16.4:

 

16.25 Court’s power to change children’s guardian and prevent person acting as children’s guardian

(1) The court may –

(a) direct that a person may not act as a children’s guardian;

(b) terminate the appointment of a children’s guardian;

(c) appoint a new children’s guardian in substitution for an existing one.

(2) An application for an order or direction under paragraph (1) must be supported by evidence.

(3) Subject to rule 16.24(6), the court may not appoint a children’s guardian under this rule unless it is satisfied that the person to be appointed complies with the conditions specified in rule 16.24(5).

 

  • FPR 2010 PD16A para 7.17 makes clear that where an application is made for an order under FPR 2010 r 16.25 the applicant must set out the reasons for seeking it and that the application must be supported by evidence.

 

 

The FPR (Family Procedure Rules) don’t go on to advise the Court on what criteria to apply when considering the application.

 

The Court therefore looked for guidance in the case law, to see what principles if any could be drawn from cases where Courts HAD removed Guardian’s or refused such an application.

 

When examining the almost identical provision in CPR 1998 r 21.7 dealing with the power to terminate the appointment of a litigation friend, Foskett J observed in Bradbury v Paterson [2015] COPLR 425 at [31] that the court’s discretion is a full one

 

[That’s a posh way of saying “It’s basically up to you Judge. Use the Force…”]

.

 

  • There are few authorities concerning the termination of the appointment of the children’s guardian. In Oxfordshire County Council v P [1995] 1 WLR 543, [1995] 1 FLR 552 Ward J (as he then was) allowed the application to terminate the appointment of the children’s guardian in circumstances where the mother had disclosed to the guardian that she had caused injuries to the child and the guardian was thereafter interviewed by the Police to obtain a witness statement from her to prove criminal charges arising out of the injuries, during which interview she disclosed the mother’s admissions without the leave of the court. Ward J concluded in respect of the guardian that “To encourage frankness on the part of the parents, she must be replaced even though her work in all other respects has been wholly admirable and my criticism of her is technical not substantial.”
  • In Re J (Adoption: Appointment of Guardian ad Litem) [1999] 2 FLR 86 the Court of Appeal refused an application to terminate a guardian’s appointment (made within the context of an application for permission to appeal an order appointing a guardian in adoption proceedings) notwithstanding that at a meeting following the cessation of her appointment in the care proceedings, but prior to her appointment in the adoption proceedings the guardian had expressed agreement to the proposal that the child be placed for adoption. In Re J Ward LJ held that it is untenable to assert that there is bias or the appearance of bias based simply on adverse views expressed in the course of long proceedings.
  • Further, in Re J Ward LJ agreed with the observation of the judge at first instance that, frequently, a children’s guardian holding a certain view can be persuaded under cross-examination to change their minds, that the “flexibility, rigidity, competence, balance, wisdom or other aspects of her conduct of the case are matters which the court will be invited to take into account when deciding whether to accept her evidence or recommendations” and that “Only in very rare circumstances can such factors disqualify a Guardian from acting at all“. Within this context I also note the observation of Sir Nicholas Wall in A County Council v K, C and T [2011] 2 FLR 817 at [117] that:

 

“The reasoning of the Cafcass guardian, whether given orally or in writing is always open to challenge in cross-examination, which can always go to method. Added to which, of course, where the report is in writing, good practice requires the investigative and reasoning processes to be set out. Once again, the decision is for the court, which is heavily dependent upon the quality of the advice it receives.”

 

  • Finally, in respect of Re J, at 88 Ward LJ agreed with the observations of the judge at first instance that the guardian’s function is not a judicial function. In short, and once again, the court and not the children’s guardian is the final arbiter of what is in the child’s best interests. Within the context of this latter point, it is important, once again, to note the observations of Macur LJ in MW v Hertfordshire County Council [2014] EWCA Civ 405 at [32] that the children’s guardian is a witness subject to the same judicial scrutiny as any other witness and starts with no special advantage in proceedings as compared with other witnesses.
  • Finally, in relation to the authorities, in Re A (Conjoined Twins: Medical Treatment)(No 2) [2001] 1 FLR 267 Ward LJ held that the court can terminate the appointment of a Children’s Guardian where he or she has acted manifestly contrary to the best interests of the child, observing as follows:

 

“It was not necessary for the President, in order to dispose of the application, to attempt any comprehensive statement of the circumstances in which it might be expedient to remove a guardian ad litem, and the President wisely did not embark on that course. Neither r 4.10(9) of the Family Proceedings Rules 1991 nor the corresponding provision of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (r 21.7(1)) specifies any limit on the court’s power to terminate the appointment of a guardian ad litem or litigation friend. The President focused on the particular situation in which the court is asked to replace a guardian ad litem because the guardian has in the conduct of litigation taken a course of action (in which we include an omission), or is about to take a course of action, which is manifestly contrary to the best interests of the child whose interests it is the guardian’s duty to safeguard. If the guardian (or litigation friend) does act manifestly contrary to the child’s best interests, the court will remove him even though neither his good faith nor his diligence is in issue.”

 

  • Overall, it would appear that whilst the court’s discretion to terminate the appointment of a children’s guardian under FPR 2010 r 16.25(1)(b) is a full one, it is nonetheless a discretion that should be exercised sparingly, taking into account the imperative of the overriding objective in FPR 2010 r 1.1 to deal with the case justly having regard to the welfare issues involved. Within this context, where the grounds relied on in support of an application to terminate the appointment of the children’s guardian concern the methodology adopted by the guardian, the court may terminate the appointment where the guardian acts manifestly contrary to the child’s best interests or, but only in very rare circumstances, where the guardian has engaged in conduct that the court would ordinarily be invited simply to take into account when deciding whether to accept or reject the guardian’s evidence or recommendations.

 

The Court also considered the authorities on judicial bias  (our old friend Porter v Magill)

 

 

  • Where an allegation of apparent bias is made the test set out in Porter v McGill [2002] 2 AC 357 falls to be considered, namely “whether the fair-minded observer, having considered the facts, would conclude that there was a real possibility that the tribunal was biased“. There is there is no difference between the common law test of bias and the requirement for impartiality contained in Art 6 of the ECHR (Lawal v Northern Spirit [2003] ICR 856).
  • As the terminology used in the test in Porter v McGill suggests, the question of apparent bias is ordinarily considered in the context of the conduct of a person or persons occupying a judicial or quasi-judicial role. Where the person whose conduct is in question is not acting in a judicial or quasi-judicial capacity it is inappropriate for the case to be approached in the same way as one would approach a person performing a normal judicial role or quasi-judicial role; a situation where the person is making a determination (R v Secretary of State for Trade and others ex parte Perestrello and another [1981] 1 QB 19 at 35). In such circumstances, the position of the person whose conduct is the subject of criticism is better considered by reference to whether the person in question was under a duty to act fairly, the ambit of that duty, and whether they have acted with the requisite degree of fairness, rather than by reference to the concept of apparent bias (R v Secretary of State for Trade and others ex parte Perestrello and another [1981] 1 QB 19 at 34). I pause to note that, pursuant to FPR 2010 r 16.27(1)(b) and PD 16A para 7.6, a children’s guardian appointed pursuant to FPR 2010 r 16.4 is required to conduct the proceedings on behalf of child fairly.
  • Art 6 of the ECHR enshrines the right to a fair hearing. When considering whether a hearing has been fair, the court will look at the proceedings as a whole as well as any alleged individual deficiencies (Barberá, Messegué and Jarbado v Spain (1988) 11 EHRR 360 at [68]). The right to a fair trial guaranteed by Art 6 is not confined to the ‘purely judicial’ part of the proceedings. Unfairness at any stage of the litigation process may involve a breach of Art 6 (Re L (Care: Assessment: Fair Trial) [2002] 2 FLR 730).
  • Where it is said that biased or unfair conduct on the part of person under a duty to advise the court will lead to bias or unfairness in the proceedings, such a causal link must be demonstrated. In R v Gough [1993] AC 646 at 664C the House of Lords held that it must be shown that by reason of the adviser participating in the decision making process there is a real likelihood that he or she would impose his or her influence on the tribunal (see also R (Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust) v Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts and Another [2012] EWCA Civ 472 at [132]).
  • In this case the children’s guardian has been appointed pursuant to FPR 2010 r 16.4. Within this context, the role and duties of the children’s guardian are set out in FPR 2010 PD 16A. As I have already noted, pursuant to paragraph 7.6 of that Practice Direction it is the duty of a children’s guardian appointed under FPR 2010 r 16.4 to “fairly and competently to conduct proceedings on behalf of the child”. Further, pursuant to FPR 2010 PD 16A paragraph 7.7 the children’s guardian must advise the court on, inter alia, the child’s wishes and feelings and the options available to the court in respect of the child and the suitability of each such option, including what order should be made in determining the application. Pursuant to FPR 2010 PD 16A paragraph 6.1 the children’s guardian must make such investigations as are necessary to carry out his or her duties.
  • Within this context, it is important to note the observations of Macur LJ in MW v Hertfordshire County Council [2014] EWCA Civ 405 (a case in which the children’s guardian was appointed pursuant to FPR 2010 r 16.3) at [21] and [32] respectively that the children’s guardian is not a “neutral” party or participant in proceedings and that the children’s guardian does not have a “special” status within proceedings. Whilst the children’s guardian is required to proffer advice to the court, in doing so the guardian becomes a witness subject to the same judicial scrutiny as any other witness. The children’s guardian starts with no special advantage in proceedings as compared with other witnesses.
  • When the court is reaching its decision with respect to the welfare of a child it must consider all the evidence in the case including, but not limited to, the evidence of the children’s guardian. The court is the decision maker and must reach its decision by reference to the matters set out in the Children Act 1989 s 1 having regard to the totality of the evidence before the court.

 

I will pause there. MW v Hertfordshire 2014 says something very important – that the Guardian is just a witness like any other, and their evidence can be tested by cross-examination and they don’t start with any additional Brownie Points or judicial weight given to their evidence over and above any other witness. To which I would say that that’s a very fine notion, and I believe that it ought to be true, but it absolutely isn’t true in practice.  I’ll give you all a specific counter to that.

In the form given for Facts and Reasons, which is what Magistrates have to fill out when they are making a decision about a child, there is a specific section that says “Views of the Guardian and the reasons for the Court departing from those views if they do so”.   There isn’t a similar specific section asking the Court to specifically justify why they didn’t do what the mother asked, or the father, or even the Local Authority.  Every single social worker will tell you stories of how they got to the end of a case with a happy outcome where the child remains at home with parents and the Court were all over the Guardian  “I’d like to thank the Guardian for all of her hard work in this case” and the social worker doesn’t get a mention.  If Guardians who were previously social workers are honest, they will tell you how the experience of Court moved from being looked at as though you were something nasty on the sole of a shoe to being more or less the next living incarnation of the Dali Lama when they just move offices and become a Guardian.  This isn’t me having a go at Guardians – I think there are very good ones, and very bad ones and most of them fall on a spectrum well between those points, just as social workers. But MW v Hertfordshire’s lofty claim that a Guardian has no preferential treatment from the Court is a crock, I’m afraid.

 

I wrote about the Hertfordshire case at the time, here   (it was a Court of Appeal judgment that had LOADS of important stuff in it. It was like a selection box for law geeks. I’m afraid that I see the ‘no special treatment for Guardians’ being the bar of Turkish Delight in said selection box, that doesn’t get eaten or even taken out of the box because it looks inedible. Well, here, MacDonald J takes it out of the box and tucks into it, proclaiming it to be delicious.)

 

Guardians are not a ‘neutral party’ and don’t get brownie points

 

The Court’s decision on this issue, looking at the test for judicial bias and considering whether a Guardian is in the same sort of position or whether (as MW v Hertforshire suggests) they are just  a witness like any other and any issues of bias are simply to be taken up in cross-examination was this :-

 

DISCUSSION

 

  • I have decided that the mother’s oral application for an order terminating the appointment of Mr Power as T’s children’s guardian should be dismissed. My reasons for so deciding are as follows.
  • The mother’s allegation of “apparent bias” against the children’s guardian (as distinct from the court) as a ground for terminating the appointment of the guardian is in my judgment misconceived. The question of apparent bias falls to be considered in the context of the conduct of a person or persons occupying a judicial or quasi-judicial role. The role of the children’s guardian is not a judicial or quasi-judicial role. Whilst he is under a statutory duty to advise the court he is not the decision maker in these proceedings. In the circumstances, it is inappropriate for the mother to seek to approach actions of the children’s guardian in the same way as one would approach a person performing a normal judicial role or quasi-judicial role (R v Secretary of State for Trade and others ex parte Perestrello and another [1981] 1 QB 19 at 35 A-C).
  • Notwithstanding that the mother’s primary contended ground of termination is, in my judgment, misconceived, in circumstances where, pursuant to FPR 2010 r 16.27(1)(b) and PD 16A para 7.6, the children’s guardian must conduct the proceedings on behalf of T fairly when, inter alia, advising the court on the T’s wishes and feelings, the options available to the court in respect of the T and the suitability of each such option, including what order should be made in determining the application, it is nonetheless necessary in my judgment to consider whether the children’s guardian has failed to act with the requisite degree of fairness such that the termination of his appointment is justified in accordance with the legal principles I have outlined above.
  • Turning first to the specific passages of the Position Statement in issue, I am not able to accept Mr Perkins’ submission that the passage in the Position Statement lodged on behalf of the children’s guardian set out at Paragraph 11(i) above setting out his analysis of T’s wishes and feelings evidences a lack of impartiality on the part of the guardian. The views of the guardian are plainly grounded in statements made to him by T. The missing statement of the father could only have acted reinforce the conclusion reached by the guardian. The matters which Ms Hamade has been asked to consider do not go to interpreting the nature or significance of T’s wishes and feelings. The child’s guardian makes clear in his report that he spoke to T after she had met with her mother specifically to check whether her views had changed.
  • The position in respect of the passage in the Position Statement lodged on behalf of the children’s guardian set out at Paragraph 11(ii) above is, I accept, of greater concern. It is clear that in coming to his views the children’s guardian considered the position of the mother, both in terms of the quality of T’s attachment to her and her travel difficulties with respect to the United Arab Emirates and appreciated that the matter remained subject to final determination by the court. However, statement that “The children’s guardian takes the view that T has suffered enough change and suggests a formula of arrangements that add, expand and compliment the advantages that accrue to her living with F in Dubai” does have the appearance of a recommendation regarding the final outcome of this matter and both parents appear to have taken it as such. Further, it is beyond dispute that the guardian reached his conclusion without seeing the totality of the evidence he had been directed to consider. Whilst, once again, the missing evidence of the father may well only have reinforced this conclusion, the report of Ms Hamade was potentially relevant to it in circumstances where it bore on the question of how easy ongoing contact between mother and daughter would be to maintain in light of the nature and extent of any continuing issues regarding the mother’s ability to enter and leave the United Arab Emirates.
  • In circumstances where, pursuant to FPR 2010 r 16.27(1)(b) and PD 16A para 7.6, the children’s guardian must conduct the proceedings on behalf of T fairly, it is unfortunate that the Position Statement lodged on behalf of the children’s guardian is expressed what appeared to be a settled recommendation prior to the children’s guardian having had sight of all of the evidence and without the Position Statement making clear on its face that the children’s guardian acknowledged that his “suggested formula of arrangements” had been arrived at in that context. Whilst I accept that the Position Statement is a document drafted on behalf of the children’s guardian and not by him and that the document evidences his understanding that the matter remained subject to final determination by the court, I also accept that concern as to the impartiality of the guardian and, accordingly, the fairness of the proceedings has been generated in the mother in circumstances where the children’s guardian reached his conclusion without considering all of the evidence he was directed to.
  • However, having considered the position carefully and acknowledging the concerns of the mother, I am not able to accept, having regard to the respective roles of the Guardian and the court, that there is a real likelihood that the approach of the children’s guardian will lead to unfairness in the proceedings as a whole such that the criticisms of the methodology of the children’s guardian require the termination of his appointment pursuant to FPR 2010 r 16.25(1)(b).
  • As I have already noted, it is the court that is the decision maker in this case and not the children’s guardian. The court is required to consider fully and fairly all of the evidence before it when reaching its final decision on the welfare of T, having regard to the matters set out in the Children Act 1989 s 1. Within the context of that process, two matters are of particular importance when considering the mother’s application to terminate the appointment of the children’s guardian.
  • First, during the course of that process the children’s guardian enjoys no special status relative to other witnesses before the court (MW v Hertfordshire County Council [2014] EWCA Civ 405 at [21] and [32]). The fact that the children’s guardian is under a duty to advise the court the options available to it to make recommend what order should be made does not mean that the advice and recommendation of the children’s guardian carries with it preferential, let alone determinative weight in the proceedings. The views of guardian, even when set out in a final analysis and recommendations report, are not binding on the court. At all times it is the application of the principles and factors set out in the Children Act 1989 s 1 to the totality of the evidence before the court that drives the court’s conclusion as to what is in the child’s best interests. There would be more force in mother’s application if the court was bound to follow recommendations of the children’s guardian or if the recommendations of the guardian carried preferential weight in the proceedings. However, neither of these propositions is sound.
  • Second, within the context of this legal framework the evidence of the children’s guardian falls to be evaluated by the court in the same way as any other witness having regard to factors including its credibility, internal consistency and fairness, with the results of that evaluation being applied in reaching a final determination. Specifically, the evidence of the children’s guardian will be the subject to forensic scrutiny by the court through the medium of cross-examination. Within this context the mother will be able to test the aspects of the guardian’s methodology that concern her and make submissions to the court on the consequences of any challenges she makes good. In particular, she will be able to put to the children’s guardian that he has pre-judged the issue of T’s living arrangements and the court can consider whether the guardian’s recommendation is thereby undermined. The court is well used to hearing and considering challenges mounted in cross examination by way of an allegation of prejudgment against social workers and children’s guardians.
  • In the foregoing circumstances, and with these procedural protections in place, in my judgment the matters recorded in the Position Statement of the guardian that cause the mother concern do not amount to grounds for terminating the appointment of that guardian on the basis of unfairness. Whilst it is unfortunate that this position has arisen, I am satisfied that the trial process as a whole will allow the mother a fair opportunity at the final hearing to challenge the methodology and reasoning process of the children’s guardian, which challenges will be taken into account by the court when deciding what weight to attach to his views. Within this context, I am satisfied that the parties can remain on an equal footing and that the court can deal with the case fairly notwithstanding the statements included in the Position Statement drafted on behalf of the children’s guardian.
  • I of course acknowledge the principle that it is not only important that justice is done but that it is seen to be done. However, once again, I am satisfied that the fact that it is the court who is the decision maker in this case, coupled with the opportunity the mother has to challenge the methodology and conclusions of the children’s guardian prior to the court reaching its decision, meets the requirements of this cardinal principle. I also bear in mind that the children’s guardian has yet to file and serve his final analysis and recommendations report and that he will do so having had sight of all of the evidence that has been placed before the court.
  • In reaching my decision I have also had regard to the delay that will be engendered in these proceedings if the appointment of the current children’s guardian were to be terminated and the matter adjourned for a new guardian to commence work. I have also borne in mind that such a course of action would necessitate T having another meeting with a different professional to talk once again about her wishes and feelings. Having regard to the statutory principle that delay is ordinarily inimical to the welfare of the child, and whilst not determinative, this in my judgment is a further reason for refusing the application to terminate the appointment of the current children’s guardian.
  • Finally, and again whilst not determinative of my decision on the mother’s application, as I have already observed the mother made her application to terminate the appointment of the children’s guardian pursuant to FPR 2010 r 16.25(1)(b) orally (without even having given notice of the intention to make such an application in her Position Statement) and absent any written or oral evidence in support of that application, contrary to the requirements of FPR 2010 r 16.25(2). In the circumstances, I also note that the court has not been taken to evidence in support of the mother’s application as mandated by the rules of court when pursuing an application to terminate the appointment of the children’s guardian.

 

 

I don’t think that this was the strongest application on bias, it was fairly clear that the Guardian’s views about the child’s wishes and future were as a result of the Guardian’s discussions with the child, who was ten years old. The position statement was somewhat clumsy in not making the position more explicit that there was no final decision but rather an interim view.

Finally the Court said this :-

 

CONCLUSION

 

  • There will, in very rare circumstances, be cases where the court accedes to an application to terminate the appointment of the children’s guardian where the guardian has adopted a methodology that the court would ordinarily be invited simply to take into account at a final hearing when deciding what weight to attach to the guardian’s evidence or recommendations. This, however, is not such a case. For the reasons given above I am satisfied that the mother’s application to terminate the appointment of Mr Power should be dismissed, and I so dismiss it.
  • As I have already observed, in Re J Ward LJ endeavoured to reassure the mother that the judge in that case was confident about the impartiality of the children’s guardian, was alive to the issues in the case, and that it was the judge who would have the very difficult task of resolving those issues. I reassure the mother in the same terms in this case.
  • Finally, the need for the court to consider the issues set out in this judgment stems, in large part, from the failure by CAFCASS Legal to adhere to the directions made by this court on 5 April 2016. Mr Hinchliffe’s decision to complete his Position Statement on 2 June 2016 ahead of the receipt of evidence due to be filed on 10 May 2016 in respect of the report of Ms Hamade and on 3 June 2016 in respect of the statement of the father, which evidence the court required the guardian to consider before the lodging of a Position Statement, together with the terms in which the Position Statement was drafted in those circumstances, have caused the mother unnecessary worry and concern and the court additional work. That worry and work could have been avoided had CAFCASS Legal complied with the directions made by the court or applied to vary the same. I hope that CAFCASS Legal will reflect on this.
  • That is my judgment.

 

 

 

 

It’s time… for Pig to say sorry to Hartley

 

In my youth, there was a TV show called Pipkins, in which Hartley, a moth-bitten hare with a personality disorder lived in a house with a Brummie pig, a monkey called Topov, a creepy tortoise who slept in a shop till and a Zsa-Zsa Gabor type ostrich. There would always be a section in the show where the human presenter would tell one of the characters to say sorry to another – with the “It’s time…. for Pig to say sorry to Hartley”

(There would be a montage of clocks and the noise of clocks striking during the “Time” bit)

 

This looks like the stuff of some sort of fevered Shock-Headed Peter nightmare, not a children's entertainment.  (I am not even showing you the evil tortoise)

This looks like the stuff of some sort of fevered Shock-Headed Peter nightmare, not a children’s entertainment. (I am not even showing you the evil tortoise)

 

That pig looks as though he’s going to lunge at me and eat me from the soles of the feet up.

Besides being largely responsible for my life-long aversion to tortoises (seriously, I have to leave the room or look away if I see one on television, they give me the Fear), that expression always stayed with me.

In the case of Re K (children) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2016/99.html

The Court of Appeal were considering the father’s appeal against a decision that he have no contact with his children, there having been domestic violence between the father and mother and the children having been exposed to some of this. The Court of Appeal granted the appeal, ruling that the Judge had not gone far enough in the duty to exhaust the reasonable avenues of getting contact re-established.

The interesting feature of the case is that both the Judge and the Guardian had become quite fixed on the idea that the father needed to apologise to the mother for his behaviour.

Vos LJ firmly rejected this and it may have a bearing on other cases.

 

I agree, and would only add a few words on one aspect of this case that I found somewhat disturbing. As Lady Justice King has recorded, the recorder seems to have taken the view that the father’s failure to make a genuine and heartfelt apology to the mother precluded him from seeing his children. I cannot accept such a starting point. It may well be that a repentant father would offer a reduced risk of harm to the children, but it is that risk and the welfare of the children generally that are important in contact cases, not any moral judgment of either parent. As has been often pointed out, parents are of all kinds and demonstrate all levels of moral virtue. It is not the court’s job to judge a wrongdoing parent for the sake of doing so, because it will, in all but the most exceptional circumstances, be in the children’s best interests to see their parents. If the failure to apologise posed a risk to the children, that might have been a different matter, but that does not seem to have been the case here. The recorder was wrong to impose a pre-condition of repentance and apology. Those matters were relevant, but only insofar as they had a bearing on the welfare of the children.

 

 

And if you want some more nightmare fuel, there were Pipkins episodes where Hartley (to my mind a cross between a really annoyed Kenneth Williams and Al Pacino at the end of Scarface) had his own puppet, which was even more malevolent.

 

Will I ever sleep again?

Will I ever sleep again?

Guidance on foreign surrogacy

 

Yet another High Court decision about international surrogacy.

 

Re Z (Foreign Surrogacy:Allocation of work: Guidance on parental order reports) 2015

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/90.html

 

This one throws up a lot of the issues that can go wrong with international surrogacy. The arrangements were all made, properly and legally in India. The commissioning ‘parents’ then found it impossible to come back to England with the twins until they had a Parental Order. But they in turn found it difficult to get a Parental Order, because there was uncertainty about whether the applicants needed to be present in England at the time of the application, whether the child’s ‘home’ had to be in England, and whether the parental order reporter had to go to India to observe the ‘parents’ with the child. In fact the parents had to leave the twins in India, deal with matters in Court and then get the twins from India, a sorry state of affairs.

 

Ms Justice Russell cuts through a lot of this with the guidance that applications for Parental Orders with an international element (where child is born outside of England and Wales) should henceforth be heard only in the High Court. They are also to be heard in London, where possible by Pauffley J, Theis J or Russell J, all of whom have been at the forefront of the most challenging cases of this nature and are well placed to resolve difficult issues.

 

 

  • Guidance In respect of the allocation of parental order applications there will be the following guidelines applied in keeping with the practice and procedure as set out in Schedule 1, 3 (f) (iv) of the Distribution of Business in the High Court of the Senior Courts Act 1981, rule13.9 (1) (e) of the Family Procedure Rules (FPR) 2010 and Schedule 1 paragraph 4(f) of the Family Court (Composition and Distribution of Business) Rules 2014 which have been in force from 22 April 2014 on the formation of the Family Court (as referred to above).

 

i) All proceedings for parental orders will commence in the Family Court where they will remain. They should not be transferred to the High Court.

ii) All proceedings pursuant to s 54 of the HFEA 2008 where the child’s place of birth was outside of England and Wales should be allocated to be heard by a Judge of the Family Division.

iii) In London all cases should, if possible, be allocated to Mrs Justice Pauffley, Mrs Justice Theis or Ms Justice Russell.

iv) Cases which originate on circuit, unless transferred to London, should be allocated to be heard locally by a Judge of the Family Division identified by the Family Division Liaison Judge in consultation with the Judge in Charge of the HFEA list (this is Mrs Justice Theis).

v) Allocation of the case to either the Cafcass High Court Team or to a local Cafcass or Cafcass Cymru officer to act as parental order reporter is a matter for Cafcass (subject to their own guidance and the guidance below).

 

  • The President has seen paragraph [73] and has approved it.

 

 

On the particular issues that arose in this case :-

 

  1. Do the parents need to be physically present in the UK to apply?    No, they just need to be domiciled here.
  2. Does the ‘home’ with the child need to be in the UK?  No, and also it does not matter that the time the children were in a home with the applicants was not continuous. It needs to be at the time the application is made and again at the time that the order is made.

 

The child’s home must be with applicants at the time they made the application (Section 54(4) (a) HFEA 2008) and at the time the court is considering making the order. Although the twins had remained in India and at times were not being cared for there by the Applicants there was no issue in this case as the place the children were living was a home that was entirely arranged and provided for by the Applicants; moreover the commissioning father had returned to India in February and remained with the children until the whole family came to the UK in May 2015. Either or both the applicants must be domiciled in the United Kingdom or in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man (sub-section (4) (b)). Domicile can be problematic in some cases as it is a peculiarity of English and Welsh law which is often confused with residence by applicants acting in person (and others). This was the matter with which the court was concerned in the case of Re G referred to paragraph 2 above. In the instant case, however, there was no such problem as both Applicants were born in England to fathers domiciled here and there was no evidence to suggest that they had not retained their domicile of origin. They were both over eighteen years old at the time the order was made and so meeting the requirements of s 54(5) HFEA 2008.

 

3. Does the parental order reporter, who carries out an investigation and reports to the Court need to see the applicants WITH the child?  This seems obvious, but of course in a situation like this that would have involved the reporter (who no doubt has a heavy workload and an organisation not flush with cash) flying out to India.   The answer is longer than the other two, but ultimately ‘yes’

 

 

Parental Order Report

 

  • The children’s guardian was prepared to consider making recommendations without having seen the children in the care of the Applicants in the UK in the exceptional circumstances of this case. She made it plain to the court that this was not her preferred option and it was her assumption that she needed to see the children at home with the Applicants. The only reason that Ms Dawe felt able to consider such a course was because there was what she described as “wealth of material” about the Applicants’ ability to parent K and the support that was available to the Applicants from their wider families. Ms Dawe accepted that parenting three children is different to one but was so concerned about the welfare of the babies stranded in India that she felt that it was an appropriate course for her to take. The role of the Cafcass officer/Cafcass Cymru/Parental Order Reporter and the extent and nature of their investigations was one issue in this case that I specifically sought assistance upon from Cafcass Legal and I am grateful to them for that assistance.
  • A specific issue raised in this case was whether it was necessary for the child or children who are subjects of applications for parental orders under s54 of the HFEA to be seen by the Parental Order Reporter for the welfare report to be properly prepared. The Human Fertilization and Embryology (Parental Orders) Regulations 2010 does not incorporate section 42(7) of the ACA 2002 which require a privately placed child to be seen by the Local Authority together with their adopter in their home, and the Explanatory Memorandum to the Regulations makes no reference to any such requirement. For the purpose of cases of international surrogacy it sets down the following about the acquisition of nationality or citizenship:

 

“Nationality

8.7. As a result of responses to the consultation, and to ensure parity with adoption legislation, the Parental Order Regulations 2010 now ensure that where a parental order is made in the United Kingdom and one or both of the commissioning couple are British citizens, the child – if not already so – will become a British citizen.”

 

  • The Court was referred to the Cafcass Guidance issued to Parental Order Reporters at the hearing on 18th May 2015. This guidance did not require in terms that the parental order reporter sees the child, but since that guidance was issued, further work was undertaken within Cafcass as a result of which fact-sheets were produced for commissioning parents who are applying for parental orders and in the fact-sheet entitled “Parental Order Reporters” intended applicants are told that they will be seen by the parental order reporter with their child (my emphasis). These documents or fact-sheets were only just published within a few weeks of the final hearing of this case on 7th July 2015.
  • Ms Penny Logan of Cafcass Legal, who appeared before me and Ms Lakin, counsel on behalf of the children, both told the court that they were unaware of a case that had been reported where the parental order reporter has not seen the child. This was accepted by Ms Cronin on behalf of the Applicants. Ms Logan pointed out, and as this court is well aware, members of Cafcass Legal routinely act for High Court team guardians in cases where the children are parties. The court was reminded of the fact, well known to it, which is that the High Court team undertakes a large proportion of the parental order cases in the High Court and most of the international ones. Ms Logan told the court that she was unaware, through Cafcass, of any case reported or unreported, where the parental order reporter has not seen the child. Although this court is aware of one such instance in a reported case (see the reference in [86] below) it is difficult to imagine circumstances in which a parental order reporter could properly report on welfare without having seen the child with the Applicants. Ms Logan went on to inform the court she was, at that time, involved in another surrogacy case where determination of the application hade been delayed for a year for similar reasons.
  • It is accepted that it was never the preferred option of the guardian in this case that she would make recommendations in the absence of seeing the children with the Applicants in the UK. It is the experience of this court that applications for parental orders are made by commissioning parents who do not presently reside in this country (when one or both have a UK domicile). In such cases parental order reporters see children with commissioning parents/applicants when they visit this jurisdiction as in the case of CC v DD (supra) [2014] EWHC 1307.
  • In the instant case the guardian’s report amply demonstrates both the value and necessity of such observations in terms of the analysis of the welfare checklist set out in s.1 ACA 2002. While it would have been a matter for the court as to whether it would have made the order in the absence of this work in the circumstances of this case; I took the view that the parental order reporter had to have seen the children with the Applicants before the court could be satisfied about their welfare.

 

 

 

 

appeal – no contact, section 91(14) and judicial conciliation

 

Re T (A child) (Suspension of Contact) (Section 91(14) 2015 has some peculiar quirks, and one point which is probably important. It is a Court of Appeal decision, written by Cobb J.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/719.html

 

When I give you this little extract about the father

We have read the e-mail from the director of Contact Centre A (dated 29 May 2014) to the child’s solicitor which describes the conversations thus:

“… [the father] has obsessively / repeatedly called our organisation in the last couple of weeks. On each occasion he was extremely abusive, consistently making racist remarks, intimidating and threatening staff …. It is evident that centre staff are scared by the experience of dealing with [the father] and further dealings or contact arrangements at [the contact centre] are likely to pose significant risks to both his child and the centre staff. For the above reasons, [the contact centre] is not in a position to facilitate supervised contact sessions between [the father] and his daughter”.

 

You might be somewhat surprised that, doing this appeal in person, he bowls four balls of appeal  (well, he actually put in 19 in his grounds, but the Court of Appeal kindly found him his best four) and three of them hit middle and off and get the result. One is considered wide, but that’s a strike rate to be proud of.   [Taking three wickets out of 19 balls is still pretty decent]

 

The litigation history here is dreadful

 

8. The multiple court hearings, and judgments and orders which have flowed from them, reflect an extraordinarily high degree of conflict in the parental separation. By the time the proceedings were listed before HHJ Hayward Smith QC on 12 December 2011, he expressed a concern that the case was “in danger of spiralling out of control”, a fear which has in our view regrettably all too obviously come to pass. Not only have the parents been in relentless conflict with each other, but the father has also raised repeated and serious allegations of professional misconduct against E’s court-appointed Guardian, against counsel instructed in the case at various times, and against some of the judges. Family related litigation was at one time unacceptably being conducted simultaneously in three family court centres in different parts of the country, and even when co-ordinated in one location, there has been a regrettable lack of judicial continuity (even though it had been explicitly acknowledged by many of the judges involved to have been “essential” to maintain firm and consistent management of the case).

  1. In our own review of the background history we recognised that there was a risk, by which in our view this experienced Judge allowed herself to be distracted, that the truly dreadful chronology of litigation, and the behaviours of the adults towards each other and the professionals, would divert attention from, and ultimately eclipse, the essential issue, namely E’s relationship with both her parents

 

 

Here are the four grounds of appeal, as polished up by Cobb J

 

i) Did judicially-assisted conciliation between the parties in respect of child arrangements for E (specifically E’s living arrangements and contact) at a hearing on 13 May 2014, disqualify the Judge from conducting a subsequent contested hearing on 3 July 2014?

ii) Did the Judge err in making substantive orders on 3 July 2014 (including a section 91(14) order restricting any application under section 8 CA 1989):

a) In the absence of the father?

b) On the basis of factual findings made without forensic testing of the documentary material, of some of which the father had no knowledge?

And/or

c) Having indicated to the parties that she would not conduct any hearing in relation to residence issues?

iii) In ordering the indefinite suspension of contact, did the Judge pay proper regard to section 1(1) CA 1989 and the statutory list of welfare factors (section 1(3) ibid.), and to the Article 8 rights of the father and the child, all of which were engaged in such a decision?

iv) Was the order under section 91(14) CA 1989 appropriate in principle, and/or proportionate?

 

We shall take these in turn

i) Did judicially-assisted conciliation between the parties in respect of child arrangements for E (specifically E’s living arrangements and contact) at a hearing on 13 May 2014, disqualify the Judge from conducting a subsequent contested hearing on 3 July 2014?

 

This arose because at a hearing where the issue was intended to be about whether the child could or could not go to a family wedding, but  father was advancing a case of a change of residence for the child (which was an argument with no prospect of success) the Judge moved into conciliation mode with a view to trying to broker an agreement.  This is an accepted model now, but what hasn’t been previously determined was whether a Judge who undertakes that conciliation approach (of trying to move the parties towards an agreement) is able to then make decisions in the case where agreement is not reached.

  1. The father’s application in relation to the wedding celebration was heard by HHJ Hughes QC on 13 May 2014; she refused the application. At the hearing, the Judge, entirely appropriately in our judgment, took an opportunity to conduct some in-court conciliation between the parties in an effort to break the deadlock on residence and contact. At that hearing, the following exchange took place between the Judge and the father (as recorded by the father, but which we do not believe to be challenged):

    Father: “Your Honour, can I ask that this is heard….? If you are going to hear this as a conciliation attempt then you cannot hear the hearing”

    Judge: “That is absolutely fine with me. I will not hear the hearing. I am trying to deal with this now.”

    At the conclusion of the 3 July 2014 hearing in delivering judgment (para [2]), the Judge characterised this exchange thus:

    “During the hearing the father accused (sic.) me of attempting to conciliate and suggested that I should therefore recuse myself”.

    The description of the manner in which the father challenged the Judge (an ‘accusation’) may reveal a little of the father’s tone of lay advocacy not revealed by a transcript.

  2. The father does not currently challenge the Judge’s assessment of the prospects of his case on residence, or her stance in advising him of them. She later described her conciliation attempt thus:

    “I suggested to him that an application for residence of [E] was actually not going to be very successful because he had not seen [E] for ten months, and he accepted that at the time.” (see transcript of the hearing on 3 July 2014).

    His account is similar:

    “It was agreed by all parties before HHJ Hughes on 13 May that the hearing regarding residence should be adjourned with liberty to the father to restore if and when he believed it appropriate to [E]’s interests … I accept that there are no realistic prospects of a Court allowing [a change of residence] at the present when there is no contact taking place. I accept that [E]’s residence in the immediate future is likely to be with her mother” (see father’s letter to the Court 2 July 2014).

 

This Judge did, however later go on to make an order that the father should have no contact with his child at all, and make a section 91(14) order that he be barred from making any other applications without leave of the Court.  Grounds 1 and 2 of the appeal therefore raise the questions  (1) COULD the Judge do this and (2) SHOULD the Judge have done this?

 

The Court of Appeal ruled that the Judge COULD conduct a conciliation style hearing AND then go on to conduct a traditional hearing resolving a dispute.

  1. We wish to emphasise that the facilitation of in-court conciliation at a FHDRA (or indeed at any other hearing in a private law children case) does not of itself disqualify judges from continuing involvement with the case, particularly as information shared at such a hearing is expressly not regarded as privileged (PD12B FPR 2010 para.14.9). Were it otherwise, the “objective” of judicial continuity from the FHDRA (where, as indicated above, conciliation may have been attempted in accordance with the rules) to the making of a final order (see PD12B FPR 2010 para.10) would be defeated. The current arrangement should therefore be distinguished from:

    i) Old-style conciliation appointments, which operated prior to the implementation of the ‘Private Law Programme’ in 2004, the predecessor to the CAP (see Practice Direction [1982] 3 FLR 448; Practice Direction: Conciliation – children: [1992] 1 FLR 228: i.e. “If the conciliation proves unsuccessful the district judge will give directions (including timetabling) with a view to the early hearing and disposal of the application. In such cases that district judge and court welfare officer will not be further involved in that application”.);ii) Non-court dispute resolution (by way of mediation / conciliation) conducted by professionals outside of the court setting: see Re D (Minors) (Conciliation: Privilege [1993] 1 FLR 932, Farm Assist Ltd (in liquidation) –v- DEFRA (No 2) [2009] EWHC 1102 (TCC)), and the Family Mediation Council Code of Practice for family mediators, paras 5.6.1 and 5.6.4;

    iii) A Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) Appointment in a financial remedy case; the judge conducting such a hearing is not permitted to have any further involvement with the application, save for giving directions: see rule 9.17(2) FPR 2010. In a financial case, of course, the Judge is likely to have been armed to conciliate with the provision of all the privileged communications between the parties.

  2. Private law proceedings in the family court have become more than ever “inquisitorial in nature” (Re C (Due Process) [2013] EWCA Civ 1412[2014] 1 FLR 1239 at [47]) in large measure attributable to the overwhelming number of unrepresented parties who require and deserve more than just neutral arbitration; in such cases, particularly at a FHDRA or a Dispute Resolution Appointment, there is presented to the judge “a real opportunity for dispute resolution in the same way that an Issues Resolution Hearing provides that facility in public law children proceedings” (per Ryder LJ at [47] in Re C (Due Process)). We recognise that in exceptional cases, it is possible that a judge may express a view in the context of judicially-assisted conciliation which may render it inappropriate for that judge to go on to determine contested issues at a substantive hearing. Recusal would only be justified, we emphasise exceptionally, if to proceed to hear the substantive case would cause “the fair-minded and informed observer, having considered the facts, …[to]… conclude that there was a real possibility that the tribunal was biased”: see Porter v Magill, Weeks v Magill [2001] UKHL 67, [2002] AC 357, [2002] 2 WLR 37, [2002] 1 All ER 465, [2002] LGR 51.
  3. As we indicated at [18] above at the 13 May hearing the Judge enabled the father to recognise that his residence application was not currently likely to succeed; the father, for his part, appears to have accepted the judicial steer. We do not see why that indication on its own should at that stage of the case have caused the Judge to disqualify herself from maintaining case responsibility. It is not apparent that the parties took any position or made any other offer of compromise which would have given rise to any other potential conflict for the judge.

 

However, ground 2, the father immediately triumphs on the third part – the Judge having said at the conciliation style hearing that she would not go on to decide any contested matters ought not to have later done so.

ii) Did the Judge err in making substantive orders on 3 July 2014 (including a section 91(14) order restricting any application under section 8 CA 1989):

a) In the absence of the father?

b) On the basis of factual findings made without forensic testing of the documentary material, of some of which the father had no knowledge?

And/or

c) Having indicated to the parties that she would not conduct any hearing in relation to residence issues?

 

Starting with (c)

 The father was entitled to the view that the Judge had earlier given the impression that she would not herself deal with such issues, giving him ‘liberty to apply’ at the earlier (13 May 14) hearing. In short, in making these substantive orders (which directly impacted upon the father’s prospective residence claim), the Judge did, in our judgment, precisely that which she had told the parties she would not do. In this respect we have reluctantly concluded that the Judge materially fell into error, leaving the father with an understandable sense of grievance, and reaching a conclusion which is in the circumstances unsustainable.

 

On the other aspects of this ground, the Court of Appeal were content that father had had notice of the hearing and it had not been improper to proceed in his absence (a),  but that it had been wrong to proceed to make serious orders that he had not been put on notice about and to do it on ‘evidence’ which he had not been able to challenge

  1. However, the father’s absence was a significant factor which contributed to two material errors which in our judgment fundamentally undermine the integrity of the Judge’s conclusions:

    i) She made findings of fact on documentary material of which the father had no notice, and on which he had had no chance to make representations;ii) She made substantive orders fundamentally affecting his relationship with his daughter, and his access to the court, having previously told the father that she would not ‘hear the hearing’ of any such substantive application.

    In [39-41] and [42] we enlarge on these points.

  2. The judgment of 3 July 2014, and orders which flow from it, is predicated upon findings of fact which the Judge reached on written documentation (e-mails and position statements) which was not in conventional form (see rule 22 FPR 2010). We make no criticism of that per se, but consider that the judge should have cautioned herself about the possible deficiencies inherent in making findings in these circumstances, particularly where the evidence was not tested. She found that the father’s conversations with Contact Centre A displayed “a truly monstrous display of manipulation” yet the father’s written representations (dated 19 June and 2 July 2014), which she had apparently considered in reaching that conclusion, do not address this evidence in detail; indeed the father makes no specific reference at all in his submission to the e-mail from Contact Centre A (see [22] above). We cannot be certain that the father had even seen it.
  3. Of more concern, the Judge refers to, and appears to rely on as evidence of the father’s generally disruptive and belligerent conduct, an e-mail from a solicitor (unconnected with the case) who is reported to have overheard a heated conversation (“raised voices”) between the father and the Children’s Guardian following the 13 May 2014 hearing. The Judge at the 3 July 2014 hearing told those present that she “has no reason to distrust” the author of the e-mail, which she describes as “quite shocking”. Again, the father, so far as we can tell, was unaware of this evidence and had no opportunity to challenge it; the father had as it happens separately written to the Court complaining that after the 13 May 2014 hearing the Guardian had threatened to report the father to his local social services department, but the Judge does not bring in to her reckoning the father’s complaint.
  4. It also appears that the father had not received the Guardian’s report prior to the 3 July 2014 hearing; certainly he claims not to have seen it at the time he sent in his written representations to the court on the day prior to the hearing. We found no evidence that he had had seen the position statement of the child’s solicitor which (by admission) “went a little further” than the Guardian’s report/recommendation. The father had had no opportunity to comment on any of this material which rendered the judge’s conclusions, in our judgment, highly vulnerable.
  5. More significantly, at the hearing on 3 July 2014 the Judge made orders which went further than had previously been intimated, bringing to a formal end the father’s relationship with his daughter for the foreseeable future, and curbing his ability to pursue an application under section 8 CA 1989 in relation to her for many years.

 

So the appeal would be granted on this basis and sent for re-hearing.  The other two grounds were comfortably made out, that the judicial analysis of the circumstances that would warrant making an order that would mean father having no contact fell far short of what the law requires, and that the legal and procedural protections for a party when making a section 91(14) order had not been met.

 

In final summary, the Court of Appeal had this to say

 

  1. Conclusion
  2. No one should underestimate the challenges to family judges of dealing with cases of this kind. A number of experienced family judges have laudably tried different methods, alternately robust and cautious, to achieve the best outcome for E, but appear to have failed. While we are conscious that the case has presented significant management issues, largely attributable it appears to the conduct of the father, regrettably judicial continuity has not been achieved and this may have added to the faltering process.
  3. By allowing this appeal, we are conscious that we are consigning these parties to a further round of litigation concerning E; this is particularly unfortunate given the history of this case, and the inevitable toll which it is taking on all of the parties, evident from our own assessment of them in court.
  4. In remitting the case for re-hearing, we do not intend to signal any view as to the merits of the mother’s applications, or the likely outcome of the same. We are conscious that E has had virtually no relationship with her father for over half of her life; the Judge could not be criticised for observing, as she did, that a contact regime has thus far proved impossible to sustain. Our own summary of the relevant history above may demonstrate this sufficiently. However, given the life-long implications for E, her parents and family, of the orders which have been successfully challenged by this application and appeal, it is imperative that a proper determination is achieved, as soon as practicable, in order that fully-informed welfare-based decisions can properly be made in the interests of E.

 

 

 

 

Discharge of care order (IRO takes a kicking)

 

One of my commentators asked me this week whether there were many authorities on discharge of Care Orders. I can’t claim any credit for the fact that a case has now turned up.

This is a case decided by a Circuit Judge, so it is not binding authority, but it throws up some interesting issues.  Particularly for, and about, Independent Reviewing Officers.  The judgment is critical of the Local Authority (but more about the systems than the individual worker concerned, though she is named)

 

Re X (Discharge of Care Order) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B217.html

 

This was the mother’s application to discharge the care order on her son X, who is now 14. That order was made in 2001. Very peculiarly, X was at home with his mother under a Care Order until 2010 (and the removal appeared to have happened following mother’s application to discharge the Care Order then).  X then came into foster care and has been there since then.

 

The mother had care proceedings on two younger siblings of X, concluding with no order in 2012. So those children live with her, there are no statutory orders and they are not open cases to social workers.

In the period since the court made its orders of June and December 2012, D’s two youngest daughters have remained in her care. There has been no statutory involvement from Social Services; it is therefore reasonable for the court to assume that the Local Authority has no concerns about the care provided to them. D, very sadly, has been involved on the periphery of proceedings relating to a number of her grandchildren, at least two of whom have been permanently removed. Her losses have continued, therefore, to be many and great.

 

X has autism, so has significant needs of his own.

 

I’ll do the law Geek bit first.

 

Geek point 1 – scrutiny of care plan

When the Children and Families Act 2014 was a twinkle in the drafter’s eye, there was much talk about changing the Court’s relationship with care plans, reducing the scrutiny of them down to the essential matters – no doubt with the hope that the time spent in Court proceedings micro-managing every aspect of the care plan and litigating about every tiny aspect could be cut out and that would speed things up. The Act duly did include a clause to the effect that the Court was only REQUIRED to look at

section 31 (3B) Children Act 1989

…such of the plans provisions setting out the long-term plan for the upbringing of the child concerned as provide for any of the following

(a)the child to live with any parent of the child’s or with any other member of, or any friend of, the child’s family;

(b)adoption;

(c)long-term care not within paragraph (a) or (b).

 

i.e just a flat-out ‘where is the child going to live under this plan’.

 

I haven’t seen that really happen, and also I haven’t seen it appear in any law reports. Until this one

 

Section 31(3)(A) further makes clear that the court must limit its consideration of the prescribed elements of the care plan as to placement, and as the commentary in the Red Book suggests that must necessarily be limited to the form of placement, not the detail of it. I am, however, nonetheless satisfied that, in this case, the court can and must look at the implementation of the plan and its effect on the child in order to complete the welfare evaluation.

 

Which is a really elegant way of saying “The Act says that I’m not REQUIRED to look at the detail of the plan, but to decide the case fairly, I still need to”

 

Geek point 2 – Court keeping hold of the case to hold the LA to account

 

The Guardian in this case told the Court that she did not support the mother’s application to discharge the Care Order, but wanted the Court to adjourn the application, because the LA had made such a mess of things there was little confidence that if left to their own devices without Court scrutiny they would fix things.

It is submitted on the guardian’s behalf that the Local Authority has so failed in its duty as corporate parent to implement the final care plan approved by the court that it should be held to account and its future planning overseen by the court. The guardian urges the court to require the Local Authority to produce an updated plan that is coherent, choate and capable of implementation. The guardian supports the discharge of the Section 34(4) contact order. She does not support the making of a defined contact order in substitution, but invites the court to direct the Local Authority to confirm its commitment to contact at the level of six times a year in its revised plan

 

The Local Authority argued that the Court had no jurisdiction to do that. And if they didn’t use the words ‘smacks of starred care plan’ in their argument, I’d be highly surprised.

The Court accepted that there was no jurisdiction to adjourn the proceedings just to monitor the LA. But did decide that there were some material bits of evidence that were needed before mother’s application could be properly determined.  (so a half-way house). The Judge also ordered, that that evidence should be obtained through an independent social work assessment.

 

Geek point 3 – the legal approach to a discharge of care order

 

The Judge points out that the burden is on the applicant (i.e mother) to show that the order should be discharged

It is for Mother to satisfy the court that there has been a material change of circumstances and X’s welfare requires discharge of the care order.

But then goes on to say that in considering article 8, the Court would have to consider whether it was necessary for the Care Order to remain and to only continue the order if it was proportionate.

 

The court is mindful that Article 6 and Article 8 of the Convention Rights are engaged and that when the court considers the application to discharge the care order, it can only continue the care order if satisfied that the Local Authority’s continued intervention is proportionate

 

Those two things involve some degree of conflict – it seems that the burden is on mother to show that the Care Order should be discharged and simultaneously on the LA to show that it is proportionate for it to continue.

I’ve never seen that argument advanced. It seems in keeping with the spirit of Re B-S (where even if the Court has approved the plan of adoption by making a Placement Order, when the Court is considering making an adoption order, it still has consider whether the plan already approved is necessary and proportionate). But it jibes with a fundamental principle of English law that the burden falls upon the applicant.

I don’t want to say that the Judge is wrong here, and I’m not even sure that she is. I think it is a natural consequence of the need to apply article 8 to any decision made by the Court in family proceedings that the Court need to be satisfied that the interference (even continued interference) by the State in private and family life is proportionate.  I think that she has spotted something clever that I had overlooked.  It made my temples throb a bit to think about it.  I wonder if we will see this revisited.

 

Judicial criticism – LAC reviews

There were major issues in this case. One was that despite the child having been in care since 2010/2011 with a plan of long-term fostering, he was still waiting for a placement. Another was that the therapy and work that he obviously needed still hadn’t materialised.  (And if you are thinking “I bet they made a referral to CAMHS and that was the end of it”, then you are both a hard-bitten cynic and right. )

There was also the issue of contact, particularly contact with his siblings.  And the issue that the LA had basically stopped working with the mother altogether.

She is described as being ‘challenging and forthright’  (which is a bit like those obituaries you see of famous people that say ‘fun loving and gregarious’ when they mean ‘an alcoholic who was exhausting to be around’ or ‘was not one to suffer fools gladly’ to mean ‘was obnoxious and vile to everyone who worked with him’. )

 

 

But let’s quickly look at how little involvement the LA were having with this mother (who lets not forget was SHARING PR for this 14 year old)

It is unusual to come across a case where a mother who continues to share parental responsibility is excluded from the LAC reviews, is not provided with the name of the social worker working directly with the child, is not provided with information about the child’s school, receives no updates of his medical condition and no updates of his work with the therapeutic services. As far as I understand it, she was not even provided with redacted copies of the school reports.

 

Yes, you read that correctly. The LA weren’t even telling the mother the name of the social worker.

The bigger issue, however, with all of these things was, where was the Independent Reviewing Officer in all of this?

I mentioned ‘starred care plans’ earlier – if you are not one of my more breathtakingly beautiful and vivacious readers [translation :- older]  you may not know about starred care plans.  They were a short-lived invention of the Court of Appeal, to deal with the concern that where the Court approves a care plan and makes a Care Order, the LA then go off and run their Care Order and there’s no mechanism to get the case back before the Court to say “hey, they aren’t doing what they promised”.  The House of Lords squashed that mechanism but did say that there ought to be some form of mechanism created by Parliament to address the issue. As a result, Independent Reviewing Officers were created by Parliament – to scrutinise performance of a care plan and also giving them the ability to refer any breach to CAFCASS who could in turn apply to Court.   (Last time I checked, nationally there had been 8 referrrals and 0 court applications, so that’s working well)

 

29. The LAC reviews, whilst being required to consider the plan for permanence, appear to play lip service to the need to achieve this. There is no record of reasoned debate and discussion about the child’s need for permanence or how the plan for permanence might be reviewed and achieved. It is fortuitous that X has been able to remain where he is to date. It may be that he will remain there until he achieves independence. Nonetheless it is regrettable that the Local Authority failed to rigorously pursue suitable alternative long term placements for X or demonstrate a determination and clarity of thought in the allocation of their resources. The LAC review minutes do not demonstrate clear and strategic planning in the search for a family even during the period when the Local Authority knew of the equivocation of the current carers.

  1. It is generally acknowledged that the earlier a child achieves permanence the better. It is all the more important for a child like X, whose needs are necessarily heightened by his family history and his autism. I am advised by the IRO that there are significant resource issues for family finding, and finding long-term foster homes for boys is more difficult than for girls. I note the evidence of the independent reviewing officer, Mr Moore, who indicated that 75% of the children he was responsible for with a plan for long-term fostering were still waiting for a permanent placement more than two years after final order.

 

 

 

and later

  1. At this point, it seems to me appropriate to consider the role of the independent reviewing officer in X’s case. Mr Moore has been the independent reviewing officer for X since July 2012. Graham Moore provided a statement and gave evidence to this court. He is an experienced IRO, having been engaged in that role for the last five years. Before that worked as a Cafcass guardian. The IRO accepted that his role meant that he had responsibility for

    i) providing independent oversight of the Local Authority’s care planii) ensuring that the child’s interests were protected through the care planning process;

    iii) establishing the child’s wishes and feelings.

    The IRO accepted the statutory requirements of the LAC review process and that as IRO he was responsible for setting a remedial timescales where necessary.

  2. Whilst parents do not always attend LAC reviews, a system is generally devised to enable meaningful sharing of information following LAC reviews. Mr Moore told me that he had endeavoured to meet D in order to achieve this, but they had not been able to meet. Regrettably, no other practical system was implemented to enable the sharing of the outcome of the LAC reviews.
  3. The IRO accepted that the statutory guidance is clear; that where a matter is outside the control of a Local Authority, but is impacting on the ability of that Authority to meet the child’s needs the IRO should escalate the issue to ensure the child’s welfare needs are met. In this case the Access to Resources Team (family finding) failed to find a permanent placement for X in circumstances where his carers were clearly equivocal about whether they could offer him permanence. Yet the IRO did not escalate the issue. The IRO’s monitoring of the Local Authority search for a permanent placement principally rested on information provided by the social worker. The Access to resources team did not provide regular updates on the outcome of its searches.
  4. The IRO confirmed in evidence that he could not recall another case where a parent had been totally excluded from the LAC process for two and a half years. He accepted that Mother should have been receiving information from the school and had not received it.
  5. Criticism is made of the IRO for failing to robustly manage the Local Authority’s implementation of the care plan or pursue the requirement for permanence. I have no doubt that Mr Moore is an extremely hardworking and dedicated member of the Independent Review Team and I am saddened to reach the conclusion that, in this case, he failed to bring independent, robust and effective overview of the Local Authority management of the X’s plan.
  6. The independent reviewing officer is intended to be a robust mechanism designed to hold a Local Authority to account in the management of a child’s plan. In this case, the opportunities to impose remedial timescales and to escalate inaction and delay were not taken.

 

 

The ISW

As the LA had not been engaging with mother since X came into care, the Judge had no real evidence about a key facet of the case.  The Judge could see that mother was managing her two children at home with no concerns, she could see that X was still a challenging child with many difficulties, but there was nothing to show whether mother would be able to work with professionals in such a way that X could be cared for at home.

 

Most unusually in this case, however, I have no information at all as to Mother’s engagement with the Authority in consequence of the way in which the Local Authority have managed the plan, and no means of determining Mother’s insight and understanding of X’s changing needs.

 

  1. The court is mindful that Article 6 and Article 8 of the Convention Rights are engaged and that when the court considers the application to discharge the care order, it can only continue the care order if satisfied that the Local Authority’s continued intervention is proportionate. I am concerned that in the context of this application there is a lack of relevant information as to the nature, significance and degree of change made by Mother, and that it will be difficult to conduct the courts assessment fairly and appropriately unless that gap is filled.
  2. In my view, it will be necessary for the court, therefore, to receive some further evidence as to Mother’s ability to engage and work constructively with and to understand and demonstrate insight of the needs of X. Furthermore, the court requires an update from the Local Authority as to:

    i) the implementation of their care plan as to placement, therapy and contact and

    ii) the detail of the services the Local Authority would provide or could provide to support X if he were to return to the mother’s care.

    It is noteworthy that the court directed the Local Authority to provide details of the support services it would put in place if X were to return home by its directions of 4 November 2014. To date the Local Authority has failed to provide the details of those services.

    It seems to me that, absent this evidence, the court will be unable to complete the welfare evaluation. Counsel will need to address me as to the form of the additional evidence. I would be minded to direct the instruction of an independent social worker to complete a piece of work with D within four to six weeks. I am conscious that delay is inimical to X’s welfare and that this court needs to make a determination of the application for discharge as soon as is practicable.

  3. I consider that such an assessment will be necessary to enable the court to complete the welfare evaluation. I am conscious that no Part 25 application was issued, but it is clear to me, having heard the evidence of the mother, of the Local Authority, of the IRO, and of the guardian, that a gap remains.

 

Last minute evidence

 

Just as the parties were about to go into Court on this one, bearing in mind that a major issue was whether X could be found a permanent foster home (and his current carers having been saying that they wanted to foster three children, but if they offered a permanent home for X they could only look after him alone, because of his needs), news came that X’s current carers were willing to offer him a permanent home.

  1. In evidence on Monday, Ms Allen said she had just received confirmation from the team charged with family finding for X, that the carers had now made a firm decision to offer a permanent home to X. I was further told that the Local Authority have made a firm commitment to put resources in place to enable X to remain with his carers permanently as the sole child in their care.
  2. This change in the Local Authority’s case caused some consternation in the mother’s legal team. There had been insufficient time to share this change with the mother or with the children’s guardian before coming into court. I quite appreciate how difficult it is to share updating information in the scramble to get it into court, particularly where you have a judge who requires everyone to be in promptly, but it is most unfortunate that the team charged with family finding left matters so late as to create this difficulty. The mother and the children’s guardian are now perhaps understandably cynical about this new information. For the mother, it appears too little too late, and for the children’s guardian it raises questions about the carer’s motivation.
  3. Ms Little for the Local Authority reassures the court and the parties that the issue is not one of finance for the carers but rather their genuine desire to offer a home for three children rather than limiting themselves to one. The question of their motivation and the basis on which they are now able to offer themselves as permanent carer will no doubt be under review in the days following this hearing.
  4. It is nonetheless clear that, since at least December 2012, the Local Authority have been aware that the current carers were at best equivocal about X remaining with them on a long-term basis. What is not clear is what efforts the Local Authority’s Access to Resources Team made to find a permanent placement for X I am told that two referrals were made to the team, the first being the principal referral and the second an updating referral. Moreover I am told that Ms Allen spoke to the team from time to time and was satisfied that they were alive to his need for placement and knew of X’s placement needs. The searches appear to have been limited to two geographical areas in line with the wishes of X and the location of his current placement and school
  5. I am advised that no financial restraints were imposed on family finding. I am further told that it is, and was, reasonable for the Social Work Team to rely on the Access to Resources Team to progress the search for a long term placement on the basis of the two referrals and that no further prompting or enquiry from the Social Work Team was required.

 

 

There are two other Circuit Judge judmgnets published today in which the LA sought Care Orders with a plan of adoption and the Court instead made orders that the children were returned to the birth families. Not of any great legal significance because they turn on their facts, but I know that many of my readers may be interested in such cases and they may also be a useful mental exercise of whether these cases would have had these outcomes in 2011.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B218.html

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B78.html

 

Let’s not bring politics into it

The case Re A and B (Prohibited Steps Order at Dispute Resolution Appointment) 2015 might have one of the dullest names concievable, but I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t become rather newsworthy.  Wizardpc (regular commentator – you’re going to want to read this one)

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed143473

Why?

Because fresh on the heels of the President of the Family Division telling us all that there’s nothing wrong with a father belonging to the English Defence League, we have a family Judge banning a UKIP Parliamentary candidate from bringing his children to election rallies. [And another family Judge overturning that on appeal]

It is a short judgment, so before anyone’s knees jerk too much, let’s all read it first.

The children are both under 10, this is an appeal from a decision of the District Judge in private law proceedings to make this order:-

i) By way of preamble, that the court held the view that it is inappropriate for young children to be actively engaged in political activities as they may be emotionally damaged by potentially hostile reactions from members of the public;

ii) By way of order, that neither parent is to involve the two youngest children actively in any political activity.

 

 

There were three older children who were not subject to these stipulations.

As a matter of law, can the Court do that? Well, section 11 of the Children Act allows the Court to set conditions about contact / time spent with a parent, and the powers are broad, or as here, a Prohibited Steps Order, where one parent can ask that another be prevented from doing something particular (almost anything) with their child – so long as they meet these three criteria

Is it a necessary and proportionate interference with article 8 right to family life?
Is it better for the child to make this order than to not make the order?
Is this the right order, considering that the child’s welfare is paramount.

So the Court has the legal power to make such an order – providing those tests are met. But can it be right to make such an order?

9. Procedure – The father says that:

i) The District Judge was wrong not to hear evidence or at least his full submissions in relation to the need for a prohibited steps order to this effect;

ii) The District Judge made incorrect assumptions about the factual basis for such an order;

iii) The District Judge wrongly dealt with the issue without the father having notice prior to the hearing as to her intention to consider making such an order;

iv) The District Judge did not give the father an opportunity to contend that the order was neither necessary nor proportionate.

10. The mother, who is in person, contends that 99.9% of parents would recognise that their children should not be involved actively in political activities and so the District Judge was acting sensibly and fairly when faced with a father who, she says, does not share that recognition. However, she accepted before me that the father had not been given the opportunity to argue his case before the District Judge and that he made it plain throughout that he did not agree to the order that the District Judge was proposing. The mother could plainly see the difficulties that arise in seeking to upholding the decision of the District Judge.

11. The Cafcass report – The Cafcass report is in the bundle. The following parts of it are particularly relevant:

i) The only mention of political activity in the report is at D5. There the Cafcass officer stated: ‘The mother has expressed concerns that the father’s political views and value base are influencing the children – particularly C who can be racist and homophobic. The father has allegedly enlisted the support of his children to distribute UKIP leaflets when they have spent time with him’. That is the only reference to political activity within the report.

ii) The views of the children, which are very fully explored by the Cafcass officer, do not record any complaint by them in relation to their father’s political activities or their involvement with them;

iii) The children are reported as having some other concerns about their father’s method of disciplining them but were observed by the Cafcass officer to be happy in their father’s company. The Cafcass officer stated at paragraph 27 that ‘it is my view that, on the whole, the children enjoy the time they spend with their father and this needs to be supported…my observations of the children with their father were positive’.

12. Statements – Both parties provided brief statements for the hearing before the District Judge. The father’s statement is dated 20th November and the mother’s dated 24th November 2014 (the day of the hearing before the District Judge). There was no application in relation to the father’s political activities or the children’s involvement in them and therefore the father’s statement makes no mention of this. The mother states in her statement at C8: ‘I would like it if he respected my wishes and promised the court that he will not use the children directly in any of his political activities. I would be prepared to abide by the same promise if he so wished. Although it is apparent that the court has failed to protect certain of the children from brainwashing, since [C] has been campaigning for UKIP, is a member of UKIP youth and [E] has also attended UKIP rallies and is intent on joining UKIP youth’.

13. That is as far as any prior notice of this issue went. The father saw the mother’s statement at court. He did not have any other notice prior to the hearing that this issue would be raised. It is therefore significant to note that there was no evidential material relating to any involvement or harmful consequences for the two younger children in relation to the father’s political activities.

It does appear that this issue was somewhat bounced upon the father – did he have proper opportunity to challenge it, and was there proper evidence before the Court as to political activity being harmful?

If one is saying that political activity is harmful to young children generally (as opposed to just toxically dull) then there a lot of babies who will be saved from being kissed by George Osbourne/Ed Balls/Danny Alexander (choose which candidate you most dislike / least admire).  And to be perfectly honest, if it would remove any possibility in the future of the horror that was Tony Blair in his shirtsleeves drinking tea out of a mug with a picture of his kids on it – then, y’know, I can see an upside.

 

The worry with this is that a decision was made about whether the Court cared for the particular brand of politics espoused by the father – which is getting us into Re A territory to an extent. We see mainstream politicians regularly dragging their kids out for the cameras.

14. What happened at the hearing? Both parties appeared in person, that is without legal representation. I have studied the whole of the transcript of the hearing. I made sure that I read it through twice. Both parties were in person and the District Judge was faced with a difficult task in relation to parties who held strong views. I do not in any way underestimate the task that befell the District Judge and, by this judgment, pay tribute to her experience and exceptional industry. She knew this case well having been involved in it previously.

15. The following are some of the key parts of the transcript :

i) At page three there is the following: ‘THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Yes, all right. One of the other issues she raises, and I know there is another issue in your statement that you want to raise in a minute, [father], I have not forgotten this, one of Mother’s concerns is, and she is quite happy to promise in the same way but she does not like the fact that the boys are being involved in your UKIP activities and she would like you to give an agreement that you will not involve them in your UKIP, for instance, C campaigning in [X town] recently she mentions. How do you feel about that?…FATHER: I’m totally unwilling to have her dictate anything what I’m doing with the children in that respect….THE DISTRICT JUDGE: She said that she would be prepared not to involve them in any political activities as well….Father: Well, she does. She indoctrinates them, you know, so I just don’t think this is on. C is very keen; he gets a lot out of it’.

ii) At page 4 the District Judge said: ‘I can understand where you are coming from because you are not a UKIP supporter, yes….MOTHER: Or any political party. Is it right for a child of A’s age to be going into school saying, “What did you do at the weekend? I’ve been to a UKIP garden party”, and the other kids go, “Hey, what?” they have no idea what she’s talking about. They shouldn’t know what she’s talking about because none of them at that age should know anything to do with politics. Isn’t that to do with abusing their childhood if they’re being pumped full of whatever political party?

iii) At page 5 – ‘THE DISTRICT JUDGE: As I have said, children will always be very conscious about what their parents’ political views are. Your political views may well be at the other end of the spectrum. MOTHER: But I wouldn’t dream of taking them to any political meetings or encourage them to leaflet on the streets. C was egged by somebody. Is that right? …THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Is that right? Was C egged by somebody?…Father: He was exceedingly amused to have an egg land somewhere near his feet on one occasion. MOTHER: I do not want the younger children put in that position.
iv) Also on page 5 – ‘MOTHER: And what about the younger children— THE DISTRICT JUDGE: No, I am just thinking—MOTHER : —who go into the classroom— THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Yes. MOTHER: Think about the teachers then who have to pick up the pieces, so and so’s brother was egged at the weekend. The other children are too young to be worried about this and it’s confusing for them’.

v) At page 8: ‘THE DISTRICT JUDGE: What have you been doing with A and B at the moment so far as UKIP is concerned?…FATHER: A and B have sat on the van while a couple of the others get out and do some leafleting, that’s happened about once. Then there was a garden party where they played in the garden a long way from a congregation where there was a speech going on, so they were happy and they were supervised and they didn’t feel embarrassed and we all left together. So they were not put in any sort of awkward or inappropriate situation and I wouldn’t do, of course…THE DISTRICT JUDGE: I mean what I would like to do is to make a neutral order which is that neither of you should involve A or B in your political activities. Now, going to a garden party, I do not regard that as political activity, that is a garden party, all right? Probably sitting on the van is not but what I am talking about is they should not be going out leafleting and actively taking part….FATHER: Well, I’m just amazed, I’m just amazed— MOTHER: [Inaudible – overlap of speech] A was encouraged to hand out a leaflet and somebody went up to her and just tore it up in her face. She’s a tiny, little girl. This is really mentally challenging for them. THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Yes, look. Father, I am not expressing any political views, it is not appropriate for me to express any political views but there are a lot of people in this country who have very strong feelings about UKIP and I would not want to expose your two youngest children to emotional harm because of how people might react to them if they get involved. That is how I am looking at it, because you must accept there are a lot of people who are dead against UKIP, you understand that?

vi) At page 9 and 10 – ‘THE DISTRICT JUDGE: I am worried about somebody throwing – all right, C is 15, if he is happy to get involved in UKIP then he is old enough to decide that but I am not happy with A and B being involved in political activity to the extent that somebody in front of their faces rips up a poster. That is emotionally damaging for them. That should not be happening to two little girls and I do not care whether we are talking about the Labour party, the Conservative party, UKIP, the Liberal Democrats or whatever. That should not be happening to two little girls…FATHER: Well, that’s three of us agreeing then, isn’t it?…THE DISTRICT JUDGE: Yes….FATHER: So what’s the problem? I don’t see—…THE DISTRICT JUDGE: So I am going to make an order that neither of you are to involve the two younger girls actively in political activities, so I am saying to you garden party is not a problem, sitting on the van is not a problem but they are not going out actively taking part in your political activities because there are a lot of people out there who do not like UKIP and probably a lot of grown ups will not think about the impact on children’ .

16. There was no formal judgment given. The matter was dealt with as part of the discussion that took place at the hearing. There was no evidence given and the underlying facts were disputed, in particular, the extent to which the father does involve the children in his political activities and the extent to which this might have caused harm to them. The father wished to advance in full his arguments but the matter was cut short by the judge making what she perceived as a ‘neutral order’.

 

 

The Judge hearing the appeal, His Honour Judge Wildblood QC came to these conclusions  (underlining mine, emphasising that the three ingredients I spoke of earlier weren’t present. That, combined  with lack of  fairness to the father in the procedure meant the appeal was successful and the order discharged)

28. My difficulties with this case are:

i) The father had no notice before the hearing that this issue would be raised as one that was argued, let alone governed by orders.

ii) The factual underlay behind the orders is disputed and there was no written or oral evidence before the court that related to the issues before it.

iii) The contentions that the mother raised in support of the order were contested and the father did not have an opportunity to answer them. If he was not to have notice of this application for an order and was not to be allowed to give evidence about it he was entitled to the opportunity to make full submissions about it. He expressed the wish to advance his side of the story on the issues that arose and did not get it.

iv) The Cafcass report did not raise this as an issue that required intervention and there was no professional evidence before the court that supported the necessity for such an order.

v) This was an important issue in the context of this case. The order made was a prohibited steps order. Such an order should only be made for good (and, I add, established) cause and for reasons that are explained as being driven by the demands of the paramount welfare of the children. I do not think that such orders can be justified in contested proceedings on the grounds of neutrality and I do think that the decision must relate to the specific children in question. In Re C (A child) [2013] EWCA Civ 1412 Ryder LJ said: ‘A prohibited steps order is a statutory restriction on a parent’s exercise of their parental responsibility for a child. It can have profound consequences. On the facts of this case, without commenting on the wisdom of any step that either parent took or intended to take when they were already in dispute, and in the absence of an order of the court, father had the same parental responsibility as mother in relation to his son. Once the order was made, he lost the ability to exercise part of his responsibility and could not regain it without the consent of the court. That is because a prohibited steps order is not a reflection of any power in one parent to restrict the other (which power does not exist) it is a court order which has to be based on objective evidence. Once made, the terms of section 8 of the Children Act 1989 do not allow the parents to relax the prohibition by agreement. It can only be relaxed by the court. There is accordingly a high responsibility not to impose such a restriction without good cause and the reason must be given. Furthermore, where a prohibition is appropriate, consideration should always be given to the duration of that prohibition. Here the without notice prohibition was without limit of time. That was an error of principle which was not corrected by an early return date because that was susceptible of being moved or vacated unless the prohibition also had a fixed end date. The finite nature of the order must be expressed on the face of the order: R (Casey) v Restormel Borough Council [2007] EWHC 2554 (Admin) at [38] per Munby J’.

vi) Further, the District Judge was being asked to make orders that were invasive of the Article 8 rights of the father and of the children to organise their family lives together without interference by a public authority unless that interference was necessary and proportionate. That issue was not examined.

vii) Oral evidence is not always necessary (see Rule 22.2 of The Family Procedure Rules 2010). However there must be some satisfactory basis for an order if it is to be made. Otherwise the justification of the order is absent.

29. The form of the order made – The order that was made merely states that ‘neither parent is to involve the two youngest children, A and B, actively in any political activity’. I am personally in no position to cast stones on the drafting of injunctive orders in the light of what was said in Re Application by Gloucestershire County Council for the Committal to Prison of Matthew John Newman [2014] EWHC 3136 (Fam) but I think that there are very real difficulties about the form of the order that was made in this case.

30. By reason of Rule 37.9(3) of The Family Procedure Rules 2010 it is a matter of discretion as to whether a prohibited steps order should contain a penal notice (In the case of …a section 8 order…the court may’…attach a penal notice). I am concerned that this order did not make plain the consequences of any disobedience, the duration of the order or the activities that were prohibited. I realise that the District Judge said that garden parties would not be covered but I think that, if this order was ever to be enforceable in any way, it needed better definition. At a DRA there would have been very little time to examine that, I appreciate. District Judges lists are stretched to snapping point.

31. The conclusion that I have reached, therefore, is the decision of the District Judge was procedurally irregular and cannot stand. I therefore give permission to appeal and allow the appeal. I direct that there be a rehearing of the issues that have been raised in this appeal before me. Paragraph three of the order of the District Judge is discharged.

 

 

I think, regardless of what you might think about UKIP, the appeal was correct. The issues had not been properly explored and the father had not had proper opportunity to challenge what was a very unusual request, made at a hearing which was really only intended to set up the necessary directions to get the case to a substantial hearing.

I already have fond thoughts of His Honour Judge Wildblood QC, having read a lot of his judgments, and this made me think even better of him – this is very nicely done.

34. Finally, I will release this judgment on Bailii. By this decision I mean no offence at all to the very experienced District Judge for whom I wish to record my appreciation and thanks. In choosing my words when explaining why I am allowing this appeal I hope that I have displayed an understanding of the motto ‘do as you would be done by’ – who knows, tomorrow another court might hear an appeal from me.

 

[This case shows some of the risks of jigsaw identification – I’m sure I could work out UKIP Parliamentary candidates in the West country with five children and identify this family very swiftly. I’m sure others can do the same, and probably will. Not here in the comments though, please. ]

 

6. Publication – An officer of the press is present in court. I have referred her to Rule 27.11 of The Family Procedure Rules 2010 and also to PD27B of those rules. I explained the law to her in the presence of the parties and adjourned so that she could read the Practice Direction and the rule. She was referred to Section 97(2) of The Children Act 1989 and also to section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 and confirmed her understanding of the limitations on any reporting of this case. I am not going to explain those limitations in this judgment. If any person, organisation or party is thinking about making any aspect of this case public, they should inform themselves of those limitations. If in doubt, an application should be made to the court because breach of the law would amount to contempt which would be punishable by imprisonment, a fine or sequestration of assets.

7. Anonymised information about this case has already appeared in the press today. The father expresses his views in the press reports, without revealing his identity other than as a father and UKIP candidate. That being so I have alerted the Judicial Press Office about this case and of my intention to place this judgment on the Bailii website under the transparency provisions. I think it essential that there should be a clear and immediate record of the basis of my decision. That being so I have had to type this judgment myself immediately at the end of the hearing under pressure of time.

Research and stats round-up

 

A few important reports on statistics / research documents have come out in the last two weeks. I’m afraid that I don’t have enough time to write about each in depth, but I’ll give you the headlines and a link to each and if that whets your appetite, you can read the whole thing.
1. Serious case reviews

Ofsted have published statistics showing that the number of Serious Case Reviews have dramatically increased

http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/serious-incident-notifications-official-statistics-release

A 53% increase on Serious Case Reviews since 2012.

You might think, as I immediately did – is this evidence that the new methods of working aren’t working and that children are paying a heavy price?

It may be much more prosaic than that. The real chance in Serious Case Review policy is that they went from being internal documents to published documents in 2011, and the numbers went down as a result. Public bodies that had been using them to learn lessons and discuss failings were less keen on doing so in published documents – the “washing your dirty linen in public” effect. And then last year as a result of that decline an independent board was set up to scrutinise decisions as to whether or not to hold a Serious Case Review. So the dramatic rise is just that independent board restoring normality.

However, the number of referrals of “serious incidents” to Ofsted did go up. “Serious incidents” can cover incidents that would warrant a Serious Case Review or that are likely to attract media attention. So a greater media interest in family justice might account for the increase.
2. Ministry of Justice Statistics show a 19% reduction in family cases
http://www.familylaw.co.uk/system/redactor_assets/documents/1657/court-statistics-quarterly-april-to-june-2014.pdf
Private law cases dropped by 41% from the same quarter last year, as those cases that had got in just before LASPO have now all just about ended.

The MOJ say that numbers of public law cases has been fairly stable since 2011 (so the figures earlier this year showing a decline was really just the effect of everyone pausing in new cases to make sense of the new PLO requirements rather than any real downturn in demand)

What is interesting is that despite the huge Government push on mediation being the way forward, the number of mediations in the last year decreased by 50% from the level that it was when parents could go and see a lawyer for free advice who would explain the benefits of mediation to them. That’s pretty damning, that a compulsory mediation service has lower take up than when it was voluntary.

http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/new-moj-laa-data-low-income-families-turn-backs-on-court-mediation-falls-50-compared-to-pre-laspo-times
3. CAFCASS research on care proceedings
This is an annual follow-up since the death of Peter Connolly, in which Guardians in public law cases are surveyed after the conclusion of the care proceedings and asked some general questions about whether they feel the LA was right to bring the proceedings, the quality of the evidence and whether the proceedings were brought too soon, too late or about right.

http://www.cafcass.gov.uk/media/217447/three_weeks_in_november_five_years_on.pdf

The headline from that is that “social workers are taking the right actions to keep children safe”

And that in 84% of proceedings, the Guardian felt that there had been no other choice than to issue proceedings. [Of course, the other way of looking at that is that 16% of proceedings are being issued when they didn’t need to be]

It probably isn’t the most impartial measure either – although Guardians are independent of social workers, the ethos of CAFCASS has been fairly obviously “safeguarding” as a priority over family preservation for a few years now.

If you were to ask parents whether the case should have been brought to Court I suspect 84% or higher would say no.  So it rather depends on who you are asking.

The really interesting research would be if you could get Judges to do this survey, keeping it all anonymised.

Cafcass note that the proportion of Guardians feeling that cases were being issued too late rose from 26% to 39% – they fairly note that this could be that delays are getting worse, or that cases have moved to pre-proceedings or that the greater focus on timescales and targets have made Guardians more sensitised to the issue and more critical of delays that would have been tolerable a year ago.

 

 

4. The Children’s Rights Commissioner says that legal aid cuts have detrimentally affected children
To which the MoJ have replied “Well it isn’t meant to”

So that’s all fine then.
“Behind the evidence in our research are countless heartrending stories of children and vulnerable young adults whose lives have been seriously affected by their inability to access legal representation,” Atkinson said. “This means, in effect, that they cannot seek, let alone receive, justice. We should not expect children and young adults to face the complexities of the legal system on their own. These systems are daunting enough for adults, let alone vulnerable children and young people.

“The system is so difficult to navigate that it leads to people having no legal representation. That in turn can prevent decision-makers making decisions properly, as well as stopping individuals obtaining the justice they need … Short-term savings to one part of the legal system – legal aid – are simply shifting costs to another, because judges direct that representation has to be funded.”

http://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/content/publications/content_871
5. NSPCC research suggests that spending a bit more on family support where children are rehabilitated would be far cheaper than our present arrangement

http://www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform/resourcesforprofessionals/lookedafterchildren/reunification-costs-report_wdf104058.pdf

Over 10,000 children are returned home from care every year, however it is estimated that 30-60% of these reunifications fail, meaning children are then moved back to care, at great human and financial cost.

This process costs an estimated £300m, according to a study by the Centre for Child and Family Research at Loughborough University, commissioned by the NSPCC. The costs include social work costs, legal costs, decision-making and placement costs.

However, the researchers found that a £56m investment in providing effective support for families when a child returns from care could reduce the number of reunification breakdowns.
This is an interesting piece of research, and I know that sign up for the pilot scheme was very fast, with it being oversubscribed. If a new approach for support for children being returned home meant that more of them could stay there.

Quick caveat – I think some of the underlying maths is iffy. These are social scientists, not acountants. For example, there are some underlying assumptions that are weak

(i) That it covers s20 not just care
(ii) That a child who comes back into care will remain in care and the costs can be worked out on that basis (whereas some children in s20 might come back into care for a short period)
(iii) That it is fair to work into the costings of the child coming back into care that some children are in residential care (the most expensive type and frankly the ones who are in residential care are likely to be the ones least likely to get turned into successful permanent rehabs)
(iv) That for some reason the estimated legal costs of proceedings is calculated as being less than just the Court issue fee. If a Local Authority can manage to run the whole care proceedings for less than it costs to get the Court to start them off, that’s some wonder economics there
(v) That the figure for failed rehabs is 47%, which is something of a finger in the air taking an average of two other studies   (the headline numbers in those studies look extreme, but if a child is in care, goes home, and comes back into care, the “going back into care” might include a short respite period rather than permanent placement away from the family)

 

But my criticisms are really that the figures are slightly cooked to make the scheme seem even more desirable – I don’t think they needed to do it, the case for better support services is well made out in the body of the report.

This bit some people might find useful – we hear so much about “a low level of support” or “this family need a high level of support” – what does it mean in practice?

The report shows the real actual numbers

This comprises 6 months at a high level (8 hours 15 minutes social worker time plus 50 minutes team manager per month);

3 months at medium level (5 hours and 45 minutes social worker time plus 50 minutes team manager per month);

and 3 months at a low level (2 hours and 35 minutes social worker time plus 50 minutes team manager per month). These activity figures are taken from Holmes and McDermid (2012).
From that – high level of support is just over 2 hours a week of social work time. Medium level is about 1 ½ hours a week of social work time and low level is about 40 minutes a week.

Anything more than that would be accurately described as ‘exceptionally high levels of support’ although when you see the numbers it might not seem to be.

 

I absolutely welcome anyone trying to find out what the best way to make rehabilitation of children back home work better, and credit to the NSPCC for funding this sort of research. I hope that it makes a difference and that if so it is rolled out nationally.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,494 other followers